Repetition

She had to hand it to them, they were good, they were wily; she didn’t know how they did it, but they made one big mistake that gave their game awayeverything happened at the same time, in the same way each day.

07:56, outside her window the little red-breasted bird alights on snowy branches, it ruffles its feathers disturbing the snow before landing on the empty feeder; the flakes against the window settle momentarily before melting and sliding slowly towards the sill.

Seven minutes after the bird flits away a white-haired, rueful man enters, he says he’s her husband, he says he has pills to help her remember’—she remembers fine thank you very much, she says; she will refuse and, as always, two strange men will later come and cry by her bedside calling her mother.


Written for Three Line Tales, Week 157.

Image credit: Clever Visuals via Unsplash.

Robert Graves on Love and Acceptance

I recently came across Robert Graves’ poem ‘O Love in Me’ and was immediately impressed by its beautiful, stark imagery. This poem reminds us that love—that wonderful sun-drenched feeling of happiness and acceptance—is nourished by simple things, but is also stalked at the peripheries by darkness. The apple, perhaps an allusion to the Garden of Eden, reminds us of our fall from the ‘heavenly causeway’. But should we despair and mourn our loss or should we make the most of love while we have it? ‘Be warm, enjoy the season, lift your head’ while you can; let love triumph hate and rejoice in equanimity (‘that shivering glory not to be despised’). The last line is stark and ambiguous, is Graves saying that we are ultimately alone (to be confined to the narrowness of a grave) but without the promise of tranquility? Yet we must remember that all things are impermanent—feelings are fleeting, thoughts transitory. We have this one moment, now, to be happy. So we must take our ‘delight in momentariness,/Walk between dark and dark’ while we may and find glimmers of hope and love where we can. 

O Love in Me

O Love, be fed with apples while you may,
And feel the sun and go in royal array,
A smiling innocent on the heavenly causeway.

Though in what listening horror for the cry
That soars in outer blackness dismally,
The dumb blind beast, the paranoiac fury,

Be warm, enjoy the season, lift your head,
Exquisite in the pulse of tainted blood,
That shivering glory not to be despised.

Take your delight in momentariness,
Walk between dark and dark, a shining space
With the grave’s narrowness, though not its peace.

Robert Graves


Photo by Valeriy Andrushko on Unsplash

This We Call Time

I stand where the sea-foam blows back along the edges, where the ravenous prey on those who dare peak above the water’s safety. God has washed his instruments here and painted the sky with water. Perhaps this is what beauty is after all; life it seems is no flawless art, gilded and framed in some gallery, but this ébauche of sublime movement—this study of loneliness—that we discarded onto a heap we call time.


Written for Three Line Tales, Week 148.

Image credit: Lalo via Unsplash.

Days

There is much to explain. I don’t know how to begin. Time has disappeared. I struggle to make sense of where it went. The wheels we are caught in never stop—its easy to forget this. We feel we are masters of time; we feel in control of the days we inhabit, but they slip by unnoticed like looters in the night and take something precious with them.

I have not written much since Christmas. I didn’t feel the desire to.

There have been barriers, some seemed insurmountable.

My father fell ill in the winter, my mother passed away as spring started. Senselessness replaced her. I found myself asking what is the point? She struggled a hard life across continents and for what? I felt like a beggar in the cold watching Time and Death walk by with sneering glances. Where do we all go in the end? What lasts of us? ‘What are days for?’ asked Philip Larkin. ‘They are to be happy in: / Where can we live but days?’ Who knows what lies beyond the dusk or whether nighttime is eternal? What else do we have but days? We should make the most of them.

The Hut

Emma pushed her leftovers around and kept her eyes on the plate; it was a mistake, she loved him, she told herself again as he gazed out of the window, chewing his food in that way that annoyed her—moving the food from side to side, holding it there before taking a gulp of beer—after he placed the plate in the sink he retired silently to his shed with a six-pack to watch TV; the middle of the bed had become a cold divide that kept her awake at night; and the quiet eating, the deliberate chewing, her averted guilt, her silent love, and her hopes for his would resume over breakfast.

How did this happen, this silent imperceptible drifting like two paper swans stranded lifelessly in their own lake, blown slowly apart by the cruelty of time and nature—is this really what marriage becomes?

