Seer

He sits in the dark cave of his cabin, with curtained windows. He is surround by artefacts and nick-nacks collected over eighty nine years.

The only light in the room comes through the doorway where I am standing. It is late afternoon and the sky outside is heavily overcast. I can barely see him, seated in an ancient Lazyboy chair behind a coffee table piled with the detritus of a man who does not move about much.

I knocked twice on his open door. “How are doing mate?” I asked.

He has suffered several strokes. His speech is slow and slurred from myotonic dystrophy. But I could understand him clearly.

He looked at me with clouded eyes, as if he did not recognise me.

“I know why you have come” he said. “You are seeking something you can never regain”.

I sat down on a rickety chair. It creaked under my weight.

“You cannot put the smoke back into the cigarette” he said. As if to accentuate his point, he drew a long drag on a thin, hand rolled cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke into the air. He coughed for a few moments then continued.

“Every experience is a new one. Even if you are doing the same thing again. The Laws of Entropy and Enthalpy will ensure that nothing will ever be the same. If you go back, you will be disappointed until you accept that you must go forward. If you buy a boat, you may enjoy the pleasant experiences it will provide you, but you must understand these are not the experiences of your youthful memory. Those have been guilded by time and fondness until in your mind they are no longer anything like what you really experienced. Go forward. Enjoy new sensations.

The molecules of air the breeze blows to touch your face are all new to you, and you will probably never encounter any one of them again. They will go on to touch other faces, to combust in a cigarette or a bushfire, or perhaps to combine with metal as rust, or be inhaled by someone and incorporated in their body, to be released as something new in the crematorium. They carry no memory of you. You, however, can carry a memory of them. That is your task. To experience, enjoy, and remember.”

He took another drag on his fag and had another coughing fit.

His eyes cleared. He looked at me with surprise as I proffered him my offering.

“G’day! How’re ya doin’?”

“G’day to you, O wise one. I thought you might like some of this spaghetti Bolognese I made. It’s low salt. You may want to add some. ”.

I handed him a fork. He started to eat.

“But I’ve been thinking, I live on an island and I should buy a boat”.

“Nah, he said, a strand of spaghetti suspended from the corner of his mouth. “Don’t like boats, rocking and splashing. Don’t even like fishing. Can’t stand the smell. Until they are cooked, with chips”.

He sucked on his cigarette while still chewing Bolognese. When he coughed, a bit shot on to the coffee table. He wiped it up with his handkerchief.

The Seer had retired. The old man was dining.

The old man turned on his television with the remote, and leaned back to watch the football. He had forgotten I was there. He burped contentedly, drew on his smoke and coughed.

I left quietly. As I did, “Buy the boat” he said.

I don’t know which of him said that.

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came

Time for a bit more feckin’ culture, mate.

Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came
Thomas Moran
1859


MY first thought was, he lied in every word,
That hoary cripple, with malicious eye
Askance to watch the working of his lie
On mine, and mouth scarce able to afford
Suppression of the glee, that purs’d and scor’d
Its edge, at one more victim gain’d thereby.

What else should he be set for, with his staff?
What, save to waylay with his lies, ensnare
All travellers who might find him posted there,
And ask the road? I guess’d what skull-like laugh
Would break, what crutch ’gin write my epitaph
For pastime in the dusty thoroughfare,

If at his counsel I should turn aside
Into that ominous tract which, all agree,
Hides the Dark Tower. Yet acquiescingly
I did turn as he pointed: neither pride
Nor hope rekindling at the end descried,
So much as gladness that some end might be.

For, what with my whole world-wide wandering,
What with my search drawn out thro’ years, my hope
Dwindled into a ghost not fit to cope
With that obstreperous joy success would bring,—
I hardly tried now to rebuke the spring
My heart made, finding failure in its scope.

As when a sick man very near to death
Seems dead indeed, and feels begin and end
The tears and takes the farewell of each friend,
And hears one bid the other go, draw breath
Freelier outside, (“since all is o’er,” he saith,
“And the blow fallen no grieving can amend;”)

While some discuss if near the other graves
Be room enough for this, and when a day
Suits best for carrying the corpse away,
With care about the banners, scarves and staves,
And still the man hears all, and only craves
He may not shame such tender love and stay.

