Archive | October, 2015

Ross Killed Her

23 Oct

‘Roskilde,’ the woman said. Just for a moment, I thought that she was talking about the beautiful Danish city that I’d visited the summer before last. ‘No,’ she repeated, ‘I’m sure Ross killed her.’ Ah. Accent had led me astray.

Today’s interruptions were of a kind more charming than yesterday’s. Okay, so the three older women on the table next to me were having one of those conversations in which soap opera characters are spoken of as if they were real, but I’ll forgive them that. At least, they weren’t in the library. In fact, they were eating breakfast, while I was drinking my coffee and writing. In any case, it wasn’t the things that they were talking about that appealed to me but the broad accents in which they were saying them.

The beautiful cathedral at Roskilde

The beautiful cathedral at Roskilde

During the brief period that I eavesdropped, I was treated to an exhibition of dialect and rich pronunciation. Shew. It’s a genuine East Anglian dialect word, the past tense of ‘to show’. My highly literate daughter sometimes says it and I’m always torn as to whether I should correct her or not (apparently, it’s a nightmare having an educationalist for a father…). After all, these differences are to be cherished and it’s the dialect of her county. She say. In ordinary conversation, ‘says’ – the third-person singular, present participle of ‘to say’ – doesn’t exist. It’s the same for all regular verbs. No one would write the words thus. This isn’t a case of ignorance but one of dialect. And then there’s accent. Dow-wen and tow-wen magically gain an extra syllable while com-pooter loses the invisible ‘y’ before the ‘u’ of its second syllable.

A church in East Anglia

A church in East Anglia

Apparently, as local accents and dialects have disappeared from rural England – only the wealthy can afford to live in English villages – so they’ve strengthened in certain towns and cities such as Liverpool and Newcastle. That certainly seems to be the case here. It’s all to do with the protection of identity, I gather. And it offers a glimmer of hope, suggesting that globalisation may not succeed entirely in homogenising the world’s culture. Maybe it won’t kill off every dialect and accent after all. As to the identity of the woman whom Ross killed, it’s something I fear I shall never know. Fortunately, it’s knowledge that I feel I can live without.

All text and images © PSR 2015

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The Idiots Are Taking Over

22 Oct

Today, I’m afraid to report, the idiots took over the library reading room. It’s usually the one place in town where you’re guaranteed silence and stillness. But there they were, bringing their hideous ring-tones and inane phone conversations into the beleaguered sanctum, rustling their crisp packets and sweetie wrappers. And they were all of them old enough to know better, not one of them under thirty. It sometimes seems that no space remains free from the torrent of banalities that our so-called civilisation throws at us. On the train, your fellow citizens inflict their appalling musical taste on you through the tinny little speakers in their phones. In the street, ugly rhythms blast from the sound systems of noisy cars. As ever, the words of the national poet still ring true. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing

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I see very little television but I did enjoy a short series a few years back called ‘Nathan Barley’. Essentially, it was a tirade against the imbecility of modern life. From time to time, the main character, Dan Ashcroft could be heard to intone, ‘the idiots are winning’. It’s a proposition with which it’s hard to argue.

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There’s a sad side to these obsessions too. Damon Albarn’s brilliant album, ‘Everyday Robots’, engages with this aspect of the malaise – the constant communication that masks our isolation. ‘Everyday robots just touch thumbs/Swimming in lingo they become/Stricken in a status sea/One more vacancy’. Indeed. Intermittently, though, all of this noise is also infuriating. There I am, trying to concentrate on pulling together my current manuscript and my thinking space is cluttered up with this aural detritus. They make the sound while I get the fury… Fortunately, I shall soon be heading for the writing den where often the only sounds are birdsong and logs crackling in the wood-burner.

All text and images © PSR 2015

Seeing Ghosts

18 Oct

The previous piece I posted here was in the form of a little ghost story. In the last week, I’ve been visited by ghosts of my own. Here’s the apparition that inspired the story.

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Increasingly, over the last couple of centuries or so, media technology has been freezing the past in a state of cryogenic suspension. Firstly, the dead were preserved in daguerreotypes, the faces of those gone for two hundred years floating before us on silver-plated copper sheet. Then the long departed could be seen to move on celluloid, their voices heard on reel-to-reel. And now social media brings the past flooding back to us.

