Sunday, 19 September 2010

AWOL.

I must apologise. It is a weird compact, here, on cyberstreet, an understanding,  between noms des plumes, anonymati, that there is a continuum of comment, a call and response, as  vivid as the slaves' field hollers, gallows humour, as pungent and sorrowful as the Blues;  not redemptive, just expressive; here is  a rendezvous, at  which people vent their spleen, discerning Ruin's impertinent  nuances,  checking-out the ree-ports, digging-up the dirt. an alternative, outsiders'  commentary, as momentous, in its way, as a solemn mass, a dance around the Maypole, a Bar Mitzvah,  a   daily  ritual of non-believers, believing together, briefly, that a steadfast failure to be convinced by Ruin's discordant praise-singers is conviction enough for any decent citizen;  a touchstone, quarried from MediaMinsters's  putrid canyons of cynicism and self interest, a talisman, clutched-at, as this blitzed nation, CallHimDave's 1940 junior  partner, which fought and won the Battle of Britain and thus the world, flushes itself, now, down Consumerism's toilet. These little enclaves in cyberspace, flighty, scornful, exasperated, scatological and irreverent are the home of today's pamphleteers, broadsheeters, samizdatians;  individually and collectively - those not sold-out in advance, that is,  like Britain's premier blogger,  the talking cardigan - hint at the tumult which, if God smiles upon us, we will soon surely hear from the multitude, presently diverted by His Unholiness, Ratzo, the Nonce-Protector General and Vicar of Christ.  We are all in this shit together, only not as Cameron and Clegg would have us, beneath their splayed buttocks, shat-upon from the great, ermine-trimmed latrine  of state, punished for questioning their expenses thievery,  but defiant, resistant, allied, across the ether, if only by nothing more than a refusenikism,  and while I wish the consciousness of it were wider, we are all in this together and  so I do apologise for the disruption of our ill-tempered but reassuring dialogue and venture, herewith, a brief explanation.

  My oldest and  dearest friend died suddenly. Okay for him, really, he'd had a few drinks, was well, in himself, as they say, aboard a ferry with his family, bound for his beloved France; just went to bed happy and didn't wake up, one of Death's wee surprises, see? You can go swimming every morning, walking every night, be as fit as a fiddle and still, when you're not looking, when you think it's safe to go to sleep, Whoops, one quick yank, from the Dark One's chill,  boney hand and you're over on the other side, one of the tyrannical dead, the ones for whom things are done, because that's what they would have wanted, as though they weren't really dead, just watching us, from the other side of the crematorium,  their ashes crinkling in pleasure as the living, for once, are obedient.

Drives me mad, that, that  'swhat he would have wanted shit;  doesn't matter a fuck what he would have wanted, he is no more, he has no wants, there is no him, that's why he's dead,  that's why we're here, at his fucking funeral, because he is no more, you can play MyWay at a million watts, the bastard's not gonna hear it. Do fucking behave yourselves. The infantilisation even of  Death, the failure, the refusal to understand the simplest of Life's truths,  it bespeaks Ruin.

Years ago, I walked up to the site of an Iron-Age fort at Presteigne, in the Welsh Marches, with a friend holding  the ashes of her late husband. It's what he would have wanted, she said. Yeah, but whaddabout what you want, he's dead,  doesn't matter what he woulda wanted. You're right,  he is dead,  doesn't matter what he woulda wanted, it really doesn't,  and it's alright to say that.  She cast the ashes up into the hilltop wind and they blew away, dazzling, in the Sun, she did it a few times,  and  they were  gone.  I don't know if it was the right thing to say, I think it was, she had been nursing him a long time,  her own wants and needs subsumed, she seemed grateful for it,  anyway,  somebody saying the unsayable, liberated from cliched helpless widowhood.  Don't get me wrong, I am quite Oriental about the ancestors and I keep my dead close, within, Oh, they come out in my speech, sometimes, but there is no public performance of their wishes or requirements,  that's just stupid.

