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.

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Scape

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.

Evening Walk

I walked home with my books
In evening’s pastel blue
November’s chill compelled me
To hurry past the view.

Yet grey clouds stood like mountains
Beyond the city’s light,
The far off traffic winking
And autumn’s leaves in flight.

The laughter of the jackdaws
Was sweet as choir song,
But yet evening was dying
And night would not be long.

The hills were green and silent
Beneath the fading light.
The moon shone brightly, clearly,
Yet birds were still in flight.

And as I passed a stranger
Who might have been a friend,
I dipped my head to greet him –
He did not comprehend.

So on I walked, and neared my street
With orange leaves beneath my feet
And found my restlessness was lost
With weary legs the only cost.

The trees like towers, tall and wild
The night descending, daytime’s child,
I brought my eye to sky at last –
But evening had already passed.

My Street

Growing to increasingly love my house and the street it’s on the more I’m away from home. In the window of a resale shop just two minutes away, a metal detector hangs unloved in the window next to a beaten-up guitar. Behind it sits an old radio and an accordion with stained teeth looking for an owner. There are coffee shops springing up and no end of hairdressers. There’s restaurants – curry houses, take-away places, sit-down Chinese places with traditional menus and sleepy chefs smoking round the side. The Turkish place and the chip shop have closed down for good but there’ll be other things to take their places.  I know the name of the guy behind the counter of the shop directly across from us, but I think he only knows my face. The old Irish barber whose shop is just before the bridge never remembers me and I tell him a different life story every time.

There are people who I’ve known by sight for years who stroll up and down. We’re still all strangers. There is an old Chinese man with short cut grey hair and glasses who always wears the same blue coat, white button-down shirt and red scarf – he smokes continuously and I’ve only seen him alone. Sometimes he’s walking slowly down the road, seemingly lost in thought. Sometimes he’s sitting, his small, almost childlike backpack next to him on the bench as he smokes. Sometimes he is hunched forward, elbows on knees; other times he is leant back, arms on the back of the bench and one leg up, ankle on knee in a lounging, carefree way. This is a rarer sight. There’s a very overweight and short round man in middle age who wears large glasses and a sour expression who haunts one of the junctions about five minutes walk from where I live. He wears a peaked cap and very large stretchy gym trousers, with his keys on a chain which hangs from his pocket. It seems he doesn’t shave, but doesn’t grow a beard. Once, and once only, he nodded to me. I have never understood why.

 

Out walking today

Two late-teen girls with the same olive skin tone and lustrous black hair who might or might not have been sisters passed me by, preceded by but clearly not walking with a tall blonde man in an exquisite white shirt, open at the neck and tucked into smart-casual trousers topped by an expensive-looking belt. There was some kind of product in his hair which has allowed him to slick it all back, and he might have appeared shark-like, were it not for the red puffiness of his face and the absent smile painted across it. Behind him, in turn, was a bald man in a grey t-shirt, maybe forty-five, wearing a stern expression and red sunglasses that looked like insect eyes, with a white tunnel through one earlobe and a grey fuzz approaching goatee status, on his chin, who moved forward purposefully though not quickly, almost graceful. His grey t-shirt had a pattern on it composed of darker grey skulls and crosshatching, the kind of shirt that looks a little like a metal band t-shirt whilst at the same time being deliberately unspecific and generally just indicative of teenage rebellion. The incongruity of these bizarre items of clothing and accessories on the middle-aged man contrast with his expression of self-seriousness such that he appears almost papal.

The Two-Timer

I can’t choose, you know, between the two whom I love. The first – ravishing. An English rose. Smooth and ennobling. Full of spirit and hope and also reminds one – reminds me – of home. The second – dark and mysterious. A characterful late night companion. Strong, bold, keeps me up until dawn. Though I feel, whenever I favour one over the other, such guilt that I will always return to the other with a heavy heart. I am consumed by one whilst secretly lusting for the other. My passion for each rotates, as it were, and I loathe it. Why cannot my puny human will let me make an honest choice, stick to my guns? Why oh why am I paralysed whenever someone asks “Tea or Coffee?”

Reflection

Sitting here at my computer I can see reflected in a blank section of the screen the bright window behind me, and visible to me, in a ghostlike form, are the branches of the tree beyond the window in the garden behind me. The sky looks pink and white in the reflection but I cannot tell without looking around whether the sky is actually this beautiful colour or if it is merely an effect of seeing the window reflected in the laptop screen. As I type, the screen itself judders minutely, and the reflection stirs, making the already blurry branches swim and wobble, as though immersed in moving water, and the minute, skeletal/almost fractal pattern of the branches is utterly beautiful and it makes me wonder why I’m facing this way, where I can see the door to the hallway and an empty plastic milk bottle on the table in front of me and the blank white of the kitchen wall when behind me is—