Saturday, 31 January 2009

Noble Gestures 1

Mr Basham was not a rich man to start with and his policy on healthcare bit deep into the family budget. He made little sacrifices and so did they. One of his sacrifices was to do without a mobile phone. Accordingly when he was referred to the Cromwell Hospital for exploratory ex-rays of an agonising left knee and he wished to tell his wife the results had proved sadly inconclusive, he was sent down to the basement in search of a public phone.

A clutch of Arab women in burkas surrounded the phone. One held out a scrap of paper with a local number on it and a handful of pound coins. They stared silently at him until he took the scrap, dialled the number and inadvertently fed in his last twenty pence piece.
Somebody barked at the other end and he handed the receiver across. The woman jabbed her handful of money at him so insistently that he made an embarrassed gesture, turned away and left the hospital.

He took the train home with a modest sense of moral wellbeing until his knee produced a twinge so violent that he grimaced with pain to the consternation of some children sitting opposite.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Moments of realisation 3

Gordon came from a poor but happy family. He had two elder brothers and a sister. His dad had been a bus-driver, who had steered his bus through the Blitz.

The family scattered to the four corners of London. Tony and Joan worked in banks while Kevin was a driving instructor. Gordon worked on the Underground. Unlike the others he didn’t marry. They came together at Christmas and other big family occasions.

Gordon was short and blond and thickset. He was slow moving and affable. His brothers and his sister were tall, birdlike and dark. Their dad, long dead, had been spindly too, clambering into his bus like a balding stick insect.

They were all together for Easter at Kevin’s house, Gordon now in his forties. They were sitting around Mum’s old table knocking back Kevin’s home-made wine when Gordon noticed Tony and Kevin were now very sparse on top. Like Joan, they both sported thick bi-focals and now the boys were beginning to look exactly like their dad.

And Gordon realised he didn’t. In fact he didn’t look like any of them. He took another slurp of wine and stared closely at them all. His brow furrowed.

“Why don’t I look like you?” Gordon asked finally.

Tony, Kevin and Joan tried to laugh it off.

“Not enough beauty to go round, Gordie.” joked Tony. “Sorry.”

“I don’t look anything like you. Nothing like.” Gordon’s voice rose. “You look like Dad.”

“Wine’s stronger than you think, old mate,” admonished Kevin.

Tony eased Gordon into the lounge while Kevin called him a cab home. They all waved him off from the porch.

“I’m not telling him,” said Joan, “ promised Mum.”

“Break his heart,” replied Tony, “better this way.”

But Gordon knew.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Moments of realisation 2

Louis looked down fascinated at Miranda screaming on the bed beneath him. She was staring up at him as if searching for the answer to some insoluble, universal conundrum whilst bouncing about like a cod on a boat deck.

He wasn’t entirely new to sex although most of his experience had been downloaded off the internet, but things did seem to be going uncommonly well. He applied himself.

Miranda moaned and juddered. Then she flung her arms around his neck and hauled herself up to stare wondrously into his eyes, “God, you’re good,” she cried, “You’re so good!”
At this the breakthrough came, a revelation that wouldn’t be gainsaid. He was good at something at last. Very good at something. It was nothing he could tell his old teacher or his probation officer or his worrying mother but he had an aptitude. The realisation surged up his spine from deep behind his knees through his belly and into the arms that clasped her. He applied himself again

Monday, 19 January 2009

Moments of realisation 1

Clare and Louisa went to ballet lessons like any other small girls of their class, age and size. Their teacher watched their development closely. Some weeks later as their mother arrived to take them home from class, she was called to one side and told that while Clare would never be more than energetic, Louisa had the making of something special. She might even be a prodigy.

Their mother worried about this all the way home. Clare and Louisa were too close to be separated by cruel divergences of talent and her husband was in no way predisposed to invest money and time in a ballet prodigy. His sport was boxing.

Try as she might she could find no way to broach the subject within the family routine. It hung over her as a Witch’s Curse. Until she saw a classic setting of Swan Lake was being presented at a most prestigious venue. She pressed her husband to buy tickets and he, pestered by three balletomanes, duly obliged and on the night drove his little chorus up to town.

They sat in the front row and when the Little Swans came into sight, glimmering in swathes of silver and arctic blue light and the music washed around her like a crystal cut sea, Louisa seemed suddenly enrapt. A great realisation swept over her with the strings and as she stared wide eyed at the graceful creatures, she knew what she had to do with her life. She knew for sure. She would become a veterinary surgeon.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Hope springing eternal 2

Only in moments of high crisis would Rachael and Keith dump their habitual animosities, resentments and mistrust and pull together for the safety of the shore.

Then Rachael would gently shoo away Keith’s fears and chronic uncertainties and put him back on track. Or Keith would patiently disentangle the skeins of Rachael’s tempestuous relationships and guide her back to a well grounded generosity of spirit.

Of course, once calm prevailed, they would let it all go to Hell again.

Keith finally intuited this pattern when, after being cold shouldered for a month, he cast his mind back to the fleeting moments of warmth between them and realised these only occurred when something awful was happening to one or other.

He thought immediately of Simon.

Simon, Rachael’s ageing cat, occupied a favoured status in their apartment and was free to spread hair and cat litter without restraint. Whereas Keith has only to leave a sock dangling outside the laundry basket to be phoned at work and lengthily castigated.

