Echoes of a stranger population

THE WRITER’S LIFE | POETRY

Stranger people walk odd and indirect paths, which sometimes cross. They don’t follow signposts or conventions, happier inside to stop and talk things through with the people they connect with in nature, rather than a forced social paradigm; to complete the jigsaw from the inside out. The puzzle of life takes longer to conclude for them. While I have to balance breathing and swallowing, for some it’s a walk in the park…

These are the people I like to meet. Mostly they’re from a younger generation (like my own children), with an opinion on most things about the world which my era brought them into, an enabling age of permission.

These missionaries are the paradox of human nature, with no wish to conform and no reason to say thanks. They’re part of a people which transcends generations. They are the neurotribes…

THE ABDUCTION OF TRUTH

Alien abduction poemSyracuse Newtimes

This goes out to my dad too, looking down at an unfamiliar carpet, in a nursing home where he can’t afford to live, watching the ghosts in white uniforms walk by.

The people most confused about life are often the most interesting to talk to life about, because confusion denies condition and defies convention. They walk a bit funny, as though concentrating on their legs. Because they don’t always feel comfortable on Earth. These are the starseeds, wandering the universe in their minds. They’re connected to us by biology, but free to question what we didn’t, if we allow them to.

They are the beacons of humanity who light the night sky.

 

Under the influence of poultry

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Blood dripping

Ever catch yourself going to bed and thinking, ‘I’m too tired for bed’?

Recently I put a chicken in my freezer because she claimed to be God, I didn’t believe her, and my oven is broken. Two problems stored. I phoned a friend today and asked her how long you can keep a chicken in the freezer. “Three months?” she said. Which was strange, because the chicken I’d put in the freezer only a day ago was dead, proving that God doesn’t exist.

Chicken tongue

CHICKEN DING AND SPAM

I took the chicken out of the freezer. By the neck. “Okay God, let’s talk about what’s on my mind. Let’s see what you can do about it.” She didn’t reply, so I told her anyway, an unwilling and static audience. It was late at night and worlds were colliding, the night with morning and reality with imaginary mind hackers. I tried to strike up a conversation with my chicken as my dreams become more surreal.

While I’ve been on the human scrap heap, waiting for a court appeal to regain my human rights – the Personal Independence Payment denied me over a year ago – I’ve rather fallen further apart. I don’t wear pyjamas, but I feel like a pyjama case turned inside-out. I can’t ask for help, because I’d be intruding. Best to just spill my guts.

Many of my appliances have committed suicide and joined me on the pile of broken things. I can no longer record TV, listen to CDs or play DVDs. Since the kettle broke, I’ve had to boil water in a mug in the microwave. While that still works and the oven’s out, I can at least have ready meals, not the cheapest or healthiest way to eat.

Things cost more when the things around you break, just as they do when you’re broke. Electricity is on a pre-pay key, water is metered, while dishes, laundry and showers are charged by the load.

There’s no light in the kitchen, and I’ve been wrapping parcel tape round my hands to pick up debris and dust from the floors even since the vacuum cleaner died. The toilet and shower are in a communal corridor. Welcome to social housing, specifically the kind which single men are placed in.

So, God. What can I do? Living here is preferable to the streets, but the studio is falling apart like I am. If I ever get my independence payment back, I can remedy much of what’s lacking around me, but my current environment just feeds my deepening depression.

Without the money I’ve had for the last four years, since it was denied by the fascist state’s social cleansing machinery, I can’t visit my kids, nor my ailing dad.

My parents are in the process of finding out that dad’s care – he’s 77 with dementia – will cost more than their pensions, which they’re going to lose because one of them is in care and the pensions go towards dad’s care home ‘tenancy’. That still leaves the bigger part of £1200 a week to find, on a diet of Spam. I’m writing this longhand in my diary, Editor (‘God’) notes in red marker. Turn the page I’ve written, don’t click the link. Don’t be a victim. Don’t trust a chicken which threatens to poison you by hacking your handwritten notes.

