Sunday, 4 December 2016
For years I wanted to believe in angels and Christmas bells and the wonderful life but as they slipped past the bells, they just seemed to be tolling.
I’ve been reading Charles Dickens recently trying to kill off the hours leading up until Christmas. The rest of the year passes by smoothly enough; as the minutes vaporise into days and the months just coalesce into nothingness. Each day is indistinguishable from the rest and that’s how I roll. However as the years twilight nears then the air thickens, tightens and threatens. I have to read more and more just to escape it.
The excitement that once permeated each pore of my childish body gave way to the realisation that it would never be me gaining wings; soaring high on effervescent currents. I live in a much denser world full of bah’s and humbugs, so it seemed very apt for me to be reading “A Christmas Carol” for the first time…
Believe me when I say that I can relate to Scrooge:
“But what did Scrooge care! It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep it’s distance from what the knowing ones call nuts to Scrooge.”
Snow is trickling through the gray skies, carpeting the world in a hypocritical purity; the whiteness simply reflecting back my emptiness. Cold strikes me through what should have been my heart but now harbours only holes. I sit in my small room; a bed and a lifetime’s accruement of books for company. (I have a phone; an outside line to the rest of the world. It gathers dust.) I continue reading.
“”I wear the chain I forged in life.” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard: I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it…””
Marley’s ghost, the words of a long since dead friend. A friend to Scrooge? But if such a thing was possible for a man like Scrooge then why not me? I have long since lost that which mattered most to me; chased them away by lack of emotion, fear of commitment. Afraid to be broken hearted but broken anyway. So how did Scrooge manage? A story.. nothing more and I curse myself for a fool.
KNOCK Knock KNOCK
Who could this be at this time of night? I don’t have visitors. I get up wearily from the bed and walk to the door. I’m not used to receiving strangers or even talking to anybody, but the mask slides down rustily and I open the door to greet the person.
Hair like a sunrise in June, from a man who thought all poetry long since dead. A smile, bubbles of carbonated happiness blended with eyes of purest nectar. She speaks not in tongue but in warmth and the room seems much brighter for her presence.
“Sorry to trouble you.. especially at this time of night, but I’ve locked myself out. I feel really stupid about doing this, but I was wondering if I might use your phone?”
Think!! Don’t just blurt something senseless, think first before opening your mouth! “Please do.. you must be freezing? Come in – I’ll turn the fire on for you. I don’t feel the cold any more, but I’ll turn it on for you. Come in, sit down – please…. It would be because I would want you to.”
It would be because I would want you to? Gods teeth, strike me down! It’s been so long that I can’t even construct proper sentences now. She glides into the room.
“Thank you, you’re most kind. I won’t stay long – I just need to ring the locksmith and I’ll be on my way.” She replies.
“No please.. It would be no trouble, no trouble at all. I don’t have many visitors… well, you’re the first one. So stay a while – at least until the locksmith arrives…”
“Thank you.” She sits down on my bed, placing a cautionary hand on it first. Upon sitting she notices the Christmas Carol on the bedside table. “You fear the world too much.” She suddenly thunders. “All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of it’s sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, gain, engrosses you.” I must have looked bemused because she grinned and blushed at the same time. “I’m sorry – it’s my favourite book.”
“Oh, right… I’ve not read it before.” I reply, smiling sheepishly… I’ve learnt that not reading The Christmas Carol is almost as bad as not having watched The Sound Of Music (which I haven’t watched either).
“It’s one of my favourite books,” she replies, “a true story of redemption; a forgiveness of sins and a repentance of a former skinflint. To see things as they were; as they truly are and how they could be… what a gift that would be! To see how one man could truly make a difference should he be willing to change.” I was spellbound by her, her voice was captivating and she always smiled! I felt compelled to answer.
“I always liked the film It’s a Wonderful Life for the same reasons. The idea of a man not realising how important he is until he sees how his life has impacted on others… It’s just a shame it’s all a fiction.”
“But it took an angel to show him, didn’t it?” She replied, a mischievous glint in her eyes. But who showed the angels, I wondered. “Why are you on your own?” She asks suddenly. “It’s nearly Christmas after all…”
“I don’t know.” I reply truthfully. As usual the words fail me as I try desperately to explain that it was my choice, that I’d never been good at giving myself to other people… “I’ve always been afraid that if people see me for what I truly am then I would lose them.” Where the hell did that come from? I just blurted it out! I hardly knew her and yet I was now telling her things that no one else knew about me!
“Did you ever think that maybe people could help you? That maybe if you talked to people they might actually listen? They might be able to see things differently, and who knows –even enlighten you?” She laughs, and I’m unsure whether she is actually taking me seriously. I couldn’t detect any malice in her comments so I smile back. “What are you scared of?” What a weird thing to ask, especially after what I’d just told her.
“Being alone.” I reply without even having to think about it.
“But you’re alone now...” She laughs. I smile back again, like a confused child. “You can’t possibly be scared of something that you are already! I think you’re scared of something else, something that you’ve kept hidden from yourself.. and it’s that that’s keeping you alone! Think about it… I must be going now, I’ve taken up far too much of your time as it is.. It’s nice meeting you.” She stands up again and holds her hand outstretched so I can shake it. Her warmth is contagious and I feel the glow flow through my whole body.
“Will I see you again?” I find myself asking as she walks towards the door.
“Do you want to?” She parries.
“Yes, very much so.” I reply.
“I’ll be around the same time tomorrow night.”
“What’s your name?” I ask, just as she walks out of the door.
“Carol.” How apt, I thought and as I close the door behind her I realise that she never once used the telephone. I open the door to call after her but am surprised to find that she’s nowhere to be seen, and outside I can hear the ominous sound of metal clanging on metal ringing in a new day.
DONG! DONG! DONG!
The next day drags, snails pace and I’m impatient to see her again. Finally the evening crawls along and I sit in my room waiting for Carol again, so I pick up the book and continue reading from where I had left off.
“’…It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked like a perfect grove, from every part of which bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrifaction if a hearth had never known in Scrooge’s time, or Marley’s, or for many and many a winter season gone…’”
KNOCK Knock KNOCK
I run to the door, unbolt it and swing it open. The smile that greets me again illuminates the room and I can not help but smile back.
“How are you?” She asks. “Did you think on what I said last night?” She hasn’t even walked through the door.
“I have…” I reply sheepishly.
“Then you can tell me whilst you fix me a cup of coffee.”
“Well… you were right, obviously.” I’m trying to talk and figure out if I’ve got milk and clean mugs… it’s not easy. She walks into the room and lets her eyes wander around before sitting on the bed again. She’s captivating, truly.. the way the light reflects off her hair; her eyes that hold a promise for a thousand lifetimes. “And I realised today how much of a fool I’ve been… and selfish, in a way… does that make sense?”
