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marniesnip

There is no time,
When from time to time,
We chance across each other’s path.
No chance either,
Not really,
In this,
The scheme of how things lie.
There is only an eternal sense,
Of blessing,
Of stillness,
And sacred elegance.

Today we stand apart,
As always,
Mute,
But across this void of timeless time,
And empty air,
In my heart,
And in my deepest soul,

We dance.

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singing loch coverAn occasional series looking back at my novels, and the themes I’ve explored in them.

Do your local beauty spots still do it for you?. Mine have been robbed of something, or rather something vital in them has died as the result of an unwholesome symbiosis, one in which the parasite kills the host rather like the ivy eventually strangles the tree. This is illustrated no more forcibly than by a bag of dog excrement hanging in a bush.

I don’t know why people do this, no more than I understand why they scatter beercans and fast food cartons. But this is at the level of detail and isn’t really important as details in themselves, but if we take it from a wider perspective all these things can be viewed more simply as manifestations of an urban sickness. The bag of excrement hanging from the tree, the empty drinks carton squashed and left to rot by the kissing gate, the beer-cans in the ditch, these are the focal points, the weapons of the urban terrorist, the blind hoards brain-washed into perpetrating their various atrocities, the release points for a particular kind of toxin that targets the spirits of place, causing them to shrink back, to flee, to seek out those remaining enclaves where such subtle entities as spirits can still survive in this our modern and increasingly insensitive world.

This talk of spirit is not religious, not pagan, not bonkers. The spirit of place is an imaginary concept, subjective, something both you and I might feel when we walk together through the forest at twilight, or mount the craggy fell-side in cloud dappled sunlight, yet we will visualise it, project it out into the world in different ways. It’s about imagination, and the personal story we lay upon the land. It’s a personal vision, yet one that unites us all, and nourishes us in something that is uniquely human.

Now, at the risk of offending most of the world’s population, which is by now gathered into cities and other blighted sprawling urban carbuncles, I see these as dead places and have shunned them all my life, except for quick forays when they cannot be avoided. But I always leave them feeling weakened, gasping for the quiet of trees and wild green where the story is not rendered unchanging and impersonal in cracked concrete, and crumbling for want of that essential imaginative overlay.

Cities kill something in us. Yes, they are supposed repositories of all our high art and culture, but they are also violent places, nurturing a culture of mistrust, of savvy street-smartness, teeming with the existential bacteria of scams and crime and all their futile countermeasures. The population density in such places may be many tens of thousands per square mile, yet no one knows one another. Paranoia is inevitable. They are grey places, void of any colour that is not artificial, and worse,… they spread.

When I was writing the Singing Loch in the eighties, I could still rely upon the occasional stretch of meadow, patch of woodland, or a twist of ancient pathway in and around my locale, here in the North West. But the builders were everywhere too, planting their flags like encamped armies. They were about the King of money’s business, colonisation of the otherwise “useless” green, turning it into labyrinths of brick and concrete and tar.

So I would flee north, to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. You could still find the spirits of place there, but there was also an appalling loneliness about them, as if the spirits were weeping, result of generations lost, cleared from their rented subsistence farms to make way for more profitable sheep. This is another aspect of the greyness, that it can leak out, manifest itself in far places to begin the process of corrosion, of corruption. I would return from the islands with sheep ticks attached to my elbows and back of knees, evidence the land was sick, and the spirits of place there quite possibly an illusion.

This is another aspect of the spirits of place; they border on the ancient lore of the Faery, need us as much as we need them, but they do not suffer fools gladly. This kind of thinking is very old, perhaps best expressed in the literature and the art of the Romantic period. It’s a much misunderstood philosophy, essentially a search for the sublime, literally something in us that dwells at a subliminal level, but which can be glimpsed by seeking its reflection in the natural world, the world as nature intended, or at the very least as the Daoists of old China would have it, most sympathetically crafted to the needs of mankind.

