Passing the Time

Passing the Time W I. No 6.

There comes a time in every aspiring writer’s life when their need of support for earthly necessities, food, drink and somewhere to rest their weary head overcomes the burning desire to have at least one of their outpourings of literary splendour accepted by the publishing fraternity.

Marmaduke Updyke-Dickens, known as Mud by friends, of whom he had few and long forgotten family relations of whom he once had many, was impoverished, rather like his writing.  At sixty-four with no visible means of support, living in a derelict caravan perched on the edge of a disused stone quarry. This meagre amount was supplemented by occasional nights of shelf filling in a local supermarket allowing him first go at out-dated ‘sell by’ bread. To say that his circumstances were straitened is an understatement.

A battered Remington typewriter of dubious vintage and worn out ribbons sat upon an upturned tea chest whilst he perched upon a reclaimed sofa, which doubled up as a bed, stabbing relentlessly at jamming keys.  His only means of lighting were flickering candles made up of paraffin wax melted down and inserted with bits of string for wicks. An old wood burning stove supplied heat for cooking and heating.

His literary outpourings reflected his lifestyle. Reams of unfulfilled manuscripts filled any space not taken up by mouldy loaves of bread and rejection letters. The outpourings of endeavour consisted of tales of woe, suffering and misery. They were not in the least uplifting, intoxicating or stimulating. And yet, and yet, he had faith. Faith in his ability. A love of stringing words together forming compositions worthy of literary merit, an attribute unfortunately not shared by publishers, literary agents or magazine editors.

The need for a change of lifestyle was brought home to Mud one early morning when, after returning home from a stint of shelf filling with a dozen loaves of bread and a jar of stuffed olives he found his caravan home lying at the bottom of the quarry smashed to bits. It had been pushed there by a bulldozer employed by the local council with intentions to start using the quarry as a landfill site for household rubbish. The driver, wishing to make a good first impression on his employers, employed the blade of his machine to start the process with aplomb.

Grief-stricken Mud scaled down the rocky formation gathered his manuscripts and notes, stuffed them into a black bin liner and trudged off to find solace. Two hours later found him sitting on a bench in the town square. His father and mother had separated when he was fifteen, a brother and sister might as well be on the other side of the planet. His lack of friends and family, not to mention money, precluded him from finding shelter and as the afternoon dragged on into the evening, darkness descended a flash of lightening and following rumble of thunder sounded in the distance. It started to rain, gently at first and a vivid bolt of light throwing the distant chimney pots into stark relief followed by a loud clap of thunder announced a heavy deluge. Through the gloom and rain Mud, clutching his precious manuscripts, spied a figure approaching. As the newcomer dressed in a black cloak and helmet drew close Mud realising he was about to be confronted by a member of the local constabulary had a sudden burst of inspiration. He stood up and waited for the policeman to come near and without further ado swung his arm and knocked the constable’s helmet off.

The resultant night in the cells, apart from giving Mud succour in the form of food, shelter and warmth, also gave him time to reflect. The time had come to bounce back from the unmitigated pit of nihilism, but where to start. No qualifications of any significance, no work experience except shelf filling in supermarkets and certainly no ambition in life other than the overriding urge to see his authorship accepted by his peers. Trouble was he had no peers. He had no place to live either and no viable means of support.

These realities he reasoned, as he waited in the police cell for the law of the land to wield its retribution, were the result of a misspent youth progressing through middle age and now decidedly the last lap, it was time to take stock. The thought of ‘stock‘ triggered a thought process that was interrupted by the arrival of the desk sergeant with a plate of bacon and eggs and news that no charges were being brought as it would involve ‘too much bloody paperwork.’ The sergeant added he was free to go as soon as he had finished his breakfast. Mud thanked him profusely and received the sum of ten pounds, the result of a whip round by the station officers who all felt rather sorry for him and after collecting all his worldly possessions staggered out into the bright sunlight.

Mud walked aimlessly, oblivious to any sense of direction or plan. He passed a large rubbish skip and with an impulse he wasn’t really aware of dumped the black bin liner containing his life’s work. As he meandered forth towards an unknown destination his thoughts returned to the germ of an idea that started to germinate before the kindly sergeant bearing breakfast and the wonderful aroma of bacon invaded his olfactory senses.  Eventually, he found himself back in familiar territory. Black wrought iron gates drew him in.  A row of beach and silver birch trees intermingled with rhododendron  and  climbing hydrangea bushes brought back a sudden flash of memory;  an aged aunt’s garden he used to visit when a lad a but he couldn’t remember her name, let alone where. He sat on a bench, a shudder of pain swept through his body and he started to weep.

