Homo What?

Homo What?

We were just retrieving her disabled badge from the dashboard of my car, and as she leant in she spotted the paperback book I had casually jettisoned onto the driver’s seat to make less weight in my bag. Its actual title was Homo Deus and it was by a gentleman I had never heard of until I spotted him on the Three For Two shelf at W H Smiths – Dr Yuval Noah Harari “who now lectures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem: specialising in World History”.

One thing I am good at is lightning deconstructions of trains of thought, ie what people were thinking before they came out with that strange remark. OMG, I thought, she doesn’t speak Latin (not that I speak Latin per se but enough to know what Homo Deus means) and now she is anxious that the Nice But Dim lady she befriended at a rainy bus stop sometime last year, suggesting she might like to come along to the local Over 50s, is going to turn out to be a Man In Drag, and she might turn out to have bagged herself a Gay Best Friend rather than someone to provide convenient lifts here and there: her very convenient disabled badge – which allows us to park free for hours-and-hours in all sorts of car parks – nice wide spaces so you are not forced to damage the door of the car next door, take a huge breath in and slither out like the Basilisk from Harry Potter – versus my very convenient little red car, and continued ability to drive it. (She has a car – a very nice car – but is scared to drive it now due to dizzy spells.)

One thing I am not normally very good at is summarising books, instantly, when someone asks “What’s that you’re reading?” I always hate it when they ask that, especially when I’ve only just started reading it. However, a quick reply was obviously needed, so I took the sort of huge breath normally reserved for Slytherin’ out of narrow gaps between parked cars, and exhaled: Oh no – it’s – it’s, um, about Men being gradually upgraded into Gods.

It was a good enough one-line précis of a huge book, but I could see it hadn’t helped. She clutched her disabled badge to her chest and dropped her walking stick again.

Got to cut this short, I thought.

“It’s non-fiction,” I said. “Nothing to do with – you know.” And so we went on our way, possibly for another lot of Tea and Buns somewhere, I can’t remember.

Anyway, I’ve got a bit further on with Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow now. It makes excellent bath-time reading, though I keep having to discourage the three-legged cat, who is convinced he can navigate the entire soapy edge of the bath without Slytherin’ into this trough of steamy bubbles containing the mysterious bare human.

Thanks to Homo Deus I have decided I am an Animist rather than a Theist or a Humanist. Yes, I am some sort of primitive throwback to times when one could communicate with trees, and ghosts and spirits mingled unselfconsciously with mice, deer, bears and human beings, and all had an equal value in the universe, and equal rights. I have always been one of these, without knowing it, and that is why thing like factory farming and cruelty to animals make me so miserable. Ah, all those trees I failed to hug, back in the days when tree-hugging was an acceptable pastime and not associated with the Prince of Wales. All those yurts I failed to build and wild nights out under the stars I failed to experience…

And now I am too old. My neighbour pointed out a tree branch to me yesterday, that had somehow got trapped underneath my little red car. I had been driving around with said branch dragging along the ground for a week, I guess, judging by the length of time the unexplained knocking and banging had been going on. He was obviously expecting me to throw myself full-length on the ground, man-fashion, that instant (even though it had been raining) and retrieve the shameful branch before it “gets tangled in the electrics” but my days of throwing myself full-length are over. It’s not the getting down, it’s the getting back up.

So I temporised. I thanked him for pointing it out and slunk off indoors, returning with a patchwork cushion and the long metal hooky-thing the previous occupants of my house had once used to hook down the loft-ladder, and knelt, in the damp, with a creak or two. I was dreading a kind of wrestling match with some ferociously entangled-with-electrics piece of wood but actually it came away quite easily. I looked round, hoping against hope that he wasn’t still observing me from his front room window, as I clung to the wing-mirror and mountaineered myself up the side of the car, clutching pole, patchwork cushion and branch. The neighbours feel sorry for me, but they think I’m weird.

You know how you can always tell, when people think you’re weird?

I wonder why I started writing this? Oh yes, The Ratties.