And when that vision is lost, when the Faery have fled, we are left with only the base animal in ourselves, and the very worst of mankind is manifested. Then the beer-cans in the hedge become the key that opens the door on less benign spirits, and all the shadow creatures that feed despair. Then the world becomes an empty place, a place of concrete and pollution, and money for the few, a world in which the butterflies are killed and pinned to be gawped at in glass cases, as if we could comprehend from such atrocity what it means to see these creatures alive in the wild on a warm summer’s day.

The environment can nurture that which is highest in human nature, or it can erode it, render it unconscious and entirely unfeeling and that we have largely lost sight of such a phenomenon bodes ill for all our futures. In my story the Singing Loch, the spirit of place is represented by the majestic titular loch, a place of renowned beauty, rich in sublime reflection, but a place that has been put out of bounds by corporate interests. In the story I tried to get at the importance of such places, and how their capture by monied interests threatens something vital in all of us. Yet such places are lost to us every day, carved up, quarried, mined, poisoned, the spirits evicted, the people left to rot in hovels, surrounded by piles of detritus, and the few remaining, sickly trees hung with bags of excrement.

The Singing Loch made not one jot of difference to any of this of course. Indeed things are a lot worse now than when I wrote it. But at least I managed to get it off my chest, and through the writing, come to understand a little better what it is I think and feel about such things. I’ve also become a little more philosophical, and sensitive I think to those rare places where the shy spirits still survive. It became long ago, very much part of the bedrock of my psyche, and in writing to understand what it is I think about it, I find I’m still very much in agreement with my former self.

 

 

 

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philosophers

Arithmetic can be interesting and absorbing, even to a non-mathematician, provided we aren’t scared off it by psychopathic maths teachers as kids – and maybe even then, depending on how resilient we are,….
There’s something fundamental about numbers that ties us into the physical world. You can imagine a little lad in ancient times being sent out to count the eggs in a hen’s roost and report back to his mother: how many?

So he counts the eggs he sees on his fingers, returns to his mother and holds up the same number of fingers, and she transfers that information to her own fingers and counts them off – one for me, one for my husband, one for each of my children. Yes, there are enough eggs. Fetch me this many – holds up her fingers.

This is okay for counting small quantities, but anything bigger than ten and we need a more advanced system, something that takes care of the tens, the hundreds, the thousands and so on. And that’s what we have, for general use at least, a system we call base ten. And although we can’t be certain, there’s a convincing argument our preference for working in the base ten number system comes simply from the fact we have ten fingers and thumbs. If we’d evolved with just four, our arithmetic would be entirely different – we’d be working in base eight, what we call Octal. In the Octal system the number nine doesn’t exist. There are units (up to the number 7), eights, sixty fours, and so on – a bit weird really. In fact there are any number of number systems.

In computing, we use the binary system a lot, where the biggest digit is 1. We also use hexadecimal when programming computers, sixteen digits there, but since we have no regular digits bigger than 9, we represent the others with letters. Hexadecimal arithmetic used to really blow my mind. Base ten is much safer ground.

Numbers can do useful, practical things like keeping track of vast sums of money or objects. Arithmetical operations help us divide them up, add other quantities, subtract them,… but those of a mystical bent also attribute spooky properties to numbers. The argument runs we didn’t just invent numbers out of thin air, did we? They already existed. We just discovered them. Where did they come from? God invented numbers, or they’re a fundamental property of the Universe, or something,… either way they hint at its more esoteric mysteries.

Like what?

Well, take any number and multiply it by nine; say 54×9=486.

Now add the digits of 486 together: 4+8+6 = 18

Add the digits of 18 together: 1+8 = 9

This is called taking the digital root of a number, and the curious thing is the digital root of any number multiplied by nine, always equals nine. I was flummoxed by this when I first noticed it, and began to think of those numerological methods where you reduce your name to a number and it tells you what kind of person you are. Adding digits of big numbers together always seemed mathematically meaningless to me, but what about that trick with the number nine, because that’s really spooky?

