Monday, July 27, 2009


Time goes fast when you're not having fun. But not so fast that one can't an opportunity to find something new to complain about, and to then develop a list of the twenty differemt ways it really gets stuck in your craw.

I'm not about to give you both barrels of this one, but I will give you a taste: I trust you enough by now to know that you'll see the wisdom of my carefully worded rant, and to carry it on for yourself.

I blame Monsarrat. He wrote a book called "The Treacherous Sea". And, in the title, he spawned a few generations of word-abusers. Treacherous. To be a traitor. To betray. We hear the word used this way every day, especially by the wit-free nincompoops who write the news, for the pretty newsreaders and weather-presenters to shriek, bellow, and gibber at us. "The roads were treacherous today," they rant. "The treacherous weather," they witter. The treacherous, this. The treacherous that.

They don't seem to understand that betrayal is a conscious act. As a thinking being, one who can (should I choose to do so) betray people, can be described as treacherous. Not being sapient, the weather, the sea, the roads, and so on can not betray us. Therefore, they can't be called treacherous. They just are what they are.

Talk to any weathered seaman: he (or she) will tell you that the sea is, at all times, a particularly dangerous place. It is a place were people die. Stupid people will die sooner than those who take precautions, but eventually pretty well everyone who messes about in boats is going to have a heart-stopping moment. The sea is dangerous. If we could ascribe the word 'treacherous' to it, it could only be under one circumstance: that it suddenly became a benign and safe place, where there is absolutely no risk to life or limb. It will then have betrayed the reality we know. Should I go to sea in a small boat excpecting to be safe, and be surprised by the realisation that I am in danger of losing limb or life, it is my expectations that have betrayed me - not the sea.

Any good driver, and all motorcyclists, know that they stand a chance of being made dead when they hit the road. That's why they drive defensively. That's why we use seatbelts, child restraints, and really like cars with airbags. To do otherwise is to increase the already considerable risk we face when we go out on the road. Our expectations are that we are willingly putting our lives at risk. Therefore, when someone does die, it's not because the road was treacherous. The road just was what is was - a dangerous place to be.

Weather, of course, is astonishingly dangerous. The average thunderhead packs as much energyas a small atomic bomb. The same reasoning applies.

And so it goes.

What Monsarrat did, perhaps with a malicious giggle up his sleeve, was use "treacherous" instead of "dangerous".

Of course, we misuse words all the time. Often, it's a way of ducking responsibily. How often have we heard that "the car went out of control"? There's never been a car built that "went out of control". Drivers lose control. For a car to go out of control implies that it is capable of independent action. Accidents are rare. Crashed are common: and crashes are caused by people. In our haste to not blame people, we capriciously cast about for a way of off-loading the guilt. The car went out of control. The motorcycle crashed. Bullshit: the driver lost control, the rider crashed.

Saw "Coraline" on Sunday. Even better than hoped for.

READING: For the second time, "Story", by Robert McKee. Although written for wannabe screenwriters, this book should be read by anyone who fancies themselves as a story writer. That includes advertising copywriters - who, after all, are constrructing stories about somone's product or service.
Also READING: "Bluesman" by Rob Vollmar and Pablo G Callejo - a graphic novelisation of several histories of the original blues players and travelling troubadors of the 1930s. Deeply satisfying, on many levels.

LISTENING TO: Duffy, "Rock Ferry", and Tim Finn's "Imaginary Kingdom".

WORD OF THE DAY: Treacherous. What else?

More Henry!

And now she was dead.

