Ten minutes in South Wales

At seven o’clock on a sunny and warm evening I am sitting on a plastic chair on a rugby pitch in South Wales. I am wearing a fascinator with a couple of coca cola cans perched on it and the man sitting next to me is wearing a fake glass of water on his head. We’re watching a brass band play. It’s all right though, I’ve got a glass of red wine in my hand, even if I have to move my veil every time I want to take a sip. Just behind the band there’s a little girl, perhaps five or six, long blond hair flying as she whirls in happy pirouettes across the grass, she’s not dancing like no one is looking, she knows fine she can be seen, she’s dancing like she doesn’t care, and that is so much better. When the band segue into 500 miles, she decides to express herself with a crawl, punctuated by what looks to me like cobra pose coming up into something like down dog.  Whatever she is doing it looks more fun than either my hat or my red wine, but I can’t really join in, I’m not wearing the right clothes, and besides this dodgy knee would prevent the crawling.

Beyond the chain link fence at the edge of the field a man in a hoody is taking his Jack Russell for a walk. The dog stops to lift its leg against the white washed building opposite, then it squats. The man stops, hands in pockets before bending down, I assume to do the poo pick, but I can’t really tell from this distance. The band is now playing Delilah (old Tom is from just up the road) and the audience is singing along to the bits they know; mainly this is ‘Oh, oh, oh Delilah’. Either side of us the hills rise sharp above the sides of the valley, trapping the low hum of the road in the background; behind me there is a mutter of conversation amongst people meeting and greeting and generally milling about.

Occasionally there is longer between pieces, muttered debates between the band leader and the players, but mostly it is a slick and virtuoso performance, this is a band that wins serious competitions, even though they don’t really go in for them. This evening though, they all seem to be wearing funny hats. I’m puzzled, I shouldn’t feel relaxed, calm and peaceful, but I am. I’ve known this area quite a while though I don’t come here often, I don’t know most of the people at this event but nevertheless I can feel muscles in my neck and shoulders slowly and gently unspinning knots, detangling themselves from their obsessive connection with my unconscious mind. In short, despite the noise of the band and the activity around me, I am winding down like an exhausted clockwork toy. I don’t know what’s going to happen for the next few hours, someone has already decided that for me, I let my busy mind float off, it’ll find me again soon enough.