But that’s not all. If you play about, finding the digital roots of other numbers, even more curious things begin to emerge. Say you take the roots of a series of numbers, like the doubling sequence: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024,….

And if you take the digital roots of each number in that sequence you get a sequence of roots that goes: 1 2 4 8 7 5,… repeating to infinity. And this is curious in that never once do we come across the numbers 3, 6, or 9. Now that sequence may ring a bell, depending on how long and how deeply you surf the whackier fringes of the Internet. And if you’re curious enough you’ll end up on Google and you’ll fall down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories surrounding Nicola Tesla who’s quoted as saying some weird things about the number 369.

But then if you’re lucky, and you survive all of that, you wind up right back with basic arithmetic and number theory, and how the bases work in practice. Yes, they throw up some intriguing patterns like how with base 10, the number nine has a peculiar persistence about it. But if you switch to another system, say the Octal system (four fingers on each hand makes eight), you still get interesting patterns emerging, but the mystical numbers are all different, because they’re not actually mystical at all.

Unless,…

Well, some numbers stick in the mind, don’t they? My favourite is 1881. I see it all over the place but only because I’m receptive to it, physiologically and for some unknown reason. If I’d chosen 247, I’d be seeing that as well because numbers are everywhere, on busses, trains, tickets, time-tables. But we don’t choose these numbers, they come at us from the unconscious and render themselves like dream symbols, the mind triggering our awareness of them. They have personal meaning, but obscure and infuriating. Jung made a study of so called number dreams and came up with some curious results which, as is usual with him, straddle the borders of science and mysticism, but for the sake of brevity we’ll not go there today.

So what use are digital roots? Well, not much nowadays, beyond leading us on a merry dance through the theory of numerical systems. But another curious property once made them very useful indeed, this being in the days before calculators when large arithmetical operations were carried out by clerks in banks or say the accounting departments of big companies, using pencils and paper.

If you multiply two large numbers, for example 5986 by 213, you get 1275018. This is easy by calculator, but doing it by hand I’d probably make a mistake first time round and get fired for it. One way of checking is to reduce the big numbers to their digital roots and multiply them together. The digital root of the roots multiplied will be the same as the digital root of the big answer. If it isn’t you know you’ve made a mistake. The same goes for adding, subtracting or dividing.

So, digital roots do have their uses, but beware following the number 9 down that rabbit hole. You may have trouble finding your way back out.

By the way the digital root of 369 is 9. Isn’t that curious?

I’d forgotten arithmetic could be so much fun!

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white coppice cottages

The White Coppice Cottages

Sometimes we get stuck in a groove, doing the same old things, visiting the same old places, but even when we think we know a place well, there is still the opportunity for fresh discovery, always another path we can take.

So today we’re tackling the Black Coppice Quarries, just a short walk from the lovely hamlet of White Coppice, nestling in a fold at the edge of the  West Pennine Moors. I have not done this particular route before. It will eventually deliver us up to a trackless expanse of moor, one that’s vaguely familiar to me, but by a kind of back door, and I’m not sure where to go after that. It’s past mid afternoon, and these February days are short, shadows already lengthening. It’s not the best time for mucking about but I’m sure we’ll be okay.

great hill from the white coppice cairn

Anglezarke Moor

It’s a little used route and all too soon vanishes into a lonely amphitheatre of gritstone crag and scree that echoes strangely. We choose a likely looking ridge, clear of the precipice – just a faint path worn through the heather, enough to inspire confidence we are not merely following sheep. The afternoon is clear, the sunshine almost warm. The outlook from the ridge is spectacular with vistas across lush green farmland running down to the Lancashire plain, and the sea glittering beyond. The light is tending towards amber now, the sun about to send shadows leaping from the ditches and hedgerows.

unfinished millstone above the quarries at white coppice

Abandoned millstone – Anglezarke Moor

We pick up the line of a stout fence that bounds the precipice and, after a breathy climb, delivers us up to Anglezarke Moor. There’s a megalithic structure just here, a rock slab tilted up a little from the horizontal, resting on stones. It doesn’t look much but an archaeological survey in the eighties has it down as a chambered cairn – a bronze age burial.

