The Alchemist

 

The alchemist makes magic happen. She doesn’t follow a recipe any more than she adheres to scientific certainty; rather she channels her intuition and surrenders to impulse. She feels her way through, trusting her instincts and her union with the ancient god of nature, Gaia. This fusion with nature lends the alchemist an intrinsic knowledge of Gaia’s healing potential and her sense of balance. Gaia likes balance; she likes stability, but sometimes she needs to introduce a little chaos.

Chaos clears the air, lets everyone in the room know that they should never overstep the mark which they do from time to time, it’s inevitable, but when they do Chaos is employed. Chaos will, if needed, pull himself away from his sub atomic domain and reap havoc on an atomic level, on a cosmic level.

Gaia, as wild and unpredictable as she sometimes appears to be, has the planet at heart. Gaia will protect the earth from extremes. It may seem volatile to us at times but we must remember that we are guests, non paying tenants with no say in our future; we could be evicted at any time. Any volatility on her part is employed to redress a balance, to safeguard not so much our wellbeing but rather that of the planet’s.  In the meantime, she provides all that life requires to strive succeed. Gaia has solutions to man’s struggles, to his or her pain, confusion, emptiness and desire. These solutions can be found in the air we breathe; all scent is carried in on the wind. A South African Carrion Orchids putrid stench finds its way into the same air as the scent left on a lover’s pillow. The Alchemist has learnt to extract these solutions; she blends them together to make a silent soup of healing.

The alchemist borrows, she never takes, she borrows the scent of pipe tobacco on a tweed collar or that of a desert after a storm. She takes a pinch, adds it to her remedy, all the while relying on her instinct, her gut.

Logic destroys intuition.

When she releases her fragrance back into the world it will contribute to harmony rather than discord. Her fragrances, each as light as a feather, will settle one atop the other, slowly making the world a better place…at least for a while.

She takes the bed sheets from the basket, bundles them into a ball and buries her face deep within the creases and folds made by the twisting, writhing bodies of last nights lovers. She breaths in the scent of lust, pain and anguish, identifies misery, misfortune and desperation. The Alchemist sets the sheets down and turns to her chest of borrowed scents, she chooses an easterly breeze thick with aromatics swept in over summer corn fields. She adds the acrid scent of caramelised sugar and the aroma of rain on supple skin, she inhales, takes a pot marked ‘sea after a storm‘ and adds just a droplet to her remedy. Once she is satisfied with her composition she washes the sheets and hangs them on the line to dry. The air is still. Heat rises from the ground, cut grass and scorched earth mix with the remedy the Alchemist has released into the atmosphere. The sheet dries and she remakes the bed.

Her guests arrive from a long day’s hiking, tired and agitated. Their affair is losing its magic; life has set up camp on their doorstep and is relentless in its persecution. Life is not negative, life is everything: it’s the passion and the love but also the secrets and the lies; it’s the condemnation; the husband and the wife; the mortgage and the school play you were meant to attend. Life cannot be filtered, you can’t choose to ignore it all, it won’t let you. You can however take control; you can lead it rather than be led. You can find perspective if you look. Or, you can sleep in a bed prepared by an Alchemist, its linen sheets aired to mend, to calm your fears, to encourage you to value what you have and to let go of regret.

They eat the soporific food she prepares for them. The food they eat has been considered, measured and delivered with intention. Oysters that taste of childhood rock pools, roasted pork that smells like seasoned apple crates and tastes of lazy Sunday afternoons. Pudding is a mother’s warm embrace, freshly baked biscuits, cinnamon, rosewater, toil and devotion. They drink the Alchemist’s dandelion wine, summer hedgerows, somnolent car journeys, cherry preserve and cut grass.

Drowsiness descends like mist, slowly engulfing the lovers. They excuse themselves, say it must have been the fresh air and make their way up to bed. Between the laundered sheets their naked bodies reach out to one another, they make love, deliberately and tenderly, all the while breathing in a scent that has been designed purposefully for them. Sleepiness slows down the senses, giving time no meaning, picks them up and drops them in a landscape of reds and purples, of longing, of emotional fusion. Reason is suspended, the bodies converse, convey their love, their minds become one, no more uncertainty, no more anger, jealousy or fear; nothing now but communion.

In the morning the lovers wake and smile at one another, they speak of dreams shared, of a love deeper than the deepest ocean. The lovers caress, touch one another with trembling fingers and gaze upon one another with a new sense of disbelief. The world can wait a moment longer. Life is here in bed with them, life feels good, life is the reason they are here together now. Outside the bedroom the world stood still, Gaia paused and breathed in the air, she approved of the subtle shift in mans chances of survival.

The Alchemist sat quietly planning her next voyage into aromatic healing. A child had arrived in the night; quiet, almost invisible behind his overbearing parents. She would launder his sheets and lend him a sense of worth, she would give him a voice. She would borrow the scent of inkwells, medicine balls and carrion after a kill and blend these with the subtle delicate fragrance of a single defiant tear.

Lovers learnt to love, the unseen became seen and the world continued to turn. Gaia kept an eye on balance and the alchemist borrowed solutions, made remedies and healed wounded hearts with her intuitive mélange of fragrances.

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Dawn

Dawn

How long before dawn?

We have an hour or so!

How long exactly?

Sixty eight minutes.

Sixty eight minutes. What will happen then? Will you fade as the dawn creeps in through the window and the first rays of light claim you, take you from me? Will you disappear in a cloud of smoke, like a magician’s assistant in a well practiced illusion? Perhaps you melt like a dream on waking, impossible to grasp, impossible to remember? Will the warmth of your body linger on my sheets, on my skin or will it leave me cold? Will your scent lose colour quickly or will it wilt slowly like an orchard staved of water?

Do you want to know?

No, let’s not dwell on the inevitable any longer. Let me gaze upon your young face, soak it up; it’s been so long since I saw it last.

What do you see?

I see life and promise spread out before you. Only dreams lay in either direction; you are too young to know real pain or disappointment. I see what a photograph can never capture; your eyes are full of expression, so lively, inquisitive, flirtatious and of a blue so rare that God keeps the recipe under lock and key. I see your mouth, lustful, womanly and enticing. A kiss, promiscuous and warm tempts me from your lips, promises me oblivion; I’ll take the kiss and float suspended, bodiless, ageless, mindless. I see thoughts pass before your eyes that never make it to your lips, a longing ill-equipped to make fruition? Or perhaps it’s a dreadful secret, something so sinister should it come to the surface it would overwhelm you, suffocate you completely. It could be doubt clocked in black, hands in pockets, shoulders hunched that rushes past; he only needs a second after all, the weasel that he is. Then again I might be reading it wrong; is it regret I see gnawing at your soul?

You know it is.

I see love for me, so much love for me. Where does this love come from? Who in the world is denied love because there must be some sort of cosmic balance? Who sits bereft of love so that I can receive so much?

There are many. They are not denied love; they reject love. They can’t bear the pain. They witnessed love once from afar and thought, ‘This is not for me.’ I saw a vacancy, a gap in the market, all this unused love floating about with nowhere to go. I decided to soak it up and use it on you. Any left-over love I sell back into the national grid. You wouldn’t believe how much surplus love there is in the world; so many people seem to function perfectly well without it. I can’t bear to see love going to waste.

How you tease me! An old man as well; you should be ashamed. What do you see now – an old man, past his prime, jaded and foolish and flawed?

I see the man I fell in love with. He is gentle, caring, funny and bright; the man who won my heart without a fight. I’m so sorry it couldn’t last.

What happened?

You know!

Tell me.

I wanted one more fling, one more weekend by the lake; a farewell to foolishness, to loneliness and uncertainty.

They said that the lake was dredged and no bodies were ever found. I held onto the idea that you might still be out there somewhere.

I went swimming at night with a bellyful of gin and sank to the bottom of the lake. I felt so desperate, so foolish, I could only think of you. I just felt this overwhelming sense of loss; I’d lost you. There came a point when I knew that, despite myself, I was not going to make it back to the surface. I wanted to of course, but couldn’t find my way back. As my lungs took on water panic found her way out, left me in peace. I knew I had to give into death so I just let go and drifted for a while. I lived the life we would have had; I saw it all before I died. It was wonderful.

And when you died?

I had so much love. There was no more pain. I drifted.

My whole life has been in your memory. I have climbed mountains and swum oceans and battled demons in your name.

I know. Thank you. Hold me now.

How long before dawn?

Not long.

Exactly?

Eight minutes.

I’ll hold you and kiss you some more.

I feel warm

Will I see you again?

I don’t know? I’m to take you with me.

Where?

Out into the dawn

I’m glad its you.

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Ham and Wry

‘Is that him?’ Emily asked her mother with a degree of trepidation as they watched an old man trundle up the path in the direction of the house.

‘Yes, I believe it is,’ said Emily’s mother.

The old man wore a thick brown coat, a flat cap and heavy boots, the type a lumberjack might wear. Murderers, Emily thought, should ware sneaky shoes, not load clunky ones. Murderers should, if they took their profession seriously, not feel the need to announce their arrival; rather they should creep in and creep out unnoticed. His shoulders were hunched against the cold and his head bent downwards, ground-wards, never once looking up as he moved deliberately but slowly towards Emily’s father who stood waiting for him on the porch.

It was a cold start to the day, too cold for the job at hand but the forecast was set to improve and so all had agreed that by the time the preparations had been put in place the weather would be mild enough to kill Winnie.

Emily watched as the killer offered his hand. It was shaken in a brisk, formal, manly fashion, not the usual warm, lingering handshake that she had seen her father deliver/share with friends and colleagues. Not the handshake her father dished out to strangers either for that matter, this was a shake all of its own; a sombre, sober shake as opposed to a joyful, sincere one.

Handshaking was absolutely a man thing, a male thing; she seldom saw her mother shake hands and if she did it was deftly deficient in shake, more of a fleeting hand touch than a shake. Shaking hands was a man thing that had spilled over to the other side. Women didn’t really get it, Emily didn’t get it either but there it was, this odd ritual played out and passed down from generation to generation.

‘Come away from the window darling,’ her mother said as she poured hot water into a flask for coffee.

Emily didn’t like the man. She had decided the moment he unravelled his large frame from his car that he was a nasty devil, heartless and probably evil. He had a strange name, something ‘vic’ and came from a place called Slovakia which was where vampires probably lived and people had suffered from something her mother called ‘Communism’. People from Slovakia were mainly peasants and worked on farms and had tractors instead of cars and were all part of a bigger group of people known as Slavs.

Emily stared on through the window, watching her father and the Slav talk to one another while stamping the cold out of their feet. As they spoke little puffs of frosty breath dissipated into the blue sky above their heads as new ones were born with each word muttered from muted mouths. Her mother appeared briefly on the scene through the window, handing out hot coffee to the men and offering her delicate hand to the Slav for the briefest of touches.

