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Posts Tagged ‘work in progress’

A lone tree falls

Chapter One

Marsh Avenue, Marsden

This is the last garden in Marsh Avenue with a privet hedge, the last with a piece of lawn at the front, and flowering borders. It used to be like that from top to bottom. You could see the seasons change through the cherries in early spring, the laburnums in late May, and the deep greens of high summer. Now it’s all concrete, cracked pavers and white vans.

There were neighbours, too: Mr Williams, next door, a retired gentleman who, in my memory at least, always wore a white jacket and a bow tie. Sometimes he’d have dungarees underneath the jacket, if he was repairing bicycles. He liked old maps and cameras. Weekends would see him in a trilby hat, a second-hand Voightlander over his shoulder, setting through Durleston Wood. He smelled of pipe tobacco, and mushrooms.

His wife, a portly dame of indeterminate shape would arrive unannounced to camp my mother, and help out with the housework. Nowadays, this would be seen as an unspeakable intrusion. Back then it was more a kind of solidarity.

Then there was Mr Simpson, on the other side. His back garden was a wild profusion of blackberries and rhubarb, but he kept his front manicured. He had three mature cherry trees to mark the apexes of a triangle of lawn. When they blossomed, they were the pride and the envy of the neighbourhood. The lawn has gone now, and the trees were felled to make way for a pick-up truck. Loud music thumps out from the house all day, and late into the night.

The occupant is now a scar-faced man, who wears camo. He keeps a pair of barking bull-lurchers which, the story goes, he trains to kill badgers, and foxes. I don’t know if this is true, but he has dead eyes, like black pebbles. I have studied his sort before, and I can easily imagine it is so. When we are ruled in a more unambiguously totalitarian manner, he will be appointed the local chief of police, pulling out the fingernails of leftist dissenters until they too scream out their love for Big Brother. I have never spoken to him, so cannot call him a neighbour. His music is – well – decidedly unmusical, consisting at my end purely of beats. It jams my brain, so I cannot write when I am there.

Thump. Thump. Thumpety.

I did not intend coming back to Marsden, but I don’t regret it now, nor the circumstance that forced me. It granted time to see my father out, with grace and honour. It also eased his mind, knowing there was someone around to keep on top of the garden, keep it respectable, this being in the manner of his generation, who took pains to ease the minds of passersby that here at least, they were safe from assault and robbery.

“Remember to sharpen the edging shears before you clip round.”

“Yes, Dad.”

“The India Stone’s in the shed. I showed you how. Remember?”

I do remember. I was eighteen when we had that conversation. How long ago is that? Forty years? Except I swear it was Mr Williams who showed me how to sharpen things with an India Stone. It was also his India Stone I was always borrowing, because ours had grown concave with use. I am on the cusp of old age myself now, or late middle, or whatever they call it, but in my father’s eyes I was always a lad. I didn’t mind that. He always meant well, even when he was wrong, which, looking back, was often. It’s an important step along the path to maturity, I think, realizing your father could be wrong, and forgiving him for it.

Thump. Thump. Wackety. Thump. Thump.

He’d gone a little deaf towards the end, so he wasn’t as disturbed by the noise from next door as I am. Or if he was, he never said. He never complained about anything, even when he had much to complain about, like how the doctor hadn’t a clue what was wrong with him, until it was too late. Then his only apology was: well, Mr Swift, you’ve had a good innings.

The night he died, there was heavy metal coming through the walls as I sat with him. I’d not the courage to go round and tell the scar-faced man there was this old gentleman, my father, with a magnificent story of life behind him, a man blessed by his obscurity and his inoffensiveness, dying on the other side of the wall, and could you not for once turn the music down, let him pass into the next world in peace, and not be chased there by Banshees?

Funny, the things you feel ashamed about.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

He was a craftsman, my father, worked magic on a lathe, making valves, and far away fortunes for the oil and gas industry, yet a pittance for himself. Mr Williams was a labourer at the rubber works, Mr Simpson a retired collier with emphysema who hid black stuff he coughed up, in a clean while handkerchief which he kept there for said purpose. All were gentlemen, their wives, decent, resilient women. Their solidarity was like glue to us throughout the leaner years of growing up.

Oh,… you get the picture. Things just aren’t the same now. And perhaps there has always been this sense of decline, certainly in the north of my country, and since the Thatcher years, but lately it has taken on a more unabashed appearance, smelling of a thing more brazenly corrupt. And it’s my fault because I looked away, and let it happen.