Meanwhile mum lives at home, alone and separated from her husband of 52 years, now also without her carer’s allowance, because she doesn’t care for dad any more, in the eyes of the government.

Dad’s questioning his purpose, staring at the ground and asking why he’s where he is; not just in the nursing home, but on the planet. Mum can’t do enough to help, and I can’t do as much as I’d like. Dementia kills more than one person, very slowly. The social cleansing agenda extends into all realms of hardship and mental poverty.

So how about that, God?”

Without an oven, chicken takes a very long time to cook. They say a watched pot never boils, but I have no pot to watch. Left at room temperature though, a chicken will start to move if you stare at it long enough. Mine was defrosted.

My chicken didn’t have a head, the voice came from within its cavity. “You will serve me,” it said. “With roast potatoes and trimmings.”

Perhaps one day, when I can get a new oven. This God would serve me and any friends who fancied popping round for dinner; it would aid humanity in the conversation it started and it would preserve my sanity, so that I didn’t have to talk to God so much.

The chicken mentioned trimmings, so I laid a few newspaper cuttings out on my desk. On the back of one page was an advert for The Unfinished Literary Agency, which I didn’t recall placing (I’m the proprietor of said fictional outfit). It was asking for donations, which I thought quite crass for such an exclusive organisation. But I did invent it, like so many worlds and people.

The blurb requested monthly donations, but offered nothing in return. Which irked me a little. It was a bit like the media appeals by charities, which ask for regular payments to ensure the survival of an animal or a child. Often they’ll promise monthly updates, or sometimes a cuddly toy, all of which somewhat dilutes the gift. I prefer to give one-off donations and just be momentarily pleased that I might have helped someone, anonymously. Like much else in life, even donating to charity is more costly for the already financially-challenged, often on pre-pay mobile phones, but those of us in the same boat tend to give more by simple virtue of human nature.

The chicken was moving slowly across the worktop now. “Why don’t you,” the voice from the hole said, “make a human connection with anyone who helps you?”

I never go out.” Not entirely a fact: Only when I have to.

No, I mean, like those sponsorship sites which offer something in return for regular donations, which then give you exactly the same as everyone else who donated the same amount, like a mention on their website.”

Hardly anyone reads my stuff though.”

All the better for exclusivity,” the chicken said, in a lower voice, deeper in the cavity. “You could make your gratitude far more valuable if it was a personal gesture. You’re a writer. You sometimes take on freelance work, but you’re an acquired taste. You could hire yourself out to donors.”

I started writing the copy for an ad. I thought perhaps a kettle (or part thereof, a fiver) might buy someone a bespoke poem; maybe someone would like a cameo in a short story in return for a DVD player (or part thereof, a tenner?); or a starring role in a fictional tale for an oven (or a part of it, maybe a score?), so I can give thanks to God the chicken by cooking and sharing her. Until then it’ll be ‘Chicken Ding’: a microwave meal for the price of a whole book I once wrote.

Then I binned it. I didn’t have the money to place the ad anyway. Fuck that chicken.

Ever look at something and wish you could take it back, undo what you’ve done?

Left at room temperature, long after it’s defrosted, a chicken will start to move as it begins to decay. Best to cover it with gravy before posting it on social media, as one would a flaccid cock.

neutron_head1

I picked the screwed note out of the bin, my ad hacked and covered in Spam, along with the newspaper clippings and the pages from my diary for this post. I totted up the costs of paying over the odds for living in social poverty, while the bigger patches for my punctures are beyond the means of anyone surviving on the minimal benefits of human life, like a chicken on the supermarket shelf.

blood film strip

Many of my appliances have committed suicide and joined me on the pile of broken things. I can no longer record TV, listen to CDs or play DVDs. Since the kettle broke, I’ve had to boil water in a mug in the microwave. While that still works and the oven’s out, I can at least have ready meals, not the cheapest or healthiest way to eat.