Some time later Mud realised he wasn’t alone, an elderly couple sat down beside him and out of the corner of his eye he glimpsed a sort of fuzzy effervescence surrounding their bodies, as though he was looking at them through a kaleidoscope.
‘Hello Marmaduke’, said the lady.
‘We’re so glad you’ve come home,’ said the man.
‘Home?’
‘Home’, said the lady, our home. You were happy here when it was our garden.’

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M.O. Writing Imperative No.5 Inspiration

Sometimes flashes of inspiration come at the most inopportune times. Whilst locked in a passionate embrace with one’s loved one is but one example. For writer and war hero Freddy Periwinkle it was slightly different, he was locked in a passionate embrace with his next-door neighbour’s loved one in a small hotel on the South coast when a flash came to him. Glancing up from the matter in hand, he divined the pattern on the wallpaper. It was florid patterned wallpaper with a cacophony of vivid red, blue and yellow blotches swirling about in a field of what looked like mauve dead rhubarb stalks. This vision of dissonance prompted him to stop what he was doing and reflect on divine guidance.

Whilst he was ruminating, Dardanella, his partner in passion, didn’t notice Freddy had been distracted, she was used to intermissions due, she surmised, for the need to get his breath back. However, after five minutes of inactivity, her suspicions of other forces being involved were aroused when Freddy shot out of bed muttering exultations to unseen gods. ‘Is it cramp’, she asked, reaching for a cigarette.

‘Cramp,’ he said, staring wildly back at the bed, ‘cramp, no it’s not cramp,  It’s a sign. I have been called.’

‘I didn’t hear the phone ring,’ said Dardanella.

‘Elysian fields. I have been called by Perseus and, and the King and Queen of Thebes.’

‘Oh, that’s very nice,’ she replied, getting out of bed, ‘I’m going to have a bath.’

‘Well, they don’t think Homer did a very good job with his Odyssey.  They reckon I’m the very chap to put matters right.’

‘Will it take long?’ said Dardanella. Freddy wasn’t listening, he unpacked his laptop and started putting Homer right.

Dardanella shrugged and retired to the bathroom, ran a bath, poured in a goodly amount of foam inducing dead sea bath salts and sank beneath the lather. She was not what you would call ‘worldly wise,’ more sort of ‘worldly witless’, but knew when she was on to a good thing.

The good thing, after sitting and staring at a blank page for ten minutes decided to google Homer’s Oddysey. Half an hour later and being none the wiser regarding Homer’s illumination he spent the next hour reading Euripides, Pausanias, Philostratus and Virgil’s thoughts on the matter and was still at a loss. He studied the wallpaper again

Dardanella, in the meantime, having soaked her body in the dead sea until her eyes watered dried herself off and gave herself an all over body beautification starting with a pedicure and ending with an elaborate coiffure. She wrapped a bath towel around her and came back into the bedroom. Freddy was still staring at the wallpaper, the laptop still perched on his knees.

‘Have you finished?’ she said. ‘I’m getting hungry.’ There was no reply, there was no anything. She went closer. His eyes were glassy, he was very white and he was very dead. She glanced at the computer. His last words were, ‘It wasn’t a sign it was a bloody omen’.

The Writing Imperative No 4 Role Reversal

 

Peter awakes at six forty-five and stretches. He rolls out of bed onto the floor and goes through a routine of sit-ups, press-ups and other ups designed, he reckons, to get the blood flowing. When the red corpuscles are roaring around his body at the speed of light, he dons a track suit, lets himself out of the front door and goes for a two-mile sprint around the block. After an invigorating cold shower, shave and what have you he dons a ‘onesie’ and repairs to the kitchen, via his wife’s bedroom, giving a sharp rap on her door announcing the start of the day. Donning an apron, depicting a basket of prunes, he starts to prepare a pre-ordained breakfast of broccoli, goji berries and garlic for himself and a bloody Mary for Phyllis. Phyllis, meanwhile, in an adjacent bedroom, is still considering the outrageous proposal Clark Gable suggested in his Cannes villa.  She is oblivious to alarms, bangs on her door, or consciousness of any kind.

