Thursday, 21 March 2013

Farewell Seacombe Aquarium

The out of town retail park aquarium. A new phenomenon that accounted for the dwindling numbers here in Seacombe. He’d been there a few years ago. On the road out to Wirral. A blank, corrugated structure sandwidged between a cavernous shoe supermarket and a many-aisled sports megastore.

The vast tank in there stretched upward to an indeterminate point of bright, white light: A dilute impression of infinity, dispelled as a trick of refraction each second hour, when a backlight flicked on beyond the disappointingly proximate water surface. The clumsy flippers of a foolhardy frogman would descend from a small jetty, gurning within his scuba mask at dumbfounded onlookers as he hand-fed the sharks frozen fish.

To fully appreciate its vulgarity, Godfrey bade me conjure the structure without its associated walls and water. Imagine, in mid air, those sharks circling above a car park in the north west of England, for an audience whose primary intent that morning had been to find a new pair of shoes.

Godfrey shook his head and stared at a vast brown trout in the opposite tank; motionless but for the slow, sad blinking of its eye.

A great fear nagged at him, for whatever it might imply, said Godfrey, that beside Plank's or Newton's constants, it might be as easy to determine - via summation of a species' mean intelligence - the safe distance at which a hand is able to place its pet, from the borders of what it might otherwise recognise as freedom. 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Excerpt: The Radii of Remains

Godfrey stopped mid-sentence, his pint hovering beneath a bottom lip bitten in confusion.

I reminded him of who I was, and why we were here, and how we’d met, as arranged, early this morning, at the metro stop of St Peter’s Square.

Spotted him, I had, from about 500 yards away, his arm outstretched, raking that colt carving along the high windowsills of the Midland Hotel; a sequence of small avalanches and sharply drawn back curtains succeeding him along Lower Mosley Street.

He shook his head. It was no good.

Not 6am it had been. Still dark. It’s the same day Godfrey, just a few hours later. I’d shouted you be careful when that tram tooted you from the pavement edge. You hurried along behind it, passed the war memorial and down the wrong side of the station’s safety railings. Missed the incline, you did. And you just stood there all the while, two feet below me on the tram track, shaking the hand I reached down you in assistance, not a thought of climbing back onto the platform. I don’t know what gets into you sometimes.

Is it coming back?

Godfrey reached over for my notebook, asking whether my hieroglyphs - as he called them - might always be counted upon to prove the absurdity of such behavior. Behavior he’d likely live in perpetual embarrassment of - should half of it be true.

I read Godfrey the notes we’d made on the back pew of the cathedral before the remembrance service had begun. About how - after he’d clambered onto the platform - we’d watched the ground floor windows of the Midland, as rudely awoken patrons relinquished hairdryers and half knotted ties, cuffing-out condensation patches to peer in a blur through crown glass windows; images distorted to grotesques; fun house reflections nosing the windows for the inconsiderate window cleaner below.

Listen, I read: ‘We watched them all appear, one by one at the windows, like condemned men peering through portholes on a ship of fools. Or how the rippled panes tailored earth-tone roundels of each inhabitant’s work wear – browns and blacks of shirt and suit surrounding beige face blobs near the centre…’

Godfrey sipped his pint; nodding in approval.

‘…Squinting eyes behind the pane’s pontil mark magnified whites and pupils into the inner concentric rings of a series of sepia rendered archery targets. All busy rat-a-tatting their wrath down to street level, where it was lost among tram toots and taxi horns.’

Godfrey shook his head. He didn’t remember. Nice line that though, about the roundels. Had he thought of it? Peculiar, you see, because he did actually remember those circular RAF insignia as being in sepia. As if the medium through which one came to associate those days - old photographs and postcards and such - had, over time, replaced the colour of memory.

Like if you watch a home video enough times you’d come to recognise the event from the camera’s point of view. Memory strained, as it were, through sun spots, lens flares and the third person, said Godfrey.

