A decade in a haiku trilogy

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Since the good ship Simon set sail, I’ve been going through some old family photos on Facebook. Never one to shamepost pictures of my young adults when they were kids, the memories are nevertheless contained in the ten years I was married, when Mountsfield Park and Manor House Gardens were my 100 Aker Woods. The young ones are pure Catfordian, from Kentish and Irish blood, and that decade in the London Borough of Lewisham is where I learned Japanese and wrote 51 syllables…

WHEN WE WERE VERY YOUNG

Lollipop

THEN WE WERE FOUR

Dinner lady orange

I’LL ALWAYS MISS YOU,” SAID EEYORE…

Ambulance police

…to Piglet and Pooh, Kanga and Roo.

You can take the poet out of Catford, but that Two-tone cat will never stop scratching me.

catford se6 cat poem

Harlequin lemonade party

FLASH FICTION

A CHILDISH HORROR STORY

Elefant-imperfetto-lab-1-1ImperfettoLab

When I was a kid, our dad would let us choose a story from a collection, and we’d naturally go for the longest. Then we’d switch off the main light and put the elephant lamp on, like we were reading conspiratorially by torchlight. Dad didn’t mind. He worked all day and he’d take us off mum’s hands after supper. That was our time, and children’s stories helped with dad’s reading. I don’t think his dad ever read him bedtime stories.

Granddad was very strict: “Children should be seen and not heard,” that sort of thing. Whenever we were too much like children around him, he’d threaten us with the cupboard under the stairs: “I’ll shut you in there, and you’ll see what happened to the last child.” We always suspected he had a secret, perhaps a trapdoor in the cupboard, leading down to a basement.

Being kids, we were curious. We wanted to go in that cupboard and make a camp, our own little room away from granddad. We wanted to be unseen and only audible to each other. But it was forbidden. His attitude seemed illogical and paradoxical to kids, his strict nature only encouraging us away to explore. And that’s how we found the skeleton in granddad’s cupboard, hidden inside a clown costume.

We didn’t tell granddad, because he couldn’t hear us. Dad would never tell us, because we only let him tell the long stories. So I wrote it down, under the light of the elephant lamp in our bedroom.

© Steve Laker, 2019

Campaign for Civil Disobedience

CCTV wave2

Takifugu sushi rhyming slang

POETRY

If you cook it, it tastes like fish…

ANATOMY OF A GHOTI

Fugu poem2

Open your ears. All we need to do is keep talking, and listening.

A personal absurdist obituary

THE WRITER’S LIFE

This one goes out to my brother by another mothership, who set sail today when he reached his expiry date of best before 56. What’s quite disquieting is how my life has suddenly become normal.

In fond memory of Sundays spent tearing up News of the World colour supplements and ripping gender-specific glossies apart, when the grown-ups were inside with the kids and we were out the back, smoking, drinking, and talking at ease, observing the obscure and often floating on a tangent into absurdism, like Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman on Pointless, like Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse on a fishing trip, people like us being people like we were…

Claudia Winkleman Banner‘Swimming saved my sanity’: Gym-phobic Claudia Winkleman reveals why she’ll be swimming a mile for Sport Relief (2016). Photo: Jay Brooks (Daily Mail)

SHOWBIZ

Claudia Winkleman has confirmed what many have suspected for years: That she’s part-dolphin. In an article not appearing in this month’s National Enquirer, the Head and Shoulders advert and minor national treasure reveals how researching her family tree helped her understand a rare genetic mutation.

I’ve known all my life,” Winkleman says, “but my fringe covers by blowhole, so only my close friends and family knew until now.” I decided to come out after my trip in the TARDIS, she adds, referring to her previous appearance on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing as a dolphin.

Claudia TARDISAnne’s TV Blog

Claudia uncovered the origin of her quirk while filming for a cancelled edition of the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? “I got hooked on genealogy,” Winkleman says, “and I just kept going back further and further through time. My ancestors were winklers, who harvested molluscs from the sea. I traced my family line back to the first humans, then even further.

Eventually I arrived at a common ancestor we all share, about 60 million years back. My 3 million times great grandmother was a flatworm, and her species followed many evolutionary paths, creating such diverse creatures as dolphins, octopuses, and humans.

We still share 90% of our DNA with that common ancient ancestor, and even though the Human Genome Project unlocked our genetic code, we’re only just on the threshold of understanding.

At a sub-atomic level, a single strand of DNA can store more information than is held in all the world’s libraries. We only just understand which bits do what general things. Deeper within the code though, beyond the 10% which is pure-human, ancient history lies dormant, in all the DNA programming which went on to evolve separate from us into things like the octopus and the dolphin.

