The last holiday – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

Left to my own devices I most probably would have killed myself long before now. Not deliberately, just by being extreme and obsessive.

12.10.01

 

My mum insists that it was god giving my dad a last good holiday before he called him back. I say nothing. What’s the point of upsetting her if it makes her happy?

They came to Los Angeles when I was teaching there, and we took them around a little in our VW microbus. We were on our way to Grand Canyon when we were stopped by a speed cop for trundling along at 70 MPH on those big old empty highways. The guy actually let us off when he discovered that we were English. Told us to take care and ‘have a nice day’.

We arrived at the Grand Canyon in a snowstorm. It was magnificent.

After a couple of days we went on to Bryce Canyon. From above it looked like fairyland. There was a coating of snow on the tops but the skies were clear and the sun shone. The red rocks of the Canyons looked like miniature red cake decorations coated with icing. The rocks glowed in the sun.

It wasn’t until we set off down into the eroded maze of canyons that the enormous scale of the place became apparent. What looked like delicate striated candy were steep walled canyons. The sides were sheer and the canyons narrow. They rose up hundreds of feet on both sides and hemmed you in. It was dark down there. Only when the sun was overhead could it penetrate to the bottom of those catacombs. Here and there were rock-falls and it was quite dangerous and claustrophobic. We didn’t go too far. I guess reality was not quite as pleasant as magic.

Dad had a great time. He had not travelled at all since the war, not even to go back to Italy. It was the money. It wasn’t until now that he could afford it. This was the first real holiday; the first of what was going to be many, but turned out not to be.

When we’d come out of the canyon we went to a diner to get something to eat. It was a lonesome place stuck out there on the highway. There was a little old lady in there sitting around, passing time. We got talking. She told us that Bryce Canyon had been used for cattle rustling. The outlaws used to steal the cattle and drive them down into Bryce Canyon where they’d remain hidden until the heat cooled down. She told us that when she was a little girl she had met Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They had been part of a gang that had rustled in that area.

I don’t know if she was bullshitting but I guess that she was old enough for it to have been true, and she sounded pretty convincing when she told us. In any case it brought it home to you. The country was that young. We were in living memory of the wild frontier.

How quickly time changes things.

13.10.01

 

We did not always agree and had some big rows but I know Dad only wanted the best for me.

12.10.01

Motivation – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

Motivation. That is the word that sums up what we become. Motivation can be good or bad. What motivation do we have and where does it come from?

So what motivates someone into becoming a torturer?

Where does a torturer get their motivation to get up each day and go to work? Are they turned on by screams and burning flesh?

Is that tendency to sadism genetic? If not, where did they learn to enjoy inflicting pain?

What experiences did they go through in their developing years that make them feel happy when observing the pain of other people?

Were these torturers the type of boys and girls that drowned kittens, slowly grilled puppies or pulled the wings off insects?

Were they the bullies who enjoyed the cheap shots, the nasty tweaks and sly kicks?

Were they the ones who co-opted their mates to hold someone down while they punched them in the face or stamped on their head, maybe put cigarettes out on their nipples?

Or were they the sad whimpering abused victims, or bullied wimps, who became so full of hatred that they turned it all around on other people and gained revenge by bullying those who were weaker?

Is this enjoyment of inflicting pain on others an act of revenge?

A result of hatred?

Or do these torturers not enjoy their work at all? Do they see their job as a professional necessity in the war against whatever force is arrayed against their religion or country? For there is always a war being waged and there is never a shortage of torturers.

What makes a torturer?

13.10.01

 

When I gave my little sister away in marriage I said in my speech that it would have been my Dad’s proudest moment. That sounds a bit corny but it was true. We were his proudest possessions. He had little else. We were his reasons to live.

12.10.01

 

Left to my own devices I most probably would have killed myself long before now. Not deliberately, just by being extreme and obsessive.

12.10.01

Comeuppance – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

Was Trevor’s life exciting during those early years of growing up? I don’t remember meeting his family. Would you like to imagine what they were like? Perhaps kind, loving, tactile folk with refined sensitivities? You don’t suppose they beat the shit out of him, do you?

I last met Trevor on Walton High Street when we were both twenty. I was home from college and he was unemployed. All the cockiness had dissipated. He seemed sullen brooding and sad and eager to talk. He seemed pleased to see me and wanted to tell me what he’d been up to.

He told me that a while back he’d emigrated to New Zealand because he couldn’t get a job over here in the UK and he’d heard that there was plenty of work out there. He came back a few months later. He hadn’t liked it. He told me that he’d got into fight after fight and they kept locking him up. According to him, New Zealanders were all a bunch of wankers. They didn’t like the British. I rather suspected that it was more that they didn’t like arrogant and aggressive people.

