I know it is coming, and I think about it almost every day. The door closing, the life ending. The peace to know that I cannot change a thing and the acceptance to say that I have had a good life: I have lived and I have loved, and in turn I have been loved and lived my life as best I could with others, with my family and friends. A door is closing, but I am thankful it was ever open at all.
I wanted to love you
but you made it hard,
Turned away my cheek
and instead raised the card
That declared your hostilities
and declared a war,
It was then I knew
that I deserved so much more
I wanted to love you
so you made it hard,
I wanted to know you
but you made it hard
I wonder where you are
wonder who you became,
I wanted to love you,
but you made it hard. . .
My mother has this Christmas tradition that, when we have all taken our seats and just before we have taken our first bite of a long-awaited roast dinner, we raise a toast to the dearly departed, to those members of the family who are no longer with us and to those friends that no longer accompany us throughout our life journey. It reminds us, the living, to be thankful that we are seeing the close of yet another year together, to remain thankful to have known the dearly departed and that we remember them still.
The fact that this takes place before we have tasted our food is of the utmost importance. To say thank you on an empty stomach is to accept that we have lost those that will never be by our sides again, that we will never break bread with them and share our laughter and sadness across the table. Our eyes will never again catch theirs.
I sometimes like to imagine where the deceased are now, as if their memories have somehow broken free of their corporeal remains and drift uninhibited across the globe. It can be difficult to think that all that we have ever known and all that we have ever loved and experienced can be so self-contained in our floating globe, silently rotating in the great big soup of the universe. But it is and it must be, that is why we remember and why we say goodbye once again at the close of the year.
Please my feathered friends, take a seat and join me at my table. I have put out extra plates, cutlery and cups so that we may drink to our health and continued friendship. It is true that I have partaken in eating your brethren, please let us raise our glasses to your forgone cousins, brothers and sisters, but I shall dare say that if you had the chance to peck at my deceased body you would too, would you not? Ah ha, a shifting of the eyes and a quick nod of the beak!
But we are not here to debate such a delicate ethical matter are we! No, no, such matters of the higher order can be cast aside for today, for this is instead a more mundane meeting of the species. An exchange of information no more and no less. Please, have another glass of wine, let your fingers wrap around the stem and your nose smell the lush fruit of warmer climes. Isn’t it funny how our senses can move us so quickly, how our imagination can cast aside reality for the landscapes of our dreams? Ah good, you are all enjoying the wine!
I am ahead of myself, please forgive me, eat some of the home-baked bread, baked by my wife, no less, just yesterday! Can you see how moist the crumb is and how it crumbles at the slightest provocation? It is a most delightful treat when jam has been spread across a thick slice, goes down a cinch with a warm cup of coffee you know!
Yes, yes, we shall have coffees after our main course and after a few more bottles of wine or so. There is no rush to complete today’s meeting and, as you know, I have already talked to the head raven. He is fine in realizing the deal that we have, that I shall pass on what I can as and when I come across it. You know, of course, that this may be some time as the wars of men are fought differently to the battles of survival that we ourselves fight. Ho! Those beastly metallic traps clunking across the soil, those wooden fire sticks bursting forth nothing but pain and death . . . What a world we have inherited, make no mistake!
But still, we can farm our own foods from this mess, we can survive and I believe that we can indeed thrive in this matter. It will take some tricks, yes it will, but we can do it.
Don’t give me that look old coop master! I have seen that look before and I have vanquished it too, so be aware of old man Kerensky! Sure I may lecture you from the pulpit, but I have been on my share of the battlegrounds as and I will again serve my feathered friends whilst the great nations who rule over us become mired in their bog of war! Now, let me get my maps to show you where I think it is best to hunt for our treasure.
There is life in the old dog yet you know . . .
Taking turns to sleep, taking turns to keep watch. I wonder what my life could have been like if I changed just one of a thousand choices. Would I still be alive? Would I be living in a different country? Would I still be as thankful as I am now for what I have got, or would I be hungry for more, oh so much more.
Taking turns to keep watch, taking turns to sleep. Does she know just what I’ve done for her, even as I keep scanning the horizon, searching for the ever present threat of a life in the balance. Would he still be dead? Would I still be living in this country? I’ll keep my watch, I’ll keep my silence.
The final flight to a familiar destination, my body sighs with relief. You are my final stranger, the person who sits one empty chair away from me of who I do not know one bit. I see your passport briefly, possibly from the Emirates judging from the silver cross of swords potent on the cover and the colourful shawl draped across your delicate face.
Your body is tiny in comparison to my towering torso and broad hulking shoulders. You curl up in your seat as soon as the plane starts to taxi, covering your head fully and aiming for a fitful fifty minute sleep. I am envious of this talent, I can only stare straight ahead, dipping into a satirical magazine to ease my boredom. This is the shortest flight that I have been on for some time now, but even here my eyes cannot rest. I reacquaint myself with the politics and humour of this land, smiling to myself as the plane carries on heading to the north.