She nods and smiles, encouraging me to continue.
“I thought that I was saving people from the bad in me, but how could I have known?”
“I never meant it to be like this. I wanted to stop people… myself from getting hurt… not to chase them away. Please tell me that they are two completely different things.” I turn to look at her, and she just shrugs her shoulders.
“’.. if he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.’” Carol replied, recounting another part from the Christmas Carol. “”Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.
“Man,” Said the Ghost, “if man you be in heart, not adamant, for bear that wicked cant until you have discovered what the surplus is and where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be, that in sight of heaven you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. Oh God! To hear the insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust!””
She once again looked up at me, the truth shining in her eyes like diamonds of flickering hope, refracting my heart. “Don’t you realise that it’s not your place to decide who gets hurt, and who gets to know you? Who are you to judge? You have to let people make their own choices. You are going to get hurt as love can not be without loss. An absence of one is the exclusion of the other. Do you see?”
I hung my head.
“How could I not have realised that?” and then the realisation struck me. “I did know…. I just kept it from myself, tried to hide in excuses: a web of deceit and self-debasement so tangled and intricate that I lost my own sense of identity. I pretended so much that I forgot who I really was… Then I forgot to pretend because there was no more I..”
“It’s not easy seeing things as they really are. It takes great strength and courage.” Carol places a hand on mine, the coffee long since forgotten. Electricity passes between us. “I must go now. You have a lot more to think about. I shall return to see you one more time; on Christmas Eve. But before I go I will ask you one final question. One that I think you will appreciate: ‘Are there no prisons?.. Are there no workhouses?’ Who makes up the prisons that bind us in our lives?” And with that she gets up from the bed, walks over and kisses me softly on the cheek. Roses, she smells of roses… and then she is gone.
As the door closes behind her I can hear the bells ringing, but I am too deep in thought. “Who makes the prisons that bind us in our lives?” Who indeed….
DONG! DONG! DONG!
It’s Christmas Eve, the room is quiet with nothing stirring. The snow is falling still but now with whispers of promise. Anticipation clutches at my heart as I continue my reading of Dickens.
‘”Am I that man who lay upon the bed?” He cried, upon his knees The finger pointed from the grave to him and back again.
“No, Spirit! Oh no, no!” The finger was still there. “Spirit”’ He cried, tight clutching at his robe. “Hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this now if I am past hope?” For the first time the hand appeared to shake….’
KNOCK Knock KNOCK!
I open the door to Carol and she smiles at me and this time the question is but a single word. “Well?”
I smile and beckon her inside. “We make our own prisons; bind ourselves with the shackles of our own past and expect others to free us from them. Friends and lovers can only do so much. At best they can provide the key, but it is up to each individual to unlock themselves. I chased others away so I wouldn’t get hurt by own lack of feeling, always blaming those people who only ever wanted to help. But I can see now where I went wrong. I can change.. Have changed!”
“Yes.. You have – otherwise you would not have been able to say those things. So what are you going to do about it?” She hadn’t even sat down, she just stood and smiled at me.
“Open up to people, be myself.” I smiled back, the strength of my convictions growing the more I talked about it. “I’m not going to be intimidated by my pre-conceived ideas of other peoples perceptions of me… Does that make sense?” I laughed.
“More than you realise.” She laughed with me.
“I’m going to give myself a chance to be me and have strength enough to say HERE I AM, WORLD!!!”
“BRAVO!” Carol replies, clapping with me. “I knew you had it in you. All you needed was someone who believed in you.”
“Yes, and I think I knew that from the start, but could never admit to it. That would have meant letting someone get close enough to hurt me, and that never would have worked.” I laughed again, feeling feather light. I was mocking myself and, for the first time, I was able to see myself as a whole person, not as a jumble or an emotional mess.
“Don’t you realise that you started on your road of healing when you invited me in? Not only did you allow me to enter your room, but you allowed me to enter your life as well. How easy was that?” She didn’t allow me time to reply. “And you did it without thinking! Now, my time here is almost gone, and I have but one more thing to give you. However, in order for that to happen you must allow me to leave and know that I will never see you again.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! After all she had given me, Carol now wanted to leave. “But we’ve been through so much! I can’t let you just walk out on me!” I pleaded with her, not ready to let another friend go.
“Loss is a part of life; a part of love. I could never be truly yours, for I am here for everybody. Would you deny other people what you have received? Will you decide what men shall live and what men shall die?” I understood what she was saying.
“No… it’s not for me to deprive others.” I shook my head. “I have been blessed with my time and I will always hold that dear. You’ve given me back feelings that I thought were long since extinct and for that I thank you.” I tentatively lean in and kiss her on the cheek. She reciprocates and lets the kiss linger on my cheek before opening the door. She looks back at me and winks, before closing the door behind her.
‘I have one more thing to give you, but in order for that to happen you must allow me to leave.’ What did she mean by that? Just then the windows are blown open –something I thought would be impossible on such a calm night. The naked pages of The Christmas Carol flutter in the wind, the pages bristle and flap like wings before stopping. I kneel down to look at the page that lies open.
‘He became as good a friend, as good a master and as good a man as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town or borough in the good, old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed; and that was quite enough for him…”
The bells chime, but they are interrupted by the sound of my wings.
Sunday, 16 October 2016
An empty pay-phone on a busy street is ringing but no one’s answering it. I walk over to it,
check that no one’s waiting for a call and pick up the receiver.
“This phone call will change your life.” A nondescript voice tells me; I can’t tell whether it’s a man or a woman on the other end, but for some reason I listen further. “You are in pain; you don’t understand what is happening in your life. You want to change it but you don’t know how.”
I shrugged and replied. “But that could apply to anyone’s life, surely?” I didn’t know who I was talking to, or the reason behind the phone call but I just couldn’t put the phone down.
“That maybe true, but you answered this call; no one else.” The voice replied. “In time you may choose to pass on what you’ve learnt to others, but right here and right now this is about you. Right now you’re trying to ascertain my voice pattern. Am I male; am I female? What nationality do I belong to?” The voice continued, as if reading my mind. “Does that really matter?”
“I guess not,” I replied.
“But you do have a pressing question for me, don’t you?” The voice remarked.
“Why.. why am I here?” I asked – I didn’t even need to think about it.
“Ah, now that truly is the one question you’ll have to ask yourself.” I shook my head, puzzled by the sudden change of tack.
“No, that’s not what I meant.” I said, a little put off by the obtuseness of the answer. “I meant – why am I here, talking to you?” The voice at the other end of the line chuckled in a benign way.
