Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘bookshop’

It was a cold, rainy morning in town this morning – the sort of day that seems to stall around dawn and gets no lighter. Traffic was jittery, the carparks twitchy with panicky shoppers anxious to get that last space so they could go buy their Christmas tat. I only wanted breakfast, almost fell foul of the season of good-will, but managed to find a slot on the edge of town, then shouldered the rain and headed back in to the greasy spoon.

The town is impoverished, has been since the crash, and getting steadily worse – always looks worse at this time of year though, the people poor and mainly elderly, the doorways camped by homeless looking wretched. I don’t suppose it’ll get any better than this now, but on the upside there was a guy in a giraffe suit dancing for charity. It was pouring rain, and he was a big yellow smile, the brightest light by far and a gesture of jolly defiance. What a star!

I bought a 0.7 mm Staedtler propelling pencil for £6.99 to replace the one I keep losing – a good piece of kit. Same price on Ebay so nothing to be gained there, plus it’s good to get out, even on a bad day, look around, even if it’s only to see what the latest storm of economy and season has done to my town. And yes, I know, shopping on Ebay doesn’t help matters. Greenwoods is the latest casualty – there since 1880-something, now abandoned and looking almost derelict. The landlords are crippling these businesses. I wonder where they do their shopping?

The Charity bookshop that inspired my latest novel was also closed – insufficient volunteers to man it on Saturdays now. I was going to put my name forward when I retired – quite fancied it actually, sitting there in tweed jacket and brogues, an ageing hipster, preserving for my town that last flicker of bookish vibe. Looks like I’m too late though. Damn.

And speaking of that novel, brings me to the shameless self promotion bit. Home from town I shut the weather out,  cosied up with coffee and hit the laptop. Saving Grace, as it’s now calling itself, went up on Smashwords and Free Ebooks this afternoon. I’ve enjoyed the ride, like I always do, and this last bit always leaves me with mixed feelings. It’s like putting it in a bottle and tossing it into the sea. You never know where the currents will take it.

I’ve been serialising it on Wattpad for a while now, but it’s not had much of a following. Those of you who have read and commented and queried my errors, (you know who you are) I thank you. Time to take a break from the long form now though while the next one gestates.

In the pecking order of Austerity, otherwise known in older parlance as “class war” I’m still in the fortunate position of relative security and money to spend on fripperies and without killing myself working three jobs. Those this morning though, staring out at a thousand yards of misery from those derelict shop doorways, are still bearing the brunt of it.

They give me pause – that it’s so commonplace even in the smaller market towns these days is telling me there’s worse to come, and no one to do anything about it. And that quid you toss into the begging bowl, or that pasty and a brew you press into shivering, mittened hands might get the poor bastard through until tomorrow. But what then?

And what’s that got to do with Saving Grace you ask? Well, pretty much everything, but you’ll need to read it to find out. Just click the book cover in the margin on the right. Best if you’re reading this on your smartphone – you’ll need an ebook reader app like Aldiko or Moonreader too.

All my stuff is free.

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

parcelI know this traditional bookshop where they still wrap things with brown paper and string. Here, you’ll find a vast collection of second hand books, all neatly categorised and arrayed in labyrinthine rows on three creaky floors. It’s been there for generations, catering for the full spectrum of tastes, from the pre Socratic philosophers to the latest Fifty Shades. It’s a rare, book-scented treasure house, a bastion of colour and pattern and calm in an increasingly bland world.

I don’t always buy a book when I go there. At least half the pleasure in visiting this place is in browsing with no particular aim other than the search for something inspirational. My choices are therefore driven as much by mood as by the titles. My price limit also varies widely according to mood, and for all I know the cycles of the moon as well. I once parted with £25.00 for a copy of Jung’s Mysterium, a book much revered by psychoanalysts – and which I have not the Latin to decipher. At other times I am loathe to part with £5.00 and come away empty handed, dejected that nothing has taken my eye. To be sure, bookshops like this are mysterious places.

