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Posts Tagged ‘miracles

waiting for the miracle

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My computer’s been down. In a way it was if the world had stopped. A bit like not going to work. A bit like being without a television.

Last week Boz got himself locked up. At the beginning of the week he was in the office talking to Lily about abducting his children and hiding away with them in the caravan at Sandy Bay. Lily pointed out that he had already sabotaged his own plan by disclosing his secret whereabouts. Boz threw a wobbler and stormed out. He went into the car park and began methodically ripping the wing mirrors off cars. This is no easy task – a bit like pulling out a rhinocerous tooth, I thought. Once extracted he threw the detached mirrors over the wall into the street. He detached five in all, including both the driver’s and passenger’s side from Meg Bomberg’s BMW. At least no-one will notice the wiggly scratch now, as Lily said.

Boz then went and sat on the wall and had a cigarette. He was sitting there almost serenely when the police arrived in their Ford Focus panda car. They rolled down the window. The officer asked him if he knew anything about the five broken mirrors lying in the road.

Boz shook his head. ‘Me?’ he said. ‘Naw, nowt to do with me, mate. Do I look like a vandal? Naw, it must be the numpties from Newbiggin.’

Lily walked out into the car park at this point. Boz glanced at her.

‘So do I look like a kidnapper to you?’ he asked the police officer. ‘Do I? Do I have the look of a man who would abduct children? Well, come on – do I?’

The police officer glanced across at his colleague. He had a wry smile on his face. Lily hadn’t said a word.

‘You think that’s funny, do you? Eh?’ Boz said, throwing his cigarette down and standing up. He scrunched his stub into the pavement. For a moment he stood looking at the police officer, nodding his head slowly. Then like a leopard he suddenly pounced on the Focus wing mirror and began riving at it.

The police officers leapt out, twisted his arm up his back, slapped him in handcuffs, and threw him in the back seat of the panda, its passenger side mirror dangling like an almost severed limb. Boz bellowed and sang that they were numpties, numpties, numpties, that all policemen are numpties. They took him away to the station.

Lily looked at me and shrugged. ‘Do you think it’s time to cancel the anger management sessions?’ she said.

That night when I got home the clock was still ticking. The global economy was in a state of chaos. De Kooning wanted me to pick him up and carry him to the kitchen. I did so and then went for a walk before night fell.

On Thursday morning I caught the beginning of In Our Time as I drove to work. By sheer coincidence, I would suggest, the programme was looking at miracles. In the introductory part they looked at the Jewish and Christian versions of the idea and the way it was bound up with the idea of God and His power to intervene in the world. It seems that the Hebrew word used in the Bible means both ‘wonder’ and ‘sign’. It interested me that these two concepts could be separated. The programme moved on to the Hindu and Taoist view of miracles, where a miracle can just be a wonder and not a sign at all. It seems that someone with these world views can witness as a miracle and regard it with a sense of wonder – and be fully aware that it defies the laws of nature – but not think it has a meaning. Such things are not signs. The Taoist has no idea why they happen and isn’t much bothered in any case. They just do. This is an attitude that is alien to the west, I was thinking. Western cultures are heavy on ‘the need for cognition’, so much so that some Western psychologists consider it to be one of our fundamental traits.  We need to know why things happen. We want explanations. Everything happens for a reason. We need to give an event a meaning.

The programme mentioned the case of the Hindu milk miracle, which occurred in 1996, and involved a stone statue of Ganesha the sacred elephant drinking milk. Or seeming to drink milk, depending on your point of view. This caused great excitement in the Hindu community and Hindus from far and wide came to witness the phenomenon. Even in Britain sales of milk near Hindu communities soared as people went off to get a bottle and feed a spoonful to their local stone elephant. The excitement was about something wonderful happening and the desire to witness a supernatural event. There was little concern about what the event might mean, it seems. Of course even in India the need to explain quickly asserted itself in some quarters. Scientists rapidly came up with the explanation that the stone elephant appeared to drink the milk because of capillary action: the stone was porous. Hindus resented this wonder being taken from them. Why is it that things that have an explanation cannot still be wonderful?

