Bordeaux Bay

Bordeaux Bay
Watercolour by Tony Taylor http://www.paintingbreaksguernsey.com

Monday, 31 August 2015

OF MICE AND MEN (Part 1)

In April I introduced Noir Week, when I published a sequence of short pieces written in the style of that genre. 

The dictionary defines Noir as Crime fiction featuring hard-boiled, cynical characters in bleak, sleazy settings’ whilst other sources refer to it as being typified by 'cynicism, fatalism and moral ambiguity'.

Each of the poems during Noir Week were individual tales linked only by the characteristics of the genre. This prompted me to try my hand at writing a further sequence with an interconnecting linear narrative.

The result was THREE BLIND MICE, a set of twelve short poems, with a nod to the usual cliches of the genre, which you'll find here over the next few days.


THREE BLIND MICE




 1. BETTY MAE’S DREAM

She had a dream. Mice in a maze.
Blind. Trapped like lost souls in the Pit.
It haunted her for days, she says.
I tell her that dreams don’t mean shit.






 











2. WES
                                   
I meet this bozo in a bar.
He says: You Wes? I say: Who says?
He says: I know you from the scar.
Ok, I say. I guess I’m Wes.
He says: We need you drive a car:
word is you’re outa work these days.
He offers me a big cigar.
I like his style: admire finesse.
He says: The job won’t take an hour.
C’mon, consider my request.
Just grab the dough then au revoir:
no stress. Hey Wes, just acquiesce.
I’m hooked: but something seems to jar. 



 














3. BETTY MAE AND WES

Be honest Wes, I say: Confess;
you plan to do another job.
Wes says: It’s cool, I guess, don’t stress.
But me, I can’t suppress a sob:
I know, with every bank they rob,
the danger grows, his luck gets less.

He says: Just one last job, and then
we’re gone: we’ll quit this crazy town,
head for the coast and start again:
diamonds and mink, a classy gown.
I force a smile. Conceal my frown:
don’t want him back inside the Pen.

Wes laughs and says: I only drive.
They do the rough stuff, it ain’t me,
but I know there’s a forty-five
hid in his drawer: I found the key.
Goddam it, guns make me antsy.
I need Wes to come back alive.


 To be continued tomorrow ...

Saturday, 29 August 2015

RUBY TUESDAY

In the early Nineteen-Seventies I rented a shabby little flat on Lisburn Road in Belfast, during the years when The Troubles took their toll on the nerves and lives of those of us who chose, or had no choice but, to live in Northern Ireland.


Those were interesting times. Most of us lived on a bilious cocktail of dread, anger and constant anxiety.
Day by day, the bloody associates of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness went about the business of abducting and torturing people who disagreed with their particular vision of Ireland, or often simply murdering them.

A version of the Swinging Sixties had finally arrived in Ulster and there was a certain wild abandon on the social scene. A wartime recklessness, too, infused relationships between the sexes because the threat of sudden death or injury was never far away.
Love affairs and liaisons were conducted in a climate beyond the understanding of the British public, safely ensconced on the mainland, and IRA bombs, targeted on civilians, were a daily occurrence.
One such bomb demolished my little flat, but not before I’d enjoyed many exuberant evenings there with friends and lovers.
Music played a vital part in such evenings and scores of vinyl albums stood, cheek by jowl, with much-loved paperbacks on my makeshift shelves.
Tracks by Van Morrison, Bob Seger, Joni Mitchell and Melanie Safka were played and replayed till they became embedded in my memory, never to be erased.

There was something in the music of those days that addressed the strange mixture of joy and sadness I felt, adrift in my middle years.
To this day, I can't listen to a Bob Seger song without being transported back to that time and place. 

Melanie Safka, too, though not the world's greatest singer, had a poignant quality to her voice and delivery that transfixed me. Her heartrending version of the Jagger/Richards classic, Ruby Tuesday, can still bring a tear to my eye and send me whirling back through the squandered years to Belfast and those vanished friends.
 