Mary had known and felt and marvelled at the love Henry felt for their daughter. For the four months since her birth Henry had sat up with his two girls when Miriam wanted a feed in the night-time. He had changed every nappy he could while not at work, he had come home during his lunch break, had bathed and coo-ed and powdered and dressed and every moment was a precious time, a treasure to be held, as he had held her when she chuckled and crowed and bawled, and his heart melted when her deep blue left eye glinted with a single golden fleck.
Mary, of course, also doted on this, their first child. Like all new mothers, she had been nervous and more than a little anxious, but the birthing had gone better than expected, and Henry’s unexpected devotion to her and their baby had been more than a bonus. She’d been relieved not to experience past-partum depression: her own mother had been devilled by it, and it had been Mary’s greatest fear that she, too, would turn away from her child in the black depths of depression. But nothing, it seemed, would ever happen to mar this perfect child, this perfect husband, this perfect love.Their first two years of marriage had been like anyone else’s: they’d had problems, faced them, overcome them. There had been compromise and stubbornness and botched meals and arguing about little things and then lovemaking and laughter and discovery and joy and anger and mollification and the pregnancy and the awe and shock and sleep-less nights and the birth and now, after just four months, death.
It nearly destroyed Henry: it nearly destroyed them both. Cot death, they called it then. SIDS, now; a name for a bad, sad English comedian. Miriam had never slept in the cot Henry had made for her, had never taken a first step, and had never spoken a word. Yet she taught them far more than they could have ever learnt in a dozen lecture halls, or from a hundred books, or in a hundred churches.
To this day neither of them clearly remembers the funeral, the tears, the murmurs of sympathy, the worried looks, the offers of help. They do remember the songs, they do remember the love, they do remember the heartbreak, they do remember how Miriam smelt and sounded and felt so tiny, so defenseless, and oh why couldn’t they protect her keep her safe?
Henry, blessedly, doesn’t remember his dreams of that period.
They do remember how they’d woken one morning, a few months after Miriam’s death, and realized over their bran and toast and coffee that they’d been sleeping with strangers. People they didn’t know had inhabited their bodies: people who sounded a lot like them, looked like them, but who weren’t them. People who were turned inward, festering on loss, living an insane lie, perhaps even a pleasure and a justification, in the death of their daughter. It was then that Mary made a half-dozen picture frames, and left them empty. She scattered them around their home, and each time they noticed one, they could think of Miriam: how she was when she died, and how she would be now if she had lived. Then, in time, the scars paled, and blended into their lives, and Adam came along, and the brambles and weeds finally died, and their garden was, once again, filled to overflowing.
What is that makes a couple like Mary and Henry? Perhaps it’s their need to see their love in everything they do.

What’s life got to do with it?

When Henry’s Mother, the indomitable Gussy, saw Henry in Greece a week or two after the diagnosis was confirmed, she hugged him, kissed his face a thousand times, left a pint of tears on his collar, and then kicked him on the shin. Gussy had refused to come back to Northridge, thinking that it would be a lot colder there than on the patio of her Greek home, where the Etruscan potter potted.
His name, by the way – and annoyingly, too, by another way – is now Norman. Last year he called himself Claude, and the year before he was known as Keving. Yes, Keving. While he speaks English like a be-whiskered m’lord, his spelling is suspect. He is a potter, after all, and not a writer. He is blocky in build, sports a formidable moustache, wears muscle-shirts, tight tiny blue shorts, and espadrilles. In the winter he apparently wears a thick submariner’s sweater, and red satin Mickey Mouse boxer shorts. Why this should be so is a secret best left kept by both Norman and Gussy. Norman is a remarkably vigorous individual, bushy of eyebrow, chocolate of skin and eye, dazzling of teeth, and almost always slightly tipsy.