Thus, I had so long suffer’d, in this quest,
Heard failure prophesied so oft, been writ
So many times among “The Band”—to wit,
The knights who to the Dark Tower’s search address’d
Their steps—that just to fail as they, seem’d best.
And all the doubt was now—should I be fit?

So, quiet as despair, I turn’d from him,
That hateful cripple, out of his highway
Into the path the pointed. All the day
Had been a dreary one at best, and dim
Was settling to its close, yet shot one grim
Red leer to see the plain catch its estray.

For mark! no sooner was I fairly found
Pledged to the plain, after a pace or two,
Than, pausing to throw backward a last view
O’er the safe road, ’t was gone; gray plain all round:
Nothing but plain to the horizon’s bound.
I might go on; nought else remain’d to do.

So, on I went. I think I never saw
Such starv’d ignoble nature; nothing throve:
For flowers—as well expect a cedar grove!
But cockle, spurge, according to their law
Might propagate their kind, with none to awe,
You ’d think; a burr had been a treasure trove.

No! penury, inertness and grimace,
In the strange sort, were the land’s portion. “See
Or shut your eyes,” said Nature peevishly,
“It nothing skills: I cannot help my case:
’T is the Last Judgment’s fire must cure this place,
Calcine its clods and set my prisoners free.”

If there push’d any ragged thistle=stalk
Above its mates, the head was chopp’d; the bents
Were jealous else. What made those holes and rents
In the dock’s harsh swarth leaves, bruis’d as to baulk
All hope of greenness? ’T is a brute must walk
Pashing their life out, with a brute’s intents.

As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair
In leprosy; thin dry blades prick’d the mud
Which underneath look’d kneaded up with blood.
One stiff blind horse, his every bone a-stare,
Stood stupefied, however he came there:
Thrust out past service from the devil’s stud!

Alive? he might be dead for aught I know,
With that red, gaunt and collop’d neck a-strain,
And shut eyes underneath the rusty mane;
Seldom went such grotesqueness with such woe;
I never saw a brute I hated so;
He must be wicked to deserve such pain.

I shut my eyes and turn’d them on my heart.
As a man calls for wine before he fights,
I ask’d one draught of earlier, happier sights,
Ere fitly I could hope to play my part.
Think first, fight afterwards—the soldier’s art:
One taste of the old time sets all to rights.

Not it! I fancied Cuthbert’s reddening face
Beneath its garniture of curly gold,
Dear fellow, till I almost felt him fold
An arm in mine to fix me to the place,
That way he us’d. Alas, one night’s disgrace!
Out went my heart’s new fire and left it cold.

Giles then, the soul of honor—there he stands
Frank as ten years ago when knighted first.
What honest man should dare (he said) he durst.
Good—but the scene shifts—faugh! what hangman hands
Pin to his breast a parchment? His own bands
Read it. Poor traitor, spit upon and curst!

Better this present than a past like that;
Back therefore to my darkening path again!
No sound, no sight as far as eye could strain.
Will the night send a howlet of a bat?
I asked: when something on the dismal flat
Came to arrest my thoughts and change their train.

A sudden little river cross’d my path
As unexpected as a serpent comes.
No sluggish tide congenial to the glooms;
This, as it froth’d by, might have been a bath
For the fiend’s glowing hoof—to see the wrath
Of its black eddy bespate with flakes and spumes.

So petty yet so spiteful All along,
Low scrubby alders kneel’d down over it;
Drench’d willows flung them headlong in a fit
Of mute despair, a suicidal throng:
The river which had done them all the wrong,
Whate’er that was, roll’d by, deterr’d no whit.

Which, while I forded,—good saints, how I fear’d
To set my foot upon a dead man’s cheek,
Each step, or feel the spear I thrust to seek
For hollows, tangled in his hair or beard!
—It may have been a water-rat I spear’d,
But, ugh! it sounded like a baby’s shriek.

Glad was I when I reach’d the other bank.
Now for a better country. Vain presage!
Who were the strugglers, what war did they wage
Whose savage trample thus could pad the dank
Soil to a plash? Toads in a poison’d tank,
Or wild cats in a red-hot iron cage—

The fight must so have seem’d in that fell cirque.
What penn’d them there, with all the plain to choose?
No foot-print leading to that horrid mews,
None out of it. Mad brewage set to work
Their brains, no doubt, like galley-slaves the Turk
Pits for his pastime, Christians against Jews.

