Creative

A wheel within a cage

As a child I had this hamster who would fidget all of the time. Even in his sleep. I had to call him Fidget. He’d have been offended otherwise.

My old hamster, Fidget, used to do the funniest thing. He’d climb up under the roof of his little cage and swing around upside down. Proper commando. Swinging bar to bar like a fluffy little ninja. Every now and then though, almost because he was too keen, he’d get a little clumsy. He would slip and fall; plummeting down to the straw below. Ninjas aren’t really supposed to bounce but Fidget did. Never discouraged, he’d shake himself off and run back up those bars. What he lacked in grace he made up for in ambition and persistence.

I used to find this whole act really quite funny. I used to hum the James Bond and the Mission Impossible theme-tunes to him, egging him on. I wish I hadn’t laughed now though. I wish I hadn’t taunted my old hamster, Fidget. Because all these years later I have realised that it was never a game. He was never really playing ninja. He was trying to escape.

I suppose we are all like my old hamster, Fidget. Stuck in a wheel that just keeps on spinning and spinning and spinning. We like to think of it as a game, as playtime, because then it’s just a bit of fun. A laugh and a sing-song. Nothing arbitrary or meaningless.

But we are also different from my old hamster, Fidget. 1. He was a hamster. 2. He could see the bars of his cage – we can’t. Once he finally realised his wheel wasn’t going anywhere, he stopped running. But we don’t get off of our wheel. We keep running, going nowhere.

We keep running because the realisation that we’re stuck in a cage would ruin us.

hamster-wheel

Coffee with the king

This is a story about a bum on the street who happened to be a poet. I say bum with as much endearment as you might say brother. That’s what he called himself. Homed people always go and worry about what you’re supposed to call homeless folk but I don’t know why. It’s not what you term or say to somebody, it’s how you say it – that is, if you talk to them at all. Anyways, I refer to my friend as the bum because he never told me his name, it’s as simple as that. I would introduce him merely as my friend, but then I have plenty of other friends I could be talking about. I sadly don’t have another bum friend, so at least this way you know who I mean, right?

We had a lot in common, me and him, but not as much as I would have hoped. For a start, I have running water, central heating, he didn’t. On the other hand, he travelled a lot, I didn’t. But most importantly, as it turned out, we were both writers. Him more than me, I must say.

Let me start with a little about myself before we get to the real stuff, the real character of my story. As I already told you, I’m a writer. But a journalist type to be more specific. Sorry to disappoint. I only had a degree under my belt a few years when I struck lucky in the city, a big-deal-paper around here giving me a chance. Making coffee that kinda joke. Well, it was all I needed… I’d been telling everybody that for years. My words did the rest. A couple of hot pieces and I found myself with a desk. I always wanted a desk. Now, I see my name in the paper every morning. Jack Wildman. Well, I would do if I actually read the paper, it depresses me in truth.

How does this hack meet a bum? Same way anybody else would: stop for a chat. It was a Tuesday morning. Might not have been precisely Tuesday but near enough, maybe a Wednesday actually. I was going for my usual coffee: black with no sugar just like my friend Steven, at this buzzing little house I walk by everyday. See, gone were the days I was making the coffee. I had climbed the rungs of the city ladder. (I wasn’t buying for anyone else back at the office either.) Anyways, my soon to be friend, was just sitting outside, minding his own business. I figured that if a bum had chosen to mind his own business right outside of a coffeehouse, the chances were he probably liked his coffee. So I asked him that and he said yeah. I went inside and bought two black coffees, brought him back plenty of sugar too just in case.

He thanked me most graciously. And I remember what he asked me next. He asked me the time. I thought to myself it curious that a bum should care for the time. Here I am with work to be late for and he’s the one counting the minutes! I also found it real funny that he asked me the time. And I explained to him why. You see, the only occasion when two strangers interact in the street is when somebody wants to know the time. My friend chuckled to himself at that. Told me that I spoke the truth. He wasn’t going to offer, so I asked if I might sit down with him. He was only too happy to budge along, even extended me some of his blanket. He was a generous host.