A Provisional Office

Palm print scanned, Jenny pushed open the door to the Administrators’ office, ID card gripped between her teeth, bag precariously draped over the wrong shoulder, battered travel mug in her left hand and a fat file squeezed tightly under her left arm. Feeling so disorganised was not the best start to the day but she was determined it would get better. Opportunity had rung her at six that morning, her boss wasn’t going to make it that day, indeed Jenny wasn’t sure exactly when or if her boss would be back, but for today she was asked to step up. Today she was Acting Executive Assistant to the CEO, she had to make it count.
Jenny made it to the desk, cascaded her property onto the surface, dumped the bag on the chair and dug out her laptop. She sank thankfully into the welcoming embrace of her Executive Float Plus ™ chair and toed off her sensible black court shoes to let her feet sink into the deep warmth of the thick pile. She was earlier than expected, she had an hour before the Chief Executive was due, time to go through the fat file she’d been handed on arrival, to check the official communication channels for relevant items and to summarise events and actions for attention. She got to work.
When she reached for her coffee and realised that it was empty, she checked the time. 15 minutes before the Chief Exec would be in, time for a quick review of where she was and to make sure she was presentable. Ten minutes later Jenny stood in the spacious lobby trying not to let slightly sweaty palms mark the file containing her meticulously produced briefing notes. The carpet being even thicker here it tended to muffle all sound, all you could hear was a low background murmur. She glanced at Jo, the receptionist, who had just picked up an internal call, Jo looked up and nodded. The Chief Executive was on her way up.
The gilded lift doors opened with a hum and the Bodyguard walked out, scanning the lobby quickly, then standing aside for the Chief Executive to exit. Jenny took a deep breath and stepped forward.
“Good morning Chief Executive, I have your morning briefing notes”.
“Ah thank you for filling in at short notice Jenny, much appreciated. Anything in there that I should know about straight away?”
“The significant issue is an early warning indicator on primary export figures”.
The Chief Executive’s eyes narrowed slightly.
“That export indicator wasn’t expected, are all the figures there for my review?”
“Yes Chief, pages three to five contain my analysis.”
“Good, that will have to be on the agenda for morning briefing. I’ll see you there in half an hour.”
The Chief Executive swept off down the left-hand corridor, preceded as always by the Bodyguard. The Bodyguard was never named these days. It had turned out too hard to remember the names given the turnover. A brief, semi humorous, attempt at naming them after Fleming’s famous assassin spy codes only served to emphasise how quickly the numbers changed. At 0047 the experiment was ended and now the Chief Executive’s bodyguards were simply called Bodyguard for as long as they did the job.
Jenny headed off to the Boardroom to check the set up for morning briefing. Like Cabinets of old the Board all had their own places at this table, but unlike the old Cabinet meetings the CEO’s place was firmly at the head of the table. Today Jenny would be sat by the Chief Exec’s right hand, opposite the CFO and with the Director of Security to her right. Jenny checked the CEO’s seating arrangements, being shorter than most the Chief Exec preferred to keep her boardroom chair set high, so that she appeared as tall, or taller, than her colleagues round the table, but in order to make this comfortable a discreet foot rest was set under the table by her chair. Jenny checked, the foot rest was in place. She hurried back to her office to type out and run off agendas for the meeting.
Standing by the printer waiting as the documents rolled out, she glanced at the other desk, that of her boss. She hadn’t had time to really think about what had happened, she’d been plunged straight in this morning. David hadn’t seemed ill last night when she left at half six, he’d seemed fine, he’d told her to go ahead and leave, he was just finishing off some research for the CEO, he hadn’t seemed worried or upset. Now Jenny looked again at David’s desk. Odd, she thought. Obviously for security reasons they had a clear desk policy but last thing before he went home David would tear off the day’s notes from his notebook and file or shred as appropriate, then he would lay out the now clean fresh notebook, and his pen on the left of his desk. He did this every night without fail, today, there was no notebook, no pen on the desk.
The paper flowed smoothly out of the printer as Jenny walked round to David’s desk. There was nothing on the surface except the screen and the cables. No notepad, no pen, come to think of it, no mouse, which Jenny was sure he normally left here. She looked at the three drawers that were part of the module, she knew David always had them locked, he kept paperwork in there, and policy documents. She reached out for the top drawer, ready for its lock to deny her access, but the drawer opened smoothly to reveal nothing save an empty, clean interior surface. She checked the others with the same result. Someone had cleared David’s desk and drawers after she left last night and before she arrived this morning.
At that point in her musings Jenny became aware the printer had stopped, she turned and swearing under her breath hurried to clear the almost inevitable paper jam. Over sixty years of office printer technology and it still seemed impossible to get one that actually worked reliably. Resetting the machine and its contents she managed to get the last few copies done and headed into the boardroom.
