The Precipitation of Tears

On the streets of London, Manchester
and Kabul
In the homes of Syria, Paris
and Mosul
Is there a Richter Scale
to measure the sadness?
Or a depth in fathoms
to describe the grief?
Can the precipitation of tears
be gauged to tell us
when the weeping will end?
Is all this, this heartbreak
how it will always be?

 

 

Trapped in amber

The Antiques Roadshow expert passed the necklace of rough stones slowly through his finely manicured fingers and held it for a moment in the sunlight for the television cameras to pick out the subdued orange and yellow hues.

“Many viewers will be familiar with polished amber jewellery, but what we have here appears to be an example of unpolished Lithuanian amber jewellery..but I’m not sure…perhaps you could tell the viewers the story of how the necklace was found……”

As his son began to relate the little of what he knew the old man, hunched in the wheelchair stared up at the necklace; remembering.

He remembered leaving the cell and climbing the stairs to stand in the middle of the road stunned at the Armageddon destruction. He had shuffled aimlessly along the road through a haze of smoke and dust, a bewildered ghost, one among many.

Some time later, desperate for water he had entered a building that had escaped total destruction; the sound of glass crunching under his feet as he stepped through the wreckage sharp in his memory.

On the floor of the house he found a horrifically burned body, the right hand a grotesque claw appeared to have been holding something. The arrangement of the stones on the floor suggested a necklace, the connecting string having been burned away. Nearby, in the charred remains of what had probably been a chest of drawers there was a metal box; not unlike a biscuit tin his mother would have at home. Opening it he found photographs: formal family groups, individuals posing, children. One in particular caught his attention; a young girl, standing against a wall – probably of the house he was standing in – looking into the camera, smiling in the sunlight. Smiling at him.

He had gathered up the strange almost weightless pieces of stone and placed them in the tin box and left the sad house of death. Later at home he he felt compelled to restring the necklace. He then placed it in the box and closed the lid and tried to forget.

“….and my father left the house and was eventually rescued and repatriated. He was one of the few British prisoners of war to survive the atomic bombing of Nagasaki…”

“What an amazing story. And this is the actual box?”

“Yes, it is.”

The presenter carefully put the necklace to one side and spread the photographs, sepia and black and white images, on the blue felt table cover to allow the television camera to show viewers the happy family scenes and the the young girl standing against the wall. She was smiling at them as her fingers played with a piece of jewellery around her neck, the smooth polished amber stones glinting in the sun

Parallel Universe

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‘Are you in there, Gregor?’
Thomas peered through the viewing window into the swirling gaseous mass that filled the laboratory interior. The chromatic cloud was peppered with pulsating, sparkling spots of light. Quite beautiful he thought.
‘Gregor!’ He shouted impatiently into the microphone.
‘I’m coming, Thomas, I’m coming!’
The ghostly figure of Gregor emerged from the foggy cloud and entered the viewing pod accompanied by a faint metallic smell.
‘You’ll set fire to the building one of these days with your experiments!’
‘It’s really quite safe’. Said Gregor, brushing away glowing beads that clung like embers to his suit. ‘How can I help you?’
‘Bad news I’m afraid. The Grand Council have decided to terminate your experiment.’
‘Why? It’s producing significant data.’
‘Yes, I have read your preliminary report. A number of the species you are studying are quite remarkable. Their constant development of social structures is fascinating. But the time overrun of the project is unacceptable…….you need to be doing something more relevant.’
‘I realise that it has taken longer than expected, Thomas, but observing such micro species has been difficult. A few more days would yield far more information; a day of our time represents many epochs of theirs. We could learn so much more.’
‘I am very sorry, Gregor, the grand council have made their decision. The technicians will clear the lab tomorrow; get rid of this toxic cloud.’
‘To terminate seems cruel; It’s been enjoyable watching them. In all sectors the various beings have evolved physically in different ways, but all are equally resourceful. In one particular group I have detected signs that they are attempting to reach and colonise the adjacent sphere, the one they call Mars. I regret that I won’t see if they manage it.’

‘Gregor. Have you ever thought…?
‘Thought what, Thomas?’
‘That we might just be part of some experiment too…..!’