Using her pyjama sleeve Emily discreetly wiped the condensation made by the boiling kettle from the window just in time to see the Slav’s gloved hand slide quickly back into his coat pocket. He was saving mothers touch; putting it deep inside his pocket along with other treasures collected from the world of mortals. These treasures and trinkets were later used to cast villainous spells upon the innocent and law-abiding people of Devon…Emily assumed.

While the Slav sipped from the cup he’d been given he turned deliberately and glared at the small girl peering with intent through the window.

His eyes were hollow black wells of despair leading those that looked, for any length of time, into the very belly of hell. His Slavic nose dominated his face: bony, bent and long, its misshapen form was cast in a forge by the goblin king’s personal blacksmith Goibniu. His face spoke of torture; each line, each wrinkled furrow on his brow represented the slaughter of innocents. His lips were the thin, tight, malevolent gatekeepers whose sole purpose was to permit malicious, conniving and cunning language the passage it desired.

Pure evil had turned up that day in a rusty old Ford Escort with one defeated wing mirror, a rattle under the bonnet and an old dog barking angrily on the rear seat. The dog only had three legs and despite the onset of premature rigor mortis he held onto the slightly ridiculous belief that he was supreme ruler of all he surveyed, albeit with only one eye. The old dog seemed to assume that all would cower in his presence or face his noble wrath; a tall order for a Jack Russell named ‘Pickles’.

As the Slavic interloper used his voodoo stare on her, Emily froze. Her heart skipped a beat but she never moved, nor attempted to hide her distaste,

‘Yes Slav. I’m looking at you. I’m confirming my suspicions and if you don’t like it you can bog off!’ she said with her piercing green eyes.

‘My Winnie will die today by your hand; the very same hand that touched my mother’s will deliver the fatal blow. You will stand over Winnie’s twitching body and watch the blood drain from her veins just like your vampire ancestors watched the blood flow from their victims. What possible pleasure can one derive from killing an innocent creature? Why would anyone take a career in pig-killing? And yet here you stand chatting and drinking coffee with my parents like you’re at one of mother’s soirées!

To kill and kill again as you do requires such detachment as to render you devoid of emotion. Like a zombie you move through the world of mortals looking like one of us, behaving like one of us but really you are nothing but a monster, a gutless brute!’

And with that sentiment delivered in a single stare Emily turned from the window and curled up on the sofa with her Winnie the pig scrap book which was full of photos of, and poems about, Winnie the pig.

She had said her farewells to the pig the night before and then through endless tears pleaded for the pig’s life to be spared but her Father was not to be moved. He had bought the pig for rearing, for food; it was Winnie’s fate the moment she was born to be made into sausages and sausages she would be. Her Father wanted at first to kill her himself – something about respect and ceremony but it soon became clear that, as the moment draw nearer, he lacked the credentials and so the pig killer was called in.

When Emily heard her mother re-enter the room she glanced up with an accusing look designed to inflict maximum guilt, the kind of guilt a mother could not bear, but the blame she had apportioned to her mother soon turned to horror. The Slavic brute with the heart of stone stood right there, he’d managed to wheedle his way into their home somehow. Emily knew enough about Slavic pig killers to know that he would have to be invited in; a vampire pig killer cannot of his own free will, step uninvited over the threshold!

‘What’s he doing in here?’ she asked rudely.

‘I’m sorry Mr Mlynarovič, my daughter is not normally so rude. She is rather upset this morning; she became very attached to the pig,’ explained her mother whilst shooting Emily a look of outrage.

‘Her name is Winnie!’ said Emily defiantly.

‘It’s ok, I understand, it’s normal behaviour. I can answer any questions you have Emily; if you want answers I’m your man,’ said the Zombie-pig-killing-vampire from Slovakia.

‘How can you do it – why do you do it? Killing I mean.’

‘Many people eat meat; they seldom ask themselves where this meat came from. They don’t think about the life that has been taken for their pleasure. There is not so much as a grain of respect for the creature that once passed what is, quite often, a miserable existence. Here on your parents’ small farm it’s different. You need food to survive but you give plenty of care to your produce until it is harvested. Your pig lived a good life here; she is one of the lucky ones.

Some say that if you are going to eat meat then you should be prepared to kill it. I disagree with this sentiment; I believe you should find someone like me to do it for you. You would not perform a dental procedure on a friend or open heart surgery on your father would you?

My father taught me to respect the animal, to care for it. If you are prepared to kill you must do so properly and respectfully and with compassion and skill. He said that you must live a full life because your life is fuelled on the flesh of other animals and if you waste your life you kill for nothing; what was the point of fuelling a life half-lived?

I can do this job because I understand and I respect the animal. I can do it humanely, without pain or suffering but mainly because I have lived a full life. I have loved deeply and been loved in return. I have felt every jolt of both pain and pleasure; I have lived it all – every last drop. If your pig’s destiny is to die then you must turn the energy and goodness she supplies into positive things. Use her fuel wisely; don’t waste it on futile and mindless things.’

Emily wasn’t convinced by this barrage of hogwash, this bunkum dressed up like genuine fact. Grownups always did this – made terrible things sound plausible, acceptable or forgivable. They must just wake up one day believing their own nonsense and then feel obliged to pass on this twisted logic to children, the poor deluded fools. What was worse than the self delusion, so well demonstrated now by the slippery Slav, was that all other grownups seemed to sign up to one another’s fallacies and falsehoods! Mother nodded away like the Slav’s stupid dog, seemingly agreeing with his every word. Did she not know who this creature was, had she lost all sense, was she, as Emily often suspected, mad?

‘I’m not going to eat Winnie; no one can make me!’ blurted Emily. Father appeared at the kitchen door and said quietly,

‘She’s ready.’

Emily burst into tears and ran to her room slamming the door behind her. She dropped to her knees, scrunched up her eyes and squeezed out a tentative prayer.

‘God, I know I don’t believe in you but I will consider changing my mind if you spare Winnie today.’

God had heard this line before, or one like it. God had heard it all before, there was little amusement available to him these days. What happened to original thought? Where were all the lateral thinking satirist gone – they couldn’t all be French surly?

‘That Slav is a brute, Beelzebub personified. Your nemesis is right here in Devon running amok; you really should teach him a lesson and strike him down. Haven’t you got a spare thunderbolt you can use…please?’

God considered it for a moment but bacon was a guilty pleasure he’d rather not give up. What sort of message would he give if he went about frying pig killers in any case? No. Best ignore her plea, he decided in his wisdom; along with all the other pleas that were flooding in from the starving, dying, weak and miserable children all over the world.

Beelzebub grunted as the Slav whispered in his ear, ‘Got you this time.’

Meanwhile, Pickles, Supreme Ruler of Devon, ambled into Emily’s room.

‘Well, well, well, what do we have here then?’ muttered Emily.

Pickles wagged his stumpy tail.

‘Cerberus the hell hound out for a jolly with his master no less.’

God cancelled his appointments for the immediate future.

Out came the low calibre pistol.

Beelzebub felt the usual sinking sensation in his stomach; duped again. No matter how hard he tried to integrate, to live a meaningful life, virtuous and void of sin, some Slavic son of a vampire turned up with a glistening eye and a heart full of retribution.

Out came the letter-opener given to Emily by Uncle Dominic, the Deacon of Winchester.

‘What did you say God? An eye for an eye isn’t it?’

‘I don’t recall saying anything at all,’ thought God.

Satan’s blood flowed into a metal sterilized bucket, his hopes for redemption dashed again.

Emily’s hands were warm and sticky with the blood of Pickles.

Beelzebub gave an involuntary twitch or two, closed his eyes and made his way back to purgatory and the bureau of reincarnation situated on the second floor.

Pickles died slowly and painfully as the life blood of kings soaked the rug on Emily’s bedroom floor. Pickles fixed his one regal eye upon his killer and as his ancestors gathered on the threshold of death he cursed her.

Emily licked the blood from her fingers.

God said unto himself, ‘Well I didn’t see that coming.’

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The case of Fagan Mitchell

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Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and a body ain’t got no business doing wrong when he ain’t ignorant and knows better.”

Tom Sawyer

The case of Fagan Mitchell

 

 

The heat of the last few days had caused lethargy to descend upon the town and everyone from sinner to saint found it difficult to complete their day without a nap, or a moment or two standing in front of the fridge with the door open. It was only May and the end of the school year seemed a long way off.

Barnabas could find nothing fair about a hot day in May, not when you are confined to the classroom, tortured by the occasional glance through the window onto the playing field. The distant hum of the caretaker’s mower spoke of lazy afternoons lying by the river hooking the occasional minnow. It spoke of making a den in the old oak tree that ruled the copse near to Jim Barlow’s farm and offered the best views of approaching armies. The mower was out of season, it was jumbled up and confused, it didn’t actually mean to say such things. There was, to Barnabas, no justice in the world. Justice didn’t exist outside of the confines of his mind. No amount of physics or philosophy or Greek would ever pin point the justice particle.

He believed, through a process of observation and poor judgement that justice was subjective, not everyone agreed on what was just and what was not. Punishment for example, a reasonable and proportionate response to a misdemeanour or crime was fair enough but not always productive. Sometimes a sympathetic ear is all that’s needed.

His teacher Mr Bison ruled with a heavy hand, he believed in zero tolerance and maximum discipline; sympathy was not a word in Bison’s lexicon. If the discipline failed to have the required effect on the first instalment then deliver it again until it did! In the case of Fagan Mitchell this happened to be every day, sometimes twice.

There were several tiers of punishment available to the disobedient child ranging from a slap on the back of the head, all the way up to a severe spanking. Fagan generally migrated straight to spanking, no point in wasting energy on anything less effective.

Bison’s weapon of choice was a rather tatty innocuous slipper, something that the dog might have adopted as his own. Even so the slipper, as chewed up as it might have been, was not to be trifled with. It may have appeared to be old and tired but the truth was it had immense power and a lasting sting.

The slipper was named after the legendary Lady Betty. Lady Betty, as the story went, received a stranger at her door one night. Betty, who’s only remaining son had sailed to America for a better life, lived a sparse existence, in a cabin on the outskirts of Roscommon, Ireland. The stranger sought a bed for the night and while the man slept Lady Betty plunged a dagger into his heart and then robbed his corpse. While she went through his papers she realised, to her horror, that she had in fact just murdered her only son.

It gets better.

She was sentenced to death but on the day of her hanging the executioner was Ill. Sore throat apparently! It was to be a group hanging that morning, a real crowd pleaser; people had travelled for days to see this spectacle. Seeing not only a disappointed mob but also an opportunity, Lady Betty, in exchange for her own neck offered to execute the others condemned to die that day; bless. And so she did. Not only that but, as she had done such an enthusiastic job, she continued to execute inmates at the prison for many years to follow. Lady Betty loved to hang people; she also, as a side line, took up flogging people professionally. Now, you may ask, where is the justice in that? There simply isn’t any, Betty enjoyed her new career and she was later pardoned by the court for killing her son.

