Thursday, 29 December 2016

Marley's Chains

The moment has come, as it always does: the time to stand still, to take stock. The pause, the intake of breath, hold, then release, a moment so brief and yet...that instant can contain a lot: The beat of a heart, the blink of an eye, the throb of a pulse, nerve or muscle.
The tick of the second hand on a wall or mantel clock, and the strike of an unearthly hour when everyone, regardless of age, should ideally be in bed.
The BOOM of the sea as waves crash against weathered rocks or its shush -shush as it caresses the caramelised sand as if it were a silk sheet and the sand a person.
The whistle and POP! of fireworks going off with their streaks and wheels of colour, with oohs and aahs from the crowd as they watch.
Moments that can be pretty or beautiful but never both. Instants that can be monotonous or irksome but never concurrently. Moments that don't overlap, they just become something else. Instants that don't last and yet, don't entirely fade.
The anticipatory moment is often one that stays, the feeling of waiting remembered and not the actual waited-for, longed-for moment. Or the completely unexpected instant when suddenly everything becomes glittery yet sharp. And then there are those instants you'd rather forget but don't because, rather bizarrely, you've made a memory of them and so, they're forever fixed in that one frame of time, ready to be recalled, unbidden or at your bidding. Nobody really wants those, unless for some reason you need to feel. Something. Anything. And those ill-remembered instants bring release like cutting a vein. Whoa, there's anger; here comes tears; is that a flash of a fear?
In a fast paced world moments move so fast. Quicker than is good for your digestion. Decisions, in comparison, can seem slow, so that the moment is swallowed, gone, by the time a decision has been made. You've moved on, other moments have been created, your head space has changed.
You might say 'Life is...' moment to moment. A sequence of them, that unfurls, which appears scripted or random, because what appears is like genetics coding or some sort of computer programming; it could even be a musical score: the same grouped moments repeat, pause for a beat, repeat again, then there's a new, unrelated bar, and then a string of familiar moments which are somehow still different. There's lots of shuffling and reshuffling as if this code is being written as it's played. Each action, reaction accounted for; each happening internalised, then retained or dismissed. It's fascinating, this never-ending slip of paper, the width of which is the same as a till roll, of printed code that goes wherever you go, increasing in length like Marley's chains.
But the moments that stop, like when your heart skips a beat when you sneeze, are precious, similar to a gem that refracts light in a multitude of coloured spots and rays, or akin to something that's quaint, something that's usually only glimpsed on rare occasions and is discussed more than seen, but when actually viewed up close and not in a image on screen or in a photograph, then... Then time transfixes itself as if it were an old locomotive huffing-huffing into a station, its fuel spent and needing to take on more water, its passengers spilling out onto the platform, and that's when it happens – when the engine's puffing and panting and desperately trying not to die – time ceases for the merest interlude. The passengers almost hold their breath too. It's nothing, no time at all, and yet more than enough.
The person it's occurring to is hypnotised, and everything, everybody around them seems to travel at a reduced speed, as if they were in a zone where there were signs telling them to do so, and yet the enchanted is in a world of their own where things seem to have a magic cotton-wool quality. Soft and slightly muffled. Just as if old Marley might put in an appearance himself with his rattling chains.

Picture credit: Time Transfixed, 1938, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Seizers