I’m not sure. That the moor hereabouts is also dotted with abandoned millstones lends sufficient room for doubt. Some are in their earliest stages of manufacture, just a few taps of the chisel, others almost finished, evidence of months of labour in the wide open, all wasted when the market for such things collapsed.

So, is this an ancient burial, or a stone merely propped up, ready to be worked by quarrymen? The ancients favoured west facing escarpments for their funerary rites, which makes this the perfect spot, ritualised daily by the setting sun. Romanticism and geomancy favour the former then, but there’s still magic in the latter, all be it of a lesser vintage. Imagination swells to fill the blanks, adds layers of psyche to the deadness of mere geography, and we wonder,….

grain pole hill

Grain Pole Hill

But speaking of the sun, time is short, so we head towards Grain Pole Hill, some nine hundred feet above the sea, distinguished from the moor by its dark cap of heather above the paler whispering grasses. There’s no path here and the grass is deeply hummocked – a tough stretch, heavy on the legs and sweaty now, but not far until we gain the easier going of the ridge that takes us more swiftly south, to the summit.

There was once a cairn here, a stone man, visible for miles. I once spent an afternoon tidying him up, raising him to a shapely little cone. But he’s gone now, and so have the stones – not merely fallen aside, but spirited away, perhaps one by one by pilgrims heading east, to the shaggy dome of Hurst Hill and the newly massive cairn that’s been raised there. The stone men move around up here, you see? And the ways they mark shift slowly over time.

way cairn

Waycairn – Anglezarke

The day is too short to visit Hurst Hill. Maybe next time. Instead, we discover a newly raised cairn to the south and from here we make out a route taking us west, downhill, into the sun, picking its way along a line of trial shafts – bell-pits most likely – just dimples in the moor now, like a run of aerial bombing craters. They are surrounded by the spoil thrown up, and there’s lush green grass, in contrast to the normal dun colour of the moor. Already ancient at the time of the first ordnance surveys, they straddle a fault line where minerals are manifested in the earth by unimaginable pressures. They have found lead here, also Barium, Galena, Witherite and Copper,…

But nowadays this line of shafts serves only to lead us unerringly down to Moor Road, to the access point by Siddow Fold. It’s a promising little path, attractive in its turns and in its timeless use of cairns, set against the sky to guide. But these old stone men have a habit of moving about, so its as well to have a feel for the land yourself, taking their advice if they’re of a mind to give it, while not relying on them too much, because they may not be there next time.

watermans

Waterman’s Cottage – Anglezarke

The little road snakes us down to the tip of the Anglezarke reservoir, to the Waterman’s mock Tudor Cottage, once such a lure for the camera with its reflections in black water, and still a pretty subject but looking now like it’s in need of work. Here, a long, deep-puddled path takes us back to White Coppice. The light is golden, the shadows running, and the air stilling down in preparation for the coming of darkness. We have not walked more than three miles, but it’s a journey that’s opened up fresh avenues in the dense forest of imagination.

In certain esoteric philosophies it is said we are destined to repeat our lives over and over, word for word, step by step, unless we can wake up to the process sufficient to say, hold on, what about this path over here? So we should always keep an eye open for the paths we have overlooked. No matter how well we think we know a place, there’s always something else to be gleaned. Like those mysteriously moving stone men, we just shift our focus a bit, and our lives, like the land under our feet takes on an unsuspected freshness, newly rich in meaning and direction.

path to white coppice

To White Coppice – West Pennines

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100 year old manA quirky title for a quirky book.

Set in Sweden, the story opens with Allan Karlsson on the eve of his hundredth birthday. He’s recently moved into an old folks home, having blown his own place up with a stick of dynamite – it was an accident and a long story, which we get to eventually, but for now Allan can’t abide the thought of attending the party that’s being organised in his honour, so with moments to spare, he climbs out of the window and heads for the bus station.