Birth of a book

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It must be a year now since our book ‘The Pulse of Everything’ was conceived. After a meeting of our writing group I stood in the freezing cold outside the Otley Courthouse Art Centre with a fellow group member, Martin Fuller. We were talking about what to do with the stuff we were writing; how to get it out ‘there’. The suggestion that a group blog should be set up had not proved popular with the members who submitted their work to competitions; works previously published on the internet are not normally accepted by competition organisers. On that cold winter morning, I’m not sure which of us suggested publishing a book, but as a retired designer the idea stirred me; learning about the process of publishing would extend the knowledge of the group beyond just writing.

Once the idea of independently publishing a book was agreed, our group mentor, poet James Nash, set up an editorial team of four: Glenda Brown and Chris Moran, both published poets, John Ellis, a retired English teacher who brought obvious professional skills to the process and me, with no obvious formal qualifications.

The group members were invited to submit the pieces they would like included to the editorial team, a process that took some time; those who worked in longhand had to have their pieces transposed into Microsoft Word. Then, during several afternoon sessions, we sat around Glenda’s dining table and sifted though a pile of poems, fictional works and memoirs. We had to decide what pieces to include and how many to allow each author. We had already decided to give each group member an individual section prefaced with a short biography.

Eventually, we agreed the position of each author in the book and the sequence of their works within each individual’s section. Now we were ready to publish, but we still needed a book title. Numerous ideas were floated and rejected until Chris Moran spotted a phrase in a sonnet by James Nash: The Pulse of Everything.

We considered a number of ‘Indie Publishing’ options. CreateSpace, an Amazon company, seemed the best; it was free and seemed simple to upload the book onto their system. And it is simple, but like anything in life there is a learning curve. For me, it was a steep curve!

One of our group, Alex Williams had experience of publishing children’s books on CreateSpace and so a training session was arranged at Alex’s home; for me to learn how publish the group book and also my own boyhood memoir ‘Memory Spill’ and to help John Ellis publish his crime novel ‘The Mystery of Jingling Pot’.

Enlighten, enthusiastic and slightly apprehensive I started the publishing process. Once I noticed the problem, I changed the laptop settings from metric to imperial measurements (CreateSpace is American), set up a Word document to the recommended margins for a book then started to set out the book. It all looked neat. Very neat. Until I loaded the document onto CreateSpace.

The process is this: You load the Word document then wait while the system converts it into a PDF, a wait that can last 7 or 8 minutes. A clever virtual reality picture of your book appears that you can leaf through to check the alignment of the words on each page. The first time you do this it’s an exciting moment. You start flicking through the pages; page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4 – bugger! The top line has slipped down the page. Back to the Word document where I push the piece up into the page above the reload the document onto CreateSpace, wait 7 or 8 minutes for the virtual reality book to reappear. I flick through the pages. Page 4 is now okay. Flick, flick, flick; page 7 is out of line. Bugger, bugger, bugger. And so I proceeded, laptop on lap, watching TV between endless loading, editing, flicking and blaspheming. An amateur publisher with Tourette’s. My wife, Val was relieved when it was done.

I have since discovered, when loading my memoir onto CreateSpace, that it is a lot easier loading one continuous document. But, I was dealing with multiple pieces of writing of different lengths, and separating the book into individual sections. I also wanted the author’s biographies to face the reader as they progressed through the book, not hidden. I felt also that if a poem ran onto a second page both pages should face each other, that the reader should not have to turn a page unnecessarily. Small design points, but the cause of added complications.

We needed a book cover design. James Nash suggested using images by an artist friend of his, Kevin Hickson. From a number of images we chose a stunning photograph with an upward view through silver birch tree branches. Luckily, my son-in-law Andy Driver, is a graphic and website designer and through his input we have a stunning and exceptionally professional book cover design.

With the cover loaded and the book approved by CreateSpace we were then able to order proofing copies. John Ellis, with his experience as an English teacher, took on the responsibility for proof reading. Quite a few grammatical errors resulted in more loading, editing, flick and swearing while watching X Factor and football matches.

