How Literature Speaks Through the Ages

I cannot recommend the novel Stoner by John Williams enough; not a single word is wasted in creating a life and exploring the passions, loves and failures of an individual throughout that life.  These are the moments that history does not record:

Five days before the marriage took place the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbour; and William Stoner watched the ceremony with a mixture of feeling that he had not had before.  Like many others who went through that time, he was gripped by what he could think of only as a numbness, though he knew it was a feeling compounded of emotions so deep and intense that they could not be acknowledged because they could not be lived with.  It was the force of a public tragedy he felt, a horror and a woe so all-pervasive that private tragedies and personal misfortunes were removed to another state of being, yet were intensified by the very vastness in which they took place, as the poignancy of a lone grave might be intensified by a great desert surrounding it.  With a pity that was almost impersonal he watched the sad little ritual of the marriage and was oddly moved by the passive, indifferent beauty of his daughter’s face and by the sullen desperation on the face of the young man.

– From the novel Stoner by John Williams. Published by Vintage, 2012.


‘They say war is coming, that they want it so it’ll happen . . .  Just like that! It doesn’t matter if you are the son of the mayor or of the dustbin man, it doesn’t matter what you think or what you feel.  As soon as you join up, they’ll ship you out.  Give you a rifle, a round, help you point it and let you start shooting.  It doesn’t matter that you are scared or do not want to kill, it doesn’t matter if you miss the birthdays of your nearest and dearest.  This is war!  War does not stop for the dead, and it doesn’t stop for the living!  It will continue regardless of what you think, so they say.  Join up and get in the fight, prove yourself, prove that you are a man!’

Here, at this junction, he takes a rest and leans against the pillow before starting again.

‘I’ve heard it before and I’ll hear it again.  Our lives are not so short that we won’t live through war, a war, any war.  Just think about it boy, there must be a hundred wars going on right now – all across the globe people are fighting for this or that, spilling blood for the power of belief.  Killing is justified, they say, it is justified because it helps to prove that what you say, what you believe, is right, is the only way.  We must fight to take back our land!  We must fight to stop them!  We must fight to prove ourselves!  We must fight because this fat bastard insulted me!’

Another rest before he carries on more lucidly.

‘Wars are funny things my son, they are odd things . . .  They are both natural and unnatural.  Nature telling us that we are too numerous and too many, that we need to thin the population somewhat, create a bottleneck so we can survive.  Wars are the outcome of the idle rich, of those that seek power and revenge.  War ain’t nothing good, but we’re used to it.  Society accepts the causes and the outcomes, realizes that there is always a price to pay.’

War is war, the living are the living, and the dead are the dead, I wanted to add.

‘There is nothing to see here son but history, the ashes of a thousand dreams . . .’

‘Dad?  Can you hear me dad, I’m right here . . .  Just give me your hand dad, you’ll be okay.  I love you.  I’ll be back soon, okay?’

I shepherd the son out, who is caught briefly off-guard by the single tear running down the older man’s left cheek.

This speech wasn’t anything knew, but I knew that the son had to try and talk to his father, to try and establish reality once more.

Dreaming in the Winter

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.


Photograph by the author using a Pentax Super ME camera and Lomography Lady Grey film. If used elsewhere please credit as appropriate.

Fall From Grace

It was a tick box exercise that I had been through many times before. The lush and satisfying swaying of her hips was met and complimented by the beauty of her face. Tattoos adorned her tanned and lithe arms, the nape similarly decorated. She could lull me into any decaying dream and I would have followed wholeheartedly. She guided me through the process that was to come in some far off distant time, but my attention was not on that inescapable void.  It was focused greedily on her, imagining what it would be like to kiss those lips and to sleep by her side each and every night, even though I did not know who she was, nor what her dreams or aspirations were.

Of course I was daydreaming, I was escaping the reality of the situation as I always had in those circumstances. I was lost in a reverence I had not earned nor sought. I looked to the motherly figure of my desires and implanted fake hopes and dreams onto those individuals instead, even as they took me under their wing and I gave wholeheartedly in. In short I became a ward of the system, I did not rebel.