I look across from time to time, partly to see the green grass of home but also to check that you are still resting. Your left hand is placed across your stomach, holding steady as your wrapped head lolls from time to time. The silent movements in sleep stand in great contrast to the roar of the engines situated just a few metres from where we are.
We smile at one another as I let you pass me by to get into the aisle, we have arrived at our destination and I am glad. I am finally home whilst you, I feel, may be very far from it but I hope you find a home here too and a loving family of friends.
The guitar leans silently against the wall. Both the pint glass and the cup are empty, the plate too is bereft of what was once resting upon it. He is sated, fed and watered, content to watch videos streaming on the computer laid out in front of him. There was no conversation taking place here, no exchange of ideas or of intimacies, no special spark between a bond shared. It was as it was pictured.
That the walls once rang out with the thrill of love and the laughter of friendship was not deniable, that this would occur once again a known truth. For the moment though this was a simple moment to relax, to enjoy the stillness present at this known time of deep changes. For the walls did not move but the foundations surely did shake in their silent scream of protest.
Photograph by the author using a Pentax Super ME camera and lomography colour film (if I remember rightly), please attribute if used elsewhere.
Give me a sign so I can start the healing,
We shared the wine around the yearly meeting.
As I don’t want to be lonely this holiday,
I’m taking off my shoes and giving my body to the homeless.
I’d give you my remaining years to be alone with you, for a minute of your time,
To give you one last kiss goodbye and a warm embrace under the leaf dappled light.
Again this is another short entry, but nothing can be helped about this. I am currently lost in the fantastic wilderness that is Mikhail Bulgakov’s epic, ‘The Master and Margarita‘. I am currently half way through the book and wishing that I was only a quarter of the way through instead, although even then I suspect I would only hope I was 1/8 of the way through!
Aside from belated reading Bulgakov’s masterpiece, I found myself back in an old rehearsal room this weekend with a good friend. He took up the sticks and drummed and I took my beloved Jazmaster and amp and played. We touched upon old riffs, a part of a Hendrix song, some Jeff Buckley (albeit briefly) and ended trying to emulate the wall of noise that My Bloody Valentine do so well. I tried to emulate some of the circular guitar playing that Anna Calvi does so well (not circular picking as such), although I think I was only partly successful in this. It is an interesting technique though and one that makes the guitar sound more like a stringed instrument than it often does.
Heck, even though my friend couldn’t hear me above the beat of his bass drum and the roar of my Blackstar amp, I also attempted to sing along to my own guitar playing. Now, even though we have jammed innumerable times before, I am still a relatively shy person. So to sing was quite exhilarating, especially because it was just a daft made up song on the post. But it felt good, sounded alright, and it was quite ridiculous. A fine mixture of feelings!
I managed to get a photograph of the last time we went into the same rehearsal rooms, of my friend playing my old battered guitar across from a quite column of a Marshall stack.
The question is, of course, are you ready to sing and to be heard?
Once again I’ve recently been putting some of the photographs I’ve taken with my old Pentax S1a film camera into frames, and I think a few of them work rather well. This is one of my friends, caught we as we were out taking photographs one day around town. I have to say that, even though I used cheap colour film, I love the way that this photograph has turned out. There is something in the crispness and texture of film photographs that I just cannot seem to see or feel in examples of digital photography. Of course the flip side of this is the fact that I used a cheap digital camera to take a picture of the photograph in the frame to enable me to post it here!
The Pentax S1a was made in the early 1960’s and still works like a dream, no batteries needed. The digital camera? Broke tonight after only a few years use. Typical right?
Here is another quick photograph of the sea, how I love the sea. Again I have put it into a cheap frame but I think the white/cream highlights the colours within the photograph itself. Also this one has turned out much better than expected. I expected it to be slightly scuzzy and not really crisp or clear at all, but it has pleasantly surprised me.
Here you go:
I’ve also got a few more photographs in frames but as I said the camera has broken so I unfortunately cannot upload them here at the moment. I also think it is worth putting your own photographs in frames as it is a nice personal touch and evokes happy memories, and it makes you remember that being creative and spontaneous can lead to some lovely pieces of home art.
Thursday 26th May
Thank you for your latest letter Simone, it is much appreciated and much needed at this moment in my life. It means the world to hear from such a dear friend. I was extremely interested to hear of your tales and adventures in Brazil – it is a country I have yearned to visit for some years now, although I doubt my old bones will now make it across the cold Atlantic. Maybe I will finally join you in the twilight years of my life? We shall see old friend, we shall see! In the meantime I find myself in Geneva, of all places. It is nice here, warm in the summer sun. Great chess boards too, where you often find yourself playing against old crooked masters.
At this moment I’m sitting in Vieille Ville, sure it is a tourist trap, but I am anonymous enough drinking my coffee in peace in this rich historic environment. (You know as well as I do that I need history, not just coffee, to keep me going). As a pleasant extra I am served by waitresses that have truly taken in the beauty of the landscape – they have must have gulped it down so candescent is their splendour and bosoms! Enough of my chatter, let us get down to business and the reason why I write to you now.