Can all acts in life be summarised succinctly as theft? Not just acts of crime, including murder since it steals life, but even adultery?
The theft of someone else's partner, though not usually achieved through kidnapping but conducted on a mutual basis, could be considered by the injured party a form of thievery, which once unearthed might cause the relationship to irretrievably break down, and which is then aggravated further if the new squeeze moves in: takes over what was your position as if the vacancy, naturally without your consent or knowledge, had been advertised and filled. Tempers flare, suspicions rise. Anger and jealously reigns, reigns big time.
If there's kids it's more complicated. There's this person who's not you with your ex-partner in your ex-property and acting as a parent would in a 'guardian' capacity and around them far more often than you are in spite of access arrangements, which if you feel this situation has been 'done to you', it must be weird – almost a looking in at your old life, feeling that it's been snatched away and you've been forced to make a new one. You can't rectify what you're seeing, and even if at some point in the future you do reconcile, time will have passed, aged, and yet not erased the hurt.
But then what I'm doing is conjecturing. I have no idea, really. It's never happened to me, but then I have issues with intimacy, coupled with the fact that, in truth, I'm a solitary being. Sure, I know of failed relationships and the acrimony and tensions that can follow, but relationships fall apart for many reasons, with adultery cited rather less than you think, but if you really ruminate on it, long and hard, 'theft' is likely to be involved, somewhere, when it comes to the split, as in the dividing of finances and property accumulated in the years together. What each partner thinks is rightfully theirs, due to either the investment of time or money, or both. And that's before the thorny issue of alimony, which if kids are not a factor either because there are none or because they've grown, can be an even bigger thorn so that the wronged partner, the one that didn't walk out, can feel more wronged, more stolen from, and that can be a hell of a knot to untangle. I sure wouldn't want to be a mediator, in this life or any other.
But as I said, I'm inexpert when it comes to such matters and so I take a pragmatic view, because what interests me rather more is the puzzle of human behaviour: why we do what we do, why we respond differently to a set of circumstances, and why, if our reactions are questioned, we find they lead to a source: some kind of experience so deeply embedded that we imagine our actions are independent when in fact they're not, though that's not, I hasten to add, an excuse, yet recognising such conditioning helps us understand more – about ourselves, about our nearest and dearest, about external others we have dealings with – and how these reactions don't have to be primed like a detonator or an alarm clock.
At the same time it's important to note that whilst there are a range of emotions, we each demonstrate and employ these to varying degrees. If 'Thou shalt not judge' were a commandment, and successfully kept, would that prevent presumptions and accusations from being not just thought but flung? 'Thou shalt not steal' has not had the desired effect.
Theft is a motivator which if applied on broader terms to the acquisition of human beings alongside material items and status symbols can feed personalities that, above all else, like to crush and win; those who are comfortable selling ideas to get what they want. However, at the opposite end of this scale is a self-fulfilled prophecy: Suicide, where someone has intentionally robbed themselves, and in-between there's far, far pettier crimes: 'borrowed' office stationery, and even birds who steal knickers off washing lines for their nests.
Is that what it, this life and the next (if you are that way inclined), is all about? Always wanting something you haven't got and are unlikely to get unless you resort to a form of theft.

Picture credit: The Lovers II, 1928, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 15 December 2016


Imagine entering a house and finding it eerily quiet, seemingly deserted by its inhabitants, and so you visit each room until you walk into a scene of such bloodiness that you have to quickly turn your back and leave. You might start to shake and even feel the urge to vomit; you might struggle for breath or howl from the shock or with grief, and yet a small part of you might disbelieve your eyes and bodily reactions until you confront the same scene again. You might experience none of those things, except for the shock and disbelief which may not come then but later. When you're some place else.
Why should you (why would you want to?) imagine such circumstances? Because it happens. Because it could happen. It's not out of the question. Something seems suspicious and so you take a look; something occurs that's unusual or out-of-the-ordinary that makes you think 'what's going on there?'; you have a feeling that all is not right as a person didn't show or stick to their normal routine; or you were meant to be there at that time and so it was you, who honouring the arrangement, had to raise the alarm.
The alarm raised, how do you feel? The process unfolding as it does in such cases (I imagine) with cops, forensics and emergency services; photographs, finger-printing, identification of the body (or bodies), the bagging of evidence and the site secured; then the interviewing of potential witnesses or suspects, the coroner's report, and the clean-up operation.
You, the discoverer, are out of this picture but not yet out of it. Fingers of suspicion may be pointed. Questions will be asked over and over. Statement given gone through again, maybe weeks, months, years after the incident if the killer has still not been caught. Shock-waves will continue to run through the community: they were such a nice family, and characters, of the murdered or of those suspected, will be dissected, because until the killer is found nobody is safe from being judged, nor feels safe in their own back yard.
An act of murder, single or multiple, has consequences, particularly if there's no rational or logical explanation, or none that's immediately apparent to those known to or by the victim(s) and the officers investigating the crime. So a piecemeal approach ensues, and is painstakingly done, when people, those related and unrelated to the incident, just want answers. Any answers, even if later on these could be proved wrong.
Now imagine the evidence gathered suggested these murders, which for the sake of argument are multiple and that of a family, were premeditated: a senseless but plotted crime, which hints the killer might have been known, for if there's no obvious motive, such as burglary, what else is there but a score to be settled, some wrong the killer felt the need to redress which to their mind demanded the whole family was systematically wiped out. The same cord-tied hands and feet and taped mouths, the same death by the same weapon. A clean sweep with no survivors. No eye witnesses. Yet if all known persons who might have held a grudge are dismissed, or there's no real vendettas to speak of because, after all, they were such an up-standing family, pillars of the community and the like, then what?
Would you want to believe it was a cold-blooded affair, that the killer(s) had no link to the victims? Because somehow it seems more rational, at least to the human psyche, if they were known. And yet if those persons were from outside, then it proves you live in a tight-knit community which has got to be a good thing, right? But then if you never find out who and why, won't there always be a level of mistrust and rumouring? How does a community repair and rebuild itself with that as its foundation?
This particular scenario, since it's imaginary, is resolved, resolved in that the killers, who were not known, are eventually caught and confess, but what they confess to is far more chilling: a remorselessness. A brutal crime motivated by lack of feeling, in its execution and its aftermath. How do you forgive an emotionless state when, like the blood spilled, it dominates the space (or cell) it's contained in?