So what I have is a genetic blip. For some reason, that part of my family’s DNA which has slept for millions of years has stirred. I haven’t spoken about it before now, because I feared the reaction. Perhaps a part of me was worried I’d be used for experiments. But I believe in being me, and I think everyone should be free to be themselves and to express that. We are all part-dolphin.

And I think it’s a gift. If it’s a trait I pass on further down the line, then perhaps I’ve helped kick start a tiny revolution in human evolution. Because the more I thought about the blowhole under my fringe, the greater I became aware of other people’s thoughts. And many scientists agree dolphins might be telepathic.

I’ve learned how to manipulate the blowhole like a mouth, and it’s operated by a different part of my brain to the one which controls the mouth below my nose. With my upper mouth, I can speak another language without really thinking about it.” Claudia blew her fringe from her face. “Mais non, je ne vais pas me couper la frange. Merci.”

Magners

Safe journey Si, a kindred inner spirit floating in a tin can, out there where surrealism is part of normal life x

Cigarette ends

Pessimistic sufferposting therapy

THE WRITER’S LIFE

In an update on a previous post, my brother-in-law Simon passed away today. He’s survived by his mum and four children. Safe journey brother x

Si died
Di died
Dodi died
The Dodo died
Dando died
Doddy died
Dido’s alive
and Danny Dyer
So’s the Dingo
in the dryer
Life is a game
of Bingo

When I can’t make the words in my head conform to any discipline, I just shit-post, then think of a picture to deface. Sometimes I put it on Facebook, more often on Twitter, then I regret it. Interpretation is the real artistic pursuit, and things just pop into my mind. “Don’t let it control you. Celebrate it.”

Grumpy cat depressed GOOD

I’ve made the inside of my head a place full of friends. It’s the only way to deal with people you can’t get rid of, and it can make for a good game of 8-Ball.

ginger cat-on-laptop poem2

Meanwhile, we all have a bigger game to play outside: Let’s save this burning home of ours. We were only ever guests of those who were here first, and we owe it to them, if not ourselves.

Art Chimp Phone

To be anxious is to be human right now. All we need to do is keep talking.

These images never leave, but they hide unless I curate them for hanging in my gallery of thinking, where I can trust the public to steal them. It’s what I call sociology.

 

Practising Japanese sneezing

HAIKU

While I’m still being processed and oppressed by the fascist regime’s murderous social cleansing machine, I’m a writer with many words stored but fewer to express. I use poetry, naturally, but lately I’ve been toying with haiku.

Haiku is of course the Japanese form of poetry, where a verse is three lines – rarely rhyming – of five, seven and five syllables. The art is in using the minimalist (even for poetry) structure, not so much to tell a story as capture an instant.

If you’re really good, you might write more than one meaning into the same few words. This was a quick one I knocked up in an existential moment, about an individual life, the universe and everything.

GREEN-ISH BLUE SNEEZE

Haiku Blue dot

I don’t know if she ever took up Haiku, but who’s afraid of Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings anyway?

Haiku is like a poetic sneeze, a kind of Japanese onomatopoeia.

Benu vin, la ĉieloj supre…

FLASH FICTION

I think I could expand this in a number of ways, but as a foundation block, it seems to work as flash fiction on its own. An evolving brief encounter in the sandpit…

Chat logo

ACHTUNG SNEEZE

I was working on a new short story when a chat window opened on the typewriter. It wasn’t Facebook Messenger, it was software I didn’t recognise and hadn’t even realised I had. I’d certainly never used it before. It was called Cielo and when I first noticed it, there was a message:

Ullo, ullo, ullo.

So I replied:

Hello?

Ah, bonjour. Greatings from you.

Was this the latest incarnation of the Nigerian widow, or ‘We love you long time’? I decided to play along on a coffee fix.

Who are you?

I am away from a long.

A long way away? Thailand? Nigeria?

ASL?

PSFM

PMSL? PMFSL? WTF? LOL?

PSFM?

We. Oui sind pansexual dos spirit.

French, Spanish, German and English, in a strange construction of a sentence. I decided to switch the Babel Fish on.

What does that mean?

I am two spirits, in the same vessel. Together, we make me. I am from Cielo, and I am 14.

The Babel Fish seemed to struggle with the complete translation. Cielo is Spanish for ‘sky’, and the name of the chat app I was talking on, to whomever I was talking to.

I’m sorry. I think you have the wrong person.

For what person wrong?

I don’t know. You contacted me.

I like to cat.

Chat? It’s French for ‘Cat’.

What about?

Tell me everything. Dankeschön.

I don’t think so.

