Thursday, 30 April 2015

The Eye Doctor

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth isn't that how the saying goes, or something like it. Well, I gave up my right eye, although I have no idea of who I offended. It was gorged out by a crow.
Yes, as unbelievable as that sounds – a crow. At least that's what I called him, the Eye Doctor, the one who claimed he could fix my rods and cones; correct my astigmatism. He promised by the time he'd finished I would have twenty-twenty vision and you don't know how good that sounded unless nature has also afflicted upon you a similar condition, not one of age, but of inherit-ism.
All that pouring over books, people said, has damaged your eyesight. But I couldn't possibly have lived without my reading, that escapism, and even with one eye, I still pursue that same course, albeit a little slower and with large print books, the size of which is an irritant to my remaining eye. The words shout from the page, scream from the rooftops regardless of the plot, yet I persist for I detest talking books. I need to see, to feel the words, to take them inside me, and it's impossible to do that if there's no pages to turn, no words for my index finger to underline. I dread the day when my other eye also fades; some days I clamp it open with an eyelash curler. At night I squeeze in moisturising drops. Blink, squish, blink, squish in the lubricating gel.
My short-sightedness appeared to be triggered by the application of study. Close text book reading and computer work, but now, when I reflect, I don't believe that was the case. I think it was pre-conditioned. It was going to happen no matter what. Perhaps reading in poor light hastened it; at times so engrossed I wouldn't pause to illuminate a darkening room until the last vestige of daylight had left. But still I feel inherit-ism was the unavoidable culprit. A heavy, myopic trait on my mother's side – all their squints corrected when young with fashionable at the time wire-rimmed or thick spectacles. A gene would flip towards the end of puberty, so that on the cusp of adulthood there came a loss of long sight. With me, it could have been fifty-fifty as my father's side has excellent sight, but no that gene shifted and the fatal blurring of distant objects began until I couldn't read the departure boards at railway stations.
And yes I did indeed, at first, deny it. It wasn't happening. I didn't want to come into my inheritance: the intellectual, studious look, even though in my heart that's what I was. I have always leaned towards the scholarly, so in a sense it was a self-fulfilled prophecy, but I might have adapted better had it occurred when adulthood had been attained. If I'd been short-sighted from birth, I wouldn't have suffered so many difficulties regarding my confused self-worth and image.
And it was these that led me to the Eye Doctor.
A crow of a man. Not a towering, arrogant god, like some GPs, but a hooked-nosed and beady-eyed, bearded man. A patterned neck-tied and creased black-suited man pretending to be something he was not in a Harley Street clinic. I'd seen his advert in The Evening Standard, and the testimonials were encouraging.
During the initial consultation, he was a little eccentric but with private healthcare you expect mavericks and so I went ahead and booked the first procedure for the following week.
Had I known he was charlatan experimenter I would have cancelled...
But by the time I realised, I was already pinned to the operating chair by a blue-gloved assistant while another applied a yellow ointment dyed cotton swab to my right eye, then turned my eyelids inside out and fixed them open with a grim contraption. Thus prepared, the gowned Doctor advanced with two gleaming, (and I presume sterile), teaspoons and proceeded to scoop out my astigmatic eye as if he were merely shelling a hard-boiled egg for his lunch.