I have rats – or at least I did, until yesterday. I don’t dislike rats, or any other living creatures, and had quite enjoyed watching them scuttling backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards at the bottom of the garden, pinching pieces of bread and seeds from underneath the bird table. They had neat little tunnels, I realised, allowing access from the piece of waste land beyond my end fence. Then they did a kind of circuit round the myrtle bush, and that green shrub that gets yellow spots on it in the summer. They had worn little rat-runs through the grass.

It was OK when there were only two of them. For a whole winter there were only two of them. Then, suddenly, there were little baby rats and then, equally suddenly, there was a garden-full, and they were right up by the back door. Every time I looked out there was one running off with a lump of cat food from the stray-cats’ dishes, or a lump of dog-food from Mystery Dog’s Dish. I could see that soon they would start coming in through the windows, running up the drainpipe and chewing the electrics in the roof, causing neighbours to complain to the Council; the Rat Catcher in his smelly moleskin trousers, knocking on my front door.

So I’ve had to bite the bullet, stop putting food out. Now Sunshine the stray ginger tom no longer even bothers to detour through my rat-run grass. Last night I heard Mystery Dog woof-woofing mournfully in the garden, wondering where his monster plate of food had got to. And no birds sing (mournful sob!)

O WHAT can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has wither’d from the lake,
And no birds sing.

I have gone against my every instinct, and am become La Belle Dame Sans Merci.

All that glisters is not gold

Funny word, isn’t it? A mixture of glitters, sisters and blisters. The dumb-down-everything brigade are perpetually trying to replace glisters with glitters because people are, in their reckoning, unable to make the mental ‘hop’ from this funny-old-funny-sounding word to the (very similar sounding) word they may have occasionally heard used on some gameshows on TV, even if it isn’t part of their teensy-tiny little personal vocabularies.

Oh, I am so bitter today!

One interesting thing – apparently the exposure of the paedophilic activities of ageing British pop singer Gary Glitter has caused ‘glitter’ to become less popular. It is even possible that people will once again prefer Shakespeare’s poetic alternative. On the other hand, it has got more than one syllable, so they’ll probably plump for ‘bling’.

The quote is from The Merchant of Venice:

O hell! what have we here?
A carrion Death, within whose empty eye
There is a written scroll! I’ll read the writing.
All that glisters is not gold;
Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms enfold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgment old,
Your answer had not been inscroll’d:
Fare you well; your suit is cold.

[By the way, if there are any ‘s’s missing from any of my posts, it’s because this keyboard is refusing to type them upon the first striking of the key. No, you have to repeatedly strike the ‘s’ and then it might… However many times I check, I always seem to miss one or two.]

I had to ‘do’ The Merchant of Venice at school. I remember enjoying it, at the time, and it being about a pound of flesh, and there being a court case involved, and that a lady called Portia – or was it Desdemona? – no, she was the one that got strangled by Othello over a handkerchief – no, Portia, dressed up as a man to defend – someone or other. Or did she?

This demonstrates the scant usefulness of most of what we are forced to learn in schools, although you might say that, even if I can no longer remember the plot of either The Merchant or Othello I still love Shakespeare and his genius with language – more and more so in retrospect.

So, one little story to illustrate the saying All That Glisters Is Not Gold:

You may or may not know that I have been volunteering with an Organisation that helps Old Folk in a number of different ways. I’m not much of a volunteer, even, since I have but a single client, a very old lady with dementia. This was not much of a challenge to begin with – just a short bus ride/drive once a week, and an hour spent mostly listening and eating chocolate biscuits. Unfortunately the dementia has taken a sudden turn for the worse, as often happens (I remember it with my Mum) and things have become more challenging. I am finding it difficult, really, after Mum, to find myself on that slippery slope to oblivion all over again, albeit with less responsibility.

Anyway, since before Christmas I kept getting these emails from my contact at the Organisation, asking me to pop in to the Centre whenever I next happened to be in town, as a small Christmas gift awaited me. I kept forgetting. To tell the truth I go into Town as infrequently as I can manage, since it depresses me. I come away feeling as if I have been Captured By The Dementors and Imprisoned in Azkaban for several millennia. Well, an exaggeration maybe but all those tattoo parlours, all those £1 stores, all those boarded up shop (s, keyboard, s!) …

However, the only way to stop the emails was to get in the car and drive to Town specially. I knocked on the back door and was admitted. (Luckily the chiropodist didn’t pop out of his lair like a Scottish spider in a white coat, as I am avoiding him.) The girl led me through to the office and handed me a beautifully wrapped little gift attached to a card. It even had that ribbon that they make all curly by stroking it with the blade of the scissors. Someone had taken a lot of trouble.

