How to Crow Well

Who am I to tell a crow how to be? A crow well knows his own mind and heart. He knows of the sky, the earth and the treachery of man. He can read it loud in their minds as they strut here and thither with their too-fat-to-fly bodies perched on hind limbs like the trunks of baby trees. He knows their treason too well. For they were once almost, but not quite, friends.

It all happened long ago, when air was water and water was not yet gathered into the seas. The crow had not taken to the sky, for the sky was not real yet, and besides that, the crows had no wings. Man was there. Man lived with crow on the ground, and sometimes they went out drinking together to the the local watering-hole. Which is to say that they sipped from the opposite sides of muddy puddles and croaked and called to each other across the way.

Worms and water were their fare for they were no quicker than your average rock when it came to catching the faster things of the land – mainly toads and proto-sharks the size of hamburgers that, for all their diminutive stature, were as quick as popcorn flying into your eye. Man, back then, wasn’t much much bigger than a small toad. He’d only just crawled out of the proto-sea (more like a salty lake behind the back a pile of hot rocks) and was not even up on his hind legs yet, much less swinging in the trees that didn’t even exist, it being too hot for that sort of exertion anyway.

One day, a crow and a man were sitting by a muddy puddle looking at their respective bellies, which were as full of dirty water as they could get them. The man was thinking of whether it was too soon to invent marmite flavoured crisps yet and the crow was thinking, typically, of clear blue sky, which was, for similar reasons, as strange as the man’s thoughts of crisps.

They both felt the tremor at the same time. They both jumped to the same height (about an inch and a half) simultaneously and then pretended, with almost identical expressions on their faces (the kind of affronted look that tomatoes get when they’re told that they’re not fruit) that they’d meant to jump in the air anyway.

When the ball of fiery rock shot from the top of the mountain that, a moment before, had been nonchalantly pretending that it wasn’t holding in the most enormous fart, they both followed its trajectory with their eyes. It wasn’t quite like watching tennis, but more like watching the sky anxiously on hearing someone shout ‘fore! Fore goddamn it! Move your blooming arse you fool!’ in their direction, And if that’s not plain enough for you, then let’s try this: the ball of flaming rock was heading directly towards the puddle beside which the crow and the man were sitting. And it was much bigger than the puddle. And the man and crow were sitting very close to the edge of the puddle. Now do you get the message?

Well, the man looked across at the crow, and the crow looked across at the man, and they could both see that they both had the same thought, and it was along the lines of ‘oh well’. But then something extraordinary happened. Something that hadn’t ever happened before. Something that would hardly ever happen today but it was a significant something nonetheless. The man leapt up, bounded across the puddle and, with all his muscles straining out like never before, swept the crow up and carried him, with inexorable momentum, out of the path of the flaming rock, which slammed into the ground just a few worm lengths (about eight inches) behind them.

Now, after all that, I bet you’re wondering now why the crow doesn’t trust the man, right? I mean, after all, he selflessly saved his ass in olden days and for that you’d think he’d be a tad grateful, yes? Well it would have been like that but for what happened next.

The crow, then as now, saw man’s mind. He saw the man think of the heat of the rock and he saw him think of the plumpness of the crow’s flesh in his arms. He saw the man lick his lips without being aware that he had done so, but he also saw the recipe for Kentucky Fried Crow appear spontaneously in the man’s mind. And the crow was, understandably, pretty piqued about it.

Well, the crow let out one big KAAAW! and he wrenched himself away from the man. And that was that.

Never again would they sit companionably around the same watering hole. Man realised that he could be quick when he wanted to be and got big from eating proto-sharks, eventually driving them back into the sea. Crow put all his efforts into growing wings and when he’d finished that he took to living in the tops of eerie looking trees and pooping on man’s head whenever he could. And when crow didn’t have any poop in him, he persuaded pigeons to do it instead.

