Feathered Misfortune

What came first, the bird, or the egg?
Well, I spotted the dead pigeon on Monday night
As I was walking down the embankment
Trying not to breathe too many fumes
Still shivering from an over-chilled office
And shocked at the sight of mangled grey feathers,
A broken neck and damaged wings
I wondered if it had been hit by a vehicle
Or disorientated, had flown beak-first
Into a mirrored tower block
Before plummeting to the pavement below.
I had no answers. Nor did anyone seem
Too interested in the fate
Of an earthbound, flying sky-rat.
I walked home, pondering
The funeral rites of a feathered pest.
The next day, passing the other way
I saw it was still there.
Must have been missed by the road sweepers
Or deliberately ignored as someone else’s problem.
That evening, Tuesday after work
I felt sure someone would have mentioned it
And had the bird disposed of
But no.
Nudged off the pavement into the gutter
At the side of the road
Still a crumpled heap. Grey feathers dirty
From the road dust and oil residue.
I walked on.
By Wednesday evening, the bird was gone.
This morning, I took a different route to work
Staying on the bus to the museum
Then walking the few blocks North to the river.
As I passed under a bridge, I saw an egg
Shell cracked, yolk scattered on the ground
Dirty down feathers floating
While trains rattled above, shaking the shadows
A lone pigeon fluttered overhead
As if mourning their loss.

For Harry Rabinowitz

My grandfather died last week at the age of 100.  Unfortunately, thanks to the French law requiring cremation within six days of death, and to generally poor timing, I, along with several other members of the family can’t get to the funeral.  Only a member of my family could manage to die in the middle of a European football tournament, my cousin’s GCSE exams, immediately prior to the collective insanity of our EU Referendum, and find his funeral being scheduled abroad at the whim of a disinterested foreign bureaucrat, on the day of a national transport strike.  (To explain my mild cynicism, another member of my family was once genuinely late for their own funeral when the hearse got lost… some days my more theatrical relations do seem to be living in a situation comedy.)

As I cannot be there in person tomorrow for Harry at his final send off, I wanted to write something expressing what it meant to me, growing up, to have this person in my life.

“Not everyone can be bothered to charm a child. For someone who loved an audience, Harry was, rare in a musical obsessive, also someone who knew when to be quiet.

I have fond memories of long walks in the woods with a battered basket, hunting for edible mushrooms, my sister getting her wellies stuck in a bog and needing to be rescued, then watching in fascination as he insisted he cook and eat what we had picked. Other adults wringing their hands, forbidding us from partaking, convinced he would suffer the consequences of his own stubborn refusal of natural caution.

I remember piggybacks and very serious games of pooh sticks using the stream at Hope End. I remember visiting Mr Pumblechook, looking for sweets in hollow trees, and I remember my earliest form of musical education, when Harry used to ask me to help him find all the Cs on his piano.

A lot of people knew him as a serious, charming, professional musician. I knew him as the charming joker who taught a shy, seven year old girl to clap polyrhythms and tend bar, and who preferred his favourite music, clothing and even footwear to be loud.

He surrounded himself with laughter, and enjoyed wine, women, and orchestral music wherever such delights were to be had.

Little doubt that he will start organising some sort of a gig surrounded by friends, old and new. Woe betide the third desk violins if they miss the F sharp in the third bar of the second movement. The maestro’s grimace will not balk at halos.”

Harry’s obituaries can be found on the BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Jerusalem Post, the Classic FM, and the London Symphony Orchestra websites.

Harry’s Desert Island Discs episode can be found on BBC iPlayer Radio here.

A portrait of the artist from memory

The langorous lids, drooping softly over his twinkling, tired eyes, and that mischievous grin, wryly twisting the lips as his tongue darts out to enter the silent debate.

How did I ever stand a chance? With one plaintive eyebrow I had lost the argument, all thoughts of resistance winging their way to hardier climes.

He looks up, and I feel my heart leap into my mouth, ready to fall at his feet. What a world I find in that face, one glance and I am forever undone.

Oh how I both bless and rue the day I ever laid eyes on you.

To turn, or to lay them out well?

The spoiled child is a great burden, and one which does not know how to carry others.  The weight of the world’s perceived expectation may prove too much for those narrow shoulders.  The very mass of their own fancies may yet oppress them, and, shamefaced and fearful, they crumble, unable to comprehend the sudden power vacuum that occurs when their providers are no longer there to do the hard work on their behalf.  It is sadly our own unwitting folly that renders those we have need of, those who were born to lead us toward a better future, into lazy, bitter, faithless followers.  Something must change, or with the weight of their burdens, the blindly oppressed will be driven into their graves by those they work so hard to support.

