I mostly follow behind the kids as their father leads us over grass and bumpy paths in the countryside. We’re on an outing to somewhere. The small boy, knee-high to me, grows tired and stops. “Do you want me to give you a piggyback?” As he’s getting on, I hope I can remember how to do this. He’s actually taller than I thought, something like eleven year-old, can’t really get settled on. Then he’s gone altogether. I’m saying the boy is nowhere to be seen but they have disappeared around the edge of a hill. When I turn left by the hill, it’s our destination- a small sunny cove. The open water is far off to the right and featureless. Here the water is only ankle-deep, clear and floored with colourful stones. The family are on the small beach across the water, along with other groups already there. There is no other way, so I call over to my friend, “Am I supposed to walk across with bare feet?” He answers, “Yes, both of them.” I’m amused and think to myself, this is an excellent example of subtle humour.
Photo: A view across Kilkeran Lake with the surface reflecting mirror-like the blue sky, white clouds and rushes. On the far side there are farm fields with hedgerows and a homestead in the distance. (West Cork, 2001?)
BETTER NOW LEFTY?
Dear foot, you are as much a part of me as this thought.
I see our veins the doctor said were not of concern "at this stage".
I'm sorry for thinking you were ugly, now I need you, you are lovely.
Don't think of socks as hoods for kidnapped hostages kept in the dark
In a humid, sweltering basement,
Think of them as robes of armour and invisibility
So you can go everywhere without being seen.
And now forgive me, I have to talk to Righty.
Photo: My left foot and leaf-dappled shadow in full summer heat
LOOK BOTH WAYS
Look right, left and right again before crossing.
Unless you're in a country where they drive on the right,
in which case look left, right and left again.
If you don't know what country you're in
or which side they drive on, always
go walking barefoot and someone will help you.
– Magical Bread – Mortification of the Flesh – Custody of the Eyes – Sackcloth and Ashes – Apparitions and Miracles – Was Lazarus a Zombie? – On Your Knees – Banned Books – Conclaves & White Smoke – Statues, Icons and Candles
– Catechisms and Rosary Beads – Incense, Chrism and Holy Water – Fasting and Altar Wine – Organs, Hymns and Bells – Papal Bulls and Celibacy – Carpenters and Virgins – Mother and Baby Stables – Wise Men and Donkeys – Gold, Frankenstein and Mirth
– Hermits, Stylites and Prophets – Processions, Relics and Exposition – Retreats, Novenas and Sodalities – Silverware and Stained Glass – Illuminated Manuscripts and Leaflets – Missionaries and Black Babies – Monks, Brothers, Priests and Nuns – Bamboo Canes and Leathers
– Surplices, Soutanes and Cassocks – Chasubles, Cinctures and Stoles – Dog Collars, Hair Shirts and Habits – Censers and Sanctuary Lights – Missals and Mass Cards – Parish Registers and Weekly Dues – Poor Boxes and Collection Plates – Presbytery, Sacristy and Choir – Headstones
– Dominus Vobiscum et Cum Spiritu Tuo – Scrolls, Gospels & Apocrypha – Recordings Detectible in Rocks – Who’s Coming and When? – Revelations, Ergot & Mushrooms – Handwritten Diary of Jesus – Faith, Hope & Love – Salvation and Damnation – Ghost or Spirit?