Last Saturday it was Wordsworth – well, not so much him as an idea inspired by him. I’d been revisiting the Romantics, thinking back on things I’ve written about Romanticism – most of it rubbish, but some of it still holding the test of time. And there it was, lurking upon a shelf of rather lack-lustre books, pressed a little to the back as if shy of the limelight: Wordsworth’s collected poems, dated 1868.

It was a handsome little volume – red cloth binding, the pages gilded, and the backing boards beautifully bevelled so the book turned smoothly in my hands like a bar of silky soap. Inside, among the familiar poems, there were engravings – intricate drawings, each protected by its own little insert of tissue paper. It was delightful. It might have been placed there only recently – or been there for twenty years, always escaping my eye until now. Only now did it speak to me. But what was it saying? Here are the poems of William Wordsworth, Michael? Read them? No, I already own a copy of his collected works. It wasn’t that I needed another. There was more going on here. All I know is I wanted it.

An expensive book, I feared, but no – £4.50 was its considered worth, which placed it within the means of my capricious and, of late, austerity-conscious pocket. It could be mine. It would be mine.

I am not a book dealer or a collector. I do not browse these shelves for unknown money-treasures in order to sell them on. The vendor is, after all, an antiquarian dealer of some renown, so I presume the real collectors’ items have already been filtered out of this very public domain – leaving only the dross, where treasure is to be found only in sentiment. I was under no illusions then; to a dealer in books this book, pretty thought it was, was worthless.

Was it really only sentiment then that drew my eye? Could sentiment take my breath away like this and fill me with a such possessive craving for a thing that was otherwise of no use nor value to me? Perhaps it was simply its great age and the fact I have a track record in collecting old and useless things. The Sage of Grasmere had not been 20 years dead when this book was issued, and here it was, still in marvelous condition –  a little frayed at the top and bottom of the spine, but otherwise pristine. Clearly it had been respected throughout its life, and was that not reason enough to earn my own respect now? Or was it that the book lain neglected behind the glass of some unfrequented country house library, untouched by sticky fingers – and now at last had come its chance to be handled, to be loved. Is that why is spoke to me?

It was a mystery, but one I was clearly in a mood to ponder in slower time. For now the priority was merely to rescue it, to possess it.

I took my prize downstairs to the lady at the till and she looked upon it with a genuine delight. She ran her long pale hands over the cover as I had done a moment ago, and in doing so shared with me the loveliness of it.  Her actions, unconsciously sensual and simple enough on her part, were to my romantic eye like holy devotions and they amplified an already growing numinosity. Then she wrapped it carefully, folding the paper with a neat, practised precision, deft fingers twisting the knot, an enchantress sealing in the spell of that afternoon – an afternoon possessed suddenly of a richness and a fertility I had not known in such a long, long time.

I emerged from the shop tingling with something that ran far deeper than the mere purchase of an old book. But what was it?

I’ve had that book for four days now and you might think it curious but  it rests upon my  desk, still in its tight little wrapping. I do not want to open it in case the magic of that afternoon evaporates. While I keep it wrapped, you see, the spell remains intact and only good things can happen from now on. The glass will for ever be half full,… never again half empty. But such an obsessive devotion as this is stretching things, even for me, and I realise it’s in my little foible – some might say my weakness – the mystery of that afternoon is revealed.

One cannot really capture a moment like that, any more than one can capture its essence in a photograph. All you’re really left with at the moment of capture is a dead thing. As I’ve written before, and keep telling myself, as if for the first time anew, the moment comes from within and cannot be contained in any “thing”. Curiosity will eventually overcome my obsessive Romantic sentiment, and I will snip open that package to discover all that lies inside is just a worthless old book, a little more world-worn and weary than I remember it.

The real power lies always in the moment and it will always be erased by time until we can find a way of staying in the moment all the time. If we can do that then every moment becomes imbued with a mysterious presence, a presence that has the power to inspire and elevate us beyond the mundane. There we discover that the meaning of our lives – the meaning we might have searched for all our lives – was never really lost. Nor was it such a big secret anyway, nor less a thing to be toiled at, nor pondered over with our heads in our hands, nor winkled out of the dusty tomes of several millenia’s worth of arcane spiritual teachings. It was there all the time; the numinous, the sheer pullulating exuberance of life.

