Archive for January, 2015

PS_20150130152500Heavy rain this morning, driven in great curtains by a roaring wind that had even the stoutest of trees swaying. The Motorway was shiny-slick with an ominous standing wet, visibility down to as far as the end of old Grumpy’s bonnet, so we crawled along at a cautious fifty, buffeted by unpredictable gusts while the fast lane streaked by pretty much as usual, sending up smoke.

It was turning to snow as we approached the borders of Greater Manchester, translucent splats landing like suicidal moths upon the screen, to be brushed away at once by Grumpy’s fussy, squealy wipers. The wash I’m using is all smeary, though it advertises itself as Super-clear, and Streak free! But like much in life our words these days boil down to little more than shallow promises. We have to look deeper for the truth of things.

Visibility clears but slowly, and by then the wipers are crossing again, dragging out more smeary mess. They mark time, mark the blurry rhythm of my life: forty miles a day, two hours drive-time, and a day job shift between. 38 years, this year. Winters are the hardest. There is nothing else to do but buckle down and weather them.

The car was a warm cocoon against the elements, against a season that is characteristically bitter, laughing at our scurrying haste, at our fragility. There was an accident here, some weeks ago, four cars caught up in what I guess began as a nose-to tail-ender. It finished with one car crushed beyond recognition, the others bent and spun off at dizzy angles. I was two hours late that night, a night lit up with the combined electric blue halo of a fleet of excited cop cruisers. The whole filthy, roaring ribbon of road was hushed, three lanes bottled down to one, the rush-hour tailback ten miles long. Meanwhile, the coppers brushed furiously at crystal shards, as I waited my turn at the clearing-gate. Others stood guard over the fluorescent coned perimeter, brusquely waving on the rubber-neckers.

I was two hours late home last night too. I don’t know what the problem was; it’s often like this now – just the way things are. I waited out the gridlock on a shopping mall carpark rather than inching bit by bit along the road. Depressing places, shopping malls on a cold winter’s night, but they do at least have food of a fashion, and toilets for the marooned. While I was there, I wandered into a swanky bed-shop, thinking to kill time by browsing pillows. I’ve had a stiff neck lately, and I’m thinking my old saggy pillow might be the problem. The lady sat in this cavernous emporium, presiding over rows of inviting divans – she was middle aged and smartly uniformed in the livery of her employer’s brand. Her smile dimmed only a little when I told her a pillow was all I wanted.

So she showed me her pillows, and I liked the way her hands patted them down and fluffed them up. She invited me to try them out on one of her beds, to lay my head upon them and feel their quality. There was something sweet in this, my fatigue lending the encounter something of a surreal quality – just she and I in this vast palace of beds. I said I would be embarrassed, which was strange, and she laughed, said I mustn’t feel that way. But I also felt unwashed and unshaved, too dirty from my day for any of her nice clean beds, and this of course was a thing not for explaining. She was, I think, in the briefest moment of our exchange, proxy for a curious kind of muse, and my sense of unworthiness was itself a telling thing.

I was persuaded there is much to be said for a quality pillow. It is, after all, where we lay our heads at the end of the day, their comfort a balmy isle, oner would hope, from which we set sail each night, on course for the more distant land of dreams. She did not tell me this, of course, but I was thinking it. And as I handed over my card I noticed her nails were shapely and painted different colours, and I fell momentarily in love, as an adept with his priestess. But I’m an old hand at spotting the faerie and I know such creatures are not for loving, living as they do inside our heads, and only pretending to be at large in the world. I crawled home at going up for eight; indigestion from my McBurger-tea, and a coffee hardly worth the name, but I slept well on my fresh duck-downy pillow, dreamed of windmills blown flat, and crumbling towers spilling grain into the wind like vast murmurations of tiny birds.


Where are we now? Coming up to my junction.

A motorbike roars past me, doing seventy. I’ve ridden a bike in the long ago, and I know the rain stings at forty, that it mists your visor so you can barely see. A twitch, a sneeze, the slightest unexpected thing, and down you go. I know; I’ve gone – hit the deck and rolled – the bike one way and me the other; walked away, then ached for years.