‘Don’t you go too far, you don’t want the weather to turn bad’. It somehow felt like a hollow cry, an obvious plea.  I’d never seen him look frailer.  I worry now, of course, partly from guilt but also from love.  How far those miles seem, how slow the fastest transport is.

26 and Out, Over.

26 and out,



Yes, receiving!

Hello there! Look, it’s happened!

Yes, over.

Oh, nothing much.  Will you sustain coverage?

No, that all? Hold your bile.  Over.

Yes, okay.  Any thing for lunch?

Sandwich.  Okay, over.


An empty transaction, the masses spit on your grave even as your culture fractures under the public eye.  Yes, your skin will crack under the sun and your bodies will shrivel.  Instead the talk will focus on non-existent personalities, screaming inane words until their faces turn blue.  Politics, culture, digital media! Like this, read that. Digest, regurgitate.  Eat Eat Eat. Shit Shit Shit.  Live your life but don’t infringe on others, sit and hold your knife and fork even as others sit and starve, here we are.  This is us and that is them, an open divide.  A smell, putrid and fresh, a boil on this scarred land.  Sailors tied to their posts, a whip cracking at their torsos.  Fresh blood broiling over their naked hairy backs, frothing at the slightest glimmer of light.

Join me! he shouts, Join Me! JOIN ME! Have your voices heard, your hand raised, your vote cast!  Tick my number and look at my face.  This is me and you are voting for this!

A shadow disperses, and death marches forward.  The inevitable crunch of extinction, bones snapping underfoot.  Yet this too will be dust.  How inane it all seems.  How selfish it all is.  How frustrated the system of this system is.  Geological time, star dust, the universal contraction of the inevitable birth of a nation will be smeared by the blood of its own first borne.

This is horrific.  This is absurd.  This is the state of no nation, no planet, no universe.  Feel glad to be alive and grab that life and love it.  Hold your brother, your sister, as you hold yourself.  Life is not mutable, there is no eternal transaction, life debt paid heaven ascendant.

Data Limit Reached

I sit and I stare, and I stare and I sit.  My hands dance around the keyboard fast, like jittery spider legs all dancing to different tunes.  Music is my saviour in this environment.  Without it I am sure I would have quit long ago, perhaps not of my own accord.  It keeps me grounded, both encouraging me to pursue the dreams I still have and to soldier through.  I think of the many hours it took to make those albums, those songs that I hear day in and day out, of the musicians doing it for the sheer love it of it, for the need to fulfill the creative energy.  This line of thinking makes me crave my own instrument of choice, the guitar sitting silently now at home.  It’s sunburst finished body reflecting the big beautiful sun that filters through the windows of my bedroom.   

There is something uniquely mind numbing about staring at a screen for 8 hours a day, not doing what you want to do, but having to do it anyway and regardless.  To know that you are an expendable part of a greater whole, a cog that can be replaced at any time by any one.  It is both thoroughly depressing and liberating.

A Final Meal

It was a fine calm day to prepare my last meal.  It was peaceful, a time where most families would be preparing their roast dinners at a time of festivity.  I had the place to myself.

The delicate leaves on the nearby row of silver birches fluttered in the the light breeze, a natural calming wind chime for the living.

Some say that eating in the open air unleashes the taste buds, that the fresh air invigorates the tongue itself.  Others say that it makes our ancestral mind recall the eating of flesh outside in the open, that the brain releases neurochemicals of pleasure because of this ancient recollection.

I could not care less.  Eating in the open was delicious, pure and simple.

I had prepared the table, cleaned it carefully and laden the surface with the finest embroidered cloth I could buy.  The cutlery was the best silver I could lay my hands on, the table set for two.

The main course, venison slow cooked with red wine jus, was waiting speared on a silver tray.  It was perfectly cut, thin slices of pure lean meat.

I was surrounded by good friends, long since dead and remembered only in stone.

With the first bite of the meat the juices ran down the side my mouth, tinged red.  I closed my eyes and slowly ate a soft delicious slice of a beautiful creature.

