It Was Once Home
Glittering blue seas surround the small isthmus, crammed with houses on narrow streets and overlooked by a grassy and, equally, rocky promontory. Upon which sits a lone chapel, standing solid in the face of Atlantic storms. This granite edifice is dedicated to St. Nicholas, patron saint of sailors, merchants and peddlers.
The south facing side of the isthmus lies the harbour. A pean to Victorian and Edwardian engineering. A welcoming embrace it offers to fishermen, sailors and pleasure craft. And these days, to jet skis and paddle boarders. Its warmth is felt both physically, mentally and once, for me at least, emotionally. Yet, it has begun to change. Grey buildings becoming less solid, as what was once seen as sturdy is replaced by transparency.
It was the beauty of the sunlight, that once attracted artists as famous as JMW Turner, is becoming despoiled by modern tastes. Pilchard cellars are now cinema rooms. Granite is now prefaced with glass.
So when the tide rolls in, sunlight sparkles on the ripples of the sea. Yet, that same light rebounds, refracts and reflects in every direction. Blinding. The silvery shimmer has been replaced by a spotlit glare from North, South, East and West. There is no escape, when there is glass everywhere.
A seaside town, that I once called home, hides behind its spotlight a darkness that cannot be named.
Faces come to me, as I reflect on the memories that inspire these words. People that no longer live or breath, a final destination for many that have left too soon. Yet, in the midst of these recollections, I cannot deny the beauty that lies within this sun soaked bay, this town that once thrived. However, final words uttered on a Sunday night and lives ruined in the first dawn light, cloud these words I type.
Sophistry is spouted by those that have made the most. Whilst up the valley, far away, ruined lives still reside; forgotten.
Up the valley and away from the beauty of the harbour a small conurbation survives, made of grey pebble-dashed houses that suck in the light. The wind, up there, is a permanent fixture along with the litter, whistling amongst dormant streets and up cul-de-sacs. Along mown lawns, lawns full of children's playthings and lawns grown wild, with car parts, cars, and other mechanical paraphernalia. This is a place where everything happens, but no one observes.
It is at the edge of town and the edge of the West Cornwall Moors. Where no one visits, not even the police.
People who live here are disrespected and disregarded.
Summer months bring visitors and vacationers anew. The warmth becoming intensified as people and cars are crammed into the tiny cobbled streets. Each and every one of them wants to taste a piece of paradise, to say 'I was there'.
Children gaily lick multi-coloured ice creams, as parents scoff pasties in white wrappers, before discarding them at will, even though there are repositories littered along the Edwardian Wharf. On the pavements, trying to attract trade are the peddlers of hair wraps and temporary tattoos, forcing those same children, adults and locals to walk in the road, as giant gas guzzling cars edge cautiously up the promenade, clouding the air with a fug of diesel.
This is modernity, with acrements and people, lost in a vacancy of a vacation.
No longer is this a town that functions. It services the needs of visitors, no matter that those who visit are rude, obnoxious and entitled. Where people on a minimum wage are treated as servants by those who have needs, desires, whims and wishes. And woe betide if these are not met. Holidays are where dreams are made, not where wishes are never sated.
Sunburn and sunstroke prevail more than kindness and care.
Alcohol is consumed in vast quantities, with plastic glasses, glass bottles and cans are strewn across the golden sands of the crescented beach. Where people watch majestic sunsets, witnessing the beauty and power of nature. They wallow in the awe that it inspires, sensing that they and nature are as one, watching the sun setting behind the horizon of the vast Atlantic Ocean.
Where once artists have tried to remember and repaint the tales of those sunsets, imprinting the fantastical scenes upon their mind's eye; people now just fumble in the dark, struggling to their feet on a cooling sand, ignoring the stars that begin to shine overhead.
Money has left this town vacant. Happiness just a dream.
That Edwardian Wharf so empty in the depths of winter, and those tightly packed houses on tiny cobbled streets creating a human black hole, where nothing seems to exist.
Even the ghosts have gone. The spectres of a former life, a former town, that once felt vitality and verve have vanished, never to return.
Behind Closed Doors
"I am not who they say I am." He confessed, conspiratorially. Yet, his reddened eyes, watery and unfocused, and his pastie, puffy white skin gave clues to how much he had drunk the previous evening.