By briefing time, the Board was seated, waiting for the Chief Exec. She was preceded into the room by the Bodyguard who scanned the room, making brief eye contact with his counterparts standing with their backs to the sides of the room, then moved aside to let her in. She walked in smartly and headed for the seat at the top of the table, the men and women around the table rising as she reached her chair, for a moment she stood, scanning their faces, their postures, their clothes, seeking the remiss, the out of place, the twitch or too fixed expression. Apparently satisfied, she nodded her assent and they all sat back down as she seated herself. Jenny sat ready, on the edge of her seat, notebook and pen in hand.
The Chief Exec glanced at Jenny and frowned slightly, turning back to her Board she started leading them through the agenda, whilst at the same time moving her right hand so it knocked Jenny’s spare pen off the table and on to the floor. Jenny watched it fall, a heartbeat too late to catch it in mid-air. The Chief Exec seemed oblivious. Jenny bent to her left and reached down to pick the pen back up. An unexpected sight stopped her. The footrest that she had checked on earlier was no longer in position, the Chief Executive’s feet, in their four-inch heels were dangling, swinging in mid-air with nowhere to rest them. Jenny felt slightly sick, and looked around under the table to see if the footrest had been knocked out of place, to see if she could subtly restore it. She did see the footrest, but she was not going to be able to get to it. The footrest was tightly tucked between the feet of the CFO. Jenny picked up her pen and sat back straight in her chair. The Chief Exec flickered a slight glance in her direction and Jenny shook her head slightly, at the same time looking over at the CFO who met her stare with a smug Cheshire cat grin.
The Chief Executive moved the agenda smoothly on to the troubling export indicator, looking at James the Director of Operations, she asked.
“What’s the issue? I thought the incentive scheme was working well?”
“According to recruiters there is growing apathy around the incentive scheme, no one is saying anything explicit, but they wonder if, at this point, the sheer numbers mean that everyone knows previous volunteers, and that perhaps some have heard more detailed information about the contract terms.”
“How can that be? I understood that all incoming comms are reviewed and edited where need be.”
“We’re not sure”, James responds, “It’s a question for Georgina”.
The Communications Director was tapping her pen on her notebook, an affectation, she never actually took any notes. She looked up.
“It’s volume, we don’t block the comms, we only monitor and intervene where necessary, we can’t, there’d be riots and no incentive would ever be enough to sign up, but we think that there must be some codes being used, and if they are the type that only mean something to family members, then we’re lost. We can’t tell that a reference to old Uncle Harold who died ten years ago is genuine or actually some kind of alarm bell”.
The Chief Executive sighed.
“I did inquire as to whether the contract terms could be slightly more flexible, some leave seems reasonable, but so far I haven’t encountered any favourable response to this. It does make our job more difficult though.”
She turned to her Director of Resources.
“Kim, can we beef the incentive scheme?”
“Honestly? We’re doing more than we should as it is. We can do something non-financial maybe, giving volunteers’ children preferential access to school places? That’s always a good one.”
The CFO cut in before the Chief Executive could respond.
“As long as no one thinks they’re getting any money to support this, we have to bank the money coming in, not watch it flying out.”
The Chief Executive’s face, had the CFO bothered looking closely, looked markedly blank, poker had never been her game though she had learnt over the years not to express herself too loudly through her face. The Chief Executive pushed back her chair and got to her feet, Jenny caught the wince of discomfort that passed across her face, feet which had been left dangling would have pins and needles. The expression was fleeting and followed by a resetting of the face to strong and determined.
“Thank you for your contributions this morning. Kim, can you action the new incentive please and get it into Communications as soon as possible. Georgina, let’s make a splash with this, perhaps we can even boost volunteer figures. I’d like an update on where we are this time tomorrow. However, we have another matter to deal with before we close the meeting.”
She turns to look down at the CFO.
“CFO, I am not happy with your attitude, concerns have been raised about your loyalty.”
“Chief Executive, Megan, surely my loyalty is without question.”
“Don’t rely on old acquaintance CFO. You play the affable trickster, but you are nothing but a traitor. We know about Andropova.”
“If you want my resignation Chief Executive . . .”
“No, I don’t, that would give you too much opportunity to undermine the governance of this country.” She turned to her Bodyguard, “You have your instructions, carry them out”.
The Bodyguard approached the CFO, half standing now, mouth open and eyes wide. He looked at his own Bodyguard,
“Bodyguard, you’re supposed to protect me.”
