Thursday, 24 November 2016

Far From Dawn

A car door slams like the sound of a hand slapping a cheek, not playfully but hard; a laugh suggestive of glass being dropped in a bottle bank follows. Then, there's small, quick footfalls with heels that clack accompanied by softer lengthier strides and a hand jangling loose change in a trouser pocket. Stop-start, more breaking glass, a shushed chant, faces and bodies possibly pressed together as in prayer, start again, now a little unsteady, and jangle. A rustle as a gentler, yet urgent hand rummages in an over-the-shoulder handbag, the almost undetectable scrunch of tissues and a low mutter like a breeze blowing leaves where are they? where are they? A clink of glass, smothered, maybe by a mouth, perhaps by a cotton handkerchief. An audible snapped but unmeant: Stop that will ya. Aha, here they are! A jingle like the bell on a cat's collar, then the scratch and scrape of metal on metal which goes on far longer than it would in wakeful hours.
Finally, an incisive click, then a creak as presumably the now unlocked door swings inwards to allow the mash of lips and intermingled feet to stumble over each other into the vestibule, where bodies and elbows, once admitted, push the door closed with a resounding thud, which further disturbs and pollutes the still atmosphere.
A dog barks its irritation, a bathroom light gets switched on, and a bedroom net curtain is twitched, then quickly let go when there's nothing to see but a yellow light shining like a beacon in the darkness. The light goes out, not long afterwards, like an eyelid preparing to return to sleep and a underfed fox decides it's now safe to scramble over a fence, its claws clinging and digging into the wooden slats until its skinny body can be carried over, and then slinks to a verge where there's bushes. There, it sits, unblinkingly, surveying this slumbering terrain it claims as its own, until a noise startles it and it darts across the street, round the corner and into the next road.
The dissonance being the starting cough of a motorcycle engine, which now putt-putts and warms as its owner zips up their leathers and squeezes their crash helmet on; its fastener fumbled with as if its brand new or not yet adjusted to, and its purchase is regretted. Where is he, the rider, going at this ungodly hour, and why? To work perhaps, or perhaps he's an insomniac and so at this late-early hour goes for a drive. He climbs astride, revs the engine and accelerates to the top of the street and turns right, which will lead him, if he chooses to follow it, past a primary school and to a main junction where either direction will take him through a parade of sleeping shops before an overpopulated town is in sight, and where the beam of his headlight will seem far less bright against the still-sullen night.
Unlike the disruption of half an hour ago, nobody has stirred. The gunning of this motorcycle they contend with so regularly it washes over them, so that even those that have been up on other nights, possibly for a glass of water or to nurse a baby, have failed to register its low-throated rumble, though if it they stepped for a moment outside they'd instantly be aware of the heavy fragrance of petrol in the stale-not-yet-freshened air.
But they don't for the thought doesn't occur. They stay inside, woolly-headed, and stand at a counter or sit in a chair in the silvery light that sneaks in through windows that are either too small or too picturesque to be veiled. The luminosity that intrudes, whether it's from a street lamp or the moon, touches their features as the sun might at the height of day. Skin is made radiant and hair tinted gold as the glass of water is drunk or the baby is winded and lovingly, with a tired mother's care, placed back in its crib. Thus bathed, their world seems becalmed and they soothed.
The full moon on this night casts this ethereal light, so heavy that it hangs like a plump fruit at risk of falling to the ground and being bruised, and to which there must come a camouflaged point where it gets plucked out of the sky for at times only a peeled segment remains.

Picture credit: The White Page, 1967, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Like a Bicycle