A dystopian vision

A country left to go hang, its policies blowing in the wind like so many dead leaves, rolling across the bloated corpses of those yet clutching the reins of power in their vice-like grip of death.  The fetid air issuing from their purple cheeks only serving to stir up a small cyclone, spewing banknotes in a circle to help scatter the blame far and wide, sowing discord and discontent unevenly across the land, oozing mistrust and perverting the course of the rivers of truth to ensure every citizen has their rightful opportunity to know the bitter taste of fear.

Is this my land of plenty?  My Jerusalem?  This green and pleasant land has become a granite-grey terrain, a place of howling apes in media zoos.  Where once the sun shone down, reflected in the shimmering seas and rivers, upon the citizens at work, now we see, but dark skies and troubled waters, from the defeated couch-potato throne of the unemployed.  We gaze with disinterest at the hopeless perspectives issuing forth from the hi-tech plastic box in the corner.  We mark the passing of time, not by the seasons, or the light of the stars, but by counting the unnatural, tallying the vanishing wrinkles on each ‘celebrity’ face, and we wonder… What is to become of us now?

To those society forgot, an apology

To those without an education, those who yet remain our hope for a future we daily pray will never come, please know we are truly sorry – sorry that your future will be our present and that you, in your untrained ignorance, may not know enough to help us when it comes our turn, or that you, remembering past slights, may snub our pleas for aid in our dotage.

To those without a job, those who yet remain our hope for the future of the welfare state, please know that we are truly sorry – sorry that we shall never enjoy the fruits of your labours and that you will never know the peace of retirement, of rest after a good day’s work.

To those without their health, those who would be well, but for the want of a penny to pay the person to sweep the floor of the operating theatre, a penny that was pinched for a politician’s pocket-lining, please know that we are truly sorry – sorry that you will not live to see tomorrow and pay the new taxes that it brings to fund the paper improvements we will make to a service no one may use for it’s rightful purpose, but those who pay for the privilege of avoiding the laws and lists of the land.

To those without a pension, those who fought for their future, our present, who elected us and believed in our pompous, empty promises, please know we are truly sorry – sorry that those days will never come again, that more of you did not lay down your lives in glorious sacrifice for us to cry crocodile tears of hypocrisy and lay cheap paper flowers upon a slab of rock to honour the memory of the young, the foolish.

To all those society forgot, please know we are truly sorry.  Now please go about your business and stop bothering us.  After all, you have no one to blame, but yourselves.

A sudden sharp blow to the brain

The vice-like grip, at ten a.m. is but a warning, a presage of what is to come. A small twinge, a twitching of muscles, a lightly furrowed brow, then silence. You count the seconds, watch the tumbleweed jump and dance, twisting in the wind as it skips across the hastily vacated brainscape, and you pray for solitude. Eleven o’clock comes and goes, bringing with it a mild headache and a growing sense of foreboding that has nothing to do with the glowering boss lurking behind the advised (and advisable) plate-glass partition. It starts. Twelve thirty sees you staggering toward the cafeteria for a polystyrene cup of boiling monosodiumglutomate and a hunk of stale foam, encased in concrete, and sadistically coated in sesame seeds to provide you with the government-recommended daily requirement of gum-disease. The clouds pass by the window as you pick at your teeth with a ragged fingernail. Your email states that it’s nearly three, but time has little meaning here in the land of artificial light. The phone rings, your ears pop, and suddenly it hits, blinding, terrifying, hideous. You clamber out of the pit and cradle the receiver. Hello? A list of pointless instructions issues forth without provocation. The knife slices vertically through your skull, leaving nothing.

Stream of barely-consciousness

Looking back with the benefit of nostalgia, it is easy to forget the homesickness, the loneliness of that year. I do not look upon it as a wasted opportunity, but rather one I chose to endure in my own fashion. Others partied, northern-style, staying out late, growing up disgracefully. I took a more sober approach. I enjoyed being an enigma to my fellows, and, in a way, I enjoyed wallowing in my own self-pity, overworking myself, setting challenges I would lose sleep needlessly to fulfil. I looked for the real, the genuine experience, rather than living in my own little Erasmus-island. I was there to embrace the local culture, warts and all, and so I did. Suppressing my instinctive withdrawal from any harsh reality I might encounter, I soldiered on, exploring in foreign territory. Craving a wholemeal cheddar-cheese and Dijon-mustard sandwich for nearly ten months. Learning instead to thrive on a diet of crackers, coffee, plain chocolate and oranges. I inserted myself into that world, that time-zone, that lifestyle. I even went to church.