She’d been flattered by the young man’s attentions over the week—a woman her age, and he so full of life and confidence coming up to her on the beach like that—let me show you a place, he said; Emma followed him foolishly thinking it would make her husband jealous, wishing he’d throw that damn fishing rod into the waves and show some affection on the sand; but he hadn’t even noticed, he remained on his fold-up stool at the shoreline, his hand on the reel as she lay in the cold, dark hut full of other people’s litter, the saltiness of the sea on the towel underneath her listening to the young man’s affections before pushing him away—’I’m sorry,’ she said, ‘it’s been a huge mistake’—she ran back into sunlight hoping her husband was still fishing.


Written for Three Line Tales, Week 97.

Image credit: Bogdan Dada via Unsplash.

The Magic Forest

I exchanged my wife for a magic forest.

‘It’s finished,’ I said as I signed her over to some slimy fella by the pond. He hopped with joy and said he’d make her a princess.

I loved my forest. She smelled happy and kept me warm. I hung bright jewels from her trees, threaded her roots with fungi. But when I started to miss my wife my forest became jealous.

Each time I try to leave she drags me back along the floor.

I hope my wife is happy in her castle. Living in a magic forest is somewhat disappointing.


Written for 100 Word Wednesday: Week 48.

Image credit: Trevor Cole via Unsplash

 

Be Thankful for What You Got

I am grateful for smaller things: clothes, food, books on my shelves, pens to write with, money in the bank, warm blankets, my children and their optimism, my wife and her compassion. Life is uncomplicated right now, but it wasn’t always that way. I spent years in turmoil, immersed in unhappiness. I didn’t fit in. At one point I never thought I would make it out of the dark places. I lived with depression and thought there was only one exit. I looked for answers in the bottom of a bottle, in books, medication, therapy, in the wrong kind of love. I hid for fear of being found. I didn’t like who I was. Then after many years existing this way I found mindfulness and learned acceptance. Life slowly transformed. It was as if I had been underground all this time. And was only just coming up for air.

There’s a song by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, ‘Mermaids’, that goes ‘I believe in God/I believe in mermaids too/I believe in 72 virgins on a chain (why not, why not?)’. I’ve read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; I’ve read The Prophet and The Tibetan Book of the Dead. But I still have much to learn. I don’t know what our purpose is here (or if we have one). I’ve read philosophies on religion and reality that only confound the issue. Sometimes I think this is all a dream. Camus wrote about these things in The Myth of Sisyphus, but accused other philosophers of committing ‘philosophical suicide’ by taking a ‘leap of faith’ into either the arms of God or the Absurd itself, consoling themselves with whatever meaning they could find. I disagree. I feel there is something more, I just don’t know what yet.

In the sky tonight some stars will have already died. The universe is expanding but will not do so indefinitely. There is a theory that says the big bang has happened before and will happen again; that we are all born from a singularity—a black hole; that perhaps we have been here before, or that we are in another universe right now too. Our dreams are made of atoms, hopes consist of molecules. In a block universe theory, time is an illusion. Time does not flow like an arrow but is everpresent—the past, present, and future co-exist. And our lives are like torchlights scanning a darkened room moving between these states. Maybe one day human kind will walk out of Plato’s Cave for good. I don’t have any answers to offer, I am just thankful I am here right now.

William DeVaughn’s ‘Be Thankful for What You Got’ is my song of the moment. Here’s Massive Attack’s version from their brilliant debut, Blue Lines.


Image credit: Aaron Burden via Unsplash.

Invisible Mountains

We climb invisible mountains each day. We are ordinary people who accomplish extraordinary things. Life is suffused with moments of quiet splendour. We must open our hearts and eyes to them. We are heroes of our own lives: from the cliffs we feel stranded upon to the waves of heartbreak, and the sunlit shores that we walk each day. There is an entire world inside. And a break in the clouds—a departure from the torrential rain—does not come from the outside, from the expectation of another’s actions or words to approve or forgive us. Respite comes from forgiveness of ourselves; it is not through sheltering until the weather breaks, but from walking into the storm knowing it is just rain. It is through acceptance that peace comes. Kindness calms the sea, it blows away the clouds, and holds the sun high so we may see life in all its shadow and light. Life is a challenge: the morning meeting with a difficult colleague, consoling a crying baby late at night, the car that won’t start, the overdraft, the empty pillow at your side. But you make it through. Pure strength is not always visible. But it does not mean you are weak. We are on invisible mountains, climbing our own paths. We may never meet (we may even be on opposite sides), but I want to tell you: don’t forget to look around. You are strong. Survey our own beautiful kingdom—it is unique, nobody else has one like you. Your life is full of tiny miracles and each breath you take is another. Breathe the wonder of now. Now is all we have. And now is where it all happens. Now is the perfect moment.