I was thinking, of course, about the Napoleon in Margaret’s bedroom. Its tick was nagging at me. Maybe I should just regard it as a wonder, a clockwork Ganesha. Maybe I should try to persuade Margaret that this magic ticking really had no meaning, that it was a sign of nothing at all. What in fact was the evidence that it had a meaning, and what was the evidence that it had any particular meaning? Was there a message in the ticking, a secret language of ticks that a suitably inspired listener might translate?  Is there a Rosetta Stone of ticking? I doubted it somehow.

When I got in De Kooning ran up to me, as if he had great news. Had the Napoleon stopped? I picked him up, but before I got to the door of Margaret’s bedroom I knew it hadn’t. I pushed open the door and looked over at it. It gazed back smugly. It was ticking steadily, indifferently, like a cow chewing the cud of time.

‘I think I’ll have a cappuccino,’ I said. ‘Do you want a few prawns?’

I sat in the conservatory with my cappuccino, trying to read The Guardian. I wondered if I should ring the Greek, but I knew what he would say: the clock will stop, be patient. I began to think I would have to take matters into my own hands and take a spanner to this insolent clockwork wonder. I began to fear that once word got out about the Napoleon’s perpetual motion, miracle freaks from around the globe would flock to our house for a glimpse of this wonder. They would come with camcorders, digital cameras and mobile phones and probably pay for the thrill of recording it, although what the value of a recording of a ticking clock – albeit an impossibly ticking one – would be was a little unclear to me. What would be important, however, was that Margaret and Brenda didn’t realise the money making potential of this freak clock.

Scientists and horologists from around the world would descend upon us. Theories would proliferate. The government would call for calm. Gordon would have to decide upon some Calvinist neo-liberal position on the question, a view with which all cabinet ministers would be bound to agree. It would have to be made very clear that even if this miracle is a sign, it’s not a sign of anything about the economy. There were clear dangers that it would be read that way in the current climate, given that the miracles the unregulated global markets have brought to us are now falling apart around their ears. Gordon would have to act to marginalise and neutralise the miracle of Margaret’s Napoleon.

It was becoming clear: a miracle can lose its gloss fairly quickly. Miracles might not be all they’re cracked up to be. Naturalists and supernaturalists, deists and atheists and Seventh Day Adventists, Neo-Druids and a host of other New Age pilgrims would squabble and debate night and day at our gate. Makeshift camps would spring up on the grass verges, mini-Glastonburies. The faithful would be found asleep or urinating in gardens. The neighbours would complain. Geraldine would probably go to the press. The miraculous clock would be as bad as the Citadel – worse possibly – another dreadful blight on their peaceful existence. The police would put permanent traffic cones down the street. Celebs would arrive for a photo opportunity. Robbie Williams might arrive. Or Jade Goody. My mind went back to the spanner: surely it would be better to nip this curse in the bud? But how could I do that without admitting that a miracle may have occurred? How could I destroy the evidence that I might be wrong about the nature of the world?  I was in a cleft stick. I’d have to hold firm and wait. The Greek was surely right: the Napoleon would stop any day now.

I spent a lot of last weekend out and about, walking or cycling. I was avoiding the ticking, I suspect. When I was in the house I’d sit in the Conservatory staring at the dark dreadful matrix of the Citadel with De Kooning, playing music loudly enough to make absolutely sure not a tick could be heard. I listened a lot to Teddy Thompson’s latest album. It turns out to be an especially good record to drive away unwanted ticks. I think De Kooning liked it too. From time to time I got up with him and we danced a little as we looked out together at the darkening world.

On Monday I was going first thing to a meeting in North Shields. Margaret asked me to drop off another box of slippers at Brenda’s on the way.  I got there at about half nine. Tristan answered the door. He came to the door in pale blue pyjamas and a pair of checky brown slippers, which looked brand new to me. His hair was tousled.