The obvious thing to do, now my father has gone, is to sell the house, but a part of me is saying that would be to close the door on what I still believe to be a thing worth rescuing from the past. If only I could define the shape of it. But I cannot stay either, because the insult of that music, and the loss of gentleness, and the richness of colour is full of hurt for me. All I do when I’m here is scroll my phone for crass novelty, and wait for a change in tempo.

Boom. Whackety. Boom. Boom. Boom.

___________________________________________

I think this works as an opener. It sets the mood, anyway. We’re ten thousand words in, and it’s still giving, still connecting. I’ve done the cover, too. We may be on to something. Coming to a bookshop no time soon and never to be seen on Amazon, except possibly as a pirated version.

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great hillI was going to write about the despoliation of Cumbria this evening, of people fleeing lockdown en-masse, and wild-camping on the more accessible tops, leaving behind their trash, their tents, their fires, and their faeces. But those who would be horrified by that don’t need another story, and those who don’t care, won’t care anyway. And it’s nothing I’ve not been saying since The Singing Loch, so we’ll move on. Here’s a bit of me trying to work out “Winter on the Hill” instead:

Chapter Forty Seven:

Life doesn’t always make sense if you measure it in a straight line. I mean, if you take it one event after the other. Sometimes, you remember a thing from the past, but which made no sense at the time. Then it springs fresh into memory, decades later, only now it’s become a key, unlocking a door on a present conundrum.

How to explain?

As a metrologist – not a meteorologist – one measures the length and the breadth of the world. But first we ask how accurate the measurement must be because this determines the method. On the one hand, we have the experienced machinist who can judge accurately to a tenth of a millimetre by no more than the feel of his callipers. On the other, we use lasers and an elaborate set-up to get to within a nanometre of reality. But that’s still a long way from measuring the diameter of an atom.

At the edges of atoms, the world becomes fuzzy. So the question arises, at what point does the world begin and measurement means anything at all? And for measurement, I suppose you can read truth, or logic – that something is either true or false, that a thing is either there or not. Except, in the fuzziness at the edges of the world, truth becomes foggy, and it’s dogged pursuit throws up the phantoms of logical paradoxes. We see their traces in our language, things like:

The following statement is true: the previous statement is false.

What does such a thing say about the world?

It’s nineteen ninety-six when I first ponder these questions. I am speaking at a conference at Manchester’s Metropolitan University, the John Dalton building. It’s a conference I’d forgotten until Molly mentioned it that time on the hill at Holcombe. I am given half an hour on interferometry, and she has insisted not a minute more or the microphone will be cut. She was always a bit of a ball-breaker, Molly – good-looking, brassy. Still is.

My talk feels elementary though, me this measurer of things. I can hear my own words as I speak them – never a good sign. The reason for my self consciousness? I have followed an ancient, white-bearded scientist from the CERN laboratories in Geneva. He has spoken about experiments studying the entanglement of particles of light. These studies have suggested there is no world at all until we come to measure it.

An other-worldly, wizard of a man, his talk garners few questions, but then it’s rather a difficult subject for the audience to get a handle on. Most are from the junior ranks of the nation’s industrial base. Some are only here for the lunch, paid for by their employers. Others are here to raise a career-profile by scoring points off the speakers. Others, the speakers themselves, are here because their employers want to raise their profiles among other employers. In this admittedly ambiguous and mutually narcissistic context, the subject is irrelevant, and few will remember anything of the day, or of him, or of me. Even by tomorrow all will be gone, in my case for decades, when the memory will rise unbidden whilst watching a woman swim.

My cousin Lottie.

At lunch, I find him sitting alone with a cup of tea. No one is talking to him. The only seats free in the bustling conference hall, where suits jostle, are those on either side of him. His intellect is felt like a force of nature, repelling interlopers. He does not mean this. He’s a loner and can’t help it. Neither can I. We have this in common at least.

“There’s me,” I begin. “All this time measuring things,… I mean the millimetres of them, chasing their ever-decreasing fractions. And all along, not realizing they only come into existence when I decide to measure them.”

A joke.

Success. He smiles. He’s human.

“What does that tell us about the nature of the world?” I ask him.

He thinks for a while, shakes his head. “Oh, I’m just a physicist,” he says. “At times, I’m at a loss. These are ultimately philosophical questions.”