Terry laughed and told me that he’d come home to where it was civilised. He seemed a lot more chastened at twenty compared to the cocky youth of fifteen that I remembered. Life did not seem to be progressing the way he had imagined it would. It was leaving him morose. His self-esteem had evaporated. He was no longer the big guy. Perhaps it was because he no longer had an audience, or perhaps that, compared to fully-grown adults, he was no longer so awfully big and fearsomely tough? He could no longer intimidate and beat the shit out of anyone who crossed him.

You don’t suppose that Trevor ever battered his kids do you? You don’t suppose that there could be a self-perpetuating cycle of violence? You don’t suppose that all those fights Trevor regularly instigated were the result of people picking on him and giving him funny looks do you? Because he was always the innocent party you know. He never started anything, honest.

Am I stereotyping or reporting? Probably a bit of both.

You don’t suppose that life trained Trevor to be violent and rewarded him with status and attention when he was, do you? Then callously took it all away.

I don’t suppose there’s any too much shit left in Trevor these days. There did not seem to be that last time I met him. He seemed like a beaten man, a balloon with a hole in it.

Life’s a game and it appeared to me that Trevor was one of life’s losers. But was it his fault?

13.10.01

 

My dad taught me to play chess. He always beat me but I kept trying until one day I beat him. From there on we were fairly evenly matched.

Chess gets the brain cells firing. Chess is a game of tactics and stylised war. It is absorbing and complex. If played properly, with the full resources of the intellect and concentration, it is the game of games

But there again, I don’t want to exaggerate its importance too much. It is no substitute for life.

26.10.01

Surrealistic Abstractions – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

My art teacher was more of an artist than a teacher. I really liked her. She was interesting. Her mind flitted to more important things than what she was doing. The creative spirit took her over. I’m in awe of people who are consumed by their creativity. She did huge mosaics out of glass. She was better at art than she was at controlling kids, that’s for sure. She was inspirational– though I let her down.

At the time we thought that she enthused about the most peculiar things.

One lesson, following a vague preliminary talk, she set us to work doing abstract paintings and went out and left us to it. That breaks the first rule of teaching – never leave any group of eleven-year-olds unattended. Their minds create mischief.

For some reason, I was in a daft mood and decided to have a bit of a laugh. I thought I’d show her what a real abstract painting was. I mixed up great pallets of powder paint into thick, gooey liquid and dolloped it on the largest piece of paper I could find to make great thick blobs and pools of colour that merged together. The others soon saw what I was doing. I soon had a few other kids mixing up paint for me and I was splashing and splattering it on this conglomeration. Before long I had built it up into a big thick splurge of paint over the entire paper. In places it was two inches thick.

All things have to come to an end, and just as we were getting completely out of control, she came back. I immediately put on my serious face and started studiously splashing more dripping paint onto the thick splurge, brushing and swirling the resulting colours and textures with a focussed deliberation and purpose that could be mistaken for expertise. She made her rounds looking at the products of the lesson. I continued to apply tiny drops of colour or tease whirls and shapes in the gooey mess, while the class looked on from afar waiting for the fireworks.

Eventually, she reached me.

I did not look up, seeming to be totally absorbed in my task, as if in some artistic reverie. Jackson Pollock would have been proud of me but I rather expected my art teacher not to be. I had certainly wasted a considerable amount of paint and produced something that a psychedelic  elephant with a gastrointestinal problem might easily have come up with. I was sure she would see straight through my feigned artistic skills and recognise the piss-take for what it was.

She studied the big gooey mess of intermingling colour.

“What do you call it?” she enquired, studying the large splurge of liquid paint as if trying to discern some meaning.

“It’s called ‘Nuclear Fission’”, I replied earnestly, dabbing more paint on my masterpiece.

All around the class were grinning. I was for it now.

“It is wonderful,” she murmured. “Wonderful!”

She toured around my artwork admiring it from all sides as if it really was a masterpiece.

“Bold and imaginative,” she murmured, “I must have this displayed in the Hall.”

At the end of the lesson my splurge of art was carefully transferred to a windowsill. It took three week to dry into a great slab of swirling colour. When it was solid she had holes drilled in each corner and nailed the thing up in the entrance to the school hall. It weighed a ton and proudly hung there in the school foyer.

I must admit that I was really proud. She made me feel that I had actually created something original and worthwhile even though I had simply been having a laugh. It was almost as if I had planned it and not been messing about at all.

It stayed up there for ages until all the paint first cracked and then lumps started falling off and it had to be taken down

Following that day my art teacher treated me as if I was gifted. That felt good but it put a weight on to me that was difficult to live up to. I knew I was a fraud. It was a situation bound to end in failure.