‘Morning, Tristan,’ I said. ‘Are you not working today?’

‘No jobs,’ he said. ‘Business is slow. It’s the cwedit cwunch, mate.’

Yes, of course, I thought to myself, the cwedit cwunch. It has consequences for us all, even a Trotskyist plumber from Whitley Bay.

‘So is this the beginning of the end for capitalism, do you think?’ I asked. ‘Is this the way the system collapses?’

‘It’s in sewious twouble, mate, that’s for sure. But they can’t afford to let it fall. They’ll pwop it up no matter what it costs. No point in expecting miwacles, as the man said. And as my father always weminded me, capitalism is adaptable. It’s wuthless. It’s survived this long and it’ll survive a while yet. And he was wight. I’m beginning to think the world will be on its knees before we’ll see socialism.’

It was nice to be reminded of the illustrious Wupert. Tristan, of course, is probably right.

‘So is Brenda in?’ I said. ‘I’ve got a box of mules for her.’

‘Yes, she’s just getting weady.’ Tristan said. ‘She’s got a client in about ten minutes. She’s been away for the weekend and she got back late last night.’

‘So where’s she been? Anywhere special?’

‘A poetwy festival. She loved it. She seems to get a lot out of mixing with poets. She finds it exciting. It’s a load of pwetentious wubbish to me. But each to their own, eh? ‘

I nodded. ‘So what kind of client does Brenda have this morning, Tristan – someone for acupuncture?’

‘No, weiki, I think.’ Tristan replied. ‘Mr Armitage. He’s been having twouble with his kidneys. Or is it his knees? Anyway, here he is now.’ Tristan nodded towards the road. An old man in a blue Rover was pulling up. I gave Tristan the box of slippers and bid him farewell.

‘Say hello to Brenda for me,’ I said. I was wondering what kind of poetry she reads. I was wondering if she reads Lorca. Perhaps she prefers Bukowski.

I drove on the North Shields, listening to some more Teddy Thompson. I was noticing the ways he reminds me of his dad, something that wasn’t very obvious to me at first.

When I arrived at the office Boz was sitting in reception.

‘So they let you out, Boz, did they?’ I said.

‘Of course they did,’ he said. ‘Do I look like a criminal? I hadn’t done anything in the first place. It was their fault, not mine. That’s the trouble with the police, they show people no respect.’

Mandy Potts was in the interview room with Debs. Debs told me she was worried because the phone calls had started again. Over the weekend they’ve had Yvonne Fair on three separate occasions. Someone has also told her that a white Mercedes was driving around the estate in the early hours of Sunday morning and that Elephant Carmichael’s been released on bail.

‘And she says Molly Armstrong’s on the game,’ Debs said. ‘Mandy says Flinty always tried to get her to go on the game when he needed money for drugs. She thinks he must be desperate. When he can’t get drugs he’s unpredictable.’

‘So what does she want you to do?’ I asked.

‘’Nothing, I think. She just wants to talk about it. She wishes he would just disappear, but she knows I haven’t got a magic wand.

‘Is she still with Mr Zee?’ I asked.

‘Yeah,’ Debs said. ‘The kids were with him while she came in.’

I listened to Teddy Thompson again as I drove home that night. When I got in I heard the Napoleon ticking. I let De Kooning out and got changed. I went out for a walk. I walked over to the old campsite beside the reservoir at South Newsham and then down to the beach. I walked along the promenade and then followed the beach road and Wensleydale Terrace to the park. I went along the quayside and through the footpath on Ballast Hill. I walked along York Street and from there through Morrison’s car park. I went all the way up Bowes Street and then along Renwick Road and past the council offices on my way home.

When I got back Margaret was in. As soon as I came through the door she asked me if I’d done anything to the Napoleon.

‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘I won’t touch it, I promise.’

‘It’s stopped,’ she said.

