Should you, because you can?

I often start off thinking no, I couldn’t possibly write that…

Next thing I know, I’ve written it.

This post may be one of those.

Sometimes I have moments of enlightenment. It’s probably a myth, you know, that enlightenment happens all at once, a blinding flash in the dark, sunlight on the road to Damascus. It’s more a tantalising chink before the door creaks shut again, sometimes for millennia.

Last night it occurred to me, not for the first time, but every time I forget – which is another way in which the door creaks shut – that I may not even be here to write. Or rather, just because I can write doesn’t mean I should, or that I absolutely have to. Maybe I’m not meant to be doing it at all at this point.

I don’t mean this sort of writing – this blogging pastime – which to me is more like chatting on the telephone, or writing a longish letter to a friend.  I mean the sort that requires the participation of your entire being, that drains every drop from the glass, that scrapes the last baked-bean from the saucepan, that… well, you know.

It just reminded me. When I was younger I had a friend. He was more than a friend, in fact (and then considerably less, but that’s another story).  My friend had a guru, except that, being a Christian he referred to him as something else – my Mentor, my Guide – can’t exactly remember now. This Guide was revered among Christians of a certain hue – those who drawn to the paranormal, out-of-body and near-death-experiences. He wrote a whole series of books; I read one or two of them but found them a bit chewy. Perhaps I should have another go at them now.

We visited him together, just once. His house was quite a long way away, and so bare. I never saw a house so devoid of everything except its occupant. It was as if stuff no longer had any meaning for him. There was a piano, but it was locked. There was a big old table but no cloth, no books, nothing on it. Ladies brought him food – home-made cakes and such, my friend said, and he lived mostly on what people brought him. Food didn’t matter.

I can’t remember much more about that meeting, except that he looked at us both, very carefully, and for an uncomfortably long time, and told us we were old souls. I think I knew this already, as did my friend: I had known him since the earth was molten metal, since we were blades of grass side by side in some prehistoric meadow, since… but then people in love tend to reckon in geological time. How can there ever have been a time when we were not together? How can there ever come a time when we will be apart? And maybe they are right. Maybe we’re the deluded ones.

And I couldn’t help thinking, well, what else would you expect a guru to say? Just as you’d expect a fortune-teller to tell you that you would cross water and meet a tall, dark gentleman. A gypsy fortune-teller at a church fête once told me I’d have four children. That didn’t come to pass, in fact no children came to pass. But then she was the vicar’s wife in boot-polish and a fancy shawl. What would she know?

I asked about the locked piano. My friend told me that his Guide once played the piano. He had so loved to listen to a certain piece music that he could close his eyes and be transported by it onto another spiritual plane. But music had to be given up in order that he could become what he needed to become. It was the price he had had to pay. There is always a price to pay. It seemed very shabby to me then – all of it – the house with the empty table, the donated cakes, the locked piano, the absent gramophone, the being alone in the dark most of time, the occasional cup of tea, a visitor.

spider4.jpg

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I had a dream. I was on an upper level of a railway station, looking down at the scurrying figures in the concourse beneath. Between them and me was a plate-glass window so wide and so thick that there was no way they could ever hear me, even if I thumped on the glass. And they would never look up. They were fixed on their destinations, whereas I had no destination – or at least none that I knew of.

Writing was always a kind of thumping on the glass or – a later analogy – the weaving of an elaborate web. I couldn’t get into their world but maybe, just maybe, I could entice them into mine. With the benefit of hindsight and old (well, medium) age, I see this would never have worked. Had the spider’s web been encrusted with precious gems and its strands laced with the finest of nectars – had they crawled in in their little wingèd millions to worship me, the Great Writing Spider – it wouldn’t have worked. They would have been deceived, bewitched, enticed. They wouldn’t have come otherwise, wouldn’t have entered willingly. And that great windy nothingness at the centre of everything would still be there.

So what’s an old soul to do, apart from a bit of blogging now and again?

I think maybe nothing. I think just Be.