You do not find it in work or wealth or learning, but in random moments of spontaneous inner realisation, like with me on that Saturday afternoon, browsing the hushed labyrinth of an antiquarian bookshop. But we’ve all had moments like this, and perhaps the only secret is that we should allow ourselves to recognise their intrinsic sacredness, then trust the mind, or whatever greater consciousness lies behind it, will grant us the presence to realise them more often.

Of course a more skilled pilgrim than I would have admired that book for what it was and, without losing a fraction of the meaning in that moment, simply left it on the shelf for someone else to find.

Pass me those scissor’s will you?

Thanks for listening.

Read Full Post »

Ebook readers like the Amazon Kindle are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. They’ve gone from the back pages of obscure tech magazines to the impulse buying hotspots of our supermarkets. They’re no longer clunky and butt ugly. They no longer eat batteries. They no longer require a degree in computer science to operate. They’re stylish, and they last for months between charges. And ebooks themselves are no longer the rare, experimental things they once were; most new titles now come in both paper and electronic versions.

I’ve become more comfortable parting with real money for virtual Kindle editions. They’re usually a bit cheaper, but the main attraction for me is I can be reading that book moments after I’ve paid for it online, any time, night or day, rather than having to wait several days for the postman to bring it. It just magically appears via this thing called Amazon Whispernet. I no longer feel conspicuous in the office at lunch time, reading my Kindle. There are several of them around now, and I’m no longer ridiculed as a “gadget man” when I get mine out. And speaking as a writer, I write exclusively in the electronic format these days, because without it, I’d have no readers. You don’t need a publisher to get your book on a Kindle, you see? You can publish it yourself and distribute it worldwide, easily, and for free.

However, for all of my enthusiasm, there’s a downside, and it has to do with the natural life-cycle of a paper book, one that’s reached a balance over the centuries, but which the ebook looks set to wipe out. And I’m not sure it’s a good thing.

With a brand new paper title, we buy it and it we read it, then we hang onto it for a bit, maybe for years, perhaps re-reading it occasionally, or we might lend it out to a friend. Or, if it’s not a book we particularly value and it’s just taking up shelf-room, we may gift it to someone, or pass it on to a jumble sale, or a charity shop. From here it begins life in the second hand market, exchanging hands maybe dozens of times for a fraction of its original cover price, until it eventually falls apart and goes for pulp or landfill.

But even softbacks are surprisingly resilient, persisting in perfectly decent condition for decades. Hardbacks can last centuries. The lifecycle of a paper book can be a long one, during which the book has the potential to touch the hearts and illuminate minds of dozens of people who happen upon it. This is the charm and the romance of a paper book, also the charm and the romance of second hand bookshops where these ancient vessels are traded.

With an electronic text, however, there’s no material content, nothing to be physically traded. Another crucial difference is that, unlike that paper book, which would be labourious to copy, an electronic text can be copied instantly, and as I know from personal experience, pirated with ease. In order to safeguard against this, most new commercial titles come with electronic protection built in – known as Digital Rights Management (DRM) – which prevents the text from being easily copied and passed on. Publishers argue they have no choice but to do this, otherwise the pirates would have a field day with every new title that came out, seriously damaging the revenue they could expect to earn. But DRM also means that having bought that book, even as its owner, you’re not in control of its destiny.

It’s your book. You paid for it. But its lifecyle now starts and ends with you. You can’t lend it out to someone else. I know someone’s going to tell me this isn’t strictly true, that there is a way with a Kindle edition of re-assigning a title from your Kindle to someone else’s for a limited period – 2 weeks, I think – during which time that book isn’t available to you. But you can only do this once, and 2 weeks isn’t long, and what if you don’t finish the book in time? And what if you don’t want to lend it out, but actually give it away?Sorry. DRM won’t allow you to do that.