‘It’s stopped?!’ I said. ‘Your Napoleon’s stopped?!’

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘It’s stopped. Have you done anything to it? Please tell me the truth. Have you?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘No, I swear I haven’t. I’d thought about, of course, more than once. But, no, I haven’t touched it.’

Margaret shook her head. ‘I can’t believe it,’ she said. ‘I can’t believe it. What am I going to tell Brenda? Why would it suddenly stop?’

This was an odd question, the exact opposite of the question that had been bothering me. I had ideas, but I didn’t think Margaret was in the mood for them. What I wanted to tell her was that Teddy Thompson was to blame. But I didn’t.

De Kooning came trotting in from the garden. It was almost dark. I picked him up and went into the kitchen. I stood him on the bench and put the kettle on.

‘So what do you think of that?’ I said to him, almost gleefully, scratching his head for him in that way he likes so much. ‘The clock’s stopped. Just think – no Robbie Williams, no Katie and Peter, no Jade Goody. It’s a miracle, isn’t it, an absolute bloody miracle!’


a broken napoleon and a dead spider

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Returning to work after a holiday is always a difficult transition, like stepping from a garden into a bullring. Transitions like this are often best managed by a ritual, and in my case this involves washing and ironing all my clothes, polishing my shoes, trimming my sideboards, and having a long bath. It’s as if the odour of recreation must be washed from me, as if to return to the old world I must make myself a new man. Going back to work is like rebirth. I must purify myself before my eviction from the womb.

Things have been surprisingly quiet at work. Sightings of the Arab have declined dramatically it seems (although Robin Hood may have become a permanent resident). Debs says that in part this is because Elephant Carmichael has been remanded in custody on charges of aggravated burglary and attempting to pervert the course of justice and Flinty’s keeping his head down. More significant though is that Flinty’s shacked up with Molly Armstrong in her flat at Rothesay Terrace down at the Station and is otherwise engaged, at least for the time being. What’s more, the schools are open again, the nights are drawing in a bit, and the weather hasn’t been good. The population of Flinties is dwindling rapidly, as if they’ve been nothing but summer migrants. I spoke to Gilmour a day or so ago and told him so and that I thought things were settling down. He told me that this was great news.

‘Looks like we’ve cracked this one, eh?’ he said. ‘I’ll let the Director know. Good work!’

‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘We do what we can.’

It rained heavily last weekend. Morpeth was flooded and Northumberland finally became the victim of freak weather and got the publicity and pity that for so long it has been denied. A disaster can be a cloud with a very silver lining. Eat your heart out the Vale of York: Charles and Camilla visited us today. They dallied a while, meandered along the loyal fringe of their postdiluvian subjects and shook a few of their damp northern hands. The television report showed them at a chip shop in Morpeth town centre. I think it was the Market Chippy on Newgate Street, next to the cheese shop. I like the look of Charles. He’s consistently odd. Somehow he reminds me of a gundog, one that perhaps lacks a little in the way of grey matter but who has an irrepressible sense of mischief. A springer spaniel perhaps. A one that would chew your furniture. He also sometimes reminds me of a bedraggled fledgling, an owlet perhaps.

The Widow Middlemiss hasn’t yet returned from Derby. Despite the heavy rain her property has suffered no further flooding. Griff has obviously taken steps to avoid another PR disaster. When I came in from work earlier this week Margaret was in the Widow’s garden dead-heading her French marigolds and hoeing the borders. I glanced across to see if Hugo was back. He wasn’t. I went inside and made myself a cappuccino. I was sitting in the conservatory with De Kooning pondering the realities of wage slavery when I became aware of a faint ticking. I followed the sound to the door of Margaret’s bedroom. I pushed it open slowly, as if I was about to find a bomb. What I found was a lot stranger: the ticking turned out to be the Napoleon Mantel Clock on her dressing table. It had come back to life. It was ticking enthusiastically. It had broken ranks with its twenty two silent and motionless companions. It now said it was almost five o’clock, which wasn’t right but suggested it had probably started working again about two hours earlier, at which time I knew Margaret would have still been at work.

