I thought a little bit of a group activity for the weekend. Add a verse if you like.
Mine to kick off:
Are you just a pile of rotting wood pulled up hard beside the shore,
Does it make your heart ache when you hear the ocean roar
To end your days of roving so painful and so slow
This wasn’t what your builders thought those many years ago
When they built a ship high in the beam to rove the ocean wide
What bought you here, I wonder, upon this riverside?
"He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I'm awake, or awake enough
He turns upside down, his four paws
in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.
Tell me you love me, he says.
Tell me again.
Could there be a sweeter arrangement?
Over and over
he gets to ask.
I get to tell."
Little Toddy Pug (in my avatar) got to ask over and over last Thursday night. He knew he was dying, I think.
On Tuesday all hope was lost and I had to say goodbye.
I don't get to tell any more.
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
The mill was located on the river to the east of Bangkok and to get to it I would turn off the main paved road and drive along a dirt track through a new industrial area. The track cut through palm trees and lush foliage and within this semi-jungle setting there was a small village of wooden shacks. Children played in the dirt while their mothers cooked and cleaned, dogs snuffled here and there and woodsmoke hung in the treetops.
I realised these shacks were the packing cases in which the milling machinery had been shipped. A sifter, for instance, is shipped in three crates, each the size of a large wardrobe in a western home. By laying one on its side you had a four foot by eight foot room you could just about stand up in. Block off the open side with whatever you could find – corrugated iron sheets, cardboard, plywood – add a curtain for a doorway and you had a luxurious abode. Well, luxurious compared to the homeless alternative. A rollermill crate made a smaller home or an additional room tacked onto a sifter crate. There were probably thirty cases of various sizes and they made a bizarre sight in their new role as low cost but very robust housing, for these crates were export quality and lined with waterproofing material.
On what basis the crates were distributed I don’t know but it was clear the inhabitants were the families of labourers working on the mill and adjacent construction projects. I wondered if those that lived in the sifter crates looked down smugly on their neighbours living in rollermill crates and if they in turn adopted an air of superiority when encountering those who had to make do with a bran-finisher box.
First of all, I am indebted to Debi and Emma in guiding me through the self-edit course a few months ago. It wasn't easy - bloody hard, if truth be known - but I persevered, and carried out a complete edit and overhaul of the narrator's voices.
Then, when I felt it was the best I could manage, I made submissions to 30+ agents I found on WC Agent Hunter. Long and short synopses, first 3+ chapters, varying cover letters, a bit about me drinking red wine on my balcony in Chiang Mai, and I awaited the feedback (if any).
I wasn't disappointed. 27 rejections, mainly thanking me (a surprise), but the message was clear. Couldn't sell it. One agent actually stated it was a very emotive beginning, but...
It's happened before - I attract rejections like confetti at a wedding ceremony - so I took my escape route and uploaded it on Kindle. Seems like Kindle have eliminated bugs in the process, even helped me choose a royalty-free cover, requested book description rather than blurb (which in CC's case is a better way of providing readers with a story outline) and my novel is now living its life.
I would be delighted if only one person read it, and said they enjoyed it in a review - well, we'll see.
Here's the link. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Colonial-Compromises-Stephen-Terry-ebook/dp/B071YJK2XS/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1493092649&sr=1-1&keyw
Last train. Not to Lhasa unfortunately, but to Dalston.
There's a girl asleep in the seat in front of me. I always choose seats where I can see someone else, especially as late as this is. There's no one else visible and I settle back into my seat and study the girl.
Different. Green dyed hair, tattoos curling across pale bare skin, various piercings, scuffed leather bodice and mini-skirt. Looking down, I notice torn tights the colour of summer leaves, knee length laced stiletto boots. Oh, and let's not forget the whip. Yes, I said whip. Her make-up is pretty (and pretty Goth) but it's her rings I focus on most. One on every finger, intricate and so individual, I actually recognise who made them. I worked in Covent garden Craft market for years. I know the jeweller well.
The girl is still asleep when six young people board the train. Normal kids, you know? The boys are in Ben Sherman shirts and the girl's are in Top Shop attire. Normal.
I won't go into detail, as their words would horrify you. How six young people could work themselves up into such a frenzy, that it is only because their stop comes before hers that they don't attack her outright.
The girl 'slept' throughout their viscious verbal assault. I didn't intervene, in case I was the catalyst that triggered them but I knew, if I had to, I would defend her if it came to real physical violence. Six against two, albeit one with a whip. But the kids got off, swearing, with fists bunched in their outrage. But outrage at what? That she looked different to them? That she had the audacity to have tattoos and piercings and green hair? Why should they vow to kill her? Why did they believe that she should die?
I am terrified. For the both of us. But they get off... and in a sense, so did we.
I'm sorry but isn't it our differences that make us who we are?
When the girl opens her beautiful green eyes, she peers about her.
'Did you hear any of that?' I ask.
'Every word,' she grins at me. 'I pretended to be asleep in the hope they'd run out of steam.' She has a rich, posh accent. Very Chelsea or whatever. What did I expect?
'Lexi Dick?' I point at her rings.