If he would only back off a little, tuck in behind me and old Grumpy for a while, he’d surely be safe. At least I hope so. Pray God, don’t let me die on the commute! Let it be on a warm summer’s day with a vaulted sky, on a hushed mountain top, or laying down among the bee-buzzed heather, with the larks rising; not here on this filthy stretch of miserable road, grovelling for a crust. I’m reminded though the Reaper rarely works to a time-table that permits us such dignified exits, that he has a penchant for hammering in the full stops. Before the sentence is properly ended. It’s wise to be cautious, not to tempt fate in the teeth of a howling gale, but he’ll get you however he likes in the end, so maybe we should just say to hell with it? And crash on recklessly.

Not a good choice of word when driving on the Motorway: Crash.

Mornings are a fraction lighter now, dawn advancing to the drive-times, so I arrive at least in daylight. The nights are still a hopeless case though, darkness overtaking before I’ve even joined the tail end of the red lighted queue that’ll ever so sluggishly lead me home. It’s at home my flighty little rag-top dozes under a dust-sheet in the mouse-scented garage. She only emerges these days, sleepy eyed, when the rare dry spells, and that pale winter sun, coincide with a weekend. Then she gambols in the brief openings such short days afford, while Grumpy sleeps, his week’s commuting done. She’s waiting for the spring, dreaming of a summer like the last one. And so am I. A part of me rests with her now, warmed by the memory of other times, while the remainder of me sits in this rain-washed traffic yet again, buffeted by the wind, a dull chatter coming from the radio, a voice bleating on about all the snows yet to come.

mazda in garageI think of the feel of that quality pillow, and I think of the woman who picked it out, sitting alone among her beds, late into the night, each night, and I wonder if she remembers me. I fancy the pillow has a comfort now charged with meaning by those hands that so nicely plumped and patted as if to bless, and will surely guide me safe to much warmer, and more fertile climes than these.

Sweet dreams.



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baywatchOkay, sorry about that. But now I’ve got your attention, here’s a sexy Schatz and Sohne torsion clock, made in West Germany, circa 1973 – and until recently, broken. I saw it on “The Bay” over Christmas, popping up of a sudden with a “buy it now” option, so, this being my sort of thing, I bought it. It cost me £15, and I’ve spent about £10 on bits and pieces to get it going. It was reluctant to run at first, but a good clean, a light oiling and a bit of tinkering seems to have released the life in it. There’s quite a lusty swing to the pendulum now and it looks just grant sitting on top of my bookcase. I wound it fully on Saturday and it shouldn’t need winding again until next February.


You can get virtually anything on Ebay of course. The upside is this helps to keep old things, like my broken clock, in circulation, things that might otherwise end up on the tip. That ugly wooden duck ornament? Those jeans that no longer fit? That hat you bought for a wedding and don’t know what to do with now? Rest assured someone, somewhere in the world wants it and will buy it from you – they just have to know it’s there, and Ebay facilitates that knowlege very well. But there is another side to Ebay that says much about human nature, and you see it when you start bidding for items.

Bidding isn’t like the “buy it now” option. Not all items are listed as “buy it now”. “Buy it now” is just online shopping, while “bidding” is more a competition in which stuff is no longer “bought” but “won”.

When bidding you decide first what’s the maximum you’re prepared to pay, then enter small bids up to that limit. Clearly, if someone is prepared to pay more than you, and puts in a higher bid than your limit, you are no longer winning; you are losing, and nobody like to lose. It’s at this point you should walk away, but instead you are tempted to forget what you think a thing is actually worth, and you switch to an ego driven mindset based upon how much you want it. And how much we want a thing increases in proportion to the degree we think we are being denied it. When that happens, there are no longer any limits.

There was another broken clock I fancied on the Bay last weekend. It had been on for about a week, with a single enticing bid of just £3. I began to bid on Sunday morning, the day the auction ended. I offered an initial £3.50, while setting my automatic maximum bid to £15, because that’s the most I thought it was worth, and I wasn’t going to budge beyond it. I was outbid immediately, my limit burned away by a bidder far more determined to have it than I was. Then I sat back as other bidders joined in the frenzy, and I watched in disbelief as the “value” of that £3.00 broken clock ran up towards £40. I hope the winner was happy with their prize, and thought it worth the money; I’m sure the seller will be even happier.