– Married Priests and Mini-Skirted Nuns – Jesuits, Liberation Theology and Blind Faith – Bishops, Arch and Suffragan – Beatification, Canonisation and Devils’ Advocates – Cathars and the Consolamentum – Kill Them All and God Will Know His Own – Misogyny and “Witches” Burned Alive
– Original Sin, Baptism and Limbo – Joseph and the Immaculate Conception – Fit Kilkenny and the Remoulds – Gethsemene, Golgotha and the Garden Tomb – Veronica and the Turin Shroud – Lourdes, Fatima, Medjugorje and Knock – Daniel O’Donnell, Margo and Big Tom – The Singing Nun and the Singing Priest
– Domenica-nica-nica and Kumbaya – Faithful Brethren and Dearly Departed – Spare Not the Rod and Despoil the Child – Dormitories, Refectories and Confessionals – Pulpits, Pews and Stations of the Cross – Fonts, Aisles, Chapels and Tabernacles – Altar Boys, Handbells and Patens – Mortal Sins
– Holy Days of Obligation & Acts of Contrition – Blood Washing Snow White & the Seven Deadly Sins – Who Killed Liberty Bodice, Scapulars & Miraculous Medals? – Kyrie Eleison and Why Did Latin Get the Works? – Sojourn in Hell, Transfiguration and Ascension – Aramaic, Abba & Here We Go Again
– Fish Supper and Chip Butties for Five Thousand – Save the Best Wine for Last and Friends on the Coast – Hairy Magdalene and the Tax Collectors – Pilate, Caiphas and Peter the Fink – Romani Ite Domum and the Life of Brian – Lilies of the Field, Sheep and the Fatted Calf – Gadarene Swine
– Get Behind Me Satan and St Patrick Before Me – Holy Threesome and the Divine Mysteries – Mother Mary Aikenhead and the White Fathers – Jesus Wept and the Litany of Loreto – Domine Non Sum Dignus and Also With You – Saecula Saeculorum – Amen
Image: Miraculous Lactation of St Bernard by Alonso Cano c1650. (Prado, Madrid)
The joy of fiction is not in finding out what the writer knows, it’s the writer finding out what we know. Characters the writer hated turn out to be better than the writer imagined. Characters the writer loved were not all they were cracked-up to be. If non-fiction is for us to find out what the author knows then maybe fiction is an exploration in which the author sets out to discover what we know. Then like other discoveries, it sounds obvious when we hear it. We knew that all along.
Reading fiction is following with the logic of music, notes that establish a theme, counterpoint, development, allegro, largo, andante, the theme returns, resolution… The music is out there; it’s David in a block of marble, stories in the burble of a café, the susurration of congregants, the gull cries of a spoon stirring medicine in a glass, the sound of a small hammer on tin that turns out to be a finch, the train sound from miles away that only carries on moonless nights…
(And always a basketball bouncing, though nobody round here plays basketball. Always children babbling and shrieking, though there are no children round here. Sometimes a jet flies low overhead though we’re not on any flight path. Helicopters hovering where the streets are too small to land. The same Jehovah’s witnesses call every couple of months, disbelieving the mezzuzah. Visits by the Seventh Day Adventists are settling into a pattern. The Church of Latter Day Saints is overstretched. A hungry teen with crow’s feet round his eyes sells flannels from a tray while a Merc. waits round the corner. The parcelmen knock and run away.)
But what does it matter? Turn the page, our hero is going somewhere, to where people are and there will be tea, JD, opium and lashings of ginger ale.
We are the lost tribe, the lost tribe of us, enrapt in a florid delusion of consciousness, where spirits live in history, and offerings are made on stage to gods of theatre, and there are such laughable concepts as careers, status, security and wisdom. Where everyone is a shaman drunk on industry, spinning in train carriages of spear-carrying accountants, trouping in powdery makeup through jungles of wire.
I started making notes about the view on the 9:25 p.m. (Tuesday) train from Cardiff to London, Paddington. I sat facing in the direction the train was going.
A wig of cloud on the mountain head
A cloud embryo in the belly of the horizon
A goldscape cave and coral clawscrape
Shockhaired fogey in a tunneled blackout
[illegible] of [?] striplight switchback [?] [illegible]
Then we were diverted after some station, and the train sped backwards the way it came, and I saw the same things again. Weird.
I’d worked late after Sunday midnight, caught the 7:45 a.m. train from Paddington to Cardiff on Monday morning, and worked continuously on software at a new customer site and afterwards in a hotel through till dawn on Tuesday, then skipped breakfast and back on-site again from 8 a.m. till 9:10 p.m. jumping into a taxi that had been waiting since 9:05 p.m. and pell-mell back to Cardiff Central station.
I’m telling you this to give you some idea how I felt on the train. I’d had to skip breakfast though I nipped out for a sandwich and Starbucks soy-latte. Thanks to Great Western and a charming young lady in the buffet car, my dinner on the train was a heated ciabatta mushroom omelette sandwich, and two cold tins of Stella Artois. The effect on me was something like a tranquiliser dart meant for a hippo.
I read a bit (Martin Amis’s ‘Money’) then I fell asleep writing (Carmencita Aikenhead).
The last line instead of being horizontal veers upwards back over the previous lines. I’d conked out mid-sentence. I’ve no idea what the last two lines are supposed to mean.
I got into London after midnight and shambled onto the last Central Line train to Baker Street, where there were still trains running on the Jubilee line to Willesden Green. I was stocious.
You must be logged in to post a comment.