Picture Credit: The Eye, M C Escher

Thursday, 23 April 2015

A Room FULL of Skeletons

My flesh has been whittled away by time and decay as has my companions: Agnes and Anne. There are others here, but I do not know the fictitious names they were given. None of us remember what we were christened. Our real names taken from us along with our clothes and possessions. Funny, that I can't recall what letter it began with or the sound of it on my own or my mother's tongue, for I did have that: parents and siblings; a well-thought of family, unless I'm lying to myself. Who can say when all are gone? I only survive, as do Agnes and Anne, because my bones, once entombed, were disturbed and now I cannot rest.
Peace had not come to me in death because I hadn't died of natural causes and so a part of me lingered, but upon being dug up, the core of me was forced back into my skeleton like a smoker taking a desperate drag on a used cigarette. Greedily inhaling the nicotine and coolly exhaling a wisp of curled smoke. It was a shock, I can tell you, re-entering my skull like that, through my sunken left eye socket.
Some of you may be pondering how I'm able to communicate in modern language? Well, I shall tell you...I'm using a bored writer. She was just sitting here, not doing anything when I found her, although her mind was certainly busy. She seemed to be in-between stories which was perfect, and of course for my story to be understood it needed to be somebody who could translate my old-fashioned colloquialisms. And she's kind of quirky. A blue stocking but more than that. Scholarly, but edgy. Not much to look at, but then looks change and fade, and carry the least importance.
Through this vessel, I now talk to you.
Where was I...?
My bones dug up from their tomb were lavishly re-dressed in such fine splendour, the likes of which I'd never seen in my earthly life. My family were humble. Poor. We belonged to the lower classes. We made our own clothes or wore hand-me-downs, and could not afford burial ground, hence my suffocating chamber. Suffocation you might think is a word for a life brutally and intentionally extinguished, but I assure even though physically I was dead, my soul felt choked underground. It was strange to feel so shut in after living above, and my soul could still feel all that a human could only these sensations came in crashing waves. One on top of another, the sort that a modern surfer would die for now.
Forgive me for I keep losing my thread. It's been so many years...more years than you could possibly imagine.
As I was saying, dug up, I was re-released but weighed down with jewels: precious gems in my eye sockets and a gold crown. My skull felt like a pebble being thrown to the bottom of a dry well. Unbelievably light, yet mystifyingly heavy. I still wasn't free from my painful early death and now there was this humiliation. And because the essence of who I once was was still attached to this broken body, it meant I wasn't privy to confidential information. I hadn't transcended completely. I had been adrift...unable to access other levels.
I can't tell you where I was displayed or to which country I was sent to, although I do believe it was somewhere in Europe, but I can tell you who I was renamed for: Anastasia, a student of the Apostles Peter and Paul who was tortured under the reign of Nero. A falsehood of course, but then I was in no position to disclaim it. A couple of centuries may have passed before that trickery was discovered; I honestly couldn't tell you as souls have no defined concepts of time. But what a scandal when it was!
Back to the here and now: dishonoured. A fake! In a cold, damp and dark storage room with numerous others. No rest, no escape. My skull separated from my skeletal frame, as are Agnes's and Anne's.