Everything costs more when the things around you break, just as they do when you’re broke. Electricity is on a pre-pay key (a score a week), water is metered, while dishes, laundry and showers are charged by the load.

There’s no light in the kitchen, and I’ve been wrapping parcel tape round my hands to pick up debris and dust from the floors even since the vacuum cleaner died.

Without the money I’ve had for the last four years, since it was denied by the fascist state’s social cleansing machinery, I can’t visit my kids, nor my ailing dad.

Everyone can be part of something if they buy into it,” the paradoxical chicken clucked, as it climbed out of the bin, Spam dripping from its skin. “Like me. Best that you don’t go begging, like I do with a collection plate every Sunday when I intrude on my believers’ lives; it’s so demeaning.

It’s no wonder people die when they can’t afford to live, and it seems as though life is against them as their surroundings break. You need a new bin by the way.

Try not to lose this connection. Perhaps make it part of a story to cover the cost of this website of ours,” he cleared his throat, clucked, “monthly? The cost of keeping this website, your only means of communication with the outside world. It’s a shocking story, shocking”, the chicken croaked from its hollow cavity. “I never knew the price of living, when you’re forced to think about it so that you have to write fiction and fact, your own story and those of others at the same time to save costs. At the end of any day, it’s only you desperately trying to feel better about yourself.”

Which was a lie, because if the flaccid one was a true god he’d know the cost of social cleansing. You might also accuse false deities of invention for the sake of self-flagellation, like a remorseful flasher in front of the bushes, curiously white.

Bic Red

Whatever I write, it’s always with horror in my heart. I don’t think it can be killed, unless it’s starved of voyeurs.

Past future presents unwrapped

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Dad’s in a home, mum’s alone, and so am I. The Hoover, kitchen light, washing machine and Freeview recorder don’t work; the TV and DVD player are on their way out; and the typewriter (this laptop) is developing a mind of its own. My world at Christmas, a microcosm of the one outside.

Earth deflatedTalentHouse

Things develop faults over time, and when you don’t have the means to fix them, they break. This time of year is always difficult, for me and others like me. Finance and personal liberty would mend these things, they’d help patch me up, and maybe my dad, if I could see him more often. I have neither, and my mental health has deteriorated as the government’s social cleansing experiment continues. It’s been over a year now that I’ve been denied my independence, and still six months in the current queue for an appeal hearing.

My darkest future visions are now painted in distant bright lights, as the rise of a fascist state in the UK has come to pass. I don’t see anyone to tell them I told you so, and it’s all on this blog anyway. I saw the recent Tory election victory coming, and as I predicted, it was based on lies, just like Brexit.

Now some of my dimmer predictions are nearer: a more divided nation, the far-right enabled and empowered, increasing civil unrest; soon there’ll be riots, water cannon, curfews and martial law; eventually, the break up of the union, and the UK will be no more (it only remains the United Kingdom in a name that’s become an oxymoron). This has been a dark year; one in which I lost my brother-in-law, my next-door neighbour and at least two old friends; and the next may be bleaker still. Christmas is more a reminder than an escape for me.

Sgt Pepper 2019

Sergeant Pepper 2019, the first to feature iconic wildlife (The West Aftrican Black Rhino)
(Previously (2016): https://bit.ly/2PQPZ8q)

As I topped up on a couple of last-minute items in Tesco today, an elderly lady in front of me exclaimed to the checkout girl, “I can’t believe you’re working on Christmas Eve,” totally without irony as the young girl packed her shopping. You’re the reason she’s working dear. Go home.

The country is in a panic, as if a nuclear winter approaches. And it does under a fascist dictatorship. Staples will be stocked and wasted, while shoppers complain the shops are closed for a day or two, with little regard for those who work there, nor that they have families too. I envy them all, trying too hard to make it the best day ever with their loved ones, as it could be the last for all of us.

I have to remember there’s another world, just outside, where I was once drunk and I slept on the streets, and that my world is what I made it: one of mental poverty.

