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Jack sleeps here (11.45 am Friday – Stanhope, County Durham) The epilogue
A twinkling gloss of autumn dew has feathered the Pennines. I stroll from the car park, rented from the farmer whose land is adjacent the site. My laptop hangs casually off my shoulder in case the mood to write something down comes over me. A fiery sun licks at the dew and it relents in parts evolving into a creeping mist. This phenomena gives the ancient vale the impression of an even greater antiquity. Before I reach the compound gates I have time for an idle musing or two. I peer through mossy hedgerows to the crash of steel on wood, my ears detect the screams of ghosts dying amongst horse-shit and their own innards. Then further back again to a time of great upheaval. I feel the very ground itself shaking as the valley floor drops and the hills rise up around me. I pencil the words, “Tectonic forces,” on my minds notepad and promise myself I’ll write it down the instant I turn the laptop on.
‘Now then, fat fucker,’ shouts Sweety as I stroll through his office door.
Sweety is the site-manager who took over from Dougie. Me and Sweety (short for Sweeten by the way and not a suggestion of his sexual persuasions) go back a good few years. Unlike Dougie he doesn’t ply me with half-coaties every visit, but, he does get the fish n chips in on a Friday: if you just happen to be in the vicinity.
‘Who’re you callin’ a fat fucker, lard-arse? My body’s a temple.’ I plonk the laptop down and stick the kettle on.
‘Yeh, the fuckin’ temple of doom. You ain’t getting’ no fish n chips off me today. It’s a lightly battered iceberg lettuce for you my lad.
The banter is as old as the valley we are sat in, but it’s convivial and well-meaning and an integral part of the building game. The fact is, the pair of us are perfectly normal: not to fat, not to skinny. Hanging my coat up on the hook, I stick my chest out a little and pull my tummy in. Iv’e been working out a lot recently in a bid to look good around the pool on an upcoming cruise. ‘What do think of them bad boys?’ I slap my pectorals.
Sweety laughs, ‘You’re like a fuckin’ racing snake. You skinny bastard.’ (see what I mean about the banter, it changes with the direction of the breeze) ‘There’s fuck all on yer man. Iv’e seen more meat on a butcher’s pencil.’
I pass him his tea, ‘Do you want these fuckin’ installation certificates or not.’
‘Nice one, Bryo. I appreciate you drivin’ all the way out here with them.’
‘Whats happen’ with Jack then?’
‘They’re leavin’ the bugger alone,’
‘After all the hullabaloo. They’re building the new wall around him?’
‘Na. They ain’t building the wall at all.’ Sweety throws a new drawing on to the desk. It clearly shows the new foundations and renewal of existing crumbling dry-stone wall outside of plots 23-19 right where they had to dig and redirect the gas main. The other side of the road outside plots 1-7 (the stretch in which Jack rests in peace) the drawing now reads, “RETAIN EXISTING AND MAKE GOOD,”
If I may digress for a while to elaborate on the departure of my old friend, Dougie. For many years now dougie’s wife has not been at all well. And, alas, the hours and the strain of a site manager’s daily existence aren’t exactly congruent with that of a part time carer (Yes, I never mentioned it in the last blog. The man is also a saint with seemingly boundless energy). Any way that is the official line on Dougie’s departure (I say departure, but he has actually gone ad hoc, covering various sites whilst other managers are on holiday – they do say, “you can’t keep a good man down,”) But, unofficially – and I heard this straight from the horse’s mouth as we still share the odd packet of biccies together. Dougies exact words: “It was partially cos our lass is bad, but to be honest the whole industry ‘as fuckin’ changed. Iv’e got bits of kids pullin’ the purse strings. If I ask for an extra fuckin’ labourer for a week I get the inquisition. I’m disillusioned with the whole damn lot. I don’t need the fuckin’ money. Me an’ ‘er are gonna spend more time at the caravan.’
So there you have it ladies and gentlemen. I promised you an end to the tale. The building industry will very shortly lose one of its most colourful characters. He will be replaced by some fast-tracked puppet who does it by the book and wants to change the world.
And what about Jack! I heard you all cry in unison. Jack stays put. I dare say the ancients of Stanhope wholeheartedly approve. But me? Well I’m a bit of a romantic at heart and I fancied the ringside seat at the big parade.