The men sitting opposite him, his audience for this meeting, sat in silence, smelling the stale alcohol that seeped from every pore of their hosts skin. Soaking the cheap, creased white shirt that he wore. which was already becoming loose from his trouser waist, as he leant on the table trying to seem both convivial and business-like; without achieving either demeanour.
He was harmless, both thought. That demeanour was a child wanting affirmation from an adult, knowing that he was doing a good job and wanted a pat on the back. Both looked at him with a pitilessness, knowing that business was business, and he was an inconvenience that they had to negotiate.
"My unpopularity can be clawed back. People will forgive me, and also, there is no one else that can appeal to them like I do." He said all this whilst nervously scanning their features, hoping that his appeal was working. He knew that both had been backers and supporters of his.
In the face of this appeal, they remained stoney-faced. Appraising the situation without relinquishing any control of it. They were also evaluating him, whether he was the problem as much as the solution.
Silent, the vacuum had to be filled. "You know, I have a grand plan. One that will keep us here for decades, we shall remain the controllers of our destinies. And that. That is what this is all about." He said, waving his arms about. "Think of me like Perseus." He continued, warming to the theme of his battle cry. Looking at them as though he was the strong man, he was the leader.
Sharing a glance, neither man opposite said anything. Remaining silent. Insomuch as neither had really time to read about Greek mythology so that the analogy was lost on them. But, before they could say anything to the conclude the meeting they found him stating again.
"When Troy was besieged, they fought for decades to keep the city alive and thriving. They fought for freedom, keeping the dream of freedom alive for the people. And that is what I am doing. People working hard for freedom." Neither said anything about how close his phrasing was to the sign over the entrance to Auschwitz. (Arbeit Macht Frei - Work Sets You Free.)
The knock on the door came as a welcome intermission, especially when the interlocker was a willowy blonde, in a tight black and white dress, which made both guests sigh unhappily about their wives choice of dress. Nor did the men notice that she was carrying a silver salver with a bottle of red wine and three glasses on it. Glued as they were to the young lady, they marvelled at their host's ability to attract the most sensuous females. Her perfume fragranced the stale air and made her seem ever more alluring.
"Amelia. Thank you."
Pouring wine in to the three glasses, the host looked at them. "Some lubrication, gentlemen."
Like dumb mannequins, they watched Amelia leave the room, their eyes searching for something, but not knowing what.
"So, as I was saying before Amelia interrupted us. I am so full of energy and ideas that I don't want to stop. You can't tell me to stop now, this is your chance. a generational chance to make a name for yourselves. I mean, you're here, so you must believe, a little."
Finally, the shorter of the two men spoke. "You have seen the news, I presume?"
"Good, so you know that there is a choice to be made soon." His silky voice didn't betray his own sense of betrayal, of finding himself in this invidious position, which he hoped to get out of without shredding his reputation.
"Yes, Yes." Came the ebullient reply. A fact that could be put down to the fact that he had sunk over half a glass of red wine already.
"Good. So, can we agree that tax is off the menu for our associates and us?"
"Err... Not sure I follow."
"You see." Began the other man, in expensive glasses and heavily coiffured hair. "There a few backbenchers we have been speaking to and they are fully onboard with our proposal."
"I see. And what is in it for me? For the Government?"
"I'm very sure that we can find a solution that will make you very happy."
"That's very good to hear."
"Doubtless, there will be some scrutiny, and the spotlight will fall upon yourself for this action. However, let us agree that we are doing what is best for Britain, that the Government's hands are tied, but you are protecting jobs."
"Well, of course we're protecting British jobs."
"Yes, Prime Minister, of course you are. With what you are going to do, is protecting British companies, British Jobs and British interests overseas."
"Yes, I see, Yes. Yes." His enthusiasm was beginning to boil over.
"With energy prices rising?"
"An inevitability of the Global Market."
"Exactly. Excellent." The three of them raised their glasses. "Let us drink to our health and wealth."
"Oh. And Prime Minister, none of this conversation will ever come to light?"
"No, never." He replied between gulps.