Shocked as I was by this  sudden death,  I also thought,  Oh, to be so lucky. Not for him the hospital, its smells and pans and masks and blades  and tubes and the ghastly, hopeless optimism, the dreadful hospital radio  - even among the suffering, the near-dead, there is no escape from the awfulness of Showbiz, it's ageing apprentices, its camp followers, its dreary, name-checking fuckwits -  and the  ghoulish chaplain and his sickly compassion, hovering,  seeking frightened  souls to rubber-stamp for God; the terrible, waxen  camaraderie of the near-dead, forged in feeble resistance to the doctorbastards and the cheerily impertinent nurses, embellished with catheter and bedpan, a fierce, morbid alliance, yet  routinely ruptured with the arrival of visitors.  Or not. It's shit, all that, dying in hospital. Best avoided. And hospices, how did that happen?  Respite and  palliative care,  this is a grim,  meddler's lexicon, some symbiosis of neglect and hypocrisy,  the family role privatesed,  incorporated,  dying-by-numbers. How did we cope, before these wretched hospicers selflessly invented themselves, built their caring and sensitive and respectful death chambers ? Anyway, none of that for him, no saddle-seat on Death's Carousel, round and round, how are you, a bit better, good, you're looking better, they can do wonderful things these days, a bit tired, it's the medication I expect, they're doing some more tests, you have to try and eat something, keep your strength up. At least he avoided all that.

He managed a wood, in retirement, and he hoped to live to see great-grandchildren.  I entertain no such hopes but had hoped to sit with him  in his wood, opposite his front door, urban, large and municipal  or in mine, tiny, walled and private,  maybe in my late sixties;  old friends, sat on their park bench like book-ends, a sharp and cynical dotage, mine,  the very  antidote to his  genuine, Hail, fellow, well met bonhomie. He was much-loved, gracious and polite, warm, a toucher, a clasper, a hugger, almost living every day as though it might be his last, not wishing to leave any sour memories.

Why don't your write a book, he said to me, for forty years. There's enough books, don't need any more fucking books, books're the last thing we need more of. The last time he asked, a couple of years back, I wanted to say Well, in a sense, I have, it's called stanislav, a young Polish plumber, there's at least a bookfull of him, but I didn't.  I think stanislav, in toto,  was a tad too profane  for him, even though some of the bits were written with him in mind, he was the young probation officer, hating the sin but loving the sinner,  or even about him, his was the motorhome which irked stanislav so much and I am sure that at some of the commentaries  he would have, as did so many, as did I,  spit his coffee out over the keyboard. But now I'll never know. It's probably what he would have wanted.

I knew Dick for forty years, that's longer than I have known anyone. He described me as a close personal friend - dinners, theatre, pubs, holidays, weddings, we did all that stuff;  he visited here, in  the Far North, almost every year and we made  trips to the West Midlands;  spoke a few times a year on the phone, sat up late, drinkng whiskey, when we were together.  I guess that's close personal friendship; easy, no pressure, none of the flirting of new acquantanceship.  But there were five hundred close personal friends and colleagues at his funeral.  Not close as we were close but determined to claim at least a kinship, seriously warm cvolleagues. And there was a feed, after the funeral, at which hungry current and former probation officers filled their boots.  See you at the next probation funeral, said one of them, as though that's all it was, and indeed for many of these close personal friends,  that's what it was, a career formality.

It was  a hard  journey,  embarked on at very short notice, broken with an overnight stay in some Godless, heathen bastard, scruffy sonofafuckingbitch couldn't spell hospitality, Scottish Borders hotel  and then down the M6, beautiful in Cumbria, Hell's highway by the time you reach the Midlands;  a bad enough journey at leisure, murder in a hurry.  The death, aboard a Brittany Ferry,  occurred, technically, in France, and so the frogs had to do their shit and then the body was returned and the English coroner had to do his and we thought it would be another week but in the end we only had a day or two's notice.  When we got there, with the family,  there were those spontaneous eruptions of grief on all sides, snot and tears, shaking of heads.  I mean, it wasn't like the Arabs do it, shrieking and wailing - odd, that, considering how good Paradise is, for good muslems - and fat women slapping their own faces, having to be held up, nothing like that, we were English, Irish some of us, but even so the stiff upper lip was hard to do, standing in that kitchen, where I had stood countless times,  feasting, and drinking,  in the early days of cloudy, week-old home-brew, latterly of  interesting, brewery-bottled  beers and single malts, a place now, forever, of loss. All its walls' memories sicklied o'er.

I could go on and on about this but it would be to no purpose, the gist of it all is that we kinda lost our purpose, for a while, a week or two;  there was a big, busy,  road-movie journey, bracketed by a sense of shock  and bewilderment.  This life, here,  this old house and the walled garden, the lane, the hedges, the trees, it's a project;  it's not a clever, got-it-made, low-maintainance, Country Living, Aga-Saga, des-res, shabby-chic, Barbour Jacket and Land Rover Life.  I am not Michael Heseltine.  It's all hard work, some of it even is altruistic. I was lying down, last evening, in the wet, planting Hawthorn cuttings through black membrane into a raised bed to maybe, in  a couple of years' time, plant another hedge. I'm always doing stuff like that, as though lassooing the future,  but my friend's so-sudden death knocked the wind from those sails, as well as  arresting   whatever it is which usually speeds these posted commentaries and  I didn't see any point in writing, buffeted, as I was, this way and that, accosted by Death, nagged-at by Life:  Pull yourself together, Ishmael, if you don't do this shit no other bastard will.  The longer you leave it, the worse it'll be