Later that year, three of us had misbehaved and were placed in detention. She gave us the task of smashing up coloured bottles to produce shards for her mosaics. She was very fond of making these large mosaics out of shards of coloured glass. She’d collected a number of green, brown, and blue bottles and some white porcelain. We had to wrap the bottles up carefully in a big cloth and smash them with a big lump hammer. This was meant to be a punishment! After instructing us in how to do it she disappeared.

We had a great time!

We quickly smashed up all the available bottles in no time at all, and were having such fun that we searched around for other things to smash. By the time she returned we’d smashed every one of her paintbrush jars.

She was very upset.

What else could I do? For goodness sake – I was a child! All children sometimes let you down.

26.10.01

 

My father and I were probably very alike in personality.

I am amazed by how like him I have become. It is especially strange, considering the determination I had as a teenager to be so completely different to him, in every respect. I too work too hard, come home exhausted and find that the responsibilities, and lack of freedom, that come with a family weigh heavy. But hey, this is life.

12.10.01

The end always comes – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

I sat in the chair and held his hand. He was adrift on his morphine sea occasionally raising himself up from the depths of some deep warm waters to surface in our reality for a brief interlude. His eyes would flicker open and he would see the ward and me. He would look around. Who knew how much he took in? I squeezed his hand and the eyes shut.

I watched him as he cruised the oceans of Morpheus.

The eyes sometimes swivelled round deep in their black sunken sockets. Sometimes they were still. The hair on his head had become thin a frizzy. The skull underneath was evident beneath the waxy stretched yellow skin. The bones on his arms and body were etched out starkly beneath the slack thin skin. The flesh had dissolved completely away so that the veins bulged and throbbed, dark blue and clearly outlined beneath the transparent jaundiced cellophane that served as a boundary layer, that was once skin, now a transparent film. He had wasted completely away to the point where you had to wonder how it was that he was still capable of life. Only his will and strong heart were keeping him alive.

“Good night, Dad,” I said, rising to go.

“Night, God Bless,” he said clearly. It startled me. I had thought that he was completely out of it.

“See you in the morning.”

He did not answer. I walked out and looked back from the door. I didn’t see my father. I could see traces of my grandfather in that emaciated body. His nose, that had seemed so normal, now stuck out in profile like a huge beak. The skinny chest rose and fell.

I went home.

In the morning I got up and was in no rush.

The phone rung. He had passed away in his sleep. They estimated death as about three in the morning. No one had been with him.

It was a shock. We’d known it was imminent. It was still a shock.

We went into the hospital. The ordeal was over.

There was the same unreality. We were in our bubble. Nothing had changed.

I stood in the room and looked down at him. He looked the same as last night. It was just that his chest no longer moved, his eyes no longer moved. Nothing moved. I walked over and touched his face. It was cold. My eyes filled with tears.  He had died alone. I hadn’t been with him. I had thought I would be. I had wanted to be. It was like closure. But now he had gone. Slipped away.

I looked out through the window. The curtains were drawn. It was another bright day. The tears slipped down my face. A man walked past on the pavement the other side of the fence with his dog. He ambled along and looked around. If he had looked my way he could have seen a young man with tears in his eyes standing by the bedside of an old emaciated corpse. He would have seen death.

He did not look. For him, this day was the same as any other. He was out there in the world living in a place where death was a long way away.

I was still trapped in this place where time ran differently. I was still in a place where that reality was unreal. Death was real and the world would never be the same again.

7.10.01

My new Mosaic Novel – Farther from the Sun. The cover photo

This is a photo of my father. It has lines on it that look like scribbles. I tidied it up.

This is a sunset that I took while at sea.

My son Henry merged the two for me. I wanted a ghostly effect with my father staring back from the setting sun.

I used the image to design the cover.

What do you reckon?

In the UK:

In the USA:

In India:

In Canada:

Or available from your local Amazon.

We can!! – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’

So where are all those Punk kids that came round my house that day? Are they all boring adults? Are they still out on the edge? Have they still got the passion? Did they burn out and drop in?

Is there any purpose to this youthful rebellion and angst? Is it inevitable that we grow up and become boring adults caught up in the rut of making a living?

Where’s the wonder?

Where’s the awe?

Where’s the drive to grab it by the ears and wrench life’s head off?

Where’s the fury?

Where’s the desire?

Where’s the spirit that says ‘Fuck It’ every time you see something wrong!

Where’s the will to believe that all us human beings are not fuck-ups, we can learn, we can get better, we can put it right!

We don’t have to be vicious, superstitious greedy bastards!

We can share!

We can learn to live with each other!

 

FOR FUCK’S SAKE!