He has no clear plan, but then such is the story of Allan’s long life – no clear plan, yet a series of outrageous events that has seen him at the pivotal moments of twentieth century history, often on the wrong side of it, and armed only with his native wits and a happy-go-lucky optimism to see him through. The story is at times darkly humorous, at times absurd, Allen’s engagingly quirky insights into the true workings of the world providing the punchlines along the way.

The story has been likened to Forest Gump and the fortunes of a naive simpleton similarly turning up at iconic moments of (American) history. But although Allan’s outlook on life is refreshingly uncomplicated, and completely accepting of whatever simply is, he’s definitely no simpleton and is at times ingenious in his understanding and outwitting of authority. Also, unlike Gump, his adventures take in the entire sweep of world history, gathering the globe together and presenting it to the reader as a complete basket case.

Following his escape and arrival at the bus station, Allan, by a mixture of outrageous chance and mild indignation, manages to relieve an incompetent motorcycle gangster of a suitcase containing a small fortune in cash, then makes off with it on a bus. He doesn’t know about the money yet and is rather hoping to find instead a decent pair of shoes to replace the carpet slippers he’s currently wearing. What follows is an incompetent chase given by both the bad guys and the supposed good guys, Allen managing always to keep one step ahead, though mostly without trying and leaving an unwitting trail of mayhem in his wake. Along the way he picks up an eclectic mix of friends, accomplices, and an elephant!

But this is just one side of the story. The other side is the story of Allen’s life-long adventures in the world where he has been instrumental in The Chinese Revolution, the Russian Revolution, helping to invent the atomic bomb (for both the Americans and the Russians), in the death of Stalin (a stroke brought on by exasperation), saving the life of Winston Churchill (unintended consequences) in the complete destruction of Vladivostok (a diversion that went better than expected), and in the Korean war. He has befriended presidents and dictators, escaped torture and execution and all without a passion for anything except an occasional drop of the hard-stuff.

Allen’s romp through history presents the world’s leaders as incompetents, poseurs, megalomaniacs and fools, in pretty much the same light as Allen’s contemporary encounters during his flight from more petty scoundrels, self important officials and violent motor-cycle gangsters – all of this I suspect only half in jest. The plot is utterly insane, but magically engaging, the story as a whole suggesting the world itself, its pivotal moments and its key players cannot be described in any other way than utterly absurd.

One of Allen’s few penetrating observation on power and politics, to his one time companion, Einstein’s lesser known look-alike half sibling, the eternally dim Herbert (don’t ask): “the nearer you get to the top, my friend, the better the food and drink!”

Endearingly mad. And very glad to have discovered it.

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Most of the practice has fallen away, leaving only Qigong. It’s been there from the beginning of course, learned along with a decade’s worth of Tai Chi, then Kung Fu. I still watch the masters, admire the fluidity of their forms, but these days experience in my self only a resistance to it, as if in the absence of attaining such perfection myself, I would sooner shun the effort. This is not skillful thinking.

Through Qigong, I’m hanging on, but only by my fingernails.

It’s a meditation of sorts, a medley of mindful moves, synchronised to the rhythm of one’s breath. But when your head’s so far outside the box as mine is now, the moves become automatic while the mind roams, sifts through the fetid entrails of the day, or ruminates on what may or may not yet be. There is too much past and future, not enough presence. We catch ourselves half way through an hour’s session still thinking back upon the day. We have yet to settle in, yet to still the mind, to become,… mindful of what we’re doing, and where we are, and why.

We close with ten minutes of simple meditation, thighs aching from a fading familiarity with the lotus. We count with each breath silently from one to ten, then down again. If we lose our way, lose focus, if the mind wanders, we start from the beginning. I  can barely make it past four. I have one eye half open, then I can see the teacher’s temple bell, alert for the move that will ring an end to yet another half-assed  session, spill me back out into the dark of night.

It’s been a long day, a rushed day, one problem after another, one damned fool question after another to be answered, demands for ever more pieces of me, when all that’s left feels like this fragile husk, ragged, frayed,  head zig zagging like a stray hound in the forest chasing rabbits.