John did more than editing; he had been thinking. At one of our group meetings at Wetherspoons in Otley John leaned across the table.
“I’ve been thinking.”
“Yes?”
“Y’know the blank pages? The blank pages that face the bio pages.”
“What about them?” I said.
“Illustrations.” John said. “Illustrations would look good.”
“Yeah, right.” I said, thinking, bollocks! More evenings of loading, editing and flicking. But, the designer in me liked the idea. I knew John was right.

To fill the pages I invited everyone to email their favourite literary quotes, then looked for royalty free illustrations and images to combine with the quotes. Filling the blank pages was worth the effort and has enhanced the book.

To complete our publishing journey we have a launch evening planned for the 10th March when all the contributing authors will read a selection of works from their section of our book ‘The Pulse of Everything’.

The book is now available from Amazon here.

Written in dark ink

 

It was a short walk from the Post Office to the address on the telegram. Rather than send the boy he decided to personally deliver this bad news to his friend. At the door he paused to look up the familiar street, peaceful in the late spring sunlight. Paused to remember, try to recall happier times.
He knocked, listened to the footsteps approach along the hallway he knew well. The door opened. He was relieved it was Alex.
“George.” Said Alex, looking at the small square telegram offered to him by the Postmaster. Alex, his reluctant fingers failed to grip the telegram which fluttered to land soundlessly on the pavement. Alex slowly bent down to pick up the message of death; his three sons were in France, in constant danger. As he stood up their eyes met.
“It’s for Laura.” Said George. “It’s addressed to her.”
“Clem, then.” Said Alex, his mind a confused maelstrom of emotion; guilt at the good news that his sons still lived battled with the grief that his daughter’s beloved husband’s name would be written in the dark ink.
Then, a voice behind him broke his train of thought. Broke his heart.
“Faither, what is it? I heard Clem’s name…….”
Alex turned around to face his daughter, reached out to catch her as she fell, her life, her future slipping through his fingers.

*********

My story is of how I imagine the news of my grandfather’s death was delivered.

When the war ended one of Clem’s comrades visited Laura to tell of how her husband had been wounded during the Third Battle of Arras. With his hip shattered he had been laid in a shell hole for shelter until he could be picked up. He was never seen again and he was formally presumed dead in February 1918, one of 36,000 dead at Arras.

Who were you?

 

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Shadowy figures swarmed over the wall. He shot one in the face, another in the chest. Blood was everywhere. Then the firing mechanism clicked. Clicked again. Fuck! Out of ammunition. A heavy body landed on him, fingertips scrabbling for his eyes. He managed to get his fingers around the man’s throat and pressed. The body gradually went limp and the dream faded and Neville drifted back into a deep, deep sleep………

The brochure lying on the bedside table at the crime scene had led Detective Inspector Ramsey to the Carleton Clinic. Sat in the consultant’s office he could see through a window into a dimly lit room where a man, with an almost comical cap covered with small flashing lights sat in a chair, reminding the detective of a recent visit to the dentist.

Mr Bradley reached out to snap shut a silver Venetian blind.

“In layman’s terms, Inspector, we replace memories that a patient may find distressing. We use memory manipulation techniques pioneered by Ramirez at the beginning of the century. We erase bad memories and implant happier ones. In other words we give people new beginnings to their lives.”

“Ah, yes, I see.” Said the detective. “As your brochure says: ‘What you remember defines who you are’.”

“Yes, exactly so. In a recent case, a patient’s wife felt her husband’s upbringing was socially incompatible with her own. We erased his memory of a poor, disadvantaged childhood and implanted memories of a childhood similar to his wife’s life experiences; private school, parents in professions, living in a wealthy area and so on. His wife felt it would make her husband more confident in social and business situations.”

“Was Neville West one of your clients, Mr Bradley?”

“Yes,” said Mr Bradley guardedly. “Has something happened, Inspector?”

“Your client strangled his wife this morning.” Said the detective bluntly.

“That’s truly dreadful!” Said the shocked consultant. “He was such a pleasant, equitable man.”

Until you messed with his head, thought the detective as he asked to see Neville West’s file. A request predictably refused on the grounds of Data Protection by the obviously uneasy consultant.

After the detective left his office Bradley hurriedly spoke into his phone “He’s gone George. For now. You’d better alter the file. If they find out that you mistakenly implanted the memory from that soldier with PTSD you’ll be facing a manslaughter charge.”