I thought about asking him how his day was going. But then I figured you can’t really ask a bum that. I wondered if I might ask about his taste in music or his favourite restaurant. Again, stupid questions. The great thing about chatting to a bum is that you can only ask proper questions. To no other new friend could you enquire as openly about their whole damn life story, and hell, would no other new friend have half as fascinating an answer. I was bloody late for work that day I can tell you.

See, we just sat there watching the world go by. It was a strange perspective, sitting down. Makes you feel small in the world but also kind of superior. Everybody was rushing around. At that eye-level you really notice the briefcases swinging, suits off to their big city jobs, like I should have been. You notice the skirts too but my friend was real polite, I didn’t catch him looking. People sure look at you funny when you’re hanging out with a bum. My friend mentioned this himself actually. He said that usually they looked without really looking. Avoiding glances. But now that he had company, my company, there were more curious looks. Curious ain’t a bad thing, but it bothered it did me when they stared.

The other interesting thing about sitting there was my friend had a hat for collecting coins. It was a nice hat actually, real old and tatty – a city hipster would have approved; new it was probably worth more than the coins he had in it. After a few people had tossed a couple pieces, I decided I would start playing a game. Checking out the folks who could spare some change, I began comparing their mannerisms with the amount they gave to my friend. Two examples will make my point clear enough. One time there was this typical suit, and I swear to god he didn’t even look at us, you’d think he’d leant down for a second to lace up his shoe! But in that swift movement he’d dropped a twenty into the hat. We looked up to thank him but he was gone. My friend was proper chuffed, kept fingering the note, just checking to see if it was real I suppose. But I couldn’t get over how strange the thing was, real generous sure, but also, well, rude.

Another example will explain it to you. There was a middle-aged lady who came over from the newsagents across the road. Out of nowhere she was telling us ‘good morning’ and handing us a bottle of water each. She’d just bought them. Well I said ‘good morning’ back, and so did my friend, and we thanked her most kindly. I thought it funny but sweet that she had bought me one too. As she was fumbling with her purse, I noticed her tuck a newly purchased lottery ticket away. Hastily, like she was embarrassed about it. Boy, did I wish her lucky with all my heart. I really did. If ever I wanted somebody to win, I wanted water-bottle lady to. After some awkward small talk (see it doesn’t work with bums) she was on her way. But not before slipping two shinnies into my friend’s hat. Ten times more generous than the suit that lady.

After an hour or so, my friend picked up the hat, shaking it. There was a real satisfying rattle, music to his ears you could see from his face. Next he said a funny thing to hear on the street. He said it was ‘his round’. I imagined the two of us sitting like work colleagues at the bar, chatting about the football over cold pints. Coffee, he meant. I beamed. Black with no sugar like my friend Steven, I told him. He came back ten minutes later, there had been a queue apparently, but the lady serving was real nice, she had given us some free cookies on the house. Gracious as ever, he split the packet with me. As that peaceful morning passed, the street, our street, was quietening down. There was less to watch and less to rattle in the hat. We got to talking instead.

That was when I learnt my friend was a writer. In fact, a poet, and it was most interesting but also kind of sad why. He told me how he often found it difficult to write – I wanted to jump in, there and then, explain my own suffering with writer’s bloc, empathise, but I didn’t. I didn’t because he went on to say that he found it difficult to write because he hadn’t a pen and pad very often. Imagine that. This struck me, it really did. I could see his dilemma clear as day though: there was food and drink to buy after all. He explained that he wrote poetry because it was short, he could compose pieces and remember bits in his head, until he could find some scrap paper, or save up for a proper pad. My friend was a damn practical genius, as well as a bloody great poet I was about to find out.