Robin Hood In The Neoliberal Age
Life is hard. Not in the sense of work, but watching as those with the least get hammered by those with the most. Super yachts, multi-roomed mansions, private jets and the ability to threaten the politics of every country. So, here I sit watching the sun rise on another day, I find myself thinking of Jeff Bezos worried about his ageing skin, or Warren Buffett sinking more of his millions into a Silicon Valley Ponzi scheme that will not affect him. However, they don't occupy my thoughts as much as the billions of people struggling not to sink.
Poverty is not a choice. Low wages are not the necessity.
But, a warm home is a must, with food that doesn't lead to obesity, because you have no money to make a choice. For people to have life chances that don't depend on the colour of their skin, their gender, or their Zip Code or Postal Code of their abode.
Welcome to my fantasy.
It is the myth made real. The Robin Hood of the Neoliberal Age, with the determination and skill to hack all those accounts, that money hidden away on far off isles, Tax Havens of the rich around the world. So, from my laptop in the North East of England, I gather their excesses and spread it far and wide.
Just as they steal lives from those who seemingly don't matter, I will steal Dollars, Pounds, Yen and Euros that they can't count.
If they can asset strip our fragile earth, so they can deposit a tonne of carbon into air, with their super yachts and trips to the edge of the space. They are not wealth makers, they are not earth creators, they are stealth-mode money launderers, stripping our planet for their own enjoyment. The Robber Barons of the Neoliberal Age.
You may laugh, as you read this. And I hope you do. Because one day it could be you. Down to your last Dollar or Pound, with three weeks to go until some money enters your account. So, desperation creates a vortex in your brain, the anxiety you feel, is pumping blood around your body at hypersonic speeds. Irrationality becomes your core thought because none of what a lack of money is doing to you and body is necessary. Your anxiety doesn't put money in your account, nor does it pay the rent. You've worked 60 hours this week and there is only stress to show, with black bags under your eyes and those won't pay debt collectors.
Yet, the billionaires look at their billions like it is a painting by a Renaissance Artist. They can only look. How many life times would they have to live to spend all the wealth that they have accumulated.
So, I'm knocking off a zero, a nought at the end of that number, because they still won't be able to spend all that money, they stare at each day. So, I am knocking off a nought, a Zero. Taking it away.
But, think what that Zero means for the billions, who could receive a little helping hand at the end of every week?
Life chances change when you're not hungry, when you are eating properly in a home that is warm. A priceless peace of mind, that stops a parent worrying about crime, drugs and alcohol consumption because they have time. Time to spend with their children. Where food is a choice and not what you can afford. A child's dream can be fulfilled because the lure of the gang no longer carries a thrill. A place of refuge is the library of a college, a university or an open field.
So my fantasy is to be the Robin Hood of the Neoliberal Age.
To take from the rich and give to the billions of poor - to those who dream of a dollar at the end of the day, or die trying to make a meagre living either way.
No wealth for me, but a thrill to see people live, not just survive.
Memory is fragile.
Moments, seconds, hours, all in the past.
The American dream, dying on its feet,
Sun drenched California,
Skyscrapered New York,
All showing signs of a country, an empire,
That is decaying from the inside out.
The past is a happy place, populated with icons,
Warhol, O’Keefe, The Rat Pack, The American Gothic,
The warnings were always there,
The Grapes of Wrath, Gatsby, Monroe,
Capote writing, Lee observing the court case,
A country that forgot its natives,
A nation of immigrants that became illiberal,
Across the prairies travel the voices,
New, young and vibrant words reverberate,
Uttering old messages,
However, these are the same songs of NWA, Baldwin, Robeson,
This isn’t a passing moment, this is history in the making,
Time doesn’t stop,
And America will always remember.
Too Each His Own
We all know there is consolation in literature - when times are tough, we can fall into another and forget about our present circumstances. Comfort gained from great writing isn’t just a cerebal proposition, but also a physical, albeit temporary, annihilation of every aspect of our life.
With minimal, almost austere, prose, Leaonardo Sciascia took an imaginary world that might amuse him, but finished the story no longer laughing nor being amused. In “Equal Danger”, he throws the reader into a world where truth is an abstract concept, where the judiciary never make mistakes abd politicians play a game of inciting insurrection.