Picture credit: The Tomb of the Wrestlers, 1960, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Lion's View

Lion's View, such a unusual name for a hospital, although on second thoughts perhaps not seeing as its patients are thought to be lunatics, babblers, of a nervous disposition, mentally deranged. But then I don't know New Orleans, or even if this Garden District still exists, so perhaps it's not weird at all. Perhaps it's very much, or was at one time, in keeping with the area, or perhaps it's all fictional, and I, like a crackpot, have fallen for it, as I so often do for Tennessee's works. The playwright, not the American state, which I've come to mid-way in life.
Suddenly Last Summer is one of his stranger plays; a touch, some might say, semi-autobiographical if you choose to draw comparisons to Catharine (and yes, it is with a middle 'a') and his sister, Rose. I don't know – writers use and write out theirs or others experiences, not always truthfully but slanted, which, in my view, is more cathartic than say talking in circles with a psychologist. Cut out the middle man or woman and let the mind take its own journey. However, that opinion in itself could be wrong. No, not wrong, just not the accepted persuasion backed by experts.
Hell, I don't know what the broadly-held sentiment might be by those in the profession, other than treatment is still referred to as 'Therapy', and that it does now include 'the Arts': those creative pursuits we should do more of apparently, which makes perfect sense to me as one so inclined but may not to others who aren't. But what we can say is that times have moved on and people suffering mental health difficulties, for however long, are treated with more sympathy today. At least, I very much hope so, because although others will say there's still a way to go, we have come a way. And if you don't believe me, History! History! by which I mean: Research it!
I digress. Sort of.
Back to Sugar. Well, to be more precise, Dr Sugar, or if you prefer Dr Cukrowicz, as though the play is far from a saccharin affair, he's certainly the sweetener. The cube that makes the Polio vaccine palatable. I don't know why I said that! for the play has nothing whatsoever to do with Polio - see how the mind at times takes over – although perhaps there is a tenuous connection for, after all, he sweetens the bitterness the main players feel towards, sometimes each other but more often, Catharine. None of them like her 'story', which she continues to stick to in spite of her supposedly recuperating stay at St Mary's, for differing but nonetheless deplorable reasons: Aunt Violet fears it tarnishes the image of her late son, Sebastian, and wants it cut out, right out of Catharine's brain, whereas Mrs Holly and Catharine's brother, George, are more concerned that if Catharine pursues this course the money they are due to come into will be contested.
Truth is a bitter pill and even more so if the circumstances of it are grisly. Unsweetened, it's hard to swallow, particularly if it confirms something unspeakable about another to persons within and outside the family, or implicates the actions of others on their behalf. Even the Doctor, in this instance, is unable to sugar-coat it; in fact, he doesn't attempt to, he just wants to get to the bottom of the mystery – the cause of this young woman's mental instability - and when he does, he believes her, or at least believes in the possibility that what she says could, in part if not all, be true.
The truth scares and it threatens, as in it could be information that could be used against you, that others don't want to hear and won't unless they're forced to listen by a neutral protector. That's what I like to think is meant by 'Lion's View', for if you disassociate it from its hospital setting then those two words could be said to give a different connotation, one that's not entirely unconnected but which instead suggests an impartial guardian who helps to minimise, if not heal, psychological scars.