Picture Credit: Pyramid of Skulls, Paul Cezanne

Thursday, 16 April 2015

A Most Unlikely Couple

In Japan, there are two characters who can occasionally be seen walking hand in hand. Their names are Sadness and Resentment.
A most unlikely couple, but then love has proven countless times that opposites attract. Some obviously don't need sameness in another. And this was how it was with the two of them, but if you are the kind to judge by appearances alone, then you would automatically think: What a mismatch!
Sadness had an aloof, yet elegant beauty, which she somehow managed to retain no matter what age she turned. The real beauties, I read Leonardo da Vinci once said, are always sorrowful, a little downtrodden, and Sadness was certainly that. She had a fixed woebegone expression and physically drooped as if she'd had no cover from a deluge of rain or spent too long under a baking sun. She modelled a haunted and famished look: slender bordering on skinny, lank, shoulder-length hair, and under-eye circles. Her mouth and almond-shaped eyes were permanently down-turned as if she was immersed in some private agony. A look that said she hadn't known joy and wasn't concerned about trying to find it. Quiet and reserved, she lingered everywhere: on street corners, in shop doorways, on park benches, sometimes sidling up close to others merely passing the time of day, but yet she never engaged in any form of conversation.
Resentment, on the other hand, was a brash businessman. A stockbroker. He could silently fume, but nine times out of ten preferred to show or air his grievances, and had an insatiable appetite for complaining. He was always wronged by someone or circumstances. Someone had stupidly bumped into him spilling his coffee on his freshly pressed dry-cleaned suit, never mind that at the time he was hiding behind a section of a newspaper. Every day there were instances like this where another person was blamed for their clumsiness or lack of consideration. A person could tremble under his steely gaze as he verbally attacked them. And he wasn't exactly a man you would care to look at. There was something in this appearance that was disagreeable. A sweaty set face, a large, rubbery mouth, and a pot belly that grumbled from beneath his buttoned suit jacket. His penchant for hostility meant he wasn't in the best of shape, but that of course was not his fault.
How these two came to meet I do not know, although I can conjecture. Perhaps Sadness was trapped by Resentment's laments, the only listener to his protesting voice; or maybe on a day where Resentment was silently fuming, Sadness sidled up to him. All I know is that somewhere in the course of their lives these two became firm friends.
Were they lovers? Possibly. A no-strings, casual fling perhaps underpins their non-dependent relationship. They can spend a whole two weeks together, then months apart with no noticeable effect. When they meet next they pick up where they left as if there had never been a separation.
Sadness was immune to Resentment's blasts of bitterness, which were not usually directed at her but to other people, and if he ever did demonstrate this towards her his criticisms were like oil to water. His words were contained within a watery vacuum. But she liked his combustive energy and listening to his self-important tirades. He didn't demand anything of her. Resentment was fond of Sadness for these exact same reasons. He could say whatever he wanted and she never seemed to take offence or had once, since he'd known her, asked for an apology. He could be his most dissatisfied self with her and that was very pleasing. She was a good listener and he was drawn to her quieter energy.
Where you'd think there'd be a power struggle or an interplay of tears, sulks and hurtful words, there was none. Sadness and Resentment's lifetime of grief made them the perfect companions.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Spaghetti Night

I was watching a pan of spaghetti boil one evening pondering Haruki Murakami's liking for these pale golden strands of durum wheat when there was an almighty thump on the ceiling. Those bloody kids! I grumbled, why can't their parents get them to play quietly? Is it too much to ask? No consideration! The same goes for those who run their washing machines late at night, bang windows and doors, or naturally have heavy footfalls. The joys of communal living. Twenty-first century flat dwelling.
My complaints were something of a monologue that mirthless evening. A speech I made where I was the speaker and the audience. Reclusive people do like to talk to themselves. Reason and rant, hold debates with themselves and fictional interviewers, or bite back at live TV and radio presenters. They have a burning need to rationalise their opinions even if the words they speak will only be heard by their own ears.
Believe me, it can be quite exhausting. A distraction to pass dark winter or long summer evenings. One thought leads to another, which can either be like an invigorating morning hike or a gentle promenade after dinner.
As the cooking water frothed, my thoughts belly-flopped to wondering when my threshold for background noise had become so low. Too sensitive to sensory information that's your trouble, I told myself, as really these flats are well insulated. You rarely hear other people's televisions or stereos. Hmm, but that's just luck, I ventured back to my opponent.
That's how it goes, this game of tennis. One voice mutters a view and the other volleys back a reply. Sometimes I refuse to start play altogether. Play is rained off , the court covered over until I feel like reasoning or ranting aloud.
I much prefer playing tennis to chess. Squash is too violent! And ten pin bowling is only for when you want to smash fanciful, largely impractical ideas; give yourself a good talking to and bring yourself down from a sea of clouds. Sometimes dreams are just dreams, a pearl you'll never see emerge from an oyster. Not all dreams are meant to materialise, the pearl is not the prize, it's the anticipation. Actually living the dream is rarely the same as it is in your imagination.
Tennis is all bravado and banter. Ten pin bowling is grounding. Chess is intellectually agonising. Deceitfully strategic. A game drags on forever and no side is ever completely satisfied with the outcome. It's militant: new thoughts ambush you after a lengthy pause and so the internal debate simmers, then rages. It doesn't care if it takes you prisoner and subjects you to inhospitable conditions. A whirlpool mind, a churning stomach, insomnia.
All these mind games have a way of filling in, killing time. Immersing you in a place when time carries no weight, no meaning.
And somehow play always commences on a spaghetti night. I forget to pay attention, leaving the spaghetti to its own devices. A habit-formed meditation. My mind drifts, but my eyes observe the straw-like strands soften and slither into the pan. The water bubbles furiously... Until I suddenly realise that I haven't once stirred to prevent sticking. I grab a fork and swish the rubbery spaghetti in the steamy water. Nowhere near al dente and I just caught some clumping. A lucky save! Don't you just hate eating lumps of gluey pasta? Four minutes more and it will transform into pale, soft strings to be sucked up with a satisfying slurp or looped round the prongs of a fork. Add a little oil, lemon and black pepper, and some jazz, and there you have it, your own Murakami dining experience.
How far can you go in bringing an author's art to your real life?
Because you see, I fully expect to receive a mysterious telephone call from a woman with very neat ears to ruin my spaghetti night.