I think open a channel.

I think wait.

NaPoWriMo 3/4/16: Whatever

I used to believe in white chargers and in chain-mail knights;

Had faith that God, the Universe – Whatever –

Would come a-galloping to save the day.

 I weep for jaded angels and for melting unicorns,

For those wings of mine that first refused to sprout

Then failed to feather; for the Silver Ladder

You promised you’d let down so I could climb.

But you didn’t – did you – ever?

suckers

 Today I prayed my final ever prayer

Addressed to God, the Universe – Whatever –

Abba, my Father, why hast thou forsaken me?

THIS WHOLE CIRCUS (Angels& Other Occurrences 6.3)

This whole circus was getting to be a pain, truth to tell.

The Professor’s chair had had to be lifted up the trailer steps with him still in it, which had taken four of the burliest and most heavily tattooed of the gypsy menfolk. The four were also somewhat surly, not because of the muscles and the tattoos but because they had been up very late last night drinking beer and home-made hooch round a camp fire, playing the violin and singing and entertaining a nervous father-to-be. They had hangovers, and the chair was very heavy and fitted through the trailer door with less than a knife-blade’s clearance.

And then there was the Indian gent in the puffy jacket and worn-out trainers, brandishing a rolled-up something or other in a lengthy cardboard tube. Too light to be a shotgun. The only visitors they ever had, normally, were the polis or the bailiffs. They were not well-disposed towards visitors. And all this had happened since the ice-cream van turned up, with the Italian-looking fella and his highly pregnant lady. And now there was the baby as well; the birthing trailer was out of use just when several of their own women were about to give birth. It was all very inconvenient.

And now there were two ice-cream vans, the old, clapped out one and a brand new, giant, pink-and-white new one sporting more chrome and silly mirrors than you could shake a stick at, and artwork like you’d never seen – angels and lambs and some Indian goddess in a long pink frock – couldn’t deny it was effective, but what was all that to do with ice-cream? The thing’d draw the polis here like bees to a honeypot. You could probably spot it from Lynn, up here on the hill.

And driven here by this blonde fella in the dinner jacket and black bow tie, who was obviously one of those agency look-alikeys. Couldn’t be the real thing: apart from anything else this one’s voice was too deep. Big, booming actor-ish voice, like that Blessed chap from Z-Cars with the beard, or one of those opera singers. Genuine fella had a much higher one than that. They never can get that right, these look-alikeys. Was he going to want beer? The Indian in the anorak and the chap in the big chair had already refused. Too early in the day, so they said. When was it ever too early for a free can of lager?

What were they all doing here? Why should three men, who had obviously never set eyes on one another before, suddenly turn up in a muddy field demanding to see a chit of a girl and her baby? Babies were just babies – welcome, precious and loved, of course – but women were always having them, popping them out like shelled peas. What was so special about this one?

How could a famous footballer have even known their van had broken down in a field in Norfolk, and why would he have bought them a new one and driven it here himself, overnight, all the way from Scotland? And the Indian gentleman – he had brought his own gift – a pink, rhinestone-studded jacket – obviously a market knock-off. Yet he had handed it to the girl as if it was the most precious thing in the world. And, to her credit, she had accepted it as if she truly believed it was. She had laid it tenderly beside the child, where it lay in its padded cardboard box, and reached out to touch the man’s arm.

The footballer look-alikie fella – well, he had brought the van. Pretty big gift, that one. He had handed the keys to her husband, the Eyetaliano, Sepp, who had gone out to look at it. He was in there still – probably gawping at everything with his mouth wide open. It was an ice-cream van and a half, that one.

But the old van was of more interest to the gypsies. They had earmarked it for spare parts, then the scrap metal merchant. They had already costed it down to the last pound. At least they’d be getting something out of all these shenanigans once everybody left. Which would be soon, please God.