Pourquoi?

Because you’re 14.

How is 14?

Your age, I assume. 14 years.

What am years?

365 days?

What are a days?

24 hours.

What is an hour?

About five times longer than we’ve been talking on here.

Where is here? Who am I?

OMFG.

It’s here where I am, and there where you are. But I mean, here in this chat box. You are you, but you never told me your name.

Where are you? Achtung. Bless me. Merci.

I’m not telling you my address. England. Great Britain. The United Kingdom.

Where is that?

Europe. Earth?

FFS.

I am from a long away. My world spins faster, shorter is my day. Moi just learned that talking from you. Older I am now. Time to go.

© Steve Laker, 2019

browser-alien_web_smile_emoji_chat-512

Hopefully it’s raised some questions, like WTF? Who was he talking to? A chatbot, a different intelligence, AI, a refugee, an alien? Whatever it was, with first contact he lived the lifetime of a brief encounter with it, while it learned and evolved, but only through him. Most mortals’ lives are too short.

Brad

Mi pensas, ke mi lasos la konversacian fenestron malferma. I’ve left the Cielo chat program running.

The Apoplectic Apologist

THE WRITER’S LIFE

We can only apologise to the past, and the most difficult person to say sorry to, is you…”

CharlieBrownSnoopyOnDock

Yesterday was one of the occasional ones out with two young friends (they’re 14 and 12 now, so they’re not my kids, they’re young people), and we were back to the familiar stomping ground of Milton Keynes. As ever, it was a very pleasant day, spent in good company, with intelligent conversation. But something played on my mind throughout, and now I feel deflated because it’s too late to go back and change it. Like much of my life then, full of regrets over things I’ve done and live with the guilt.

This was something I hadn’t done, but which I’d said I would. No promises were made and no undue pressure was applied, but there was something I should have done and didn’t, and although no-one’s told me so, I feel I let people down. Paranoia has always lived comfortably with its depression and anxiety siblings in my head.

Apologies don’t always come from the natural apologetic. There’s regret and there’s sorrow, and there’s two types of that: saying sorry; and bearing true remorse, meaning it when you say it. When paranoia has a habit of knocking you around, it’s difficult to accept having an apology accepted, because the guilt lives on, feeding on your guts. I can’t accept forgiveness when I can’t forgive myself. It’s just the way my mind works.

This latest episode revolves around my brother in-law, Si(mon); actually my ex, because he’s divorced from my sister, with whom I’ve been estranged for several years since my alcoholic breakdown, and we only recently made up (thanks to intervention from the mothership, who pointed out that you’ll never see someone’s a different person if you avoid them). I hadn’t made a promise to my sister, but I’d said via our mutual mum that as I was in London yesterday, I’d try to pop in and see Si.

Si’s not well, in a high dependency unit at St. Thomas’s Hospital with malfunctioning kidneys. He’s unconscious but can hear people talking to him. When I was asked to leave the family home six years ago, Si was there to give me a hand. When I sobered up and called my sister after two years of not talking, I was glad Si answered. Lovely bloke, likes his custard, doesn’t judge. I was going to visit him, to talk to him, to thank him. The worth of my words is subjective, but I’m good at talking to people in tough spots. My dad (who has Parkinson’s) says likes talking to me, probably because I speak to people as I always have, paying little regard to any ailment inflicting my audience.

The plan was to spend the day with my young co-conspirators, then visit by brother by another mother when I got back to London. On the way up to town, my mum phoned me and said my sister would very much appreciate the gesture on my part, to visit with Si. As we’ve only recently patched things up between us, I was quite moved that my sister placed a value in me, hopefully now able to see the good in her brother which I lost through drinking and verbal abuse towards others. I couldn’t not visit Si.

I had a pleasant lunch with my young friends, while we made future plans. The eldest is interested in poker (the analytical mathematical odds aspect which makes up 70% of the game, not the 30% which is luck), so I’ve promised him a trip to the poker room I used to frequent when I was a semi-pro, at The Empire Casino in Leicester Square, for his 18th birthday. The younger one wants to go to a West End show, and there’s no-one I’d rather make my next trip to the theatre with. They’re promises I intend to keep, unlike the one which slipped away as I travelled home.

I slept on the train back to London from Milton Keynes, as usual. I don’t tend to sleep the night before I meet the young ones, a conspiracy between my anxiety and circadian clock. I woke at Euston and went straight to the Victoria Line, as is my usual underground habit. I’d forgotten I was meant to go to Waterloo (to the hospital), not to Victoria (for a train home). I needed to get back on the tube, onto the Northern Line, which was part-suspended. The Bakerloo Line then. Then I realised at the ticket barrier that I didn’t have a Travelcard, just a return from home to Milton Keynes, which allowed me one cross-London journey. Then I got stressed. I wasn’t panicked, but I was anxious (it’s like being followed, but before your mugger attacks). I couldn’t leave with a guilty conscience but I couldn’t cure it by staying there. So I gave up on myself, and that’s when I let everyone down, when I decided to just get on a train and go home.