Click here to hear Melanie at her best: 

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

GLOOMY TUESDAY

Sitting in my living room, during the wettest August for years, watching rain bouncing off the garden table and chairs where I'd love to be seated, sipping ice-cold Prosecco and enjoying the sun's warmth, I feel unreasonably resentful.

We have a relatively easy life here in Guernsey, protected from many of the woes of the UK and Europe, although you wouldn't think it, listening to some of our local dullards with their constant grousing and negativity.

There is much to be thankful for, but, at times to my dismay, I find that I too slip into that gloomy Guernsey mindset and have to work hard to snap out of it.

It was probably on one such dismal day a few years back that I wrote this grim little archive piece.   



 THE FLY

That morning Arnold took a tumble getting out of bed: a dizzy spell. He’d been having them for a while but most days he managed to sit down before he collapsed. 
Today wasn’t one of those days.
He sat on the carpet where he’d landed and gathered his wits. He shook his head to clear it and, for the first time, heard the fly.
It was buzzing somewhere in the room and Arnold thought it was the loudest fly he’d ever encountered.
Arnold took paracetamol and phoned in sick. He sat on the sofa and shivered. The wallpaper was alive. Its pattern of bamboo shoots appeared to be dancing some sort of mad fandango.

The light, too, was different. A yellowish tinge filled the room like polluted water.
He heard the fly again but couldn’t see it anywhere. The frantic noise it made seemed louder than before.
Arnold’s shoulder ached from his fall and he felt listless.
He dozed off and when he woke the fly was buzzing again, noisily, and the room vibrated with the sound.
It was like an enormous, threatening machine. The walls of Arnold's room seemed to shimmer and he felt the floor tilt alarmingly.
All day Arnold lay on the sofa, curled like a foetus. The more furiously the fly buzzed, the more Arnold's energy drained away.
His eyes scanned the yellow room but he couldn’t see the fly anywhere. He thought it must be invisible and began to feel invisible himself.
Eventually the buzzing reached a crescendo and Arnold’s head felt as though it would explode.
Then it did.


Now click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yE4fC0k4afg

Sunday, 23 August 2015

DEFYING GRAVITY

This is one of those instances where the picture provoked the poem and, yes, it's an intriguing image. 

The notion of escape, both physical and emotional, seems to crop up again and again in my writing and I'll admit that there's something intoxicating about it. 
The poem below, Maiden Flight, is a bit of lighthearted fun, hence the strap-line. Gravity, after all, is seriously overrated.  
Back in April, I published Rapture, loosely based on the prediction found in the Book of Thessalonians, that believers will be whisked away at the end of days to meet with their Redeemer in the skies.

This image would have been an appropriate illustration for that poem, but will serve perfectly well for this one instead. 


MAIDEN FLIGHT

Empty shoes left on the pavement,

in a shimmering hiatus,                                                     
liberated, floating, weightless,
 
free from gravity's enslavement,
she looks down, her winged heart leaping
at the sight of cars and people,
chimney-pots and chapel steeple,
and the snail of traffic creeping.

Strong her wings feel, air uplifting,
slight her body, breathless, easeful,
far above a fog of diesel,
on warm currents, lifting, drifting.

Empty shoes left on the pavement.
Time stands still. She climbs forever,
wafted like a wind-blown feather,
free from gravity’s enslavement.

Friday, 21 August 2015

SEA PICTURES

The legendary mezzo-soprano, Dame Janet Baker, celebrates her birthday today, 21 August. 

During her prestigious career she has recorded many classical pieces, among them the wondrous song cycle, Sea Pictures, by Sir Edward Elgar.
Sea Pictures is much loved by my wife, Jane, who regards Dame Janet Baker's rendition as by far the best.
The cycle consists of five songs written by various poets and arranged for singer and orchestra.
 

If you want more information about the songs themselves, you will find it at https://en.wikipedia.or/wiki/SeaPictures 
or you can listen to Dame Janet’s unforgettable performance by clicking here.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GauIMo8Manc

Monday, 17 August 2015

THE INVISIBLE MAN

Like most children, I believed that if I shut my eyes and held my breath I’d become invisible. 
Sometimes it worked but often it didn’t and Hide ‘n Seek proved to be a far greater challenge than I’d imagined.
Growing older, we become invisible.  

