WEEKEND

Your letter arrived as I was starting work on a record review. It nudged me out of the slightly prosaic place commercial writing seems to have carved out. That sounds negative; maybe it is. After seven years of blogging and two of paid music writing there’s a rhythm, a beat I can call up fairly easily. But there is less ‘me’ in the writing. Eventually we run low on stories, I guess.

But then, unexpectedly, tales reappear (re-mixed and re-issued) and we are gently shaken, perhaps stirred. Quoting back words I’d written years ago in response to your own writing, via the connecting tissue of a sharp-eared listener certainly took me by surprise. Not your generosity and appreciation—those attributes permeate your blogging; indeed, are its heart—rather, reading what I’d written. The urge to create in response was strong and I started writing a notional piece for Lonely Keyboards. Some day we must discuss the exhibitionism of blogging, or perhaps creativity in general, but for now, here is what was written around 10:30pm that night…

We watched War of the Worlds, eating pizza out of the box. Friday evening down time. Greasy fingers and grubby Tom Cruise carrying his daughter around. Shared a bottle of NZ Sauvignon Blanc (the parents) and leaned into the edge blurring gift of poison. Somehow the end of the world seems less diverting these days. Ms Connection retired soon after the boy, both tired. Tiring times. Scary times, which we ignore by reciting statistics that do not comfort. Noting places worse off than here; higher figures, more deaths. Tom was taking his daughter to Boston, mostly on foot. I thought about my blog friend in the city people say is a little like my own and wondered if I would ever travel again, after all this hiding from an alien virus. Shook myself. There’s a music piece to write for the paying gig, an album I know so well I could write without listening. If the tinnitus continues to worsen, that might be the end point; a bottom-feeding Beethoven. Mood can take a nosedive, unexpectedly. This afternoon I was excited to be making a Click and Collect pickup from a multi-story carpark. Only novel thing this week. The band I’m writing about started in New Zealand, arty and eccentric, and broke through (to commercial success) with easier, catchier songs on their 1980 album. Be simple, be accepted. Wine’s finished. If I have a liqueur it will full-stop the writing, or at least semi-colon it. Tom’s daughter screamed an awful lot. Mrs Fanning, could you ask your daughter to scream please? Wonderful, she has the part. An incoming email distracts. An acknowledgement and expression of gratitude from the Boston fellow-writer I’d been thinking about earlier. Giving back something I wrote six years ago. Do I recognise that person, six years younger and at least six aches fewer? More arty and more articulate? Reflections on the glass being three-quarters empty are a speciality of the house. Yet this is a thing of beauty, appreciation circulating the globe. This is connection, between people shackled yet perhaps not. These are ripples, that spread and touch and seed new life. This is thank you to a deaf universe.

That should be the end, but it isn’t. I’m pasting the words into WordPress and bustling to take a photo of the pizza box because that is all I can think of for the feature image, when the sound of moaning distracts. It’s coming from our bedroom. Ms Connection is the source and she is not good. It’s a carbon copy of an attack that happened earlier this year while we were in the rental and it scared the bejeezus out of me. What to do? We agree to call an ambulance. Two young masked paramedics attend; calm, competent and firm in their recommendation to take a ride to ER. I rush around collecting a few things and bundle her into the van. Hands against the glass I mouth, message me. The paramedic nods; the patient is too distracted to notice.

Waiting up until she is cleared, I settle in to watch a rubbish movie I’ve recorded onto the hard drive. Another DC bullshit superhero story and a part of me is yelling ‘garbage!’ at the screen, but silently so as not to disturb the boy. He got up after the ambulance left, reassured by my calming report but unsettled by the sound of a parent in distress. He goes back to bed, I return to the film. It fills a couple of hours until I can go collect her at 2:30 am.

Saturday was a recovery day, except that I’d booked to collect some plants for the rear decking. We need a screen, more for the neighbours than us, so a shrubbery is called for. Driving out of the contactless carpark, some kids in a nearby vehicle laugh and point. I have a small forest in the car. I grin and wave through the fronds. That afternoon the hard drive with twenty years of family photos dies. The boy’s entire digital life from bump to 180cm, sitting in an inert metal box. Until I can get out and about, there’s no way of knowing whether that pictorial record lives.

He mooches along in lockdown, the boy. Ticking off school work with mature efficiency and a minimum of fuss. He’s amazing, really, though he doesn’t like to hear how much I admire him. Fifteen is an awkward age. But I want to do something with him and wander into his room. The door is open; reading on your bed is a teenage universal, I think. Browse the games on his shelf. Gloom. That sounds eerily appropriate for the world at present. Have we played this? Nup. And he’s had it a year and a half. This afternoon, I say decisively. Yep, he agrees. You read the instructions, and explain it to me. OK.

The game involves each player having a family grouping of odd and macabre characters. The goal is to reduce their self-esteem until they die, with the winner being the one with the lowest self worth. You gain points by having a picnic and lose them when bears attack you. I’m up for this. We’re ready to play, later than expected but keen. Except the atmosphere in the house has changed. Ms Connection’s mother, slowly descending towards the big sleep, has died on the other side of the world. It wasn’t unexpected, but it is a sea change. Something seismic shifts when the second parent dies. The boy and I hover, unable to help but ready and willing to hug. Play the game, she says. We play as she watches from behind the breakfast bar, making dinner. Gloom. The irony is laid on with a shovel. It’s surreal, and we laugh, shaking our heads at each other.