But the Professor – he didn’t seem to have brought anything. Just sitting there in that big old chair, thinking. Except that, down the arm of the chair there was – now, what was it? He was bringing it out now. Only something small. One of those computer things – what do they call them, now – a memory stick? Or would that be a dongle? And he seems to be holding some sort of conversation with the child. How does he think the baby’s going to understand him? Babies don’t understand plain English let alone something coming at them through a gadget that makes a man sound like a Dalek. And then – and then he’s reaching out. How is he reaching out, when a moment ago…? And now – he’s standing up. How is he standing up? He’s putting the little computer thing beside the child, and he’s laughing, as if there’s some sort of a two-way conversation going on here.

“You must already know the Theory of Everything, sir, but I’m giving it… I’m leaving it to you, and it’s for you to decide whether you let it be known to mankind. This, as you know, has been my life’s work, and I’m giving it up to you.”

“You didn’t need to heal me. I came here because the angel brought me. I didn’t expect anything. I just hoped for, maybe, peace.”

“Now, sir? Do you know, I believe I will leave my chair behind for the gypsies to dispose of. I will walk to the nearest town and purchase a back-pack and supplies and I will back-pack around the world!

“Seventy-three? Do you think that feels old to a man who can suddenly walk and talk again? Why, a hundred and ten would not be too old for me to circumnambulate the globe!”

Circum- what’s he on about?

*

A small girl had been peering through the trailer window. She had the beginnings of a cold and was wiping her nose on her sleeve at intervals. “What about the others?” she asked her father?

“What others?”

“The other three inside. Nobody’s looking at them.”

“What other three? What are you blathering on about now, Maisie?”

“The very tall black man with the wings, and the green-eye-feathers; the lady in the pink dress with the two elephants and all the golden bangles, and that thing made of numbers and squiggles like a cloud – the one that came in with the bent up chair-man. Why’s nobody taking any notice of them?”

“Tell me the truth now, chavi. Would you have been eating them mushrooms again?”

(Matthew 2: 1 – 12)

ARE YOU LONESOME TONIGHT? (Angels & Other Occurrences 6.2)

Raj takes out the Genuine Elvis Jacket for the last time, though he is trying not to admit it is the last. This is his one and only treasure and he keeps it on top of his wardrobe, wrapped in many layers of tissue paper, and the whole inside a heavy-duty supermarket bag. Every so often he brings the Jacket down, unpacks it, dusts it with a soft cloth and checks it for moths and spiders. He does the same now, trying not to know it is the last time. But the trying isn’t working, and tears run down his cheeks. He holds his face away from the jacket as he cries. There must be no salty marks. That would lessen its value.

The jacket is in the softest of leather and a rich and variable pink that exactly matches the wondrous sari of Lakshmi. Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, prosperity, fertility and power – none of which has come to Raj in his middle-aged lifetime. Lakshmi, who is greatly loved, and whose picture remains on his bedroom room wall. A rare beauty, she is seated upon a lotus flower; two of her four hands hold up smaller lotus flowers, the remaining two shower coins into a bowl. To her right and to her left are elephants, their mighty trunk raising a golden pitcher, showering water down. No need to worry, he tells her, I shall take you with me. I shall keep you in the picture at all times. This is what I know: the day after tomorrow some men will arrive, and they will take away the house. This is because I have no money left in the bank. I told you, didn’t I, that my taxi was hurt in an accident? She was so badly hurt that I could not drive her again. It is my fault for picking the wrong insurance company. They would not replace my vehicle and I have lost my livelihood.

I have lost our home. And now I have no money and the mortgage persons are coming to claim back the part of my house which is theirs – which is most of it. But I promise you will be coming with me, my lady, wherever I am going. Raj did not elaborate on this, because the truth was that he had no idea where that might be. For all he knew, in a day or two’s time he and Lakshmi might be sheltering together in shop doorways.