We seem, both of us, at a remove from reality now. ’96 was a bad year for the bombings. It was also the year of the Dunblane shooting, which caused many of us to question the nature of existence. Life seemed violent, pointless, our survival arbitrary, a question of statistics, pretty much the same as it does now.

Since I was a lad, I’ve had no room for God, looked at the world early on and decided it was people who made the difference between heaven and hell. Obviously, it was better to aim for heaven, but it was looking like you could never have the one without the other. So, enjoy what you’ve got while you’ve got it. I did not know it then, but I was already groping towards an existentialist outlook. Nietzsche,… and all those other clever souls who looked at the horror of the twentieth century. Sure, they came to the only conclusion they could about that.

“Philosophical?” I ask him.

“Is the world really as we materialists claim?” he says. “Or is it more of a Kantian dream?”

I’d no idea who Kant was then. A philosopher, I suppose. “Dream? You mean like, it’s in our heads?”

“No,” he says. “Not in yours. Not in mine. The Universe is the dreamer. It dreams everything, including us. Shocking thought, isn’t it? Sounds bizarre. It’s also professional suicide to entertain such a notion. But it would explain a lot of what I’ve seen at the quantum level.”

“Like where the world begins?”

“Like how there is no world. At least not in the sense we imagine. Or rather not in the sense we are capable of imagining.”

I don’t know what he means by this, so try another joke, try to appear clever, when I’m clearly not. “So if the universe is dreaming us, who dreams the universe?”

He didn’t answer that one, just smiled politely, finished his tea, excused himself and disappeared into that dense crowd of past encounters. He had perhaps judged from my talk my ability to grasp these concepts was pedestrian at best. I was also hampered by a certain materialist prejudice. I don’t remember his name. Molly will have it, and his photograph no doubt. I must ask her about it. Most likely he’s dead now, but I would like to have his name.

So how long ago is that then? Thirty-four years, and counting? It’s not like I’ve been carrying the memory around with me. Indeed, it seems at times we’ve no idea what we remember of our experience as we go through life. Right now, I’m watching Lottie swim. And it’s while she swims that same stupid question surfaces, like a dream breaking. Or rather not so much the question itself as the memory of my asking it.

Who dreams the universe?

I know the answer, now. You get older, things change, you become less rigid in your thinking, and the answers creep through. It’s in the mood of the morning, in the beauty of it, the beauty of Lottie as she moves easily in the water, and with barely a ripple.

I’m sorry if all this seems bizarre, a little esoteric, but this is me you’re talking to and you should be used to it by now. I mean, here I am sitting, my feet slow-cycling in the warm pool, Lottie swimming and all you want to know is what’s she wearing, if anything, and where do things lie between us now? Yet here I am, off on a whole tangential chapter, talking about the fuzziness of atoms,…

Getting close now. I can feel it.

Thanks for listening.

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P1590795

Yarrow Reservoir overflow – Anglezarke, West Pennine Noors

“Februaries of late years are a month of storms. We get as many as two or three in succession, battering in off the Atlantic now, bringing gales and rain, the likes of which seem every season to break new records.”

So muses Rick Jeager in the latest chapter of my work-in-progress ‘Winter on the Hill’. An ageing socialist firebrand, Rick has gone to ground in an old house perched on the edge of the Western Pennines. He’s thinking back on the Left’s crushing election defeat last year, accepting that perhaps the struggle is now lost on all fronts, and imagining the course of the next few decades as the climate becomes ever more dominant in human affairs. And while he ponders, he passively watches the rain as it pours down off the moors, swelling the rivers and lifting the grids on the plain, drowning meadows and homes, on its way to the sea.

In many ways, being senior in years, the climate breakdown doesn’t matter to Rick as he won’t be around to see the worst of it, though it strikes him as curious, as his own life enters its winter months, the planet itself seems also to be set on its own end-game.

I’m a bit disappointed in Rick thus far, actually, and I’m hoping he’ll get his act together, that through his bunch of newly acquired eccentric friends in the Autumn Tints walking group, he’ll somehow rediscover his mojo – perhaps where he left it on a mountain cairn in his youth – and maybe he’ll enjoy a little late-flowering love along the way.

For myself I’m looking forward to the coming spring. I know we’ve a way to go yet but as the last Friday of February approaches and the daffodils and the crocuses make their appearance, I cannot help but feel more positive. Hopefully my own rallying mood will rub off on poor old Rick.