‘The Napoleon in your bedroom is working,’ I said to Margaret when she came back in.

‘It can’t be,’ she said. ‘It’s broken.’

‘It can’t be broken,’ I replied. ‘It’s ticking.’

She went to the bedroom and checked. She was still wearing her wellies and green gardening gloves. She came back with her mouth hanging open.

‘How can this be possible?’ she said. ‘That clock is broken. The Greek said it was beyond repair.’

‘The Greek was obviously wrong,’ I said.

‘He’s never wrong. The Greek is never wrong. Never.’

My pizza was ready. I sat for a while eating and pondering the mysterious resurrection of the broken Napoleon. It had the look of a miracle about it. But it wasn’t, of course. I asked Margaret if it was okay if I examined it. I went into her bedroom and gazed at the ticking timepiece. I picked it up with both hands and looked deep into its face. It was now keeping perfect time. It had a sort of blank insolence about it. A smugness even. This was a clock that wasn’t about to give anyone an account of its baffling revival. I stood it back down on the dressing table, next to a copy of Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now. Brenda had recommended this to Margaret a few days ago. I picked it up and flicked through a few pages. Zen meets narcissism. Absurd and incoherent. Pure Brenda. The perfect companion for a clock that rises from the dead, I thought.

I rang the Greek. He told me there was simply no way the Napoleon could be working. It was a broken clock. I told him it had. The Greek was puzzled.

‘Then I was wrong,’ he said. ‘It was never broken. A broken clock is a broken clock, and it cannot repair itself.’

I told Margaret I’d spoken to the Greek and that he’d said the clock must have been in working order all along.

‘If that’s so then why didn’t it start ticking before now?’ she said. ‘And why did it start now? There’s something funny going on here, I’ll tell you that. Clocks just don’t stop and then start again without reason months and months later. It doesn’t make sense.’

‘There’ll be an explanation,’ I said. ‘But we might never know what it is. Perhaps a dead spider was jamming the works and it has finally decomposed or its corpse has finally fallen from the cogs. That could have happened.’

She rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, yes, that’s very likely,’ she said. ‘The corpse of a spider falling from the cogs. I think I’ll give Brenda a ring.’

I glanced at De Kooning. He was washing his face with his paw. Behind me I could hear the television newsreader saying that a junior whip has come out and said openly that their should now be a leadership contest in New Labour. It was starting to rain and looking very dark outside. The economy’s in recession. I wondered what Gordon was doing tonight.


an infantile disorder

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The trespass went badly to all reports. Afterwards Margaret was particularly taciturn and disgruntled. ‘Just don’t ask,’ she replied when I asked her about how it had gone. It was obvious that the red girders of the Winter Palace had probably not been stormed.

As the week went on I gleaned a little more about the event. It seems there were probably a number of factors that contributed to its failure. Some were presumably more important than others, although the Citizens have not yet formally met to analyse it. Provisionally, the following elements appear to have been played some part:

Only seven people turned up for the mass trespass;

Geraldine ‘took over again’ and dominated the confrontation with the site manager;

The site manager, Bob, was a nice guy and sympathised with them. Bob said he had a family to feed, he was only doing his job, and in any case there wasn’t anything he personally could do to change things even if he wanted to;

The site workers either lined up along the girders ‘like bloody canaries’ and waved at the trespassers, or they ignored them and got on with their work, thereby making a great deal of noise. Either way they distracted the Citizens and made rational argument difficult.

Geraldine was overdressed. She wore a long black coat, a black silk headscarf, and high heeled black boots. ‘All she lacked was a troika,’ Margaret let slip at one point. Unfortunately Geraldine also broke a heel. This forced her to remove the broken boot and carry it around with her. She had to lean on Big Trevor’s arm as they left the site;

Big Trevor ‘lacked discipline’ and kept interrupting the exchanges, which consequently began to revolve around the issues of his glass chandelier and the poor television reception some people have been experiencing.