“Why are you here talking to me? Good question.” The voice replied. “Why did you answer the unattended phone? Why were you walking down the street at that particular moment to hear the phone ring? Why did you wake up at that precise moment this morning to set into motion those very same events that led you to this particular stretch of pavement to hear the phone ring?” I couldn’t quite grasp what I was being told, this was all too much.
“How did you know that this particular phone was unattended?” I asked.
“Is that really so important?” The voice countered. “It’s ironic that with all I have just said to you and its implications, the one thing that you choose to pick on is the most inconsequential.” The voice paused as I tried to cogitate what was being said to me. I looked around at the world carrying on regardless and felt somehow separated from them; the phone booth was its own bubble of time.
“Does the phrase ‘as above, so below’ mean anything to you?” Asked the voice, sensing my confusion.
“Is that where nature uses the same basic patterns from the smallest fern leaf to cloud patterns and population densities?” I stumbled, trying to find the right words. “It’s part of chaos theory, isn't it.”
“Very good. Doesn't that sum up your life; what is happening to you, right at this very instant? Isn't this a reflection of your life in its entirety.” The voice explained. “What you are doing now is a direct result of what has happened to you previously.”
“How do you mean?” I couldn’t understand the parallel.
“Your reactions are governed purely by your past. Would you agree with that?”
I paused for a minute. It would have been very easy to lie over the phone, but I knew that it wouldn’t have served me. “I think that’s feasible, yes.”
“Well then. Your behaviour now is eighty percent reaction; fifteen percent future planning and I’d say only five percent living in the here and now. Now would you say that’s an honest assessment?” I felt very uneasy about this because I suddenly felt very transparent; this person seemed to know exactly how my mind worked and I felt extremely vulnerable. “Stop trying to defend yourself.” The voice interrupted. “You have no position to stand by, I simply asked you a question. Was my assessment fair? Allow me to rephrase it: Do you find yourself worrying about the past and the future?”
“I would say that your assessment is correct. I worry more about the past than I do about the future, but I still worry if I’m honest.”
“And why would you not be, hmm?” The voice asked and chuckled. “What would you possibly gain if you lied?” The voice was quiet for a second. “What is your life currently like at the moment?” I frowned, this was the question that I had been dreading from the beginning.
“It’s a kind of non-starter, I think.” I replied. “Not great.”
“And you wonder why…” There was an ironic edge to the voice. I was just about to question the tone when it continued. “From what you have just told me, with three quarters of your life you ‘worry about’ the past and for the rest of it you ‘worry’ about the future….Where, may I ask, in amongst all this angst, is your present?” I tried to answer but I couldn’t. “Where is your present?” The voice asked again, with more urgency.
“Right here, right now?” I answered, borrowing the phrase from earlier.
“Right here and right now.” The voice echoed. “As above, so below. Because you worry about your past you automatically worry about your future, for what is the future except more of the same?” There was a sarcastic edge to the voice. “BUT! All this time you are ignoring the very thing that could free you from those shackles, and allow you to live each and every day afresh, with no worries. What is that you are so foolishly ignoring then?”
“The right here, right now?” I asked sheepishly.
“Yes, but don’t look at it like that. I am offering you the keys to freedom. Don’t let the truth slide through your fingers, grab at it with both hands!” I remained quiet, unsure of what to say. “You are being given a chance at freedom. Is that something that you want? If not, put the phone down and walk away. It is your decision.”
I almost did put the phone down. I couldn’t believe what was happening, all I did was pick up a bloody telephone… All I did was answer the call….
And all of a sudden something clicked in me and I understood what was being said. “I want the chance at freedom!” I replied, and I could feel the determination in every word.
“You are already free. We are all free but do not know it.” There was power in the voice and I could feel the truth ring in every word. “And it is so easy to realise that. Shall I tell you how?”
I nodded before saying, “Please.”
“It’s simple… Don’t worry!” I laughed at this, I just couldn’t help myself. It seemed so simple but ultimately absurd!
“If it’s so simple why don’t more people do it?” I asked.
“Like you, people allow their pasts to define them. People treated them bad in the past so they have to carry that with them for the rest of their lives.” There was irony lacing every word and I understood exactly what was being said. “Just because something happened yesterday and over a thousand yesterdays doesn’t make it true, and doesn’t mean that it will happen the same today. Nothing is certain. Your car may have started every day for the last five years, but it could all break down tomorrow.
“Your best friend or worst enemy could die tomorrow; you could die later on today with no warning, so how is worrying going to help that?” I was reeling now, this was irrefutable. “All the worrying that you do about the past.. has it ever really solved anything?” The voice asked. “Has it ever really helped you?” The tone was definitely mocking now, but I couldn’t help but smile.
“No, it hasn’t.” I replied.
“Right.. and all the worry about the future; all the ‘what if’s’, the supposings and possibilities.. does it make them happen any quicker or help your peace of mind churning through all the endless permutations?”
“No, it doesn’t” I replied, beaming now.
“Right! The past doesn’t hold you and nor does the future. The only thing that really matters is the right here in the right now. And if you stay in the right here, right now what is there to worry about?”
I paused for a minute. A thousand thoughts assuaged me; a hundred excuses and all the doubts and worries that had plagued me for time immemorial; but for once I could see right through them. I knew them for what they really were. I could almost stand back from them and filter them into boxes labelled ‘past’ and ‘future’. Not one of them was relevant to the present, the right here in the right now. I don't know how long I was silent, but when I said “None of them” the voice on the other line said one simple word:
“Correct.” And hung up. I placed the phone onto the cradle and turned to watch the world once again.
The street scene that played out around me seemed changed somehow; more at peace – or maybe that was a direct reflection of how I was feeling. I walked out of the telephone booth feeling completely different to how I was when I entered it. Neither the past nor the future held me and had no direct bearing on who I was.
The past and future do not hold us to who we are; they don’t actually exist in the right here, right now for all that exists is the now, and in that is total freedom.
I knew that I had to share this…. More people could benefit from this, as I had.. but how? ……. And then it dawned on me…..
If you hear a phone ring in an empty telephone booth, answer the call. It could only change your life…..
Sunday, 28 August 2016
He knew how to make a first impression despite being just over five foot high. His silent, intense gaze surveyed the room like an x-ray as he stood facing us at the end of the classroom. Once he was sure that everyone had arrived he sat down behind the desk. He disarmed us with a smile but his eyes never left us; it was impossible to stare too long into them.
Having sat at a convenient desk I unpacked my small rucksack. The confirmation slip awkwardly stuffed into one of the smaller side pockets and I fished it out to double check I’d picked the right room. This amiable, well dressed and bespectacled chap seemed a far cry from the blurb that had caught my attention in the adult education syllabus, and he looked to be the last person that could teach a class on writing horror stories.