But a part of them never forgot those simpler days when they just squatted and drank water together. When they come into contact now it’s mainly on football pitches after the players have gone home and man fancies a sit down and a snack. Man has finally invented marmite flavoured crisps and he sometime puts one on the palm of his hand and stretches it out to the crow in a tempting fashion. But crow never comes, no matter how hard man tries to mask his treachery with thoughts of the pure, blue skies that crow finally got. He knows man too well from olden times. Which is a bit of shame really, because a good many men today are vegans and would no more eat a crow than make snooker balls from left over feathers.

So that’s that. Now to know how to crow well. Just keep away from man.

Have a nice day.

Before Ramps

Wheelchairs-Schmeelchairs. Great for downhill-racing but when the only loo in the, otherwise cute, village that I was pootling around was in McBurgerland and the only way to get inside was up a flight of frickin’ stairs that might as well have been the long route up Mount Everest as far as I was concerned, they’re not so hot.

But I’m not bitter. Maybe a little tarnished around the edges, but not at all bitter.

We’ve all got stories of how we went from mighty to fallen. Some are just little footnotes about pride coming before a fall. Others are short stories that tell of the transition from young and pretty into someone who’s older and wiser with love-handles. But the epic novels are about teen bombshells like me, striding leggily through town checking the faces of people passing me by to make sure that those fools see me and then turning my nose up at those losers because tall and athletic is just too good for those common folk … and then tripping and falling under a bus.

It was just a small bus. One of those that carry handicapped kids out for the day. Oh, the irony, right? And it it was just a small imperfection in the paving stone alignment; less than a centimetre. But that slight flaw was enough to pitch me headlong into the road underneath a bus that was just heavy enough to crush both my legs beyond saving. Yeah, I know – tragic, right?

They took me to hospital, took off what was left of my legs and gave me a wheelchair as a consolation prize. Congratulations, Charlie – you have come second for the rest of your life and here is your reward.

So, in the absence of my burgeoning career as a hot model, I moved to the other end of the lens and took up photography. I got myself a great camera and toured around places like this pretty village looking for images take and sell on the internet. It doesn’t pay that much, but I’ve got a good eye for it and, with the royalties, I do alright.

It’d been a productive day – I’d gotten a few dozen digital shots of various cute critters, decorative detail and random other stuff, but by the time I got to the spot on the map where it said Toilets I was absolutely bursting for a pee.

When, in the entrance, I found steps, I couldn’t climb them so I photographed them instead and envisaged a place at the top that could take me somewhere else. Like, a nice clean stall with a lockable door and a rail I could grab to hoist myself onto the sanitised seat.

Then I tucked my camera away in the padded, watertight compartment in my bag, adjusted my shades to hide my shame and peed myself.

The Kids was Bored

The kids was bored and so, to sharpen them up, we telled them that the world was going to end in 10 minutes – boom – just like that. And they said ‘well, what’s that got to do with us?’ and we said that when the world ends then we all end and that means you and me and they said ‘does that mean that we will be dead?’ and we said ‘yes’.

Course we was not really sure if they knew what dead meant, what with them only being eight and all that, but they seemed to take it seriously enough. Their little foreheads creased up and their eyes went kinda far away as if they was thinking and then they said ‘so that means that we don’t get to have lunch’ and we thought to ourselves that this was typical of what kids was like – always thinking about their bellies or whatever was about them, them, them. Selfish little buggers. So we said ‘yeah, no lunch’ and then, just for wickedness, we said ‘and then straight to bed.

Course this was a really stupid thing to say because if the world was going to end and all of that then there wasn’t going to be no bed time as such except to say that it’d be bed time for all of us if you know what I mean. The big sleep and all of that.

Luckily they didn’t twig on. So, with only three minutes left to the world we thought that perhaps it’d be alright because the kids didn’t say much after that They just sat, picking their noses and watching the clock as it ticked towards one, which is when ten minutes was going to be up. Cunning buggers. Cunning and cute and all sorts of stuff like that. When it pinged one they just jumped up and said ‘yaaaaa, world didn’t end; another game!’ and so we had to think of another one.