I told him with great embarrassment that I was a writer too. His eyes lit up at that. But something in them faded when I explained: the journalist kind. Not everybody could be a coffee-drinking poet bum I thought. He was awful polite about it though, that was his way. He said that he would look out for my name (Jack Wildman I had told him) in the papers that he sometimes picked out from bins. I told him that he’d be better off leaving them in there. It strikes me now that I was an awful fool not to ask his name at that very appropriate moment. He probably thought me rude having not as well. There is something sure charming though about the anonymous ‘coffeehouse poet bum’. I like to imagine now that it is written on the cover of a huge volume of poetry sold in all good bookstores.

The sad thing about my story, and I feel real bad about letting you down like this I do, is that I can’t share my friend’s masterpieces with you. I would love to, I really would. The trouble is, he hadn’t any of them written down on him, and I hadn’t the damn foresight to scribble them out while he was telling them from memory. In truth, I wouldn’t have wanted the distraction. I can tell you that my friend spoke the most wonderful things. He entertained me for another hour easy, spewing verses on just about everything. There was one about a beautiful girl who used to smile at him with sad eyes. Another about a loyal old dog, too lazy to walk. One for every passerby on the street too, the suit and the water-bottle lady included. Even one about his little hat, about how it rattled. And of course another about coffee. An ode to coffee. I chimed in for that one: black with no sugar like my friend Steven!

I wondered whether he was making it all up there and then, spontaneous, really I did.

A finer morning was never spent. I shook my friend’s hand and rose from that warm blanket a new man. I had just enjoyed my coffee with the king of the whole street. In fact, I walked away backwards, bowing like a madman, giving the most respectful of royal subject waves. He chuckled so hard I could still hear him, long out of sight. I still do. The sad thing is I never saw my poet friend again. I like to think he’s on tour now. Touring all the coffeehouses of the city, sitting and thinking up his wonderful verse. He’s free you see. Moves from place to place. Me? Well I stick with the same old coffeehouse down the street. Pop there every morning on my way to work. I think about not going sometimes. In my head, I write this little note that I’m going to leave on my desk one day:

‘Gone to meet a friend for coffee, different house for a change.’

A playwright at the theatre

Did you ever go to the theatre and imagine that you’d written the play? I have. Curtains go up at the interval. Everyone files out to buy drinks and ice-cream. You listen to all the little groups of theatre goers, curious types, discussing the show – your show. Some like it and are all charming, saying nice things, on tenterhooks about the rest. Then there’s the critics spewing poison in their straightjackets, unable to follow the plot, your plot. Could you resist the urge to tell them all – those critics – that you’d written the thing? I did. It’s better that way. You’re an audience member like them, with a drink and ice-cream. Enjoy the show, your show, my show.

Nothing

lie down think about Nothing float without worries cares questions empty yourself swim in the void open your eyes eyelids closed not blackness not darkness Nothing the universe before stars and litter and worriers forget where your body ends space is space Nothing you are held listen to what you believed silence noise everywhere blood pumping past your ears the humming of invisible stuff Nothing breathe in time in and out the same smelling tasting the void Nothing

A Conversation With Bear

Welcome to my room.

That noise before you ask – just the humming. It does that all the time: hums to me. I don’t sleep anymore but sometimes I pretend, you know, pretend that I am asleep to try and see if it ever stops. It doesn’t. Probably doesn’t care whether I’m asleep or not. Why should it? In some ways I like the humming. It just happens to be here like I happen to be here. I breathe, it breathes. We share a rhythm, you know? I don’t suppose you do. Anyhow, you can listen to it too while you wait.

You’re probably about to ask where we are – a good question. The same was the first to cross my mind too when I arrived. I can see you looking around but I’ll save you the trouble: there isn’t a sign or anything like that. A place just isn’t a place without a name now, is it? And no one should stay in a place that isn’t a place. So I decided to name it myself. It’s always the people who find places first that get to name them after all. (But here’s the thing, I’m not the most imaginative of people to tell you the truth). The naming needed some… inspiration. I’ve found if you wait long enough such things tend to happen. This particular thing was a voice. It echoed through here one day; the only sound I had ever heard over the humming. I was so surprised that somehow I only caught a single trailing word of it. But I can tell you for sure that the voice was female and spoke as if posing a question. The word I caught by the way was “pillow”. And that’s where you are now. I’ve named my room Pillow, you see. Odd perhaps, but I’d advise you to be open minded around here. Besides, no one else has a room called Pillow. Welcome to Pillow.