So,… it was a busy day yesterday, repairing fences left gap-toothed by a week of gales, repairing a nasty crack in a UPVC door that was let fly in the wind, replacing a window handle that had come off in my hand. Added to that, the boiler is on the blink again and the roof is leaking around the chimney, but only when the wind blows from a certain direction. The boiler man should sort the former out on Monday, but not I imagine without his usual sucking of teeth over various reg changes that provide him with a million reasons for walking away and leaving us without hot water, in spite of our premium-gold-peace-of-mind-or-whatever contract. As for the chimney, it’s leaked off and on for the twenty years I’ve lived here – and probably long before that – in spite of the attentions of a long line of  roofing men who have tried various fixes in exchange for my funding their holidays, and all to no avail. I shall keep the buckets in place and trust the wind changes direction.

Come on Rick, buck up, man! We need you to sort this mess out.

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other notes coverAn excerpt from “Notes from a small bookshop” by Michael Graeme

Available from all good bookshops no time soon:

I don’t know how much strangeness you’re wanting, or how much you can take. It’s a genre thing, I suppose. You come in expecting one thing, like this dusty old geezer sitting in a second hand bookshop pontificating on how things were so much better in the old days, then here he is showing you another thing entirely.

We’ve already had the spy story, the mystery police thing, the love story, a bit of crime thriller – I mean if Milord Milner isn’t a crook, then who is? We’ve even had a little bit of bonk-buster, though I admit I glossed over much of the animal fervour of that in favour of the romantic angle, out of respect for Magg’s privacy and it just seemed like the decent thing to do.

But this is something else entirely and you’re most likely going to find it really, really weird. It’s something you might think is even verging on the speculative, or a bit science fiction-ish, but it isn’t. Trust me, it’s already obsolete, technologically quaint.

Most of us don’t want strangeness do we? We want our days predictable, punctuated by three square meals. We want a thirty minute commute, and a nine to five, then a couple of hours after tea collapsed in front of a predictable Soap while we shovel crisps into our mouths and wash them down with cheap wine from the corner shop.

Then bed and dreams.

Dreams we can do. Dreams are okay, I mean for all their strangeness – and it’s mainly because we forget them so quickly. But that’s about the size of it, isn’t it? Any real strangeness in our waking lives and we’re covering our ears going: Nah,nah,nah,nah,…

But strangeness is everywhere. Every story ever written came out of someone’s head. Did you ever pause to think about that? Isn’t it weird? We make stuff up, make believe it’s real, and it’s okay – people still want to know what happens to these other people, people like me, who aren’t actually real.

But not all strangeness is made up.

I was reading the leftleaning news this afternoon and it was telling me of a town in America, all the jobs moved out and those nine to five people with their family SUVs and their cute little clapboard houses now living in tents along a bleak riverside on the outskirts of town and going hungry. No more wine and crisps for them. This is their new normal discarded, like waste, scrunched up and tossed into the bushes, their own Milord Milners caring little if they live or die. But these are not empty beer-cans. They are people, indeed more than people, they are, in the philosophical, and even in the existential sense, just different versions of you and me.

It will kill us, you know, this thing we have created. And only those of us capable of sustaining our Milord Milners will be allowed to survive, all be it barely. In this respect then, we will be farmed like cows. Some for milk, some for slaughter.

How the Milord Milners are made these days is open to speculation. They are no longer born to it like they were in olden times. I suspect rather they are merely psychopaths, that the system favours their emotionally insensitive natures, and the rest of us are just too passive or too stupid to prevent them gaining power. Shall we merely go on allowing it then? How can we? How can we not? I mean, if we are to survive.

But what is surviving? It’s a subject that needs redefining. And while we’re at it, what is living? I mean truly living.

You can forget the notion now that through diligence, the dream of middle class semi-detached suburbia, and 2.1 children is still attainable. And the working class too, you can forget the notion of meaningful work and ample playtime for afters. You already know this. You’re all in the same boat now, your bright young ones with degrees in this and that, rubbing shoulders with you bright young ones who don’t, and all of you chasing nothing-Mcjobs in the murky, shark infested pool of the precariat, all of you filling in here and there on poverty wages until you’re automated out of existence. You own no capital, you have no provision for old age. Do you think you can still run around a warehouse when youre eighty five with cataracts and a dodgy prostate?