The decision? I like to think that somewhere high up in the corridors of power someone stood up and shouted, “Leave the poor dog where it is. Give the people want they want.” I may be cynical in my old age because I suspect that someone in that same corridor stood up and said:“How fuckin’ much. You can shove that. We ain’t payin £18000 to rebuild a wall that we don’t have to. I don’t give a fuck if it doesn’t match the other side
A little bit of nonsense I found tucked away in my slushpile.
Please add your own.
‘The moment you stepped into the room you took my breath away. Turned another corner and we would have never met.’
‘Fuck that, Jimmy - you on speed or something?’
Maybe Angie wouldn’t be my dream girl, but she had great tits.
She stared at my protuberance. ‘With your dick, you mean.’ She put on her make-up and brushed her long blonde hair. ‘Do I look alright?’
Okay, I admit I had been stimulated. But isn’t an artist allowed some romantic leeway? ‘Yes, you look wonderful tonight.’
Sheila pouted. Came up with a classic. ‘I know a little bit about a lot of things but I don’t know enough about you.’
I guess she had nailed me there. She could lead me halfway to paradise. That’s if she was Sue. ‘You promised me heaven and put me through hell.’
‘What the fuck you talking about?’
I smiled my most seductive smile. ‘You’re the reason I don’t sleep at night.’
‘You know I dreamed a dream. Love that would never die.’
‘Angie, I still love you, but let me whisper in your ear. It’s time we said goodbye...’
WITCHES IN THE BELFRY
It was a pleasant evening, just after evensong
when the verger came in, shouting “something's wrong.”
I said “calm yourself,come in, sit down, what is it ? You can tell me.”
He through up both his hands and said “we've got witches in the belfry.”
We knocked upon the belfry door, which was answered by a crone
and judging by the cackling, she wasn't on her own.
“What will his grace the bishop say,” (the verger called from behind a tree,)
“when he finds out about witches in the belfry.”
The crone said “we are campanologists and we like ringing bells,
not flying round on broomsticks and casting evil spells,
I've just put the cauldron on, would you like some herbal tea?
Let us stay and we'll pay you rent,” said the witches in the belfry.
I looked her up and down, and I really had to say,
the big black cat and pointy hat were a bit of a give-away.
I said “I am a parson and I'm not supposed to lie,
but if anybody asks, we'll say you're the WI.
Now I must learn all your names and you can call me Geoffrey.”
(The only living parson, with witches in his belfry.)
With that I reached out and shook her bony hand.
She said “Now that the caldron's boiled, come in and meet the gang.
We really like your belfry, we'll make it our abode
and if anybody gives you grief, we'll turn them into a toad.
Would you like a cracker, with a nice big piece of brie?
Come in and have a natter, with witches in the belfry.
They've never been a problem, to any passer by,
except that bloke who wolf-whistled, they gave him the evil eye.
Now they ring the bells, clean and cook our grub,
except on Thursdays, when they play darts down the pub.
Now we live side by side, happy and carefree,
myself and the verger and our friends in the belfry.
Over 20 years ago I had an idea for a novel after reading about a woman whose child had died. I started to write a book (my first attempt) and called it Pain, because the woman in the article said the pain of losing a child was unique. The first draft was put in my desk drawer, as I had read in an article that you should go back to your work after a period of time has elapsed. Life took over and it remained there for a number of years. But something nagged at me, and it felt a waste of all my hard work to keep it locked away. I completed a second draft and set about finding an agent. This was in the good old days when such a task was a lot easier than it is now. I was lucky enough to find an agent that wanted to take me on as a client and she duly sent the manuscript round to a large number of publishers. I received some excellent feedback but they all pretty much said the same 'the story is hard to fit into a particular genre.' This was before the age of outside the box fiction like Time Traveller's Wife, etc. Anything with a paranormal theme had simply dropped out of fashion. So Pain was assigned back to the desk drawer. Years passed and with books such as The Lovely Bones, the paranormal seemed to be coming back into fashion, so it was a matter of timing, it was now or never. After a third draft, Pain did the rounds again and was eventually published by FeedARead which is Arts Council funded. I can't describe the thrill of holding my precious book in my hands for the first time, and when the book appeared on Amazon it was like a dream come true. Even my local Waterstones let me sit in a corner of their store and persuade members of the public to buy a book from someone they had never heard of before. All the hard work had paid off! I have learnt a lot from this experience, the most valuable being that if you believe in your work, don't ever give up. I have just completed my second novel Made of Glass so it's back to looking for an agent, and a sense of deja vu has descended!
t was by chance that I researched a book about a grandfather, The composer died before I was born and I began researching him 30 years after his death. Everything about him had been burnt in a big bonfire. Finding my grandfather had been a bit of a life saver for me and it is quite possible to have a relationship with a grandfather whom one has not met. I know this is a bit odd. It is more of a Laurel and Hardy relationship - ‘look what a mess you have got me in, now.’