It was interesting, observing the desire to “win” flickering in my own breast. It was tempting to join in, to not be denied this thing I’d been watching for days. And as the time ticked down to the closing of the auction, I hovered on the brink of upping my bid. I could have put a maximum of £100 on it, and probably won, but that would have been to take leave of my senses. This is why auction houses are so successful. On Ebay there’s no auctioneer adding their own helium to inflate prices even further, but it’s still the perfect forum for demonstrating the power of want over need, and the relegation of a thing’s actual value to the human desire for its possession.

It’s fun, Baywatching, but when it comes to bidding, beware that ego; you really have to know when to walk away. It’s much safer to watch out for those “buy it now” items, and if the price is fair, go for it. Don’t get caught up in a bidding war, because no matter how much you might want that piece of junk, it’s probably not worth what you’ll end up paying for it.

And just when I thought it was safe to go back into the water: a new listing! A Bentima torsion clock with a lovely little Kern movement, all for a fiver and a “buy it now” button. Okay, losers, this one’s mine!

Here it is, in bits:

That should keep me quiet for a while.

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thornIt’s with regret I note many of the blogs I’ve followed over the years falling away now, their voices winking out like stars at the approach of dawn – what kind of dawn I don’t know. Is it the realisation there’s more to life than tapping out one’s heart each night, that one’s blog is not a message in a bottle, cast upon the waves of an ocean of obscurity, but rather it is a symbol of that obscurity, and therefore futile? Is it the realisation then that life is not in here, in this box of words; it’s out there, in the world, where people, all equally obscure are living and dying and making love tonight, and a thousand words isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference to any of that?

Yet I persevere, a stark scarecrow paralysed of late, silhouetted against the grey skies of winter, scratching round in this fallow season, a thin bird pecking at the frozen fields, that the earth might yield, and let me in, if only a little, that it might provide the nourishment of just one spark of an idea that will let me put my mind into my fingers one more time, and massage out the shape of something I can say. It’s a hard thing, to feel alone, to feel one’s aloneness in the immensity of the world, easy to fall to one’s knees at the realisation of one’s absolute solitude, and that it is a life sentence, that there will be no remission.

The writer scans the crowd of people, all of us alone, sees the quick eyes darting, looking for contact, for recognition, like hands grappling at a greased rope, seeking purchase. I am here, they say. See me. Hear me. Feel me. The writer sees and hears and feels with all the rest, but moves ahead, moves on outside the sphere and views even himself from an out-of-body perspective. And when he writes it is not in self pitying supplication, nor in the minute detail of a very personal pain. It is not a cry for help. He writes more in recognition. I see you, says the writer, I hear you, I feel you, and here is what I see and hear and feel of you, reflected in my words. Above all, the writer offers hope that all is not in vain, that there is an ethereal beauty to life that makes it worth the living, but most of all he says, you are not alone.

I see and hear and feel it too.

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Number 8

by fall of night cover smallBy Fall of Night: my eighth novel? It can’t be! The years turn and another big story pops out, both milestone, and wayside friend, and nowadays given away like all the rest, without a thought for agent or publisher. It’s an unusual way of working, one a prospective pro, still chasing the dream, will no doubt find bizarre, but I no longer question it. I am not a pro, aspiring or otherwise. I just write stuff for a hobby.

By Fall of Night went up on Feedbooks a couple of weeks ago, and is still getting about 40 hits a day, easily outstripping its slightly longer presence on Smashwords. This is a good reception, and I’d like to thank those who’ve read it for making the writing of Fall of Night all the more worthwhile. If I remember correctly, on Feedbooks, you get about a month of this high profile coverage before you sink into the sedimentary layers and the story becomes more of an archaeological artefact. So let’s enjoy it while we can!