I was tired (no excuse), I was broke (ditto, could have walked), and I was starting to have panicky thoughts (not unusual). Funny thing is, I’d have walked miles for shelter when I was homeless and skint, but the streets are where most of my PTSD originates. Nevertheless, I broke a promise I’d made to my sister after so many years of estrangement, and I’d left a very sick man alone, when a simple act of human contact might have helped him. I got on the train feeling selfish and alone, full of guilt, revolving around myself instead of a hospital bed. I was a coward. I was afraid to see my friend looking frail, and I should remember that when I’m on my own death bed with no visitors.

I haven’t phoned my sister or our mum, and they might even be surprised I’m beating myself up so much, when I hadn’t promised anything. But I’d made a promise by proxy, to a fellow man and kindred spirit, and I feel as let down myself as anyone has any right to be disappointed. My biggest fear is being seen to revert to type, when once all I’d wanted to do was get home and drink. I wanted to get home, to escape the situation and to sleep.

I fretted for the rest of the night, over telling my mum and sister about this. I chose to write it down, in the hope anyone reading might understand. I went to bed at my usual 5am, ending a 39-hour shift unbroken by sleep apart from that nap on the train.

Today I feel just as bad, truly selfish, like self-absorbed. That guilt joins all the others which trouble the mind of an alcoholic, all day and every day after they’ve sobered up. It’s a life sentence I live with like the alcoholic label, while I refuse to get drunk to numb and lighten my mood. I think I’m meant to find some strength and reassurance in that, and I suppose it’s better than not waking up like I used to and not knowing what happened the day before. I feel like I did yesterday, but not the day before that. But I feel like I did when I didn’t visit my dad in hospital. I couldn’t afford the travel and I remembered my dad the last time I’d seen him, when he said my words were helpful. I feel the same very time I have to leave my two young friends. I feel cruel.

It feels like I’m losing parts of my past, much of which I wouldn’t mourn, but that which I treasure is being taken. After I patched up so many differences, I’m pushing away further chances to get better. I don’t blame anyone for not phoning me, when I find talking to myself so difficult and confusing. My mental illness means I’m always sharing space with a kind of anti-me (I’m very anti me at times).

I’ve paused writing on my family history book, Silent Gardens. The original purpose of the book was to help dad remember things, but I feared not finishing it before he forgot, even though reminders of the past would engage his mind. I felt I might be tempting fate, my anti-Midas touch turning everything to shit, when so much of my past has eroded.

I have few people to talk to (and I make it that way), so I’m glad I can write. I’m miserable alone, perhaps karma for the way I’ve left other people. Even if it doesn’t all make sense, it makes sense for me to get it out. It’s like someone else hitting me, to save me time beating myself up.

All I had to do is say sorry, but that still doesn’t solve the paradox, when saying it doesn’t take the feeling away. I’m not looking for anything, least of all sympathy and understanding, when only I know how I feel. “How you doing?” Read my blog.

How can I lift the guilt? How can I stop feeling sorry for myself? By apologising to myself? We can only apologise to the past, and the most difficult person to say sorry to is you, when you are unwilling to forgive yourself.

I wish we could go back to the old days, when we had so much time to talk but we rarely did because we didn’t need to. The cruelty of life, inflicted on those trying to live it; the human condition.

You’ll get over your apologetic apoplexy,” is something I’m only likely to say to myself. Although I’ll have an unexpected upswing in mood at some arbitrary point, when something random and beyond my control happens, I don’t know when that will be. It’s the paradox of living alone in your head with depression and daily confusion. If you apologise for what’s to still to come, you’re probably a sociopath if you’re talking to someone else. I can only apologise to myself for whatever the future may hold.

All I need to do is keep talking to myself. Despite being a sci-fi writer, I find looking forward difficult. Or maybe I’m just paranoid. Sorry about that.

Snoopy3

EDIT: Simon passed away today (Sunday, 25th August). He’s survived by his mum and four children. Safe journey brother x

Cider with Shepard and Milne

POLITICS

Adding meaning to classic literature by defacing it, I’ve called this one “Piglet the gammon”…

Pooh and Piglet gammons

The satire section of this blog is mainly concerned with throwing the right wing’s dogshit back over the garden fence.