He grinned, shaking his head. This business about the hotel windows, though. He supposed it sounded likely. He couldn’t after all respect a late riser - a conviction imbued by a thousand or more dawn calls from the damn Foxdon cockerel, which over time he learned to consider as a warning from God against sloth and the importance of being an early bird, because…

I stopped him. He’d said this earlier. How he too learned to be an early bird, because anything left in the same place for too long during those days was likely to be obliterated, right?

Godfrey exhaled and set his pint down. He peered over the top of his spectacles; the slow roll of his kind brown eyes tracked the sub dial of my watch through sixty seconds; breaking off to meet my gaze through the thick mass of unruly eyebrows that shrugged apology for his memory. A result, he explained, of the many nervous moments out on the airfield, awaiting inbound squadrons that his more flippant self might only joke had aggravated his tennis elbow to the point where he’d been forced to stop wearing a wristwatch.

He sipped his pint. His more flippant self, maybe.

I didn’t have the heart to interrupt Godfrey again as he explained, for the umpteenth time, that the present was a habit he’d been forced to retire from a long time ago, for fear of his health. And that the time spent recalling the moments he’d missed had obscured contemporarily to the point where it took recent events a while to sink in, as if the previous couple of hours were a proving ground on the way to record; an acid test for what he took with him to deep storage.

Godfrey’s exile from the contemporary meant that by VJ Day, he’d all but forgotten how to tell the time. He’d re-learned, he explained, according to the array of grand gateaux balanced on silver cake stands in the Lawn Street bakery window, which were cut, to this day, to give passersby a tempting cross section of their filling. One could still gauge a literal degree of popularity by their missing segment, and tell the time by the radii of their remains: The half past five of an overdone, un-iced Madeira; the five to midnight of the last sliver of delicious lemon drizzle.

Already half five on that succulent banoffee when he’d walked past this morning. See, he was remembering now well enough! Some wise fellow bagged his slice for lunchtime, no doubt. Early risers indeed. Be sold out by 10am that one. Delicious. It was coming back to him now. His trip in on the metro; getting off too early at G-Mex, or whatever it was called these day, and following the tram down the incline passed the Midland.

Under the circumstances of Godfrey’s sporadic memory loss, I agreed to straighten out any inconsistencies or repetitions that might make his story sound disingenuous.

However, I could not grant his request - I explained, laughing - that near to the start of its publication, I could insert a disclaimer asking readers to consider both his and my poor temperance for any shaky temporality therein: A shame, said Godfrey, given the amount of pubs between here and our destination.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Excerpt of an Excerpt of an Excerpt

So it was: That after leaving Manchester Cathedral, on our way to celebrate my exam results, Padre Godfrey paused beneath a towering Madonna, and supposed in his ponderous Texan drawl that my journalism career would be defined by what I did, or did not do, with the privileged information likely to come my way.

He waved his walking stick toward each gravestone, indicating where the cross wind had driven snow against the larger tombs on a shallow angle, so that the outline of their adorning iconography recurred - stretched according to wind strength - in the bare grass beyond their leeward edges.

Like a low sun’s long shadows, could you just about make out the stenciled shape of cherubs, saints and crucifixes, where else the gale sharpened curved headstones to a series of green spikes.

The wind worsened, and I hurried to Godfrey’s right, beneath Mary’s assumption. The snow shelved off the feathers of her attendant angels, and we looked out through the cascade as if stood in the undercut of a waterfall – or an atrocious garden feature, said Godfrey.

He unpinned a dog-eared poppy from the breast of his large, green overcoat; backhand hooking either lapel shut with the curved ebony nuzzle of his horse-handled walking stick, which he swore to replace each time he straightened up to show me an open left palm, and two small indents imparted by the colt carving’s ear detail, after little more that ten minutes use.

Looks like a spider has had me. Big ones in the desert where he was from, he said. And if he’d the chance to choose again he might have overlooked its allegory and plumped for the smooth, featureless nape of a serpent, rather than this damned waste of money, whose use was limited to a prop with which to embellish the most demonstrative parts of his story, whirling it in slow circles or prodding the air when he said things like ‘in the whole wide world’, or ‘somewhere around here’.

Godfrey ran through the drill of securing his coat; battening down the flaps and hatches of the caped old thing, whose original shade and function could be discerned by the un-sewn outline of chevron and shield-shaped insignia along his chest and arms.