It’s not difficult then to imagine a future where there are no paper books any more – no more dog eared copies of our favourite authors to be discovered in the charity shop. These works, securely DRM’d would still only be available, at full price, online. If you wanted something from an author but didn’t want to pay the full cover price for an old book, well,…

You’d have to cross over to the dark side.

Naturally, the hacker community can strip off DRM protection in a jiffy, and crank out freely copyable versions of any book they like. But this is more clearly an illegal act, a deliberate infringement of copyright – in other words piracy. But it could be that this is a crime DRM technology forces upon the book reading, book loving community. Books, as vessels of knowledge and emotion will be lent among friends and they will be resold, and they will be given away, because that has always been their nature, and the restrictions of DRM technology may simply be sufficient to bring out the anarchist in all of us.

What does this mean, I wonder? Will future e-book reading devices have software built in to sniff out suspicious text, remotely delete it, or flag it up to the ebook police? Do they have it already? But it’s such a complex business, staying one step ahead of the hackers – and is it really worth it, financially I mean? Does it not risk making the ebook more expensive than a paper book? With a paper book, you don’t need DRM. In passing a paper book on, you no longer have it. Problem solved.

There’s an argument that says DRM is ultimately self-defeating, and should be discontinued, that its benefits, in terms of restricting piracy, are far outweighed by the draconian restrictions it imposes on legitimate purchasers of the material. But what if the publishers persist with it? Can we imagine a black market in Chik-lit? Or Twilight books, or Harry Potter? Can we imagine our otherwise respectable wives and girlfriends sneaking down back alleys, disguised in trenchcoats and dark glasses to get their pendrives topped up with dodgy holiday reading from lit-hacking kids with shifty expressions – and all the time the threat of incarceration or a crippling fine at the hands of the ebook police? Never has reading sounded so adrenaline pumping and dangerous!

I’m still not sure I like the idea of building up a book collection I cannot see or touch, one I have no power to lend out or sell on as I please. I don’t want to pirate the titles in my book collection, but I feel I should have the right to lend them out or give them away. I’ll also be sad to see the demise of the charity shop’s book section, from where I get most of my fiction these days. Having said all that, as I write, I’m aware I have about twenty books in my pocket right now, books I carry with me everywhere on the Kindle App of my iPod Touch. I take it out, click it on and in a moment I’m flicking through my book collection. Does it really matter that its virtual? What’s more important, a bookcase at home you can run your fingers over, or a library you can carry around in your pocket and browse any time?

This is an interesting period – a period of transition in the book reading and book writing world. The conservative in me wants to urge caution, to charm you with the romantic allure of an old fashioned book, and tell you we should we should all stick to paper while we can. But the progressive in me is fascinated by the potential of the ebook.You can, for example, access the whole of the world’s classical literature for free. Not a single title need elude you.

And for the paid stuff? Well, DRM or not, that Amazon Whispernet is still very seductive!

Read Full Post »

I was sitting alone at a table at what was Alexander’s Brasserie, in Southport, one sunny Saturday afternoon. Those of you who knew this little place will perhaps share with me the memory of its unusual allure – a French cafe in Wayfarer’s, a beautifully glazed Victorian arcade just off the strangely Parisian boulevard of Southport’s Lord street. It was, for long time, a favourite little refuge of mine, vaguely foreign and yet at the same time easily familiar, somewhere to slip sideways,… to sit aloof from the crowd and yet be positioned curiously in their midstream.

My attitude that afternoon was not gloomy, nor was it entirely introspective. Indeed for a good hour I spun out my Omelette de Maison and my dainty Espresso thinking of nothing but the crowds that passed me by.

The cafe had a seating area under the high glass of the arcade, a sort of enclosure fenced off from the casual shoppers who carousel endlessly around it,… and who perhaps unwittingly provide one of its attractions. If you sit down for long enough in a place like that they say you will see the whole of life pass before your eyes. This is a strange notion, and at first quite puzzling. I’ve always understood it to mean that if you look closely enough you will see a metaphor for every possible aspect of life,… no answers perhaps,… just carefully phrased questions that will cause you to ponder your own place in the scheme of things. And this, I guess, is the allure of watching people.