How rude of me. Would you like something to eat? I forget people do that, you see long ago I lost my appetite. In terms of food, all I have to offer you are the grapes. There is an endless supply of grapes here. That’s weird too, yes, but who I am to protest that I prefer apples when I’m never hungry anyway. When I’m not listening to the humming, I sometimes watch the grapes. Watching grapes is a curious thing to do, but have you ever tried it? I watch them sadden and droop; watch as they curl and wither. And eventually, the fluffy mould grows. That’s my favourite part, just before the grapes are replaced with fresh ones. I don’t know who replaces them; I can only assume Bear does.

You haven’t met Bear yet? I am sorry. Let me introduce you both. Bear is my friend in here. He is the reason I am never lonely. Maybe I was to start with, maybe I was scared then too, but how could I be now that I have Bear? One day it was just me and then Bear came along. I am waiting for him to talk to me. But I suspect he is thinking about what to say so I mustn’t rush him. I ask him every day about the grapes – he hasn’t owned up, yet. He might not answer me but he watches cautiously with beady eyes like little black marbles. That’s really nice of him; he must get awfully tired waiting up as I can never sleep. Sometimes I forget about the humming and the grapes, and even Bear, but as the only other occupants of Pillow they soon reclaim my attention.

I should emphasise the only permanent occupants of Pillow because you see there was another visitor one day, before you that is. I welcomed her to Pillow and she introduced herself as Nurse. She was dressed in white and wore one of those tired friendly faces. I thought at the time that it was a funny name; she also had a nice voice. She was the first person I’d spoken to in Pillow, that’s if you were to discount Bear, which I am reluctant to do. I offered her grapes but she wasn’t hungry. Then I introduced Bear who actually seemed relieved to see her. You are the only visitor we’ve had since, by the way. And I must be honest; I had initially hoped that you were Nurse returning! You see, she promised me she would, so I’ve been waiting.

Nurse asked all kinds of things about the humming. How I felt about it or whether it ever got louder. Harder questions too – where do you think it’s coming from? That was the first time I’d even considered outside of Pillow, but it made sense: the humming had to be unworldly. She agreed, and you’d have believed her for she had this authority. I also had to explain about the naming of Pillow and that certainly caught her interest. It was then I figured out that the voice was unworldly too…

So was she. So are you.

Her final question was the biggest. She asked me what I wanted – I was confused at first. If I’m honest with you, the question surprised me, particularly as it was posed like an offer. It grounded me I suppose for the first time since I’d called Pillow, well, home. When someone asks you what you want, you really have to think. It makes you look around and weigh it all up, life and such. So I did, and all became clear. What I wanted more than anything was to hear from Bear. It explained everything. The humming and the watching of the grapes were only ways to pass the time. Pass the time while I waited. Waited for, what I hadn’t identified until then to be, Bear’s reply.

It was a long shot but I asked her whether she could help Bear find his voice. The most comforting of smiles replied with the answer. Apparently it wasn’t that Bear didn’t want to talk to me, the trouble all along was that he simply couldn’t hear me. He couldn’t hear me over the humming! You might ask: what does she know about Bear or the humming? But I didn’t, because I knew she knew. I can’t tell you of my relief that she did – imagine trying endlessly to get someone’s attention and never knowing whether they are ignoring you on purpose or not. I have stopped trying to talk to Bear since then. We share an understanding instead; the company is enough, for now.