Picture credit: Le Mal du Pays (Homesickness), 1940, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 1 December 2016


The building seems so small, almost as if it would fit neatly into a snow globe or one of those miniature Christmas villages you see on display in garden centres. When did it shrink? No, it can't have done for adults still work there and none of them, those you've seen entering, are of diminutive height.
Is it your eyesight? Quite possibly. But how could that be? Could macular degeneration cause solid items to appear to a different scale to what they are? All these questions you silently put to yourself as you continue to stare at the main entrance of this toy building, and wonder how the hell you get inside. You'll need to get closer to understand its mechanisation. Perhaps there'll be a little loop-and-hook on its side which if unfastened will open up the whole front, or perhaps as you walk forwards you'll minify and the building instead will seem huge.
The longer you stand here, considering other possible explanations, the more fearful and uncomprehending you get, so that the only course is either to retreat or advance like a toy soldier: unwilling to play yet has to obey his owner's commands. Still, you delay the moment of attack, taking deep breaths and trying to calm that nervous feeling. You didn't have to come, after all. Nor are you expected so nobody would know if you turned round and retraced your steps, with a lighter heart and a much eased stomach, homewards.
What if you held an imaginary pencil or fine paintbrush up as an artist does to measure the perspective? You try it, as you've seen it done, with one eye squinted, and when that corresponds to your view as it's currently appearing to you, you repeat the exercise with the other eye as if you were sitting in the chair at the optician's. And like there when the red and green looks much the same so does this building when sliced in half and looked at through a filmy scarf, which now it's served a purpose, a very different one to the one it's accustomed to, gets draped around your milky throat again.
Is it probable there will not be a deciding factor? It would be so easy, too easy, to stop here, squinting as if the sun were in your eyes and thus preventing you from moving, with some assurance, forwards. What if, however, someone took your arm? To be kind. And tried, with good intentions as they had indeed got the impression you were blinded, to cajole you through the gate, up the path and through the main door, past Reception, and into the Great Hall in some kind of shuffling gait as if you were tied together in a three-legged race which only one of you was desperate to win. But then I guess you could say if this were to happen that the decision would have been, quite obviously, made for you.
This is not going to happen. And so you continue to stand, turning your head and feet in order to appreciate the building's petiteness from different degrees as if you were a human sundial, and still the building appears as a little house on a Monopoly board, three of them in a row like when a player is flush and buys up everything he lands upon or puts a property anywhere he owns, and yes, they do, to you at rate, look as though they could be flung back in their box at a moment's notice. Therefore, it would be reasonable to assume that large hands, from above, could appear to peel up the ground on which they stand to shake it clear of anything that has no business to be there as if it were a picnic blanket messy with crumbs, before folding it, corner to corner, and storing it in a cupboard where it belongs and where it can be retrieved from on a rainy day or in picnicking weather.
The Lilliputians have no idea they're in danger, or that you're imagining it for them. Or even that you harbour an irrational terror of small things, particularly insects: moths, beetles, earwigs, spiders etcetera, though not for some reason ladybirds, but in general anything that flies or crawls or can disguise itself as a pencil shaving, and to which now must be added tiny people.
Nobody tells you of this, of these perspective changes; that as you grow taller things will seem smaller, or that as you grey your stature too will, in time, diminish.

Picture credit: The Toy Shop, 1962, Peter Blake