'They're beautiful, aren't they?'
Yes, I think, as you are.
Third go, this time without 'i'. It turns out that gerunds are very handy, and as a general rule it is unwise to banish that letter if you are telling a tale from a 1st person perspective. A tough one - glad to have finished it.
As dusk spread over our balcony, we found ourselves at the back end of what had been a fabulous meal. We had spent the day as usual: some arch chat about our good fortune and the week just gone. Our course through the world seemed blessed. We worked hardly at all: our wealth flowed effortlessly from out-sourced commerce, so we could spend weeks, or months, at the homes of cultured, smart pals or on journeys to far-away places. Our boys? Clever, full of charm, successful. Sound of, body, soul? You bet. Sex? Never better!
But just when my gorgeous paramour offered to clean up the rest of our supper (that last chunk of Wensleydale looked so yummy), just when the sun’s last rays turned to the colour of a crème caramel all a-glow, there came the most unexpected moment of self-doubt. So sudden, such a shock and really a nasty upset … not at all the same as the lost years of my unruly youth, nor the same as my company’s start up, when there were so many concerns about any chance of future success. No – now there was a dreadful, all-round sense that my soul had been upended and damaged, perhaps even doomed. What an awful moment! Just as an acrobat fears a broken trapeze or a dodgy rope, so my ego was thoroughly scared of one wrong foot. Then: a cheerful gaze at a lovely landscape. And now: a horror of the drop at the edge.
At the table, there was clearly a need to try to pull myself together and to get some oxygen down my throat, so as to express to my better half my moment of profound shock. Amanda looked at me and clocked my sudden mood change; there was tender concern across her face.
“Jon, my love, what’s up? You look pale. Are you unwell?”
“Well … you see,” – the words tumbled out – “you see … just when you spoke, well … have you ever had a moment when your psyche takes a fall? Not easy to get across, my love, but as you spoke, there was suddenly a rotten sense that the world’s all wrong.” After a momentary tremor, there was more to say. “Unwell, yes, but mentally, up here, where there’s now an absolute sense of wrongness across the whole cosmos. But how on earth to spell out what’s gone on!?”
“OK,” responded Amanda, “how to help? Can you say whether your thoughts were of us, or about the boys? Your mother?”
“No. My only thought, just before you offered to the clear the table, now seems so daft. The cheeses looked so lovely, and greedy me wanted to scoff some more. The Camembert, perhaps. But all at once, zowee: my head was full of black doubt.”
The next hour or so was spent on recovery of my mental balance, Amanda of course at her helpful best. But bed and sleep were soon at hand, and as darkness beckoned, the new real was only too clear: we would never recover what had been lost.
Now, the same tale as blog-the-first, but sans 'e' this time. I can see this taking up far too much time - may have to take a break.
That night, as I wound down from a fantastic smorgasbord of tasty tapas which my paramour had put out, talk was all about our happy sojourn through this world. Our company was doing brilliantly, and with hardly any input from boss 1 and boss 2. No cash worry for us: moolah massing day by day, good for months abroad, or just visiting our witty, artistic chums. In short: happy, happy, happy. Look at us, and you’d think only of our joy. Our kids? Doing brilliantly. Mind, body, spirit? A-ok. Boudoir frolics? Yup, and lots!
But just as my darling was starting to tidy away bits of food and drink, just as nightfall was approaching and our patio was bathing in a glow of dusk-gold sun, I had, in an instant, a shocking attack of doubt and worry. About what? I couldn’t say, and thanks to this inability to draw out of my mind what was wrong, I sank into an black mood. My soul was fading fast, towards a fug of doom and gloom. It was as if I was a failing acrobat, trying with all his might to avoid a fall and a crash. From happily gazing across a fabulous miradoro, to a horror of tumbling down a cliff.
I sat up on my chair, to pull air into my lungs and to try again to find words to say what was so troubling. Amanda saw my frowns and – how thoughtful – was straight away asking what was so awful.
“Simon, my all. You look so pallid and clammy. What’s up?”
“It’s … it’s ….” I was gabbling now. “It’s … so odd. As you said … oh, I can’t bring it to mind. Anyhow, as you said … was it about our pudding? … I was struck by a conviction that this world, our world, has a vast gap in it. A psychic lacuna, of sorts.” I was twitching now. “It’s so important, my darling, and although I just can’t say what it is, I know I must try to find out.”
“OK,” said Amanda, “I’ll do my all to assist you. Was it a thought about us which brought this about? Or our kids? Your mum?”
“No, not at all. My only thought, as I saw you making a play to tidy up, was of scoffing a bit of that yummy Comté, or if it wasn’t so stinky, a nubbin of Livarot, and – blam! – at that point I was struck most strongly by a kind of total doubt.”
Throughout an hour of dark discussion I did my utmost to find tranquillity of spirit again, with Amanda in loving support. But as our day was slipping into night I saw, with horror, that I still had no notion of what was missing, and I had to admit that this would finish badly for all.
It took me by surprise this week to find out it's been six months since the treatment I had in hospital. Treatment that I was so wonderfully supported through by you fabulous Cloudie folk who helped so much with your uplifting comments and humour about brown snakes and yellow foods.