Anyway, Fall of Night speaks of impending doom, and of death, but it’s also a love story. An uncomfortable mix of genres perhaps? Well, if you’re not writing for proper publication, there’s no such thing as “genre” and you can write whatever you want. If you think about it, love is really all that matters in human affairs, although it’s often downplayed. Anything else is just something we make up to amuse ourselves as we go along. Love, the genuine love one human being feels for another, rises above all thought, reason or deed. The promise of it is the only thing worth getting out of bed for. It’s no surprise then one of the most successful computer viruses of all time was the payload of an email containing the header “I love you”. You just have to click.

And many did.

So, By Fall of Night!

It’s hard to describe this story without spoiling it, but here goes: You have Tim and Rebecca, a pair of middle aged oddball teachers. He’s a lifer, becoming cynical of the tickbox culture that’s crept into his profession, weary of his corporate-style headmaster bullying him into wearing a suit, rather than his comfy Harris Tweed. She’s a late recruit, a former West-end dancer, former seminarian, now teaching religious studies. Both have an interest in lucid dreaming – she because, having suffered a crippling injury, it’s the only way she can dance the way she used to do, on stage, and he because he’s a suburban shaman and uses the technique for exploring the baffling subterranean byways of his head.

Scene set, so what next? Well, what if just one of those ridiculous red-top scare stories comes true, and an asteroid the size of greater London looks set to hit the earth in a couple of weeks time? You can forget the usual sci fi nonsense of sending up rockets to deflect it, or landing astronauts on it with an atom bomb; it’s too late for that, and it wouldn’t work anyway, and all the clever men can do is argue about why we didn’t see it coming, while the politicians argue over whether or not the information the clever men are giving us is credible. And the way they all argue, and the way the media blathers on about it, makes the whole of our society, everything we’ve built and call civilised, look a bit stupid. And then, what about you and me? What would we do? Run, scream, lose ourselves in a Hollywood-style pre-Apocalyptic orgy of violence and rapine?

What do Tim and Rebecca do? Well, they fall in love,…

Meanwhile the rich jet off to all corners of the world, away from the spot they’re guessing the asteroid will hit, which just happens to be right where Tim and Rebecca are sitting, in Tim’s weekend cabin, half way up a mountain in the English Lakes. But with the price of aeroplane tickets suddenly exceeding one’s life-savings, the majority of folk, including our hapless lovers have no choice but to stay put. And is this not the best choice anyway, to go out quickly and cleanly, to not know anything about it when it hits? Surely anything else is unthinkable, and to run is simply to escape to a slower death?

Hmm. Grim, you say, and maybe you’re right but what if there’s a way out no one has thought of?

When Tim and Rebecca start meeting up in their dreams they realise the dreamscape transcends the person doing the dreaming, that it’s a place we all share, a place outside of space and time, one we enter every time we close our eyes to sleep. The dreaming also has peculiar properties, like the fact that with a bit of practice, we can wake back from our dreams to any point in our lives that we can remember, from birth to present day. Honest! But don’t try this at home. And living our lives afresh from that point on, maybe we can find a version of our lives that won’t be crushed by an incoming asteroid? Great, you say, let’s do it! But what if, for Tim and Rebecca it’s version of their lives in which they no longer exist for one another?

What should lovers do, then, given the choice? Enjoy the short time remaining to them, or grasp the chance of more time alive, at the price of being eternally separated? Which would you choose? Well of course you would and me too, but who’s saying it’s up to you anyway?

Fresh off the press, lovingly crafted, self-edited and riddled with typos: Fall of night is available on all smartphones and ebook devices near you – hopefully the one in your pocket. You’ll find it in the margin, you’ll find it at Feedbooks and Smashwords, also at Barnes and Noble and W.H.Smith! But most of all you’ll find it’s free!

Download it now. Go on, you know you want to!

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av3This page is for those of you who are looking for the answer to the question: “if the first three words are the boys down, what are the last three words?”

Many of you have emailed me, thinking the question has something to do with my poem, “The Boys Down by the Green”. However, as I have said in reply to you all many times now: the question has nothing to do with my poem.

One possible answer, suggested to me by a reader is: “The boy’s down”, since the first words, counted from the beginning are the same as the last words, counted from the end. I thought this was a good answer,  but I’ve since been told it is incorrect, so I really do not know the answer, yet my replies to you all to that effect seem in vain as still you ask me, every day now, and getting on for a year: what is the answer to the question?