The meeting of the family on June 4th was, to say the least, interesting. Wolf had arrived early, as he always did. “You never catch a Kraut being late, hein?” Well, that’s what he says, despite also insisting that he isn‘t a Kraut. He arrived wearing a blue and white striped shirt, bright blue bow-tie, red braces holding up a pair of expensive grey flannel pants, and black loafers. No socks. In the breast pocket of his shirt he carried a half-dozen of his twisted cigars.
Wolf stands a solid five foot six above the carpet, and has one grey eye, and one brown. Henry has yet to decide whether or not he is the ugliest human being he has ever clapped eyes on, but then brings Mary’s sketch of Wolf to mind, and sees him as he really is: a radiant, happy, warm, and loving man. Wolf strode in through the open doors, leaving a string of German curses in his wake. The journalists were back, and oddly, one was resting on the ground, and clutching his groin. It’s Jason Timmings, and he’s swearing and groaning, feebly.
“I am sorry, Charlie,” said Wolf, kissing her, “but I accidentally hit him with my foot, when my leg had a fit, and spasms like this!” and Wolf demonstrates a perfect drop-kick to the goolies.
“What a shame, darling. Do you think he’ll recover?” Charlie’s grin is wide, and infectious.
“One hopes not. But what am I saying? Of course he will recover, what are you saying? After all, my leg it only spasms like this,” and Wolf goose-steps again, “maybe twice. Come to my arms!”
And he buries his nose between Charlie’s breasts, sighs, and tells her that he missed her last night.
“You know, Wolf,” says Henry, “I’m never really sure that you are a German.”
“Austrian, my dear fellow! There is a difference! We Austrians are fiery lovers, we put the chicken-shit French and the mechanical Germans to shame. One shot, and they die. With us Austrians, we are like machine-gons!”
“Guns, mate.”
“So? Picky, picky, picky. And to suggest that I am a German, all hide-bound and jackboots and strange electronic music, pcha! I am Austrian, with a soul, and Charlie tells me you are for the chop, hein?”
“So it appears, yeah.”
“Hmph. So. A lot of fun will go out of my life.”
“All of it’s gunna go out of mine, Wolf.”
A burst of Austrian laughter. “True. Perhaps I will marry Mary, have two wives, like the Sheikhs of Araby, and the crazy Mormons.”
“How would Charlie go on that idea, pal?”
“She would kill me, and I would join you in the everlasting hereafter.” Wolf laughed, and looked at Henry. Over the past few years he had come to love this big, bluff man. Henry was deliberate, and considered everything twice, or perhaps twenty times, before committing himself to any action. And now, here he is, he doesn’t even have a say in this, the greatest thing that has happened in his life.
“Listen, Wolf,” Henry is hesitant. ”Keep your mouth closed about this, eh. Adam knows – I called him last night, but I want to tell the others my own way. I’m glad Charlie told you, but, well, if it’s OK with you?”
“I am the soul of discretion, Henry. Austrian discretion, which is the best in the world, like Austrian chocolate and schnapps. Ah, there she is! Mary!” And Wolf ran to bury his nose between her breasts, as well.

And so they came: John, on his own, a younger version of Henry. And Sybil, with the double-doc, Micah.

Q: How did it go, Mary?
A: Truthfully?
Q: Please.
A: One of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I had dressed for the occasion, and Henry was his normal self. Almost. I think that what we had discussed earlier had given him something to hold on to.
Q: And what was that? Henry refers to it as your gift.
A: Henry always gives me far too much credit. But we had sat up most of the night, talking about this and that, making and abandoning plans, crying and laughing and kissing and Charlie was wonderful, a silent, solid chunk of love. She was, I don’t know, green, perhaps? The strength she has! The strength she is! She was deep ocean green and lime and olive and Lincoln green and all shot with blue.
Q: Yes.
A: You are impatient, aren’t you? Well, I had a thought. You see: Henry has always looked through a glass darkly, while my specs have been rose tinted. He’s not a half-empty glass, I’m not saying that. But he has a natural steadiness to him, a solid, tree-like fatality. I’m more of the butterfly. Oh, I miss him so. And he hasn’t left me yet.
Q: Yes. Not yet.
A: All right! You’re making me cross now, and that will never do. What colour is this smell, do you think?
Q: The hospital smell?
A: Yes. It’s a pale yellow. Straw, perhaps. Well, I know it’s silly. You see, we had been talking over the previous three months about the nature of time.
Q: Time?
A: Henry was coming to the conclusion that there could be no such thing as the present, no measurable thing. Because the moment you’ve observed something, it’s in the past. Time is fleeting. It’s not a commodity you can save, or preserve, for later use.
I look on the other side of the present. I see everything in terms of the future: before I paint a stroke, I know what it’ll be like, how it will appear, because I’ve lived with that paint stroke all my life. In fact, no matter what I’m doing, I’ve been waiting all my life to do it, and that’s what makes it all so exciting. Henry isn’t like that. He can’t be like that. That’s why he loves old and beautiful things. And that’s why we are the perfect couple. For us, there is no present. There’s only the future, and the past.

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