“What did you just say…… there’s others?”Said Bradley massaging his temples. “How many?” He whispered.

***

During the First World War, New Zealander, Sir Harold Gillies pioneered plastic surgery. Plastic Surgery was developed to repair disfiguring injuries caused by gunshot and shrapnel. Later in the same century the techniques were given a more commercial title: cosmetic surgery. Breasts could be enlarged, noses remodelled and lips inflated to make patient feel better about themselves.
At the beginning of this century Neuroscientist Steve Ramirez is pioneering memory manipulation with the objective of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s.
My story is based on the idea that, like plastic surgery, memory manipulation will become commercially available for frivolous purposes.

Beautiful dance of death

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The sun, a pale orb, looks down
as chill winds careen and caper
through the tracery of branches
Thrumming timeless hymns
Nature’s long forgotten songs

Perching on swaying boughs
Funereal crows in mourning clothes
Flap wings black and feathery
trapeze artistes seeking balance
As they cry their discordant chorus

Leaves lose their tenuous grip
And fall, cascade to the ground
To join the multicoloured cavalcade
of prancing harlequins dancing
Across slick grass and uneven slab

I stand silent, listen and watch
This wintry beautiful dance of death

***

In memorium

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By Laura Driver

 
The sun streamed through the stained glass window casting a myriad of colour across the dreary black outfit Evie had laid out on the bed. Once dressed she gazed into the full length mirror; the dark circles under her eyes, her lank hair and badly fitted jacket confirmed that today she would be saying goodbye to the only person who had ever really understood her.
Staring out of the train window she looked across the glorious green landscape whizzing past. She’d grown up here, she and her brother had spent endless hours climbing trees and exploring. It was a happy time, they’d had an idyllic childhood, but that was before John had got involved in all that stuff with the police.
Exactly two weeks ago Evie had been summoned to her parents’ house where she was told the horrific news. Her brother had committed suicide by jumping off a suspension bridge, his body had never been recovered.
Today was a memorial service, a wretched attempt to say goodbye, Evie didn’t see the point without a body.
The church loomed at the end of the path where her relatives gathered, a mob of black-clad, sniffling miseries. The tinny chime of Evie’s phone alerted her to a text, she stopped and rummaged in her bag for her mobile.
The text message was from an unknown number and as her eyes flitted over it she froze, dropping her handbag, the contents spilling at her feet. Evie’s heart was thumping out of her chest. Her family, a mere few metres away, looked at her with confusion. She didn’t know what to do, she looked down at her phone again, her hand shaking.
The text read “They’ll never find a body because I’m not dead”

****

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This piece is a guest post by my daughter Laura Driver who has joined the writing group that I attend. It is her first fictional story. I began writing by contributing memoirs -stories about her childhood and mine – to her blog http://www.arewenearlythereyetmummy.com. Joining the creative writing group mentored by James Nash forced me out of my ‘memoir’ comfort zone and I have composed poems and written fiction. I hope that through membership of the group Laura too will develop her writing talent.

Worlds apart

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Jim Evans is sat in a compartment of a train travelling from Manchester to Leeds. It is 1949. He is sat in a corner. The train stops at a station and Jeremy Knight enters the compartment. Evans is dressed in a drab gabardine coat, Knight is dressed in a pinstripe business suit.