People use Facebook for a variety of reasons. There are those who use it to organise their social lives. Some use it in campaigns of relentless self-promotion for their bands or latest books. Others use it to post inane would-be philosophical comments. I posted a couple myself. Surprisingly, they didn’t ‘go viral’…

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For me, moving around a lot as I have, Facebook provides a way of keeping in touch with people from different aspects of my past. I’m friends with a number of people with whom I went to school. And this week, Facebook provided me with a couple of shocks. First of all, there was sad news of a death. Rob was only a few years older than me and went out with my sister for a while. He was a big character and very funny. His death came quite suddenly and I know that he’s going to be greatly missed.

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There are also people who use Facebook rather like a journal. My friend Angela is just such a person. She posts photos from around the town in which we grew up and where she still lives, charting elements of her day-to-day existence. From time to time, Angela also posts old photos from her considerable archive. She posted one such photo this week. And then came the second shock. Staring out of the photograph was the first girl with whom I was in love. I haven’t seen her since we were seventeen. That’s decades ago. We’d fallen out in a big way the year before. It’s a very odd feeling. The expression is overused, but it is like seeing a ghost. In all probability, she’s alive and well somewhere. I hope so. But to me she had become as insubstantial as a ghost, haunting the periphery of fading memory. And there was her image, conjured up on the internet.

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RIP, Robert Stapleton. He was a fine fellow. My thoughts are with his family. And if by the power of internet synchronicity, the first woman that I fell in love with happens to see this post, I hope that life has worked out well for her.

All text © PSR 2015. Images © PSR and Angela Smith.

The Mirror Window

13 Oct

The houses in the street where I live were built in the 1920s. Before that, the ground on which they stand was the point where countryside met town. Distant echoes of the rural past may be heard by those who listen to them. A solitary farmstead still stands at the end of the road, surrounded by suburban houses. At the end of my garden there’s a ditch where the brook used to run, long ago diverted underground to supply the local houses with water. Beyond the ditch lies an allotment site. All of this suits me very well. Brought up on the edge of town, I’ve never been able to decide whether I prefer the countryside or the city.

The first time that I walked through the door into the dining room of the empty house, I knew that I belonged there. It felt as though I’d already been living there for years. The view through the window drew me. It looked out toward the garden and the allotments beyond. Standing there, I could have been looking out at the open countryside. I signed the papers and moved in. It was some months before I found out about the mirror window. Would I have moved in if I’d known? On enchanted afternoons, the portal appears on the other side of the room. I’m drawn to that window too. An ancient farmstead used to stand here, demolished a century or so ago to make way for the new houses. The window appears for a reason. I know that I could open it if I wished to. What would you do?

The portal

The mirror window appears

All text and images © PSR 2015

All in a morning’s work…

4 Oct

This morning, as is my habit on a Sunday, I have been for a cooked breakfast at the pub and worked on my latest book. Fuelled by endless mugs of coffee, I had a good morning’s work. Afterwards, I retired to the town library. I generated the passage below. It won’t make much sense shown out of context but it’s indicative of the folly that I’ve been constructing. And it pleases me more than it ought to. 

The town library

The town library on a bright Sunday morning

Corridor Coach 21F – communal

Nature of activity: 21F-1 (table tennis – zentrabaan), 21F-2 (table tennis court – nuumr een), 21F-3 (jenga), 21F-4 (bar billiards), 21F-5 (skittles), 21F-6 (air hockey), 21F-7 (table football), 21F-8 (Subbuteo), 21F-9 (blow football), 21F-10 (kaffekommbijnstaadjon), public toilets and washroom.

Ice hockey was football’s main rival in the VHR.  It was another of those sports at which Noorii punched above its weight.  For six months of the year, the lakes and rivers were frozen over.  You could say we had a climatic advantage, then.  All five cities had their iishokkiistaadjon.  The stadium in Tarrinstøy was sponsored by the kommbijnfabrikk, located on the eastern side of the city, and so its team played as Kommbijn Tarrinstøy.  Members of one faction within the ekksodus movement were supporters of the ice hockey team and argued for the train to be named after it.  They lost out to Vikkturavnas.  Perhaps it’s just as well.  Had they triumphed, our city-state would now be known as ‘Combine Harvester’.  

Ice hockey is a sport that cannot be accommodated on Lokomotiv.  If the kommbijnstaadjon has a successor then it will be found in Corridor Coach 21F.  Here the compartments have been given over to games more appropriate to life onboard the train.  Citizens may take part in recreations ranging from table tennis to skittles.  They indulge our nostalgia for the verdant, viridescent lawns of Noorii.  And located in Compartment 21F-6 you will find the air hockey table.  

And now I’m off to dig on my allotment – it’s a beautiful autumn day here and such moments have to be seized. 

All words and images © PSR 2015