Lear winds, bucolic lusts, Falstaff lamentations and social media zombies… inside or out?

It was a bland winter!

Over here at any rate. All fur coat and no knickers, as an old friend of mine might’ve said. But then there are people down the south-west of England who would argue the contrary – with homes and railways wrecked, they must deem it the wildest winter yet.

What I mean by “fur coat and no knickers” is that, here in Norwich, all we’ve had is lots of rain – no snow whatsoever – and, admittedly, the more-than-usual insane bouts of wind; or rather quite mad bouts of wind, just not enough to be certifiable. It’s kind of kept threatening but that’s all…

During one if its threats, it took our side-gate clean off – this is what I’m getting at, it took the gate clean off; okay, I had to walk a few yards to reclaim it, but it had been taken “clean off”, and so simply needed putting, cleanly, back on again.

I didn’t do the deed myself; Pete did it for me.

He does everything, Pete; I once thought of him as “Plumber Pete”, but so soon bestowed upon him the moniker of “Peter Perfect”. He likes it, too, wears it well…

The first time he came round, he seemed rather reserved – head down, job to do, all that –… until I happened to mention – I don’t know why; maybe I was rambling on nervously, as I sometimes do – that I used to frequent the Casino Club in Wigan – Phillip’s favourite haunt; “when not doing his thing in Wigan’s Casino Club (voted ‘The Greatest Disco in the World’ by Time Magazine) Phillip hates the world”. Anyhow, that was it: so did Pete and we were, thus, Soul brothers.

It was good of him, then, that when he came round to fix the fence, he didn’t expect me to play deejay for the day – which at some point became routine – since the job was an outside one and we didn’t want to annoy the neighbours. Besides, that day, Peter Perfect was looking more a… Pensive Pete.

And sharing a similar past, he knew he could confide in me.

It was during a short pause in the already short-lived repartee, that he, in his gravest tone to-date whenever we’ve conversed, came out with: “I’ve driven up here today, Chris, and I’m not kidding, every kid I’ve seen” – school holidays here at present – “even groups of ’em, have been glued to mobile phones…”

I drifted there, momentarily, for being reminded of a previous blog post of mine – ‘tweeters or twits; part one’ – the conclusion of which I state: “Maybe I’ll always cringe when I see four students sitting at the same table of a campus canteen, each of them twiddling noodles with a fork in one hand and flicking through the ‘pages’ of a smartphone with the other – social or anti-social?”

“I’ve even written a post about it,” I sighed, on my return.

He was still picturing those flashes: “The kids have become zombies; they’ve been drained of life. It’s a world conspiracy; they can’t rebel when they’re already dead neck-up”, prior to offering me a semi-smile, lest I should burst into laughter, call him a crackpot or something akin… I didn’t do anything of the sort.

What I did do was briefly help him fit the fence into the right slots and so allow myself time to reflect further upon his angst, which I totally understood: Pete has children of his own; he cares. Furthermore, we go back a long way, him and me – without even having known each other. I knew exactly what he was getting at; it actually had a touch of the Jack Falstaff about it:

FALSTAFF: “We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow.”

SHALLOW: “… Jesus, the days that we have seen!”

Except that, initially, I saw things in a more positive light. Why? Well, for the kids to be seen, they had to be outside – he’d even mentioned “groups” of them. Children outdoors… what a lovely idea! I thought of Phillip again, and the numerous occasions he mentions being simply outdoors, in an almost celebratory way, for the scents and sensations…

* * * * *

   “… I was grateful to snatch whatever fresh air I could in the city’s centre during the rush hour…

   … On arrival, we were quick to learn the town had succumbed to two mass invasions. One had painted the totality of the beach red. The other had painted the rest of the place all the colours under the sun…

   … The heady scent of morning dew, sprinkled over freshly chopped grass, was swept along by a hypnotic salt breeze. The tormenting aroma of eggs and bacon on some long-ago morning fluttered its impatient wings…

… Powerless to part with the sunup caravan park scents I trapped down here…

…Ours being the end house, it had land attached until the next block. As kids we called it ‘The Wood’, where sexual exploits were rife…

… I marvelled at how delightful life was at these moments, blowing rings with the winter air I exhaled…

… As he made off, one hand in a trouser pocket, the other clicking along to some unheard tune, that mohair ensemble modified itself, in sync with the changing traffic lights at our frosty crossroads…

… The chippy was on mine and Jed’s route only, 200 yards from which I’d be transported to a gastronomic heaven…

… Our mouths locked in a muffled clink. Fingers a riot, we collapsed to the grass in rime-coated abandon, where she purred and writhed like a back-scratching black cat on a sundrenched pavement…”

* * * * *

And on and on, it goes, phrases plucked from Wood, Talc and Mr. J, rapidly and randomly, and I can see them, smell them – hear them; practically touch them. Can’t you? I envy him, too, don’t you?

At the beginning of this post, I talked of a “bland winter” just gone. And I now wonder if I feel that way solely because I’ve barely experienced most of it, given that I work from home, at my computer. I can’t help, then, when looking back at the wild days of ‘Pete and I’, and “the days that we have seen!”, whether I, too, have become one of those zombies… where just about everything, if it isn’t instantly accessible by the touch of a finger-tip, feels just too much like hard work… and whether those “days” should not be deemed passed on with youth but are still out there to behold if we’re able to drop what we’re doing from time to time and realise it…

“The Wood”, of which Phillip speaks, is based very much upon a real wood of my youth – although I’d hardly call it a wood – where, each year, we celebrated Britain’s ‘Bonfire Night’, its essence of gunpowder and roasted taters. Indeed, there we lived with every season, as it came and went. And there we fell from trees – I managed to break my left arm seven times, but strangely never my right. And there I heard my first ghost-story, from a girl four years my senior, and there I furtively caressed a breast – a real breast. And there I lost my virginity, if not with the same girl…

What does Phillip say?

* * * * *

   “But this station scent; not just the diesel, more its blend with the evening air, the post-ale panting, smouldering tobacco, Charlie – the Soul girls and the smell of them!”

* * * * *

And I can’t help but think my handy-man, Peter Perfect, is right.

And with that thought, just maybe I no longer wonder from where today’s paranormal genre popularity hails – could I be right? Is, thus, the inspiration for each book acquired from within rather than without? Or, in a spiritual sense, should that be the other way round? Without pointing fingers – as in speaking of the writer in the collective – I can’t help but be reminded of Henry David Thoreau, and “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”

I recently wrote a blog post about ‘the writer as ghost-hunter’, following which Taylor Eaton, my favourite flash-fiction author, extended said post – as my first guest-blogger – with a version of her own, where the hero’s father, a serial ‘wall-toucher’ – scent-chaser, life-preserver, call him what you will – lives in a home for, well, the mentally unstable, I guess. Another fellow author, Shauna L. Bowling, commented afterwards, in so many words, that the father may well be clinging onto life while the rest of us, lost in digital galaxies – zombies, as Peter calls us – are, indeed, lost…

You’re most-likely thinking that it’s something of a recurring theme with me, the idea of social media’s controlling qualities – and after all, Chris, you’re writing a blog post, for God’s sake! – the death of the character, therefore, and so on. But I’m neither advocating nor condoning, simply stating, by way of reflection, and wonder… I’m writing on a cloud…

… and concluding that it will be very interesting to see how today’s youth eventually ages – including my own daughter – as well as the route the collective writer will take…


Chris Rose

Your literary, soulful friend

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