I am waiting for Nurse to return because when she does she said the humming will be turned off. It is strange being offered the one thing you have only just discovered that you want. I can’t imagine many people have experienced it but then I can’t imagine many have experienced Pillow-life either. And here I am, waiting. That’s my story. I’ve been thinking a lot more than I used to (the benefit or perhaps side-effect of so much time) and come to terms with a couple of perspective-changers. When you don’t need sleep or food I realised that death doesn’t come around too quickly or perhaps at all, and if I’m honest, that scares me. What if I am just like the grapes, slowly dying but never gone. Being always refreshed at the fluffy stage seems a bleak prospect. There’s not much to desire when you lead a Pillow-life but there is something, and that something is a conversation with Bear.

I hear it nowadays like never before. Imposing and confining. The breaths just don’t sound natural. I try to remember silence but it turns out that silence isn’t a thing you can really remember. The humming needs to stop. I want to talk to Bear. I even, just a little bit, fancy tasting the grapes.

To live the Pillow-life is to wait. You can imagine my disappointment when you turned up instead of Nurse! No offence, of course. Oops, well now I’ve burdened you with my life-story and a history of Pillow, and you had only asked about the humming…

What do you mean you never asked about the humming?

What humming you ask?

The Three Little Pigs

Seeing as this blog is one big experiment, I thought I would try something different with this post and share some creative writing. This was a poem that I composed aged 13 but remains one of the few pieces that I am not completely ashamed of. It came about after an English teacher that I had a crush on (she was gorgeous, Irish and in her early 20s) set us the homework task of reinventing a fairy-tale. I guess I was trying to impress her.

Once upon a time there lived a small lad.

He listened to stories, they weren’t so bad.

He loved ‘The Three Little Pigs’ and ‘Snow White’,

but little did he know, the tales weren’t right.

His mother had lied – told him crap –

long nights he’d spent upon her lap!

What had left her mouth, filled his ears,

is similar to the rubbish everyone hears.

The truth I shall now share is just the facts.

Sit back, listen up, please relax…

 

In the woods there lived three little pigs,

each in a house: brick, straw, and twigs.

This tale is of a visitor from far away:

a beastly fellow; a dangerous stray.

A hungry legend – though ever so real –

loitering about in search of a meal.

To be precise, what he was after was rich pork.

He was following the smell, carrying his fork.

The quest for ham, a slice of meat,

required a plan to unlock the treat.

 

Wolf was up to his no good tricks,

first on the menu was the house of bricks.

Where to his despair he found the door locked,

all out the breath, he tried, and knocked.

Pig One was safe within the house,

he sat warm, alongside his spouse.

Wolf gave up, his belly empty.

“If only” he thought “I’d have had plenty!”

 

He continued his journey to the house of twigs

hoping to find the three succulent Pigs.

He licked his lips, followed his snout,

but when he got there all the Pigs were out!

Wolf by now grew hungry and mean

The cupboards were bare, no food to be seen.

Credit his ambition to fill his face,

he left en route to one last place.

 

The last house was made out of straw.

Wolf stood there, outside of the door,

and putting on a gentle tone,

called out for the Pigs: “Is anyone home?”

“Yes, just me, be with you shortly!”

“Oh yippee! At last a porky.”

But suspicious Pig Three sensed the danger –

he knew better than to trust a stranger.

“Come in. Let me get you a drink”

Pig Three made it towards the sink.

While Wolf waited patiently for his tea,

in the other room Pig Three had started to flee.

 

But before he left, the door was locked and out came a match:

a spark to set alight the fine straw thatch!

Flames spread quickly with thick black smoke.

Trapped inside hungry Wolf did choke.

 

The tale made headlines miles around:

“Wolf captured and burned to the ground”.

Pig Three’s bravery went down well –

he’d killed the Wolf with a legend to tell.

 

You may wonder what happened thereafter…

Honestly? Not much fun, games or laughter.

This is the bit that the boy was not told.

The cruel twist of fate – comedy gold.

Your hero, Pig Three, ended up upon my plate

and I must tell you child: he tasted great.