Quite what a horror writer was supposed to look like I didn’t know, but after seeing photo’s of Stephen King; Clive Barker and James Herbert it wasn’t easy to lump this guy with them; his light curls made him look more like a sociology teacher. It was hard to make the connection, but then I suppose they said the same thing about Ted Bundy.
I made sure that I was in the right classroom by nervously looking at the number on the still open door. The man noticed by nervousness, smiled and nodded once as if to reassure me. This one was not disarming though, it was slightly cold and calculating as if he was measuring my every gesture like an undertaker.
It felt surreal sitting in the same classroom, albeit fifteen years later. Ironically this used to be where I had was taught English and I had to resist the urge to sit in my old seat. I had watched as the other members of the class drifted in and picked their places. Even though there was no designated seating I was fascinated by where each person sat and I wondered how much of the choice was coloured by past experiences and behaviour. No one sat in the front row and few people sat together.
What if this classroom were suddenly captured and transported into an alien world, I wondered. Would body language and role types be determined by the seating arrangements? Would those sitting near the front of the class be the natural leaders? Would those at the back –the shy retiring types- be the first to be eaten?
The man at the front looked at his sleek, expensive wrist watch, walked to the classroom door and, without even checking to see if anyone else was coming, shut it.
“Are we sitting comfortably?” He asked, his voice warm and genial, perfectly cultured and reassuring. “Then we’ll begin.”
He was one of Britain’s foremost horror writers with five best sellers and even a television mini-series, that had starred Peter Davidson, under his belt. I hadn’t read any of his books and hadn’t even heard of him before finding the adult education listing in the local paper.
Upon sitting down again he addressed us all. “Right! Close your eyes and keep them closed for three minutes. I want you to pay due attention to everything you hear, everything that you smell; everything you feel and even any memories that are conjured up. At the end of the three minutes I want you to write it all down. You’ll have ten minutes to do that.” He looked at his watch again. “The three minutes start….. Now – close your eyes.”
I did as I was told: this seemed a strange way to begin a writing class but once the novelty of effectively sleeping in class subsided I was surprised by what I could actually hear. There were the obvious sounds of the fellow classmates, the consciously shallow breaths and awkward shuffling of feet, and the occasional but inevitable throat clearing, but I was able to go beyond that. I could hear the wind and rain whip the exposed windows of the classroom. I could hear the footsteps in the corridor outside as the person scuffed up the stairs. There was the sound of scraping chairs from above as a class finished. There was even the rote mutterings of the class below us, a bizarre chanting which must have been a foreign language class –either reciting an alphabet or an ancient creed.
The smells I found harder to quantify; they were more elusive but proved to be far more emotive. I smelt the classroom of my memories; the chalk dust and stale sweat odour of the teacher, the stogid, pungent reek of the canteen which was further down the corridor (the smells that hung in the memory most were the limp, tasteless cabbage; the rank tomato and pilchard surprise and the sickly sweet and milky rice pudding.)
It didn’t seem that many years since I was last in the classroom, but all the teachers I had known had either left or died and I now felt like a disembodied spirit. If time had a smell then I guess it would have been one similar to what I was experiencing: tinges of lost innocence, past opportunities and future promises, stale luck and forgotten loves. It’s school where you feel the pressures of growing up; in puberty you’re no longer a child and each day you feel the innocence drip away whilst the weight and expectation from the future threatens to mould and crush you before you have time to assimilate the multitude of changes that assault you….
“Three minutes are up!” He said, breaking me out of my reverie. “Pick up your pens and write down exactly what you smelt, tasted and felt. I’ll ask you to stop in ten minutes.”
I had never realised that three minutes could feel like that. On the one hand it was fleeting, over before I’d even drawn breath, but on the other hand I had lived and experienced every moment.
That was the first time that I met Daniel Paige and he taught me more in those three minutes than the whole school had in the all the years I had gone there as a pupil.
I went to his evening classes for a further three years after that initial term. The syllabus was exactly the same, year on year, the pieces of paper he used as lesson plans became more dog-eared and thumbed, but the classes were always fun, informative and helped serve as a refresher for me.
In that time Daniel never changed, not in any literal sense. His hair style differed: long and curly, short and frizzy or short and straightened, slicked back; but he was always affable, charming and as confident as ever.
The second year I went back to the class he remembered me. The class only ran for ten weeks but he could still remember details about me, even after a year.
The other members of the class could never understand what such a well renowned author was doing running an adult education class. To me it was obvious: he was gathering material for his characters. Here he could study the minutiae of someone’s personality, their mannerisms, ticks and traits that only close scrutiny can reward. My theory was proven about a year later when I finally picked up his latest horror novel “Spoken”, which was about a case of supposed demonic possession of a young girl by a deceased serial killer. One of the consultants in the book had a surname of Sampson (which was also my surname). Was this a co-incidence? Not when the character shared many of my own behavioural ticks, even down to the way that I become overly animated when I’m excited, or chew on my pen when agitated. All of that Daniel could have easily noted on that first night I met him, but he had the rest of the ten weeks to hone that character.
(I must admit I was flattered by that and actually own an autographed copy of it with an inscription “To Dr Sampson, all the best Daniel”.)
After the last class had finished I rushed out and bought a couple more of Daniels best sellers and voraciously read them. I now wish I hadn’t.
The central idea to his novels was always unique and breathed life into a somewhat one-dimensional genre and the plot was always sound. But it seemed to me that Daniel was always trying so hard to keep away from the clichés that were associated with slasher fiction, that they became a parody themselves instead.
If the cliché was having an innocent virgin survive then he would do his utmost to kill her off in a particularly nasty fashion in the first fifty pages. In a way they became formulaic, the stories were cold and calculating –like his killers.
Daniel was always brilliant at setting the scene, describing in vivid detail the murders and the ensuing crime investigation, it was almost meticulous. But, for me, the story and characterisation always let the novels down. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand human psychology; he could observe it and wrote down perfectly what he saw, but he couldn’t deduce motivation from that or get to grips with any real emotion, except for the nasty side of life.
I never told him how I felt, obviously. I was in a minority, but that was fine. I was also unsure how he would react to my opinions and might actually consider it extremely presumptuous (not to mention extremely rude). Although I suppose that many people would have jumped at the chance to prove their worldliness, superiority and vulgarity by carping on, but not I.
Years later I would become the hypocrite, but in completely different circumstances, and with greater conviction.
I read four of his horror novels, each one as predictable as the last. He made a habit of never revealing the killer at the end of the book –an act designed to thwart the machinations of the pessimistic reader- but by unmasking the antagonist with up to fifty pages to go it often meant a long, bland summation and exposition where even the most asinine detail assumed gargantuan significance.
However I still went back to those wonderful evening classes. But, like everything, they soon ceased and after five years we lost contact with each other.