He had purchased the Genuine Elvis Jacket from a place on the internet, with an inheritance from his father. It was the largest sum of money Raj had ever had and he’d spent every last rupee of it, and more, on the Genuine Elvis. One single, mad, foolish press of the button and it was his. It had come with a folded paper, something called a Provenance. The Provenance was signed by the King himself, or so it claimed, to confirm that this was, genuinely, his own jacket. Raj’s English had not been good enough at the time for deciphering the convoluted legal English it was written in, and had hesitated to ask an English person for fear of being rebuffed or looking a fool. A small part of him feared the jacket might not be Genuine after all, but he had never let himself dwell on that.

Nowadays his English is greatly improved but he continues to resist the temptation to unfold the Provenance. Instead, he plays and re-plays his collection of Elvis Long-Players on the ancient record player he found in a second-hand shop soon after he arrived in this country. He knows the words of all the songs by heart. He combs his hair back into a passable Elvis quiff. He copies the way the great man used to curl his upper lip into a snarl and the way he did the ah-ha-ha in the middle of some of the lines. He grasps and imaginary microphone and serenades his mirror image, and Lakshmi, and when he does so he escapes for a while. He is no longer an impoverished Asian taxi driver in a shabby Norfolk town, with persons coming to repossess his property. He is The King himself. Glamorous. Rhinestoney. Revered.

And now he is about to give away the Genuine Elvis because Lakshmi has instructed him to do so. She appeared to him in a dream last night and was most beautiful, and most insistent that this be accomplished. He is to give the Genuine Elvis to a baby, just born in some sort of gypsy trailer in a field, over Thetford way. It sounds most unlikely, but if Lakshmi commands it, it will be his privelege to do it. Delicately he unpeels her poster from the tacky stuff holding it to the wall. Gently he rolls her and places her into a cardboard cylinder. “I must trust you to show me the way, my lady.”

It is a longer journey than he imagined. It takes him all day. He has not really planned how he will get there, perhaps not caring much whether he arrives or not. He sets off as he is, unshaven, in trainers and thick socks, a puffy anorak and a woolly hat. He catches a train, then a bus, then another bus. He stops people and asks them when he gets confused, no longer discouraged by these grim, white English faces; their foreignness to him, his own to them.

He has brought no food, but someone on the first bus feels sorry for him and hands him their sandwiches. Someone else gives him a cup of tea from their flask, and a small bottle of water. They seem to know he is on a journey of some importance, and what he needs. At last the bus sets him down at the edge of a smallish wood, snaking up the side a small hill. And now, he senses, it is time to walk. He does not know which way to go but Lakshmi, in her cardboard tube, feels confident; she urges him this way and that and he obeys her. He keeps his mind empty so as not to interfere. With increasing frequency he shifts the carrier bag from one hand to another. The Genuine Elvis has been getting heavier and heavier the nearer he gets to his destination, and now is beginning to feel like it weighs more than the world itself. The plastic handles cut into the palms of his hands.

As Raj follows, his feet become sore, his lungs become short of breath and his ribs hurt, but something like peace has entered his heart. Lakshmi is with him, showing him the way. He has no idea at all where they are heading, the pair of them. Yet it feels like coming home.

SNOW AND A SUPERMOON (Angels & Other Occurrences 4.3)

Siobbhán looked back at the ice cream van with something like contempt. ‘You got all the way from London in that? My God, girl, you need to get yourself a proper gypsy trailer, and a nice, strong four by four to tow it with. Move those dresses off the bed, would you, Rawnie?’

The gypsies had at first mistaken them for the police, come to move them on, but the van had saved the day by treating everyone several rounds of its Popeye the Sailor-Man jingle before giving up altogether. This broke the tension. The large, scary-looking ‘menfolk’ turned back to their music, breaking open fresh cans of beer with tattooed fingers – they were having an impromptu party to celebrate the great moon’s visit – and a group of women and girls, summing up Marie’s situation at a glance – shepherded the young couple to a particularly large trailer on the edge of their encampment.

‘We save this one for birthings,’ Siobbhán explained.

‘And for storing our party dresses,’ piped up her sixteen year old daughter Rawnie.