The Bodyguard said nothing, he had his orders and the clear line of authority behind them. He would have protected the CFO with his life unless ordered otherwise by the Chief Executive. He himself took the CFO by the shoulders and sat him firmly back. The Chief Executive’s Bodyguard stepped to the right and with a brief and economical movement drew a bright, sharp knife across the CFO’s neck from ear to ear. There was a moment when there was just a line cut in flesh, then there was blood flowing from the cut. There was a sharp shocked inhalation of breath from the rest of the Board, one or two individuals even involuntarily touched their own necks.
Jenny had watched fascinated, she had never seen an unscheduled execution before, but the sight of the blood made her feel queasy, she adjusted her gaze to the window behind where the CFO’s body slumped. Outside the office the world would tick on. Of all the amazing achievements the change in government structure had brought about, it was the environmental improvement and future planning that had worked the best. Outside in the street there were only electric trams and buses, the very occasional private electric vehicle, but nothing that was not using only renewables. The countryside was strewn with wind turbines, the seas with every conceivable means of sustainable power generation. Even small streams helped power local sub stations these days. The environment here had been saved, and enough was being done in the rest of the world to hold back disaster.
The Chief Executive’s voice recalled her attention to the room. Around her the Board members had gathered their emotions and now wore masks of non-reaction.
“We will be interviewing for a new CFO this afternoon. In the meantime, many thanks for your attendance and we will meet as usual again tomorrow morning. Jenny, my office, two minutes.”
With this the Bodyguard led the Chief Executive out of the room, she walked carefully, clearly still suffering from pins and needles. Once the room was empty apart from the corpse Jenny followed, only pausing to speak to Jo at reception about getting the Disposals team in, before heading down the corridor.
The Chief Executive’s office door stood open. The corner room was spacious, with windows overlooking the acres of green in Hyde Park, well-appointed and comfortable. As well as the large desk with the usual built in comms units, there was a meeting table and chairs by one window and a more relaxed couple of sofas against the other. In the corner the Bodyguard stood at ease, part of the furniture. The Chief Executive looked up from her desk chair as Jenny paused in the doorway.
“Come in and shut the door Jenny, and do sit down, I need to make a call in a minute but want to get your view on the export situation first, do you think the reasons and our solution are credible?”
Jenny sat down at the meeting table.
“It’s possible Chief Exec, its always going to be a hard sell you know and it isn’t like we have the means to motivate the populace into a conscription plan. Perhaps further consideration should be given to cutting communication channels, we could claim technical issues.”
“A possibility Jenny certainly. Our friends in the east are experts on the control of communication, I am sure we could get some further expertise. One other question for you, obviously I have to check with the Head of Administration, but would you be happy to take on the role of my Executive Assistant on a permanent basis?”.
Jenny’s thought was triumphant, but she managed a quiet.
“Thank you, Chief Executive, I would be pleased to serve.”
Only after she responded, she realised, David was gone forever, removed for whatever reason. She would need to ensure that didn’t happen to her.
“Excellent. Right, I need to do this call.”
The Chief Executive pointed a remote control at a console on her desk, in response a screen with built in camera emerged from the unit. She clicked on the remote again. Text appeared on the screen in Chinese characters and in English. The English read,
“London, you are acknowledged by Beijing, evening briefing will commence shortly”.
A minute later the screen flickered to reveal a picture of mostly men seated around a boardroom table listening carefully to the man at the end of the table.
The Chief Executive had already risen from her seat, she stood waiting to be greeted.
“Ah, we are joined by our UK Chief Executive, welcome.”
“Good Evening Honourable Leader, Honourable Board.” Megan said.
“You may sit. We have been discussing volume of workforce on our moon project. We are keen to ensure that our industrial colony there is completed before Russia concludes its own station work. It would be unthinkable that Russia should claim greater efficiency or success in this. With so many of our native work force engaged in North America we look to you to provide a steady stream of resources.”
“As it happens Honourable Leader, we have been discussing new means of incentivisation only this morning.”
“Discussion is not enough, we have given you great leeway in not being clear to your population about the complete terms of our bailout, and we agree that the avoidance of civil disorder is worth the deception. However, let me remind you that UK plc is wholly owned by the Republic of China, and the terms of our generous bail out at time pf purchase were that you would supply 10,000 workers per month at no cost for deployment on our projects, wherever they may be. You are obliged to make that happen. Or you can take the consequences that your predecessor experienced.”
Megan bowed her head in submission.
“Yes, Honourable Leader, that is understood.”
“Good, make it happen. We will speak again tomorrow. Beijing out.”
The screen went blank. For a moment Megan and Jenny locked eyes across the room, then the phone started ringing and the day moved on.