While we were away, the gales came and blowtorched nearly everything with saltburn from the shore, but every year we fight back  with clever pruning and stakes and fleeces and hope, we are farmers these thousands of years, clever monkeys, fishmen upo the shores of the sea; sometimes we fashion  a forest of sections of drainpipe staked over tender trees and shrubs  and each Spring it all comes back again.  Dick won't be driving down my lane in his much ridiculed camper van, not this coming Spring, not ever again.  But there it is, in the midst of life we are in death; never morning wore 'til evening but some poor heart did break.  We will ape him in our speech, those little repetitive sayings which we all develop;  we will miss him at our table and keep him in our hearts.  But he is mourned now, enough, and,  as ever, there are knaves to chastise, windy gabshites to mock and governments to bring down. Let the dead bury the dead, I spy motherfuckers.

29 comments:

Mike said...

Welcome back Mr I. That was one hell of an opening paragraph. You must have been saving that. Bit like constipation?

call me ishmael said...

Sometimes, mr mike, sometimes, but there I was just feeling about for what it is that goes on here; it is relatively new, this communication phenomenon and lacks a raison d'etre - it did not arise from a demand for a blogosphere - a grammar or an accepted vernacular and is made woolier, vaguer, by the fact that, here, at any rate, less that five per cent of those who read also comment. Hard to know, therefore, what's really going on and my assunptions were based as much on the respnse to stanislav, at order-order, as to those here, in Ishmaelia, if the other ninety five per cent wish to correct me I will be happy to hear their instruction.

jgm2 said...

Agree with you 100% about ignoring the wishes of the dead re burial/burning/marching up a fucking hill in a gale to scatter ashes/whatever.

Spend a fucking fortune on an oak coffin so the relatives will know you've got a few quid? Fuck 'em.

And, having both parents die as suddenly and unexpectedly as if they'd been shot then I can confirm that is a far better way to 'lose' them than spending years nursing them through alzheimers or some fucking cancer or other.

Selfish perhaps but better for those left behind. Putting years of their life on hold while watching others waste away is not my idea of fun.

PT Barnum said...

Your readers and interlocuters, the silent and the gabshites alike, have, of course, missed you, your voice, and the strange communion of minds which would, in a previous decade, never have encountered one another. Tis a blessing, this new kind of virtual friendship.

Woman on a Raft said...

Amen.

call me ishmael said...

You been taking those Succinct-U-like pills again, mrs Woar? Yes or No'll do.

May well be a blessing, mr ptb, when visited on we, the thoughtful bloggers but for so many, empty-headed, the facebbok and twitter and what-not are, I understand, an invitation to cruel narcissism, the communion of minds often, instead, a stock exchange, trading wound and insult, the cordless telephone merely a device by which the emotionally undernourished may "dump" one another, l-ing o l, as, gramarless, speechless, they text people close enough to speak to, their lives encapsulating the medium made message.

yardarm said...

I can`t find the words but for once I know of what I and you speak. A brilliant and beautiful post and I thank you for saying what I have not been able to put into coherent thought.

My Marion rode Death`s Carousel for six months until the cancer took her three weeks ago. Every day a retreat, a harrowing and that ghastly optimism was mine indeed.

Writing through a mist all I can add is yes, the motherfuckers are all around and ever more numerous. I look forward to the fray.

call me ishmael said...

Christ, mr yardarm, I'm sorry.

I'll set a candle, for what it's worth, something and nothing, against an ocean window.

Rightwinggit said...

Publish Stanislav.

yardarm said...

Thank you, Mr Ishmael. That`s worth something to me.

mongoose said...

In some ways they are the best of old friendships, Mr Ishmael. The ones where distance and opportunity conspire together to make the few meetings more to be savoured. But, goodness me, man, a fucking motorhome?

Anyway, that's the way to go - went to sleep and never woke up.

call me ishmael said...

Did you read Summer with stanislav, about the motorhome, mr mongoose? That was him, or he.

Elby the Beserk said...

Thanks for the elegy Ishmael. We tittered at your description of your mate's motor home puttering up to your place. We thought it might be Buster who had gone (bad enough) but this is very sad.

Verge said...