There’s a different place, a better one where my children are, surrounded by family, gifts and food. I’d like to think there’s an empty chair there, where I might have sat, at least in someone’s memory; at mum’s dining table, where I once did; and beside my dad as he has breakfast in bed; instead of a TV dinner alone.

Christmas in Britain this year is everyone trying to convince themselves that everything isn’t just falling apart. It is, and for many, it does.

Peace on Earth Header

buy-me-a-coffee

Pray the universe, dad to keep

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FICTION

After many months of not being able to write much about my dad, today I can. Until now there have been many open narratives, no closure and much speculation. Last night a chapter ended when I found out dad won’t be returning home.

Over the last few weeks, things have progressed steadily, while dad has deteriorated on the same undefined scale. The final diagnosis is that he has a kind of double dementia, a bit like having Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s living in your head at the same time, chipping away at your memory and sense of self. Either on their own would be bad enough, but there are two of them in there, vandalising the place. He’s at a point where he requires round-the-clock care, which my mum and his home carers can’t fully provide. It’s every family’s worst waking dream when they have to put one of their own into a care home.

Dad will never get better, and this move could hasten his demise. I wish I could have done more. I wish I could do something besides hope that he makes friends in his new home, rather than give up. I wish I could talk him out of it, if that’s what he’s planning. I wish I could swap places, or at least be there so that he wasn’t so alone. I wish I could turn back time. There’s a cloud stuck in my head, which is why it keeps raining on my face.

Kevin NecessaryKevin necessary

TIME FOR BED

I’ve been to my own funeral. I was there as they lowered me into the pit. There were people there. That was when I woke up and made the first jump. I didn’t mean to, I was pushed. Onto my death bed. Before I left, I wondered, will people visit my grave?

Now I found myself back in the hospital bed where I’d died, with no visitors. But when you’re buried in the ground, you have no way of knowing what time it is.

I asked myself what the point was, and perhaps explaining to myself why I’d died. I’d switched myself off in boredom and frustration at the loneliness. If I just go back to sleep, maybe I can get back there, to my own funeral.

It didn’t work. I went the wrong way. When I woke up, I’d reversed to the first night I spent in that bed in the care home.

I don’t know who decided to put me there, like some kind of monster which had to be caged, out of the way where I couldn’t bother them. They visited, but with me incarcerated, they got to choose how much of me they’d put up with. A bit like visiting a grave, when the occupant can’t come to you.

After they’d left on that first night, I slept, trying to remember how I got there, how I’d come to be in this new place alone, when I’d spent much of my life sharing a warmer bed.

The next day I woke up in that other place, but it was cold. I lifted the sheets next to me but there was no indentation of a person. My partner had already left. I slept and I tried to dream.

We’re never aware of the moment we fall asleep. When we wake, we may remember some of our dreams, but we can never recall the point where we fell. I dreamed I was running through a woods, then I tripped, and I forgot my dream. I woke with a start. My jumps were taking me back in time.

I remembered my mum tucking me into bed and dad reading me a bedtime story, then checking under the bed for monsters. He said they only hid under there because they were scared. How ever many tales he told at the bedside, essentially they were all this one.

The scariest thing is this final jump into the past, the last chapter before the light goes out.

When you die at the end of your life, you may lose your own memories but you’ll be remembered by others. It’s but a comfort blanket to think we’re only truly gone when we’re forgotten.

Others will live on who’ve lived their lives with us, but I won’t be remembered when I’ve forgotten the people around me. When life ends the way mine will, I’ll regress to a time and place where I never existed. It’s not the loneliness I felt in hospital; it’s a bed without me in it. And no-one to read a story, no beginning before the book is even opened.

Memories become visions of the future when you’re living life in reverse, but I can’t see the future. I knew I was never going home. Like a baby given up at birth.

They think I didn’t feel anything, but this is how it feels.

I’m alone and I’m afraid.