The sun was shining and my heart was howling.  I had come to eat my dignity.


The stone angel overlooking the eternal place where mortals lie. Taken by the author with a Pentax S1a camera using black and white film. If reproduced anywhere credit as appropriate.

Parallel Lives

I opened the door to the bathroom and quickly recoiled.  The light switch was on my side of the door so she was sat in full illumination on the toilet.  In that one second glimpse I had seen her peroxide bleached hair, bright red lips and her weathered face, a map of saggy crevasses of loose ancient skin that lined her rough hewn face.  Our eyes had met in mutual surprise and I quickly closed the door.  I opened it again to confirm my initial findings and quickly closed it once more.  Loose white cotton pants, a graying dusty jumper and a hand held out in wonder.  Neither her nor I yelped in surprise at this sudden and unexpected encounter.

I did not have a single idea where this lady, possibly 80 or 90 years old, had come from but I knew I had to tempt her out of my living space.  I rapped once, twice, at the wooden door hoping to engage her in a dialogue.  No reply came to my knocking and I could not bring myself to speak out because my throat had dried out at this sudden intrusion.  I rapped again, quickly and forcefully, hoping that she’d recognise my insistence in my drumming on the door.  A muffled cough, a moving of her body perhaps, came in response.  I flicked the light switch from the on to off and on position quickly, in warning, and once again opened the door.

This time our eyes met without the surprise.  She had managed to cover herself but still sat defiantly on toilet, as if it were her natural place in this world.  I pointed to another exit, insistently waving my hand.  She bade no attention to it and curled her rouge stained lips in a sneer of distrust.  I exited quickly and closed the door once again.  Small beads of sweat were starting to form upon my forehead, a physical manifestation of the knot of stress I was beginning to feel in the pit of my stomach.

I had a date tonight, a girl I had had the luck of meeting at a job function.  I had hoped to tempt her back to my lodgings after a romantic meal out but this old lady would not move.  I simply could not bring Susanna back here with the threat of the old lady haunting the place.

I chewed my lips in thoughtful concentration, how did I lure this person out, how could I tempt her to leave what was, after all, my bathroom.  I declined to think of how she had managed to find herself there, of how long she had sat on her porcelain throne in the dark.  I had returned from work just over an hour ago and had heard no movement from the bathroom since my return, thus it was conceivable she had kept quiet and still for at least that long, if not longer.  Did she want or need anything?  No, she had seemed quite content to sit silently without any indication of want or of need of anything.  As if she was happy to remain in silence.

She had to go.  I knew not where, just that she had to leave my lodgings.  I opened the door, not quickly this time but slowly and forcefully and indicated that she had to leave.  Again she sneered at my gesticulations and turned her head away from my direct gaze.  I remained unperturbed and stood my ground.  It was now or never.

I held her in a strong embrace, her face mere inches from my own, glazed blue eyes staring defiantly into mine for the first time.  Her body was lighter than her frame suggested.  I quickly moved her into a standing position and she was forced to use her legs and steady her body; it wobbled for a second on its axis but quickly regained its composure.  I pointed once more into the direction in which I wished her to march.

I was not prepared for the forlorn look that graced her pitted face at that moment.  Her entire body slouched, her sneer becoming a sad smile and her eyes became downcast, looking to the floor as if for support.  It was an arresting sight, the fragility of the human spirit embodied in a broken body.  My heart sighed and my hand automatically held her shoulder in a physical embrace, in moral and emotional support.

It was at that moment that I received a quick sting on the cheek.  I had no time to process it but I knew it was her hand that had singed my cheek, leaving, I noticed in the bathroom mirror opposite, a red mark on my flesh.  She instantly sat back down on the toilet and took down her cotton pants.  I sighed in desperation and quietly closed the door behind me as I made my escape.

I did not meet Susanna that night, nor the next when she telephoned to arrange another date.  Instead I sat still and quiet upon my neatly made bed, wondering just who the woman in my bathroom was and just want it is that she wants.