Fagan either had a hide of steel or some bizarre love affair with Lady Betty because, without fail the skinny, be-speckled son of the local drunk bent over the teacher’s desk and received his fate every morning. Barnabas and the other children had become rather too familiar with the tucks and folds of Fagan’s backside. If Fagan’s arse ever committed a crime Barnabas was sure that he would be able to pick it out of a line up.

Barnabas had developed the notion that Bison had lost the battle with Fagan and that if the teacher wanted to claw back some dignity let alone authority he must come up with a new strategy. Physical punishment clearly did not work on a boy like Fagan and in fact if anyone was demonstrating signs of defeat it was Bison not Fagan. Fagan it seemed could carry on with his defiance indefinitely whereas for Bison it was a stubborn pursuit of everything he believed in. If Bison capitulated it would mean that his principles were worthless, he would have to rethink everything; the notion that he might be wrong in his approach to life was, Barnabas mused, too much to bear.

Justice may not have existed outside of his head but inside it ruled. Justice, or the ability to tell the difference between right and wrong was, he thought, his super power.

Some people saw injustice as something personal; it only applied to them, but failed to see the reality that others suffered too. Barnabas noticed that for some it was fine to be a victim of injustice and at the same time inflict prejudice on others! Despite not being able to pin justice down, dismantle it and poke it with a stick Barnabas had, nevertheless, a strong sense of integrity.

At school he defended weaker, smaller children from bullies, sometimes he emerged as the victor and other times he’d be left hanging from a coat hook. Not too long ago two twins arrived at the school from Zimbabwe, they were sisters, both small, both shy and both lost in a strange land. Black people were few and far between in those days and so their arrival made quite an impression on the other kids. During mid morning break Barnabas intervened when he discovered the twins cornered in the courtyard by a group of spiteful children. The children taunted the girls about their dress, their hair and their shoes but to his surprise the twins lashed out at him! It seemed that bad attention was better than no attention and that there was no justice in justice.

On another occasion he found a group of older boys by the long jump, they had buried a crow up to its neck in the sand and were taking turns in trying to kick its head off. Barnabas tried to save the crow by applying the kind of logic that was supposed to make the thugs feel shame, but ended up being buried to his waste in sand; next to the crow. The would be decapitators took turns kicking him in the ribs and back until he passed out.

There were, he had to admit, more defeats than victories but every intervention made him stronger, gave him a sense of self that the bible denied him.

It is highly possible that Barnabas’s strict Methodist upbringing contributed to his notions of righteousness. By the age of ten his bookshelf boasted the sum total of seven books, six were various additions of the King James Bible, and the other was the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Barnabas, who was studious, introvert, despite moments of impulsive intervention, and a boy who had been brow beaten into restraint loved Tom Sawyer. If a young boy needed a manual on how to be a boy then Tom Sawyer was it. If an adult, someone as pious as his father or as bitter as Mr Bison needed a reminder of what it was like to be a boy then Tom Sawyer was it. Tom had the nerve to dream, to play and lead a life of adventure, whether that happened to be real or not.

His father, a Methodist minister, frowned upon Mark Twain’s presence on the shelf, thought he had the power to corrupt the other inhabitants. Barnabas’s mother had, for once, put her foot down and made sure his father’s disapproval was not voiced; his frown she could do nothing about.

Being Methodist came with assurances, all of which were attainable through rigorous prayer and bible study. Some things were certain in life; we are all, for example, born with original sin, its smeared all over us from birth. Sin is inherent, a condition of man and there is nothing to be done about it. The condition was handed down from Adam but, and this is important to remember, we can all be saved, even people like Barnabas’s older brother Abraham who had been seduced by Beelzebub and weed, were still in with a chance. Even Bison, as it turns out.

We can also know when we are saved –this would indicate some sort of sign- perhaps some inexplicable revelation or meeting with Christ, and we can, through prayer and methodical biblical study be saved completely, one hundred percent. Christian perfection was the end game, it’s what you dedicated your life too, dodging sin and temptation as you went and the best way to avoid sin and temptation was to bury yourself in one of your six bibles.

Barnabas struggled with the cruelty of the Old Testament and it wasn’t so much the great sweeping genocides such as the wholesale slaughter of Egyptian babies or the plagues, but the small horrors. David and Bathsheba’s adultery ended in God having all of David’s wives raped before his eyes by none other than his own son and then, if this was not enough, the offspring of this dalliance slowly tortured. David’s reaction to this cruelty was no better, a bit of penitence in the house of the lord, a quick bath and then a night out on the town! What was the point? What lessons had been learnt in punishing everyone but David himself who, truth be told, was a bit of a self righteous knob!

The New Testament was sold as something different, wrapped in compassion, joy and love. God was now forgiving and fatherly, his years of violence, murder, racism and rape were behind him, he’d grown up, become gentle and kind and yet, if one should read between the lines it is obviously a hoax. God’s son Jesus was no saint either, although that’s how he was portrayed in Sunday school. ‘Jesus loves us unconditionally’ they said. Well not really, Barnabas, unlike many of the other kids had read the bible umpteen times and tenfold.

Jesus was OK as long as you loved him above your own mother. In fact he blatantly encouraged those that followed him around like he was the bloody Messiah, to forget their families and devote themselves completely to him. Jesus was a chip off the old block, but rather than carry out the punishment, he encouraged his followers to punish themselves. If you look at a woman with a lustful eye, gorge the offending eye out, or better still cut off your genitals, best to be on the safe side after all.

In short, over time, Barnabas began to distance himself from God, they had little in common.

God it seemed had other ideas.

Now, as Barnabas sat in class, his body numb with fear and indecision, neither flight nor fight seemed a possible option, the hair on his neck prickling as his mind went strangely cold; the teacher caught his eye.

Mr Bison looked desperate; Barnabas could tell that Bison’s options were compromised by the gun now hovering inches from his face. His teacher’s plea for help, however fleeting, directed itself towards Barnabas because Bison believed that Barnabas had some sort of communion with God. That in some way the minister’s son had a spiritual union with God and could, if he so wished, perform a miracle.

A week earlier Bison had lost his temper again and picked Fagan Mitchell up by the throat and pinned him against the blackboard. Fagan’s feet dangled in mid air, his body limp like a rag doll. Bison’s face turned red as Fagan’s turned purple. When Barnabas could see that Fagan was about to pass out he got to his feet, walked over to his teacher and gently put his hand on Bison’s arm. Years later Bison would tell people that as soon as Barnabas placed his hand upon his arm, ‘it was like the kid was a messenger of Christ’ and he felt the power of the lord rush through his veins. Seems that Bison had his revelation; he knew the moment of his salvation.

Fagan, it had to be said, was a strange boy; he detested authority, would have no truck with rules and always wanted the last word. Fagan pretty much did what Fagan wanted to do; no one seemed to be able to reel him in. Every morning Bison would call the register and when he got to Fagan a small pre-emptive twitch occurred in the corner of his eye. ‘Fagan Mitchell?’ barked the teacher.

‘Not present’ answered Fagan Mitchell.

Every morning Fagan was dragged to the front of the class, his trousers lowered and his arse spanked with Lady Betty until Bison could spank no more. Fagan grinning inanely would return to his seat, Bison would collapse in his chair, red in the face, out of breath and rather dishevelled.

‘Why?’ pleaded Barnabas one Saturday afternoon while looking for treasure in the woods.

‘Cos I won’t give into him, sides it would probably kill him if I just started to behave like he wants me to’ said Fagan while studying a tree stump with great intent.

‘But don’t it hurt like mad’ pleaded Barnabas who had never received so much as a rap on the knuckles.

‘Ah you get used to it, besides it’s just over a silly joke, so why lose your temper and half kill a boy every day of the week over a silly joke. No I’ll carry on getting whacked if it bothers him so much to hear a joke’.

‘Doesn’t it make you sad Fagan, to be whacked that way every day?’ I think it would make me too depressed.’

Fagan gave up on the tree stump deciding that it was unlikely to hold a hoard of stolen treasure and began to favour the shadow of an elm tree cast at noon.

‘Too right it makes me depressed, but not for the reasons you are thinking of, I’m used to it, besides my Dad is pretty generous with his fists when he’s had too much whisky. No it saddens me to think that old Bison takes so much offence at something so small you could hardly see it. Compared to all the wrong things people do to one another, a little cheek is microscopic, that’s the word I’m looking for, microscopic.

Fagan had become Barnabas’s Huckleberry Finn, the boy that parents forbade their children to play with, the outcast and son of the local drunk. Fagan had been tainted by his father’s reputation and judged to have an unsalvageable soul. Fagan’s incommunicado dealt the boy a poor hand but also gave him an autonomy most boys his age never had.

Barnabas’s father had made it quite clear that his son was not allowed to play with Fagan because he had the terrible misfortune to be born into such an intolerable family. Hope in Salvation for this urchin was a long shot and if the minister was a betting man, which of course he was not, he’d put money on the lad going to hell. ‘An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and if you look at the tree it’s nothing more than a lopsided, drunken crab tree’.

This remark led Barnabas to question his father’s logic, which was never a good idea but in this instance his sense of justice took command of the situation before he had time to think.

‘What of salvation and doing good unto others, that’s what you teach isn’t it?’

The Minister did not approve of his son’s tone but felt obliged to make himself totally understood. ‘Salvation is available to all of us, even Mr Mitchell but it is, is it not, a matter of choice, one can chose to be saved as easy as one can chose not to be saved. I’ve been in this business long enough to tell the difference between the dammed and the salvageable my boy. Yes you are right we should look out for those less fortunate than us, we are lucky, we are already on the road to forgiveness and ultimate salvation. But with some folk like Fagan and his kin it’s best we tackle them as a community, as a body not as a personal project. They have the power to corrupt even the staunchest believer Barnabas and I can’t risk having another son dragged down into the quagmire because it’s a long and lonesome climb out of the abyss.’

The two boys played together nonetheless, but had to arrange secretly when and where they would meet up. This just made it all the more exciting, like one of Tom Sawyer’s adventures. Fagan, and not by design, had earned himself a kind of hero status amongst the other boys, he was not only defiant in the face of Bison’s tyranny but an independent spirit. He stood for rebellious, eccentric, nonconformists everywhere; that said, Barnabas reckoned that Fagan was probably unaware he stood for anything, Fagan was just Fagan.

In Church on Sundays Fagan sat at the front with his father, a man that stayed sober long enough to see out the sermon. Barnabas’s father would be reading from his pulpit, ‘Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found, and hid. In his joy, he goes and sells all that he has, and buys that field.’