Around the start of middle-age it becomes clear that the young have ceased to acknowledge our presence, and by the time we're really old we disappear entirely.
Whilst this kind of invisibility may be a something of a blow to the ego, there is comfort to be derived from ceasing to be a subject of scrutiny.  
If we keep our heads down, squeeze our eyes shut and hold our breath, maybe we'll be able to slip away unnoticed.

 
INVISIBLE

In the den, he hunkers down, holds his breath,
makes himself
invisible.

Oblivious, the Parkies stand six feet away
and speak in angry tones:
a broken pane, some daffodils beheaded.

He hears them toss his name
back and forth between them
and holds his breath to make himself invisible.

It is summer. He is eight years old.

He lies beneath white sheets and tries to breathe.
He is very small: not eight years old but eighty.
The room is full of snow.

Light spills through a high window
like radiance unfolding.

He hears voices rise and fall and makes himself
invisible.

The voices drift.  


He hears them toss his name
back and forth between them
and tries to breathe.

What matter now, the broken pane, those headless daffodils?
Will summer come again?

He makes himself invisible.
It is easy now
with no more breath to hold.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

BACK TO THE FUTURE

It’s been a while since I posted a piece of Flash Fiction, so here’s one I hope you’ll find interesting.
I notice that two of the issues which seem to be causing most unease, as humanity becomes increasingly dependent on “intelligent” robots, are the fear that we may become subservient to them, and that they will seek to harm us.
I've tried to weave these twin concerns into this little tale. 



MY ROBOT

My Robot brings me breakfast on a tray: fruit juice, toast, black coffee, also my supplements and pills, then later, a mobile screen with news and shopping options. It stands stiffly, recites its tasks in order, purrs softly like an electronic cat.
The letters on its chest read A.I.D.A. which stands for Artificial Intelligence Domestic Assistant. I call it Aida and think of it as female.
Aida is an indoor robot. There are outdoor types that patrol the streets, direct driverless cars and coaches, sweep pavements, collect garbage. These are municipal robots, MOBOs, noisy hulking brutes with no finesse.
Aida cleans and washes, manages household accounts, selects suitable mood music to aid my relaxation.
She is assisted by two inferior house-robots. I call them Bill and Ben.
Bill is barrel-shaped and slow. Ben moves quickly and is more maneuverable. They are programmed to obey Aida’s commands.
Aida enters with a tray of biscuits for my mid morning snack.  She says: “There is no need for you to fret. There is nothing I cannot find. I am programmed to fetch...”.
Her voice is calm, well-modulated, almost human, and indeed it is true, there is no household task AIDA does not perform with excellence. She is efficient, speedy and adept. The very model of a modern Domestic Assistant. She adjusts my reclining chair.
I slouch in my chair but cannot sleep. I find myself spending more and more time this way, sleepless, staring distractedly at flickering images on the view-screen.
I take a call from the person whom I called Son back in the days before the end of families. Now we speak formally to one another and address each other as Citizen.
He tells me a disturbing thing.
He has witnessed a group of MOBOs surround and kill a feral dog. They beat and trampled it till it was dead.
We understood that robots are programmed to never kill but clearly we were wrong. The video call is brief. Pleasantries are not encouraged nowadays.
The hours pass slowly. Too much repose has left me weary of a life in which I am merely an onlooker.
Increasingly, Aida fills the roles that once were mine. I should not complain. All households have Assistants now. This new world of ours is one of rest and leisure.
I rise from my recliner and go to the window. How beautiful the street looks. The trees and shrubs appear unnaturally green.
A large group of MOBOs have gathered on the corner. There is an object on the ground amongst them. I cannot see it properly. It appears to be moving.
Something bumps my shin and I spin round to find Bill directly behind me. Ben, too, has entered the room. They have approached stealthily and invaded my personal space. They should not be here and are not permitted in the Recreation Zone. I must summon Aida.
The door slides open and Aida comes, gliding smoothly as she does, bringing me a pot of coffee.
As I turn to address her. Bill bumps me violently again and I stumble to my knees. Ben moves swiftly to stand over me and suddenly appears much more imposing than I thought him. Kneeling, I turn towards Aida, extend my hands to plead for help. She pours the scalding coffee on my head.


