So Foul and Fair a Day

Howard at the Boston Marathon 2013

Howard at the Boston Marathon 2013

When I solicited funds as a charity runner in the 2013 Boston Marathon I promised to write a report on the race and my donors’ ‘investment.’ The moment the race started I started to compose my report. The mood was light, the crowd a united force of love, the events and sights all affirming a shared humanity. This would be a report of smiles. The serious counterpoint would be the 26.2 long miles.

At 2.07pm the mood changed. After that the playful response would feel profane. But I did promise a race report.

I slept on the matter. The evil was great and real, certainly. Real too was the goodness. Both demand to be written.

***

Does any runner sleep well the night before a marathon? I don’t. To prevent dehydration on race day I drink plenty through the previous day and every cupful demands its exit through the night. I am excited, nervous, a kid before his birthday party. Boston, after all, is to marathoners as Wimbledon is to tennis players. An enormous privilege, unearned by any effort of my legs, paid for in thousands of donated dollars.

The playful mind must be carried by legs that are 67 years old. Some prudence surfaces. The sixty-seven year old prepares methodically. The experience of forty past marathons insists I vaseline my second toes (which always blister), my armpits (which chafe), my nipples (which bleed) and my private bits (none of your business).
To prevent my shoelaces untying over the distance I double knot them: a trivial detail? No, not in Boston, for it was at the start line of one Boston Marathon back in the seventies that the favourite, noting his arch rival’s single-knotted shoes, bent down and double-tied them.

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Two Writers Wrote My Novel

One of the two, a good bloke, would get up too early in the morning, charge himself with caffeine, and – sparking with imagination and creative drive – write passages of prose that really excited me. I liked that bloke. The second, born on the same day as the first, was much older. A sour individual, crepuscular and nocturnal in habit, he’d cast a jaundiced eye over the other bloke’s matutinal erections and scorn them into impotence. He’s scratch out every virtuoso phrase, he’d cut through digression and elaboration. Mean as catshit, he believed less was more, and least was most. I found him unpleasantly convincing. I hated the bastard.

Both antagonists worked on Carrots and Jaffas from start to finish. They managed to draw out a six-month project to four and a half years. By the time the book was printed I was nearing sixty-eight and I resolved I was done with the novel: how many more fifty-four month projects did I have left? Bugger the novel, I decided. I’d read them still, I just wouldn’t write any more.

Three months later I had finished my second novel. Titled “A Threefold Cord”, it is a novel for shared reading between an adult and a child of eight to twelve. And it is a cracker. The book comprises sixty-seven chapters of action, suspense, hilarity, and the unremitting contest between good and evil. In addition there is sufficient reference to bodily functions to delight and liberate a well brought up child.

As the book raced towards Chapter Sixty I informed my oldest grandson I would end it after the sixty-seventh. “Why, Saba?”
“Because I am sixty-seven.”
“But what if it’s not finished?”
“Doesn’t matter. I’ll just stop.”
“But you can’t!”
“Yes I can. I’m the boss of this book.”
“But…” The notion of such a summary ending outraged him.
I relented: “I might just start a second book where this one finishes…”
Grandson’s 10-year old face blazed with a happy prospect: “Wow! A series!”
Where were the antagonists of “Carrots and Jaffas” during the writing of “Cord”? I sacked them. I simply wrote for my five oldest grandchildren, aged eight to ten years. No virtuoso passages, no miserly pinching, “Cord” was a conversation with five kids who knew my voice, five kids whose tastes I knew: tastes I had helped to create.
My older daughter, a combined Regan and Goneril in her criticism towards my writerly Lear, assures me no child will tolerate a book with such a title as dull as “A Threefold Cord”.

I know she is wrong. Grade Four at a primary school near Shepparton served as unwitting testers when their teacher resolved to read aloud a daily chapter. Ordinarily, she informs me, the wrigglers would wriggle, the whisperers would whisper and the autists would be up and away. But when she read a Threefold Cord all sat, transfixed. The teacher got through five chapters on the first day.
Since then the children and grandchildren of selected Australian literary figures have read Cord and approved it mightily. From time to time over coming weeks I’ll post the odd sample chapter and you’ll see I am right: “A Threefold Cord” is, as I remarked earlier, a cracker.

Collins Street in the Rain

Grey day. Not cold, just damp, a case of Melbourne having weather instead of a climate. Striding along Collins Street to keep an appointment, I sight ahead of me in the gloom a lone figure sawing away at a violin. The sounds, initially thin, fill and broaden as I near the performer, a slender young woman. Closer now, and the sound is rich and spacious under the leaden canopy of wet cloud.

The violinist stands alone in her parallelogram of space as Melbourne’s skulkers scuttle to shelter.

I chuck a coin into her empty violin case, thanking her for beautifying this unbeautiful day.

 

Further down Collins Street, I stand in the drizzle awaiting my appointed meetee. A thin man approaches, veers towards me and slows: “Wanna buy a diamond ring?”

Sixty-eight year old ears don’t pick up such fine print.

Did he ask for money? He looks like he could go a feed.

My hand locates the ten dollar note in my pocket.

Uncertain, I ask: “What did you say?”

“Do you want to buy a diamond ring?”

The thin man flashes a thin silvery band before clenching his hand around the ring.