So what am I saying here?

Beyond stating the problem, I don’t know. It depends what you want, what you value, or can re-evaluate in your life. Whether we go on pursuing the thrill of those dubious stimulations promised by Milord Milner’s ultimately empty mouse-clicks, or we set our devices aside, and do something else, something that does not involve staring at a screen and adding to the sedimentary layers of data for others to mine and profit by at our considerable expense and ultimate enslavement.

I have a feeling the answer lies in rediscovering that truer sense of the ordinariness of the world, the purer treasure of it, and yes, the sheer grace in all of that. Only there can we recapture our souls, and live as we should. And be happy.

I don’t know what I mean by any of this exactly, only that in common with the rest of us, I’m working on it,…

Do not go gently.

Be careful what you accept as normal.

No one is a waste of space.

https://www.wattpad.com/myworks/139757309-notes-from-a-small-bookshop

 

 

 

 

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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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Loving your villains

the sea view cafe - smallIn most matters Squinty Mulligan took the view it was the substance of one’s life that mattered, rather than appearances. The Mercedes on his tail that morning, he decided, was not paid for. It was a leased car, brand new. It was the epitome of ‘appearances’. Were the driver, a slickly coiffured and besuited gent, to lose his job, he would lose his car, his rented home, everything. The man was a slave to his debt, and could not see it. There was no substance to him at all. He was no more than a credit rating.

As for Squinty? He could buy a car like that outright, a fancy wrist-watch, a nice home, no problem. That he chose not to, that he chose instead to rumble about in his old Landrover, trailing a cloud of diesel fumes was a question of his personal credo, one of not showing off, or pretending to be something you were not. The old man had taught him that. But it went deeper. Squinty had the money, had the substance – all be it gained by questionable means – but was averse to showing it off. All right, the truth was people might ask questions about the source of his ‘substance’, but Squinty was happy to overlook this fact and wilfully mislabel it as humility. Whatever, Squinty was not boastful.

In love it was different though. Squinty was lonely, but it was pride that would not allow him to show it. He had splashed a bit of money out on nice clothes and a haircut and a hot shave, and for a moment that time in the supermarket, he was sure Hermione had warmed to him, or at least paused long enough to ask herself the question. But it had backfired on account of his impetuosity, and after much thought, he now blamed Maureen for that.

The traffic was thick and sluggish heading into Manchester and the Merc was hanging really close to his bumper, so close he couldn’t even make out its lights or its number plate. It was pushing him, even though there was nowhere to go, and he was getting annoyed with it.

Maureen you say?

Sure, it had been grand for a while, a bit of a laugh, and there was no doubt she was fun to be with when she’d had a few, and very obliging afterwards in bed, though often too drunk to remember any of it in the morning, so in a sense it was like the first time with her every time. They’d tried to do it sober, but it hadn’t felt the same, and Squinty was getting to be of an age when he could no longer do it drunk.

And Maureen’s story was one of depression, of a son dead in a foreign war, and a husband making money on a rig in the Irish Sea, a man who’d not been home in years and most likely would not be coming home again and all because his wife was impossible to live with.

It had begun because he’d felt sorry for her, felt it would perk her up a bit, a bit of casual loving, like – her husband away and all that. And it had, but Maureen was an addict: booze and,… well,… you know,… and none of it satisfying her for very long, and he wasn’t such a fool as to think he was the only one she was doing it with.

Her house was a tip of course, the bedsheets unchanged, bottles of cheap booze in the kitchen cupboards, the sink piled with mucky pots. Okay, his place wasn’t much to look at either, but even Squinty had his standards. Sure a man would be a fool to expect anything but ruin in the arms of Maureen.

Now Hermione, on the other hand,… it was the sheer cleanliness of the girl, and the kindness, and the warmth of her. That she disapproved of his banter he took for a feisty spirit, and it excited him, but she was soft enough too and he’d soon have her in her place if he could only find a way of connecting with her first. But he’d never been good with that sort of thing, I mean playing a woman for keeps.

But aren’t you forgetting the small matter of a broken window, Squinty – not to mention other transgressions?

Sure, but he’d apologise for that, offer to pay for the damage, and she’d be sweet about it.

You’ll see.

It was a twisty road, still busy in both directions. The Merc wanted to go faster or squeeze past but since the traffic and the twistiness was against overtaking, the only thing it could do was nudge ever closer to Squinty’s tail in the hope of getting a few more miles per hour out of him. Squinty grew tired of it and slammed on the brakes.

