Tuesday, 3 May 2011

AN EARLY EVENING with The Nirvana Tabernacle Choir Playing on the Hi-Fi while Gertrude Stein hangs a Picasso

(1) A condition or place of great disorder or confusion.
(2) A disorderly mass; a jumble: The desk is a chaos of books, papers and unopened letters. Much like my mind.

AS I NEARED THE PASSAGEWAY that leads to the courtyard behind my flat, I raised my right arm and twisted it so that my inner elbow knocked on the part of my jacket that holds the inside right pocket. And my wallet was there. Then I reached into my right side trouser pocket to remove my key ring. It was there. The ring holds my front and back door keys and what I think is a key to a post office box in Bermuda. It looks important, even if it is useless. A person cannot have too many keys.

I selected the key to the kitchen, which is marked with a green plastic tag, and adjusted the key in my hand, ready to fit easily in the lock. By then, I was entering the passage. It is always this way. In the winter, I do this by streetlight after three-thirty.

This is a routine. And there are routines within the routine. I take some sort of comfort in it. These are routines that I prefer to feeling compelled to pick up litter from the pavement and gutter. I did that for six months. It is very nearly the opposite of washing your hands repeatedly.

I inserted the already-aligned key into the door's lock, turned it, leaned on the door with my left shoulder and arm and walked inside. As I always do, I headed to the telephone. I pushed the 1571 message retrieval button on the machine. I rarely have messages. Sometimes a slight click and silence and then a hum. A caller not wishing to say much when he rang, perhaps.

I have to choose between continuing through to the front hallway to look for post and going into the WC. I have a weak bladder. Today the WC won out. There is always post scattered below the letterbox. Rarely mine, but my landlord uses my address for his copious correspondence. I do get clothes catalogues, and flyers from LIDL and the people at Cash for Gold. I gathered the envelopes up this evening and returned to the kitchen with them. My landlord's letters go on a pile by the electric kettle. I got some coffee going. As always.

Yes, there is comfort in it.

It is a luxury to be able to sit and write, live, just about whenever I want to. My hours are not just 9 to 5, but 24/7. The stories are right there, wherever there is at the time. Moreover, if I cannot actually type, I can write notes. Scrawl them. And stack them up.

Here I am, and this will be a conversation based on a few notes and whatever else might come along while I sit at the computer. Actually, it is not too different from therapy. Can one get online therapy now? Perhaps when one can pray online as well. One can play Poker over the Internet, and Bingo too, and both are religious sects involving a great deal of prayer and promises.

It is early evening on a Wednesday and I have just been deposited near my flat with a mind full of routines and habits to work through. I have had a day spent being supervised at Day Services by people who will wake me up in time to be returned home. I sit on a sofa in the Centre's main room next to a fellow I call "The Man in a Coma" for reasons you might easily guess. On the other side of me is a man who thinks I am a spy from Eastern Europe. At least the whispers in his head tell him I am a spy. The Bermudian accent, of course. So close to Ukrainian. Every schoolboy knows that.

Why am I at a day-care up to five days a week? My excuse is—I tell people who do not always ask or want to know—I am British and I am growing old. There is more to me than that, but we would be getting into very small fractions and I seem to have lost any aptitude for dealing with numbers.

This evening I am drinking coffee from the "World's Biggest Mug". Actually, it is not the world's biggest. I have another larger one that has "Coffee" on it in several varieties. One is cappuccino. A wonder I could spell cappuccino correctly the first time. It is spelled incorrectly on the sign of a bistro here in Amble. I spotted the error immediately, having been a proof reader in another life, and told the proprietor. She was rattled, but no correction has been made. Well, let us leave it at that.

My desk is such a mess. I have a simple filing system. Upwards. I make stacks of whatever needs to be shifted to make room for my big coffee mug, and build on them until they start to slide or tip over. Then they go on shelves near my desk. Stacked.

I have, now, near the top of one heap on my desk, back issues of Day Services’ “Newsletter". This is a monthly four-page effort. I contribute a story on something related to our activities for each issue. I made the front page this month. My article on a night we spent out at the greyhound races was edited. I had said that I placed a bet on the first race—winning £4.10—and then on the last race, the fifteenth on the card, which lost me a quid. The published version of my submission says that my second bet was on a dog that came in fifteenth. That would be rare bad luck. Of course, only six dogs race at one time. Our newsletter editor needs to get out more, see the track for himself. Smell the dog shit, beer, fags and BO.

There are bills and statements and DVDs piled on my computer's scanner-printer. In addition, two small stacks of telephone message pages and Post-it notes. These are covered in marks that even the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith would tremble at. No Reformed Egyptian, my hand. Just so you know: The squiggles that Smith supposedly copied from his gold plates were not Reformed Egyptian either, never mind what he said.