The best way to 'disappear' is to stay in as much as possible because then when you go out (as much as for the novelty as for the fresh air) it's easier to cope with the interactions you usually avoid. You might even be able to raise a smile or if called upon raise an interesting topic of conversation, or even, as the English do very often, remark on the weather. And of course there's always the standard formalities: How are you? No, how are you? and so on until it's been asked a sufficient number of times that someone has to give the required answer of Good or Fine. Veer from that response and people are dumbfounded, but stick to the script and it's useful. Nothing is given away that you don't want another to know and after you can go serenely on your way feeling a little lighter or at least pleased that you were polite and didn't dodge the encounter. It might be dialogue of no consequence, but it's still dialogue.
Of course, there are other ways you could 'disappear', which I should mention is in inverted commas because it's not really possible is it, not in the era of tracking devices, though if you don't have an online profile then technically your existence could be said to be null-and-void. But even then, someone somewhere would know where you were, just perhaps not what you were doing precisely unless you were one of those people to set a watch by.
Am I one of those? More or less. More or less. I have 'routines' (again with the inverted commas!) which if done differently or missed sends my heart into palpitations and my head and stomach into a spin, similar to that of a washing cycle. Why? I don't know. But the jitters come if I'm delayed or been unable that day to follow through, in spite of being aware my reasoning is faulty. Routines, those I set I myself and not set by others, are an anchor, very much like your first bike with stabilisers attached, which though I remember flying, the wind in my hair, when removed, I've never been quite ready for that same adventure, metaphorically speaking, in my adult years. Oh yes, there were attempts, but those extra stabilising cogs if they were ever off were never off for very long. Riding a bike, as I did manage that, in fact, gave me more freedom, albeit only in places which were cycle friendly i.e. no cars. For otherwise, minus the exhilaration of powering uphill and then whizzing down, your feet relaxed on the pedals as the bike gathers speed, what's the point?
I have at times tried (and failed) to apply that attitude to life but the same reasoning that works with a bike can't be applied here. That light pressure on the brakes doesn't cause life to respond in the same way. It's much easier to spiral out of control. All control. On a road that leads you don't know where in a place that's peopled and trafficked. And that's scary. Or it can be, excruciatingly so, for wallflower folk.
Routines, however, whilst safe and grounding, can in time become dictatorial whether they're new, in development stages, or more established. Something you HAVE to do that is non-adaptive to the events that surround you, even though life is essentially not like that and humans have, up until relatively recently, been designed to accommodate change. Why 'up until relatively recently'? Because I think our wiring, which until more recent times has been geared towards 'survival', is in a process of disarrangement, with rearranging yet to come. Primitive 'survival' has no relevance because the threats – to freedom, to security - just aren't the same; our existence threatened more often and easily by those we cannot see so keen have we been to partake in this New World. Our collusion is also, at times, blinding.
A few people then escape to Control, a private land where restrictions are placed in a bid to go off grid because frankly these days it's impossible to run: to run out on virtual reality in its entirety and all its messy configurations, where persons are not valued less but differently. For those who appreciate privacy and old-fashioned engagement this is just another social qualm to outmanoeuvre, and unfortunately it's not, as those of us dealing with this situation know only too well, like learning to ride a bike: the training wheels rarely, if ever, as I mentioned previously, get taken off altogether.

Picture credit: Balance Bike, The Guardian

Thursday, 10 November 2016

On a String

We all wish for success, happiness and good fortune don't we? Or at least one of the three if scoring a hat-trick is out, and if not for ourselves then for others, offspring, friends, cousins. Some of us are gracious enough to wish it for the whole of humanity. I'm not that gracious or ambitious as little old me (how much difference can one person make?) believes the world's violent pulsations will never be stilled. There will always be a battle of wills between peoples – those with power and those without – and that tide cannot, I think, be completely silenced or comforted. We've come too far, we're going too fast, like a full moon seeming to keep pace with a moving car. How could it possibly? And yet it's there, alongside you, like a balloon being pulled on a string.
Everything becomes a movement; everything is in motion. There's always now two camps, and a few divided stragglers in-between. Take a view that's not of the majority or that goes against an opposing faction and you'll be shouted down, and that's when you're allowed to voice it for if you are you'll be booed, jeered, and quite possibly directly insulted. What is seen on screens is taken as the general consensus or gradually becomes such as more are programmed to its stance, so that those who think otherwise, who think for themselves, are ostracised. A small pocket whose views are not considered and do not in the long-term matter, and who are themselves considered strange. And this is the freedom we all speak of? How is this learning from History? History with a capital 'H' that tells of a world with dictators. Now, there's not just one, but a unified front: Believe in Fear.
The world spins....and we spin with it as it continues to speed up. Walls come down as they did in Berlin and new ones get built up. Transparency, for these walls we cannot see, being as they are like sheets of non-reflective glass, and yet if we looked we'd see it's all a mirror. A great, huge mirror where we react as other countries react in the exact same manner. The landmarks are lit, the flowers are laid, the messages are written and there's an outpouring of emotion which is portrayed as the national feeling. Perhaps it is or it isn't. Yet this Mexican wave, this fever that spreads, rapidly, through communities is virulent and homogenising. When did capturing something become the prevailing thought? An event, a mood, a person. What is this sweeping grief, and retaliatory or congratulatory behaviour? We, a global WE, stand as one.
Do we? Really? Because less publicly most communities, primarily developed ones, are narcissistic. The individuals comprising them inward looking as in 'Look what I did!' or 'Look at us coming together!'
Aren't we just doing what's required of us and duping ourselves? Behaving as we think we ought, showing the emotions we think we should show. To be in, rather than out. Part of the far left gang and not the right. A decent human being with pro tendencies because, of course, it wouldn't be proper to demonstrate your disaffectedness even if that's how you felt. Not alone. Others of this vein might follow suit or withdraw, and like you refuse to bow to the pressure of societal commercialism.
In reverse (that of provocation) the same is also true: people so inclined go with the mass view, get whipped up into verbal assaults or physical statements, or whatever the then conduct is. The moment unfolds and they don't think twice before exercising their mouths or using their fists.
And this is what we call Democracy.
What would I wish for? Not success or happiness or even good fortune, just the right to think and live as I choose, whether that's quietly and disengaged, or lively and involved. But what I'd really like is for the world to slow down its running, to bob sedately along, instead of being pulled.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