He decided to create a cathartic crisis and in the ensuing moments of rapprochement show Rachael just what they got up to. It could be the start of a breakthrough.

Keith went home early to put Simon in a mail sack and hide him in the cellar. He thought two days of cat absence would create the frantic emotional climate required for a passionate declaration of the need for change.

He would soothe her. He would heal her. Then he would teach her. They would live happily ever after.

Rachael arrive home early with a migraine only to find Keith, hands torn and bloody, failing to stuff Simon in the sack.

She called the police. And then she called her lawyer. This time she remained cool in a crisis.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Hope springing eternal 1

Barry wanted Gilda from the moment he saw her stacking books in the Indianapolis public library. She was strong-minded, almost forbidding, but he finally managed to propose a holiday in Istanbul at his expense which she grudgingly accepted.

They checked into adjacent singles at the Hilton. Barry was practically convinced that a combination of Bazaar, Bosporus and Byzantium would convert her formidable reserve into a new Seraglio softness.

They traipsed round the Topkapi in 35 degrees. Taxi drivers stole from them. Waiters confused them. Tourists jostled them in the streets. Gilda’s reserve held fast and her knees, encased in beige Rohan, stayed firmly together.

This changed two days later when she came down with a tummy bug that confined her to her bathroom, spraying the air with Nina Ricci and cursing the day she was born. Next door Barry clipped his nose hairs. Today they’d visit the Blue Mosque. The scale, the intricate beauty, the serenity would surely bring Gilda hungrily to her knees.

Gilda pressed her face to the cooling tiles and refused to respond to Barry’s muffled entreaties outside the door. She didn’t want to go to the Blue Mosque. She didn’t even want to go back to Indianapolis. She simply wanted to die.

Barry spent the next days sweating alone round the Sultanhamet and the nights in clubs in Taksim, getting gently drunk and talking loudly to anyone who’d listen. One night he met a Bulgarian prostitute happy to sympathise with him in his hotel.

They tiptoed past Gilda’s ever-closed door and into Barry’s room where he pulled her to him in a desperate substitution for lost romance. But somehow he couldn’t bring himself to imagine that she was in fact Gilda.
And in that moment, Barry knew he was free. And in love with Bulgaria

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Disasters narrowly averted.

Denton’s ambition to become a lock keeper stemmed from watching Three Men In A Boat one Sunday with his Nan. While his Nan chortled away, Denton sat mesmerised by the resourceful hydraulics of the lock workings and the strength and precision of the lock gates.

Leaving School, Denton applied himself and was soon working on the river. It took diligence and sycophancy, but finally he was made assistant lock keeper at Shepperton. His Nan bought him a set of thermals to see off the early morning chill and a thermos because his grandad had sworn by them. He had arrived.

Neither he nor his Nan could have foretold the Benson Electronics’ Christmas Party. Terry Benson, founding partner, had invited a handpicked and largely female section of his office staff onto his cruiser for champagne, Christmas Revelry and inappropriate sex. He was hoping that lavish amounts of the first two would lead inexorably to the third.

They actually lead to Moonraker 14, Benson’s boat powering towards the closed gates of Shepperton Lock at eleven at night, with Terry slumped beside the wheel enjoying the oral attentions of Marie, the older of the switchboard operators.

Denton picked up the engine noise early enough to arrive at the centre of the lock gates. He could hear loud music and the erratic cackle of seriously drunk white collar workers. He beamed his powerful torch into the cabin as he bellowed for them to slow down and come about.

Benson powered on. Denton screamed. His beloved lock gates were in jeopardy.

Just before the moment of impact, Benson climaxed and Marie recoiled in puritan displeasure.

This, as the River Police were later to note, undoubtedly saved him from agonising truncation as Moonraker 14 smashed into the gates and jarred Denton into the lock behind.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Gross Accidents and public humiliations 3

Martin was an accomplished skier. He worked in a paint factory but every winter he worked as an instructor on the Nursery Slopes of a small Austrian ski resort.

Martin’s beginners came in a weekly cycle. They bought ski passes, shuffled onto the Nursery Slopes where Martin taught them the rudiments and then for the rest of their time they were free to terrify or injure themselves at will.

No party was ever the same, but Martin liked to watch them acclimatise themselves to the sport, the surroundings and each other. He could predict with some accuracy who would do well, who would put out and who would be stretchered away.

He didn’t predict Marjorie Peterson.

Marjorie’s party arrived without her. They stood in line, clutching their ski sticks and looked with anguish at the encumbrances strapped to their feet. Martin consulted his worksheet.

“Marjorie’s late,” offered a red faced Northern girl. “Prolly powdering her nose.”

Martin shrugged. They’d have to start without her. Time on the Nursery Slopes was strictly rationed. “We won’t wait, “ he smiled, “ I’ll bring her up to speed when she gets here.”

At this point the shrubs to one side of the Nursery Slopes parted and Marjorie Peterson made her appearance. She was squatting low on her skis, her ski pants and underwear around her ankles and was propelling herself along the impacted snow by the relentless power of her own urine stream.

She passed in stately procession in front of the Beginners Class, like a general reviewing a guard of honour, leaving a wake in the snow and a frozen expression on the face of every classmate. She managed to brake before the tree line. Then, at great expense, she flew home Scheduled.