But driving home, gone nine pm now, I realise I’m feeling better than when I set out into my day at seven a.m., out into the rain streaked murk of a January predawn. Yes, it’s an evil night, cold, black, and lashing with hail. Idiots are flashing past on the dual carriageway, doing a hundred miles an hour. I’m on cruise control, keeping to just below the limit, listening to  Smooth radio.

ABBA are singing, “Knowing me, Knowing you”.

1977, I think. It was the year I first set out on that long commute, out into those first days of manhood. Back then I rode a dodgy moped of dubious reliability, little knowing how long that road would be, that I would still be travelling it forty years later, though fortunately not on a moped. But as I listen, I’m not nostalgic for any of that,  nor regretful, my head slipping free of the myriad snares of the past. All of that simply was, and as for the future none of it might ever be. Instead, I catch myself for once in a state of relaxed attention. It still happens. Sometimes.

Practice in martial arts, in Yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, whatever, is not about success, not about perfection or grace or power in forms. It’s not about feeling the chi or entering the zone. Sometimes it’s more about simply recognising the imperfections in oneself, of not minding them, and turning up anyway.

 

[The opening video is a breathtaking demonstration of the twenty four form Chen style Tai Chi by JoJo Hua]

 

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marniesnipI’m not imagining it, am I? I mean, how we used to dress up for shopping in town on a Saturday afternoons. Dad would wear a clean shirt and a tie, Mum a nice dress and lipstick. And it wasn’t a class thing. My parents were poor.

I’ve seen a hundred movie actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Era on Main Street: Marylin Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Lauren Bacall, or so it seemed to me as a kid, those fine ladies all clickety clacking in their long heels and their big, shiny hair. They weren’t rich either, just your regular mill girls all done up and dignified, and proud. This would have been in the sixties, I suppose, maybe the early seventies.

Rose tinted vision perhaps? Sure, I get that, but there’s no denying it’s different now. I look out of the window of this little bookshop and I see people are – pretty much all of them – dishevelled, crushed, some even a little drunk, though it’s just past lunch.

There are no movie stars on Main Street any more. Our role models offer us no promise of magic, or escape, only this insufferable grunge, and all the time our noses rubbed into it and a cynical voice-over telling us it will never get any better this.

Me? I still pretend. I’ve been doing it all my life.

Right now I’m pretending to be this bookish, tweedy hipster – Chinos, casual jacket, button-down Oxford shirt, and shiny brogues. I’m Hugh Grant in Notting Hill. Or for those of you a little older, I’m Anthony Hopkins in Charing Cross Road. Either way it’s an act. I’m not doing it because I’m expecting Julia Roberts or Anne Bancroft to drop in any time soon. It just gets me out of bed in the morning, and it’s somewhere warm to sit without using up the Calor in the van.

A slow stagger of drunks has spilled out of the pub up the top of Chapel Street, what the council’s now somewhat euphemistically calling the ‘Northern Quarter’. It makes it sound like a chic Parisian hot-spot, but the pub – the Malting House they call it now – is the same seedy old ale-house it always was, cheap booze, sticky carpets and vomit on the step, a questionable choice for continuity with a bygone era. I’d rather we’d hung on to Woolworth’s – always something cosy about Woolies – but the Malting House is chosen to be our past, our present, and it seems now our future.

The drunks are shouting – all of them women, tight dresses, boobs spilling out, fag-raw voices. They sound aggressive, like they’re spoiling for a fight, but as I listen, I realise they’re only having a conversation, something about meeting up again, tomorrow.

‘Yea right then, see yer love,’

‘See yer,..’

‘See yer,..”

It’s a simple enough exchange, but it takes a while and they swear a lot while struggling to light up, drawing comically sideways on their cigarettes. Not pretty, is it? Is this really what we have become, we plucky Brits? We ninety nine percenters?