(Blogged about here for anyone who missed it and is interested: http://writing-community.writersworkshop.co.uk/magazine/read/tales-from-the-ward_9310.html)
Yesterday I went for the six month how-are-we-going chat and a discussion of what needs to be done to get ready for the second half of the treatment in October. It's been a bumpy ride at times, especially the first couple of months without a full-capacity immune system, but the human mind has an amazing ability to forget what we have to deal with once it's over.
This treatment is designed as a pause button. It basically stops you getting any worse, so the session was to look at the symptoms I had at the time of treatment and to hopefully see them stabilising. Any improvements are to be celebrated as bonuses.
There were twelve issues I was dealing with. There is now one remaining.
Apart from being totally gob-smacked, I've been in this stunned state of realising that I feel quite well. It has snuck up on me. I think my focus has been on the interesting issues that come with improving. Because I'm walking better I'm having aches and cramps from using my muscles how they were designed to be used. Because my hair is growing back in I have pieces that are joyfully springing forth and curling in any direction that they damn well please. I know how Medusa would have felt, although in fairness, I can probably achieve more with leave-in conditioner that she could.
As well as the physical assessment there was also the science. At this stage the white blood cell count should have rebuilt itself from 0% up to around 45%. I have been able to carry around a smug, over-achiever type air as my count is at 58%.
Then yesterday was topped off by the meeting of a lovely service dog, who sat next to me in the waiting room. A poodle crossed with a golden retriever - a groodle, her coat was like a pale cream sheep's fleece. This sort of thing:
I mentioned to her human how lovely the dog was.
Human: 'She's in disgrace.'
I looked at the dog who seemed to be wearing a doggie grin. She wasn't concerned about her status. And there was a bit of pride in her human's voice as her exploit was recounted.
The dog had gone into the kitchen during the night and opened the fridge where she had dragged out a large Tupperware container. She had then taken off the lid and eaten the roast chicken inside, bones and all. This had ended in a trip to the vet. Then her human gave the concession that if a dog is smart enough to call an ambulance then liberating a mid-night snack was nothing.
The dogs eyes met mine. She had an expression that said 'it was just one sodding chicken but that's it - branded for life'. But her grin still said she was amused by it.
I'm a fan of 'constrained writing' - setting rules to push the creative process (sometimes unconsciously) in certain directions. It's weirdly liberating. So I thought I'd post this to test the water and see if anyone else on the Word Cloud is similarly smitten with all things Ouliipo, 'Pataphysics and Dada. Georges Perec, one of my favourite authors, famously wrote La Disparition (translated as 'A Void' in English) without using the letter 'e' - this may be the example par excellence of the genre. Just as an exercise, I thought I'd have a go at emulating the master, by trying to write the same mini-story in five different versions, each one lacking one of A, E, I, O and U. Here goes with the 'A-less' version. Any comments very welcome, and if there's anyone out there with the same kind of interests, do get in touch!
Dusk found me finishing dinner with my love. We were quietly, possibly smugly, discussing the splendid week just gone. Our life together seemed blessed. We worked little: our riches flowed effortlessly from out-sourced business ventures, so we could spend long stretches of free time with cultured, witty friends, or visiting new, exotic countries. We were beyond content, sure of our well-being for ever more. Children? Clever, polite, successful. Sound in mind, body, spirit? You bet. Sex? Never better!
But just when my gorgeous wife offered to tidy up the detritus of our supper (including some very fine, still tempting brie), just when the evening light turned to the colour of glowing crème brulee, I experienced the most unexpected moment of self-doubt. Quite unbidden, shocking, overwhelming … unlike every crise d’esprit of my misspent youth, nothing like the first few months of my business life, when I often found myself wondering if I would ever succeed. This time, my soul seemed upended, injured, possibly doomed; I felt like some nervous circus tumbler whose dodgy rope might give out if he put one foot wrong. One moment, cheerfully viewing the bucolic scene; the next, terrified of the cliff edge.
I pulled myself upright on the bench of the dining set, the better to get some oxygen into my lungs, to give voice to this moment of profound shock. Celine looked over, registering my sudden mood swing with tender concern.
“Simon, my love,” she whispered, “You look white. Could you be ill?”
“It’s … it’s …,” I stuttered, “it’s … the weirdest thing. Just when you spoke, when I listened to your voice, I felt suddenly sure of something … something is terribly wrong.” I shivered briefly. “I do feel odd, but it’s in my mind, not my body. I’m possessed by the strongest conviction of something missing – something of the highest import. I’m trying to express it, but it eludes me.”
“Well,” replied Celine, “I’ll do my best to help. Were you thinking of something to do with us, or concerning the children? Your mother?”
“No. My only thought, just before you offered to do the dishes, now seems so ridiculous. I kept looking over the cheeses, wondering if I should scoff some more. If I could, even. Then zowee: complete shift of psyche.”
I spent the next hour or so trying to rediscover my equilibrium, with Celine doing her best to support me. But with bedtime beckoning, with the night upon us, I knew, somehow: this would be for ever.