Peter and Phyllis have been married for twenty years; they are childless, mainly from the want of not trying. Peter was made redundant four years ago from his job as chief nutritionist at a chocolate pudding factory due, he maintains, to a sharp divergence of ideals with the managing director, the sales director and virtually all the other directors. The loss of earnings from Peter’s employ mattered little. Phyllis was earning three times as much as her husband due to her vast output of published novels and adoring readership among the sexual fantasist genre of ladies in suburbia..She had been an avid writer for as long as she can remember but it was the realisation that by imbibing  a certain herbal substance before bedtime that her resultant dreams of a particular intimate nature and noted down immediately upon waking could be turned into a cash cow and  Peter took on the role of a house husband.

Half an hour later Phyllis finds her tryst with Clark Gable well and truly disrupted by the sound of a vacuum cleaner bashing the skirting boards and doors of the landing. She sits up rubs her eyes, curses through clenched teeth and reaches for a notebook. After ten minutes as the sound of Peter’s cleaning exploits recede she puts pen to paper and tries to recollect the fascinations of the night. Nothing, nix, zilch, sweet Fanny Adams. It’s all gone. Up in a cloud of dust into the bloody vacuum bag.

The resultant meeting of two minds when they meet in the kitchen twenty minutes later is icy, to say the least. Phyllis has downed her bloody Mary and has another one ready.‘That’s the third bloody time this week,’ says Phyllis , clutching a tattered dressing gown around her shoulders with one hand and reaching for her third cigarette of the morning with the other. ‘You bastard.’

Peter, looking down at his wife from a chair on which he’s standing in order to reach the dark recesses of a wall cupboard top with a feather duster. ‘It’s got to be done my dear,’ he says, ‘your health is my concern,’

‘Bollocks,’ replies Phyllis.

‘Never mind them, says Peter, ‘hurry up and finish, I’ve got a shopping list to do and the beds to make.

Phyllis grabs her drink, cigarettes, notebook, and shuffles into her study. It has been cleaned and tidied by Peter. She can’t find anything. The phone rings, it’s her agent. ‘Morning,‘ says Phyllis.

‘Good morning,’ says her agent,’Phyl dear, it’s about the, you know the story line about the transvestite in the sauna.’

The only line that Phyllis is interested in at the moment are the railway ones she could tie Peter on. ‘What about it?’ she asks.

‘Well, I’m rather worried that we may be breaking the bounds of plausibility.’

Peter enters complete with feather duster.

‘Piss off’ says Phyllis.’

‘Well really,’ says her agent.

‘No not you,’ says Phyllis. ’It’s him, the answer to a dustman’s prayer.’

As lunch time approaches Phyllis goes to the door, listens intently for sounds of activity and hearing none creeps soundlessly into the kitchen and out through the back door into the garden. She goes behind a stone wall  gently dislodges a stone and extracts a half pint glass. Two yards further on another extracted stone reveals a bottle of gin. Pouring a good measure into the glass she replaces the gin and makes her way surreptitiously to the greenhouse. Underneath a six foot yucca she feels for a bottle of tonic water and tops her glass up. Sitting on a pile of compost away from prying eyes she demolishes the beverage, replaces the evidence into their hidey-hole and makes her way back indoors, feeling half human again.

By mid-afternoon, after another trip to engage the garden’s flora and fauna, she is qwerty bashing with renewed zeal. Peter is nowhere to be seen and all is well with the world.

At five o’ clock Peter re-enters, this time with a whole salmon in his arms. ‘You remember Joyce and Henry are coming for dinner tonight,’ he says, ‘ I’ve laid out your pink twin set on the bed, it will go nicely with your mother’s pearls.’

‘What!’ says Phyllis, deflating like a pricked party balloon. ‘Who the hell are Joyce and Henry?’

‘That nice couple that moved into number seventeen,’ he looks askance. ‘You must remember, we met them at the local resident’s association meeting last week.’

‘I have never been to a local resident’s association meeting, whatever that is and don’t intend to start now.’

‘Oh,’ says Peter, scratching his head, ‘I must have gone with someone else.’

‘You buffoon,’ says Phyllis. ‘Ring them up and say I’ve got a dose of the clap and it’s highly contagious.’

