Thursday, 27 August 2015


A black man appeared beside me, took my right hand and linked his fingers with mine, and it was a wonderful feeling. His head and torso neatly filled the same next door space so that we were eye level and our heights matched. Bizarrely, I felt comforted rather than unsettled by his unexpected presence and hand-holding gesture, and the fact that this came from a perfect stranger didn't perturb me. We glanced openly at one another and smiled. He had a wide grim with very straight white teeth whereas I believe mine was closed-mouthed and more timid.
But if you think this is the beginning of an unusual love story you'd be wrong. You might then hazard a guess that it's a tale of a chance encounter that turns sour as one wants more than the other, but then you'd still be wrong.
This opening snippet was but a dream, an unreal, but memorable dream, which I think might bear some connection to watching a broadcast with the TV chef Ainsley Harriott earlier that evening, although you'd think I'd recognise his ethereal likeness. I can't say that this man's facial features immediately made me attribute them to Ainsley, but then I was enjoying the unreal qualities of the situation, for what I'm neglecting (and slightly embarrassed) to mention is that the circumstances I found myself in were strange indeed.
Ainsley, (as I shall call him from now on), did not as I alluded to sit down next to me. He kind of hovered alongside in the same position as I, which was in a seated pose, but I was held by a bar in a single seat roller-coaster car and he was copying my posture, elevating a few inches off the ground as if he too were seated, but yet he still managed to effortlessly follow the movements of the car on its single track.
The ride was disappointingly slow like a train that has a mechanical fault; stopping and starting every few metres, until we came to a semi-permanent halt by a set of signal lights not long after we'd entered a womb-like tunnel. And beside the red light was a series of touch screens displaying different scenes and faces, and which I knew were options from which I had to select. Ainsley, it seemed, was there to be a reassuring presence; a helper in completing this bewildering deed.
Unfortunately, apart from gently finger-tapping a few screens, I don't remember the exact choices I made except that they felt right. The light changed to green and the car recommenced its trundling, gradually picking up speed, but of course I awoke just as it finished rounding a bend and before it suddenly hurtled, belly-somersaulting, downwards.
So what does it mean? At the time of writing and with reference to myself, I couldn't possibly say because in all honestly I'm still taking stock. I feel caught between what was just a dream – remnants from the day or days before – and what, if there was one, might be the overriding message.
Isn't it just my subconscious mind putting out the daily trash? Yes, and think no more about it is the easy answer, but me, I like to delve deeper, consider all angles to the problem as I see it. It's just a shame that dreams if you're lucky to remember them become vague so quickly; a liquid soap bubble contently floating along, drifting farther away until it pops. Little things you remember, the things that really matter, you forget. And probing your mind like a surgeon with a tiny scalpel doesn't make you recall them faster, if at all. It's infuriating like trying to solve a crossword puzzle, digging around for the answer to the clue that you know is stored in there somewhere, like desperately rifling through an under stairs closet or a growing pile of junk in the back bedroom.
These days, I mostly give up, think 'Oh, that was interesting' because during the night any stubborn traces will swiftly be removed. Scrubbed out. But sometimes one comes along that's intriguing; one that when you grudgingly wake wish to dream over and over.

Picture Credit: Plate five c 1915, Edmund Dulac, from The Dreamer of Dreams by Queen of Roumania

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Everything About Her Was White