It had always been a good stopper, that old Landrover – not much to look at of course, but it was built like a tank.

The front of the Merc was crumpled, because that’s the way with cars these days. There was steam and the scent of oil and antifreeze. Nice smell, thought Squinty as he stepped down – for a mechanic you couldn’t beat it. As for the back end of the Landrover it was hard to tell. It might have been missing a bit of paint, but it could have been like that for a while – Squinty wasn’t sure.

The dog was barking with the shock of it, but Squinty cowed it with a simple: “QUIET”

The driver of the Merc stepped out, pale and shaken, mistook Squinty for a dishevelled old fart and became uppity.

“But didn’t you see the fox?”said Squinty, innocent as you like.

“Fox?”

“Fox ran in front of me. Had to brake hard. Pity you were so close.” He couldn’t resist the curl of a smile. F@$%ing city slicker – he didn’t look so corporate and cool now, did he?

Sqinty wrote down his details, handed them over, all legal, like. “Your fault, mate.” he said. He tapped the back window of the Landrover. Got you on my dashcam, right up my arse for the past half hour. Was just thinking to myself I hope I don’t have to pull up sharp.”

He was smiling as he drove away. It was going to be a good day.

***

Squinty is the “villain”, for want of another word, of my work in progress: The Sea View Cafe. He has many a trait that makes me wince, and he treats the heroine appallingly, but there are bits of him that have me cheering him on. When you can love your villains, I think you stand a chance of pulling it off.

I’ve begun serialising The Sea View on Wattpad, even though I’ve still no idea where it’s going, but I’m just loving getting to know these characters. I can’t wait to find out what they’re going to do next. They’re in charge – I just take notes.

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the sea view cafe - smallIn the morning the sun shone, but only in Finn’s head. It was actually just another grey Carrickbar morning, the sea flat and grey, slopping listlessly against the harbour wall as Finn looked out. Still, he saw the wonder in it, and the freshness, and in it also he imagined the sunshine. It felt like the morning the after the first time, with a girl whose name he could no longer remember, the first time, about a hundred years ago.

He’d forgotten the willing vulnerability of rendering oneself shyly naked to a woman. Hermione had undressed hastily last night, almost comically, tugging off her underwear and apologising for its lack of allure, an apology that was neither necessary, nor even registered by Finn, who was at once spellbound by her extraordinary beauty. Of course a man might find allure in any undressed woman, but Finn found it to a dry mouthed excess in Hermione.

He had forgotten too the stages of that first essential loving, and relived them now with a wide-eyed joy – the shock of that first feather touch embrace, warm flesh on flesh, and the impossible smoothness of a woman’s skin. Then it was his head dipped gently to her breast, and held there lightly with a nurturing hand upon his cheek, the same hand that then familiarised itself with his,….

Well okay,… so on and so on and then,..

it was him finally venturing a familiarity with her, and finding her like a hot quicksand – firm and unyielding, but only for a moment, then opening to a moistness that drew him so deep and so sudden, and her hand still upon him that he,…

Yes,… yes,… yes,… you get the idea. And then,…

…..shot it out like a hair triggered teenager and with a force unknown in years.

(blushing!!! Maybe not.)

“Oh, God Finn, I hope that’s not it.”

(Typical of Hermione)

He laughed, lay back against the bedpost, and her at the opposite corner, dressed only in darkness. A lone car passed by and painted her in a slow dynamic of light and shade.

“Give me a moment,” he said. But he didn’t want it. Not the moment anyway. What he wanted was the feel of her like a wave beneath him and around him, and him stretched out and surfing so deep it was a painful joy even to breathe. And with each breath each intentioned,…. well, you know,… he wanted to communicate the depth of his awe, his joy, his love,…. for this woman who was,… Hermione Watts.

But what he got when he came near was her manoeuvring herself atop, and coming slow to a serene revelation, eyes open, upturned and dreamy, lips parted, and a brief smile illuminating when he,…. thing-a-ma-bobbed,…. once more inside of her.

It was by now one a.m.

“Not bad, first time, Finn Finucane,” she said, and with that she passed out face down upon the pillow beside him, and began to snore,…

Okay , first draft, sex scene. Work in progress. The Sea View Cafe. Censored in places.