By the way, I have been missing the Rocky Mountains lately, and many friends living out there, happens a few are still Mormons. At Day Services recently, a member of the group came across something about the Mormons in the newspaper out of Newcastle. And he mentioned aloud that he had no idea who or what Joseph Smith was. A Prophet, I announced in the style of an angel. In saying it, I appreciated that Smith was a Prophet to those who believed in 1830. Still is to the members who heed their leaders’ orders to stay clear of anything that might show the Church in a bad light. If the truth makes the Saints look bad, then ignore it. We all have prophets, leaders and visions when you think about it. You can find them in the London Underground and online. Why not?

For three weeks now, I have been taking a break from writing. (Except for the article on my gambling income. £4.10 is about $8.00, so I am not stacking banknotes on my desk.)

No creative writing at all, just the scribbles I fit on Post-it Notes and on the backs of old envelopes. Things to write about one day. Or one evening with music playing. I must have music when I write, played loudly. This evening I fiddled about in my computer's music library—I have some ten thousand tracks—and decided to go with the Requiem by Gabriel Fauré.

Looking through some papers here, trying not to spill the coffee, I see that I had thought to write about the Creation, the Big Bang, the Pop of the Cork and the Earliest Ejaculation. It seemed like a good idea when I wrote that Post-it. I actually write on the backs of Post-its as well, which seems sensible because I think the people at Post-it really want you to just use the front side, then move on to another page. Use up their product in half the time; buy a pad twice as often. Bad for Global Warming. I go round to the back. The Green Man.

On the two sides of the small yellow square I have noted untidily that I should look up a definition of chaos, to see if that came before, during or after the Creation. Well, you take your religion, you make your choice. Therefore, I scribbled around that note "The Rock Room" which does mean something to me, even with my decrepit brain. Let us tease it out.

In St. George, Utah, in the grounds of a Mormon Temple, a visitors' centre has been built which gives those without the all-important pass, a ticket to "The House of The Lord", some indication of what might be going on inside the sacred/secret Temple. One room in the visitors' centre has paintings, models and films of all sorts of cosmic places and things on every surface, including top and bottom, and very loud and booming noises. God might be playing pinball and ringing up the points. God has crazy flipper fingers. The first time I was struck suddenly deaf for a doubter. The room is nicknamed "The Rock Room" and aptly so. I would like to have heard Jimi Hendrix's "Third Rock from the Sun" playing on their hi-fi. Alternatively, darker, for the Prophet: “Hey, Joe. Where you going with that gun in your hand?” God?

If you are in St. George, Utah, go looking for the Rock Room. It really is worth a visit. Five minutes into the Creation should be plenty at the speed of light. You may find one of the more remarkable facts of life is that things repeat, follow shapes, sizes, and laws of physics and nature, and yet are always new somehow. Very big. Very small. All alike. A scientist always anticipates another particle, yet unseen, yet unfelt. Somehow, all those rocks flying about make sense; you believe it without thinking much on it. Fling a fistful of Utah's red dust in the air. The Rock Room. A fistful of star stuff. It is so real that it is very nearly knowing all without knowing. That is a good place to reach until you learn to exceed the speed of light.

Then walk outside, perhaps a little deaf from the Big Bang, and look at the trees in the Temple grounds. Look at the trees and that extraordinary and peculiar Temple building. What curious things we create. Who was Joseph Smith? Indeed!

Yes, things repeat. In Bermuda, I lived about ten miles from an old town called St. George's. In southern Utah, I lived about twenty miles from a fast-growing town called St. George. These few summer days in Amble-by-the-Sea, Northumberland, I wear a baseball cap with "St. George's" on it. I bought it in Bermuda, actually. However, here it sometimes gets a raised eyebrow. There is a large psychiatric institution about fifteen miles away. St. George's Hospital. I am smiling.

Broadcasting live from Amble-by-the-Sea. As I sit here, my neighbours upstairs are having one hell of a row. Usually she says little while he thumps and screams from room to room. This evening she is howling back, using language that would embarrass a sailor.

It interests me that my neighbour's screams are quite deep for a woman. I must do the research. Must women scream in a high-pitched voice? Find an illustration.

Out of the blue, I am picturing Gertrude Stein arguing with Alice B. Toklas while hanging some pictures. You just know, without being there, that Alice is shrill and Gertrude booms like a God in a Rock Room. Gertrude is holding a portrait of herself by Picasso.

"I'm tired of that one, Gertrude. You look so severe. Let's have the Matisse in here for a spell."
"But Pablo might stop by, Alice. There is no sin worse than ungratefulness. The damn thing might be worth something one day."
"If Picasso does come round, let's ask him to paint some cows."
"And Henri goes out on the porch."