Everything about her was white...
Almost, not quite, for her eyes were dark limpid pools and her mouth was a neat bow of crimson. And her soul, which had been like a heaven-sent ray of light had dimmed. Its glow whilst still warm flickered like the flame of a candle as if a shadow had some point crept in and caused a draught. And there was a slight chill within that there hadn't been before which made her involuntarily shudder.
But against the black backdrop of permanent night, she was lily-white insomuch as the landmarks surrounding her were ice or crystal. She was a chess piece that been bought because in this world her whiteness was prized and because the buyer had been assured that despite her dark doe eyes and scarlet lips her duty was to God, which at that time to mankind meant she was subservient. This was not strictly true for in her childhood it was said she had been wilful, but when such a bargain is being made, details which appear small are often overlooked or even omitted. And so they were in this instance for the seller (her legal guardian) was intent on establishing royal links and the buyer (an illustrious prince) one way or another swore he would own this pale, interesting beauty.
After many months of haggling she was indeed his, sold for a very fine title, but Leda, for that was her name, didn't at once wed this man who was said to her prince. She was whisked away in a horse-drawn sleigh to the land of his birth, which was very Russian in style in a remote snow desert and on eternal Icelandic winter time, an everlasting December, where she was kept in a vast wing of a white marble palace with other maidens whom the prince also considered suitable and precious. Each had their own quarters which they were supposed to keep to and not come together unless summoned, and this rule they observed, although some did devise ways to disobey, and of course gossip was freely spread by the various maids and man-servants.
The servants reported to their mistresses and to the prince himself that the newly acquired Leda was the whitest of the white. None of the twelve could ever hope to match her milky skin or her peaceful, almost too accepting demeanour. But she was biddable in all but one ritual, that of worshipping the midnight sun. She stubbornly refused to do so, writing to the prince that she'd taken a solemn vow that if this was now to be her life she'd rather live in darkness and deny herself that right to witness that beautiful sight. And being granted this was the first stain on her pure soul.
When the reverent time approached, the midnight sun was blacked out from her quarters and in those hours she slept, but this did have a knock-on effect for Leda would then be wide-awake whilst everyone else was not. Yet it was those very hours she cherished, for since she arrived she found she enjoyed this blanket of dark stillness and had taken to sneaking out of the slumbering palace, down the cool, shallow marble steps that led to the sparkling lake where she would stand at the edge and gaze at the starry skies overhead. Yet whenever she crept out she purposely wore her silk betrothal gown with its lace veil that in places shimmered like dew on a spider web, although this was against all her principles and decidedly improper. And this along with being a white daughter of the night, and a conspicuous one at that, attracted shadows; shadows that had infiltrated the palace grounds who were drawn to unaccompanied maidens.
Little by little, Leda strayed ever further, compelled by shadowy presences to slip through the main gate and out into the frosty landscape, yet despite this daily escape she always returned. Her mood elevated from her dark wanderings, although there are no records of what good or evil she may have seen or heard. And the prince when he discovered her trespasses for somehow he did, instead of having misgivings he rewarded her with two giant protectors: Cloud and Moon, the mightiest of his polar bears.

Picture Credit: Plate, Everything about her was white by Edmund Dulac, from The Dreamer of Dreams by Marie, The Queen of Roumania

Thursday, 13 August 2015

From the Archives

Do you ever have moments where a person comes into your head unannounced and unexpected? A rude awakening from whatever you were doing– reading, washing dishes, bravely singing along to a favourite song on the radio– when you find your unintended focus interrupted.
Suddenly there's a jolt, a lightning bolt that brings a remnant of the past whirling in like a gale-force wind. A door blown open. It might be a decreased relative, an ex-partner, an old friend you lost contact with, a fleeting acquaintance that you used to bump into on rare occasions, or someone you never met or spoke in person to, your relationship conducted through another medium. It's always a person that once meant something to you although you or they may not have realised it at the time and possibly still don't. The significance of your meeting, even the merest of brushes, if it came, came much later; or sometimes it doesn't occur until that momentary flash of recognition. Before your portrait was taken without your consent and as if by an early photographer you hadn't given that person a thought. They were forgotten about, consigned to one of those things. Something you may have had a hand in or may not as they gradually faded or were mercilessly swept away. But who in their rational mind wishes to dwell on such happenings?
The five senses – sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch – don't seem to want to very much. They have to be distracted, otherwise occupied, engaged in a task for a sixth sense to slip stealthily in like an opportunistic burglar or a prowling black cat. Then WHAM! you're either hit on the back of the head or there's the sound of a loud CRASH! from a distant room; sometimes if you're lucky the realisation will be gentle like a cat purring and rubbing against the back of your calves, but either way your attention has been sought.
What happens next depends on the individual – the victim if we're still using the analogy of the burglar although I think in time you'll find you're more of a willing accomplice – as the experience varies wildly. But what I will say is that the outcome is always the same: a memory once made, however ingrained or fleeting, is returned, often just for an instant, although the affects can be long-lasting.
And sometimes these impressions are dredged from murky depths so that they surprise even you, the one who created them. You don't remember consciously storing these details away but you must have done for now they stare you, sometimes superimposed, sometimes under or overexposed, in the face. Regardless of whether they're sharp, intangible or cloudy you wonder why: why have they been called to the surface now? Is it purely nostalgia or a fact or feature you didn't understand or see? Is there something to be gained from spontaneous recall?
If something stays with you, it's like a fissure: it widens as you probe around, for as humans we do not always know when it's best to leave things. We think there's a puzzle to be solved when often the remembrance is only meant to be pleasurable. Details we may have previously missed may not require investigation but instead desire acceptance. They might provide an insight into a deeper layer that at the time we couldn't perceive because we were too close to either the set of circumstances or the person it concerned. As galling as it is when you're immersed in a situation and want resolutions or answers, the bigger picture cannot be seen until those intense emotions have passed. You can weep or rage all you like, but sometimes you're meant to be blind to the consequences of yours or others actions.
Becoming wise to certain facts, be it a new slant to a person's character or reaching an understanding of what at that stage seemed rash in their words or actions, may not be in your best interests until after the conflict has died, gone away. Indeed, you may reel from this information when it's revealed after a lapse, but your reflections may be kinder.