A Little Silver Slipper of a Moon

I'm surprised by the details I continue to recall from my American odyssey, particularly now we're in autumn and I've raced on (at my own reading speed) to other countries, to other eras, to other mundane life situations or complications of youth and adulthood involving other protagonists, but then perhaps I shouldn't even claim these callbacks as entirely my own because most of the time I don't try, they come unbidden and out of keeping with whatever I might be doing at the time or if there is a link it's tenuous, not something that anyone else would make, let alone comprehend unless explained, hence the surprise.
And then there's the element of surprise when I do try, only to find the detail I want has gone AWOL; the character having told their part of the story has gone walkabout or the name of the town, now its existence is neither here or there, has vanished, so that I go around with a pinched expression as if I'm controlling a mechanical arm in a concentrated bid to win a toy. I mentally scan, grab the first letter of the mislaid word, and then cast about for its other fellow letters or associations. Yesterday the letter in play was 'W': Wing, Wing, I'm sure it's Wing-something. Wingfield! Is Wingfield a surname? No, that can't be right, it seems an uncommon sort of name. The doubts creeping in and indeed persisting until I succumbed to Google and confirmed my grey matter had triumphed; the irony not lost that I should trust and seek reassurance from a search engine in the belief that it will, in all likelihood, lie to me less and cast far less uncertainties than my own circuitous memory, which I think must be an irregularity like a mole or a birthmark, for surely I should have more faith in my own learned knowledge and not have to check it against some outside resource which may or may not be accurate. Indeed, both are error-prone and yet one relies more heavily on the technology-devised brain to give not just clues but concrete facts.
Still, yesterday I evened up that imbalance though heaven knows I've forgotten the score. And then, once reassured in my faculty's retentiveness of useless yet interesting data, I remembered more without looking, which pleased me no end, since even if this proves to be nothing more than a memory exercise it should starve off dementia, as all it needs is a little prod. Doctors should take heed of that when they ask you questions which have answers you never cared for then or now. Why the hell would you take the trouble to retain anything if it held no interest for you? And yes, that might include the name of the current Prime Minister! I'd rather hang onto the things I've loved, either by name or image, and not strain to remember those that matter to me personally very little.
In an earlier paragraph, I mentioned that my mind is circuitous (I did, didn't I?!) Well, anyhow, it is and that I've just proved by the removal of myself from the beaten track to wander with you in the bush for a while, but now, after several rotations and a few puzzled compass gazes, I spy the natural path once more and really think we should return for nightfall is not far off. I've heard there are bears, and grateful though I am for your company I would not make a happy camper, although I did take the precaution of bringing a bell should a bear emergency arise, which I admit to originally thinking was some kind of folkloric legend. Perhaps now would be the best time to unpack it from my knapsack but it does rather make one feel like a school mistress in a yard instructing her charges to stop play immediately and line up. What if I rung it and then looked behind to find a line of bears?
A silly scenario, but then stranger things have happened and been reported. And nothing in my imagination is out of bounds, I'm freer there than I am anywhere, though I draw the line at making such things materialise, but should it happen, well, I'm not to blame. The circumstances happened to be right and I was just there. If this was a play, I might employ a screen to project my mental images at infrequent intervals, like how they used to do in Charlie Chaplin films, except these wouldn't state but highlight pictorially what's coming next. Screen: A little silver slipper of a moon under which a young girl and an older woman stand, because I'm about to rejoin the Wingfield clan on my armchair travels.

Picture credit: Maggie Cain and Joanne Dubach in Mary-Arrchie's Theatre Co's production of The Glass Menagerie. Photo by Emily Schwartz (Chicago Theatre)