Friday, May 31, 2013

A Sale of Red Wellington Boots

Rupert stood by his stall, if a car boot could be called a stall. Well, the car had stalled several times on the way to this late riser site, and he had arrived after the last late riser of them all. Customers had come and gone before Rupert had arrived in his banger and opened his boot ... to reveal it seemed several pairs of red wellington boots that had fallen off a lorry ... literally.

The lorry had been backing up with relentless beeping noises that had woken the neighbourhood before breakfast. An aging population that had probably been up half the night with weak bladders or just tossing and turning, half-dreaming, half-sleeping, half-waking, half counting sheep. Anxiety in fifth gear at the slowest time of existence just before dawn. Only to be further disturbed by a reversing juggernaut in their cul de sac - and, when its engine gunned to a halt, the sound of an overload of floppy footwear hitting the concrete as the driver opened the back. Rather like rubber fish just released from a teeming net onto a slimy deck...

Rupert got up and peered through the window. Just right for a boot sale, he thought. He stroked his chin as he watched the lorry head out of God's waiting-room into the stream of traffic just beyond.  .

Rupert changed into his pyjamas to convince others, if not himself, that he had been fast asleep instead of fretting at the window all night waiting for the bad dream he'd always expected to arrive, should he not be on watch for it. He watched a seagull suddenly land on the pile of boots having mistaken them for zombie stumps.

It was then he spotted Mrs Beaver peering out of her bungalow door as she inspected the red wellingtons, that had spilled over into her front garden. Her late  husband was still in bed.

Rupert was determined that he would harvest the boots for a boot sale  before she did. If this were a proper dream, he felt himself lucky that he was unexpectedly not listening to the BBC World Service on his earphones, while half awake, listening to reports from Middle Eastern war zones as part of the nightmarish world of broken sleep. If this were not a dream at all, then how explain why it felt like one? Broken waking halfway to broken death.

Only in a waterlogged Hell did you need such boots. 

"How much?"

Rupert suddenly realised that someone had approached the boot of his car pointing to the red wellingtons.

"A pound a pair," he decided to say.

"Have you got my size?" asked the prospective customer.  A young man who had a small girl holding on to his hand. Well, a man younger than Rupert, at least.

"Try a pair on, if you like," offered Rupert, while bending as if to choose the likeliest to fit a grown man.

"I'll give you a fiver for the lot, without trying any on," the man suddenly said, as he put a hat on the girl. The sun was now high in the sky.

"A tenner and it's a deal," said Rupert. He'd had enough and wanted to cut his losses. There were a few in the pile that would fit the smallest of children, he knew. He would have no conscience about palming off the boots from his boot, even if they fitted nobody but fairy story giants. But selling was an art - and being sincere as well as feeling sincere was half the battle.

Mrs Beaver was already in the road collecting up the boots before Rupert had the chance to venture beyond his own bungalow door. He went back to bed. He wondered why she had a sun hat on so early in the morning. 

As he lay awake, he heard a helicopter in the sky. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

From my review HERE of Black Static #34


…that’s tomorrow!

The King Of Love My Shepherd Is – Ilan Lerman

“‘It's what it was like for Edmund Hillary on top of Everest,’ I said.”

This story, for me, represents very powerfully what it was like to be a boy in a British Primary School in the 1950s, as I was. Not that every detail matches up to my experiences, but the essence is there. The separate playgrounds. Gender bemusement. The sense of God on High. The sense of the aftermath of the War as an immediacy. The Eagle comic. Gobstoppers. Bullying. My dad telling me to stand up for myself . Times Tables. Hymn-singing at Assembly. Nightmares, that come back from time to time even these days.
In this story there are insidious things going on – a mystifying dread of the interpenetration between the physical and the emotional, mingled with what I can only describe, now, resulting from my reading of Black Static today, as the Icarus feeling. Falling into Brueghel’s painted sea and hardly being noticed.
And peers and saints or gods that you trusted that should never have been trusted.
But there is also a sense here – from the mention of Everest and the Eagle – of soaring beyond this story’s ending. More than those hymns ever managed to do for me!

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Threat of Rain

There was a threat of rain in the air, enough for me to plan my route close to the shopping area rather than using the more exposed -- but effectively shorter  -- maze of paths across long as you didn't get lost, of course. Streets can have mazes, too, as well as woodland rights-of-way.