It was always enough to suggest his coat was a castle that he could mobilize at short notice; its many well worn folds the great doors and drawbridges of a mighty keep that he was angry at himself for having left ajar and vulnerable again – trusting too well this damned maritime climate. A straight-faced routine he performed often, usually accompanied by whooped goddamnits that drew a laugh from anyone in earshot.

But today there was nothing. He turned his poppy in his hand.

I set off into the snow before Godfrey motioned me back beneath Mary to explain, suddenly angry, that since the law of our respective homelands had seen fit to dismiss the Seal of the Confessional, he could see no damned reason not to inform me of what he’d gleaned from many a good man all those years ago.

I nodded, despite not understanding, and to cover his suddenly breaking voice said something loud and unconvincing about today’s afternoon kick off, and how it might be cancelled if this weather kept up.

He stepped forward and looked at the grey sky. I noticed he was allowing the snowfall to dilute his tears.

We’d left the Remembrance Day service early, during the first stanza of Our God, Our Help in Ages Past; Godfrey ushering me along the back pew and into the graveyard, our hymn sheets still in hand, under whispered insistence of his suddenly needing a beer. And taking, he said, the words of the always-omitted sixth and best stanza as his cue, he’d decided to forget this same old blasted commemoration in favour of something inaugural.

Godfrey pointed between two verses on his hymn sheet. Here, he said, should be sung about those busy tribes of flesh and blood, with all their lives and cares, being carried downwards by the flood, and lost in following years. They always miss that bit, he said.

Several short gusts were enough to part the heavy knave doors behind us; the hymn within spilled out in intermittent bursts like a skipping record, before two vergers hauled the way shut with a clunk. Now only a muffle within.

Godfrey smiled at me gratefully. My impression of ignorance was gallant, he said, but the keen perception that served me well as a reporter also made of me a woeful actor.

As such, he would be thankful if I might tolerate the potential of such melancholy for the next few days, and accept a role as the unspecified person to whom – for the sake of his health - he’d been advised, by some dammed shrink, to recount his troubling memories. 

See the rest of this story within

Monday, 23 April 2012

Excerpts - For Margaret Vol IV

As the reed accents the oboe were her prayers revealed on the edge of sleep: An under-one's-breath amplified to intelligible by a string of snot or tightened sinus, rasping out her same unchanged hopes from last year. The nightly mantra deepening through the woodwind tones until the orchestration reached a bassoon like unconscious. The nightlong symphony ensuing. Amen.
It was considering too closely the words of others that had caused the demise of Mary's inner monologue. Some sort of malfunction of the temporal lobe, according to the doctor. Or one of those unknown but over-studied parts of the brain, labeled after whichever European made the first incision toward understanding.
The areas of Wernicke, Broca and Broadmann, perhaps, thought John, reading one of two maps in the waiting room as he waited - still waiting - for Mary to return with some long-awaited good news.
The one that was not the diagram of the human brain - 'exploded' as it might be denoted in an automobile manual, thought John. Medulla, Cerebelum, Pons and so on, blown up and orientated cross section so you might learn the current best guess at how it all worked. The map that wasn't this one was a pink-spattered Mercator projection, circa 1922.
It was a reproduction whose presence - John always liked to think - was included as an ironic gesture; a comment on presumption. Indubitable wisdom of the Now tempered by - on close inspection - a small printer’s note in the bottom left corner, indicating that this was the seventh revision - the first to include details not known from 1 through 6, presumably. Unsettling thing for a surgery.
But Wernicke et al - like the namesakes of anglicized Africa - could at least take heart at being first on the scene; vie for reappearance beyond their years as their theories or the towns they founded grow and diminish in importance, according to some present experiment or war, John supposed.
Hemisphere, lateral surface. The language of cartography used also to chart man's greatest undiscovered continent.
Yes. Now that he thought of it, both posters, fully annotated, would be useless - like those early maps when the towns, in grand lettering, obscure topography with place names, because people hadn't figured out where on earth was important yet.
Better left unsaid, for you never know what might happen. It might be ok yet. He'd go on waiting.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Excerpts - 1:10,000,000,000