And more than that—a furlong on—why, there!
What bad use was that engine for, that wheel,
Or brake, not wheel—that harrow fit to reel
Men’s bodies out like silk? with all the air
Of Tophet’s tool, on earth left unaware,
Or brought to sharpen its rusty teeth of steel.

Then came a bit of stubb’d ground, once a wood,
Next a marsh, it would seem, and now mere earth
Desperate and done with; (so a fool finds mirth,
Makes a thing and then mars it, till his mood
Changes and off he goes!) within a rood—
Bog, clay, and rubble, sand and stark black dearth.

Now blotches rankling, color’d gay and grim,
Now patches where some leanness of the soil’s
Broke into moss or substances like thus;
Then came some palsied oak, a cleft in him
Like a distorted mouth that splits its rim
Gaping at death, and dies while it recoils.

And just as far as ever from the end,
Nought in the distance but the evening, nought
To point my footstep further! At the thought,
A great black bird, Apollyon’s bosom-friend,
Sail’d past, nor beat his wide wing dragon-penn’d
That brush’d my cap—perchance the guide I sought.

For, looking up, aware I somehow grew,
Spite of the dusk, the plain had given place
All round to mountains—with such name to grace
Mere ugly heights and heaps now stolen in view.
How thus they had surpris’d me,—solve it, you!
How to get from them was no clearer case.

Yet half I seem’d to recognize some trick
Of mischief happen’d to me, God knows when—
In a bad perhaps. Here ended, then,
Progress this way. When, in the very nick
Of giving up, one time more, came a click
As when a trap shuts—you ’re inside the den.

Burningly it came on me all at once,
This was the place! those two hills on the right,
Couch’d like two bulls lock’d horn in horn in fight,
While, to the left, a tall scalp’d mountain … Dunce,
Dotard, a-dozing at the very nonce,
After a life spent training for the sight!

What in the midst lay but the Tower itself?
The round squat turret, blind as the fool’s heart,
Built of brown stone, without a counter-part
In the whole world. The tempest’s mocking elf
Points to the shipman thus the unseen shelf
He strikes on, only when the timbers start.

Not see? because of night perhaps?—Why, day
Came back again for that! before it left,
The dying sunset kindled through a cleft:
The hills, like giants at a hunting, lay,
Chin upon hand, to see the game at bay,—
“Now stab and end the creature—to the heft!”

Not hear? when noise was everywhere! it toll’d
Increasing like a bell. Names in my ears
Of all the lost adventurers my peers,—
How such a one was strong, and such was bold,
And such was fortunate, yet each of old
Lost, lost! one moment knell’d the woe of years.

There they stood, ranged along the hill-sides, met
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! in a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
And blew “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.”

Robert Browning (1812–89)

Well. That’s Embarrassing.

Mehdi seemed surprised to see me. Particularly when I asked him why I was there. He reminded me we had agreed I would not need to return until the stitches came out unless there was new information from pathology.

I agreed, and said that’s why I was surprised to get an invitation via the appointment app. this morning. Then it dawned on him. His face was a picture.

That’s what happens when you have automated protocols without human oversight. The results come in, an invitation is generated to make an appointment to discuss them. Anxious patients put two and two together.

As a dear old and wise friend used to say to me in a broad Norfolk accent – or was it a Norfolk Broad accent?;

Doont joomp ta kon-kloo-shuns, lad”.

Sorry Norfolkers if I didn’t capture that properly. A fond memory. No piss-taking intended.

Mehdi apologised, I said I’d send him my fuel bill. He laughed. I smiled wryly.

He checked the wounds, expressed satisfaction that they are healing cleanly, but still won’t let me swim until the sutures come out. Bugger. If he had conceded that the trip would have been worthwhile.

At least I don’t have to pay for the appointment.

Observations, Dining at the Pub

A couple, middle aged, on holiday
He orders the parmigiana,
She the shrimp salad with pink dressing
They always order that, away

Another couple with a noisy child
The most interesting person in the room
Who does not want the mashed potato
Because it contains something strange

They order the same things they eat at home
And marvel that the vegetables include broccolini
And artichoke in the Pommes Purée
Who would have thought of that?

An old couple, he taciturn and grim, she loquacious,
Eat in respective misery and chatter
A complacent lifetime in their pockets
Neither connecting with each other or the food


A young man and the girl to impress
“We’ll have the escallop de veau”
He’s disappointed when it comes
“Where are the scallops?”
She’s trying not to smile.
I’m not.