Fagan, to the Minister’s constant annoyance would inevitably interrupt, shouting out questions in front of a full congregation. ‘If it was like finding heaven why did he not share it with everyone else? He doesn’t deserve to find the treasure, all he thinks about is himself, he’s just selfish.’

‘Yes thank you Fagan’ the minister would reply through gritted teeth, ‘as I have said on countless occasions keep your questions for bible class.’

Now it seemed that Fagan would never bother anyone again. Earlier that day Mr Bison solemnly explained to the class that Fagan had died in a tragic accident; an accident of biblical proportions.

Due to Fagan’s discontent with authority and, it would seem, Mr Bison in particular, he’d decided to skip class and go fishing instead. Something he was apt to do often. Only when Fagan arrived at the river, the river had run dry. Rather than turn back home, or god forbid go to school, the young boy with the spirit of adventure climbed down into the thirsty river bed. While he looked for treasure, turning over stones and sticks, two miles upstream an accidental dam burst. Water from a downpour earlier that morning had first trickled then flowed from dry ground into streams and gullies. The water met and congregated at a point in the river that was blocked by a fallen tree, the congregation grew and its strength intensified until the tree could hold it back no more. As the water burst through the dam Fagan wrote his name with a stick in the dust. A few moments later Fagan, along with his name were erased. His body washed up on a river bank several miles downriver and was stumbled upon by an old lady out walking her poodle.

The minister made a big song and dance about God’s mysterious ways and how this sad story should be a lesson to all children with plans of disobedience. Barnabas thought it was just a very tragic accident and his father’s barely suppressed glee at an apparent act of God, unjustified and cruel.

Mr Mitchell had burst through the door half way through trigonometry, which at first seemed to be a welcomed distraction by all, until the gun came out. He went straight for Bison, waving his gun in the teacher’s face and shouting drunkenly about revenge and punishment and justice for his boy. Old Bison looked furious, ‘How dare you come barging in here, making threats and talking utter nonsense, this is a classroom not one of your seedy, low life bars?’ said Bison, trying to keep control. Barnabas had a fleeting image of Mr Bison spanking Mr Mitchell with Lady Betty. The bereaved father bent over the desk, his pale, bony arse winking at them as the sun shone through the window and Betty raining down blow after blow. He shook his head to dislodge the image.

Mr Mitchell seemed to sober up a bit then, he stood up straight, proud, before leaning into Bison, really up close and said, ‘I’d shut the fuck up now if I were you Sir’ and with that he spat in the teacher’s face. Bison could hardly contain his rage, no one spoke to him like that ever, it was his role in life to be the bully, the aggressor, the communicator of violence, the deliverer of shame! Who was this drunken upstart, this whisky soaked guttersnipe with bad breath and black teeth? Who the hell did he think he was, coming in here and trying to overthrow his command? Even so, whatever went through Bison’s head now stayed there, he seemed to shrivel up, shrink before them, so that he became no more than a man, not a God –or a demon – not some overwhelming, unmoving force of nature, just a normal, fragile being. He was still mad but predominantly he was scared. He needed to be rational in the face of such volatility and absurdity, he needed to remain calm, lucid and realistic; he needed a miracle.

Barnabas’s father made a point of telling children that if they ever found themselves in a peculiar position they should ask themselves ‘What would Jesus do?’ After which, apparently, all would be made clear.

Barnabas thought about it but concluded that Jesus would probably see this moment as an opportunity to promote himself as Messiah. He would maybe enter into one of his parables, boring the gunman into either shooting himself, Jesus or the teacher. Jesus could perform miracles least we forget so maybe he’d lead everyone down to the river and resurrect Fagan, snatching the poor little beggar from the claws of Hell’s flesh eating demons. Now that, Barnabas thought, he would like to see.

Now Barnabas wondered what the right thing to do was, it was all very well looking to others for guidance, but when push comes to shove don’t most of us do what we think is right. Or do we just tell ourselves that something is black when it is clearly white just to avoid difficult decisions?

Jesus did what he thought was right, it may appear to be a little eccentric to say the least but he only followed his heart and, to be fair it cost him his life. Barnabas, although it would be years before he ever voiced it, thought that Jesus was totally insane. On the other hand billions of people around the world for two thousand years have lain down before him. Others of course have committed immeasurable atrocities in his name. No one has ever committed any atrocities in the name of Tom Sawyer as far as he was aware.

At the end of the day he only had to ask himself one question and it was this, ‘What would Barnabas do?’ That’s all that really mattered, he had to live with himself and he had to live with his own decisions. To be true to oneself meant judging yourself more than anyone else. ‘What would I do?’ Not ‘what should I do’ because ‘should’ implies responding to expectation, religious or social pressure; it’s not as easy as one thinks. He must be his own keeper, his own judge and his own executioner.

So what would Barnabas do?

He looked around at the other kids in the class, they looked as stunned as he felt, and he wondered if any of them had similar thoughts going on in their minds. Would perhaps some other kid attempt to save the day before he, Barnabas, decided to respond to Bison’s pitiful plea?

He glanced at Fagan’s empty chair, poor Fagan, what would Fagan have done, the stubborn, independent kid with an enquiring mind and apparent immunity to pain or shame. Fagan would probably be totally unaware of the apparent danger and start a dialogue on hand guns and pistols.

Barnabas concentrated his mind because that’s what Barnabas did. If you are born with the gift of judgement it’s a heavy mantle to carry, it comes with great responsibility. Deciding what is Just and what is fair takes thought, observation and deliberation. Barnabas needed to weigh things up; to make a decision based purely on reason.

Perhaps, for example, he needed to consider if it wasn’t unfair for Mr Mitchell to kill Mr Bison. Maybe it was fair, maybe the old goat with the keen temper deserved to die. God only knows he’d caused poor old Fagan enough grief in his time not to mention the rest of them. Why not give a grieving father the chance to reap revenge on the man who, for all intense and purposes drove his son out of the classroom and into a flash flood. One dead teacher didn’t amount to much in the grand scheme of things. And what of Mr Mitchell, he would go to prison happy in the knowledge that he had done the right thing for his boy in the end.

The truth is that none of this would have happened if it hadn’t rained that morning, if the ground had not been so dry as to cause a flash flood. Fagan wasn’t messed up; Fagan was probably the most rounded person Barnabas ever knew. So there was no point blaming anyone for Fagan’s behaviour other than Fagan himself. Fagan never demonstrated anything other than self assurance and an ease within his own skin. Fagan did what Fagan wanted to do and was happy with the choices that he made; he was not an unhappy boy.

Barnabas glanced outside, how did he end up in here and not out there?

Barnabas, with a heavy heart stood up.

He walked quietly over to Fagan’s Father and placed his hand upon his arm.

Mr Mitchell looked at Barnabas with confusion, like he hadn’t realised where he was.

‘I’m Barnabas the minister’s son, do you remember me?’

Mr Mitchell nodded his head.

Yes of course Barnabas, you are always very polite and kind towards me and Fagan’.

‘Mr Mitchell, let me show you where Fagan sat’ said Barnabas pointing towards the empty chair.

Mr Mitchell nodded; he seemed to be in some sort of trance now, like he was in a dream that had just taken an unexpected turn. He had no control over the dream and put his fate into the hands of Barnabas.

‘If you just hand me that gun first, we wouldn’t want an accident would we’ Said Barnabas as calmly and as matter of fact as he could. He must have conveyed some sort of authority because Mr Mitchell surrendered his gun. With the gun now in his hand, Barnabas felt a rush of power he’d never experienced before. He was in charge of the situation and could, for as long as he held the gun, dictate the outcome. He wondered if justice was decided ultimately by the man with the gun, with the atomic bomb up his sleeve or, as the law decrees by a body with no invested interest in the outcome. Maybe, despite everything, it is all down to providence or karma, some kismet energy that ripples in an unseen dimension, arbitrating, judging us and our actions and dealing out retribution in this life or the next?

Barnabas didn’t really have time for philosophy he just followed his heart and his instinct, he would not, in the end, decide the fate of any man, but nor could he just stand by and watch one man harm or harass another.

Mr Bison quietly told the other children to, ‘run along now’ and as he wiped the spit from his face they respectfully left the classroom as quickly as they could. Meanwhile Barnabas led Fagan’s father to his son’s desk and asked him to sit down. Now that all the other children had left the room Mr Bison told Barnabas to leave him and Mr Mitchell alone together and to hand over the gun. ‘I have it from here’ he told Barnabas with something that might have been a smile.

Barnabas obeyed, because that’s what Barnabas did. Once he had closed the classroom door he let out a long sigh of relief. He’d done the right thing, Mr Mitchell would probably never have used the gun anyway, he was just in shock. Now that there was no danger he must leave the matter to Mr Bison…Barnabas had taken three steps when the gun went off.

The day began to cool.

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The King is dead, long live the king.

 

On the edge of the earth, as west as you can go without falling off, there, next to the stream of Okeanos is a mythical isle known as Elysium. A place for Gods and heroes to retire and enjoy the fruits of their labour. Here the inhabitants gather on the banks of the Okeanos and look out across the sea, they await their new King.

Control was something Steven was finding more and more difficult to hold on to, so when his vintage E type Jag aquaplaned at 70 mph and crashed into the central barrier of the M32, it was, he thought, to be expected.

Once the car had finished somersaulting, perhaps taking a bow or two, accepting the plaudits of admiring fans and settled into a position not conducive with escape, Steven exhaled.

He was upside down squashed against the roof, the seat belt cut into his ribs and his legs pinned into the foot well, he could hardly move. Through the driver’s window he saw headlights pass by, not slowing, not caring, not wanting to be delayed.

Sound came back, he hadn’t realised that it was absent until he heard it. ‘The Doors’ were telling him that, ‘this is the end’ he thought about that, not so much the irony but what if they were right? Right or wrong he had no control over it, he’d come to the conclusion recently that there was little point in taking control anyway; life just didn’t like it when he took control.Life wanted to fuck with him and there was little he could do to prevent it, no matter what he did, how assertive he tried to be, how sneaky he was, how he kept life in the dark for weeks not allowing her access to his plans and motives she still scuppered him. Life had other plans, life had an agenda that did not correspond with Steven’s own plans, he was, he believed, totally screwed.

On the other hand despite the situation he figured that life was having too much fun with him right now, he amused her, she liked the game they played, it kept her on her toes.

He had been an actor all his life, whether or not he got paid for it, sometimes he accepted a fee, other times a twisted gratification. The pleasure of a job well done, of ‘getting away with it’ and he’d ‘got away with it’ for most of his life. Then, one day, he woke up not knowing who he was or what he wanted. He took a long look at himself in the mirror, the mirror he’d shared with his wife and children for years. He decided that he needed a new mirror, one that didn’t just stare back at him with that dumb, ‘I can’t help you’ face. So he bought a new mirror and nobody liked it, everyone just wanted the old mirror back, they liked the dumb, noncommittal look of the old one, the new one had attitude; no one liked the attitude.