At the end of those five years I had actually written my own novel which had even been published. Admittedly, it had been a self-published affair, sold only to a few local bookshops, but Daniel somehow found out, insisted on buying a copy and wanting it both inscribed and signed.
A few months before that I had spoken to him about a scene I had written in which the protagonist had visited a seedy brothel. The character in the story was at the last edge of desperation and needed to reach out to someone, anyone. (in an ironic way I had been in a similar situation, so this was art imitating life for certain.) He was a great exponent of “Write what you know” and asked me, conspiratorially, whether I had indulged in that particular experience. When I replied in the affirmative he seemed pleased that I had followed through and showed the “testicular fortitude” needed to be a writer and go that extra mile. I wondered how far he had travelled down that particular route himself. However in amongst the obvious confirmation of his teaching ability there was also a hint of sadness in his eyes.
After a while I lost my drive to become a published writer and soon my ability to turn a polished phrase dried up, save for writing in greetings cards or the occasional speech. I became fascinated with photography after discovering a talent hidden in various holiday snaps. Buying a digital camera furthered my creative ambition and within a year I was exhibiting a selection of my best photo’s in the local library.
Two years passed, one national prize winning photo, and two further exhibitions later, I browsed the shelves of one of the many charity book stores that lay strewn like the illegitimate children of our town.
“Dying Tonight is a real Paige turner.” Read the reviews of Daniel’s latest novel. It wasn’t a huge departure from his previous genre of writing: he had shifted from the writer of gory slasher novels to the, slightly more subdued, who-dunnits. I’d not seen him in a number of years and had totally lost track of his exploits after the writing classes.
“Dying Tonight” was an intriguing title. I read the synopsis and checked the author photo on the back, and taking the book home I vigorously devoured every page of it. Daniel had taken yet another overtly clichéd genre and breathed fresh life into it.
The story was written from the point of view of a would be murderer who had planned the death of his boss. When the time comes for him to actually commit his crime he is horrified to discover that someone has actually beaten him to it. The man is already dead, murdered in exactly the same way he had planned, but with all the evidence pointing to him. He has to find out exactly who framed him before he, himself, is arrested.
It’s a masterpiece of storytelling where the readers loyalties are confused between being on the side of the would be murderer, knowing him for what he is, and the actual murderer.
I was actually disappointed upon finishing the novel so quickly –I wanted more. Gone were all the traits that bored me so much with his slasher novels, instead there was depth of maturity and an understanding of human nature that was non-existent with Daniels earlier works.
On the biography on the back cover was an email address to contact Daniel: firstname.lastname@example.org. This was an ironic homage to his writing roots. In fact, the subject matter hadn’t really changed, it was still death and murder, just the emphasis and perspective had shifted.
I had to email him, if only to congratulate him on a masterful piece of storytelling. It would be doubtful that he’d remember me after such a time though. I was careful to keep my email short and succinct and didn’t want to appear overly gushing. I knew he had an irreverent sense of humour, like mine, and did my best to play to that. I began the email: “Dear Boss.”
To my surprise he replied the very next day. There was the same warmth and humour that I remembered, but the email seemed hesitant as if he was expecting me to ask something of him. The tone was one of trepidation, the humour measured.
He asked after me, enquired after my writing and wanted to know whether I had published any more novels. I was pleased he had remembered me and I fought the urge to reply straight away. I didn’t want to appear too eager. If he did have apprehensions about talking to me then I didn’t want to fuel them by incessant emails.
I replied two days later and dropped the formalities completely and began with “Yo!” –he always liked colloquialisms and I thought that would make him chuckle.
I replied two days later and dropped the formalities completely and began with “Yo!” –he always liked colloquialisms and I thought that would make him chuckle.
I told him of my photography and even attached a couple of my favourite photo’s. I asked him when his next novel was going to be published and wished him well. I didn’t hear from him for a couple of weeks and wondered if I had pushed too far this time with over familiarity. Then one morning I received a black envelope with my name and address written in silver ink. Inside was a very smart and ominous invitation to the book launch of Daniel Paige’s latest novel “Dying To Meet You”. The invite was for a couple of weeks time and included in the envelope was a map with directions to the venue and a small written note: “Yo! Apols for the short notice but would love it if you could come. All the best, Daniel!”
I was awestruck and dumbfounded –this was amazing! I had been invited to an official book launch in Horsely, on the top floor of one of the local bookshops (which actually featured in the novel). I felt honoured to be invited and immediately fired off an email of thanks.
The two weeks trudged passed but I used the time to read up on Daniels recent past. “Dying Tonight” was actually his first foray into the who-dunnit sub-genre. The sales of his slasher novels had gradually declined and for two years he hadn’t written anything. Then, out of the blue, and with little publicity, “Dying Tonight” was released. It spread virally through word of mouth and the internet. Daniel was one of the first authors to really understand the power of the net. Within weeks it became a hit and Daniel became a guest on radio stations and chat shows alike, but now all eyes were on his latest novel “Dying To Meet You.”
On the night of the book launch I was apprehensive and nervous. The invite was for a “plus one” as well, but I had only recently moved jobs and didn’t know anyone well enough to invite, so I went alone.
It had occurred to me that Daniel had always been a successful novelist and actually world famous, but to me he had been a somewhat quirky and cool writing teacher, someone I could have a real laugh with. I was now seeing him in a completely different context now and I was more than a little star-struck. I now wonder that if I had kept my feet on the ground whether some of the unpleasantness that came later could have been avoided.
I’d arrived far too early for the launch and wondered around an icy and foggy Horsely, but became very cold very quickly and resided to wait inside the bookshop itself. There was only twenty minutes to go and I like hanging round in bookshops anyway.
I was so engrossed in perusing the latest novels by Jim Storrington that I wasn’t aware he was standing behind me until Daniel clasped me firmly on the shoulder. My “Whatthefuck” outburst amused him greatly and he said, “Its funny, that’s what people used to say to me after they finished one of my slasher novels!” I turned round and shook his outstretched hand. His grip was firm and confident, mine was clammy and limp. He looked no different to the last time I saw him except his hair was slightly longer and more curly, but he no longer wore glasses.
“Contact lenses.” He replied to my unspoken question. “They make me look more approachable, doncha think?” He smiled and winked. I laughed rather timidly. I was starting to feel like a goldfish in a shark tank, a child amongst adults. “Have you ever thought of wearing contacts?” He asked.
“No.” I replied quickly. “Well… yes, I’ve tried.. but I didn’t like the thought of having anything touch my eyes… It’s icky.” Icky? I said Icky? I felt like a schoolboy talking to the headmaster.