Vanguard putschism has apparently failed again. There appears to have been a clear failure to mobilise the masses to the extent originally hoped for and there are some signs of leadership issues.  The outcome of the formal post-mortem will be interesting. In the meantime I think we can anticipate little change of strategy from Czar Griffiths. The same water-off-a-duck’s-back-ist approach as before will continue, marked by acts of mollification so insignificant and trivial that they will only further humiliate the Citizens and underline their impotence. Having your face rubbed in defeat is not a good place for any serious group of activists to be. No doubt strategy and leadership are issues that will vex them greatly in the coming weeks as they dissect the event forensically over many a pot of Earl Grey and many a fresh Jaffa cake.

Yesterday my dad asked me about the building of the Citadel. He’d heard it was massive and people were having problems with all the lorries coming and going. I confirmed that it wasn’t a project that many people in its immediate vicinity regarded positively in any way. I told him about the attempted mass trespass and how it had turned out to be a somewhat ineffectual gesture. He shook his head and said this was always the way. ‘They just do what they want,’ he said. ‘They always have as long as I can remember.’

We then got into a conversation about the failure of the Left to effectively empower people and achieve social justice. He repeated the tale I’ve heard many times about the General Strike in 1926 and my grandad being blacklisted because of his role in it. Heroic failure is a sustaining myth for the Left. Sometimes it seems to be the only thing that keeps us on our feet. My dad’s conversation veered efortlessly from politics into ballroom dancing. He’s always loved dancing. Before long he was telling me how many dance halls there were in the town from the nineteen thirties onwards. The Roxy was the main one, he  said, and The Tudor – where he’d seen Seaman Watson refereeing boxing matches – was just along from it, but there were dances in various church halls and other places on various nights of the week. ‘Everyone went’, according to my dad, because it was the main source of entertainment in those days.  It was before the days of television and there were almost no cars around. Everyone walked everywhere, he said. That world is almost gone now, of course.

It rained quite heavily last night. By this morning it was drier but it had become very windy. The Slipper Shop Launch was scheduled to begin shortly after lunchtime and I spent the morning tidying away my books and paints in accordance with Margaret’s order that the house must not look like a pig’s sty when we have guests.  Margaret was laying out the slippers in their various places according to a vision that escaped me but appeared to perhaps be governed by the principal of diversity. She washed and dried the wine glasses and bottles of Sainsbury’s Organic wines duly emerged. Pino Grigio and Cabernet Sauvignon, I suppose.

At about twelve thirty my rucksack was packed and I had my boots on. I was about to go when Brenda arrived. She’d been driven over by Tristan, who she brought in to meet me.  He obviously didn’t always plumb on the Sabbath. Brenda gave me a kiss on the cheek, a new addition to her social repertoire, I guessed. Otherwise she hadn’t changed much. Her hair is still as black as a guillemot, shiny and straight. Around her neck she wore a chunky black crucifix on a leather lanyard. A golden moon and silver stars hung from each of her ears. Her shirt was washed-out cotton, wrinkly and vaguely Indian. Brenda thinks of herself as eclectic, and would say this hotch-potch of pagan, Christian and exotic elements is evidence of this open-mindedness.

Tristan turns out to be a thick-set man of maybe forty five or so. He’s not very tall, but has a boyish wide-eyed appeal about him. He has dark curly hair and a fashionably unshaven face. He reminded me of Diego Rivera, strangely enough, although not of Trotsky himself.

‘Nice to meet you, Tristan,’ I said. ‘I’ve heard a lot about you.’

‘I’ve heard a lot about you too,’ he replied. ‘From Bwenda and Margawet.’