My understanding is that the question originates with a brain-game programme on a Ugandan Radio station. As the question remains unanswered, so the prize money rolls over, increasing in value. Your cunning Internet searches direct you to my blog because of my poem’s title, but the title is a coincidence and has nothing to do with the competition at all. I have no links with Ugandan Radio, and they have not contacted me with regards to the question.

Last week I deleted the original blog entry containing that poem, thinking to evade further enquiries. Now however, my stats tell me you are searching in vain, and en mass, through my archives for something that is no longer there. Your enquiries persist, only now you are also wanting to know what I’ve done with the poem. Now, you are all very welcome to visit my blog, and this question of the last three words is undoubtedly doing wonders for my hit-rate, but it can only be frustrating for you not to find what you are looking for. So, I have created this landing page featuring the poem again, also so I could take the time to explain, again, respectfully, that it will not help you with the answer to that question.

I am very sorry I cannot help you – I know many of you are desperately seeking the answer, and I can only imagine the prize must be by now a considerable sum of money to so motivate you all!

Anyway, here’s the poem you are looking for:

The boys down by the green

I’d wait up by the old oak tree,
Because I knew you passed that way,
I thought you might just smile at me,
If I sat there every day.

I tried so not to show my heart,
The way more ardent lovers do.
To flirt and press was not my part,
I did not want to weary you.

I thought instead you’d surely know,
That you’d feel it in the air,
How very deep my love had grown,
How much my heart I wished to share.

Surely once you must have seen me?
And did you never feel the same?
Or was it just you felt uneasy,
Too abashed to join the game?

And then it was I saw you,
With the boys down by the green,
And I realised just how untrue,
Was everything I’d seen.

So no more by the old oak tree,
Shall I that lonely tryst be keeping.
It’s not a simple man like me,
Nor that kind of love you’re seeking.

Once again, I must stress: the question has nothing to do with my poem and I do not know the answer. Nor am I in any way connected with the radio station, so there’s no point directing your answers, however imaginative, to me. Please consider this page my final word on the subject; I will not be responding to any more questions about “the boys down”, or “the last three words”. After all there are only so many ways one can say: “I don’t know.”

Naturally I’m pleased my poem is so much in demand, it’s just a pity it’s for the wrong reason!

Oh well,…

With best wishes to you all:

Graeme out.

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fingerless watchIn the closing stages of my novel “By Fall of Night”, lovers Tim and Rebecca linger in a world between realities, a world of mutual dreaming where time has no meaning and from where they’ve discovered they can wake back to any previous moment in their lives. This is just as well because they’ve also discovered that to return to their original lives means certain death, because an asteroid is about to strike the earth. But to avoid it by skipping realities is also to risk waking in separate branches of the multiverse, where Tim and Rebecca don’t exist for one another any more.

So, they bide as long as they can in the interstitial dream domain, resisting the call to wake up while they wrestle with the dilemma. They visit a cafe, as you do, because, as the saying goes – if in doubt, have a brew. Here they meet up with fellow dream-traveller William Wordsworth who, in the course of a somewhat poetical conversation over tea and scones, draws from the pocket of his waistcoat a watch with no fingers.

What time is it? Who can tell? And does it really matter?

This slightly Dalian dream-scene is taken from free-running imagination. It was not consciously plotted, and like much of my fiction needs to be interpreted with the looseness of a dream counsellor, rather than the clinical precision of the literary critic. What you get with me is something irrational, but since I’m just a different version of you, such things are not entirely meaningless to either of us. They are archetypal, and therefore infuriatingly obtuse to us both – yet I hope as intriguing and attractive to you, as they also are to me.

In my own version of reality a fascination with time – and in particular time-pieces – leaks through from the dream world. I wrote before Christmas about buying a broken clock, then spending a day or two cleaning it up and getting it going. Well, I went back to that same junk emporium after Christmas and found another worthless hunk of brass – this time a proper clock with springs and gears and such, this time more properly broken.