“Indeed.” He replied, smiling. “How are you getting on?” He asked, genuinely interested in what I had to say. I felt like a fraud talking to him. I could see people gathering behind him and he was wasting his time talking to me. I quickly gabbled something about the exhibition I was preparing for and he seemed really pleased by this and congratulated me on the photos I had sent him. He noticed the beads of nervous sweat that had started to coalesce on my forehead and clapped me on the shoulder before saying, “I’m really glad you could make it. We’ll have to catch up soon. I may even have a commission for you.” I didn’t know what to say about that so I gushed a bit more. He seemed disappointed and simply wished me well.
I couldn’t understand what was wrong with me; I had never acted that way before. Now that he was a celebratory I felt in awe of him and somehow second rate yet he was no different from when we first met those years before, and nor was I.
He was a literary star, on his second wind and had even worked in Hollywood producing films for Robert De Niro and James Woods.
I was… well, what was I? - An aspiring photographer and a failed novelist. (Although I hadn’t failed exactly, I never believed in what I was doing so never followed through on the opportunities that were handed to me). I couldn’t understand why he’d invited me to the book launch and gone out of his way to meet and greet me. Surely I was an embarrassment to him, and I felt embarrassed for him.
Looking back on it now, as I write this, I might have offered him an alternative to the other star-struck fawning fans that dogged his career. I was a link to a time before he was famous and was able to see Daniel as he really was, or at least a truer reflection of the darkened mirror he allowed the public to see. So when I didn’t offer that to him he was a disappointed. He didn’t need another gushing fan, he needed a friend. It’s taken me a long time to realise that, I’m sorry to say.
I tried my best to enjoy myself for the rest of the evening. I talked to many different people, having a unique perspective on Daniel, being a pupil to his teacher, but I was still haunted by his disappointed farewell and went home early.
The next day I sent him an email thanking him for the invite. I bought a copy of the hardback novel, of course, and he wrote an inscription inside: “To my star pupil!” I still have the book, and all those that he signed for me. The email was short on length and gushing, trying to keep it to the point. I said that I enjoyed the evening, which was the truth and that I was enjoying “Dying To Meet You” which was a half-truth.
The novel had started well: Daniel always knew how to hook the reader and the central premise was strong, but I had guessed who the killer was within the first fifty pages. I didn’t receive a reply from Daniel for weeks afterwards, and nor did I expect one. When one did arrive in my inbox he asked me whether I would like to take his photo for the next novel.
I couldn’t believe what I had just read and had to reread it twice before the truth sank in. He liked my photography so much, especially the portraits I had sent him, that he’d persuaded his publishers to use me for the next photo-shoot. He apologised in advance by saying that it wasn’t company policy for the publishers to pay for the photograph, but he hoped he could make amends by buying me lunch. He asked me to think about it, and hoped to hear back from me.
Think about it? I didn’t need to think about it, this was a chance in a lifetime! I whizzed off a reply, thanking him for the opportunity. I then browsed the web for other author portraits, paying attention to poses and settings. I knew that Daniel based his stories around the local towns and knew that the last novel was based around Horsely so I thought it would be a good idea to build on that. I loved driving around anyway scouting for locations so knew a few good places to take his photo. I sent the list to Daniel and was surprised to find he replied instantly. The email had just three words: “Leaf Hill. Fab.”
Leaf Hill had been my initial choice, call it a gut feeling. There were so many opportunities for moody shots: the dense woods leading up to the top of the hill; the wonderful view from the top itself, which, being the highest vantage points on the North Downs, boasted stunning panoramic vistas. And then there was the Tower.
The Tower was an imposing folly built by “Mad James Fillier” on a whim. No one really knew much about it, but it made a perfect backdrop with the Weald behind it. The next day he emailed me with the list of dates he was free and I picked the soonest date which was less than a week away. It would mean taking a days holiday but it was more than worth it, as there would be less people walking.
Of course, the weekend before the shoot I scouted around for possible locations and felt safe in the knowledge that I had made the right decision: there were so many wonderful spots there that I knew we would be spoilt for choice.
The morning of the shoot I met Daniel in the car park. Me, standing in front of my fading Micra as Daniel pulled in with his Aston Martin.
“A little clichéd.” He said upon greeting me, “but Bond was one of the main reasons I became a writer in the first place.” He shook my hand firmly again. I smiled and looked at my watch. I knew that the best light would be at mid-day, but that still gave us plenty of time to take photo’s on the way up the hill. The wood would give us plenty of opportunities.
I was pleased to see that Daniel was wearing his brown leather jacket as I’d asked him. He also had on a dark navy jumper and black trousers. I wanted a look that suggested a gritty and earthy presence whilst remaining contemporary. He understood me perfectly and the brown leather jacket was the piece-de-resistance. He also had a pair of shades which added a menacing quality.
We walked up the hill making small talk, my words stumbling out like an amateur. I’d known him for years, but all that time it had been as a pupil to his teacher. Now I was the one that was telling him what to do and how to pose, I felt very uneasy. I know that he wanted to see me as an equal but I was so insecure I never gave him that opportunity.
The photo’s that I took that day count as some of my best work. The publishers used one of the photos taken in the woods as there was a sinister undertone to them. As much as I liked those that were taken atop the hill itself they seemed too exposed, and didn’t suit the subject matter: Daniel was swamped by the beautiful view. Had the photo been taken on a foggy morning then it may have been different. (I silently cursed myself about not thinking about that earlier – a foggy morning would have been even better for such a shoot)
The day had been useful, but strained. Daniel had bought ice-creams at the top of the hill and asked a passer-by to take a photo of us both. He grinned inanely in the photo and attempted to stab me with his cornetto whilst I guiltily nibbled my Fab-lolly. His smile was genuine enough, but there was also an element of frustration. He saw that day as a complete break from his crushing routine, a chance to chat with a friend and be himself, but it turned into yet another shade of work.
Of course I was overjoyed when I received the email from the publisher thanking me for the photo. It would be used as the promotional image from the next novel onwards. This was, by far, the highest point of my photography. In many ways I should have capitalised on it and sent off emails to other publishers asking for more opportunities, but I didn’t. I’m not sure whether it was due to a fear of failure or of actually succeeding.
A bottle of champagne was sent by courier from Daniel with a hearty letter of thanks. The bottle sits unopened in the kitchen as a reminder of happier times. When the inevitable launch came I eagerly received my invite and took relish in inviting my, then girlfriend, Claire to the occasion.
“Dying Solo” was written purely from the victims point of view as he pieces together the murder scene –in a similar style to Sunset Boulevard. The novel featured the same Paige turning attention to detail, especially when detailing the murders, told now from a unique perspective –that of the dead man, himself. Daniel must have enjoyed flexing his creative muscles on that one. The attacks were all visceral and I wondered how he’d managed to write them, considering one of his maxims was “write what you know.”.