Indeed, both routes were prone to confusion, some shops changing overnight from busy to empty, rarely the other way, but, sometimes, one sort of shop turned completely into a different sort of shop and, at no time, was empty. The financial recession had brought more than just one way to do a moonlight flit or a roof over your head where someone could offer you a modicum of cash for a treasure trove of gold as well as a few minutes' shelter from the weather.

If the maze of country paths was correctly negotiated, one could be afforded a wickerwork of branches above you to sprinkle the promise of rain in directions of spray around you rather than directly upon you. A threat there, a promise here, depending where there or here were.

But woodland can have a depression, too, as well as streets of shops. I recently noticed a pawnbroker's sign hanging from a tree. No dreams there I thought when it vanished as quickly as I saw it. Or should I say no dreams FULFILLED? There are ALWAYS dreams.

Today, the threat of rain was particularly black-looking in a patch of sky towards the woodland maze, so I was glad I had chosen the street of shops to reach my destination. I could always nip into a charity shop should the threat spread over the urban sprawl where I was now walking. I would have to pretend that I was buying something while the deluge lasted, and I always found it useful to wear a T-shirt bearing the words NO DREAMS on the front of it. It seemed to deter other folk approaching me. Your guess is as good as mine why it should have that effect. In fact, by wearing that T-Shirt, it seemed I could get away with murder, or at least shop lifting, without anyone noticing, or SHOWING that they noticed.

Shop lifting seemed a very positive thing for anyone to do. Lifting shops' spirits, that is. Most shops looked glum these days. Or empty.

I laughed as I imagined a shop suddenly smiling, or just the mannequins in the window, once fashionably stern or trussed by jockstrap holsters, now actually laughing at the window-shoppers outside......

I was interrupted from my day-dreaming by the onset of large splashes of rain upon my bare head. I looked down at my T-Shirt which -- if the so-called cloudburst wasn't just another abortive squirt -- would no doubt soon be a sodden T-Shirt. Still, nobody will look at me. Or if they do, they will look right through me, sexy wet T-Shirt or not.

Nobody could even dream of nice figures, these days.  Nor turn good looks into cash. Nor face lifting into a business plan.

Above one visibly bristling horizon, the clouds hung heavy, hung low, hung ripe and pendulous. Nobody really could see the wood for the trees any more. No green shoots for any lost souls who took to the woods.  And those who stayed behind just dodged the crossfire and the cheapshot shops.

With my T-Shirt still clinging, I gazed pleadingly into the sky for the gift token of a hope from all those hopes that I knew existed without hopers hoping them. 

Maybe someone else is hoping on our behalf ... up there beyond the labyrinth of clouds. 

And for hope, please read dream. There is ALWAYS one dream left in even the deepest and longest and darkest sleep.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Waiting for the No 6 to Old Heath Road

Today, I visited St Botolph’s Priory, Colchester, Essex:


From my real-time review of THE INMATES by John Cowper Powys: inmates10inmates9 inmates8inmates11

11. Hither and Thither "Seth's own long thin greyish face wore the intense expression, undisturbed by any need for action, which some spell-bound onlooker might have worn in a religious picture by El Greco." Following John's 'busy' night, he wakes to the "prae-dawn light" (sic) with thoughts of a "cosmogonic blunder" and "two half-forgotten dreams" (was one of them a dream of Professor Zoom of the College of Doom?), he proceeds to meet other characters in the place like four cows, their milkers Nancy Yew and Seth, Twin Thither and more, including someone called PANTAMOUNT whom I sense will become an important character like Mynheer Peeperkorn did, late in the plot of the sanatorium in Mann's 'The Magic Mountain'... and towards the end of this chapter, John is involved in a Socratic-type Dialogue with Mr. Lordy regarding love and hate, much like those dialogues Castorp has with Settembrini and Naphta in that Mann book...

Some telling quotes from the whole chapter...

"As he woke to consciousness this pallid light struck John Hush as if it had been a fifth element, as different from air and water as these are different from earth and fire."

"...and a strong desire to get Tenna and himself, together with as many of the other inmates and dogs as were still redeemable, out of the hands of Doctor Echetus."

