The Unseen

My girlfriend hasn’t seen Jumanji. I can’t remember if it’s a good film, but I was amazed she hadn’t seen it. I immediately felt a desire to share the experience with her, and I could feel already the flood of imagery roaring in: the terrifying jungle board game; the barbigerous, leaf-clad Williams; the weird and creepy pith-helmeted hunter. She asked me if it was worth seeing, and I realised that I had no idea how to answer her. Prompted by this strange reminiscence, I later tried to assemble a list of my favourite films. I was hoping to clutch at certainty and thus restore my sense of what I considered good. Making top ten lists was something I often did as a teenager, but I’ve found that I can’t produce a list as readily as before, and that the list doesn’t seem as important as it once did. Granted, the enjoyment of lists is something I will cling to until death can prise the ken from my brain, but the purpose of the list seems to have just gone.

What is going on? Is this the adult decline of idealism of which I’ve been warned/promised? I don’t feel sure that it is, but then again almost all the experiences I’ve ever been warned of in advance (e.g. love, puberty, various carnal experiences, unemployment, the outcome of article 50), have proved to feel utterly different to how I had envisaged them.

Checking that you have the same set of ideals as you did last year is hard. In fact, introspection of any kind is a bit like whale watching. I have never been whale watching, but I understand that it takes incredible patience, and that you’re waiting a long time to see something huge and bizarre which ordinarily dwells in vast impenetrable depths. The mind is like the sea. A single thought, like a single cupful of seawater, is transparent. The massive collection of seawater, though, is murky, deep and old enough to defy understanding, plus full of unknown life. Sure, we have names for hundreds of thousands of marine flora and fauna. We also have names for myriad thoughts and feelings, neural pathways and ocean currents. The data exist. The problem is seeing it all for what it is. Have just found that Jumanji is on Netflix. Should we watch it? Only God can know.


Points in Favour of Empathy

The basket was laden with ripe fruit, and Jenny took an apple to munch on while he talked. He liked to talk about himself, she thought. Now and then an odd kind of look would swim across his features,  and she wondered if he might be considering what she was saying, but his face would always slacken again and he would resume staring slightly down, almost a child, the makings of a frown about his forehead. She sat on the great unyielding couch, draped in a bright blanket which was thin enough that she could feel the seams of the sofa cushions beneath her. It was a little cold and she was in a heavy jumper, borrowed from him. She had but resolved to endure discomfort.

He spoke and looked past her through the window behind, shifting his gaze to meet hers when he remembered to. His job, he insisted, was the reason that he could not get anything really important done. She nodded mutely, actually considered his thought for a moment. If, she wondered, he could quit his job and still afford it, would he really get the money he wanted? The fulfilment he wanted? She suspected that he only grasped at the idea of fulfilment to medicate his present discontent, she was not without sympathy. She had, in her time, learnt pity.

He stretched out his legs, recrossed them. His monologue, so earnestly begun, was faltering to a close. He would inwardly seethe now, reaching desperately for the right words but not quite finding them. She bit the crisp flesh gratefully and felt the apple’s juice on her lips. Her ride was almost here.


A different part of the world: we endured the standard checks and arrived courtesy of a company whose pink logo shone like a strange beacon in the massiveness of the airport. I am a traveller-citizen, one of those now on file as being present elsewhere.

We arrived, in any case, in the warmth of the evening, and we passed customs without fuss. The evening was rich, textured in such a way that I felt as though I could pick up on every detail: the mixed faces waiting on arrivals, the strain of familiar classical music playing in the empty airport café, the placid expressions of the people who approached us and asked if we needed a shuttle bus to the city centre. But we were meeting someone.

When our friend arrived he looked at once a part of the city and somehow above it, passing rapidly the cabbies, the baggage-laden and travellers standing staring down at their phones. A smile spread across his face when he saw us. We embraced.

A taxi carried us across town and the city raced by, lit by a dwindling evening sun. I could only pick out a few things from the flow of light and habitation as we passed: clusters of scrub grass by the pavement, wires above the road promising trams, dense clusters of trees and tall, lonely buildings with the sky above a faded masterpiece gesturing at evening.

Supper and we were well received – plates of cooked vegetables, salad and potatoes. Immaculate hosting, blunt and friendly machismo. We sit about and tell one another our stories, our own private speculations.