WE CAN LIVE ON THIS PLANET WITHOUT DESTROYING IT, EVERY LIVING THING THAT BREATHES (AND OURSELVES IN THE PROCESS)!

WE CAN!

 

I KNOW WE CAN!

11.11.01

Farther from the Sun – the novel

A mosaic of a novel, a memoir, an homage.

My father was born in 1922. I was born in 1949.

We have different values, different lives and ideas.

How far apart are we?

How much light did he shed?

What are our legacies?

This tells the story.

My new novel – Farther from the Sun – is now available in paperback.

It is a mosaic of a novel – part anecdotes, part commentary, part homage, telling the story of two lives and a relationship. A commentary on life and values.

Farther from the Sun – now available in Kindle

There are no rules.

My latest novel ‘Farther from the Sun’ is now available in Kindle.

It is a mosaic of a novel – a series of anecdotes, commentaries, memories, thoughts and feelings that gel together to form a picture.

The title is the play on words that contains the content of the book.

I wanted to tell my story of a relationship with my father from memories, impressions and thoughts. I wanted to illustrate my own life and how dissimilar and yet similar we were.

This is a novel. It tells a story.

He was born in 1922. I was born in 1949. He fought in the war. I grow up in the sixties. In many ways we could not be farther apart. In so many ways we are so similar. I sometimes feel his eyes looking out through mine.

It is now available In Kindle digital version.

In the UK

In the USA

In India

In Canada

Or from your local Amazon.

Falling down a cliff – extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

Happiness is when you are completely crazy and don’t know what the fuck is going on.

3.11.01

 

You have probably seen a film with the guy hanging off the cliff facing death and the whole of his life goes before his eyes. It is a recurring theme.

I’ve hung off a cliff.

Liz and I went on holiday illicitly, camping in Devon. Wow. I have a photo of her in our campsite. We pitched the tent between three dry stone wall of an old derelict barn. A most convenient campsite – sheltered and private. I was taking a photo and she was looking sexy and peeling her bikini top down. Incredibly, just as I was about to take the shot, a middle-aged couple walked past the front and Liz jerked the top up with an indignant look. That’s what I shot. It is a wonderful photo of her looking indignant.

Later we walked along the beach at Lyme Regis and there were fossils to be found. I’ve always loved fossils. I went back for a trowel and hammer and started digging in the blue lias shale, hoping to uncover a plesiosaur or an ichthyosaurus or two. At very least I wanted to find a nice full pyrites ammonite for Liz as a memento. In my usual manner, I became quite obsessive, particularly when I could not find what I wanted. All I was able to uncover were lousy flattened imprints. I wanted a good solid bronzed ammonite. I knew there was one in there. It had to be remarkable enough to impress Liz.

Liz sat on the beach in the sun. I became engrossed in digging in the shale and bashing open rocks. I had this notion that the best ones were higher up the layers in the cliff so I began working my way up the cliff face. The shale was very crumbly but I managed to secure footholds and handholds. I was hammering the trowel into the shale with the hammer so I could use the trowel as a piton for a handhold. Before long, without realising it, I had worked my way up to near the top.

I had just hammered the trowel in, when one foothold crumbled. I scrambled around with my foot to find another without success. Blue lias is like dried mud, layers of dried mud. It is very flaky. As I was feeling around with my foot the other foothold crumbled away. I was now high up the cliff clinging on to an embedded trowel and a handhold. I didn’t panic. It was all right. I had to get a new purchase in the lias, that’s all. It was OK. I looked down and it seemed a long way down to the rocks on the beach. Liz was not looking. I scrambled around with my feet but could not seem to find a crevice to get my toes into. The cliff was sheer and my arms were tiring. Then my handhold gave way and I knew I was in trouble. I was left hanging by two hands from the handle of the trowel and no matter how much I scrambled around I could not find a foothold. It was a matter of time. The trowel started slowly slipping out. I have to report that my life did not go through my mind, only a sense of foreboding accompanied by an exclamation or two.

The trowel finally came out and I went downwards.

Somehow I leaned into the cliff and clawed at the face with my nails and toes like a Tom and Jerry cartoon. I crashed down the cliff and hit the bottom along in the midst of an avalanche of debris. Liz screamed.

When the dust had settled I stood up virtually unharmed.

I have a photo of two long gouge marks down the cliff, made by my feet and clawed hands as I clawed at the cliff on the way to the beach. I escaped with ripped nails and multiple lacerations and bruises over arms, hands, belly and legs. Nothing too spectacular.

I laughed it off. It could easily have been a lot worse.

3.11.01

 

Happiness is the feeling you get when you survive something unscathed that could have come out a lot different.

3.11.01