Still, they wasn’t bored no more so I guess that’s one upside to the world ending.

No, Goodbye. Really.

It’s the deaf folk that are the worst. They either can’t, or won’t hear anything you say. The most you’ll get out of them if you try talking is …

‘Eh?’

‘I said I have to be going, Granddad. I have a plane to catch.’

‘Ha ha ha. You’re funny. You really are, Harold.’ He flung his head so far back when he laughed that I literally thought his neck’d snap and his head would go rolling across the TV lounge of Rosedale Mount (warm and welcoming home, with luxurious social spaces). Luckily, it didn’t.

‘Hamish,’ I quietly corrected. Harold was my Dad. Easy mistake. We looked like each other if you squinted.

Granddad’s teeth fell out when he laughed. I don’t mean all the way out. Just to the bottom of his mouth. But it looked weird, like one of those people with really long gums that you see on TV just before thinking ‘how do they ever want to smile that much?!’

I had no idea why he was laughing but I didn’t have to because I knew him; and I really did have to go. The plane wasn’t going to be leaving for another three hours and I was only thirty minutes away from airport, but you know what they’re like at the check-in desk. It’s, like, you can literally see the plane on the other side of the window with the steps attached and you can see people walking up the steps, but they’re all, like ‘yeah, Mr Jenkins, you’re too late. You’ll have to catch the next flight.’ Useless to argue. Especially if you’re built like a brick shithouse like what I am. If I so much as sneeze too loud their eyes snap open and you can just tell they’re seriously thinking about reaching for that button to call security.

‘You’d want to go too if you were here.’ He said once he’d finished laughing and his face had fallen back into morose.

For once I knew what he meant. Care homes aren’t bad these days if you still have something about you. But Granddad had lost it. All of it. He couldn’t walk and his marbles were all over the place. I’d just sat for two hours and listened to him repeat his usual stories and I was amazed at how much he remembered. But, frick it was scattered. Listening to him was like finding a toe growing out of your armpit. Bits of him were in Shropshire, where he grew up; pieces on Moonbase Alpha, which was his favourite show on the box; then parts of him in the Yorkshire Dales where he did his labouring; but most of him was in the twilight zone, where he lived now. His mind was proper shot.

I got up and looked around to see if one of the attendants was hovering and could distract Granddad for a bit while I slipped away. Yeah, I know; cruel. But I’d been here before. Every Sunday in fact. This could turn into the longest goodbye ever if I didn’t get a grip. But instead, surprisingly, it was him that gripped me with a claw-like hand that didn’t look like it should have been capable.

He used to be a real hard-man. I’d inherited all his size, but none of the fury he used to have. The fury he turned on my gran when he’d had a drink. Yeah, I know; that old stereotype. But it happens. And when it does, it’s always the kids that suffer too. And that meant my dad. And guess what Dad was like? Yeah, same. I’d tried to forgive him. Tried to forgive them all, but it wasn’t easy when none of them ever showed any sign of regretting the beatings that we all had to hide. Cause you never told anyone. That was the first and last rule. But then, when Gran had died, it all suddenly changed. Granddad slipped away inside himself and never came back out; so that was that.

‘Listen, Harold.’

‘Hamish.’

‘Harold, Hamish, he shook his head, ‘who give a shit? Just listen.’ His eyes were sharp for once and all his attention was on my face. He pulled me towards him, so close I could smell lunch. ‘Listen,’ he insisted quietly.

This was it, I thought. He was going to apologise for all the shit he’d brought down on the family. He was finally going to come clean and admit it all. I held my breath.

‘My dad was hard to be around.’

I waited.