Tristan, I now discovered, has a speech impediment. He cannot pronounce his r’s. We had a brief chat during which I discovered that he does indeed see himself as a Marxist and has in fact been one for all of his adult life. His father was Rupert McLoud, who he told me was a notable left wing activist in the Manchester area thirty years ago. I smiled when Tristan told me this, not because I’d ever heard of his father but because calling a Marxist activist “Wupert” seemed so cute. I can see what Brenda sees in him, I thought. He’s a likeable and accidentally quite amusing man.

Brenda interrupted our conversation by saying she’d brought some nibbles and they’d have to get everything ready. I put my rucksack on and went off on my walk. As I walked I passed the time in conversation with Mr Twistan Twotsky, my new imaginary walking companion.

‘Is the game finally up for the Left, Twistan?’ I asked.

‘No, my fwiend, it is not. Histowical matewialism is alive and well. This is not the end of the woad. No, this is only the beginning’

‘But the world is in terminal crisis, is it not?’

‘The cwisis facing mankind, is a cwisis of leadership, my fwiend.’

‘But does not Gordon nurse a ticking bomb as if it were a baby?  Time is against us, Twistan.  Barbarism is the best we can hope for, I fear.’

‘The woad is long. We must make our own histowy. Think positively, comwade, and tell me, come the wevolution who will be first against the wall?’ he said.

For a moment I hesitated. But an answer was waiting for us both.

‘Gwiff!’ we cried together. ‘Gwiff! Gwiff! Gwiff!’

And we walked on together, whistling The Wed Flag as we went.

My route today took me north through Bebside and down the hairpin bends into the Ha’penny Woods at the Furnace Bridge. I followed the river up to Attlee Park and then on to Humford Mill. I sat for a while at the weir listening to the wind rushing through the trees, watching the river and wondering if it was going to rain. I turned back soon after that because the path was increasingly muddy. Back at Humford I crossed the stepping stones and made my way up to the Horton Road. Out of the trees the wind was gusty and boisterous. I went back down to Bebside and then through Cowpen down to the river, before returning home at about six thirty.

When I got back the party was over but a few stragglers were still there – Geraldine, Brenda and Brenda’s friend Jennifer, the one in financial services.

‘Hi, Geraldine,’ I said. ‘How’s the boots?!’

She laughed. ‘Well, the boots might be gone but we certainly showed them we meant business, didn’t we, Margaret?’ she replied. 

Margaret laughed. ‘You remember Jennifer, don’t you?’ she said to me.  I didn’t, but nodded as if I did. Jennifer was indeed a willowy blond, about fifty, tall with a long thin nose.

‘I love your paintings,’ Jennifer said to me. ‘Your work reminds me of Kandinsky.’

‘Kandinsky?’ I said. ‘Really. That’s interesting.’ I looked at the painting above the Napoleon clock. It was as much like Kandinsky as it was like El Greco. Jennifer proceeded to waffle on about a diverse and disparate assortment of painters as if she was a female Matthew Collings. And all the while she flirted with me blatantly, laughing merrily and repeatedly laying her hand on mine. She was tedious to talk to but I’ll admit she did smell beautiful.

Later when everyone had left I asked Margaret how it had gone. It turns out that it was a tremendous success. No less than thirty three of the thirty five people invited had turned up, including fourteen Citizens – twice as many as turned up for the trespass – a local councillor and Mrs Fletcher, who ordered a pair of blue mules for herself and a traditional brown leather slipper for her husband. All in all orders for thirty seven pairs of slippers were taken.  Margaret was thrilled. Maybe Brenda was right after all and there is a right time for everything (in the case of a slipper shop launch party that time being quarter to three, of course).

‘So what did you think of Tristan?’ she asked me later.

‘I liked him,’ I replied. ‘He seems like a really nice guy.’

‘Really?’ Margaret said. ‘You really like him?’

‘Of course,’ I said. ‘Yes, I think he and I could become very good friends. Brenda’s done well for herself for once.’

I tidied away the wine glasses and bottles from the conservatory and cooked myself a pizza. I sat for a while and read the Sunday papers. De Kooning came in and jumped up beside me. I stroked him and he began to purr.