All my grandfather’s writing is autobiographical and, around the 1940‘s he expresses a wish that some descendant would take hold of his output and make something of it. I think there might be enough of grandather's 'will' to make a plot.
He also writes:
‘Listen, dear Signorina - and Signor, you too lend an ear, clout that you may be in your sensual masculinity and pompous outlook on life and yourself’
Well, that about sums me up, but what about ‘......Envy the aged man who plants the acorn in the thought of his children’s children sitting beneath its branches. In that thought he achieves immortality even before he crumbles into dust....”
....A rivederci.signor and signorina. And I hope you are memorising and this profiting by such things as I have written. Again, good night and, dear signorina, I salute your bow with a kiss, since I know that you are as beautiful as I would dream you are....
Does this relationship come alive in these quotes? I am thinking of a character on a stage - but this character can also be a multiple personality, so the quotes can come from another 'self'
Lots of you were kind enough to offer advice/support when I blogged about my brother in law in the summer. I thought you might like to know the system does work (for him at any rate).
He is now in his own ground floor flat in a nice small town, rent paid, council tax paid, free bus pass, access to community groups and mental health groups and dare I say it, he is improving. His chronic health issues will never go away but he seems to be coming to terms with a lot of stuff that has gone on in the past. He has a community support worker and an enabling support worker (still not sure what that means!) and people he can contact at any time. He also has a new GP who he likes and can get appointments whenever he needs them.
He has been offered a place on an upholstery course which would give him a proper qualification at the end - I should tell you he used to be in the hotel business and has been manager of several rather good hotels and was very involved in re-designing the interiors or some, which he really enjoys. The upholstery could prove to be his saviour - he is enthusiastic again which is lovely to see.
I may have seemed negative about the system a few weeks ago but I'm so glad that it is working for him. I'm sure others will no necessarily be so lucky. Thanks to all again for your comments.
I titled a biography of a grandfather “A Child of High Romance” Does this title resonate with ‘Word Clouders? This blog outlines a conflict which I think is still relevant.
I had written about someone whose life was defined by an artistic credo - a faith system similar to that possessed by priest whose life might be defined by the tenants of his religion. This credo is High Romanticism.
‘High Romance ‘ is most likely a quote a line of a Keats’s sonnet ‘When I have fears that I might cease to be‘
But the poet’s father wrote the first life of Shelley, so he was ‘a child of high romance’ in a double sense. Keats wrote:
‘Then I behold, upon the night’s starred face
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance.’
My grandfather wrote in the late nineteen thirties:
“look you! - I am a child of high romance;
I hate the seas that sail real wooden ships!”
But the poem continues:
‘To see their rage, and sea-boots all a-dance,
And hear the oaths that left their bearded lips
My blood ran cold down to my finger-tips!
They sacked me.’
I looked into these lines several years ago and saw it as a conflict between a poet and the ethos of his age - ‘they’ being the literary establishment. (In this poet’s case, a search for God and a search for ideal beauty have become conflated.) But I think this conflict still has echoes today, when reason has become paramount and imagination has been put on the back burner. I notice that Karen Armstrong quotes Keats’s phrase ‘negative capability’ twice in her book ‘A Case for God’ But Is this a conflict that Word Clouders would recognise just from these lines:
“look you! - I am a child of high
I hate the seas that sail real wooden ships!”
I quoted these lines on the front-piece of the
biography. But if you consider the poet's life as
drama, then the lines can be the pivot between two acts.
'They sacked me' being the last line of the first act, and then
everybody goes out for a glass of wine.
Both a literary agent and a book doctor at York thought the book I had written very difficult to publish, though the book doctor did not damn it completely. It isn't really a biography, just me doing family research into a literary background going back to the time of Queen Anne. Both agent and book doctor suggested some other treatment of the subject. Of all the options, I think a musical is the best one.