Thursday, 2 April 2015


Long ago, there was a fearsome pirate,” the tape's narrator began. “He was an ordinary Bristol man until he became known throughout the lands as Blackbeard,” his gravelly tones continued.
I hit the PAUSE as I wasn't sure I wanted to listen to this, his voice was spooking me, especially as I was alone in my grandparents' attic. The house below was empty. Those who had lived in or visited it had either departed this life to go on to the next or had flown to make their own feathered nests on their own or with partners, then children. It had become a holiday haven or when both grandparents were alive somewhere to plant the kids for the summer.
Children grow up, people die, times change. The house had to be sold, so I, on a nostalgic whim, had offered to use my leave to make a start sorting stuff out. A lifetime of hoarding. Make do and mend. Odds and ends. Newspaper clippings, reusable wrapping paper, old pairs of nude nylon tights to sieve the bits out of home-made jam. Two sets of cutlery, the 'best' china, chipped mugs and delicate patterned tea cups with faded flowers. Milk jugs, sugar bowls, salt and pepper shakers. Pre-recorded cartoons and musicals: Tom and Jerry, Pinocchio, Oliver, The Pirate, and operatic records : Maria Callas, Pavarotti, Domingo. A children's playroom with Lego, board games and falling apart adventure books: The Famous Five, Mallory Towers, My Friend Flicka. The living room furniture dusty, the beige carpet thin and wine-stained.
Upstairs, it was more of the same. The beds were lumpy and the floorboards groaned and creaked. Even walking on careful tiptoe made them squeak. Chest of drawers and wardrobes were jammed with bits and pieces: head scarves, slim belts, neck ties, and trouser braces. Navy pullovers and light grey suits, soft dresses and black stilettos. Surfaces cluttered with old lipsticks, scent, and accessories. Old watches, still keeping time, on beside tables.
The icy attic was full of boxes containing old papers and worn out memories. Photograph albums of the young now dead or old. Children's school scribbles, adult keepsakes. Cassette tapes of bedtime stories. Samuel would not go to sleep without hearing Peter Pan. The accompanying music and the sound of the sea. The lost boys' glee as they ran free with their leader. The danger of Captain Hook and the ticking crocodile. This is what I assumed I would hear when I pressed PLAY and the cassette player whirred, not the story of a notorious pirate. One whose image was said to be enough to crush his antagonists and whose legend, to this day, inspires treasure hunters. One who was beheaded in battle and it is said still searches for his severed head.
It was creepy.
It was stupid of me to volunteer for I've never been good in arthritic houses. I'm far too jumpy. I dislike the mustiness of shut-up rooms, the damp swelled walls. The potential of spindly or fat, furry spiders. What was I thinking?
A trip down memory lane. A last goodbye to happy, sun-filled and rainy days. To wander its shrine-like rooms for one last time. A final parting. I wanted to be the one to dismantle it. To prove it had gone and to prove this was okay. To consign it to memory, capture it in a trinket box, and release ghosts from their relics.