‘So what do you think, Twistan?’ I said. ‘If they can give you thirty three good comrades can you give them the Citadel?’

‘It’s a mistake to believe in miwacles,’ Twistan replied. ‘But when the time is wight tywants will twemble, walls will tumble, and the future will belong to an army of women in wed slippers!’

I nodded sagely. You can’t say fairer than that, I thought.

Written by yammering

June 22, 2008 at 10:28 pm

miracles and the rain

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It was a long weekend. Sudden, unpredictable rain plagued every walk I made.  Most days I wound up drenched and dripping and as glossy as an eel. This weather also had the unfortunate side effect of confining me to the house more than I really wanted, an experience made doubly difficult because Margaret had an attack of grumpy teeth. This condition afflicts her intermittently, rather than cyclically, and I have hypothesised that it is caused by work-related stress. It almost invariably occurs within a month of her beginning a new job, as it has on this occasion. It is in fact, at least superficially, a reliable indicator of her happiness at work, and where it has persisted for a protracted period she has in both cases given up the job. It happened at Sasha’s Pampered Pets; it happened at Underwater World.

Of course, this is a small sample, and you will no doubt argue that these could be mere coincidences, that I am asserting a causal connection where none in reality exists. That may be true.  Or it may indeed be that a causal connection does exist, but that it runs in a different direction i.e. that Margaret cannot tolerate working at all when she has grumpy teeth and that if the condition persists it is therefore inevitable that after a certain time she will abandon any job she has at that time. That, of course, would still leave undetermined the cause of the grumpy teeth.

De Kooning and I have often debated the meaning of Margaret’s grumpy teeth. It is true that no biological or dental cause has ever been established, but it is surely also true that ultimately some physiological process must inform her condition, even if it is one triggered by events of a more psychic nature.  Grumpy teeth must, in common with all other events that we observe and encounter in our day to day lives, have a cause. It cannot belong to a special class of event outside that natural order, it cannot in effect be a sub-species of the miraculous.  And even if it were, miracles too have a meaning, a special significance within their transcendental frame; they are surprising events of remarkable import at the mysterious interface between the natural and the supernatural worlds. If you believe in that kind of thing, of course, which I don’t. 

Personally, I find the assertion that grumpy teeth may be a miracle to be faintly absurd. What on earth could be the point of such a trivial and troublesome miracle?  What kind of bored or capricious deity would commission such an act? If God, for whatever mysterious reason, had taken it upon himself to discharge Margaret from Pampered Pets, would he have done so by investing in such a patently baroque miracle as grumpy teeth?  Probably not.  A simple infestation of fleas would have been kinder and far less conspicuous – and if there is a God, one of the more obvious facts about Him is that he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s around.

Margaret has taken her grumpy teeth problem to Brenda, of course, although on what basis I am not yet sure. I am assuming acupuncture, but for all I know grumpy teeth may be a problem that can be approached from any number of tracks on the New Age route planner.  It may be that, as De Kooning has suggested, it is from a Life Coaching perspective that the problem is being tackled.

De Kooning and I were sitting in conservatory late on Sunday afternoon. The sky was charcoal grey and silvery rain slithered quietly down the windows. I was drinking a cappuccino and reading an article in The Observer claiming that many are coming to see Gordon as a liability. Margaret was in the kitchen cooking turnips and beans.  She came through to open the windows because they were steaming up.

‘How are your teeth?’ I asked.

‘Dreadful,’ she replied.

I resisted the temptation to see this as a potential key to their true significance. The idea of dreadful teeth was almost too hellish for a Sunday afternoon. At that point a blackbird flew into the window. De Kooning and I sprang up.  I opened the door and we both ran out into the rain. The blackbird had already recovered and flown off.  I looked over the fence. Hugo had acquired a life-size plastic moose. It stood beneath the station clock, alone in the seemingly perpetual rain; glazed, awesome, and somehow vaguely terrifying.


Written by yammering

April 29, 2008 at 11:00 pm