“What? No thanks. I don’t need a ring. Thank you.”

The man peers at me

He is shorter than I am. He sights my kippah.

“Are you a Jew?”

“I am.”

Credit: Gutenberg Images

Credit: Gutenberg Images.

“That’s good”, he says. Reassuring me. “You wouldn’t have a spare dollar…?”

My ready hand finds the ready note and produces it. The man palms the note, opens and considers it, then says, “You wouldn’t have another ten, would you?”

“Piss off!” Smiling.

The man extends a skinny arm. His paw pats my shoulder -

“Thanks sir” – then slopes away up Collins Street.

Watching Women Drowning their Babies

London, heart of anglophone civilisation, cradle of British culture? ‘For british’ read ‘brutish’.

See below. This is a true story.

This morning I watched a group of six young mothers and their babies, aged six to fifteen months, in an indoor pool in London. The pool was heated: they’re very considerate here when they set out to torture their young. The mothers undressed their babies and clad them in little wet suits. Entering the water they held the babies close to their perfidious breasts, murmuring the tender endearments that loving mothers do. They walked backwards in a circle, bouncing their babes in the water, hoisting them high, beaming, beaming all the time. Choreographed by Nicola – that’s the name of the licensed water torturer – the same cooing, smiling mothers all splashed water into the faces of their young. Spluttering, the babes looked up, discomfited. Their mothers chorused “hooray!”, made loving whisper and song, reassured the children that what had passed was not real, then splashed them again. After half a dozen such passes it was time for holding on. Holding on is taught by placing the babe, until now an entirely earthbound being, facing a horizontal railing just inside the margin of the pool. The mothers all sang “Hold on! Hold On!” Nicola sang the same. A sweeter chorus you never heard. Then the mothers let go of the slippery bodies, singing gaily as the newborn of their flesh slipped below the surface. Here the babies enhanced their education by breathing in water. After a little bit of this, desperate bodies surfaced, flailing arms found the railing, and most survived. None looked happy, but the mothers beamed and sang and cried “Hooray!”

I looked at my watch. We had been going for only seven minutes of the thirty that the mothers had paid for. I braced myself.

Now came swimming. Swimming is done by having your face pushed beneath the surface and held there for two seconds. To condition you for this submersion your mother calls your name, once, twice, then drowns you briefly, smiling withal. Mother Malvolio brings you to the surface, cuddles and coos. When you are a year old or a little more or a little less, you still can recall those aqueous moments of birth, when you suffered anoxia, your first near-life experience. Here, during the your seconds underwater you go through it all again. You’ve been flatlining: you never felt so thoroughly alive.

Throughout your thirty minute session of education you drink a good deal of pool water, chlorinated for your safety (and to foster your eczema). When you have drunk all your small tummy can hold, you pee, re-warming the water for the next baby to drink. The mothers never drink, their faces held above water level as befits members of an air-breathing species. Instead the adult female bodies shed their dribs and their drabs of belly button fluff and sundry fluids, augmenting the brew drunk by their young.

After too long the session is at an end. Money passes to Nicola. Stunned babies, shuddering, shivering as the cooler air hits them, blue of lip, mute with disbelief and moral shock, nestle in mothers’ arms. Those adults smile at each other in congratulation of their depredations.
Scot-free they’ll congregate here again next Thursday and do it all again.

Waiting for the Wrong Bus

This bus I await
Is not mine
In the dark
On the 91 Line

I took the 91
Missed my stop;
Now look around
Outside a shop -

In a doorway
Two recline
Homeless among
Homed on the 91 Line

Her eyes closed,
His wide
She reposed
His rest denied

Not hunger,
Not dirt
On her face, her shirt;
His face younger

But pinched,
Eyes narrowed,
Jaws clenched,
Looks harrowed -

Ten feet
Just ten
Separate us
From them

Not an iphone
At his cheek
But a fruit ice -
A second peek

In not yet dawn
She wants warm
While he applies ice!
Wondering in gloom

I check my cash
Two large notes
None small; rash
I approach

“Could you use a quid
Or two?” “Mate,
I could.” (A schooled voice.)
Note unnoted, palmed, hid.

“Toothache?” “Mate, agony,
Three days now…”
Pain cries for relief
Not money…

I’ve three green
Gel tabs, ibuprofen:
These given, palmed,
Expose the fifty. Now

He sees, amazed
“O mate!”
And I, running late
Escape on the 91 -
The wrong bus;
The streets
Of London
Separate us -

Human Writes

While in London I’ve been reading the local Big Issue. Lots of ads.
I decided to respond to one, headed Human Writes.

The ad invites the reader to write to someone on Death Row in USA. To become penfriend to a condemned person.
I don’t know any murderers, not knowingly anyway.
I wouldn’t begin to know whether my future penfriend is guilty.
The little I know of criminal justice suggests the possibility that my penfriend would have been represented differently- ie better – in Australia. And the strong likelihood that he would be male and black.
I make the guess he is in fact guilty.
I don’t imagine I’ll ever know or want to know.

Should I enter upon this relationship?
I who have nothing to lose, much to gain?
I – a writer, who trawls his life for his materials – who might well become my penfriend’s exploiter?

I seek the reader’s reaction.

I will write to humanwritesuk@yahoo.co.uk

So can you.

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