‘We had decided to eat them if you didn’t come in by the end of the week!’ she joked.

Ah, so chocolates. But chocolates is/are OK.

I thanked them and made for the door, once again avoiding that beady-eyed chriropodist. I walked the entire length of the High Street back to Tesco, where you can park your car for free for three hours (then they send rude letters to you). I drove all the way home. I put the kettle on and opened my Little Gift, and it was a tiny packet of Maltesers.

Maltesers are OK I suppose. Just not worth that long drive into town, that long, cold, drizzly walk up the High treet (s! foul keyboard – how hard can it be?) past all those tattoo parlours, boarded-up shops, £1 stores and bunches of hoodie-wearing teenage louts who no doubt all carry knives, or at least have perfected the art of looking at you as if they do…

But, a Malteser is a Malteser. Not much chocolate involved, maybe, but…

I opened the box and sat there, with my cup of tea and my half-read historical novel (Lamentation by C J Sansom), and proceeded to pig the lot.

A Lilith of what you fancy (does you good)

Succumb‘ is not a fruitful prompt for someone my age. I mean, it’s not likely to be ‘the insistent advances of handsome millionaire actor George Clooney’, is it? More like viral pneumonia, or rheumatoid arthritis. All I could think of was Succubus.

When I was at school we ‘did’ Chaucer and his Canterbury Tales. I wanted to like Chaucer, really I did, but it was difficult with the textbook we were given. There was Chaucer and his Olde English (well, technically Middle English) on one side of the page and a translation on the opposite side. All well and good, but we were ‘doing’ the Wife of Bath’s Tale and the Wife of Bath was – as I guessed but could not discover how, from the translation – a somewhat saucy baggage. I remember learning that she had a gap between her two front teeth and that in the middle ages a gap-toothed lady was regarded as very saucy. I am not a medieval man, so I have no idea why this should be. Maybe it was the symbolism.

It doesn’t seem to work the other way round…

thomas

The trouble was, every time Nanny Translator got to a saucy bit she substituted an ellipsis (…). I would have entirely forgotten the word swynke by nowand probably Chaucer and the Wife of Bath too – as in

As help me God, I laughe when I thynke / How piteously a-night I made him swynke

had it not been for the fact that swynke was represented on the translation page by those tantalising three dots and the teacher flatly refused to even hint what it might mean. Our teenage imaginations went into overdrive. What could swynke-ing be, for goodness sake? And how was she making him do it?

Actually it just means work very hard, though by a-night we know she isn’t referring to heaving heavy sacks of coal or peeling potatoes.

However… (ellipsis) why was I going on about Chaucer? Oh yes, it was via Chaucer that I learned of the existence, in medieval legend, of a demon known as the succubus. There are incubi and succubi. Incubi are male demons that prey on women, and succubi are female demons that prey on men. Particularly monks. They appear in dreams and tempt their victims to do all sorts of sinful and salacious stuff.

Succcubus and succumb are related, loosely. From the Latin and then the French succomber – sub (under) + cumbere (to lie down). To succumb is to yield to a superior force or strength, or to be overpowered by a desire. It is also to be brought to an end (as in death) by destructive or disruptive forces. Since the evil succubus would exhaust or even kill her dreaming victim by feeding on his dream ‘energy’ you can see the connection, and if you google ‘succubus’ and click on Images you will get all sorts of lurid artistic re-imaginings of what she might have looked like.

You know how you suddenly realise an author has been cleverer than you realised – that pleasant little moment when the penny drops? J K Rowling is particularly good a this. For example, Sirius Black in Harry Potter, who tends to turn into a large black dog at intervals, has the name of the dog star, Sirius. And Diagon Alley is diagonally.