I propose the Simon Pegg film Paul for evening entertainment. It goes down well.

After the others go to bed I want to write, but I’m tired and a little dazed. I remember a poster I saw in a shop back in the mid-seventies.

I try to take one day at a time

But sometimes several days attack me at once

Brushing teeth, I look at the face in the mirror. So conscious of ageing, diminishing; the undertow of depression tugs strongly sometimes. I shake my head at the bald bloke with toothpaste dribbling down his chin. There is this family trio in a warm house; there are friends across town who will be there after lockdown; people to connect with around the world whether you see them or not; a child who replenishes wonder every day. And of course, wine and music.

Looking up through the frosted glass the moon is three-quarter full.

 

COUCH

I’m sitting on the arm of the leather couch in our family room. Its brown skin is pocked with scuffs and scars; ribbons awarded for fifteen years active service.

In the house where I grew up there was no couch. The lounge room had two armchairs and a matching ottoman. It had two in-between chairs too, used by my sister and I when we were big enough, but no sofa. The family living in this house did not sit next to each other. They didn’t do closeness.

So I’m looking with affection at the careworn covering of our family couch. Careworn. Worn through care. We’ve sat on it to watch Thomas The Tank Engine and The Terminator. In the cracks between the cushions are layers of crumbs and debris that probably support several complex ecosystems. Life on the surface filtering down, nourishing those below. I hope the microbes are happy in their microbey lives; falling in love, producing little microbes, making beds out of skin cells and sporting fields out of lost shirt buttons.

This lilliputian reverie is abruptly interrupted by the impact of my fourteen year old son, hurtling across the room and rugby-tackling me so that we both collapse backwards onto the cushions. He’s done it a thousand times before, a game we’ve played forever. A decade ago I used to have to push myself backwards to achieve the desired result—a tangle of limbs and giggles and a victory squeak from the boy as he grinned down at his vanquished Daddy. 

But he doesn’t need any help now. Almost as tall as his Mum and more than half my body weight, the moment of impact has a combined mass of 140kg. So backwards we go, thump! Ha! So loud and deep was the young fella’s triumphant shout that I did not hear the crack of splitting timber. It was only later in the evening when we were siting in a line watching a bit of TV that I noticed I was sliding forwards. Not just bad posture; the sofa had developed a pronounced tilt. Inspection revealed a fault line gaping between arm and body, the latter having subsided to floor level as if finally succumbing to years of play wrestling.

I pointed out the collapse to the others. They both stared at me, seeking to gauge my reaction. Because I am not always OK around stuff being broken or damaged. In the house of my childhood objects were supposed to last forever. Breaking things through overuse was frowned upon, even growing out of clothes viewed with suspicion. Wilful damage was a capital offence. I once hid at the top of the back yard willow for three hours after breaking a garage window playing cricket.

A kind of reverse scarring results from this insistence that things have to last. An obsession with protection stifles exploration and kills spontaneity. Scarring is the inevitable by-product of use. It’s a result of life.

I looked at the couch and at my partner and son, and smiled. It took a little effort. This couch has been good to us. It has opened its arms to a thousand cuddles, hundreds of rough-and-tumbles and we are sitting on it together now, despite the list to starboard. We continued watching tele.

Things wear out. People too. 

But love doesn’t.

EGGS

I

Trauma obliterates memory,

drowns feeling in a silent tide, misery deep.

A crown of thorns that sits just inside the skull.

II

Kind is warm, fleeting.

Compassion, connecting;

a current of tears.

III

One of my friends came out as trans.

I said courage, he said need.

I’m scared for him. And by her.

 

EVE

There’s an orange pumpkin-shaped bucket next to the front door, full of sweets to bribe wide-eyed children in pointy hats and surly teens daubed in fake blood to go away without hurting us. The candy is individually wrapped. Halloween OH&S Department won’t allow any touching of naked treats. Must protect the junior ghouls from germs.

I usually feel angry about the ritual. Take this American crap away from us, it’s not ours! More commercialism, more meaningless expenditure. Don’t think, don’t reflect, just buy the sugar.

Yesterday I had blood taken for the annual tests. My pathology collector was very efficient and if I’d remembered it was almost Halloween I’d have tried a vampire joke. Instead I went to buy croissants as a reward for fasting overnight. What deprivation. Yet I deemed the delay of breakfast a suitable excuse for indulging. How soft we’ve become. 

The supermarket had a front line of seasonal lollies and other Halloween paraphernalia fully five yards long. I wondered if they had the individually wrapped eyeballs. I like those. Many cyclopses died in their creation. A young mum with two kids in tow stopped in front of me, a look of dismay on her face. Running the sugar gauntlet to get bread and milk. I left her to it.

It’s another appropriation of a pagan festival, of course. This time Celtic New Year, once the first of November. In this country it was taken over by a horse race, first Tuesday in November, but I don’t join in the holiday. I’ll be working, powered by the leftover sweets from the pumpkin bucket. Maybe the candy eye-balls will give me extra insight.

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