He nodded, searching my face for a sign that I’d understood. But I didn’t. Not then. It wasn’t until I got back home a week later and saw that family photo on the wall – four generations of Jenkins, with me nothing more than a grinning toddler – that I got it. But by then the phone had rang and the news had come and, just like that, it was too late.

The Ghost Train (re-written)

Scene:

Cornish Railway Station waiting room at night.

People:

  • Richard and Elsie Winthrop – married couple
  • Two newlyweds – Charles and wife, Polly
  • Teetotal spinster lady with a caged parrot
  • The Stationmaster
  • Teddy Deakin – the guy who pulled the cord to stop the train (lost his hat).

Scene One

Parrot: Pretty polly.

Polly: (blushes) Charles, dear – could you perchance quieten that parrot?

Charles: My dear, you are a radiant light on an otherwise dull stage – any parrot would be foolish not to have a crush on you. I certainly have. Since the day we met I’ve been looking forward to this evening when we can finally …

Richard: There’ll be no ‘finally’ for you two tonight, unless you want to pop out back and …

Elsie: That. Just that is exactly why I don’t want to be with you, Richard. You are a boor and and bore and now – you’re a boar too.

Teddy: I think she means ‘pig’.

All: Shut up!

Teddy: Listen, it was an expensive hat! I just had to pull the cord!!

All: Shut up you idiot!

Stationmaster: Look, it’d be best if you didn’t stay here. How about you all walk up the lane a little ways. There’s a fine establishment where you can spend the night. It’s not more than five miles away!

Teddy: Five miles! I’m not walking five miles without a hat!!

Stationmaster: There’s things afoot tonight that you’d be better off not to see.

Richard: How dare you talk about my wife like that. She may have a vicious tongue in her head but she’s not as ugly as …

(A bang offstage and everyone jumps)

Polly: (grabs Charles around neck) What was that?!

Charles: (turns red as windpipe is steadily crushed) Gggghh.

Parrot: Pretty polly.

All: Shh.

Stationmaster: Be quiet. It’s come. Listen …

(there’s probably more, but who’d be interested)

Macbeth

Scene Setting

Lighting: dark and stormy – lightning flashes periodically to illuminate them – backlit otherwise – silhouettes

How & where: centre stage as curtain comes up – wind is blowing

What are they like: all angles and elongated limbs/fingers – grotesque faces that are twisted and unreal with teeth exposed and long hair (black or maybe pure white) – long, tattered clothes

Sound: howling wind – random scary background noises – lulls in sound when they start to speak


First Scene

(Clifton Backies on a rank night in September. Three alkies stand over a bush they’ve set on fire and added a car tyre to. Warming their hands and swigging on cans of Carlsberg (buy six get two free at the offie)

First Alkie: Bollocks to this, I’m off.

Second Alkie: What’s up, Fred – you too good for us?

Third Alkie: (echoes) Too good?

First Alkie: We’re out of booze, innit (gestures to enpty cans scattered around them). Besides, this smoke’s getting on mi lungs (coughs)

Third Alkie: Lungs (laughs)

Second Alkie: Same time again tomorrow?

Third Alkie: Tomorrow?

First Alkie: Yeah, same time, same place. I’m going to bring me mate.

Third Alkie: (rising voice ends with shouting) Mate, mate, mate!

First Alkie: Mi mate Macbeth. In from Glasgow tomorrow morning.

Second Alkie: He’s a right wanker he is. Let’s have some ‘fun’ with him. (cackles).

Third Alkie: (whispers maliciously) Fun.

First Alkie: (doubtfully) He’s up for the week so it’ll have to be …

Second Alkie: … quick and brutal.

Third Alkie: Stab ‘im.

Second Alkie: Tricks ‘im.

First Alkie: You horrible buggers. (grins) I’m in. Set it up. I’m off.

Seond Alkie: Me too.

Third Alkie: Too.

(All stumble off into the dark in various directions.)


You know how the rest goes, right?