At the corner tables sit the regulars,
talking loudly into each other’s hearing aid
Old men from the camp, who cannot cook
And even now, alone, won’t take the time to learn
They order steaks well done, with chips and salad
And apple crumble with whipped cream.


The waiter, young and earnest, recites the specials
They don’t seem that, so much

And I, I realise I’d rather be at the Punjabi
Where smiling Sikhs serve fragrant food

But I order chilli and nachos
And a Coronita
They put lemon in the bottle neck, not lime.
And very little chilli in the chilli

I smile at the noisy youngster
Demanding ice cream
though he hasn’t eaten his mash.

ARF

Sonnet

“The Martini; the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet.”

H. L. Mencken

I think that I shall never see

A Bottle lovelier than thee

And this companion by thy side

Is quite thine equal, undenied

And though some might discuss the merit

Of lesser, Cossack potato spirit

It’s you the connoisseur preferred

Either shaken, or just stirred.

Either way is just as nice,

In a glass of chinkling ice.

But if one to six I mix you in

I’ll need another five bottles of gin.

Me.

Small Significant Steps

My weight has plateaued again. Despite daily exercise and (mostly) healthy meals. On the other hand I have lowered the saddle on the bicycle a few finger widths. Chubby finger widths.

This is particularly significant because apart from meaning I can put my feet down properly, increasing my safety when I am stopped at an intersection, it is a very encouraging indication that my knees are improving. Also that I’m lighter. My riding posture seems more comfortable too.

Best of all, I pedalled home this afternoon against a steady strong wind that proved I was contributing a significant effort to my progress. Enough to break out in a sweat despite the cool of the evening.

The pool is getting a lot of use these days. I am sharing a lane most of the time. Sometimes we triple up which involves some accommodations, since I am invariably the slowest swimmer. I am also the only one who does not stop unless I’m waiting my turn for half a lane. The others swim intermittently for a fixed number of lengths or a short time such as half an hour, then leave.

What I find particularly irksome is the couple of old codgers standing still at the shallow end of a lane talking for half an hour and not using the lane while others are triple sharing. If they just want to talk in a moist environment they should go sit in the paddling pool. I’m becoming a grumpy curmudgeon.

I don’t like to feel I’m hogging a lane so when there is a crowd like today I quit after only 90 minutes. That’s a good 4,000 kJ burned at least by my calculation. Another thousand minimum on the bike and a couple of hundred on my daily limp around the camp mean that I can be completely guilt-free however I choose to spend the six to seven thousand kilojoule daily food and beverage budget I allow myself.

Then the black dog reminds me that I’m doing all this just to be fit and well at the Apocalypse. And I pour a couple of gins and tonic. Bombay Sapphire was on special on Saturday.

I had started stocking up for Christmas, but what the hell. Christmas is when you feel.

Living Well

It is true I find solace in preparing and eating food. It has been clearly demonstrated over the years by the fact I always got fat whenever life threw me into the dark places where the black dog dwells. It is why I named my cookery blog Kummerspeck. The German word for comfort food, which translates literally as “grief bacon”.

A couple of my latest experiments, HERE. And. HERE, are pretty good examples.

Those two plates, along with some sweetcorn and a banana smoothie, are my food for today. Delicious, and well within my daily kilojoule budget. Enough spare for a glass of wine or a nip of whiskey before bed.

I won’t deny I still seek solace. I live alone. Far from those I care most about. I have friends, and cheerful acquaintances but the people who contact me to check on my well-being are not those one might expect. Still. Somebody cares.

I still find solace in food. Now I seek out food that is satisfying, tasty, and good for me. It turns out quite surprisingly that with very few exceptions, such as kippers, the foods that are good for me are the very same foods that were bad for me. The only differences are a little in the preparation, and a lot in the portion size.

I have taken this concept of mindful eating seriously to heart. My taste buds are adjusting to less salt. I have really been concentrating on experiencing the appearance, colour, texture, aroma of my food as well as the taste and mouth sensations experienced as I chew, dissolve and swallow. I am distinguishing the umami, salt, bitter and sweet, as well as the aromatic components. I had a couple of steamed sweetcorn cobs today, unsalted, with a nob of unsalted butter. I could taste things I had never really given any attention to before.

This blog is more and more becoming a journal. A letter to myself. Which is how I started out.