Then, when my time was up, I was expelled from my brave new-found world. Released from the institution. And now I find myself aching to return there. A part of me is missing. I noticed it when I first returned. I craved pizza rather than toast. I pined for the colourful shop-window-displays, bursting with pride and elegance, and found no solace in the unfeeling, haphazard piles to be found gracing the grubby glass fronts of Regent Street.

What can have happened to provoke this shift in personal geography? I no longer belong here, or there, or, in fact, anywhere. I am a displaced person. Having abandoned what passed for ‘my own’ culture to embrace another for so long, I find on returning, that I have lost it. I no longer fit. The world around me jars each time I open my eyes to it, and yet I cannot exist in a bubble. My time there is fast fading, and yet the world here is hardly in focus, but fuzzy, as if viewed through a smudged lens.

Homecoming is never easy. It is in the nature of time, being of a linear persuasion, to march onward, letting those things one drops fall by the wayside. Somewhere along the road, I seem to have lost myself amid the dust and general confusion of growing up. My rock of ages slipped its moorings and drifted out to sea, taking the rest of the Armada along for the ride.

So what do I do now? Try to find out who I really am? Or just choose an identity to borrow? I could so easily become the perfect girlfriend, then wife, and daughter-in-law, even mother. Or do I continue to drift, hoping to bump into something or someone significant enough to run me aground and show me how I am no longer so out of my depth?

My mind is filled with problem-solving paraphernalia, yet no solution fits my puzzle. Logic is overthrown and I dawdle along the path of least resistance, dragging my feet in the mire and snaring my clothing and hair on brambles. I gaze longingly towards the past, using the eyes in the back of my head, ever fixed to the rear, but I refuse to turn. What good would it do to return there? To dwell, to swallow the pill I keep toying with – swirling my tongue around it, and capturing it securely in my teeth before spitting it out again for further inspection…

I am myself, and yet who I used to be is already long-gone. Old friends no longer know me, and I have little use for what new acquaintances I gather, as I now expect them to be transitory, changeable, fleeting.

I work because I must. Not to do so would outrage me, pushing my fragile sense of stability further toward ‘off-balance and out-of-kilter’. I long for time to think, time to sit and wallow, to pinpoint my position, work out how in hell I got here, and where to go next… No time is forthcoming, however, so my questions remain unanswered, although the answers must be within reach. Somewhere in this vast confusion, there is one with my name on it.

Tea for one

I hum a mournful tune, sat amid my geranium pots, on a European balcony, years ago. The beauty of the minor key, sweet in its infinite sadness, pleases me, and I feel somehow included in its nocturnal fumblings. I too have known loss, felt pain, loved where none was to be had in return, and in my imperfect cadences, I taste of the sublime. I swing my arms and legs in the warm breeze, perched on the high-backed kitchen chair, its wicker seat creaking under my shifting weight. The sound, as if on a small boat, gently rising and falling with the swell of my melody, prompts me to look up at the stars. Their twinkling pinpricks wink back at me in turn. The cooling tea I slurp and the chink of the mug as it chips against the concrete balustrade remind me that we are fragile, yet fluid. An ever-changing puzzle, shifting from time to time to keep up with the pace of this universal dance. I am in rhythm, and yet out of it. Touched by visions of truth and forms lacking in substance, I drift through my lazy daily routine, pausing to concentrate on such mentally taxing activities as shaving my legs and to admire the fleeting brilliance of newly applied toenail polish.

To know peace

Your kiss surrounds, envelops and overwhelms me.  Like a drink of cool water in deserted climes, you bring me to life.  As oxygen to a mountain hermit – I have lived so long without you, but now you awaken my body, breathe fresh strength and new wisdom to my limbs and my mind.  I look upon you and I am reborn.  I look upon you and I know beauty in its true form.  No platonic fancy, this, but love.  Of a depth to drown out all the world, and with time, a gravity to outlast the stars themselves, returning over and again to itself, refreshed, renewed, remade in its own image, and I fall – twisting and turning, over and over, toppling, spiralling – I fall in kaleidoscopic dreams and I know peace.