The evening wore on, Peter did a load of ironing whilst watching a documentary on television about carpet laying and Phyllis remained in her study imbibing great wafts of herbal essence and thinking. At bedtime, Peter made himself a malted milk drink and made notes of jobs for the morrow which he affixed with a magnet to the fridge door. Phyllis made her way upstairs, giggling with the anticipation of a night’s romp with half of Hollywood.

‘Good night darling,’ shouted Peter, ‘sweet dreams.’

‘You too,’ shouted Phyllis, with a smile, ‘you too.’

 

Modus operandi 3 The Degenerated Gentleman in Town.

The cat wakes our liver’ish, fifty-five’ish writer with a tongue, as rough as its owners, at ten o’ clock’ish, every day. A groan, developing into a coughing fit disrupts the cat’s onslaught. The smell of old tobacco smoke spilled beer and rotting fish invade his nostrils, and our writer engages his world. His world, that of a literary hack, is a downward stroll into oblivion. It is not entirely his fault, well, yes it is; it’s his set of ideals that have been his downfall, that and a strong penchant for alcoholic beverages. Twice married, twice divorced with three daughters and a son who visit him at very irregular intervals and two grandchildren who are not allowed to visit him at all. His income is derived from occasional royalties from a long-forgotten script for a sitcom but still popular in Burkina Faso and the Upper Volta. Otherwise, he has no visible means of support.

No morning tea for him, a stagger with his cat entwined around his ankles to the fridge develops into an obstacle race, around discarded manuscripts, reference books, ashtrays and dirty washing. This  crusade is even more commendable  when you consider that because he has mislaid his glasses and  lost the ability to focus on anything whatsoever he does the journey entirely by feel.  Eventually, when the finishing line is reached and the fridge door opened a can of beer is grabbed, a very shaky hand manages to pull the ring and he is sprayed with cheap lager. It is the only wash of the day. His next movement is to blunder around in the fridge’s innards to find something for the cat. A half full tin of mouldy sardines is discovered and after an inward struggle to eat them himself his compassion for his one true friend surfaces and it is deposited on the floor.

The need for the lavatorial department also surfaces, because he lives in a one room rented apartment, the contrivance he is getting desperate for means a trip down the outside corridor to a communal facility four doors away. He decides to put number two plan into action and opens the window. A dilapidated flower box with withered blooms of the last century receive some of the decantation but the pedestrians five floors below him, on the pavement are the main recipients. Some even put up umbrellas.

Eventually, a dressing gown, a garment held together by burning cigarette holes and the odd strand of wool, is donned and the search for glasses undertaken. They are found underneath his desk half an hour later in a bowl of congealed milk that the cat declined to poison itself on.  The computer is kicked into life and our hero searches round for his first gasper of the day. He finds a half smoked one in a saucer and has his second coughing fit of the day. Whilst the computer churns its constipated way through the start-up procedure a kettle of water is placed on an old gas ring. The resultant mixture of old coffee grounds, crusty honey, condensed milk and other unmentionable floating debris is taken back to the desk. Our hero’s day’s contribution to the literary world begins.

The state of the desk defies description, so I won’t, save to say the basic components, grease, bread crumbs, bits of bacon and spilt beer covered keyboard, monitor and mouse are just serviceable. After fifteen attempts to win ‘Free Cell,’ e-mails are the first port of call. The only one not binned straight away  is one from his literary agent asking if he wishes to ghostwrite a book for a retiring little-known footballer with no known charisma and even less known command of the English language. A quick search in a grubby notebook shows this is the fourth time he has been approached by this individual and been declined. The reply to his agent, telling him that the footballer can shove the football up where the sun ‘don’t’ shine is posted off.

By noon after a further twenty games of ‘Free Cell’ and twenty-five dog end cigarettes found half-smoked in the ash tray and floor,  our hero feels a little peckish and trolls off to the fridge. The remains of what, at first thought, was a jam roly-poly pudding turns out to be a rolled-up sock. So, he puts on an old pair of verdigris jeans a cigarette holed polar neck sweater covered in an ornate patina and a pair of non-matching flip-flops.  Making sure that no creditors are waiting to pounce he goes down the fire escape and makes his way to the pub.

The saloon bar of his local pub is the real stage for our hero. He tells tales of tremendous scoops that he just missed, television scripts that were stolen from him, famous film producers that died just before they were about to accept his film adaptation of Androcles and the lion and the publishing business’s sad decline due to the employment of illiterate twelve-year-old girls who wouldn’t know the difference between a book and a wet fish if it jumped up and slapped them in the face.