The next day dawned and, after enormous cheesy pastries, we left. We walked a little way into the city passing bloc after bloc, paint-peeled sheds and scraggy-grassed lots. Stones broken underfoot. Countless construction sites, some of them fenced off, others open. Eventually we got a bus which took us uphill, away from the denser part of the city and into the wooded slopes of the mountains. The houses where we got off were more luxurious, detached. Dogs barked at us from behind their gates. The road became steep and at last the path became a brown track, leaf scrub trail winding off between the trees in four directions. Big and small stones sat about a stream alongside the path and we pressed our thighs up and on we trudged, hour by hour. We poured sweat. We huffed and strode up.

Finding the top proved harder than we had imagined – we made it up a stony peak, one among many, and got a a look at the city, now far below. We looked back, beyond, around, but mostly down, the mountains ranging vast about us clothed in forest.

It was days later and, as if it had been waiting for us since the parting of the earth, the sea embraced us, opening blue-armed its breadth and depth. I met the surf, fell and arose, was swept willingly along by waves curling down ferocious. There may have been five or six of us in the sea that day. We swam beneath the immortal sun, hefting a ball between us – a blot of focus, a tangible point of pursuit in the crashing white chaos. The unreadable curves and arcs of the waves made known, made mathematical, by the ball – a dot laden with intent in the mess.

I learnt to swim perhaps six years ago. I felt, as I dove against the water for the ball, that I was facing a god. I wrestled with the merciless physics of the sea. It cradles you, only to overwash you; it enforces the rules of the dance and punishes and beckons. To gush and draw, gush and draw with each wave a breath and each retreat to shore a kind of death.

Worthy & Kept

One can see something familiar

Underneath it all

Cast aside

As though the cares of the day

Are but sticks to be thrown on the fire.

Burn your way clear of it all and put from yourself

All those empty worries

Shed it all.

Breathe life into your tragedies; cocoon them

Outlive them and outpace

Their best efforts to bring you down.

You kept all the old hearts you broke

Yours to define and to win

Yours to tether and to skin

Now you only breathe smoke

Now you only think for real after a toke

Now you’re nothing like you were

You’re a smudge and you’re a blur

What’s ceased and gone is worth a lifetime black wardrobe

Mourner mistaken for faker in his high castle of solitude.

Armchair Brain

I found myself, yes I did, all alone and weary one Sunday afternoon, arrested by a thought: what IF we really all are just the imagining of a weak and impatient God, a God maybe who couldn’t be bothered with all the little details such as complete self-knowledge, true understanding, infallible trust in our fellow beings, and so forth and suchlike? Am I really to blame for all my many manifold faults? Or rather is it that being just a human being, I come into the world without form and without full disclosure regarding the terms and conditions of existence? The first seemed more appealing whilst the latter more realistic, and I wondered to myself yes I did by George whether I should like to be a realist or a happy man, and then I came to the consideration, in fact that perhaps that was not a decision that I could really make, but rather was in my genes or programming say or else perhaps in the circumstances of my existence, the shaping of me which took place, really, in all chap-like honestly, very much out of my hands, so to speak. And then I thought very well, but aren’t I rather walking around the issue rather than, as it were, plunging into it directly? I thought, and perhaps this was my most sensible thought of the day, that I should make a cup of tea, or maybe, seeing as I had it, some coffee, so that I could really get down to the bones of these issues which, yes, I would say, are rather fundamental to well, life I suppose you’d call it.

Perhaps I’m being over dramatic in all this re-telling, but it seemed to me that I really was onto something, you see, because once I had sat down again, with a cup of steaming tea in hand, anyway, I had the most tremendous idea, it seemed to me, that afternoon, especially seeing as I hadn’t really tackled these kinds of issues before, you know, what with my damned work interfering all the blasted thundering time, as I suppose it does for many men. The splendid idea I had, not to toot my own trumpet with too much self-congratulation, was that the whole issue, that is to say the problem, yes, of humanity itself, life, the fragility of the human mind versus the enormity of the cosmos etc. can in fact be boiled down to a simple analogy which I shall here illustrate: The kettle does not sing. A singer, even an amateur one such as myself, brings differentiation to raw noise. The mere noise produced, yes, by the kettle when it is ready, is not a note. It may be measured as such by clever chaps with glasses and white coats and recorded upon their jolly clever scales, but, by George, the process of doing so is a dilution, if you will, of that raw sound so unique to the kettle when it is keening on the hob announcing my tea. This, I said to myself, is the nature of the universe, and the nature of the human being: the human being, the man, is a kind of creature which divides the raw data into chunks such that they may be easily digested, I suppose, and yet this breaking down, if you will, is the root of all humanity’s great problems. Tea, as it were, or coffee? Yes.