Thursday, November 29, 2012

42 and the Lost Boys

My childhood: There are the Lego blocks. Bright primary-coloured houses with ramps for Matchbox cars and narrow windows for knights to defend with their tiny bows and arrows. Cups of orange squash grabbed on the way out to the road, where boys and girls skid their bicycles into wheelies. I scramble into trees, and watch ants in their minute traffic jams along the crumbling red bricks.

Running back into the house. Upstairs to the TV room. Watching black and white movies which have forever trapped actors as kids in overalls chasing their dogs or as men on ships, about to be dropped on bomb-scarred beaches. Orchestral themes exaggerating the triumphs and defeats.

Slipping on an LP record. Elvis. Tears shed at his death, and still more tears to be cried when John Lennon was gunned down. I wept at both, these old men who belonged to another era. Elvis was 42 when he died. Lennon, 40. Although I was just a child, I was deeply moved by their voices, preserved in vinyl.

The odd world of adults existed beyond my borders. It was one of laughter and worry, grim-faced sometimes, and occasionally whimsical. They were there to provide impulses on which I’d get to journey- day trips to places that smelled different, where my brothers and I would play in the gardens of country pubs, awkward alliances formed with the local kids for the day.

Those times have nothing to do with being an adult myself:

Watching bank account sands slipping into an hourglass of debts. Itching to run away to somewhere next to the sea, when the sea is just a reminder that time ebbs and flows and cannot be contained. Walking in the forest, and counting the ages of felled trees. Stroking the coarse bark, and wondering just how hard the rain fell in that long summer, to produce such a wide ring.

Now and then I’ll go to functions at my children’s school, and see children who, for an instant, look just like kids I knew decades ago. That’s confusing- as if, somewhere, the bruised and muddied boyhood friends I had never grew up, but they’re still hiding from each other on the building sites and meadows where we used to run wild. Lost Boys.

My own kids hurtle around the park, making boats out of leaves on the streams, and gather shells in heaps at the beach before skipping pebbles through the breakers. I’ll join them, but they don’t know my secret- It’s not this outward husk who is showing them the best ways to climb a tree, or marvelling at a rock pool ecosystem, it’s the boy Scott, who can jump off the roof of the garage, hold his breath in the swimming pool for two minutes and make moon buggies out of wire and boxes.

In that private world in my head, the Lost Boys and I gather around to make stupid jokes, do crazy things, like old, dead musicians trapped on scratchy records and actors who get to live in a fantasy world forever, of flickering images and endless fun.

Tomorrow I am 42, the same age as Elvis when he died an ineloquent death. I have outlived many, but they’ve never left. The Lost Boys never do.

There’s a thundercloud forming on the horizon. I’ll be the kid in the distance; dashing through the rain and splashing in the puddles while the adults twitch fearfully at their curtains.

The meaning of life, the universe and everything else? It’s to keep your Lost Boy alive, even at 42.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


The thrush bobbed out from under the Milkwood tree, hopped across the grass and stabbed at the mossy stone with its dull orange beak. Flapped off with a trapped grub which writhed a farewell wave. The sun rose on the enclosure for the midday matinee of leaf-shadows dancing and gnats rolling over each other in the air.

Beneath the damp soil a small hand brushed at the silver brooch pinned to the frayed cotton and lace pinafore. Inside the brooch, the intricate workings of a tiny clock had long-since become a matted mess of metal, trapping time eternally at 3.15.

The mulch the box had become shifted with the movement, and there was silence.

Up above, the vandalised stonework could only hint at the tragedy below, leaving the history untold. Green dipped in the cracks where lettering had once been carved, the dates alone suggesting tears and disappointment.

The blue expanse birthed a ball, which skipped across the space, bouncing off the low walls. There was laughter as a child leaped over and picked it up, and a man followed, breathing heavily. He was laughing as he sat on the grave, a smooth seat in a pleasant place.

Somewhere, out of sight and beyond the road, two crows fought over a carcass amid the criss-cross of tracks left by the hooves of the horses.

Friday, June 1, 2012

In case of glass, force out emergency

It’s hard to keep up. Not with life, because that has a habit of rolling on relentlessly.

There go the trees- well, not going anywhere- just waving their branches gently, nature’s fingers plucking a whistling breeze out of an invisible harp.

There gasps the sea, exhaling against the rasping sands, the gulls swooping in an endless loop in and out of the breakers.

There stand the mountains, saurian mounds not doing much or shifting, but forming a large grey wardrobe into which the orange orb slips when the shadow-time comes.