There were far more people at this launch as Daniel was no longer the “rising literary star”. His last novel had cemented his reputation as one of the countries leading crime writers. The launch was held at one of the larger Horsely hotels, out in the country, and had actually featured in a previous slasher novel of his: “The Butler Did It” about a series of brutal murders that took place in a training school for butlers.
Claire was awed by the occasion, but I was daunted by the size. The venue was twice the size of the previous launch and I really wondered what I was doing there. I used Claire as a shield so I didn’t feel quite so insignificant and kept me sane for the night.
I had a hard time spotting Daniel as he crowd surfed, something that he actually felt uncomfortable doing. He was whirled around by his agent and publisher, meeting and greeting. No one else would spot the signs of his discomfort, but I recognised it from some of the photos I had taken of him. I resided to keep my distance until the book signings where I hoped he would allow me to take a photo of him with Claire.
When the time finally came he seemed really pleased to see me and was only too happy to pose with Claire. Unfortunately none of the photos from that night came out well, all were way too dark and under-exposed due to me getting to grips with a new camera. (Something I bitterly regret now as those would have been the only photo’s of Claire as the relationship only lasted another two weeks.) When Daniel signed the novel he wrote “To the world’s greatest portrait photographer” and we shared a conspiratorial wink. My photograph was THE publicity photo for a couple of years afterwards.
Over the next two years we both kept in touch via email. I went to the annual book launch with a different girl each year, Daniel rarely batted an eye during the launch but remarked about the change of scenery in one of this emails. I replied simply saying that it wasn’t a matter of choice for me, it just seemed that most of my life was down to a poor choice of back projection.
With “Dying Is Easy” our relationship changed. On one of our many email conversations I asked him how his latest novel was shaping up. Not too well was the three word answer. When pushed he replied that one of his characters was physically disabled and an artist –he was also under suspicion of being the killer. Daniel wanted to really get into the mind of the character but didn’t know how to do it, he was really stuck. As luck would have it, I had a close friend who was disabled and, bizarrely enough, also an artist. I was sure that if John was agreeable, Daniel could interview him and possibly even base the character on him. Daniel was over the moon with this, but it turned out to be one of the worst mistakes I ever made, losing two friends in the process.
Daniel met with John on several occasions, both heartily enjoying each others company. John and I felt sure that Daniel would show the physically disabled character in a true and sympathetic light. At the end John thanked Daniel for the wonderful opportunity but Daniel stayed strangely quiet.
On the night of the book launch I proudly wheeled John into the Waterside Bar in Festerham, a new hip and trendy location for such a literary superstar. We both bought copies of the novel and were surprised to find them pre-signed. However we were both mentioned in the credits at the end of the book. We smiled at each other, proud of our achievements. I was surprised to find that it was no longer my photo adorning the inside flap of the hardback –I had been usurped. I had always known such a time would come, but it still came as a shock.
We left early having missed the opportunity of meeting Daniel. I was disappointed, but John felt bitter. It had been unbelievably hot and cramped for him and we had to leave just after the speeches because of John’s medication.
Three days later I received a text from John that simply said “Bastard!” I had no idea what prompted that and John wouldn’t reply to any of my texts or phone calls.
When I finished reading “Dying Is Easy” I understood why.
Daniel had made the character that was wheelchair bound, the same character that both John and I had worked so hard on, into both the victim AND the killer. The character was dying from AID’s and sought to kill all those that had crossed him in his life.
I felt completely betrayed by this and knew that John would never forgive me. I finished the novel through gritted teeth and then threw it across the room. I couldn’t believe what I had just read. None of it made sense; Daniel had disregarded everything that John had said to him and played to the negative stereotypes.
In a fit of anger I sent Daniel an email and accused him of betrayal and of being nothing more than a hack, and in the circumstances he responded well. He couldn’t understand my concerns. Rather than being a victim, Daniel saw the character as taking complete control of his life, acting as the worm that turned, and thought of him as a positive role. He was sorry that I didn’t like the book, but said that it was only my opinion: other people liked the character and saw him as strong and independent. I was incredulous about this and sent him a particularly nasty reply. I never received an answer back.
Do I regret my hastily chosen words? Yes –yes I do. But I regret more suggesting that John be used as a research subject. I still consider what Daniel did a betrayal and I lost a damn good friend because of it, and that I don’t forgive.
Three months passed and I tried putting the whole incident behind me. I had hoped that John would get back in contact with me and be able to see that I had been used as much as he had, but that never happened. I received an untitled email from Daniel one day, completely out of the blue. There was no apology for what had happened and what he did, but there was an attempt at putting the past behind us. He wrote that he truly valued our friendship and didn’t want it to die like that. Nor did I.
I couldn’t truly forgive him but nor did I want to lose another friend. I replied and said that I was happy to start afresh now that this meant a level playing field between us. He replied instantly, via his Blackberry, and seemed really pleased. He was proud to be my friend and wished me well in what I was doing. That was the last time I ever heard from him.
I read on the BBC website that he died three months later from a cancer condition. I was shocked by this.
He had been dying for months but the cancer was inoperable. He must have been dying when he wrote “Dying Is Easy” and I wonder how much of the main characters bitterness was an extension of his own. He felt crippled by the pain and just wanted to lash out. I know now that he never meant for us to be caught in the crossfire.
It came to light that all the characters that were killed in the novel were all based on people that Daniel had known in his life. It was his way of getting back at the people that had crossed him, and speculation was rife as to who all the people were.
How do I feel about Daniel Paige now? I feel sad, I think, sad about missed opportunities. He was a great man, but most of the best bits were kept hidden behind his writers eyes.
I wish that I’d been more open to him. I let my own insecurity blind me to a great friendship. But I learnt a lot from him. He was a brilliant writer who sometimes gave into the pressures of popularity and convention. And even though I’m not as young any more, I’m writing now because of the big impression that he made on me.
Sunday, 24 July 2016
Shed (noun): a simple roofed structure used for garden storage, to shelter animals or as a workshop.
Yet words do not give meaning to objects -we impart that ourselves. Define “dog” and you'll understand what I mean. The definition almost obscures the object itself. A much beloved pet and Dorothy's companion on the road to Oz both equal the same three letters; but one could easily be a Dachshund and the other one Toto. The same applies with shed's.
Shed as Rorschach inkblot: Some might only see a chaotic mess and wonder the origin of all the mis-matched jam jars and tins Others would perceive the answers to a generation of questions; an intricate tapestry that it would take a lifetime to unwind; a tool for every purpose, however obscure.
Gramps' shed -and this is where the memories merge, and for this I'll let them. For the purpose, this is a homage, a collective to all the many shed's I've known and a mourning. One handed down as hereditary rite of passage.