In this unnamed land that Sciascia describes, although he claimed it was never about his native Sicily, a serial killer is mowing down judges in different towns. The killer’s adversary is a detective, who is not trusted by either those above him or below him. Rogas is a police officer but also a ‘man of letters’ - a description that is used disparagingly.
Brought in from a city to a small coastal area, Rogas finds himself locked in a deadly physical and mental game of cat and mouse, where he is the mouse. Unwittingly, he knows too much. He is too intelligent to be a man of the law. He finds himself in absurdist conversations with colleagues and senior ranking officials that prove he is more dangerous to them than the serial killer.
Sciascia wrote in a time which would have seemed unique. the Mafia was prevailing over the Italian state. Its Government was filled with “Cronyism”, nepotism and complacency. And to a greater extent was complicit with the Mafia. A disenfranchised youth were fomenting terror and the wealthy sat aloof, knowing money bought innocence, or if not innocence, then anonymity from their crimes, always maintaining a stranglehold on the levers of power.
I suspect that Sciascia would smile archly that his tale of a make-believe-world would be as salient today as when he wrote it. In life, he was a man of few words, but he might have said, “Too each his own”.
A Simple Love
Having mulled this challenge over in my mind for some days, I crossed off many joyful memories: my wedding day, the first meeting between my wife and I, staying in Florence. However, I want to recount the day I met the true love of my life.
It was an obscure street, in an obscure part of London. The late afternoon autumnal sun sprinkled its light on the quiet street. Up ahead, behind the glass of the small bookshop window, a stranger was waiting for me. Someone whose native language wasn't my own.
The gangle of the bell above the door announced my arrival. Spines, covers, words, faces and images clamoured for my attention. I stood for a few moments, sniffing the air like a wine connoisseur. My mind was open, for often I go to bookshops with an author or title in mind. Also, back then I didn't have much money, so I knew that hardbacks were beyond my budget.
On a revolving rack, its colour sang out to me. The two tone design. The black white photo. The author's name I couldn't yet pronounce. But the title spoke to me: Equal Danger. Who would entitle their book with such ambiguity? I picked it out of the rack and read the quotes used by the author to embellish his book. Montaigne, Rousseau.... I read the first line, my heart stopped.
I began to read the bumpf at the back, and then, I saw that Gore Vidal called him a protean talent.
And this, my dear readers, is where my love of Leonardo Sciascia's books started.
It is a love that has yet to die.
Footnote: The author's name is pronounced Sharshar, should you wish to seek out his books.
Was it love? Luis Brown twisted this abstraction, this indefinable question, in his mind. It was the only puzzle that remained after he had answered every other Conundrum. No matter whatever else was in his head, he could not escape her image, nor that cruel, hard question. Shouting and blearing like anti-heretical music over the monastically lived life, almost fulfilled and serene, he found himself unable to untie the knots that she had magically woven around him.
Twenty years had passed since Emma had first crossed his path. Thousands of days, nights and other people had populated his life, his memories and his emotions. Now with the sun was setting, not just on his career, but also on his life. Those that told him that he had conquered the world, his small world, he would add, her image remained. Even when he was in the MRI scanner, listening to Rachmaninov through the headphones, he could see her. He could sense that she was close by. A whisper away from him.
Emma Jones was eighteen, Luis Brown was twenty seven. He was in his first full year as an Inspector. She was at university. This was his first posting away from the town where he had grown up. Emma had decided to stay in the town, close to her parents.
Throughout his career, Luis had solved some of the biggest crimes in the land. He sought corruption of top politicians, he had blown apart the financial scams of organised crime and he had put behind bars some of the worst criminals the courts had ever come across. However, each day ended with the image of her. No matter what he was doing, Emma Jones was there. A mythical presence.
He wondered what their life together would have been like?
Sometimes at the end of day, he would walk from his office to the pub, sit quietly at the bar sipping his whisky, smoking his cigarettes and pondering where she was. Her youth was eternal, whereas Luis aged. He had became gaunt, his blue eyes growing milky in colour and the black bags under them more defined. The creases in his features more pronounced, a craggy face that wore a pained expression. His hair greying, his beard even more so. His accolades grew too. A scourge on the criminal world. He was not part of any club, nor did he want to be. Books were his faith and from there he entered the world each day and then each evening, he retreated back to those sacred tomes.