Way back

If there was a way
To the past
Would you take it?
Would you visit the dark interiors
Where things went right
Where things went wrong
And if you would
Could
Speak to yourself there
Where choice is made?

Or would you not dare breathe
Not stir
Only watch
Drama unfold
Sadness take hold
Lovelorn
Hope reborn

I would not change a feather’s breath
Not stir one atom
Be a statue
At the observation post

Not one path must change
They must all lead here

The night before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a . . .
No. No. No. I’m not having that. It’s ridiculous.
You might insist there are no mice in your house, though I assure you your cat knows different, but even without mice any and all houses will have all manner of stirrings … and this house is no different …
A small tabby cat, unfortunately called Twinkle, cosy in her bed in the conservatory combs her fur for Christmas appearances, but keeps a beady eye out for movements of interest. Occasionally she catches spiders, but sometimes she finds the larger ones slightly intimidating, she’s a bit fastidious and finds all those legs a bit ticklish to deal with. She prefers to play with a small rodent, that really is her strength, but of course there are no mice here.
The spiders of the house, of which there are many, go about their nightly business away from Twinkle’s sight. In the family bathroom two largish examples have found themselves in a bit of a stand-off; the bath is only a big enough hunting ground for one spider, but they are evenly matched size wise, and both being male with no female within sight, are of the view that they are better off avoiding each other. This is leading to a certain amount of scuttling activity and some crossed webs. In the morning they will both find themselves, one after the other, scooped up into a glass and tipped out of the bathroom window into the cold morning air. It is the hope of this author that they will then find themselves new and cosy spider homes for Christmas.
A variety of smaller creatures are roaming about, flies, bugs and things we don’t like to think about sharing our house with. In the spare room wardrobe several moths are continuing their winter feasting on a couple of men’s tweed jackets that haven’t been worn for a few years. When, eventually in March, they are removed and inspected they won’t make the cut for the charity shop but will end up in a fabric collection bin at the supermarket.
The night after they have been left in the bin a homeless man called Mark will be passing, and on the off chance, fish out the last bag. On discovering the jackets Mark will, after consideration, and having reviewed the number of moth holes in each, take one of the jackets, swapping it for the old, holed green parka he’s been wearing since the previous autumn. He figures it’s an exchange not robbery. This is also the view of Bob the security guard, who in any case doesn’t really want to go out into the cold night to harass a vulnerable homeless person. Bob’s far happier with his feet up on the desk working his way through the McDonald’s he bought at the drive through on the way to work despite the fact that he’d had a good evening meal earlier. If his husband knew about the burgers, he’d go nuts, but ignorance is bliss and by the time Bob gets home from shift Paul will already have left for work. Mark wanders off, feeling just a little better about life and aims for the place he’s left his sleeping bag and other stuff. Because Mark is feeling just that little better with his recycled jacket, a couple of weeks later at a regular drop in for the homeless he takes an opportunity for some temporary shelter and this is the start of an upward trend in his life which eventually sees him in some longer-term accommodation with a bit of part-time work.
But this is all in the future …
We’re still taking an audit of what is stirring in this house, this night, this anticipatory night, this night that sends a thrill through the likes of children and adults.
I’ll tell you where nothing is stirring. Nothing is stirring in either of the children’s rooms. The children, having been the overexcited bundles of hyper bounce that children will be the night before Christmas are completely zonked. They are in that deep and complete sleep that seems unique to children, the state in which they can be carried out of a car, into a house, up the stairs, changed into pyjamas and tucked in to bed without even the slightest hint of waking, a state in which, as all parents will attest to, they weigh approximately twice as much as they do if carried whilst waking.
On door handle of each child’s bedroom a stocking bulges with promises and love waiting for the morning explosion of energy and excitement.
In the parents’ bedroom there is some light snoring and snuffling going on, having spent an intense three hours after the children were finally in bed wrapping and labelling, stuffing stockings and finally, carefully hanging up the stockings, they had at last sat down for half an hour with a glass of wine each. Almost too exhausted to speak they drank their wine like medicine, knowing that otherwise they’d probably be too wired to sleep.