Well, I thought I had one of those with the character Lilith from Cheers and Frasier. Lilith is Frasier’s ex-wife, who simultaneously haunts, fascinates and drains him:

Six months ago I was living in Boston. My wife had left me, which was very painful. Then she came back to me, which was excruciating… So I ended the marriage once and for all, packed up my things, and moved back here to my home town of Seattle.

(1993 pilot episode of Frasier, “The Good Son”)

Ah, I thought. Lilith from Jewish mythology was in fact a succubus – a night-hag or night-monster. How clever they have been, those screenwriters, in choosing exactly the right name for Frasier’s scary, vampiric (but nonetheless amusing) ex-wife.

But then they went and let me down, those screenwriters. Researching further I discovered that Rob Sternin and Prudence Frasier had simply wanted a name that embodied sternness, like a Dickensian… headmistress in a high-necked blouse and tight bun. The Biblical badass didn’t factor in.

Well…well… bah! Why didn’t it? It jolly well should have.

I’m quite put out about it.

Humbug!

Prize Plum

Something I have never understood about writing, or maybe I mean writers, is how the act of writing, or even the sudden rush of inspiration that precedes the act of writing, can make the world seem more or less all right for a minute or two.

You see, I’ve always been tormented by the following thought: that there is no point at all in doing anything, really. Every now and then it strikes me quite forcibly that whatever we do is utterly pointless since we are going to die. Why put any energy at all into doing anything, when for all the difference it makes one might as well curl up in a resentful ball on the living room carpet and simply wait for time to pass until inevitably the living room carpet and one become one i.e. so much indistinguishable dust?

I suppose this is a philosophical dilemma, and no doubt somebody gloomy and incomprehensible like Schopenhauer or Kant has already disposed of it. Or possibly Sartre…didn’t he and his Existentialists say something to the effect that life is totally meaningless and therefore we must create our own meaning? You see, that’s the problem, for me. I can’t randomly, artificially invent a purpose for my existence or a meaning for life in general. Either there is one or there isn’t. Part of me thinks that the only logical response to finding oneself alive for no obvious reason would be Bertrand Russell’s ‘unyielding despair’.

But unyielding despair is unpleasant and one is forced to distract oneself from it as much as possible. The only thing that distracts me is writing, and there it is.

It may be that each of us is gifted one consolation – one thing with the magical power to make everything right, for a tiny while. But this is so odd because of all the things you might be doing to distract yourself from the gloomy inevitability and pointlessness of human existence, writing is about the most useless. What is writing compared to, say, volunteering to help children in war-torn countries? What is sitting around with pencil and paper and, fitfully, making stuff up compared to cooking Sunday lunch for your extended family or painting one wall of the bathroom in Prize Plum? (Which goes well with Magnolia, as the wrinkly-and-probably-famous chap in the advert says.)

plum.png

However, it seems to be the case that when the faint outline of a story materialises inside my head, when I write a single sentence, cross out one word and substitute another – for those few seconds all has become right with the world. It and I – whatever It is, and whether It exists at all – are in synch. I have a purpose. I am alive.

Unfortunately, most of my ideas come to me when I can’t write them down, and especially when driving. Wasn’t J K Rowling on a train from London to Manchester when she got the plot for the entire however-many Harry Potter books, but had nothing to write them down on? Lesson 1: never have nothing to write things down on. Either that, or have a phenomenal memory and high tolerance for stress.

So, yesterday, driving, I got an idea for a story about a cupboard – bit like the wardrobe in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe except that there was no rear exit through the fur coats, as it were, i.e. it wasn’t your classic portal to a fanciful other world, it was more like – a place that retained memories and eventually…retained you.

And then I thought – still not being able to write it down – maybe it’s a stationery cupboard. Think of all the things that go on in office stationery cupboards. And if it was a very old building, things might have been going on in that space before it was a stationery cupboard.

And then I thought, so what does this cupboard symbolise? I mean, come on Linda, what is He trying to tell you here? What is the cupboard and why are you contemplate locking yourself in it? I should mention that my Subconscious is a He. He wears a long black coat and hides his face, communicating with me by way of stories, poems, dreams and funny little flashes of places I have never seen and selves I can’t remember being – or maybe haven’t been yet.