And at my misunderstanding of the exhibit, I still remember now, as if slowed to standstill or shrunk to a diorama - a scene to be walked about and the characters directed to behave - I still remember those few seconds it took Sarah, smiling, to up on her tiptoes and clasp me on the shoulders as instruction to remain, taking three paces back to demonstrate - wind-milling her arms about like a child missing her sparkler, or a conductor her baton - that Earth’s great exodus from origin represented thus: A huge sequence of ellipses through space and time. Solar system, galaxy, galaxy clusters, until - no matter the omnipotence of the geometrist - it could appear no more like maths than it could the flight of a drunk bumble bee.

Round and around me in the middle. Our planet’s skewed axis demonstrated by dint of an affected deportment: A lopsided shuffle she augmented with The Bells! The Bells! and that threatened to topple us together - that I might catch her - every time her smooth brown arms stretched into the air to demonstrate colliding comets; her poise unsettled.

Now nearing a third full circuit, she raised her hand for the last time, and motioned collision course with another heavenly body, held in the hollow of her upturned hip, bringing one fist down to the other over her strap-off-shoulder, smashing the planet slow-motion into a gently opening palm that she left there at her waist, smiling. Invitation to hold.

And she thanked me - coming in closer - for my part in the demonstration: The singularity about which she’d moved for a while.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Excerpts - Baht 'at

Yesterday's must-haves pitch from abandoned billboards on the end terraces. Torn sports cars and satellite television deals either side of tanning salons and video rentals - symptoms of the same longing that sates itself at newsagents and taxi ranks, on celebrity magazines or the cuts of some weaker quarry.

Women here amend their uniformity with cheap flourishes. Streaked hair and barely-there-tattoos testing the limit of a male sensibility that has no demand for difference. They vie for the nod to give some fumbled comfort to the bar's usual brutes, who are busy drawing on all their lust and loathing to proffer, with a pint pot hand, the final word on tits and politics. Men and women smothered in lust and lofty aspiration, kicking a blanking world because it returns them to human scale.

Through broken homes and ten fathered-families this town is barely a generation away from shared blood, for among those with a distaste for solitude is also an impatience for anything but themselves: a self-obsession based on no merit of their own lone minds, but of a sip and spit of the unfamiliar, so that partners are taken briefly to define only opposition from Self.

The constant to and fro of the limited populous has gradually formed a giant, untraceable kinship, whose components - in the vacuum of their shared anonymity - obsess over their own inner turmoil, making a script of the same small inconveniences used to excuse themselves from the crimes they commit in boredom or hate, for both here are of the same ancestor.

Reality is re-proportioned according to their sense of self worth. Blood thickens until it will clot their veins.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Excerpts - Time, Gentlemen

A wireless operator sought respite from the wider machine. He dwelt on the static between unfriendly voices to loose his thought on un-glimpsed moments far above earth, where white hot shells decelerated towards apogees of inaction, and by quirk of angle and rate flew briefly beside Vs of geese. Or maybe punctured the cloud line, recalling the twitch of surfacing fish to the pilot passing above. Things of programmed intent appearing briefly as things of volition, wild and free.

He couldn't cope outside the war room. He was so use to eavesdropping on enemies that amity elsewhere overwhelmed him. Off shift, outside work, his underused senses struggled to assimilate the sudden mass of benign information that sought him as a target: Those customary loners that mistook him for the evening's listening ear, and read into his uniform whatever missing piece they'd lost. Those young women of departed men, those last living witnesses of another war's woes: Ready confessionals his secrets could never grace. Different types of wounded, wrecking his evening off.

With only the freedom of a town far enough from foe to evade also civilization, he unfailingly found his way to this same pub.

Here the rattle of the gambler, the chinking glasses.

Sometimes the shell would hurtle through a flock at terrific speed, knocking many to earth, so that its parabola could be marked by the dead birds beneath, he imagined.

The passing zip of the school cane, then twisted and deafened they'd be, in the ringing wreckage of the breached target.
His role was to serve a purpose only as it was the dead's to warrant copulation.