Back downstairs, something stirs the Christmas Tree, pine needles shiver, baubles move ever so slightly, tinsel quivers as if someone has just opened a door and let a draught in for a moment.
In the comfiest armchair, closest to the fireplace, Gran sits knitting. She is the epitome of grandmother, pink cheeks, and cosy body, dressed comfortably in a cardi and grey slacks, feet warm and toasty in the pink fleecy slipper socks the children bought her last year. The click of her knitting needles is virtually the only noise that can be heard, save only the very faintest murmur of counting out loud. Her hair clearly shows the signs of her Christmas ‘do’, white curls crisply set under the dryer at Pauline’s hair parlour, where she relishes her regular natters with Dot and Emily who have shared the same schedule of hair dos with her since she can’t remember.
After a while Gran carefully sets down her knitting on the right-hand arm rest of the chair, and slowly levers herself to her feet. She drifts over to the tree to admire the heaps of presents, the pretty wrapping paper. She smiles, she has always loved the joy and excitement of gift giving. Out of curiosity, and just to see, she cautiously bends down and turns over some of the gift tags to see to whom the gift is addressed, and from whom the gift is given. There is one gift she pauses over, a small carefully wrapped box, the paper doesn’t match any of the other parcels so she thinks perhaps it has been wrapped in a shop, from the size, perhaps a jeweller’s shop. She bends just a little more to pick up the gift, she holds it, turning it from side to side, peering at it as though she can see through wrap and box and look at the gift itself. She looks at the tag again, “To Darling Kim with all my love, Tom”. After a moment of holding the box in her hand she sighs, replaces the gift under the tree and, shivering slightly now, goes back to the armchair and picks back up her knitting. After a moment all that can be heard is once more the click of the needles and that soft murmur of counting.
The dark but stirring night passes into the deep grey of mid-winter dawn.
Thud. Thud, stomp, thud.
“Ohhhhhhhh …”
“Yay!”
“Yeah!”
Thud, thud, stomp, stomp, clump.
“Tom!”, Kim nudges her husband’s arm.
“Whaaaa?”, Tom responds.
“The children are …” The door bursts open to the parents’ bedroom and two small forms launch themselves on to the bed, clutching the precious bulging stockings.
‘Awake’, finishes Kim, as Tom issues the muffled curse known by all fathers whose child has just landed painfully but accurately on the parental balls.
There follows a moment of rearrangement before parents, children and stockings are all reasonably arranged in and around the bed, though this does mean that Tom is left balanced with his left foot on the floor to maintain any position on the bed at all. The annual orgy of stocking opening commences until the inevitable final selection of chocolate coins and the satsuma in the bottom of the toe are excavated. Finally, comparative peace settles as both children settle to explore their new stuff. A drift of used wrapping paper floats like flotsam over the duvet.
Tom slides cautiously out of bed and goes for his dressing gown. Padding downstairs he heads for the kitchen to put the kettle on, then to the conservatory to open the door and allow Twinkle access to the rest of the house. Twinkle stretches languidly and turns away with disdain. Tom knows that within five minutes she will be in the bedroom, curled up on the duvet, if of course she can find a space.
Tom turns to go back into the kitchen, but pauses, considering. He turns to the tree, he thinks something is slightly different from how they’d left it, but then, maybe not. He stoops down and picks up a small box, the gift tag reads “To Darling Kim with all my love, Tom”, Tom slips the box into his dressing gown pocket before going to make the tea.
Once upstairs with two steaming mugs and tucked back, as far as possible, in an overcrowded bed Tom digs the small box out of his dressing gown pocket and leans over to Kim.
“Darling, this is for you.”
“Oh, really? Now?”
“I think so, while these two are occupied.”
Kim takes the present from Tom and turns it over in her hand for a moment. She pauses, and looks quizzically at him.
“Go on”. He prompts.
She carefully reads the tag, then pulls off the ribbon, the rest of the wrap comes off easily and exposes a small jeweller’s box. Kim slowly opens the lid of the box and then removes a layer of foam. Nestling in blue velvet there is a silver locket on a chain. She glances quickly at Tom, then picks out the locket and with slightly shaky hands delicately opens it. Inside there is a picture of an old lady, with pink cheeks and white curls crisply set under the dryer, she is smiling at the camera, it is possible to see that she is seated in an armchair and behind her there is a Christmas tree. Kim takes a long breath in, and turns to Tom, she knows she’s welling up.
“Thank you darling.”
“I know you’ll be missing her today especially, I thought it would be good if you had her with you somehow.”
Kim nods, a tear rolls down her cheek. She murmurs, barely heard, “Oh Mum”.
Back downstairs, something stirs the Christmas Tree, pine needles shiver, baubles move ever so slightly, tinsel quivers.