And so an ending is written, a few words carved in stone. My story is here, hiding under the bed, in the ground beneath your feet, the wind in your ears, and the memory of when we’d only just met.

© Steve Laker, 2019

So many opportunities at the beginning of life, so few at the end. So much discovery in the closing chapters, when there were few clues at the start. We learn as we live, and even though my dad’s hardware is defective, I hope his memory will be stored on some device out there. Maybe he could plug himself in, so that me and him can keep talking.

For all of the most important things, the timing always sucks. Waiting for a good time to quit your job? The stars will never align, and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. ‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.”

-Timothy Ferris

Potted picnics on speed dial

THE WRITER’S LIFE

A young friend of mine recently reminisced, pondered and rued on Facebook: Where are the guys who call to ask how your day is, if you’ve eaten, and what you’re doing later?

I thought about that in a bipolar writer way, both the poet and the horror author, in my potting shed, where I write, and where I keep my tools: A pen and paper, the typewriter, an axe, a spade, a hoe, and packets of seeds…

THESE THREE WALLS

Headphones2

Second verse, same as the first, as we fear the ringing of the phone.

Dark poetry – or verse with more than one interpretation – is a medium I’m enjoying, as I’m finding I can do as much with it as a good twist in the tail of one of my stories. My dad’s been deteriorating over the last few weeks, so writing about what’s going on in my life is difficult and without resolution.

Monkey Black heart Said and done

Dad was a gardener, usually tending the ornamental garden of a very large house. The house also had a kitchen garden, which is where dad seemed happiest, raising vegetables for the table.

There are many moments in life when I remember dad finding me: When I helped out on a gardening project and he paid me out of what little money he got; when I was stranded in Chicago after 9/11 and he called me in my hotel room; and when I was homeless, and he came and found me in McDonald’s. A man of few words, he never needed many; I just knew he was there. Now he’s much the same.

Then there was him, mum, and so many friends when I got knocked over exactly 33 years ago today, when I was 16 and spent several weeks in hospital, like my dad has lately.

In the school holidays we didn’t go away much, but running around that country estate where the gardens were dad’s, I always knew where to find him. Whenever an argument had kicked off in the confinement of a summer holiday family home, when it felt like my mum and sister were ganging up on me, I always knew where to find dad, in the potting shed.

I can’t find dad now, and he’s as lost as I was back then. The generations are reversed, and now I know how I made him feel when I did weird things, or wouldn’t be held accountable for the things I did.

jo-watson-typewriter

On the other side of the sandwich, it’s my son’s birthday this week. I designed my own card:

Cow Car Nothing Worth Doing

I had it sent to me first, so that I could add a personal message:

I don’t get to say this as often as I should, but I’m proud of you and the young man you’ve become.

I’m hardly the model father, but I’m proud to have you as a friend as well as my son.

You are not doing it wrong if no-one knows what you’re doing

Three generations, all with their own deeply personal space; each in their own potting shed of the mind; one in a garden, one with a typewriter, and one with a computer; each of them rarely picking up the phone. I know both slices of bread which hold the Marmite sandwich together are there on a platter. I hope the other two know that the other two are too.

And in among all this, my mum phoned me at 4 O’clock this afternoon and I was in bed. I answered, woke up, and she apologised for waking me. That’s how things are. I didn’t get the chance to explain I’d crashed out in the afternoon because I’m up at this time, writing, because I can’t sleep, thinking of dad. And there’s the other side of the family, besides the mother ship; the jam sandwich of sister and daughter, all on the same plate as the Marmite.

Family picnics, and those with friends who are mi familia: Somewhere, someone is glad you do what you do, even if it’s only you who bangs on about it to yourself. It’s a personal and human sense of family survival.

Where are the guys who call to ask how your day is, if you’ve eaten, and what you’re doing later? They’re there, in their own place, wondering if they should call. 

The last century of yesterdays

POETRY

IDENTITY THIEF

jo-watson-typewriter