And here it is:

koma clock1It’s a torsion clock, more commonly known as an anniversary clock. They were designed to run for about 400 days from a single wind. You can usually spot them by the spinning balls. I think there’s something rather grand about them, but most of them you see these days are battery driven plastic fakes. With the original design the idea was you’d be given the clock as a gift – retirement, wedding, birthday and such, and each year, on the anniversary, you’d wind the clock to keep it going for another year. It’s a quaint idea, though now somewhat out of date (changing the battery on your birthday doesn’t have the same romantic appeal). They’re obsolete of course, though there are still plenty of these old tickers around. It’s just that the skills for maintaining them are increasingly rare and terribly expensive.

This one carries the brand “Prescott” crudely glued onto the dial, and is a bit of a misnomer – hinting at the long tradition of clock and watch making that went on in Prescott, near Liverpool, up to about 1912. But the mechanism is by Konrad Mauch, a German company who manufactured anniversary clocks from 1950 to 1958, so the Prescott thing is a bit of a mystery for now. I bought the clock with a label telling me it “needs attention” i.e. “bust”, but that was all right. In truth, I thought the clock was ugly, and I wanted it only to strip it down and learn what I could about this type of movement.

Although rather delicate and precise in their construction, there’s actually not much to go wrong with a torsion clock. They move so slowly, even ancient examples show little wear. What usually happens is the oil turns to gum over time and the torsion wire that holds the spinning balls gets kinked or broken. Either way the clock stops. So, the original owner contacts a professional clock-maker for an estimate for repair, gets quoted an eye-wateringly huge figure, and the clock goes in the attic, and later for junk.

To be honest, professional clock-makers can be a bit stuck up – I know because I’ve spoken to a few. They rightly value their skills, honed at the bench over a lifetime, but that was most likely a long time ago, and with maintenance free black-box  movements nowadays being churned out by the billion, one must be realistic. It means mechanical clocks are nowadays only for the rich, or the interested tinkerer. And tinkerers don’t always have the skills or the patience for work like this.

With my clock, the torsion wire was both busted and kinked, and the key was missing. I cleaned it all up by hand, degreased it with Methylated spirits and a little brush, cleaned up the holes in the plates with sharpened match-sticks, replaced the wire with the help of online info, oiled it all sparingly with proper clock oil, ordered a new key from the Bay, and got it running nicely, those little balls spinning slowly, mesmerisingly for days on end. But if I put the fingers back on, it stops.

It reminds me of Wordsworth’s watch – dreams leaking into fiction, and leaking into fact.

Oh, I know – in dull, practical terms it means I’m still missing something with the mechanism, that there’s something about it I don’t yet understand. But still, the metaphor is interesting. The anniversary clock marks time. The spinning balls rotate, they oscillate slowly – 8 beats a minute in the case of this little mechanism. But at such a leisurely pace, even small errors add up to something significant – the anniversary clock is not renowned for its accuracy. By contrast the quartz resonator in your modern clock operates at nearer 546 beats a minute, a pace at which small errors don’t make so much difference – seconds a month as opposed to minutes – but both are essentially mechanisms that approximate to an arbitrary unit of time. My mechanism runs, but what is it counting as its little balls spin? I put the fingers on, and the clock stops. It counts nothing, actually. And I can’t help wondering about that.

As I spend time cleaning it up and fiddling with it, the old clock begins to grow on me. I wonder what anniversary it was originally bought to celebrate. If it was a retirement in the 1950’s, its original owner probably died in the 1970’s and the clock might have been through several hands since then, or lingered lost in some damp old attic. Or was it a family piece perhaps? In one sense, it’s a shame such memories are lost, yet equally, I prefer to avoid timepieces that are clearly marked with a memorial engraving because to me that full stops the device in time and prevents me from adding something of my own momentum to it.

It may take me much of 2015 to get this old clock running properly and marking time as it should, but already, it’s taught me a lot – not just about torsion mechanisms and their idiosyncrasies. It reminds me that time is, in essence, simply we what make of it, and four hundred days is really neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things – a key wind or two, an accumulation of slow swings of the pendulum, but always an approximation to a reality we can never hope to fully grasp.

Happy New year to all.

Thanks for listening.

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