Yesterday I received a letter from a person that neither I nor you know, yet they knew me intimately. Although I have only been in Geneva a few weeks (and what glorious peaceful weeks they have been!) this person knew of my history and of our connection. We both know what it is like to live but not to be alive, to merely survive, of constantly having to check who is behind you. I do not want to do that again, I will not. We are brother and sister me and you, not a family by shared blood but by shared experiences. I know I can trust you and that is why I write to you now in deepest confidence.
The content of the letter was vicious, bloody, a real slap in the face of a warning. I could make out a couple of sentences warning of retaliation for being what we are, for having the nerve to run when we did. I am not sure, though, that the writer knew of our story in all of it’s grisly detail, just that we had escaped, ran across that fateful line that separated us from them.
When I close my eyes, when I try to sleep, just when I think I am at my most peaceful sitting by the lake, the scene is shattered irrevocably. I see them still, caged like beasts whilst we ran for our lives, flying over torn up fields of green. We both know that there was no chance of rescuing any of the others but that did not make the decision to leave any easier. When I wake in the morning tears still stain my pillows, such is my desolation that I weep in my sleep. I only hope that you, sister, fare better then me in such circumstances. Indeed, in our way, we have swapped the turmoil in our souls for the beauty of landscapes that we each now inhabit. As deep as we try to drink in the beauty of the world, we know of the deepest darkest recesses of the human mind that haunt us wherever we shall go.
But let me come back to the letter. It was hand delivered to the door of my apartment in Geneva around the time the normal post came. This realisation, that whoever dropped it off knew where I was living, came to me like a slap in the face. It was as if I had been pulled from a deep peaceful coma and plunged into an ice bath. Perhaps for too long had I been lulled into a false sense of security by the facade of history in the city. Either way I knew I had to act quickly.
The letter did not state any direct actions that the writer would take but it did not need to – after all the very fact that they knew where I lived was a threat enough was it not? I decided to pack my bag that instant, leaving the apartment within the hour. I am hiding in plain sight at the moment but later I shall catch the train and escape this city altogether. I do not feel safe here any more. I knew of course that it was risky to stay here, but I will not abandon them, at least not until I know it is too late.
You know I cannot seem to escape Europe itself. My roots are too deeply embedded in the landscape, my history present in the wind, the soil drenched in my blood. I cannot leave here, nor will I. As much as I would love to sit by your side on the white beaches of Rio I cannot. Please have that extra drink for me and raise your glass when you do. Think of me, but think of others left behind. Only in our mind are we truly free.
So this letter is just a warning sister, please be on your guard as I am now on mine.
In this letter I have included a safe location for you to write to me. For now I will deposit this letter at the railway station and ask an aide to post it later on today to make the 5pm post.
Please reply when it is safe, when you are able.
The water lapped over my feet as I sat in the shallow surf, the sand acting as a welcoming cold blanket to hold the heavy weight of my sodden body. I was focused on watching the summer sun shimmer over the watery horizon, ascending to spend a day in the big blue eternal.
I happened to be only a stone’s throw from the rest of the gang back behind me, who were content rummaging in the post-apocalyptic coliseum-like landscape of an old concrete water tank. It was half demolished, half drained and half open to the elements but it still contained a small pool of still water, resting peacefully in the centre. It provided ample dry space to camp in overnight as we burnt wooden flotsam and jetsam to keep warm. We would watch entranced as the flames licked dry the wood, as they curled high into the air, as pieces of free floating ember drifted out over the water. Occasionally the concrete couldn’t handle the heat and a bit of rock or ‘crete would crack and shoot off like an errant lost firework. It was peaceful and it was beautiful.
We were cut off from the rest of the town by a train hill, had to enter this ruined landscape by a long concrete tunnel bored right through. It was a visual rite of passage as we lugged our crates of beer through it and pocketed the bags of mary for later use, all the while watching out for puddles or malformed bricks to trip us up.
Only by sitting in the shell of the constructed past could we engage with our present, stars twinkling in their heavenly domain above, resplendent in their peaceful beauty. I am pretty sure that anyone who saw us would not think the same, of our matted hair and corduroy. Throwbacks to the 90’s. We completed the scene with empty cans and deep laughs, of guitars and harmonicas played deep into the night.
They say now that the ground is leveled, cleaned and scraped back. Houses to be built by their dozen, a luxurious bolt hole for the wealthy. The landscape of a decomposing industrial wasteland has been deconstructed and reconfigured to fit the needs of an expanding people. Water tanks turned inside out and re-shod with wood and tiles, distorted bricks re-cast for the foundations. The sofas we used to burn now litter the beach in their full splendor.
But still, when the wind blows right, the scent of mary and the sea can still be smelt, a reminder of a time long past.