So Steven was left with a mirror that no one liked the look of and with nowhere to put it; that’s where it all started.

Once he saw himself, the real him, there was no turning back, no change of heart. It wasn’t pretty, not all of it at least, he needed to make some adjustments, needed to be the new image, needed to be himself. Being you, as it turned out, was not easy, it wasn’t popular either!

He started by trying to be honest with his wife, he wanted her to know how he felt, who he was and how he wanted to be…it didn’t work.

Steven fumbled for his phone but it was no longer in his pocket, the phone had flown. Who would he call anyway, no one spoke to him anymore, he’d flown the nest, he’d rocked the boat, been made an outcast because he simply had the nerve to look for something real.

For his ‘friends’ or ‘their friends’ it was all about taking sides, and they were quick to do so. How dare you seek happiness, how dare you embark on such a journey and leave us behind? We are in this together, no one leaves the quagmire, and no one is supposed to change! Look at you, being yourself, pursuing happiness…fuck you…we are all unhappy but we don’t just wake up one day and buy a new mirror! No we stay with the old one, the one everyone can agree on, the one everyone knows. Yes some of us have toyed with the idea from time to time! But, and this is important, none of us have been stupid enough to actually follow our hearts! To find happiness elsewhere! I’m sorry (not really) but I’m going to have to play the ‘holier than thou’ card. Call me a hypocrite if you like, but it’s the only way I can live with myself. I’m jealous but I won’t admit it, you actually did it and I never will.

His children hated him, ‘how dare you see yourself, how dare you be happy, your job is to make us happy, fuck you, fuck your happiness, it’s not about you! You are Dad and only Dad, you have no right to pursue happiness; we are happiness, we are all you need! All these years you have devoted to us, worked like a dog, loved us, counselled us, and protected us means nothing. Just stay the same, be unhappy for our sake.’

He was really unhappy

Finding yourself isn’t as easy as it sounds, some of us do, and some of us are too scared of what we might find, of what the mirror might tell us. What if finding yourself means crawling out of the thick, comfortable soup you have immersed yourself in? I don’t want to be myself, I want to stay here where it’s comfy; I’ll ignore the elephant in the room and so will my wife, together we make a team, both of us pretending, both of us ignoring…only I can’t ignore it anymore, the elephant is eating my soul… our soul!!

Why didn’t anyone stop to help him? Why were they just driving on by? Why, over the last few months had no one stopped to help him?

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Just seen Stevens Jag overturned on the M32…probably dead, such a shame; it was a lovely Jag.

Ex friend

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The actor Steven Duke has been involved in a serious accident, pronounced dead at the scene.

BBC News

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OMG I knew him quite well before his indiscretion, he was a good man, made me laugh, life and soul of the party, what happened?

Ex friend

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What happened? He decided to live his life, wanted to be himself, wanted to know how it felt to be him!

Ex friend

 

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What a wanker!

Ex friend

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He should have just tried to make others happy, pleased people, gave them what they wanted, pretended to be happy. His ego got the better of him, worshipped his own image above God. Now the lord has decided, made the right call, rid us of scum.

Ex friend

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I was his friend for thirty years; we were even best men to each other. We played in a band together, watched our children grow and become young adults. But then he betrayed us, played a blinder mind you, none of us saw it coming! Had no choice in the matter, had to tell all in the end; fucking low life worm.

Ex friend

‘The Doors’ gave up on him; now the only sound he heard was his own breathing and the occasional car drive on by.

Well this was as good a time as any…

Steven decided to have a word with God.

Hello God, you there?

Hello Steven

I’ve been meaning to call you for a while now but, well you know how it is? I’m busy, you’re busy too, I don’t like to bother you normally, but recently life has got it in for me, I guess you know that.

Yes I know everything and nothing.

My problems are nothing in the grand scheme of things, what with Ebola, Aids, the Arab spring, those Jihadist bastards and UKIP; not to mention all these bloody paedophiles on the loose! You must have your work cut out, bet you wonder why you ever bothered in the first place really.

Yeah I don’t have much to do with all that now.

Really!

Yes, what’s the bloody point, no one listens do they, and I just got tired of the whole thing. I mean I tried to tell people what to do and how to do it but then they went and misunderstood, decided I meant this and that; I got tired of what other people thought about me. To be honest it hurt me, I got quite upset and ended up having a bit of a breakdown.

God I’m sorry to hear that.

No don’t be, it was the best thing that ever happened to me really. I thought, fuck it, I’m going to do what I want to do, be a little selfish, go find myself.

Oh and did you?

Yes I did, it wasn’t easy, and this lot up here were all against me of course, bunch of pious busybodies. Rumours started to spread, people made stuff up about me, said things that were simply not true. Others, spineless morons, believed the naysayers and gossipmonger’s, I’d had enough so…

I posted this message to them on Facebook

Whose fucking business is it anyway? What right does anyone have to dictate how someone else lives their life? Why are you all making this about you? You have your own lives to lead, get on with them and stop judging others. One day you might find yourself in need of a friend and I can only hope and pray they are nothing like you, you bunch of backstabbing hypocrites.

Seriously I think I’m gonna throw up!

What do you know? Really ask yourself what you know to be true? You’d be hard pushed to give me one single truth about yourselves let alone anyone else. Oh I’m sure you gain some kind of inner reward from allowing yourself to believe that you are morally superior, by turning your back, by refusing to look, what a bunch of cunts you are. So the king is dead, you held him on a pedestal, err you put him there actually. Now he’s gone, now that the king is but a man, fallible and real, how does that make you feel? Disappointed? Come on get real, did he give you what you wanted, did he dance the dance, was his friendship real? Was his love for you genuine, was it sincere? Has he told you otherwise? Thought not.

All that time, you took from me, you pilfered, and you stood in the glare of my brilliance hoping to take a little bit of it away with you, hoping some of my charm would rub off on you. You relied on my humour to lighten the mood, my wisdom to enthral and my generosity to inebriate you. Well now it’s time to give, to wish me God speed and you haven’t got the balls.

Shame on you

The king is not dead.

And when he returns anew, fixed and fit and healthy he will probably forgive you all, because, after all, he’s better than you. The King is a force of nature, a kind man, a bright man, an honest man. Just ask him, just ask him what it’s like to be real…and while you are at it you can tell him how you have been manipulated and poisoned against him, it wasn’t your fault, you don’t have a mind of your own or the ability to seek truth. Truth hurts doesn’t it, truth changes everything and you don’t want change do you? You just want people to stay as they are…in the box marked, ‘just like me’. That’s pride for you; pride won’t allow you to admit to making a mistake, a bad call, an error of judgement. If you do that your world may flip on its head.

God

So what happened?

I just got down with my bad self, like it or lump it really. I took up fly fishing, bought a new chariot and studied evolution, all very interesting stuff actually. So I moved out of the palace, built a cabin in the woods and now grow my own produce, Cain would be proud of me. I do the odd pantomime and attend christenings and stuff but other than that I keep out of it all. What about you?

I thought I was being punished. I’m terrified of making the wrong call, so I end up doing nothing, I spend my life analysing my options, I don’t want to go back and yet I don’t know how to move on.

Who do you think is punishing you? Do you think I would punish you, or are you punishing yourself?

Are you punishing me?

Nope

Then it must be me then

What’s the point of that?

I don’t know!

Why won’t the past stop judging me?

You are not responsible for the thoughts and actions of others, you can’t control that, believe me I should know. Stop beating yourself up about it, learn from mistakes and move on, the past cannot be changed and the future is unknown so live for the moment.

People search for peace, people search for love and understanding, people, those that dare to put their heads above the parapet fuck up, they make mistakes, sometimes they can be crippled with indecision and doubt; crippled means that they can’t move, they can barely breathe. Even so, when you have seen the truth, when you are tired of the lies, of the pretending, of the denial you will inch forward, you will climb no matter how many times you fall back into the soup.

Thanks for the chat God. I’m feeling a little tired now but I really feel that we made progress don’t you?

Progress, bloody progress, why are we all obsessed with progress, I want peace and quiet, to stop time in a happy place and just enjoy it. My vegetables and orchards, my fishing rod and hot rod and my collection of heavy metal LPs, that will do me for now.

Speak to you soon God

You can call me Elvis

Ok Elvis and thanks

Steven found a cigarette packet and his trusty Zippo near his face, he pulled out a cigarette and put it in his mouth, pulled on a finger, another finger and then a…

Light blinded him, made his eyes weep.

After the mirror fiasco Steven realised that coming out was not easy, that being true to oneself was not something many people understood or had even considered. So he agreed, with himself, to lead a double life. He could be himself privately, alone, away from prying eyes, from disappointed faces and pointing fingers. He could do it and at least be partially happy. He was a very good actor after all.

Then one day, out walking his dog, who was not judgemental in the least, he met her!

He met someone else who, to be herself, left the house, left the overbearing neediness for her to fit into the box that had been made for her. She didn’t like the box, it didn’t feel right so she bought a new one but nobody liked the new one, it just wasn’t the same. Her high-handed, morally superior, intellectually challenged husband took it personally.

Why do you want to be someone you are not, you don’t need to better yourself, not on my account. I like things just the way they are. You can’t go off and do something for you, you must stay here with me and the kids, feed us, clothe us, do as we say, as I command.

She told him that she no longer loved him.

He told her that she did.

Two lonely people agree to meet again.

After a while both Steven and his new friend feel that they can at least cope as long as they have each other. They can go home to their respective families, play the part, be whoever it is that they are supposed to be, needed to be, in the knowledge that at least one other person out there knows them for who they are.

This all took a great deal of deception.

Deception was his middle name.

It’s what he did best.

But, now he was honest with himself, he understood that all his life he’d been trying on different masks to see if one would fit, and now he’d found himself, he no longer needed to. Steven was tired of the acting; he no longer wanted to be someone else.

Sooner or later the shit was going to hit the fan.

Sooner or later he would start to feel like he’d lost control.

Sooner or later friendships would be tested and left wanting.

Steven, still holding his trusty Zippo, felt shards of glass graze his face then he heard a voice, it came from behind the light.

‘I wouldn’t light that cigarette if I were you mate, petrol, it has a habit of igniting. We are going to get you out of here. Is there someone we can call?’

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The man was a human being, why can’t people just stop judging, he who cast the first stone and all that.

God

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But he led a double life, made a mockery of mediocrity and fooled us all.

Ex friend

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Steven is not who we thought he was, we don’t want anything to do with him.