I was aware, naturally, of the girls and their fashions – the bright peacocks of our kind. And to be sure, many a shapely body passed me by that afternoon, but where my eyes would once have rested with discreet admiration, I was suddenly aware only of the transience of youth. It’s perhaps a regrettable, but fairly obvious truth that the pert bottom of today’s teenaged girl will inevitably become the wrinkled buttock of tomorrow’s older woman.

There is a transience to our being which makes a nonsense out of what popular western culture teaches us to perceive as being beautiful and desirable, when it is but a snapshot of a point in time that cannot possibly be sustained. This is the culture of youth, of celebrity and the glossy media, and no lasting happiness can ever be gained from its pursuit. Indeed the only logical result of the adoration of these values is a permanent anxiety for their impending loss.
Ladies might seek to remedy their saggy bottoms with painful and expensive surgery and so prolong the illusion of their beauty well beyond their middle age. But it is entirely natural that such pertness should fade,.. and I believe we would do better to become more accepting of it.
So began the train of my thoughts that singular Saturday afternoon. And then as if reacting violently to this awakening, my thoughts at once leaped to the consideration of the opposite end of the scale, to those individuals popular culture would have us believe are no longer beautiful, those whose condition, it might be suggested, is not at all desirable. And this again is strange, for theirs is a condition to which we are all inevitably bound.
I’m speaking of the many old folks, stiffer, more angular, their gait not so graceful and the truth of their forms hidden under clothing designed more with practicality in mind than the exhibition of attributes they no longer possess. Some of them seemed to shuffle with eyes disconcertingly dulled by their lives. Then there were the rotund, scowling old dears with a permanent metaphorical grip on their frail husbands’ earlobes – husbands who’s industry-tired bodies seemed transparent, and bent, and wasted.
I searched those aged eyes for anything that might betray a secret knowledge, a knowledge that was perhaps gained only from the long experience of life itself, but I saw nothing. There was certainly no ethereal glow born of enlightenment and indeed there was in fact nothing to tell me that what I observed was anything more than an all to graphic illustration of the frailty of mankind, and the futility of our struggle in the face of nature.
From the time of pert bottoms, it seemed, there lay only a brief fluttering of angst before there loomed fragility and death. No, the meaning of our lives lay not in the contemplation of our physical condition, nor in the joys of our flesh. That was too fleeting a phenomenon for it to have any genuine relevance in the cosmic scheme of things.
Now this was really troubling because since the dawn of time there have been learned men who spoke of enlightenment – men whose mighty intellects have scoured the words of every age and culture for a magic formula. So what was it? Where was the fruit of their labour?
Of course no formula has ever been found, at least no serum to be injected en mass in order to induce a grand, collective enlightenment,… and those powerful intellects go the way of all flesh, eventually unfulfilled and, one might suspect, ultimately unenlightened. So the busy chase of learning was just as futile,… unless of course these scholars were tight lipped about their discoveries and took their secrets with them. But that seemed equally unlikely for in all the ages past, you’d think at least one of them would have blabbed it out: the secret to the meaning of our lives.
Then, added to the swirling carousel of life, there came families, their children in various stages of development, from blubbery babes in cumbersome buggies to the bright, alert eyes of pre-teen children, testing every nerve, every shred of patience of their middle aged parents. This was familiar ground for me,… these harassed mothers and fathers, always tired, a little unkempt due to having insufficient time for themselves, or even for each other – the complete sacrifice of one’s self for the creation of new life! I saw no ethereal glow in their eyes, only tiredness and the tight lined grimaces of a permanently simmering anger.
In my more cynical moments I have wanted to gather the pert bottoms and point out to them the disheveled parents who seem the only logical conclusion to the attractiveness of youth and the urge to partake of the pleasures of the flesh. Such is life, I’d say, and certainly it had begun to seem more and more like a process as ruthless and as cold as evolution. Was there no solace? Was there no profound satisfaction to be had even in the rearing of children? Well – and I speak from experience here – while it is true that in parenthood we discover an unselfish and instinctive love for our children, it is a love that we pay for in a currency that demands the negation of desire, clarity of thought, and contemplation of one’s self.