Marie was dazzled by an array of sequins, satin, net and general bling. Neon pink seemed to be the overwhelming favourite, with electric blue and arctic white as runners-up. Rawnie lifted six or seven of these creations off the bed and hung them one by one, on a dress rail. ‘Thousands and thousands of pounds, these cost,’ she boasted. Marie could believe it and was impressed, in spite of the contractions, which were coming more frequently now.

Sepp, in the meantime, was speechless, overwhelmed by glitter and pink and … femaleness. Everywhere he looked was unfamiliar territory. And then everyone suddenly turned to look at him.

‘You must go,’ said Siobbhán, ‘Go join the men.’

‘But I promised my wife I’d be present at the…’

‘That’s the gorgja way, I know, but it’s not ours. We will fetch you after – very soon after.’

‘It’s OK, Sepp,’ said Marie. ‘I know how squeamish you are. I knew you were only being brave when you offered. Go and join the men by the fire. Talk about man-things.’ Man-things? thought Sepp. What man-things do I have in common with a band of huge, tattooed Irish gypsies? But he went, stumbling across rough ground in snow and darkness, and they made room for him in their circle. Someone put part of a tree branch on the fire and someone opened a can of beer and passed it along to him. The man sitting next to him slapped him on the back and grinned. ‘Young man, you’ve no idea what you’ve let yourself in for, and that’s a fact!’ And everybody laughed. Someone picked up the fiddle again, and someone else started singing in a language Sepp had never heard. It was comforting to hear. Something about it reminded him of Ma and Pa in the kitchen, talking Italian together, renewing their ties to each other and the land they had left behind many years before.

And so it was that baby Gesù was born, surprisingly quickly and not at all as planned, in a gypsy trailer somewhere in Norfolk, or possibly Suffolk, whilst outside snow fell and fell, blanketing East Anglia, fiddle music and beer-fuelled laughter echoed around an empty field and a rare supermoon shone in through the trailer window, silvering the faces of the women within.

Except the field wasn’t empty. Later that night, Sepp and Marie lay side by side on the narrow bed, their baby between them in a striped cardboard box that a very expensive gypsy dress had come out of, wrapped in pillow case and covered in a folded shawl. And unseen and unknown to them creatures began to gather around the trailer – a couple of sheep and a fox, a badger, a rabbit and a mouse, an owl on the roof, maybe even a rat or two. Creatures that would normally have hunted or avoided one another waited in the snow, basking in the strange warmth that seemed to be radiating from the trailer, at peace with one another for a night.

And inside the trailer, under the bed, also unknown, a lurcher suckled four new puppies and spiders crept from who knows where, to keep their own vigil.

Marie was sleeping, exhausted.

‘That moon is so bright,’ murmured Sepp, nine parts asleep himself, as a faint, ghostly light shone up from the padded dress box and its occupant, Gésu, his firstborn son.

(Luke 2: 1-7)

Angels & Other Occurrences is a kind of ‘alternative nativity’ short story sequence. To read other stories in the same sequence just click on Angels & Other Occurrences in the Category Cloud to your right.

NOW ON KINDLE: Angels & Other Occurrences

I thought I’d forgotten how to do it, but no. It’s been so long, but – guess what? I published another e-book.

The Angels & Other Occurrences sequence is already scheduled to appear in La Tour Abolie at the rate of one new story a day – and probably won’t all have appeared by the time you read this. So, if you’re desperate to read the whole thing in one go right now, or just fancy a copy of the whole shebang tucked away on your Kindle for that somnolent after-sprouts/far too many chocolates hour on Christmas Day afternoon, now’s your chance.

Pssst: heads up to La Tour Abolie readers:

It’s FREE to download for five days, starting Sunday 6th December.

If you do decide to download and can find time to post a review on Amazon – thank you so much. Reviews can make quite a difference – though I fear there’s little prospect of that sunshine holiday in the Bahamas even if I sell one or two between the end of the five free days and the disappearance of Christmas.