All is quiet overhead. Through my kitchen window, I see the woman from upstairs has just walked outside into the courtyard holding a bottle of wine and a single glass. That says a good deal. Perhaps she clocked her partner with it before coming down.

A few more notes on the subject of Creation under my spectacles case. I recently read something about the latest ideas on the subject: Where did we come from? And there is a little we can study first hand. Red dust from St. George or a universe full of Voyagers’ Ways.

Did you know that many, most actually, dinosaurs in museums have been reconstructed from very small fossil fragments? A chipped tooth and a slipped disc and you have a "Nuoerosaurus Chaganensis" as large as life, even its diet, disposition and complexion described. Would you prefer to just look at the bits, in a tattered shoebox, or to wonder about and over the greater skeleton that holds them up, knowing there may be major flaws in that framework as reinvented by 2000 Man? Tough choice. What sells tickets and stuffed toys in the museum gift shop? The resurrected beast booming at its prey, the neighbours, family and friends. They think. Did you see the movies too? The puddles rippled. How do we know that? Laws of physics.

My flat is next to a small Roman Catholic chapel with a large freestanding Christ on the Cross in its garden. Very nearly life-size. You can walk behind it, have a look at the curve in Jesus' back, twisted in pain, and get a feel for His shoulder blades and the stress in His neck, bent forward as it is. Most people do not get to see past the front. In fact, they do not seem interested in going around the body.

The Mormons again—they should be giving me indulgences for the publicity—must be mentioned again. In a very large visitors' centre in Temple Square in Salt Lake City there is a copy of Thorvaldsen Bertel's statue of the Christus. The Maker stands, arms outstretched, below the vault of Heaven. You can walk up and down behind Him. In this room, the only sounds are whispers, hundreds of them. “See, the signs of the nails in his hands.”

Thirty-five years in therapy and I wonder if existential psychotherapy just creates a man who is only interested in being—finding—himself, and gaining the acceptance and management of his most immediate personal experiences. Dinosaurs' complete lives from Post-it notes in shoeboxes. Can people see my back? Will they bother when I am whole?

If it is a luxury to sit and write about life as it all comes to mind, observed through a quarent, a door in time, or seen through a kitchen window—my neighbour has returned to her flat, taking her bottle and glass—it is a luxury to stop writing when you want to. If you have that much control. The Midas touch. Can therapy fix that?

I still have a few lines to work through, jotted down days ago on the back of my Centre Newsletter. These are for me, I suppose.

Listen: When I was eleven years old, I won a school prize, at Warwick Academy, for mathematics. The only prize I ever won there. Of course, it was for simple arithmetic. I had not yet cracked open the blue algebra and red geometry textbooks. The next year we had those. Our arithmetic included working in pounds, shillings and pence. In addition, and deduction, parts of those pence. The price of one small bag of gobstoppers could take an hour to calculate.

Came an orange biology book. I can still recall the name of that particular text. Brocklehurst & Ward. The reproductive organs, just line drawings, shown three-quarters of the way through it, were those of rabbits. Why rabbits? I wonder. We did not have human health science. Ever. We eventually killed and dissected a rabbit in my last year at Warwick Academy. I was in therapy five years later.

Mrs Lorna Harriott read us wonderful books that always required that we reach up to grasp their meanings. I was that underdeveloped that I did not then wonder if she had been named for Lorna Doone. She read that to us when we were about thirteen. Her readings were spirited, fascinating, and most desirable. She did drink spirits, though I did not recognise it then.

Senior School French came from a green book and the fleshy lips of Monsieur Ron. Monsieur Ron was le mâitre, and we were les élèves, and he had to leave the staff of l'école he had just joined before the year was out. Le nervous breakdown.

We did in one of our mathematics teachers a year or so later. One day she told us all to rest our heads down on our arms folded on our desktops. Close your eyes. Calm down. This would have been better advice for herself at that moment. It was an afternoon and we were wearing our summer uniforms. Khaki shorts and brown knee socks. She slipped out of the classroom, it was Lower 4. Nobody saw her leave. It was the only time we ever did what she asked of us. Living is easy with eyes closed. We never saw her again.

As I walked along the High Street and through the passageway to my flat's door this evening, I recreated an image from one of Virginia Woolf's novels. Live people turning into so many small piles of grey ashes—right there on the pavements: men, women and children—with bits of gold residue from wedding rings, earrings and the dental fillings of the older of us sparkling in the dust.

Thumping my jacket—my wallet was there—and fishing out my house keys, I wondered if it is the ashes that we come with, or the gold we adorn ourselves with, that really matters at the end of the day.

Reprise: Why do I do this? Check and check again. My excuse is—I tell people who do not always ask or want to know—I am British and I am getting on. There is more to me than that, but we would be getting into very small fractions and I seem to have lost any aptitude for dealing with numbers.

10 September 2007 / 3 May 2010

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