It did not seem altogether hopeful then, although I remained optimistic that a face would eventually present itself, however fleetingly, a face which, by look or gesture would convey a vital essence, a key that would unlock the riddle I had lately come to ponder: the true meaning of this carousel of life.
I saw a priest and my attention was at once arrested by his silvery white hair as he swept by. There was a stately grace in his movements which might have suggested an inkling of something, but the eyes cannot lie, and in them I saw as much self absorption, as much self doubt, and human pettiness as in the rest of us. Many would have turned to such a man, I thought, and no doubt he could have offered much in terms of ritual prayer, but for an old agnostic like me it was not a salve I needed, but a solution.
A waitress busied herself among the empty tables and obliged me with a friendly smile. She was very young and very pretty, with platinum blonde hair worn with all the natural softness of her youth. In another light she might have passed for the most desirable of women, but I guessed she was only sixteen or seventeen, her waitressing but a weekend job, and a break from her studies. In her face I saw promise and warmth, and hope. I saw a setting out and guessed she would not be waiting on tables when I next visited that cafe.
My own setting out had been like that, I thought, a sense of promise and hope, yet though I could not complain at the way my life had unfolded, my life had provided none of the answers I had sought for so long, and yielded instead only one vexed question after the other.
Perhaps in another thirty years the girl would be a woman sitting at this table pondering the slowly shuffling carousel of passers by, and where would I be then? Would I would be grey and transparent? Would I be a metaphor of another stage in life: the man who’d searched for something but gave up because he couldn’t find it,… or came to realise it wasn’t there at all?
Oh, how I hoped that would not be the case! Certainly, I would grow old and grey and bent – in simple biological terms, that was pretty much the best I could hope for – but I did not like to think of her eyes resting upon me and reading nothing. I would have liked to think she could look at me and realise that, yes, her life meant something,… that something in my eyes would betray the evidence of a deeper level to human experience, a level that the experience of my own life had revealed to me. And from that brief glimpse perhaps she might have gained a measure of encouragement, that the transience of her life, the fading of her youth, and the spreading of her cellulite did not exclude her from experiencing a profound understanding,… an understanding worth the searching and the living, and the dying for.
It had not been an expensive trip to Southport, which was unusual. Whenever I went with my family we always seemed to amass a weighty collection of carrier bags – metaphors themselves of the curious condition of our lives, the weight,.. the restriction, the sense of burden that our accrued goods instill.
My purchases that day were modest. All I’d bought in fact was a slim second-hand volume of poems from Broadhursts, the antiquarian booksellers, on Market Street. It was an anthology, a collection of verse written by members of the British armed forces at the time of the Second World War. It had cost me only a few pounds and yet it had granted me the priceless feeling of flight, of travelling light, of Zen-like simplicity and escape from those other burdened shoppers weighed down by their purchases, and by their lives.
What I would find in the book I did not yet know because for now it lay unopened at the side of my coffee cup. Its plain brown dust jacket and the wartime economy of its construction betrayed no particular flavour of its contents. And what could a book tell me anyway? If there was a book, a magical book that contained the formula of enlightenment, then surely it would be well known.
I did not even know what it was that had possessed me to buy it, other than its apparent contradictions – the idea that amid the horror and the filth of war, the human spirit could still find a voice, and resort to the uncommon and eternal beauty of poetry. It was a connection, I suppose, and lately I had grown fond of connections, fond of the idea of meaningful coincidences.
“Can I take your plate?”
It was the waitress, smiling again. The light in her eyes impressed me, for so many of our youths these days seem barely conscious, performing their movements without thought or enthusiasm, as if they’ve glimpsed the future in their dreams and it fails to animate them.
