Friday, 5 September 2008

Sylvie's beach

Sylvie took me to a new beach today, near the mouth of the river. The weather was fresh and calm, the sun was pleasing. I realised I hadn't been to another beach, except for my regular haunt, in four years.
Greta was back at school today, but Sylvie and I had one more day's holiday left. 'Let's make the most of it, honey,' Sylvie had said, and made coquettish, seductive eyes at me. That made me smile, but I almost smirked. Sylvie isn't very good at being sexy. She sounds like she's in a bad movie or she's reading lines from a Mills & Boon novel.
When we got to the beach we walked a little way and I plonked myself down in a spot sheltered from the light breeze. Sylvie had brought a rug along and motioned for me to shift onto that, alongside her.
Just the late summer sun and the odd wanderer along the sands for company, Sylvie rolled in towards me for an embrace. I was surprised, but reciprocated. I'm unused to public shows of affection and I had to keep one eye open and trained on the beach ahead, incase of peering nosey walkers.
I rested my left hand on her hip and she tried to pull it up so that it cupped her breast. I resisted and instead settled it lightly on her buttock, which seemed to appease her.
I began to wonder if Anne ever came here with Derek. I guess I had a small panic attack about it, because my breathing increased quite quickly. Sylvie broke away, looked deeply into my eyes and stroked my hair and my face sweetly, I think she thought she'd really quite turned me on. But then the moment was broken by a couple who strolled along the sandbank before us.
"Who's that, is it Anne?" I cried and broke away from Sylvie. Of course it wasn't her and I flushed with childish embarrassment. I looked at Sylvie out of the corner of my eyes and saw her face change from hurt to angry.
She turned away and pretended to sunbathe. We didn't speak again until she unpacked the sandwiches.

Thursday, 4 September 2008


Collins woke up in a strange part of town, with a strange man by his side and a peculiar banging in his head.
He left the room and the apartment with a mumble and a vague apology, scratching his head and stumbling still into his pants and shoes.
The street below was quiet. It opened up to the right onto a larger boulevarde, but at midday the road was dusty with little traffic. A Tabac was open on the corner and Collins thought about buying a Coke or an ice-cream or something, but instead he shuffled across into the middle of the main street. An old tram line cut through it, but who knew where the line went and how often a tram came by.
He stood for a minute or so, inspecting both sides of the long street for signs of a taxi. Giving up as the sun burst from behind a cloud, he headed on to the shaded side of the street.
Two policemen sat in a marked car, just watching the odd vehicle go by. They peered at Collins and he stroked at his unkempt hair, uncomfortably.
An old man sat smiling from his toothless mouth on a rickety stool in an open doorway. Collins asked him where the nearest underground station was. Through much spit and saliva, Collins eventually understood the old man’s answer.
He took the next right and ploughed on over another street, another tramway and found the welcoming darkness of the underground.
Inside, this cavernous station had six platforms for three different lines. Yet not a soul was in there. Collins was thankful for the cool escape from the cruel sun, but the icy reception of the station made his head hurt once more and he felt a shiver threatening.
The barriers were open to him, not a guard was in sight, nor a cleaner and certainly not a passenger. The escalators stood in reverential silence as if they hadn’t been touched in years. This entire cathedral to transport seemed like it had been preserved by some unknown beings after humankind was wiped out.
He hurried down the stairs to the first platform. He didn’t know or care much if it was the right one, but he scanned a sign for the line and saw the name of a place he knew. This would do.
Then he stood in silence, and awe, praying that a train would come.
After a few dread minutes had passed he heard the familiar squeal and crunch of metal wheels moving against metal track. His heart and lungs worked again and soon the doors of a train would open for him and he’d be greeted by the sights and smells of other people, once more.
The chirrup of conversation was like birdsong to him then.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