And after a while I thought (changing gears, negotiating tight bends and traffic lights the while) what if it wasn’t a stationery cupboard but something considerably more gruesome like one of those formaldehyde-smelling rooms scientists keep diseased organs in, or frogs with fifteen legs, or entire Victorian babies? I remembered such a room from school – it was where the lab assistants sat around looking bored, or removed your nail varnish with neat acetone. All these bottles. Yellow. Strange things floating about in them. Fascinating. What would a room like that be called, now? The Specimen Room?

(Note to self, Google this when have access to the Fire and hands not required to be on steering wheel). But – no, maybe the stationery cupboard has more scope.

But the room with the formaldehyde babies, that would be a joy to conjure up. Now, how to convey the suffocating stink of formaldehyde…

And thus am I distracted from the pointlessness of all existence for a tiny while. Maybe the living room carpet can wait for a day or two, while I write it…

 

meaningless

Life Apparently Is All Ha Ha Hee Hee

Some while back I wrote about my neighbour’s threatened Big 6 – 0 birthday party, and how yet more rustic Hobbit signs had appeared in her garden to accompany the map of The Shire on the back end of her garage. NB: I spotted another one this afternoon – it’s half way down the left boundary fence and reads Half-Blood Headquarters or some such. Thanks to Artistic Daughter the whole garden has recently become appalling mixture of Hobbit and Harry Potter, with a preponderance of Hobbit. I would guess this is something to do with number 12 Grimmauld Place, home of the wizarding House of Black, later taken over by…

Which now seems to have disappeared from London to rematerialize half way down my neighbour’s fence.

The party itself, which at least one of my readers urged me to please attend in order to report back on it, has been happening at last, but now seems to be over. It was something of a damp squib. I didn’t get to go since her earlier invitation was not repeated (I locked myself in at lunchtime as a precaution) however I saw the guest arriving and heard the rest of it.

Around lunchtime, the usual signifiers of a party hereabouts – unfamiliar cars abandoned all over the road including one right outside my house, taking up half of my parking space and half of the Prison Warders’ parking space, though the Prison Warders are in France at the moment, or at least rumoured to be, so it won’t bother them.

Out of the abandoned vehicle came a whole lot of really elderly folks, some with Zimmer frames, some supported by relatives. I am guessing that one of them must have been Frail Old Uncle From Far Away, of whom I have heard tell.

And then more cars and more people.

And then somebody (Splendidly Bewhiskered Son, I think) on a shiny motorbike which he parked on her drive opposite my front door where it sat making made unsettling scarlet patterns through the frosted glass panel.

And then, believe it or not, a removal lorry bringing what looked like the new occupants of Down The End Next To The Field. They wended their way in forwards, sat in the cab for a while outside their new abode, possibly bewildered or just thinking it was too wet to start moving furniture today, reversed back and vanished. No doubt they will to try again tomorrow when everybody’s trying to get a lie-in.

After that the music started up down the bottom of Neighbour’s garden. A bit tinny, much of it blown away by the wind – I forgot to mention the black clouds, semi-gale and intermittent gusts of rain – but recognisably Seventies, Bruce Springsteen in fact; and all the oldies were singing along. This depressed me because a) I used to sing along to Bruce Springsteen too, until I stopped myself and b) on a recent visit to the Home where Mum now lives, one of the carers advised me that they periodically update the background music to recall the youth of the current intake. They were only up to the late Fifties. I imagine myself, being wheeled into a Home and being greeted by a tinny and long-forgotten Springsteen, or perhaps some James Taylor.

I couldn’t use my spy window because they were all sitting directly underneath it, under the patio trellis-thing, despite the rain. I wondered if she had made a big bowl of Ribena punch and left it on the kitchen table with stacks of plastic cups. Whatever it was, they became very jolly very quickly. In fact they laughed louder and louder every time a new gust blew in to chill and soak them still further.

And there she was, right on cue. There’s always one at every party, the woman who laughs like a drain.

Har-har-HAR!! Har-har-HAR!!