The pub’s newspaper is scanned for likely winners in the horse race meetings during the afternoon and names noted. The landlord is told to put what he owes on the slate and he will pay later. The trip to the bookmakers goes past a supermarket waste bin which after a careful perusal of its innards reveals two, out of sell by date, loafs of bread, a distinctly off-colour packet of lamb chops and a crushed box of cornflakes. These are put in one of the many bags blowing about in the wind on the car park. Further down the road, he passes a green grocer’s shop advertising, ‘ Todays’ special offer. Mangoes’ at half price.’ This isn’t the first time he’s had cause to remonstrate with the greengrocer about the misuse of the humble apostrophe and he gets as much abuse this time as he has before. But he has made his point and refreshed with the thought that the great jockey in the sky will surely favour his choices for the race meeting at Epsom he marches into the bookmakers.

At five o’ clock he stumbles out with a small return on his investment. Working out he has enough for a fish and chip supper, a couple of pints at the pub as well as his paying his morning’s slate and a packet of roll up tobacco he makes his way back past the half price mangos’ on the other side of the road. After a further rummage in the supermarket’s waste bin and finding six squashed tins of ‘out of date ‘tuna chunks in brine,’ he finally makes his way, full of the joys of spring, through the doors of  the saloon bar. At half past ten, he staggers home, completely forgetting to buy fish and chips and spends the next hour sending e-mails to newspaper editors complaining about the demise of the country’s social standards.  At midnight, he and this cat curl up under the bedclothes and fall under the guiding influence of Morpheus.

 

‘The Writing Imperative and How to Survive It’ No 2

The Single Country Lady.
At seven fifteen prompt, a housekeeper awakens our wordsmith by drawing the heavy velvet drapes revealing an immaculate lawn, a glimmering lake and distant wooded undulating uplands. On a tray with a pot of tea, a plate of two digestive biscuits rests the morning post. Sunlight envelopes a four-poster bed with rays of dancing dust-laden particles in which a lady of interminable age reposes. She gently sits up and tunes a bedside wireless to a serious news channel and her brain to the day ahead. After a shower, she dresses in tweed and makes her way to the dining room.
At nine thirty in the morning our Lady author, after breakfasting on muesli, a kipper and coffee during which a deep perusal of the newspapers is carried out. She gathers her writing paraphernalia, a bag containing a bottle of gin, a small pork pie and a jar of pickled onions, summons her four basset hounds and repairs to her writing habitat. The walk is very pleasant, through a small bluebell wood that gives her time to gather her thoughts and her dogs to gather buried bones.
A wooden summerhouse some three hundred yards away from the main residence is the natural abode for successful lady authors. Overlooking a weeping willow-bordered lake on one side and rolling meadows on the other. Inside is a bamboo chaise longue, a desk, a telephone connected only via the house which intercepts all calls and re-routes them to the summerhouse in cases of extreme importance. On one wall a bookcase containing a hundred or so reference books; atlases, ordnance survey maps, town street maps, train timetables, bus routes and police procedure. On an adjacent small round table on top of which resides a six pack of tonic water, a plate of sliced lemon a plate with knife and fork where she adds the bottle of gin and lunch.
Our lady author is a writer of detective fiction. Her family is steeped in crime fighting. She has developed a deep knowledge and love of crime fighting from her father, his father and so on. They have been involved in the security of the country for generations and having reached the higher echelons of the government security establishment they have been suitably rewarded.
She works assiduously until one o’clock taking occasional sips of gin and tonic. For the next hour, if the weather is clement, she takes a deck chair outside and sits by the lake, eating her lunch, sipping her gin, playing with her beloved hounds and thinking. The afternoon from two o’ clock until the gin bottle is emptied is taken up by planning. Notes are written, facts checked and telephone calls made and accepted by interested parties. The gin bottle is like an egg timer. When it is empty she gathers her writing paraphernalia, her hounds and retires for the day.
At home in the evening, she occasionally has a guest or two for dinner but usually sits and reads. The television is switched on for news and selected programs only; mainly the radio suffices for background noise, a lot of thinking still pervades her time. At eleven o’ clock she goes to bed
Because deadlines determine her literary output her life this daily routine is a seven-day week activity. Holidays are mostly taken in locations which stir the imagination and plots can be hatched. Her work is her life and life is wonderful.