Apologies to anyone reading this before breakfast, but it was about time Finn and Hermione  got that out of the way.  Now things can get really interesting!

As with my previous novel, Sunita, I’m minded to begin posting this story in serialised form on Wattpad soon. Never heard of Wattpad? Want free fiction? Check it out.

 

 

 

 

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the sea view cafe - smallChapter 22 – first draft

A foul night. Heavy rain rattling at the window and continuing through until dawn. It’s Wednesday. Hermione lies still, cuddling the pillow, not wanting to disturb the delicious warmth of the duvet which has by now settled just right, and ever so sleepy-snug. No need to get up this morning, the Cafe is closed. It might as well have been closed yesterday as well for all the custom she attracted. Things will have to pick up soon or she will be thinking she’s failed, that she will have to go home and listen to her mother say I told you so.

She remembers her mother is dead.

Seven thirty am, then eight, then nine, and still she lies there, drifting in and out of dreams.

There’s a yellow post-it-note fixed to the alarm. It bears the name and address of a man she does not really know. He looked different without his beard last night, so much better, so much more readable, the softness in his eyes repeated about the corners of his mouth as he spoke. What did he say? “Oh, Hi,…” or something like that. Not much in one sense, but a lot more in another because sometimes it is not so much the number of words that conveys meaning as the way they are spoken.

She blushes when she sees him, notices his blushes when he sees her. It means something.

Hush Minnie. It’s nothing, remember?

She’ll run as usual today, but only when it’s stopped raining.

It has rained a lot in Carrickbar this year.

The tide has turned by mid morning and is inching its way back in. Hermione jogs while the cold and the wind washes the sleep from her eyes with salt tears. She runs north, keeping to the sands, wanting to avoid everyone, Finn and Helena especially – Finn because she does not want to want him, and Helena because she does not want her to want him either. And while she thinks on this, she wants only to be a lone figure in the grey.

Jogging.

She has not gone a hundred yards when she spots something washed up, brought in by that morning’s tide. It’s a seal perhaps. Or a sack of something floatable tipped over the side of a boat. She would give it a wide birth but something in the shape of it draws her eye, something deep within that gives warning, primeval in its certainty. And she just knows.

“Fuck!”

She jogs closer, slows when she sees the form a young woman, lifeless, topless like a mermaid, hair matted like weedy fronds about her face, arms outstretched in the sand where the tide has rolled her, a finger pointing. The waxy whiteness of her skin is beautiful, as in way, is the unnatural whiteness of her lips. Hermione stops, hands on knees, silent as a church, unbelieving. What to do? She takes the girl’s wrist between her fingers, thinks to feel for a pulse. The girl is cold, wet, slippery like fish. The deadness in her is obvious.

Someone else is coming now. Running. Breathless.

She turns.

“Finn?”

“I thought I saw from the promenade. I wasn’t sure,… is she?…”

Hermione nods. No need to make a show with CPR. The girl’s spirit is long gone. Gone last night in the deep. Gone for ever.

She’s not sure she wants Finn there, not sure why, not sure about anything now. It complicates the moment, adds tangents to it that she cannot search for meaning. She’s also breathing strangely, too deep, like there’s a scream inside of her that’s trying but won’t come. And the tide is on its way back in.

Finn is calling the police on his mobile. He tries to be calm, precise, measured, but Hermione detects the quiver in his voice of a deep, trembling shock.

Yes, a body. On the beach. At Carrickbar. Young woman. Girl. Drowned maybe.

It seems to take a long time for him to get the message across. He seems to be fighting against an inappropriately cold pedantry. They want his name and address. There are other seemingly irrelevant questions. He keeps trying to tell them: A body. Yes. A body on the beach at Carrickbar. He breaks the call in some frustration.

“What they say?”

“Not to touch her. Someone will be with us soon.”

Hermione drops the girl’s wrist. “How soon?”

“Don’t know.”

“But the tide’s coming in. It’ll have her back out if we wait. We can’t let it take her back out, Finn. We can’t!” She grabs hold of the girl’s wrist again as if to prevent the tide from having her.

Finn is thinking, eyes to the sea, eyes to the promenade and the high water mark. He takes off his coat and drapes it over the girl’s body, as if to keep her warm. “We’ll stay ’till they come,” he says. “Move her up the beach if we have to.”

Hermione nods. He’s a good thinker in a crisis.

Tick.

They begin to shiver.