I thanked the girl and, with the plate gone from my little table, I was then able to slide the book in front of me and contemplate it properly. The dust jacket was in good condition, the book itself also undamaged. To a collector such things are important I suppose, but to a mere reader they can sometimes instill a sense of unease. The book had not been read much in the sixty years since its publication. Indeed it looked like it had lain undisturbed on shelves, possibly also behind sliding glass, its little poems, its slices of emotion unknown, untasted. Was this because they were not worth the effort? Or was it just that no one else had taken the time?
I’ve always liked poetry, though I do not always understand it. My taste in it is simple – some might say simplistic. I prefer the rhyme and rhythm of the verses I learned at Primary School – The Tyger Tyger and The Listeners, and The Land Where The Bong Tree Grows. Indeed some of the messages and fine emotion woven into the twiddly verse of our more revered poets, peppered as they are with unpronounceable names from classical antiquity, I find altogether too intimidating, too tedious. Nor do I understand the jarring brashness of contemporary work, which irritates me deeply, and which I always feel is sneering at my staidness and my stupidity.
I took a tentative flick through the book. There was rhyme and rhythm, and plain words. It seemed we would get on well! A closer look now revealed poems that dealt with battle, with death, with the Blitz, with thoughts on leave from the battlefront, on returning to units in far flung places. But two things immediately struck me as being of perhaps more value. These were not the types of puerile verse that dealt with the death-or-glory fantasy of war, nor did they expound nobly on its futility, but merely its matter of fact reality, and the emotions it aroused in the hearts of the whole spectrum of people who bore witness to it. Secondly it struck me that few of those people who contributed to the volume would actually have described themselves as professional poets. They were ordinary souls, taken from this carousel of life, put into uniform and sent out to do extraordinary things, to face extraordinary situations, including the possibility of their own death.
The poems were slices through the hearts of people, just like the ones milling around in the Wayfarer’s arcade on that Saturday afternoon. I closed the book and looked up at those people now with renewed interest. It was not much of a revelation I suppose, but of course each of those pairs of eyes on that shuffling carousel came with its own soul, each capable of conveying the impressions gleaned by its own experience.
I still have that book and nowadays I value its poetry in different ways, but there is not a single poem, nor line, nor even an isolated word that I can say has pointed me in the direction of anything new. The importance was the book itself, plucked as it was that afternoon from the shelves of Broadhursts bookshop, and its plain presence on the table in the cafe in Wayfarer’s Arcade,… a combination of events coming together and unlocking a single thought,… freeing up the rigidity of my own mind and forming a prelude for much that was to follow in the coming years.
We are rarely aware of the turning points in our lives, and only in retrospect do we sometimes see their importance. Then we might ask ourselves, how could we not have felt that change of course? How could we not have felt the sails, so long becalmed fill slowly with cool wind, and set us on our way?
I gathered up my book and left the waitress a tip, a token, from my hand to hers, and small payment for the changes brought about that day. Then I joined the crowds, and became aware of them more intensely than before. They were no longer a passive phenomenon. Indeed each pair of eyes, each soul seemed suddenly conscious of itself in relation to everyone else. Everyone was aware of themselves in relation to others, glancing at others, briefly judging their own state from the state of those they encountered, including me. We were all like little mirrors reflecting light, illuminating something for someone else. We were each of us reflecting images of each other, in whom we saw reflected images of ourselves.
We are each of us bound on different journeys, each of us possessing a different and seemingly unrelated purpose, but at a fundamental level we are the same, each of us an expression of the same tangle of energy that is seeking to know itself through us. Therefore we can never be alone in our quest. Help will come in many guises,… be it a dusty old book that we might previously have overlooked a hundred times, or the innocent smile of a waitress as she cleans tables in a cafe. Similarly, without knowing it we help others on their way, by an innocuous word or gesture, a kaleidoscope of reflection and connection.
The challenge for each of us is not the effort, nor less the intellect required in understanding the meaning of our lives, for that is unknowable. The challenge is more the opening of one’s self to the possibilities, and being always receptive to the connections.

Then the connections cannot help but be made.

Copyright © M Graeme 2008

Read Full Post »