But one of these days! I’ve got the straw hat and the sunglasses, all ready…

Update: 13th December

The free download period has now ended, unfortunately. But I’ve put Angels & Other Occurrences back on at $0.99 (or equivalent sum in other countries) which is the lowest Kindle Direct allows.

 

 

 

SNOW AND A SUPERMOON (Angels & Other Occurrences 4.2)

So the idea had been to escape the Great Flood of London by taking Marie to stay with cousin Beth and her husband Zak up in Yorkshire. There Marie could have the baby in peace, safe in the knowledge that Beth had only six months earlier given birth to her own son John. It had seemed like a good idea at the time – and to be fair, there hadn’t been a lot of time for planning. It had been a question of grab the transport and go. If only the transport hadn’t happened to be Beppo’s ancient ice-cream van with the dodgy electrics. If only they weren’t now lost in a narrow lane somewhere in Norfolk, with dusk falling and snow threatening. They were never going to make it.

Sepp looked at his watch. Four-thirty, and the darkest month of the year. His thoughts strayed to London. He’d tried to get a signal on his mobile phone a minute or two back – no joy. Whatever was going to happen in London – the barrier being breached, his and Marie’s extended family and all their friends – all still there, though moving to higher ground – it must be happening right now. If only he could get online… but no, he must concentrate on Marie and the baby. He had been watching her out of the corner of his eye. He had a horrible feeling her pains had started, but she wasn’t saying.

‘Are you OK?’

‘Yes, just… a touch of indigestion… probably. But maybe we should try to find shelter for the night. We were never going to make it to Yorkshire, were we?’

‘With the benefit of hindsight, no, my angel.’

She laughed. ‘You can still make me laugh. That’s why I love you, Sepp.’

‘You mean that’s the only reason?’

‘That’s just one of them. But let’s get a move on before this old van conks out altogether. You look out the driver’s side and I’ll look out of this side, and we’ll stop at the first house we come to with a light in the window. Agreed?’

‘Agreed. Thank goodness for this moon – so big and bright. At least we’ll have moonlight on our side. And now that snow’s beginning to lay, we’ll have… snow-light as well.’

‘It’s a supermoon. I saw it on the News before we came away. It’s when the moon comes really close to the earth. Every fourteenth full moon or so there will be one… oooooow!’

‘Marie, you’re a mine of information, but that’s not indigestion!’

‘No, I’m afraid… I’m afraid…’

‘Next house with a light on.’

But there were no houses. The lane seemed to be going on and on for ever, twisting and turning, taking lengthy diversions round fields – or what might be fields if you could see them. The high hedges obscured their view. If anything the lane seemed to be getting narrower. It was obviously rarely used since a line of grass was growing in the middle of it, in the places where the tarmac had broken.

‘I hope to God we don’t meet anything coming the other way. I don’t fancy reversing this thing back to the last passing-place.’

‘Have we actually passed…. Ooooooow … a passing-place?’

‘I can’t remember. Oh come on, there must be a house somewhere down here. Plenty of sheep, plenty of donkeys, but where are all the human beings?’

‘It’s not London, you know. It’s just… sparsely populated.’

‘This isn’t sparse – it’s deserted. There is nobody!’

‘Look, this side – a gateway.’

She was right, there was a gate –one of those metal farm things with bars, held together with a loop of thick, frayed rope.

Beyond the gate was a track, and almost into the woods at the bottom of the track, lights.

‘Could it be a farm?’

‘I don’t know. Those lights – they’re all dotted about, not like normal windows. It looks odd. Maybe it’s those – what do they call them on the Fens? Will o’ the Wisps.’

‘I don’t think Will o’ the Wisps would be that square, Zepp. And they’d be jiggling about, wouldn’t they? Aren’t fireflies supposed to dance? Anyway, I can hear music.’

‘Creepy, heebie-jeebie-type music?’

No, Irish-type music. Fiddles, accordians and stuff. Owwwwww!

‘Good enough for me,’ said Sepp, jumping out to open the gate.

‘Fiddles it’s going to have to be.’