The storyteller

What makes a storyteller? At what point do we say, this person or that, is a storyteller?
Success, renown, earning a living through story telling? I don’t think so, I know many talented storytellers to whom this doesn’t (yet) apply, they are, nevertheless, storytellers whether they work in prose or poetry.
Recently I realised to what extent I had been raised by a storyteller. I didn’t come to this through an appreciation of his unpublished novels; nor through reading his screenplays or viewing the fiction films he made as an amateur cinematographer; I’ve realised this through viewing the family films, the weddings, the beaches, the romantic trip to Paris with my Mother a year after they were married.
I had a choice to make on the family films, leave them as they were on eight and 16mm, and confine myself to viewing them using the projector we managed to find a couple of years ago, or invest in getting them digitised. I knew I’d made the right choice when the chap who was doing the transfer rang me to say how amazed he was at the quality of the films, how much effort my Dad had made editing the films and adding very rare sound tracks.
But that was not what made me understand that my Father was a storyteller.
It is in the preservation of every single film he ever made, an arc of amateur cinematography that spanned 55 years, from his first roll of film in the 8mm camera I still own today. That first film, practicing with his new camera in the garden of his aunt’s house in Hornsey, filming Anne and her black and white cat in the daylight, then the interior shots, dim and indistinct, an amateur’s first steps, recording the mundane routine of washing up.
It is in the film of my Godmother’s wedding, early seventies, a nervous giggling bride leaving the house with her proud Dad, after the ceremony outside the church whilst the photos are done, the couple leaving in the car, the guests walking away to the reception. The final shot, his wife and child, last in line, walking away from camera, smartly turned out in wedding best.
It is in the shape of every single holiday film, not for Dad a simple record, but always a story, always a beginning, a middle, and an end. Though not necessarily in that order. It is in the use of the theme song from Laurence of Arabia played as a small child runs across a wide sweep of sandy beach.
It is in my Mother’s walk for camera when she was first his wife, obviously told to saunter, stroll, be casual; she slinks, slides, sways across the shot, left to right, right to left, towards the camera with a nervous smile, away from the camera, stopping to look back, over her shoulder, a more secret smile this time. Acting the siren for her director she moves sinuously across the screen illustrating scenes of Paris, of Sorrento, of gardens and palaces.
It is in the massive game of hide and seek played to camera in a mostly empty and echoing Montenegro hotel back when Tito and his Yugoslavia were both still alive. It is in the filmmaker’s determination to get the right shot for his holiday movie, come what may. Alpine meadows faked in the Sussex countryside, scrambling in the Austrian alps represented by southern sandstone, interior shots of palaces, churches and museums completed using postcards when cameras weren’t allowed.
His fiction films are in the Screen Archive South East but it is those family films, those precious, and in many instances previously unknown to me gems that show me his storytelling. He couldn’t let it go, simply record, there had to be structure, there had to be narrative, beyond what was real. It is in the twist, the edit, the intentionally staged, the direction of movement, a soundtrack moment. Reality was never quite enough, he had to impose a different narrative.
He was a storyteller, I know that now.