"God grant I never die in a fucking hospital", Monsignor Burroughs once wrote. He fucking did though.

A very fine post, Mr Ish, thank you for it.

And not for the first time, I second the call for A Complete Collected Stanislav ("the ultimate toilet book".)

lilith said...

Summer with Stanislav made me weep with laughter. I am so sorry your friend has gone. Sorry too for Mr Yardarm's harrowing loss.

Oldrightie said...

As in all things transient the moment lost is always the most valuable memory.

Reginald said...

No matter how often it happens it always seems like a void has opened up in the fabric of life, but at the same time an opening has opened up to display the futility of it.
No matter how often it happens one never gets used to it.
Eventually one starts to feel like the last remnant of a one time iceberg gradually falling apart at sea.

mongoose said...

I do remember it now, Mr Ishmael, having just re-read it over at Mr OH's Shrine to Stan. Mad buggers those motorhome boys. Do you get the speedboat boys up your way? We have them around here, backing their shitty Vauxhall 4-by-4s to the slip-way and arsing about like the amateur nutters they are. Some of these bastards need cranes to dump their boats in the river. They pass by like supertankers going down the Panama Canal. Four storeys up, Captain on Deck. Peep, peep! It's a good job the old man's rifle has out of harm's way.

Before ruin took Sunday afternoons and filled them all with football, we would cook teacakes and have pots of tea while mad eegits strived to win those crappy TV quiz shows. You know the ones - where you could win a VCR or a teasmade or whatever. We used to chortle most when they'd win the star prize on the darts one and it turned out to be a speedboat. That's what a chap needs to drag behind his motorhome, a fucking great speedboat. "Me arse may be hanging out me trousers, Mother, but at least we've got the speedboat and the motorhome. We're as free as birds."

call me ishmael said...

Aye, sic transit gloria mundi used to sound clever, now it just sounds bleak.

Woman on a Raft said...

Yes or No'll do.

In view of your post, Mr Ishmael, I thought "Sod it, he's right, you can't do stuff when you are dead" so I made a long-ish journey to give a grape vine to someone I know wants one but wouldn't be able to smuggle it past the missus without an argument. Hence, limited time to comment as I had been dithering about the domestic politics and needed to pick up the vine from the garden centre.

The missus can't very well do anything about a present and will tolerate it. I've mollified her by pointing out the number of plants which have died of natural causes round there, so there is every chance it will turn up its little tendrils.

I left him happily planning a new planting spot which, if the vine lives, will see it scramble over the ornamental hooded seat.

Without that post I'd have made some excuse and copped-out.

Dick the Prick said...

Dear mr Ish.

Am so sorry. A couple of book-ends sat wherever the wind is blocked, the rain prevented and with some warmth and perhaps a drink of something medicainal. Ay, that's what old blokes are designed for. Gibbering, reminiscing, watching the world go by - seen it all before but yet still new.

I'm not sure i've read 'summer with stanislav' but shall find the dusty index cards and wander over to the seldom used corner of the library.

I'll raise a glass tonight for Dick & you.

Ah, bollox

DtP

Agatha said...

Ah, bollox, Mr. DtP, entirely agree. It is wonderful how we can close our minds to death - our own and everyone else's. We have to, of course, or nobody would bother to do anything. We live in the sure certainty of our own death, but still paint pictures, sew tapestries and trees and go to work every day, by an effort of will to ignore the ultimate outcome.
If you'd read Summer with Stanislav, you could never forget it. It is a sustained outpouring of creative comic genius. It is so scatological and so funny it is almost lethal. Tears, spilled coffee, howls of laughter, send for the paramedics. What an imagination. Summer with Stan was to be continued and we're still waiting. Mr. Mongoose, what is the proper name of Mr. OH's shrine to Stan? I'd love to read more Stan - I'm sure I've missed a lot, cos Stan used to pop up on other blogs.

mongoose said...

If you just google for "site:www.oldholborn.net stanislav", you will find most of the stuff, Agatha. I think that there was an intention to do a subsite or something but memory fails as to whether it ever happened.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for your trouble. The last wake I was at, someone told my wife that her father "was looking well" and there's him in a coffin. Cheers anyway and the motorhome saga is better than a park bench.

lilith said...

Summer with Stanislav is here

mongoose said...

Well done, lilith. I had thought that Stanislav's stuff was all before before.

NightJack said...

And that up there ladies and gents, that up there is why this is the best writing in the blogosphere.Best bar none.

Agatha said...

Thank you Mongoose, I'll go check it out.

black hole sunset said...

There's more plumbing mayhem here, for those who missed the order-order starbirth of a young Polish plumber.