Every time she did it she triggered a soft storm of giggles all around her.

And then more tinkling laughs, and hysterical Artistic Daughterly shrieks mingled with elderly/ motor-bike riding masculine Ho-hos.

And so on for hours.

I couldn’t concentrate on the television, couldn’t concentrate to read a book. Incessant Har-hars and Tee-hees were driving me mad. Finally I retreated to bed, though it was still early. I lay there fully dressed under the duvet watching the sky turn from afternoon storm-grey to star-strewn night navy. Little Arf came and claimed his precarious night perch between myself and the edge of the bed. The Gingery Gentleman continued to snore on my right. He smells of peppery dust, always, as if he has just arisen from the tomb. One of the fluffy ones mountaineered onto my chest to impede my breathing. And all the time with the Har-har-HAR and the Hee-hee-HEE next door.

I drifted off for a while, dreaming of spaceships and solicitors’ offices. When I awoke they had gone, and there was still time to go down and watch The Papers. And Neighbour’s 6 – 0 at last, which means she cannot possibly be 6 – 0 ever again.

(Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee: a novel by Meera Syal, 1999)

The Big 6 – 0 comes to Drippin’ Dell

So I looked out of my side window, the one at the top of the stairs and the only one that allows me a glimpse into my neighbour’s garden. She’s the one with supersize Polish dog that looks like the Hound of the Baskervilles, but is actually quite a pussycat. Her name is Ajska. The dog, that is. I tend register the animals’ names and forget the humans.

It’s been raining – hasn’t rained for months. Everything is wearing a necklace of unfallen raindrops.

I never mean to spy but it gets a bit lonely inside this plain brick box with the twelve delinquent cats. Occasionally it’s tempting to look out – or in this case down – to see if anything at all is going on. Usually it isn’t. What you see most of round here are ambulances, white vans and sparrows. Humans are a bonus.

And when I looked down out of my side window I noted with that at least one more sign had appeared overnight. Rustic signs – oval slices of strange-shaped tree, wobbly-hand-lettered. This latest one said:

No Admittance Except On Party Business

My first thought was that Neighbour must have been one of those Corbynistas all along and was now preparing to host the annual Corbyn Party Conference in her front room/kitchen-diner. Oh my God, I thought, they’ll be singing the Red Flag with their hands clenched passionately to their breasts, or coming round collecting funds in a king-size bucket like the Firemen at Christmas.

My second thought was, no, this is something to do with the Artistic Daughter and – perish the thought – the Big 6 – 0 must have come round at last. She mentioned some months back that she was approaching (coy smile) a Big Birthday. She’s too faded for the Big 5 – 0 but not crumpled enough for the Big 7 – 0 so it wasn’t hard to guess.

She also mentioned that she would be having a birthday party – whenever it was – I didn’t catch the date – and I was welcome to come to it. She was saying that, of course, because the party was likely to be drunken and noisy and you have to invite your neighbours to neutralise them. She would have known perfectly well from last New Year’s Eve when I was forced to sit in her front room with only three other people and a mountain of food and make very, very small talk for hours – I believe at one point I was feigning interest in the correct technique for loading and tarping-up a lorry – that in me she had found the polar opposite of the Life and Soul of the Party.

Of course, I said what you always say in these circumstances. Oh… that would be nice. Yeees… maybe… probably… see how it goes… Since then I have been hoping that the birthday party would either be forgotten or might take place during one of my rare absences. Obviously not.

She did tell me about her Artistic Daughter’s cute design for the garden. Artistic Daughter had been away in Australia with her boyfriend for six months; they were now back with Mum for a while, at a post-colonial loose end. So they set to and did all sorts of stuff to the garden. There was a lot of sawing, smoking, laughing, music, swearing and whatever.

Apparently there is a now map of Mordor – or was it The Shire? – painted on the back end of the garage, in fact I can see the top edge of it over those bright new fence panels. (Where’s all the money coming from, for fence panels and serial DIY?) Apparently there are rabbits, runes, riddles and mystic messages everywhere. It all sounds perfectly dreadful.

And worse, an inaccuracy has arisen. An anomaly. It’s just unbearable.