Image credit: Nathan Anderson via Unsplash.

Bond Themes Are Forever

I love Bond movies. There’s a guilty pleasure to them. I admire the gritty, back-to-basics, no-nonesnese, no-gadgets, fair-trade, PC Daniel Craig movies of recent years. But for me Bond movies will always hold a golden nostalgic quality: rainy Sunday afternoon; dad in his armchair with a can of Carlsberg; sisters cutting out pictures from Jackie or Smash Hits for their scrapbooks; mum milling around worrying about dinner, while I lay on the carpet transfixed on the square box in the corner. Toasted on one side by a three-bar fire, I’d be watching Sean Connery or Roger Moore kissing and killing their way suavely around the world on behalf of Her Majesty, littering the carnage of bodies and cars with double entendres I never understood at the time about ‘re-entry’ or ‘stiffness’. And the villains were always ultra-bad, unhinged megalomaniacs. It was all a world away from my dull, grey suburbia of broken windows and dreams. And those gadgets, what eight-year-old boy whose parents couldn’t afford to buy them a Casio calculator watch didn’t desire those gadgets?

But one of the most lasting memories are those title sequences: the artful silhouettes of cocktail glasses, bullets, and girls dancing suggestively on guns or swimming in water accompanied by those amazing songs—songs with crescendos of horns and strings that broke my heart before I even knew what heartbreak sounded like. And of that iconic barrel shot: Bond striding out in profile in a tux, casual yet aware, he turns quickly, legs braced, the Walther PPK aimed expertly, steadily our way, at which point the screen drips crimson.

Since then I’ve had a fascination with Bond themes almost as much as Bond movies themselves. Sometimes the song surpasses the movie (I’m looking at you The World is Not Enough), and sometimes not even the song can redeem the movie (that’s right Day Another Day). As a child of the eighties brought up on a healthy diet of synth-pop and hairspray, I was already primed to love Duran Duran’s ‘A View to a Kill’ and A-ha’s ‘The Living Daylights’. In the nineties, Tina Turner’s ‘Goldeneye’ and Sheryl Crow’s ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ did an admirable job recapturing some of the old glitz and glamour of the sixties and seventies. But unfortunately Pierce Brosnan’s Bond fared less well and just seemed oddly out-dated and sexist in a climate of girl-power. Chris Cornell and Jack White & Alicia Keys produced some great, appropriately gritty songs (for Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace). But I find the recent efforts by Adele (Skyfall) and Sam Smith (Spectre) a little insipid. To me they feel more suited to some sentimental romantic drama, than a (let’s face it) still over-the-top, escapist, male fantasy of getting the girl, and saving the world single-handedly from dictators, tyrants, media magnates, or demented businessmen—perhaps some property tycoon with a deep tan, small hands, disturbing hair, and a trophy wife with an unplaceable Eastern European accent…wait or am I thinking of somebody else?

But still, after all this time, nobody does it better than Dame Shirley Bassey in my opinion. My god, that woman’s voice is the world of Bond: it’s heroic, glitzy, cheesy, outrageous, gorgeous, excessive, megalomaniacal, her tones could rule and save the world at once. And ‘Goldfinger’ is possibly still one of the best Bond themes ever.

But what, I hear you ask, is almost as good as a great Bond theme? Well, I’m glad you asked. What is almost as good as a great Bond theme is a great cover of a Bond theme. I’ve written of my love for cover versions previously. I especially admire those that dramatically reinterpret the original, otherwise why bother right? So it’s appropriate I end this trip down these glitzed-up and glammed avenues of memory with some more sobering versions of these songs.

Pulp – ‘All Time High’

Nineties Britpopers Pulp, whose hits included ‘Disco 2000’ and ‘Common People’, cover ‘All Time High’  (originally recorded by Rita Coolidge for Octopussy) and lends the spy a mysterious air of desperation, bed-sits, unwashed dishes, and working-class, charity-shop glamour. This is taken from the album of Bond covers, Shaken and Stirred.