The wildlife of Castello Sforzesco

As I walked the grounds of Castello Sforzesco I saw cats playing on the short lawns and relaxing in the shadow of the walls, down in the rich grasses where the moat used to be.
A lady walked up to me and asked me something in Italian. I think she wanted to know where to buy an ice cream. But that sounds wrong, thinking about it now. She dismissed my attempts at replying and stepped swiftly towards a fountain dispensing drinking water.
It was certainly a warm day and the swallows were chasing flies with lazy ease in those strange spots were insects seem to congregate for the feast.
I followed the woman at a distance. Now that I was aware there was fresh drinking water nearby I became very thirsty. My mouth grew arid and the sun seemed to draw new sweat from my brow.
The woman stood upright, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand without grace and strolled away.
I neared and eyed the green device with mistrust. A steady flow of water trickled into a basin and then away. It seemed a real waste, but perhaps it was used for sprinkler systems and the like?
No-one seemed interested in me, no-one in the fountain, so I stole towards it, ready to sup. But the pigeons landed first.
I never saw where they came from, but they swooped down and sullied the fountain all the same. Oh, you infernal flying rodents, you rat doves, why have you come to torture me?
But they just sat there, mocking me, drinking the water that, for me, was just out of reach. Ah, and where were those cats then? When I needed you, where were you, cat?
I looked about me in despair, inquiring after feline protection. I spied one, licking its tail on the grass behind me. In utter frustration I picked up a loose pebble and threw it at the cat, catching it full on the belly.
It howled and sprinted away to the safety of the moat. I was escorted off the premises by a guard. And as I passed through the great entrance gatehouse, I swear the turrets were covered with hundreds of those filthy rat doves, cooing and flapping, peering and gloating at their victory.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Hay bales

As a sparrowhawk flew above the broken hedges, small coppices and then the open fields of Garradun Farm, he passed over the head of a child playing with twigs and rocks.
‘Bomber overhead, take cover!’ cried the boy as the hawk sailed by.
He was fighting a war against his foes, there on the edges of Sort’s Wood. The twigs were his revolvers, the rocks his grenades. ‘Stand and fight men,’ he cried. ‘Out of your trenches and at them!’
He was the consummate officer. With one hand he hurled a grenade at the approaching enemy, giving his men a chance to start a charge, while with the other he threatened a young private with execution.
‘Over the top, man. Don’t let your mother hear that you died like a coward, begging for your life in a fox-hole.’ But as the man refused to move, so the boy’s face turned into a grimace. It seemed that he hadn’t had to pull that face many times in his life, but he didn’t look away as he pulled the trigger.
‘Bang!’ he shouted and then leapt remorselessly from the ditch, calling through the trees, spurring his men on toward the enemy.
As the vegetation grew denser, the platoon was herded into a narrow avenue, cut into the thicket. His sergeant spoke up: ‘It’ll be a bloodbath if we don’t get out of here, sir. We’re trapped like rats.’ The boy nodded.
A gate blocked them in, one hundred yards up the track. ‘There’s nothing for it,’ he replied. ‘We’re going over that blockade.’
His men looked at him with grave eyes, like he’d gone mad. It wasn’t a gate to them but a high wall covered in barbed wire and bayonet spikes.
‘Follow me unto the brink of death, my boys,’ the child bellowed and tore off towards the iron gate. His beleaguered men trooped after him, but when he got to the foot of the gate his heart sank and he knelt down in despair and defeat. Some of his men dived over the ripping, snagging wall out of sheer love for their commander, but the boy just stared and pointed out in horror at the fleet of hay bales rolling over the hill.
‘They’ve brought the tanks in lads. Oh horror!’ He hammed it up even more then, as the shells rained down around them. ‘Goodbye men, goodbye to you my brave boys.’
And as he dragged his bloody body, shorn of lower limbs, back towards the farmhouse, he wondered how long it would be before supper.

Monday, 1 September 2008

The comedian

My friend Graham is a stand-up comedian.
He practices an observational style of humour. I ridicule him sometimes about it. I point out that basically, his line of work involves pointing at everyday things and describing what they are, in front of people. And then they laugh, maybe because they’re stupid, maybe because they’re trained to respond in this way, en masse.
He says that maybe they laugh because he’s a genius.
He then points out that he will use people that he knows, his neighbours, shopkeepers, people he sees on the bus or the train, events that unfold in the street, or on the news, as the basis for his act. He is picking on the dumb things that these people do, the minutiae of their boring lives, and making people laugh at it.
‘Maybe,’ he says, ‘what is the funniest thing about it all, is that they think they’re laughing at some dumb neighbour of mine. But the reason they find it funny is because they do it and their family and friends all do the same. They’re just laughing at themselves.’
He goes on: ‘They know how dumb they are, how stupid the way they live their lives has ended up, they’re confronted with this and then all they can really do is laugh about it. And they’re paying for it, they’re paying the guy who’s throwing all this shit in their faces. Now how fucking funny is that?’
I agree it’s funny, I laugh a little, but I feel weird, like Graham is actually getting annoyed now. I posit that maybe it’s like therapy, laughing at yourself. He supposes it just might be.
Then he looks up and stops where he is. Graham points right up into the blue sky at a cloud, swirled almost into a grin above a church. ‘That’s God, right there,’ says Graham, deadpan.
I can’t tell if he’s joking.