There’s a ‘bigger shoe’ guy pacing out his pitch, the same small square of street, hour after hour, his plaintive call the sound-track to my days. It’s a new guy, late middle age, pockmarked face, his boredom lifted only by the occasional passing abuse on account of his foreignness. I don’t know his story, but picture him as one of those escaping by a hair’s breadth the mess we’ve made of the world, while those who stirred up the mess don’t have to look him in the eye all the time like I do. I reckon he makes a tenner a day for his trouble, if he’s lucky. I’ve yet to a buy a magazine from him. In truth I’m embarrassed to be even marginally better off. Luck, these days, is relative.

Opposite, in the doorway of the empty shop, there’s been a homeless person these past few weeks. There’s a couple of them up by the church, and one on the carpark now. The person opposite is shapeless in a dozen layers, feet and legs immersed in a sleeping bag that’s bursting stuffing from one corner. I can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman. You always get a lot of rough sleepers in the cities, I know, but it’s spreading into the provincial market towns now, and each one seems to me like a canary dropping from its perch in warning.

‘The dog starved at the rich man’s gate,’ and all that.

Odd still to be quoting Blake. It’s like we’ve learned nothing in two hundred years. Indeed if anything we are evolving backwards into a darker age even than the one he knew.

Maggs emerges from the back room, whiff of perfume – Le Jardin, I think. I had a girl who was fond of that, ended badly though.

“Just off then, Mike.”

“Righto Maggs. See you later.”

She’s wearing the green dress today. Suits it. I presume it’s fitted. She’s rather pear shaped, chunky in the thigh, but the dress makes a virtue of it. Snug jeans wouldn’t be her thing at all. Apologies for the crass objectification, but she’s a difficult one to know as a person, therefore gives me little choice. And it’s been a slow day in the bookshop.

“Be nice to have lunch together sometime,” she says. “I mean, if we can ever get Alan to turn up when he should, then he can take over for a bit. What do you say?”

“Yes Maggs. That would be lovely.”

I’m not sure if it would or not. Actually, I’d probably find it awkward, I mean socialising with Maggs.

“Sure you’re all right minding the shop?”

“No problem. Sandwich in my bag.” Minding the shop, is, after all, what I’m here to do.

“Okay, so,.. see you later then.”

And she’s off, usually for coffee and a Pannini in the Market Cafe. There’s not much by way of haute cuisine in Middleton. Never has been.

I don’t know much about Maggs – she’s the boss, and that’s about it. She’s married, judging by the rings – full house: engagement, wedding and an ostentatious eternity which suggests a certain longer term stability, if somewhat boldly overstated. I suspect she has no children, because there’s nothing more women like boring you with than the endless insignificant achievements of their offspring, and she’s never mentioned any.

Apologies again.

It must, actually, be quite nice to have children. Mine would be grown up by now of course, lives of their own. A positive achievement to have created life, but also rather a knife to one’s throat, then to see that life suffer.

She likes long heels, I note. Invented by a man, presumably, in order to create that accentuated roll of the hips, which is pleasing to the eye, but very much out of place in Middleton these days. And what with her hair, wound up tight like Tippi Hedren in Marnie,… she stands out more than I’d be comfortable doing in a town like this.

The drunk women are still taking leave of one another, they cast her a sideways glance as she wafts by.

“Who does she think she is then?”

They don’t actually say it out loud, but I was a good salesman in my day, which involves a lot of mind-reading, and I know they’re thinking it.

I watch as she clacks away and the crowds fold over her. Such an attractive down in the nape of her neck, I’ve noticed. Yes, Maggs still has the movie star quality, at least she would have, back in the day when hips were the thing.

A coin is dropped into the homeless person’s hat. There’s a myth, perpetuated by the aspirant one percenters, and their various fetid orifi that beggars go home each night to nice houses and cars. But truth is not the same as belief, and we should be careful what we are led to believe.

I think on this for a moment, take out my notebook and jot down the observation. It’s not an especially profound revelation, but small things are important these days.

Truth and belief.

I resolve to meditate upon it.

 

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