Ex friend

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To think you pride yourself in your apparent scepticism and yet base your conclusions on one side of the story, that and tittle-tattle; the ever-present peddlers of scandal.

GOD

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The trust is gone; there can be no excuse, no reason behind this insanity, other than…err…insanity itself. Bloody nutter, to think he used to baby sit my children.

Ex Friend

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I’m getting too involved, what’s the fucking point? No one ever sees sense. Just get on with being you, when, and only when you have mastered that should you feel remotely qualified to pass judgement on others. Amen

God

When the whole affair came out, came flooding into lives and living rooms, around dinner tables, bar tables and beds it just felt like a bad dream. All this time Steven had convinced himself that, in some twisted way, he was actually protecting those most vulnerable, his wife and children, from a shit storm and by saying nothing, by being himself, albeit partially, he could pretend for their sake that everything was normal; that he was happy. Why put his family through torture, through something they could never understand? He never hated them; he loved them for who they were.

The shit storm came.

He wasn’t being himself.

He must be having some kind of breakdown.

A midlife crisis.

His brain must have dislodged itself and been replaced by his dick!

He was a heartbreaker, a scoundrel and a liar.

He was left adrift.

Confused

Alone

He began to doubt himself, lose control, found it impossible to make the simplest decision. He lost entire days to deliberation; deliberation had never been so busy. The new him, only recently born, new to the world, found life to be cruel and unhelpful. But the new him was determined to survive, determined never to return, to give up. He knew that some bridges needed to be burned and others rebuilt. He knew that somewhere he would find his place in a new world, that there would be love and music and wine.

His new friend scurried away and hid, couldn’t cope, hunkered back down into the old box, became unemotional and detached. The old box was killing her but she felt that she had no choice. She must make others happy and forget about the new box with its mountains and rivers, its canyons and fjords. In the new box she could run and jump and sing, she could swim naked in the rivers and lay basking in the sunshine. In the old box it was glum, damp and cramped and lonely with nowhere to go, no room to stretch and dance and grow. Slowly she withered; slowly she died buried in a box long before her death.

Beep…beep…beep

Steven opened his eyes…

‘Steven’

‘yes’

‘You had a lucky escape, a few minor cuts and bruises; life is not finished with you yet’

Steven laughed

Beep…beep…beep

‘Get some rest; is there someone we can call?’

‘No’

Beep…beep…beep

‘Your phone is busy; someone out there is worried about you.’

Steven checked his phone

Message

I hope that this has been a lesson to you and that you give up being you and come back. We can put all this nonsense behind us now. I have given you a second chance, a chance to return to order, to be whatever it was you were before. Why are you fighting it, what is it with people like you, why don’t you just give up and die?

Life

Look life, we don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, I’ll give you that, but really what’s the point of living if you can’t be yourself? I’ll admit I’m no expert on the matter, but isn’t that what you are all about…living?

DEATH

 

I’m about making living as hard as it can be; I’m about injustice, survival of the fittest and the slaying of the weak. I’m like a sadistic Sergeant Major. Life is hard, life is cheap and if you want to tame me, master me, then you have to come after me, take me down and tether me, I don’t give up easy, I make it real hard for you.

Life

Tweet

Heard about the accident, you coming home now?

Wife

 

Tweet

Can I bring my new mirror?

Steven Duke

 

Tweet

NO!

Wife

 

And so it was that from the wreckage of his past life, Steven Duke walked away from the billowing smoke, the fire and debris. His long hair damp from the rain, his trench coat billowing in the breeze of an autumnal night he strode head high and proud into a new dawn. He never looked back, he carved a new life for himself, and in time those that cared for him the most followed. Where he is now, no one knows but the fields of Elysium await the new king. The King is not dead.

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Leonardo da Vinci

leonardo_da_vinci-3_jpeg_620x250_crop_upscale_q85Leonardo da Vinci

Anything is possible

My Son, who seems to know more about Leonardo da Vinci at ten years old than I do now, asked me to write about him. When I asked him what he knew about the great artist, my son answered, ‘you mean great inventor don’t you? He invented the first robot in 1495, he invented the first aeroplane, parachute, tank and time machine, don’t you know Daddy?’

Well I’m not so sure about the time machine but I wasn’t convinced about the robot either until I checked it out.

 

 

Florance Italy… 1504… about tea time.

 

Leonardo Da Vinci the fifty two year old polymath and genius was strolling through the Piazza Santa Trinity with friend Giovanni di Gavina; as they neared the Spini Bank a group of notables spotted Leonardo and called him over. The notables were discussing a passage from Dante Alighieri’s ‘Divine Comedy’ and were in desperate need of illumination and who better to shed light on a textual conundrum than the famous Leonardo?

Leonardo, dressed in a fine rose colour cloak that stopped at his knees, a tad daring, a little eccentric perhaps, would have been easy to spot in a crowd. By all accounts Leonardo was a big, strong, handsome figure capable of many inhuman feats; not least of all able to bend a horse shoe with his right hand! Leonardo obliged, he was, after all, a gregarious chap, instantly likeable and comfortable with his fame and reputation.

As Leonardo joined the group, perhaps stroking his well groomed beard in contemplation, his younger, less attractive contemporary Michelangelo entered the square. Like Leonardo, Michelangelo was easily spotted in a crowd, a menacing, unapproachable creep to Leonardo’s gallant swagger. Whereas Leonardo took pride in his appearance Michelangelo couldn’t give a toss, he wore his working garments, his face covered in the dust exorcized, nah teased from his newest commission David. Sharp tongued, devout and void of humour, the younger genius believed he had no equal, believed that he was the greatest artist alive, his talents bestowed upon him by God.  

On spotting Michelangelo, Leonardo called out, ‘perhaps Michelangelo could enlighten us after all he is well known to be a student of Dante’ and thus beckoned the young marble whittler over.

The chances are that Leonardo wanted nothing more than to give credit where credit was due and, if a response deserved credence, then whom better to deliver it than a scholar of Dante such as young Michelangelo? Michelangelo didn’t see it this way; in fact he took umbrage, thought that Leonardo was mocking him and responded to Leonardo’s request with a verbal whipping. ‘You made a design for a horse to be cast in bronze, and, unable to cast it, have in your shame abandoned it’ and with that Michelangelo was gone in a puff of dust leaving Leonardo red faced and tongue-tied. Perhaps the notables, not willing to enter the fray, not wanting to involve themselves with the business of titans expected a crude or clever retort from Leonardo. No such retort came as far as we know; the notables were notably disappointed.

The horse in question or ‘Gran cavallo’ was commissioned by Leonardo’s patron Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan. Seventy tons of bronze were set aside for the casting but, as time passed (Leonardo was never in a rush) war became imminent and the bronze was melted down and turned into cannons. The statue was never completed. To be fair Leonardo had made the clay model and spent many an hour solving the problem of casting such a big statue. As with many of Leonardo’s unfinished works, and there were many, he enjoyed the conception and problem solving more than the realization. Once he’d figured it out, seen the completed work in his mind’s eye, there seemed little point in realising it. This metaphysical philosophy sums up the way in which Leonardo not only saw the world but lived his life.

A small interruption…

Leonardo came up with seven principles for a creative life. First we have curiosity, if you lack curiosity then you’re buggered, no point reading the other six, but then you wouldn’t would you?

Next is demonstration, to test what knowledge you have gained through experience, challenge the knowledge, rough it up a bit, pick it up by the ankles and give it a good shake. Basically think for yourself and don’t rely on conventional thought. Sensation comes in at number three; continual refinement of the senses, especially sight, to enliven experiences. (Also to challenge what you’re seeing) The forth principle is Sfumato: literally, ‘going up in smoke’ a willingness to embrace ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty, to see cherished ideas and preconceived notions going ‘up in smoke’. Now this I fear is the hardest of rules for most people to accept or indeed embrace, people tend to get rather attached to their notions, their notions doth define them.

Then we have art/Science: Development of a balance between science and art, logic and imagination or ‘whole-brain thinking’. A full wit rather than a half wit is best. Number Six is the cultivation of grace, ambidexterity, fitness and poise; yeah I’m not doing too well on this one I’m a left-handed, lazy, ill-mannered hunchback.

And finally Connessione: Recognition of and appreciation for the interconnectedness of all things and phenomena, or ‘systems thinking’. This principle defines Leonardo more than any other, one cannot even consider a creative life without recognising that the universe, the world on which we dwell and all things within are connected; are in fact one massive organism. Any change to one small environment will have a knock on effect (all very quantum really) with the rest. Before introducing something new to an environment one must think about how it will effect, not just its immediate environment, but the universe as a whole.

This is the essence of metaphysical science. Not that Leonardo came up with the basic idea that we should all challenge what we perceive to be real, that my friends was Mr Aristotle who in turn borrowed from Mr. Thales of Miletus who was one of the first philosophers to reject mythological and divine explanations. ‘Hang on a sundial moment’ he was heard to mutter, ‘what if we just stop for a moment and think about this, scrap what we are told is ‘real’ or ‘fact’ and start from the beginning, what is there and what’s it like?’

…End of interruption        

Michelangelo on the other hand was a man driven to finish whatever he started, he was a man possessed, he would not fail, nor would he give satisfaction to his doubters. Many obstacles presented themselves over the course of his career and yet, where many people would have thrown in the chisel, Michelangelo persevered. Nothing was insurmountable, and with a combination of natural talent, god given genius and sheer determination he created the sublime. His problem with Leonardo, I suspect, was that he regarded Leonardo as a fellow artist and therefore competitor; in fact Florence would soon stage a commission to find out which of the two men was indeed the better artist (but that’s a story for another time).

Michelangelo perhaps failed to see that Leonardo never saw himself as just an artist. In fact on his resume to the Duke of Milan, painting appeared at the bottom of the list; a mere afterthought! Or perhaps it irked Michelangelo that, despite paining being one of Leonardo’s many interests, he was still rather good at it. How much better Leonardo could have been had he had the same single-minded drive and dedication to art as Michelangelo, we will never know?

Michelangelo was a wealthy man, a millionaire several times over but he never stopped to smell the roses, to enjoy his wealth; he ate little and worked like a man short on time. Leonardo on the other hand enjoyed a moderate wealth, nothing like Michelangelo’s but seemed to have a much richer life. He experienced fame and notoriety, owned very little and yet enjoyed the hospitality of kings. Leonardo got into whatever grove floated his boat, from botany to weaponry, after all, why box yourself in, why be a slave to expectations?

One of the most obvious differences to me between the two great men is that everything Michelangelo did, his studies into the human form, feats of engineering and design, were a means to an end, a way of insuring the success of his art; whereas Leonardo became easily distracted by the world around him and the mysteries it offered.

For example…

The principle subject of the Renaissance was the male body therefore to paint or sculpt it well, one needed to undertake research into human anatomy. Both Leonardo and Michelangelo would have carried out anatomical studies, dissecting animal and human corpses to gain a better knowledge of muscle formation.