Walking

He walked, he hiked, he rambled. He trod the streets of a divided Berlin before the wall, he climbed mountains in Poland and Hungary under communism, he learnt to use crampons in the mountains of Austria. High hill and lonely dale, riverside and cliff top he trudged alone or with others. He trod the corridors and spaces of museums and galleries, high forts and grand chateaux, lonely monasteries and wide gardens.
He walked to work, to clubs and societies, to committee meetings, to the bus stop, to the station.
He needed to walk, a day wasn’t any good unless he’d put one foot in front of the other, stretched his legs, walked around the block. Walking was a drug to him, a habit he cultivated, an addiction he stoked with long hours pouring over ordnance survey maps plotting his next move. He slept with his maps on one side and his wife on the other, wedged between domesticity and escape.
He always knew where he was, perfectly positioned in the points of a compass, sure of his next step but always interested in the next meandering path. No walk was quite far enough, another mile, another footpath necessary to get the fix. He took glee in pushing boundaries whether those of landowners or of countries, high mountain passes are rarely marked by security points. He walked the paths of his homeland whether bleak moors, forbidding peaks, rolling down land or the woodland country of the High Weald. He drifted in bliss through bluebell woods in the spring.
He was never in a hurry, though he maintained a respectable pace. Later, he started to wind down like a piece of clockwork with worn springs. At first, a little slower, an imperceptible easing then slower still. He missed busses and trains because familiar walks took longer, he called taxis to take him home whose drivers grumbled about dirty boots on clean carpets. He returned with muddy trousers after falling in the middle of a field. His wife worried, but he still needed his hit. He walked more often on suburban streets but couldn’t give up the fields and woodland.
He slowed still more, he took twice the time to walk than he used to. He walked earlier to gain the daylight, by now he was no longer confident walking at dusk. He lumbered, a shuffling difficult gait, though in his mind he still strode out as he used to, just slower somehow, age and disease greater obstacles than stiles and barbed wire.
Eventually in the evenings he would spread his maps like tablecloths and studying them would pass gently into sleep, nodding over hill and dale, travelling the contour lines of his dreams.

In my heart he walks on, treading woodland paths forever.

Changes

A year ago my Dad passed away. I miss him, mourn him, still love the often awkward, definitely eccentric but affectionate man that raised me. But his passing changed my life. It gave me the courage to walk through a door, already open to me, but requiring courage. At last I took the step and won a place on a Masters in Creative Writing. In answer to the question “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” I would now be able to say “Exactly what I am doing now”. Which is good, right? Not that I feel that confident. I’m not new to writing, I’ve done that lots through a number of jobs, but this is the first time I’m writing creatively.

But it is no good studying to write but only sharing what you write within the safe, warm and reassuring pod of your fellow students and supportive tutors. It is imperative to share wider than that, to take the plunge, jump off the top board and let others see your work. So that’s what this blog is here for, to share, to get feedback. The big scary.

So here goes. Let’s see what happens, eh?

In starting here and now, a year after we lost Dad, the first two pieces I’ll post are about him.