Thursday, 26 January 2017

A Sympathetic Ear

I love my town.
No, love's too strong a word and like is insufficient. I 'know' my town is closer, insomuch that I know other surrounding towns less. I prefer its smallness and the fact that it doesn't sprawl, although that in itself, in the near future, might be a problem, because I sometimes think the way it's developing is irrelevant to its actual needs.
Still, it's home. I've never known anywhere else, either living on its outskirts or for the past twelve years in its centre, though that's not to say I haven't wanted to, it's just that when you weigh it all up this town suits me. It meets most of my present needs even if indeed it's unable to now meet its own, and yet I occasionally hanker for different which I sometimes think is connected to being an armchair reader: a restless spirit who, these days, travels in mind only. Well, okay, I occasionally take the train a few stops down or up the line to another leafy suburb but that's as far as I go, and usually when I return I'm relieved to be home because while a subtle change is nice, it's not different enough, and yet somehow it makes me appreciate all my town has to offer, which if you knew it you might argue is not a lot compared to its larger, more sprawling neighbours.
So, it's definitely not love but maybe respect, of a filial persuasion, and so at times you could say I feel duty-bound to stay, even though it will age and I may not like its transformations.
Where would I go?
I don't know. Nowhere else really appeals, at least not enough to pack my bags and wave goodbye. For good. Forever. Because when you stop the daydream and actually consider it, it, one, seems like a lot of effort for thin reasons, and two, reality, especially if it's an unknown reality may not live up to my expectations, and on my own I'm not the type to make the best of that kind of a situation. Not without back-up.
Where's your sense of adventure? In my head, mostly. I've never been one to throw my cares to the wind. God knows I've tried, and on a few occasions sobbingly failed; the most notable being a one-night-stand with a university, and yes, I mean literally, with the student halls and not a fellow pimply-faced student. I have a torn personality: a grass-is-greener and a small-town mentality. In other words, I prefer to think, wind myself into knots and even go so far as to believe I could drop everything, but not actually have the guts, the balls to follow through. Because reality is known to bite and I think, no matter how good something on paper seems, I'm likely to get badly bitten.
Perhaps if there was a rational motive like the lure of a job or kin, the notion could be more easily (and willingly) acted upon, but as there's not it seems too much of a risk when there's no telling if in doing so I'd be more content as in a whole new lease of life, instead of content but plodding.
Besides which, all England's leafy or coastal pockets seemed overfilled to the point where their inners are secreted and strewn like a bin ravaged by urban foxes, and so the ideal town I have in my mind I do not think I'd find in England, or probably anywhere.
A sleepy town where nothing much happens, but when it does everyone knows about it. A curtain-twitching, yet hospitable town: wary of newcomers at first until your character's been vouched for by a long-standing resident or you've been dealt with and seen often enough in the town's few establishments. A thirties, forties, fifties town. An American town, off the beaten track, and in the South, with a handful of stores and an all-night café which is, of course, its beating heart. For this is the place where, any time of day or night, regulars and all those stopping over or passing through tell their woes to a sympathetic ear, who from behind the cash register reassuringly nods, occasionally grunts, and seldom smiles.