Michelangelo was, he admitted himself, in awe of the male body, describing it as ‘the most beautiful thing in all of nature’. To realise the Sistine Chapel he would have spent hours in the crypt of the Vatican poking about with corpses, all of which informed him ( not literally, that would be spooky) of the lines needed to complete his masterpiece. Although it has to be mentioned that although Michelangelo’s portrayal of the male body is executed with panache his pictures of females on the Sistine chapel look like stonemasons with a couple of tits chucked on!   Leonardo was not a big fan of Michelangelo’s work, noting that his over masculinised characters looked ‘like stockings full of walnuts!’    

When Leonardo delved into anatomical research he not only wanted to study the shape and form of bone, muscle, organ and vessels but to gain a new perspective into the workings, of not only the human body, but human life itself. He wanted to understand conception, growth, the senses, memory, fantasy and the soul. Through his skills as an artist and architect he was able to deliver drawings of unparalleled clarity.

In the winter of 1508-9 Leonardo conducted an autopsy of an old man, recording in his notebooks: ‘This old man a few hours before his death, told me that he was over a hundred years old, and that he felt nothing wrong with his body other than weakness.’ Leonardo then goes on to provide the first clear description of coronary vascular occlusion and arteriosclerosis in the history of medicine! He also came close to discovering the circulation of blood, a century before William Harvey.

Now to achieve greatness in just one discipline be it art, architecture, medicine or tiddlywinks can take one person a lifetime to achieve and even then there are no guarantees. Michelangelo achieved greatness in art and in architecture within his own lifetime. He did dabble with engineering if need be and liked to write poetry but found tiddlywinks to be tediously frustrating. But Michelangelo will always be remembered as the divine artist, the creator of David and the Sistine chapel and with good reason.

Leonardo da Vinci’s legacy is something altogether different. Some people think of him as a painter, the man who gave the world the ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘the Last Supper’ others, like my ten year old son see him as a great inventor making the world’s first robot, designing vessels for flight and defensive initiatives such as a tank or a diving suit.

Speak to evolutionary scientist and they will point to Leonardo as the first person to question the authority of the church and it’s teachings on creation. Genesis was bollocks, knowledge could only be based on experience. After studying fossil shells brought to him by mountain dwellers, he forged the opinion that these artefacts did not arrive on a mountain top due to some biblical flood as the church would have it. No they were not brought by water and then dumped there but left behind, the relics of a sea that once existed; which meant that the earth was much older than some would like to admit.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Leonardo had virtually no formal education, and he developed an abiding contempt for received learning. Why settle for an explanation given by either the church or ‘the ancients’, why assume that what you are told is right. Repeating something you have read or heard doesn’t make you educated, it makes you stupid and lazy. Leonardo realised that fossils tell the real story of the earth and by study and study alone will you unravel the truth.

But

For

 Me

One of the most interesting periods of Leonardo’s life was his work for the warlord Cesare Borgia.

In the summer of 1502, the youthful Cesare Borgia was on his third rampage through the Romagna region of northern Italy, brutally seizing city after city in the name of his father, Pope Alexander VI, before consigning their leaders to particularly grisly deaths. Legend has it that the Florentine government – getting a little twitchy- dispatched diplomat and poet Niccolò Machiavelli to spy on Borgia’s military operation, to penetrate the inner circle and find out what the warlord was up to. To achieve this Machiavelli offered Borgia the services of the legendary Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo had a keen interest in military engineering and had already designed some serious hardware for the Duke of Milan.

What amazes me is the odd coupling; Leonardo the vegetarian, pacifist and intellect hangs out with psychopathic, sister shagging, murderer with a penchant for toothless whores. A man once made cardinal at the age of 22, went to Naples to arrange a marriage for his beloved sister and on completion of his official duties tasted the delicacies of down town Naples. After one of many couplings he turned on the lamp to find a bald and toothless whore starring up at him, he promptly threw up all over her…I guess that cost extra! He left Naples with an unwanted guest, ‘the French disease’ or syphilis. This from a man whose good looks inspired his father to commission a painting of Christ and insist that his son should be the model! The image of Christ that we all know now, the westernised, long haired, blue eyed, pious, butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth guy was in fact Cesare Borgia!! Luckily Leonardo had nothing to do with that painting.

Borgia’s father Pope Alexander pretty much bought the papacy in a bid to further his own interests rather than the fortunes of the church. He wanted to expand the papal states of Rome, to concur some of the wealthier northern states and so set his illegitimate son up as local warlord. Pope Alex’s other son was murdered, some say by Cesare’s hand, although why he would do this, no one knows.

Anyhow Leonardo travelled with Borgia and Machiavelli inspecting fortifications and defences, designing bridges, weapons of mass destruction and intricate maps, maps that were not just amazingly accurate but in the wrong hands very dangerous; maps that would throw down the gauntlet to cartographers everywhere. Eventually Leonardo became sickened by Cesare’s brutal behaviour and it is said profoundly disturbed at his own contribution to the violence. Once a source of pride and ambition his military designs and engineering skills now became, to him, a grotesque mistake. Leonardo, although continuing to develop ideas vowed to never publish them saying, ‘I will not publish, nor divulge such things because of the evil nature of men’

 

One positive thing came out of his time with Cesare and that is the Mona Lisa, the misty landscape rising in the background of that painting is the upper Arno Valley an area the artist traversed while on his missions for the barbaric warrior. It is considered to be the greatest portrait in the western world. Despite not applying himself fully to the role of tortured artist Leonardo still managed to give the world ‘the Mona Lisa’ a painting that, like everything else he started in his life, he never finished. Leonardo carried La Gioconda with him for years, adding, modifying and tweaking it. The painting never made it back to its subject Lisa Gherardini but instead was bequeathed to Leonardo’s companion Salai and later bought by King Francis 1.

Details of Leonardo’s personal life are, to say the least, a little sketchy. We know that he was the illegitimate son of a legal notary and a peasant girl. For the first five years of his life he lived with his mother then, for whatever reason, moved to his father’s house. At fourteen he was sent by his father to the Verrocchio studio to study art.

Towards the end of his apprenticeship, on the cusp of becoming a master in his own right, Leonardo was anonymously accused of sodomy. Twas the custom in Florence at the time to jot down your misgivings/accusations or suspicions about someone and drop them into a recipient very much like a post box! Luckily for the young Leonard the charges were dropped. Leonardo never married but kept a string of young, handsome male apprentices at his side which, during his own time and ours, has caused tongues to wag about his apparent homosexuality.

Sigmund Freud wrote a whole book on Leonardo’s sexual orientation based only on Freud’s interpretation of the artist’s work. What I see, and I’m no psychoanalyst, is a great love and admiration for women, in a time when most artists concentrated on the male form Leonardo painted women. He painted women with character, with inner strength, beauty and, dare I say it, an engaging flirtatious look in their eye? Gay or not, who cares? Many of his critics and contemporaries were obviously homosexual but few, if any, had so much fluency and understanding with female qualities.

Moving on…

Some commentators may feel justified in saying that Leonardo is perhaps the most successful failure in history. Few of his designs came to fruition; most of his artistic commissions were never started let alone finished. The ‘Last Supper’ he did complete, but because of his dislike of using traditional fresco he implemented a revolutionary technique which dried and cracked the paint. Only an estimated 30 percent of the painting that is now on show is the work of Leonardo da Vinci. The rest has been revived by ‘give it a go Charlie’s’ and others, which kind of put paid to theories of hidden meanings in the painting!!

Sixty years after Leonardo completed the painting it was said to be unrecognisable and all but ruined. Many misfortunes have befallen the painting, it’s had a door cut into it then bricked back up again, had stones thrown at it by anti clerical French revolutionaries who also scratched the eyes of the Apostles’, been hit by allied bombs and buggered about with for 500 years! Da Vinci code my arse.

Leonardo spent the last few years of his life in the employment of King Francis 1, a man who greatly admired and loved Leonardo. Before his death he bemoaned his inability to finish anything, regretting not giving more to God and mankind. He turned to the Catholic Church, read doctrine and requested a priest to make his confessions and receive Holy Sacrament. It is said that the king himself held Leonardo on his death bed as the great man took his last breath, although probably not true, I’m going to let it go, I think it’s a fitting end to a man that, despite what he felt, gave the world so much.

Despite his own misgivings Leonardo da Vinci was not only the Godfather of the Renaissance movement but the man who gave the world the dictum ‘saper vedere’ or ‘knowing how to see’. He was someone who believed that knowledge gave you vision, someone who refused to except the status quo, rather, through experimentation, exploration, reason and understanding do we arrive at the truth. More importantly perhaps, he thought that ‘knowing how to see’ made anything possible. Hence watching birds in flight gave him the idea that one day man too could fly, all you needed was ingenuity, creativity and an understanding of physics, metaphysical or otherwise. Anything is possible.

Maybe he was a little too ambitious, maybe he set out to achieve too much or maybe he saw a thread, a connection between everything in the universe? This thread, should it exist, was greatly unravelled by Leonardo and in doing so he gave future generations of thinkers, artists and scientist a healthy head start!

Other than the big stuff, the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, thousands of ideas sketched out on hundreds of pieces of paper that make up the codex, we should not overlook the small stuff. Leonardo da vinci created the first lens polishing machine, giving astronomy a much needed boost. He designed a machine to measure the tensile strength of wire which also went into production and, perhaps most importantly it was Leonardo da Vinci that gave the world something as simple as a pair of scissors!

And a time machine…

Sixty beggars followed his coffin, which was Leonardo’s wish, and he was put to rest in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert in Château d’Amboise, in France.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cold Linoleum

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Cold Linoleum

Harry lay asleep on the cold linoleum floor of his bedsit, right next to his bed, Harry never slept in his bed, Harry felt more comfortable on the floor. Harry didn’t however find the cold hard floor more comfortable than his bed, it was just that on the floor he felt more secure, the security of the floor, it’s all-round lowness, you can’t get any lower, relieved him of a crippling anxiety. The bed offered a comfort he didn’t deserve, a comfort he hadn’t earned. Soon he would sell the bed for a bottle of scotch but for now he held onto the idea that maybe one day, one day soon, he would gravitate to it, would feel secure enough to crawl between the sheets and rest his head on a soft pillow.

Harry opened his bloodshot eyes and stared without focus, he could hear a baby cry, for a moment some dormant, long forgotten response told him to care for the child, wind it, feed it, change it, clean it, love it? But those days were long gone; Harry’s girls were long gone too.