Knight: Morning! … By Jove nearly missed the bloody train.
Evans: (Looks up and nods, looks back at book)
Knight: (Casually throws briefcase on seat, sits, legs out legs crossed at feet, arrogantly looks around)
Knight: Good book?
Evans: What? (Trying to avoid conversion)
Knight: Your book. 1984. Just published isn’t it? Think it’ll ever happen, eh?
Evans: Doubt it.
Knight: Come on, who knows for certain! Nobody saw old Adolf coming. Gosh, hundred years ago people would never have imagined we would be flying about in planes.
Evans: You may be right (Discouraging tone of voice)
Knight: I’ve been in a plane, y’know.
Evans: Really (Tired voice)
Knight: A Lancaster bomber. Not flying. In a factory near Leeds, place called Yeadon. It was during the war; my father’s company supplied the Perspex bomb aimers window. A cupola they called it. Big vacuum formed bubble. Difficult to make, I can tell you. Anyway, we were on a visit to the factory and the chaps let me go into a plane. I remember lying there looking down, thinking, y’know, how jolly exciting it must have been, flying in a Lanc.
Evans: (Looks at Knight contemptuously)
Knight: Never saw action myself, too young; but did my National Service. I’m in the company now, Sales Director. Just been to Coventry to try and interest car companies in Perspex and plastics. It’s the place to go. They’re all there: Hillman, Humber, Triumph, Jaguar. The company couldn’t keep up with demand during the war, but now, well, we need to find other markets. It’s tough.
Evans: I can imagine.
Knight: You know the problem I have?
Evans: I couldn’t possibly guess.
Knight: My age. You know how old I am?
Evans: I’ve no idea.
Knight: 23. Twenty three years old. The people at the car plants can’t believe I’m a director, that I know what I’m talking about. The amount of travelling, the hours I’m on the road. Mary, that’s my wife, says I’m her hero!
Evans: I’m sure you are.
Knight: So, what do you do, for a living I mean.
Evans: I’m in entertainment. Cinema.
Knight: Gosh. How interesting. Doing what?
Evans: A projectionist.
Knight: Ah, em, jolly good.(Embarrassed. Changes the subject) So, em, were you in the war? Army, Navy?
Evans: Bomber Command. (The train pulls into the station, Evans closes his book) I skippered one of the Lancs you were playing in. I was just 23 then. You wouldn’t believe it would you.
Knight: Gosh.
Evans: And, no, it wasn’t ‘jolly exciting”. Good day. (Leaves the carriage)

++++

Our mentor James Nash arrange for the acclaimed playwright Julie Wilson – Bokowiec to give a talk about theatre craft and writing plays to our writing group; a brilliant and illuminating session.
Our task for the week was to write a short scene.

Years ago, I read about an RAF bomber crew member who shortly after the end of the war, saw the pilot of his plane, the man who had been responsible for the Lancaster bomber and the lives of his crew, working in a cinema foyer. During the war the pilot would have been in his early twenties. The responsibilities and risks were awesome. Almost fifty percent of bomber crews died. Roughly 55,000 young men.

Evans is my war hero trapped in a train compartment with Knight the young braggadocio businessman.

 

 

 

Where the heart is.

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Sitting at a table in the Melkem Megab Restaurant you might think you are somewhere in Africa; but then you look out onto the drab streets of Harehills in Leeds. The restaurant offers authentic cuisine for the city’s Ethiopian community.

Over a traditional meal of lamb eaten with our fingers I listen to 30 year old Yosef describe his childhood in Ethiopia. He is the son of an Eritrean mother and an Ethiopian father; two countries at constant loggerheads and occasionally at war, ever since Eritrea became independent from its larger neighbour.

He spoke with obvious pride about the rich culture and history of his country, so I asked the obvious question: “Why did you leave Ethiopia?”

“I was conscripted to fight in a war I did not believe in.” He said, then tried to explain the Byzantine politics of the two countries and how he had conflicting loyalties.

I wanted to know how he arrived in the UK.

“I escaped and crossed the border into Sudan. People helped me travel to Libya, for money of course. I was taken to Italy by boat where I worked for a little time before travelling to the UK.”

“Was it dangerous, Yosef?” I asked, thinking of the recent images on the news.

“This was 13 years ago, it was safer then. There were not as many refugees as there are now.”
I was interested in why, after all this time, he had not taken British nationality.

“I will go home. I am saving money to buy a shop in Aksum, my hometown. It is in the highlands in the north. It is beautiful.” he says wistfully, gazing out at the red brick terraced houses and cobble grey sky.

“It sounds a great place and good plan.” I say.

Yosef smiles. “Yes, I miss Ethiopia, my homeland.”

*****

The prompt or task given to my writing group was to write a short piece in the form of an interview. I decided to draw on a conversation that I had  in a restaurant with an Ethiopian friend , Yosef Alemayo. This longing for their homeland is often expressed by many Africans that I know. Luwam a lovely and gracious woman said to me ” You do not understand, this is not my country, my language, my home. It is painful too painful!”