It’s half an hour before they hear the whine of the air ambulance. Blue lights appear on the promenade at the same time. Hermione cannot remember those thirty minutes. Time is erased. There’s just Finn, crouching by the girl, keeping quiet vigil, and she beside him, the pair of them willing back the tide. No one else from the village comes. It’s too cold a day to be out.

Then the police are there and they are led aside, as if trespassing. The girl is taken from their care and they are resentful of it. Hermione has a parting image of her being rolled without ceremony onto a plastic sheet. Finn’s coat is, sealed in a bag as if accused. Police and noise descend upon the quiet.

Someone is questioning Hermione now. She remembers a fluorescent jacket and a broken nose. She shrugs him off. “We’ll be up the Cafe,” she says, gestures vaguely in the direction of the Sea View, then takes Finn’s hand, pulls him from a pair of officers, leads him away, brushes off their objections. “We’re cold,” she snaps. There’s a contempt in her voice. She can’t help it. She hates the sight of them.

“They took your coat,” she says.

They’re climbing the steps by the harbour. Hermione is still holding his hand, holding it tight, can’t let it go, and his hand feels firm and warm in hers, except she’s not holding it, more holding on to it.

“It’s just an old coat,” says Finn. “It doesn’t matter.”

“Hadn’t you nothing in your pockets?”

He shrugs. “Nothing important. A hanky. An old hat.”

“Not your wallet then?”

“Em,… no.”

“Need to take better care of that.”

“Yes,… look, about that,… about my wallet,… thanks.”

“Oh?”

“It was you who found it, wasn’t it? You posted it through the letter box? Yesterday?”

“How ‘d you know?”

“I could,… smell your perfume on it.”

She’s impressed he knows her scent, impressed that he noticed. “Must have had some on my fingers.”

“But,… anyway,… thanks.”

“S’all right.”

They’re on the promenade now, Squinty Mulligan’s garage across the road, and him outside looking nervous at all the flashing lights. Hermione squeezes Finn’s hand in both her own. Let squinty see. Let Squinty think I’m with Finn.

“You all right?” she asks.

“Yes. Still can’t believe this is happening? Are we dreaming?”

“If we are it’s time we woke up.”

“Who was she, do you think?”

She thinks back to yesterday, to the figures way out on the sands. “Don’t know,” she says. “Not from round here, though.”

Finn looks out over the sea wall, back up the beach from where they’ve come. They are carrying the girl safe from the tide now, laying her down again. There’s the lightning flash from a camera. A private ambulance cruises quiet to the kerb. Hermione feels him far away. They are both of them still down on the beach, with the girl, a half hour of shivering vigil, watching over her. Hermione tugs him up the hill towards the Cafe.

It’s warmer inside, but not much because the heating doesn’t run downstairs on Wednesdays. It’ll be warmer in the flat of course, but she’s not going to invite him up there. It may be perverse but she’s realising there’s nothing like the closeness of death for making her want to feel alive, and if Finn feels half way the same, it’ll only take a knowing glance on his part, and she’ll have him good and hard and be done with it.

They are shivering over hot chocolate when the plain clothes men arrive, ties at half mast and dark trench coats with collars turned, as if in parody of themselves. She notices Squinty at the door, trying to catch her eye. His way is barred by uniforms.

The questions begin in earnest.

She tells them nothing. Knows nothing. Spits her answers.

Finn looks on, wondering, bracing himself at her barely concealed contempt, puzzled by it. His own tone is more polite, respectful. But he knows no more than she. There was a body on the beach. He called the police. No, he does not know who she is, has not seen her around the village before. No, he saw no one else that morning, except Hermione. Yes, he lives in Carrickbar.

Squinty is still at the door, nose against the glass. The officers have finished, seem unperturbed by Hermione’s tone, satisfied with Finn. They have addresses, have handed out cards with official police contact numbers on them. She tears the cards in two as soon as the police have gone.

But she and Finn cannot sit here now, not downstairs in the Cafe with Squinty at the door. He’ll want in. He’ll want the gossip, for nothing like this has happened in Carrickbar before. But she can’t share it yet, and especially not with him. The breaths are coming deep again, the scream building. She can’t let go of Finn, just yet. Something happened on the sands they need to emerge from intact, and they must do it together. She needs him to help make sense of it, fill the gaps in her leaking cognition.

“Will you,… come up for a bit?”

Finn thinks on this for a moment, then nods.

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