From my spy-window I can just about see a rustic signpost with cutesy little hobbit signs pointing in all directions. One of them, of course, says The Shire, but another – and this is what really gets my goat – another says Diagon Alley. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Diagon Alley…

MIDWINTER UNWRITTEN

This one short story has fought me mounted and standing – a description I once read of a novel that was giving its author a pretty hard time – on and off for the past twenty years, and I still haven’t pinned it to the field of battle with my trusty sword… to push the fantasy/archaic military imagery slightly beyond its usefulness.

It started out as a ballad – you know, one of those long poems with interminable four-line verses – and rather a good one, I thought. However, at some point I decided it had to be turned into a short story and then, various house moves and computer meltdowns later, discovered I had lost the poem and could no longer remember the words. Unfortunately I still have the character Midwinter in my head, and I still have the story behind the poem. If only I hadn’t lost the original poem, I might have been able to let go of the short story obsession. Midwinter still nadges at me for her story to be told.

The original beginning for this phantom short story, went:

The robes of Wizardesses are blue with stars. The robes of Wizards are green with stars. And there are still Others, of whom little is known and less is said, whose robes are beyond description being of all the colours of the rainbow, and none. But all have stars.

I just adored those four sentences, but didn’t get much beyond them.

Harry Potter put a spanner in the works. Pinched some of my (unwritten, unpublished) ideas, so she did.

I have made plot summaries for this short story. I have written various half- and quarter-versions of it – filed them, fished them out, had another go, filed them, fished them out. All those yellowing bunches of file paper held together with rusty staples or rusty paperclips. Recently I even conceived a plan for a quartet of linked short stories based on an ever-expanding (in my mind, only) saga of conflict, cruelty and retribution between an ancient race of wizards and an equally ancient race of men. Each element in the quartet was going to have the name one of the Celtic festivals – Samhain, Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasadh – with the grand, overarching title of Midwinter. It was going to be the bee’s knees, this quartet of mine.

I had another go at it this afternoon. Maybe if I just start writing, I thought. Attempt to channel my inner wizardess…

The child had no name. Sometimes it was called It. Sometimes it was called You. Once in a while it was addressed as Wryshanks on account of its twisted legs and crooked back. In its head it was Midwinter, for the time it arrived at Castle Bellbroke, and for the first of its memories.

Of that day, it mostly remembered cold. Thin limbs, a think blanket, cold like a rat a-pinching its ears and gnawing at its face. Its fingers and toes were afire with the pain of cold and it waited for death. Death, so much better than cold.

Above it, a mouth full of iron teeth, like the teeth of an iron giant. Great chains on either side. Above that windows like slits for arrows to come through. What it rested on was wood, slatted, wet. Wet seeped through its blanket…

Gone. Now I know how men must feel.

What to do? I know this could be a good short story, maybe more than one short story – a novel, even. So why can’t I write it? I am writing this to find out why I can’t write it.

Um… I am wondering if it wants to be a poem again? Tell me, Midwinter, are you wanting me to re-materialise you, atom by atom, as an interminable ballad that no one will read? No one reads poems. I love poetry and even I don’t read poems. Not in blogs, anyway.

Is it because I’ve tried and failed so many times before? Is it possible to lose all interest in a character yet still not be able to let them go? Why can’t I just dump you, Midwinter? Hop on the bus, Gus…

Is it perhaps that you are me, Midwinter? What is it about you that both grieves and obsesses me, makes me reluctant to nail your sorry self to the floor and be done with you? Would I be repairing some great rent in my inner landscape in repairing you, my Twisted Child? Are my Archetypes even now engaged in mortal combat? And have they always been so? Sometimes I have this image of dragons entwining, warring dragons becoming one, metamorphosing. Am I ready for that battle, that becoming and that extinguishment? Do I want to be that powerful? Could I bear a happy ending, if I could write it?

Maybe I run on misery.

Would I be destroyed, if I was happy?

[If the thing ever gets written, believe me, you will know. I will trumpet it from the rooftops, I will tell it in Gath, I will proclaim it in the streets of Ashkelon: MIDWINTER WRITTEN – yay!]