The small creatures rustle and fret and twitch and obsess- never discouraged from pursuing that which they need to replenish the blood in their veins. If you could see them all at once, you’d gasp at their seething masses.

Where do you turn?

To the seasons, to hope, to crises and resolution. To calm and to fear, anxiety and peace. To feasting and famine, to life and to loss.

The winds fill the flags, buffet sails and scatter ashes.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Onwards and upwards

The cart rattled slightly. It was overloaded. The man pushing it slumped over the wooden handles, barely noticing the splinters which arched through the identifying whorls of his fingerprints.

Dead. They really were. They’d fought for months, calling on every quack they knew, until finally, there was no one left, and they’d watched the tides of their lives slip away, leaving fresh, glistening sands.

Now they were lined up on the cart, their mouths gaping at a sun made amber with the smoke from the fires, the trash fires which corrupted the night air and never went out.

The man pushing the cart stopped. It was caught in a slight rut. Knowing he could explain his slight delay, he leaned over to his left, and vomited. It wasn’t the robust stream of a healthy man, but the weakened dribble of someone whose diet had suffered under the weight, or lightness, of an empty grocery cupboard.

As he approached the top of the hill, he faltered. The handles trembled in his hands as if the collective memory of the corpses inside would wrench it out of his hands.

Something felt… unreal.

With a painful twist, possibly around his ankles, he fell. The cart juddered and bounced down the hill, coming to a listing stop against the cemetery fence.

The light shone into his eyes. Two years of gloom and squinting through a chemical fog had made it hard to focus.

As he rose to his knees, the cart, the pushing, the endless nights of drudgery seemed to make sense

“Bring out your dead?”, he laughed to himself. “No, no, bring out your living…”

*Dead= unemployed

*Cart-pusher= freelancing

*Beyond= Who knows!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The parrot did it.

Henry kicked at the kerb. He wasn’t happy. There was another bill in the letterbox this morning, and it had come with a lawyer’s letter threatening action.

A parrot was in the tree opposite, plucking at a cord of string which had lashed a poster of a missing child to the rotting trunk. “Missing!” The poster had proclaimed. Eventually the cardboard had perished under the stress of wind, rain and sun, but no replacement had ever declared “Found!” so Henry had no idea if the child was safe with her family, or deep under the red soil somewhere.

The parrot eyed him with one round eye as it tugged and twisted at the string. It was a tired-looking bird, with feathers missing from its neck and a dull, chipped bill.

Bills. There it was again.

He’d had to go down to the office three times now, sit waiting on the cracked vinyl chairs for the man with the grey suit and the sweat-stained shirt to come out and hand him still more piles of paper listing demands, dates and threats of consequences. He wasn’t a sympathetic man.

In the corner of sweaty-man’s office was a shrine of framed photographs. They showed him in holiday mode, posing next to various animals and birds. Even the animals appeared to be leaning away from his acrid smell in the pictures. He didn’t look as relaxed as you’d expect in the holiday snaps, but a little ill at ease, as if he wasn’t sure how to act. Perhaps if he’d been threatening the animals with community service or prison time he’d have felt more at home.

As Henry turned back to the house, he heard a voice. “Henry”, it called. “Henry, Henry”.

He looked both ways up the street, but the kids at one end were engrossed in trying to set fire to something- probably an ant’s nest, and the only other person around was an older woman who appeared to be leaning on her front gate, framed by honeysuckle plants, although he suspected her back was bent with the weight of seventy years and advanced osteoporosis.

That only left the bird.

“Henry”, it called.

He turned and crossed the street, wondering if perhaps the extra whisky he’d had last night had not been soaked up by the boiled eggs he’s choked down with toast, despite the post-binge gagging he’d felt.

The bird cocked its head and stuck out its tongue. Lifted its wings like an angelic chameleon.

It flew a few metres and rested on a fence. He followed.

It flew again, this time settling on the grille of the storm drain. The heavy rains had lifted it from its frame slightly, and a torrent surged below, a churning mass of filthy brown water. Foam gathered on the bars.

It was a river of, of, of BEER! Henry laughed to himself, as he pushed the parrot to one side. Stripping down to his underwear, he lifted the grille.

The parrot seemed to grin at him as it nodded, happily. “Bye, Henry!” it said.

Henry eased himself into the foaming mess and drank deeply. The current caught him, and he let himself disappear under the road. As the daylight fizzed into darkness, he thought he saw a little girl looking down at him and laughing. He could almost hear her, and he was happy, as her laughter drowned out the mantra of bills, bills, bills which he’d had playing through his mind for what seemed like... forever.