Picture credit: Nighthawks, 1942,  Edward Hopper

Thursday, 19 January 2017

The Natural Order

Death is a fate that awaits us all.
When I parrot that, as others who have now gone have done before, I don't mean it in a offensive way but as a fact, a cool, calm, collected one, and regardless of how it comes. New life enters the world every day as other fatigued or barely spent lives depart; and yet, joy is only accorded to the former even if the extinguished life in the latter has been long or extended beyond all reasonable expectations. It's the length, as in years or age reached, that seems to matter, rather than gained experience, intellect, or wisdom which can often mature faster than considered age-appropriate.
And yet in nature, meaning animal rather than human though we are all part of the same kingdom, death at any age is accepted - to talk about, to plot and even hasten for our own ends, as in conservation or food. It's seen as the natural order of things: a circle of life as Elton John so lyrically put it, in spite of us sometimes having more than a hand in the closing of that circle. We shoot, we slit throats, we stun, though the murderers amongst us do apply that to fellow humans too, so not all of us are averse to taking life, any life.
Why is that we see our life cycle as different, as somehow being more precious?
Why are we less comfortable with anything that threatens it? Why are we less comfortable with loss?
Superiority is too easy an answer in regards to Man versus Creature, though of course that old prehistoric mindset is still there, because in Old England in times where disease was rife and living was more unsanitary, death was faced. Head-on. It didn't make the occasion any less sorrowful, but I think with hindsight you could say people then were more pragmatic; they had to be. But since then we seem to have travelled, and a fair old way too, in the opposite direction; as our living conditions have improved we've run from Death as if it were a deadly (pardon the pun) enemy and not a constant companion. A pitch-black tunnel that looms ever ahead until suddenly its entrance yawns closer before you're ready.
Nobody wants to contemplate their own demise; nobody's ever ready, but Death happens. It has to, nothing would grow if Death didn't occur. And so, why not be more open to it and about it. We talk about the birds and bees so much more candidly than we used to, and yes, some of us still blush and would prefer it if talk (and images) weren't quite so crude, but at least the act, in itself, is no longer something to be ashamed of or hidden, whereas our attitudes to thinking and talking about Death are more guilt-ridden.
Death is part of life, however, wherever it appears, and while you can't plan for it, definitively, you can have an rough idea of what you'd like to happen during or after. Birth's not entirely left to chance, why should Death be?
Should loved ones in their grief have no choice but to make those decisions for you? Because loss, the thought of and the actual feeling of, hits all of us in different ways, and there's nothing worse than being left with remorse that you might not have done things right, as the deceased might have liked or wanted; that the departure from this life didn't 'go off' quite as planned, unless of course you can picture the hilarity this farce would have brought to the deceased.
And then there's the school of thought that thinks: why would they (the deceased) care anyway? Once you're gone, you're gone. And so really the final ending or resting place doesn't matter. But deciding ourselves as in making our wishes known lessens the burden on those still living, and surely if we have the freedom (and the capability) to choose we should choose. Isn't that the difference between us and the creatures we exploit - primarily that we get to have a say in how our remains are ceremonially despatched?

Picture Credit: The Balcony, 1950, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Chocolate-creature-eating Business

There could be no mistake, that girl was eating a bird. With lustful pride. With barely concealed glee as if she were a savage who hadn't eaten a square meal in days. Other women might eat chocolate the same way if it had been denied, rather than delicately nibbling the cocoa-buttery head and maybe the feet before swathing its remains in its creased shiny wrapper as if it were some sort of burial. A treat to be exhumed later, and again and again until the hidden plot was an empty pit.
Some women (or men for that matter), if the chocolate were of the hollow kind might break it into pieces as it were a carelessly dropped vase or plate, all the better not to see what shape they had been eating. It might have been a rabbit, a hedgehog, a frog, a dog, a penguin. Though, of course, if the eaters were under ten then the reason for smashing would be different, for they would naturally assume there were sweets inside. The chocolate creature was, of course, a hollow cave where other sweet currency could be stored; they weren't often wrong but they weren't always right.
A few adults, it's true, share that same thought and that same childish delight: what's inside? and shake the animal to see if it carries a rattle or rustle, and then break in, often with more and not less haste, as children do. That gratification now and not saved for later. Vessels that harbour treasure must be plundered before other sticky beaks or sticky hands come to lay their claim. And yes, I'm still talking chocolate, though comparisons might be drawn elsewhere.
So, the eating of chocolate is a barbarous affair. One where biting ears or heads off is allowed as the first line of defence or attack, whereas if the food were alive you might aim for a swift, clean kill and later apprise the heart and internal organs, which, if unspoiled, could be eaten raw or with very little preparation; or perhaps if time was not of the essence, a marinade or a rub to enhance the meat's natural flavour, the outside then blackened, the inside tender, falling off, with no effort, from the bone, if the body as a whole was to be consumed. The tenderised organs returned inside where they might again be found and savoured. For hunter-gatherers who don't hunt and don't kill and only gather in the meat aisle to take from there what they want might still believe in eating nose-to-tail and adding their own inventive twists.
Maybe that's where it all stems from – chocolate.
Or maybe that's where chocolate is going to: lessening the squeamishness that's sprung up in our modernised times of eating offal, like weaning babies off mother's milk to solids. A cocoa solid chocolate heart then the real thing, though I doubt that would work with liver or kidneys; you need to dive straight in with adult experience and supervision if you're so inclined and don't have or haven't yet formed food principles.
I'm just curious as to if there's a relationship between how we consider meat and how we eat chocolate. And I think there is, possibly, although for too many years to count I, myself, haven't eaten either, and yet if there is, a relationship that is, I don't think it transfers all that well. But maybe chocolate is still in its early days, though that seems to be a ridiculous thing to say, and it will, given more time, change how we might react should we see a girl devouring a recently deceased, still warm, bird, like a starling or wood pigeon in much the same way as a carnivore in the animal kingdom might do. Gruesome, yes, and the stuff, if it is to be believed, of fairy tales and the genre called 'Horror', but more natural, no, than a knife and fork? The still-beating heart plucked out with a manicured talon.
Am I being serious? No, of course not. But isn't there something to be said for what gets modelled in chocolate and how, if it's animal-shaped, it can bring out the dormant predator in us, or is our relationship to meat, to sentient beings more divorced than I realised; and if so, does that mean anything?
Perhaps, all it means is that I should really stop analysing how people go about this chocolate-creature-eating business.