Farewell Transmission

I guess this is the last thing you’ll hear from me tonight. Heck, it might be my very last transmission. Since the power went out it’s been hard to keep motivated. I don’t know if it’s just this side of town or the whole country that’s out, but it’s dark here. I just have the sun and the moon to work by and they’ll not last long. The sun’s setting and the moon looks like some crazy monster just took a bite out of it – half gone and half left for snacks for later.

I can hear sirens in the distance so I know that someone must be working on getting the power back up. Even as the rock cools and the roads give up the last of their heat they’ll be announcing their plans to get stuff up and working again in the mines and the factories and the city. They’ll be trying to get the heart of the economy beating again.

But if you ask me – we’re toast. I mean, don’t get me wrong – I’ll try. I don’t want to disappear into history and I’m sure you don’t want to either. I’ll fight alongside you to try to prevent that. But let’s be realistic – there’ll be blood and then there’ll be ashes and then I’ll be gone. Heck, I can already feel death breathing down my neck. But I’ll try. And if we all try then maybe we won’t be forgotten.

And that’s the thing about life – we’re all pretty sure that we’ve got a map to where we’re going, and we try to follow it, but in reality it’s like we’re crossing a desert. We’re walking across the sands, hoping to find some place that’s good, but the sands just go on forever. Perhaps that’s the thing – we’re just meant to try. Perhaps it’s the trying that’s good; not the place we’re trying to find. I’m just as lost as you. But I’ll try.

So yeah, the sun’s gone and the moon’s almost dead so here comes the night. I know you’re far away but I hope this message finds its way to you through the confusion. My life feels like mist but still – listen out for me. Listen in the darkness. Listen as I try to get through.

Real Love can Never be Exclusive

(Part two of a two parter. Part one can be found here.)

When I was a kid, my mum used to tell a story about me as a toddler. She said it like:

“We got you this toy spaceship when you were small. It was a little UFO shaped thing that ran along the ground on wheels. It had batteries that made it light up in colourful patterns and it made funny whirring noises and it would scoot around on the floor in random patterns. You were fascinated by it and would set it going again and again.

“This one time you went to the toilet to do potty and it was a smelly one and while you were in the toilet you had that spaceship running around while you watched it through the open doorway. And I was watching it too. And it was really comical because the spaceship would set off towards the toilet as if it was going inside, but just as it for to the doorway it would turn around and head away from the toilet as fast as its little wheels would carry it. And it did this over and over again. It was as if it wanted to be near you but it couldn’t stand the smell of the poo you were doing. And all I could do was laugh.”

We anthropomorphise things. We treat them as if they are alive and have feelings. We talk to them and imagine that they listen and have an emotional reaction to us. In short, we treat them like humans. And that’s what my mum was doing with this little toy spaceship.

If that toy really did have a mind then it would have been in love with me, but not in love with my poo. (Sorry about the smell, I’m almost done with this example now.) And, all due respect to that beloved toy, that’s not what true love is really about.

You can’t love something truly without loving everything about it. Similarly, for us to love a person whilst at the same time wishing for some part of them to change is not true love. And, let’s face it, there’s always going to be something about any one person that we dislike.

I have a friend here in York. He’s well-educated and can speak on any subject you choose like a pro. World events, the development of psychedelic pop, literature trends in Germany, business models of the eighteenth century, tablecloth manufacture in sub-saharan Africa – anything you can bring to mind. And he’s an interesting speaker too. He can hold you rapt as he shares his knowledge with his cultured yet slightly vulnerable manner. Plus, he’s got a huge heart too. He’s generous with everything he has. But here’s the thing – he’s a bit of a joker.

Try to say something to him and it’s guaranteed that he’ll turn it into a joke by putting on an accent or pulling a face or laughing it off with some ridiculous comment about something entirely unrelated to what you’re talking about.

And it annoys the socks off of me. It drives me potty. No matter how much I tell myself that it’s just his way and that his good points far outweigh his drawbacks I just can’t stop myself from getting upset. In short, I don’t love him truly.