Mark Lanegan – ‘You Only Live Twice’

American alt-rock, singer-songwriter and serial collaborator (Nirvana, Queens of the Stone Age, Isobel Campbell, PJ Harvey) takes Nancy Sinatra’s lilting original (for the movie of the same name) and delivers it through a whiskey glass with his trademark, smoker’s drawl. Listening Lanegan’s version is, I imagine, like sitting in a bar listening to Charles Bukowski pouring regret, love, and life out of a bottle. This is taken from Lanegan’s Imitations, an album of covers which includes songs by Kurt Weill & Bertolt Brecht and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds.

Cinerama – ‘Diamonds Are Forever’

Former British alternative band, Cinerama, cover Shirley Bassey’s ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ (another of the best Bond themes ever recorded). They retain a feeling of nostalgia and charm, but here it becomes more of a lament than a celebration. When Shirley Bassey sings the line: ‘I don’t need love, for what good will love do me?’, you feel she means it; but when David Gedge delivers those lines it sparkles with heartbreak and irony—love is the only thing he wants. This was recorded for the b-side of their 2001 single, ‘Health And Efficiency’.

Hollywood Mon Amour – ‘A view to a Kill’

I always thought it was a bad idea when Simon Le Bon advised us to ‘dance into the fire’, especially with all that hairspray and polyester going on in the eighties. But with this gentle acoustic cover you almost sense yourself swaying towards the flames. Albeit, with this version, they’re probably some lovely tea lights on the patio with some sangria and platter of olives. Hollywood Mon Amour is a side project of French musician Marc Collin (also known for his Nouvelle Vague project of eighties new wave classics reinterpreted Bossa Nova and Samba style—another post for another day). This is taken from the album Hollywood, Mon Amour which also includes great versions of Blondie’s ‘Call Me’, Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’, Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’, and David Bowie’s ‘Cat People’ among many others.

Magazine – ‘Goldfinger’

Seventies British post-punk band, Magazine takes Bassey’s classic and replaces the charm and glamour of ballrooms with the menace and sneers of seedy pubs, and the glittery gowns for muddied Dr. Martens. Goldfinger is no longer a wealthy businessman here, but that nutter in the corner with a tattooed hand wrapped around a pint of lager. His ‘kiss of death’ probably involves a Stanley knife, and his ‘Midas touch’ probably comes from a gold-plated knuckle duster. An inspired and somewhat disturbing version. This song is available on their album Real Life.

 

The Old Guard

The boy remained silent for miles, struggling to steer his horse while cuffed with his lank hair shielding his grubby face; the boy was barely eighteen and too young to remember, but Robbie, the older of the two guards, thought often about the old times when it was all about ‘incarceration’, ‘correction’, and ‘reform’after The Great Collapse that all changed; Robbie, would never tell anyone, but he hated his job, it had no prospects or progression, and was a daily reminder of death; but it was a job, and a job meant being alive in this new world, and it was better this way, Robbie kept telling himself, punishment was more effective and swifter, with no chance of re-offending.

As they reached the edge of The New Forest, the cold autumn sun had disappeared behind the clouds, the woods seemed silent, and the only apparent sounds were the horses hooves over the crisp leaves, and their own cold breaths; Robbie understood the boy’s silence as a sign of guilt, but a part of him felt sorry for the young man, ‘Listen,’ he said, ‘this is where we leave you, kid, but because I like you—and I know it doesn’t mean much now—I know you probably didn’t mean to kill all them people the way you did, you were desperate and all, I get it…I mean we all gotta eat, right…anyway, one little tip: stick to the left path, most of these hunters, they like the elevation of the right, stick low and behind the trees you might live a little longer…for what it’s worth.’

The boy dismounted the horse, almost falling from it, and without thanking Robbie, ran unsteadily to the left; Robbie watched him and thought of the old days when, after a day at the office, he’d give his wife a quick text or call, or check-in online before passing the commute like the others staring at a screen denying the end was about to begin—but here, there was no denying, no end or beginning anymore, just now—and now he’d have to ride the fifty miles back in darkness before escorting another offender tomorrow; and as he turned, desiring the simple comforts of a warm bed or some hot soup, the low sun broke through the trees and tall shadows stretched along the forest floor as gunshots sent flocks of birds fluttering to the skies above.


Written for Three Line Tales, Week 95.

Image credit: Tobias Keller via Unsplash

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