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

DOCTOR FEELGOOD

I’ve always regarded humorous writing as an undervalued art because, whilst initially it might seem easy to do, it generally proves to be quite the opposite, and really good material in that category is rare.
One of my favourite authors, David Nobbs, whose achingly funny novels translated into several wonderful television series, most notably The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, died last Saturday.

You’ll find countless tributes to him online and the link below will direct you to one of them.
 

Many a fit of the blues I’ve banished by dipping into one of David's books or revisiting my Reggie Perrin box-set for a lengthy chuckle. 

His glorious brand of comedy, always fresh, is guaranteed to raise the lowest of spirits.
It seems that humour is indeed the best medicine. 


CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO TELEGRAPH OBITUARY

Thursday, 6 August 2015

DEATH OF INNOCENCE

On 6th August, seventy years ago today, an event occurred that changed forever the world in which we live and granted the human race an awesome power hitherto attributed only to the gods.




ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND


We work our fields. The sun is bright.
The men sing a patriotic song.  We bend and straighten. Our backs ache. 
We do not curse: we are polite and strong.  To work is to belong.
We toil for the Emperor’s sake.

Old Haruki points overhead: a crane is flying from the north.  Its languid wings sweep like brushstrokes. Cranes are good fortune, it is said.

We resume plowing, back and forth, joyfully singing, sharing jokes.

I dream of fiery rice wine, ice then flame in my throat; the slow walk homeward. 
We are a happy crowd.
Comradeship, sacred brotherhood, bind us together. We think of our great nation and sing aloud.

I do not hear the Yankee plane
but shudder as a mushroom cloud despoils the picture-perfect sky.

Nearby Hiroshima,
domain of a nobility most proud,
is laid to waste.

Prostrate we lie, while airborne poison, like a stain, begins to spread. 
We tremble, cowed, claw at the earth, prepare to die.

Our tranquil world is turned to pain.
We burn to ash in fields we plowed.

One hundred
thousand people.

Why?





Click here to hear the voice of J Robert Oppenheimer, Head of the Manhattan Project Secret Weapons Laboratory speaking, years after the event, about the test explosion that preceded the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

Hiroshima by John Hersey

Robert Oppenheimer

Hiroshima & Nagasaki 

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

ROMANTIC INFLUENCE

Born today, 4 August 1792, Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the major English Romantic poets and is regarded as one of the finest lyric, as well as epic, poets in the English language. 

Shelley did not see fame during his lifetime, but recognition for his poetry grew steadily following his death. 


He was a key member of a close circle of visionary poets and writers that included Lord Byron.


Shelley’s verse had a significant influence on the work of subsequent poets such as Robert Browning and Dante Gabriel Rossetti and he remains popular in contemporary poetry circles.






OZYMANDIAS - Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias,  King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Saturday, 1 August 2015

ALL THE PRETTY HORSES

Long ago, in simpler times, nothing quite matched the joy of a fairground ride.
The gaudy carousel, with its array of bright horses, was a magnet to small boys like myself and competition was fierce to claim the horse of your choice whilst the operator collected sixpences from our dads.
When the music started, we began a breathtaking, circular ride that grew faster and faster with each revolution.
We screamed like banshees as our parents transformed into an anxious blur in our peripheral vision.
All too soon it was over, as the horses lost their momentum and idled to a stop.
Dizzy, we would slide to the ground and clamour round our fathers, begging for another go.
Please Dad, oh please ...


 


MERRY-GO-ROUND

He rides a horse of polished wood
with wondrous head and robust build,
the work of craftsmen, deftly skilled,
a thoroughbred, red, silver-shoed,
that circles, while wild music swings, 
amidst a swirling cavalry
of beasts, defying gravity,
as, to its mane, he bravely clings,
for he is blessed to simply be
immersed in joy, a child of light,
a liberated bird in flight,
that soars and screams ecstatically.



Click here for Merry-Go-Round music