Harry’s focus changed to a can of cheap cider sitting proud – as proud as a cheap can of cider can be- within arm’s reach. There was a time, way back when, when a fraction of Harry’s mind still tried to protest, it said ‘Harry mate, you are an alcoholic, I know it, you know it, even the dog knows it, we need to talk about this, we need to seek help, time’s up dude, time’s up’ After many years of refusing to go away that part of Harry’s mind finally chucked in the towel and fucked off. Harry was free to be alone.

He reached out for the cider but the cider took a step back and then stood its ground. Cider liked to tease, cider liked to make life difficult for Harry, it was often out of reach or unattainable. He rolled over in one swift and elegant move seizing cider around the throat; he put her to his lips and drank the remnants of her contents, including a fag butt. Harry decided it was about time he gave up smoking, smoking was bad for his health. Oddly the part of his mind that nagged him about the dangers of cigarettes still hung around, he had nowhere else to go, he would go down with the ship if need be, he was loyal like that.

Harry coughed and spluttered, the shakes were on the way, he needed to score some booze before too long. He looked around the bed sit, nothing left to sell, just him and the bed left, he’d even managed to sell the toilet seat.

Various plans crept without shame into his head; go to his parents place and beg for money was always a good option, mum would cry and dad would berate him, then chuck him twenty quid just to get rid of him. This plan was a last resort, only to be deployed under extreme necessity; other avenues must be exhausted before playing the shame card.

Standing now, staring at the dark brown, red tinged piss evacuating from his limp penis, the baby’s shill cry pierced his brain. He needed to get out, out of this shit hole and onto the street; the streets were paved with gullible, self respecting people with change in their pockets.

Givers fell into various categories; you just had to spot them. There were the youngsters who still believed that they could make a difference, the world would eventually grind them into a pulp but for now they gave. Then you had the elderly at the other end of the spectrum, not all of them gave, old men would either drop a sandwich in his lap or tell him to get a job. Old women rummaged in vast purses, produced a coin and made him promise to buy some food. Busy mothers rarely if ever gave, nor did workers on a lunch break but tourists did, it was a pay off, made them feel better, less guilty for having a holiday.

Harry had no mirror, hadn’t seen his own reflection for a while, his reflection wouldn’t even recognise him now. His hair was a tangled mess of greasy wisps, his scalp covered in sores and scabs, his once handsome face gaunt and waxy. His piss stained jeans struggled to stay on his hips – he’d sold his belt too – his scrawny body, under nourished and anaemic had trouble supporting itself, if it wasn’t for the lace-less boots Harry wore he’d blow away in a slight breeze.

On the landing, across the hall, the baby cried. Harry went over and found the door to apartment 23b ajar, he went in. On a mattress by a crib a young woman lay in the foetal position with her hands clasped over her ears. In the crib the baby cried. Harry picked the thing up, the thing stopped crying, he moved it to the kitchen sink and undid the heavy, soiled nappy, balled it and binned it. Harry then removed the dishes from the sink, ran some tepid water, testing the temperature with his dirty elbow and plonked the thing in the sink. The baby let out another cry, then busied itself with a bottle top. Harry washed its dirty arse with washing up liquid and then dried it with an almost clean tea towel; his hands were shaking but he persevered. He looked around for a clean nappy and caught the mother’s eye; she was sitting up now, looking at him with slight intrigue but nothing more. ‘Nappy?’ he asked.

Mother pointed to a lone, unused nappy near the sink, partly hidden under weeks of debris and neglect. Harry grabbed the nappy with one hand and held the baby with the other; he skilfully fitted the nappy to the baby and then placed it back in the crib.

‘You need anything? You need food for the baby, for you?’ he asked.

The mother, nodded.

‘I’ll be back, hold your child, she needs love and stimulus, she’s jaundice, needs to go outside, get some fresh air’ He said.

The young girl nodded.

Harry went out onto the street. He had to shuffle himself along the pavement with painful dogged steps, head down; he relied on his internal navigation system. Harry had spent his life in this town; he grew up in the suburbs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, high up on the hillside, ‘Snobsville’ the locals called it. From there he slowly made his way down, it had been a gradual descent, so slow at times he hadn’t even known that he was in fact falling.

When his second wife finally packed their two children into the old Volkswagen estate and drove off, leaving him for the last time, his gradual descent turned into a tumble. Suzanne and the girls went, then the business, then the house and finally the will to change, to climb out of the pit of despair he found himself in; he was in freefall all the way down to the cold linoleum floor.

The bedsit was a slight cut above the shop doorways and occasional hard mattresses offered by the charity shelters. For two years he’d flit from park bench to shelter, from doorway to prison cell and back to the shelter. They had found him a place of his own, fully equipped by well meaning donors, as soon as the last occupant had died of hepatitis. There was still a stain on the tiles where the poor guy had lain undiscovered and decomposing for two weeks.

Harry had sold everything in the bedsit that wasn’t nailed down.

First he needed to get a drink, to get a drink he needed money, to get money he needed to beg for it, to beg for it he needed to aim for the town centre.

Harry shuffled along, head down, no real thoughts, no real plans, no memories either. He’d banned memories from his mind, they hurt too much. The man he was never existed, any impact he may have made on the world and the people around him never happened, Harry was a ghost. Sometimes he’d be sitting there, begging for change and some old friend, work colleague or, once or twice, a family member would stop, chuck a few coins in his lap and move on. No one recognised him; he was just another drunk, a drunk like the one they used to know. Only that drunk was well fed, well groomed and a bit of a laugh. At first everyone saw him as a social drinker, someone that needed a bit of Dutch courage, and someone who knew how to party. It was years before close friends and family voiced their concern.

‘I’m not a fucking alcoholic, ok? I don’t need a drink, I like a drink, there’s a difference. I don’t drink at home, I’m a social drinker.’ He lied, not just to them but himself.

Slowly all those people began to distance themselves, slowly Harry found himself drinking socially on his own.

Market day in the town centre offered a lucrative return for his efforts and by lunch time he walked out of the off-licence with a carrier bag full of cheap cider clones.

He drank two clones on a bench by the war memorial, urinated in the tulips and shuffled off towards the shelter.

‘Hey Harry, long time no see’, said the chirpy girl on reception. ‘You want some lunch today, kinda looks like you need it’.

‘Please’ said Harry.

‘What you got in the bag Harry?’ and before Harry could answer, ‘’you know the rules, no drink inside, hand it over; you can have it back when you leave’.

Harry handed his clones over the counter and shuffled into the dining hall. Junkies, alcoholics, schizophrenics and odd bods, ate, dozed, stared into oblivion or spoke to the voices in their heads. He hated this place, this he thought was hell on earth where soulless vessels void of human inhabitants gathered. Dirty, dismal zombies, mankind’s rejects each and every one of them.

Harry shuffled up to the food counter, took some apple puree, a pot of creamed rice, a banana and two soggy sausage rolls and shuffled back to reception.

‘You can’t take food out Harry’ said the chirpy girl.

‘You got to many cants’

‘Sorry Harry I don’t make the rules’

‘It’s not for me, it’s for someone else, someone that still has a chance, c’mon let me go’

The chirpy girl’s face furrowed, the chirp went out of her eyes, a new face now, less chirpy, more thin lipped and resolute.

‘Eat the food here or hand it back, those are your choices, you decide’

‘I’m not hungry, for fuck sake don’t be a bitch about it, just give me my bag and I’ll go’

The thin lipped girl hit the panic button under her desk, alarms rang, schizophrenics began to groan and rock in their chairs hitting their heads with trembling hands. A pissed off junkie began to shout his disdain, ‘fucking alcoholics’.

Two heavy built security guards came out of a side door, the thin lipped one pointed at Harry. Harry still clutching his stash of contraband looked around him for a way out, he was in total lock down. Oddly he felt like laughing, he also felt like making life difficult for these fucking do-gooders with their bloody stupid rules.

Harry moved away from the reception area and headed for the food hall, someone threw some potato salad at him, someone else lobbed a crusty roll, the roll sailed through the air, missing Harry, it plunged into the face of one of the security guards. The guard let out a wince before he reassembled his lumpy face, putting it back to gormless. Stale bread hurt more than fresh bread Harry had time to reason before ducking the next food missile. He could feel laughter bubbling up inside of him, years of unused mirth was swelling in his gut; it had no place to go other than out.

Someone tried to stop him with a rugby tackle but failed miserably, their outstretched, slightly embarrassed body only contributed to the felling of one of the pursuing security guards. The guard went down like a sac of shit as the first giggle exploded from Harry’s mouth.

He clambered over the food counter, grabbing an apple on his way and still clutching his bounty managed to squeeze his way through a service hatch and drop onto the kitchen floor. The food hall had erupted with jeers and laughter as the remaining security guard failed to open the kitchen door then decided to follow Harry through the hatch, he was bigger than Harry. Harry looked up to see the head and shoulders of his pursuer appear in the opening, then after several attempts the head and shoulders retreated. Harry laughed as did just about everyone else.

The kitchen staff eyed him nervously, one young chef held a knife up, more as a warning than a demonstration of bravado.

Harry made a dash for the back door; he opened it, more alarms, and stepped out onto the street to find a mounted police officer and a police wagon waiting for him. Harry crumbled, his legs gave up and he sat down on the pavement crying and laughing so hard he started to choke.

Harry was bundled into the back of the wagon, still holding his two sausage rolls, apple, banana, apple puree and creamed rice.

Eventually, after several hours of wasted police time he was free to go…they let him take his food too. Now all he had to do was get his cider clones back.

Off he shuffled, interior navigation system booted in. The police had given him a carry bag for his food and he clutched it close to his chest, he felt a real sense of achievement despite his ever growing need for alcohol.

Harry had a pit inside him, a massive bottomless pit that craved like a motherfucker but could never be satisfied. All his life he’d tried to give that pit what he thought it wanted, but by doing so all he did was make it crave more. What he should have done was to starve it maybe, or actually ask it what it really needed. Talk to the pit and the pit would say, ‘I need you to love me, respect me, understand me, and fill me with pride and self respect. You should have put others first, spent time with your kids, held your wife a little longer and asked for help, sort out the real problem not feed the symptom. As a consequence, your dreams have passed you by on the wind; there is nothing left now but me.’

Harry knocked on the shelter door; there was a long pause as the security camera eyed him with suspicion. Eventually the door opened and thin lips came out holding his bag of clones.

‘Take it and piss off Harry’ she said.

‘Ok’ said Harry.

By the time he’d got back to the bedsit he’d drank enough to stop the shakes. He went across the hall to 23b, the door was as he left it, ajar, he pushed it open, the young girl sat on the mattress with her baby in her arms, the baby slept.

‘Did you go outside?’ he asked.

‘Yes, for a little while, she liked it’.

‘Here’s some food for you both’ said Harry handing over the carry bag.

‘No need, we’re sorted, I did some shopping, my money came through, but thanks anyhow.’

‘Ok’ said Harry and left them alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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