"But one thing's clear! I mustn't think of girls' curls, even if such thoughts are, as I daresay they may be, a legitimate enticement of Nature. Tenna's my sweetheart, and I won't mix her up with my manias!"

"...John's first taste of the copious helping of scrambled eggs which was now on his plate, in spite of all the pepper with which he had freely sprinkled it, carried with it a perceptible smack of disinfectant."

"Putting down his knife and using his fork like a spoon, in the American manner, and pushing to the side of his plate with the extreme tip of his longest finger, as if it were a piece of carpet upon which a corpse had been lying, the square of toast upon which the scrambled egg had been placed, Mr. Lordy drained his teacup to the bottom..."

"I feel that the souls of original writers -- for the more original a writer is, the more powerful is the pressure of his projected soul -- are real presences that have their dwelling inside the printed pages of the author's books;..."

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Professor Zoom of the College of Doom

From my review of THE INMATES by John Cowper Powys: HERE inmates6

10. The Zeit-Geist

..and a middle-aged man in blue-and-white pyjamas waddled along the floor towards him, advancing on his haunches and his heels with his arms working like barge-poles, as if he were trying to imitate the motion of the circular man-woman of the Platonic symposium.”

Another remarkable chapter, and you really need to read this book to see exactly how remarkable. There is no way, I feel, that you can pre-imagine its remarkability. You may obtain a possible clue from the same author’s massive ‘The Glastonbury Romance’, but only a clue. This book is not so much mind-changing as maddening.

John returns to his room at night and speculates upon the four horizons of the view from his barred window as then factored into by the Rembrandt painting on the wall wherein its Jesus now looks like Mr. Lordy. This speculation leads to thoughts on how the world’s ‘normal people’ – as opposed to, say, the ‘inmates’ of Glint Hall – maintain their ‘mental balance’ by their (mainly unconscious) dependence on the points of the compass. There is now much ‘business’ with the knobs of his bed and the knob on one of his drawers, and the entropy of ‘inanimate’ objects, and ‘inanimate inmates’ – and I sense, later in this book, due to become ‘intimate’ or, as the above quote says, ‘imitated’! —

Well, all that is as nothing when compared to the entrance around the opening doorframe of a finger, a scene that is genuinely terrifying and reminds me of ‘The Beast with Five Fingers’ by W.F. Harvey – and this is related by John explicitly to the Michaelangelo finger, rather than to the finger mentioned earlier in the Leonardo da Vinci ‘Virgin of the Rocks’.
This finger (sorry about the spoiler!) turns out to belong to another patient who wants to have a chat* with John and who calls himself, during the night, it seems, if not during the day, The Marquis of the Fourth Dimension or Professor Zoom of the College of Doom…

“Hail, mender of mendicants !
Hail, furbisher of fetishes !
Hail, tailor of totems !
Hail, mortiser of mascots !”

*This reminds me of Mr Bannard in Aickman’s ‘The Hospice’ and the goings-on surrounding a benighted Lucas Maybury – and in fact we are here in ‘The Inmates’ given this passage: “They’re all right in the day. It’s in the night that the thoughts and dreams of the sleepers come out of their rooms and shuffle about, and shiver, and squeak and gibber.”

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Luggage-Train Heart

“‘I believe I’ve had a nightmare!’ he told himself, as he lay staring into the darkness with his fingers trembling and his forehead sweating, while his whole soul jerked itself back in spasms of relief to a shaken but normal consciousness. ‘It’s some weakness in my heart, of course,’ he thought, and he repeated several times over: ‘But the heart’s nothing; the heart’s nothing.’ And while he repeated these reassuring words he did his best not to think of a monstrous, heavily moving luggage-train that had got mixed up in some way with an appalling mass of darkness pressing in upon him from every side. ‘I mustn’t think of it,’ he told himself. ‘I mustn’t think of it.’
And although this ‘mustn’t think’ was quite as definitely concerned with the intolerable weight of darkness around him as was his ‘nothing’ with the pounding of his heart over the luggage-train, it was attended by much more serious apprehensions. And this was proved by the fact that each time he told himself he ‘mustn’t think’ of the darkness, his whole power of mind hovered on the edge of a panic-stricken sensation that made him draw back in terror from the black darkness around him and mentally try to push it away with both his hands.”

-- from THE INMATES (1952) by John Cowper Powys

My review of this book: HERE