Everything has qualities and attributes. A plant grows towards the sun, sucks up water, is plant-coloured (generally green, but not always) and has some way of making new plants. These are some of these attributes of a plant. A rock has a different set of attributes and an iPhone has still another array of qualities. And everything is the same; even God.

But here’s the thing about God: he only has good qualities and so there’s nothing to become annoyed about when you’re thinking of him. This means that you can have real love for him.

I don’t have any interesting personal anecdotes about God and so I’ll leave it there for now. But, yeah – you should love God if you’re looking for true love. Don’t bother with toy robots, plants, rocks, iPhones or charismatic speakers – just love God.

Oh, wait – there is one more thing: if you want to be loved, then become more like God. Meditate on his qualities. Remember him as much as you can. Be more like he is: peaceful, loving, joyful, truthful and pure.

Then you’ll see how fast that little robot toy’ll come rolling towards you down through the years. Love is such a wonderful gift to give and get, right?

Questions?

(Part two of a two parter. Part one can be found here.)

A Profound Red Light

Who’d have thought that light could be profound? Not me. I always thought profound was to do with the nature of thoughts or concepts but nothing to do with physical things. Not that light is very physical, but is has got something to do with the physical realm. It’s not thought. It’s tangible. It can be perceived by one of the senses. Sight.

I raised my fingers from the keyboard. Dry. I need to drink more water. But I’ve already been to the loo a dozen times already today so surely I don’t need to increase that! I raised my arms and tousled my hair. Needs cutting. I keep promising myself that I’ll get around to it. But who am I kidding. I can’t be bothered with the mess I make. Seems like I need to vacuum the whole house every … Wait, what was that? Vacuum? Heck, that’s something I don’t have to do! I got me a new robot vacuum cleaner last week and so …

Yeah, look at that grin on my face. Look at the way it reaches my eyes and takes a little of the tiredness out of them. See how my mood’s more elevated now. This is ace! I can cut my hair and let it fly as far as it wants to because the robot’s gonna go and get it. My grin would become a wolf. It’d be proud.

So this vacuum. I’ve not experimented with it much. It’s just had a couple of runs out – once upstairs on the carpets and once downstairs on the wood. It does a really good job on both. How do I know? Well, because it comes back full of fluff and dust – that’s how. And that little robot goes everywhere! It even spends time walking around under the table and chairs in the dining room – the clearance is just right.

And talking about experimenting – well that’d mostly just be crazy stuff like putting bears on it and riding them around whilst videotaping them for posterity and the world to laugh as the robot tried to go under the bed with a jockey on-board and knocked the poor bear flying. Funny? Well, I’d laugh. Heck, I’m laughing now just thinking about it. Less funny would be putting a cup of tea on it and trying to get the robot to deliver it to someone in the next room. One detour under the couch and that’s going to get very messy!

I need to start circling back to the start now in order to round this off so ‘scuse me a mo while I read the first couple of paragraphs again.

Hmm. Light. Profundity. Scratching head. Robot. Okay, I can see how the chain went. Let’s see, how can I finish this off? Well, the robot has lights on it: blue for charging, orange for needs juice. Nothing red about it though. Also – not a heck of a lot of profound here. Phoo. How about if we introduce anther element into the mix. Red light. Okay, how about Red Light District. Can that be profound? Well, I suppose so. But how?

He paused and stares into his inner distance. It’d be difficult to stare into any other kind of distance here. White walls keep the autumn chill out but also keep the distance-seeking gaze in too. Phoo. Okay, let’s go with this then:

He plopped his fingers back on the keyboard and started typing again. Hair, robots, self-indulgent thinking and bedtime. And as he typed the word bedtime the lamp clicked quietly to itself plunging the room into what would have been a profound darkness except for one thing: a red light blinking unsteadily on the smoke detector:

.–. .-. — ..-. — ..- -. -..