Picture credit: Young Girl Eating a Bird, 1927, Rene Magritte

Thursday, 5 January 2017


We kept the head, got shot of the body.
No, the head was a stand-alone piece, there was no mention of any body, and the head had something, you know, like the face of Buddha. A peaceful countenance.
Gosh, she's heavy!
Yes, but look at that expression – it's so serene!
The conversation imagined, the sort of small talk that might pass between two friends in the house of one, the one who owns the sculpted head; the other, an invited or uninvited visitor eyeing up the interior décor and her friend's/neighbour's/client's possessions. I mean, who can tell what the relationship really is, other than there is one and that's it not stuffy or formal. And that the owner is part of a 'We', which could be a house-mate, a spouse, even a sibling. Perhaps this conversation is not taking place, as I presumed, in a house, but in a gallery or exhibition space which the owner of the head runs with a business partner. Or perhaps it is a house, but a stately one, that collects and showcases beautiful things in keeping with its history and is, during peak season, open to paying visitors, with dainty cucumber sandwiches and cream teas served on its manicured lawns, whilst their resident trio of peacocks can, for an extra fee, be hand-fed with corn.
What an idyll but also rather pompous setting. You either like that kind of thing or you don't. But like a 'whodunit' you get to pick. Mrs White, the housekeeper, in the library with a paperweight. No, wait, Mrs White's deceased, dying of natural causes last year, so she can't be a suspect at all, the library only has wallpapered books so is not really a library, and the murder weapons you can choose do not include a heavy stone paperweight. Oh well, bang goes that hypothesis.
And who said anything about there being a murder? Or there being any staying guests? No, it's true, neither of those were alluded to; I was doing what you shouldn't do, which is follow a train of thought when it bears no relevance whatsoever (or only tenuously) to the topic, though I did say, if you remember 'like a whodunit', meaning let your imagination do the leading, which as you can see, mine did with very little encouragement.
Who is this 'other' anyway? Are we, correction: am I, right to presume she's a friend? Is she even a 'she'? Or could this someone be in a somewhat privileged position i.e. not a paying visitor, but someone being paid to undertake some sort of role which has, over time, morphed into that of 'friend' territory, of the networking variety as in air kissing and 'it's who you know' and ending sentences with sweetie and darling. Perhaps this friendship though is genuine, it's just this someone occasionally acts as an advisor, in the capacity she's been hired in, but then it does make you wonder whether this other is ever considered the house-owner's equal.
Hmm, interesting...because, if that were indeed the case, which do you think would assume the most self-importance? I think, when together, there might be unspoken spars, yet, when apart, each might boast of the other, even be a little indiscreet. There'd even be a little of that even if the 'house-owner' was in fact more of a caretaker.
And what about the She of the composed face, for I can confirm she is a 'she', who might she have been? She will almost certainly have been modelled on someone that was once alive or possibly still is though the chances of that in this art are slim; her expression, however, was caught and is now prized for its reposeful beauty which is exactly what the artist intended. And so, this gift, of craftsmanship and of capturing something just so, continues to breathe. Time does not, will not lessen its impact, if it's looked after: the closed eyes, the shape of the nose, the bowed lips, as if she might just wake from this resting state at some future date.
And what if she did or her countenance altered, would the admiration she once inspired be less, like how words read don't (or can't) always convey, precisely, the writer's thoughts.

Picture credit: Memory, 1948, Rene Magritte