Picture Credit: P R Francis in the Colour Lab, Camera Press

Thursday, 6 August 2015

One Idle Afternoon

Scene: A sunny April afternoon, 2015. I am sitting at my desk-dining table listening with half an ear to the rise and fall of pub garden chatter that sounds how an orchestra might sound tuning up, whilst admiring Truman Capote's writing style and wondering if I should attempt something similar.
Finally, after my mind has taken flight many times, I decide yes: I will turn journalist for one afternoon.
But how do you twist something so mundane into a noteworthy event? Do all reports have to be notable? Maybe not; perhaps some people take pleasure in fine details, the things others miss. It is, I suppose, possible that the everyday could be considered just as dramatic if you're accustomed to not observing it.
That's all I do. Observe. Overhear. Detect different tones, notice expressions and gestures. Recognise a familiar pitch in the exchange of gossip or banter; know when men are discussing sex or sport, when women are chatting about EVERYTHING with like-minded girlfriends. And there are discernible subtle differences between pairings: mother and daughter, father and son, a loved-up or an old married couple, companions of the same or opposite sex of variable ages; whereas groups are trickier, but sometimes you can distinguish the hierarchical or social structure. In tribes, some jostle, some sit back, but generally there'll be a display of raised voices, lowered confessional tones or a silent retreat.
The Retreats interest me and so I regard more closely their behaviour. I spot the darting bug-eyed look, the nervous drinking, the amused-bemused half-smile, and the clumsy fiddling with watches, rings, phones, pockets and hair. The trying to look engaged, but not; attention elsewhere, possibly on when can they leave, where are the lavatories, or puzzling why the circumvent chatter is washing over them as if it were a foreign tide. I know their type well for we always recognise the traits we may or may not realise we demonstrate in the exact same situations.
The Intimates too are relatively easy to zoom in on for they draw one of their tribe aside and huddle in corners or more secluded spots. You see their bent heads, their lips almost pressed to another's ears as if they've hung out a 'Do Not Disturb' sign. Ideally, the chosen confidante will stay by their side, but if not they will swiftly select another and continue their 'room only for two' conversation. A third is rarely admitted, because usually when this happens the Intimate suffers a verbal form of writer's block. Their flow of speech interrupted with a third pair of eyes upon them. Their comfortable manner dissolving with the intrusion so that they find they cannot coherently speak. Their sentences now mumbled and ill-formed abruptly break off or hang in the air as annihilating self-consciousness takes over. If prolonged, they wander off on the pretext of getting another drink but in doing so commandeer another. One-to-one is their chief comfort zone as the exclusion of all others brings a contentedness to socialising.
I don't mind the Retreats or the Intimates, they're interesting to recognise and study, but the Trumpets I can't abide. The attention-grabbing loud-mouthed. The ones whose voices can be heard, raised over everyone else. The over-exaggerated laughter, the boorish shouts. The female's pitch like chalk on a blackboard and the male's a deep foghorn. You need no heavy swirling mist to know where these two are for they dominate a gathering, and their behaviour is just as desperate. They shout over tops of heads, they knock drinks over, they make people stop and stare, and are thoroughly convinced that by being a spectacle they're the life and soul of the party.
I much prefer the Chameleons as those that meld are more likely to be flatterers and less likely to be fools.

Picture Credit: Capote photographed by Arnold Newman in NYC, 1977