Tools can be bought, true, but like Excalibur the best are handed down through generations. Experiences as children mark the tools, sweat soaks into the handle imbibing them with life-force until the day comes that they finally are handed down. But no ceremony is needed, all the actions within the shed are sacred enough, the work worthy of Hephaestus himself.
So the shed becomes a church, a sacred space -one of the few bastions of masculinity, linked to ancient rites; every act a ritual. Leave the political correctness at the door, alongside your ego, and allow men to be men. This is not about emancipation or subjection, here women are as equals -as much as they would wish to be, but they will never be one with the tools, unless they have been bequeathed.
My mother, in Gramps later years, spent as much time in the shed as he and now it has passed on to her. She has been accepted; but had it not been done gradual and properly then it is quite possible that harm could have been done to either. The tools could easily have been blunted or broken, or turned against their masters. Just as swords owe allegiances to their samurai masters, so do all other hand-crafted tools.
There's a certain, hard to define smell that all sheds have, despite all of them being completely different, that reflect back the personality of the owner.
I find smells elusive. I tried to describe the smell of the shed earlier and it slipped away, like sawdust on a workbench. There are the obvious ingredients: the paint, ethanol, turpentine, creosote; intoxicating, burning scents that are kept far up the other end of the shed; the dust and wood scrapings permeate the air, thick with memories of their own (dreaming, perhaps, of when they were trees in themselves?); sweat and testosterone, a marking of territory alongside the blushing rememberants of the inevitable farts that coalesce into eddies and pockets.
There are places where accidents occurred, blood spilt like milk -not cried over, but cursed. There, by that patch on the workbench, where the screwdriver slipped whilst opening a can of paint. Not all wounds are masculine and to be boasted about; there are the majority which are mishaps and careless mistakes.
“Never read the instructions if 'common sense' will do.”
The shed as Top Trumps:
Size: 17 x 12 x 11ft
No of Screwdrivers: 52
Largest Saw: 4ft
Extras: Working Lathe
(Commons sense, by the way, is a fallacy. You and I are two completely different people. We couldn't be more dissimilar if we tried, so where does this fabled commonality lie? In the shed, of course!)
An unwritten law between men; better than a confessional booth, for what is spoken about in the shed stays in the shed. Anyone can step into the shed as a visitor, but to be invited in.. nay, invited in to cross the threshold as an equal is an honour and something that is never to be taken for granted. This is to gaze at the innermost cave of a man's soul.
Inside my Uncle's shed; which was one of many, I might add... The shed was alike a Yew tree, able to create a tap root and grow new versions of itself... inside my Uncle's shed were two items that fascinated me. One was a cigarette lighter and the other an ashtray, both of which were made of artillery shells. I never found out who had made them or why.
The shed as fractal: The shed is a whole, but open a cupboard and there are drawers, inside the drawers are tins, inside the tins are packets, and inside the packets are screws, pins, tacks and nuts. Other drawers have sandpaper -whole and virginal, untouched since the factory. Some are folded and barely used whilst others are torn into quarters and scuffed; further more are torn into smaller and smaller pieces, worn and streaked and well used.
A place for everything, and everything has its place – the motto for every shed.
The shed as 'secret' hiding place: “Oh, he goes into his shed to have his sneaky fag, but I know what he's doing!”
Ode to a Shed by Tim Draper
This is where I come to hide,
It might not look like much, I may confide..
..but it's mine.
My Granddad’s third shed was a concession. He gave up an allotment and a whole family of sheds when my Nan made him move to Bognor to be closer to the right side of the family (though I sometimes wonder whether he would've preferred to have left them behind.)
It was small in size -having just enough room to hold a child's bicycle, but it was built like a TARDIS, and he knew where everything was. It drove my Nan crazy and she often swore that he'd arranged things so they fell on her whenever she crossed the threshold. I dare-say he did, but she could never see the genius logic to it. It looked a mess to her.
To be fair, it did to me when I first saw it... but when I got to know Granddad the more I understood the shed's layout. It got to the stage, in the month's before he died, that I knew precisely where everything was stored.
Shed's as archeology: you can date a shed by the tins and bottles that are used to house the nails and screws. Granddad smoked roll-ups so there were an abundance of Golden Virginia tins around. He used to wind Nan up when he said that the chalk for the Shove-halfpenny game was in the Golden Virginia tin. Course, I knew which one it was in, but never told until I received the knowing wink.
Some sheds even have theme tunes. Granddad also had an old beaten up tape-player with the songs of Paul Robeson and Wand'rin' Star (with Lee Marvin handling 'vocals') from Paint Your Wagon on it. It was the only tape he owned and he played it every time he was in the shed. It wasn't just that he loved those songs, but they were the only ones he could sing along to.
My dad had a record player in his shed... one of his sheds anyway. He had four sheds in the end, this one became his den. He had a kettle, a makeshift bookshelf and a recliner, built in the corner, and by the door an old reproduction gramophone.
He had an odd assortment of records: Western movie themes and cowboy songs (a genre of songs that has been lost now to the maudlin's of Country & Western); an Elvis boxed set of ten LP's; several Beatles albums (well played with yellowing sticky tape acting as makeshift field dressings); a couple of Lonnie Donnegan EP's and an oddity that one no longer see's any more -the Cover's album. (These were albums comprised solely by session musicians who covered all the hits of the day “at a fraction of the price”. In all cases the songs really were exceptional and it was almost impossible to tell that they weren't the originals. I suppose that, in this day of the X-Factor and The Voice, the concept has come back into vogue.. but without the musicianship and talent.)
The shed as psycho-analytical tool: There's a rumour that a chemist's dispensaries reflect their attitude to mortality – it all depends on how close the poisons are to the individual. So this is reflected in the layout of the shed. Gramps was very secretive and kept the layout locked away to himself and a chosen few.
Others are far more methodical. Screwdrivers go there (Flat heads to the left, Phillips to the right); hammers over there... This drawer has plastic gloves, face masks and first aid kit....
Others are far more methodical. Screwdrivers go there (Flat heads to the left, Phillips to the right); hammers over there... This drawer has plastic gloves, face masks and first aid kit....
Other people have no sense to anything. Accident prone and constantly losing things -the shed imitating life.
The sheds of today smell wrong. They smell of the factory; mass produced and no personality. In the land of gender equality it's no longer a safe haven. Tools are massed produced to be labour saving and shiny, with LED lights and it's not long before they come in matching pink.
There is an uprising taking place though. The Auto-jumble and traction engine ralleys... tools; HUGE tools, oily, dirty, drenched in history, masculine tools with a story to tell that captivate those around them; fresh from the hell-forges of Nidavellir; forged for men only.
Woman's place is everywhere and anywhere and it's right that there should be no limit to what they can do and where they can go.
But man MUST have his shed. Inviolate, his womb, his tomb where he can be at rest. HIS
I don't have a shed.