In the dim light of his flat, he would select a book to match his mood and then think, ‘would Emma approve?’
A glass of whisky on the small table by his chair, sometimes, he would close his eyes and imagine she was there.
Luis never told anyone he was ill. He didn‘t utter a word that cancer had come to kill. Carrying on as normal, even though, he often had to disappear to the toilets and spew up blood and bile. The pain never let up, and the drugs only seemed to last minutes to alleviate the distresses that cursed his benevolent self. In those moments when the disease drove through his core, he was grateful that they had given him his own office, with bookshelves and a view across the ancient capital. In those moments, he would swivel around on his chair, and count the places where he had solved a crime. At the height of his powers, his reach over those that broke the law seemed almost legendary. His name was synonymous with catching any criminal.
An ironic smile would cross his features and from the desk drawers pull the brown envelope and then he would place the file before him. It was the only case he had never solved.
The missing teenager, Emma Jones.
The elves sit around the fire, their eyes alight as the flames lick upwards, sparks spit and fly, yet their chatter never ceases. They too are scared of the forest. They hum if they are alone for fear their silence would mean they have trespassed.
Nobody wants to trespass in the forest, imprints upon imprints, tales upon tales, folklore built in the dense thickets of the forest. Where lives are lost.
In the end, like the elves, we will victims of the forest too.
A Turbulent Mind
How do you go missing without anyone finding you? Harry asked himself. All around where the possessions that he loved: books, music, shoes, pens and vellum. Yet, as he stared around the room, everything left him cold. As if nothing was his. He hadn’t earnt them, he had stolen them, at least that was what his mind told him. Everything he did was fraudulent. That he hadn’t won prizes, that he hadn’t created a career from nothing.
Harry knew new that no one would understand.
Being alone was the safest way to be. No love, nor friendship. Just him and his turbulent mind.
Taking up his favoutite pen, he wrote: I want to disappear.
Harry left his physical form behind.
A Click Of A Button
The emergency lights of the office dimly shine on the computers. I have been here every day for the past week. All the signs are in German, meaning that I have had to study my translation manual extra carefully. Yet, I feel at ease, taking a chair in an office with the name plaque reading Norbert Groscopft. A name that makes me snigger a little. Since once I have finished, he won’t be so big-headed.
Last week, I followed the same routine in New York, giggling to myself as slowly drained the computers of all the information I needed.
This is is my final few nights of my covert operation. Then I return to my normal life, watching the world churn, watching as they fall, like dominoes. In fact, I have already seen the tectonic shift, that is happening below the surface, people unable to grasp what has happened. Unbelieving in what they see. No bank has been able to utter what they already know.
Experts think it is a virus. But it me who is the virus. A human. Invisible because of a friend. An all seeing eye, who is shifting the balance of power from those that don’t need it, to those who do need it. This is the revolution, which won’t be televised and will silently kill those that have parasitically lived off the work of others for millenni. You might think that I am an idealist, but for too long, I have watched the world become wretched because of money; the greed of the few over the health of the billions.
I have seen the figures appear upon the screens in front of me. I’ve seen the money stashed away by celebrities, politicians, industrialists, the hedge funds and the banks. I’ve watched mafias the world over ploughing money into schemes to clean their dirty money. Each time, I wonder if I can do more. The truth is, this is the best I can do.
I can end the days for the dogs of society with the single click of a mouse.
Am I Robin Hood? No. But, who am I will remain a secret, because, I want people with no money, no power and no home, to feel the love that this world can give. That leisure time with family and friends without worry can be harnessed for the great good. I want to see no poverty. No government limiting the potential of those whose lives are blighted by fickle idioms.
In a weeks times, when I will reappear again, as my old self. I shall smile as I watch people with no money cry when everything they own has been taken from them, that they are the homeless ones. That it is they who have struggled, to beg, plead and try to borrow.
Monied entitlement will die because of me.
So, watch as the world turns upside down, with the click of a button and I empty the purses of those that least deserve it.