Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Just Photos, i.e. Rubbish Post

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All last from last Saturday or was it Sunday's walk. Following don't know if I'm deconstructing or recreating, or just smoking too much out of my right nostril:


And this one, which I always used to call 'the three magi', being a pretentious tosser:

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And to finish, one of my favourite old pics, when middle boy was wee - horrorshow extraordinaire...

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edit/postscript

The internet was invented for mad people. Probably by mad people. Who knows? Maybe not. Probably invented by the horrid extra-sane people who want to do away with all mad people. We shall all see.

Sleep is a bitch. Last night the fullmoon hid her lovely bum behind a stack of gauzy clouds, and my god I was grateful for it - the light was shining evenly across all the fields, but completely veiled. Enough to make me prance, and enough of a lack to get me into bed hammering my head with George Eliot. She worked me over good and proper, (George), and it was only an hour before I got my allotted five hours. Which was a positive result. I have been getting for me a reasonable quantity. Averaging just under five the last month. A few missed nights, here and there - but it is so difficult, counting the hours.

How does one count? I don't count four hours of waking every five minutes. It's vibrator sleep. Like being plugged into a jackhammer. Microsleeps? Is that the right phrase? It will do. Countless off/on/off/on like a stupid flickering lightbulb. But I still tally the hours and call it sleep, even if I don't count it for myself, as beneficial, or even the ghost of doing me good.

And here I am again, at nearly six. If I don't hide the boys will be down, and the joy in their faces when that happens is impossible to fight against. They will force me to put Reinhard and Grappelli on and dance. No, these days they know how to find it themselves. I must wrap up quick and hide in a bed.

My youngest brother was lamenting on facebook that sleeping pills don't work. No, they don't. Not even 4x the dose. I tried to gently reassure him. If there is a bloody genetic basis then it's on both sides though. But genetics can stick itself up its own reductive arse. I don't deny it, but I do fucking cry out against it. I certainly would never call it a genetic 'disorder'. DISFUCKINGORDER. How awful is that? The road to Eugene.

Enough! I have about five minutes to hide. They are still working on GMT. Or does that give me an extra hour? Who knows. It's a big pile of poo, whichever way one looks at it.

Goodnight all. Keep safe. Apologies for the rambling. Dx

Friday, 26 March 2010

Proud Parent and Polite Plea

Well, managed to scrape a few fragments of sleep together in the early morning. Wish it had done more for the racket in my head. Off to watch oldest boy play for his school in the rain. His first match on the team. And god help me I detest football.

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Edit: they won one out of their three matches - what they lacked in skill they generally made up for it in fierceness. But they are all so little!

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And a polite note: if anyone wants to take issue with anything I write on here, the correct place for it is in the comments on here. Not on facebook. Thanks. It isn't much to ask.

Take care all. Dx

Appalled Toleration, and Empathy

Well---These six things doth the LORD hate : yea, seven are an abomination unto him:
/ A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,
/ An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, / A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren---
I've had it with the family pretence.

That's that off my chest. Don't ask about it. I'm not going to speak about it.

Onto far more pleasant matters. Me, and my jet-propelled goldfish brain whirling in its bowl, or as another metaphor de jour had it: a blocked toilet I keep flushing that keeps overflowing, that I keep flushing. Just too much noise in here ladies and gentlemen.

I'm keeping the lid on the toilet. The water is spurting out the sides. But to all intents and purposes, the bog looks fit for purpose. The ceramic stand is tapdancing, but the lid and seat are holding a steady, if wild-eyed gaze. I do not know why the cistern is boiling over. The mental mops are working overtime.

Once again, I've been called a good listener. Empathy, they call it, maybe. I've had too much of that. Maybe it's my best point; maybe my crippling hobbles, hobbledehoy, hob, etc. Empathy hurts too much. I could never be a professional listener. Ever.

And unrelated incident that actually let the tears out this night, yes, how ridiculous, nearly forty-year old crying in the nightgarden - didn't help the toilet-disaster - but a symptom maybe. What was it? Oh yes, remembered watching Carve Her Name With Pride when I was 6? 7? maybe 5? and howling my eyes out at the end. Over three decades ago. There must be a reason I've avoided thinking about that film. I should watch it again maybe. It was at my Nanny's. I suddenly inhabited the room, in front of the two bar electric, the wobbly fan-plates above the orange bulbs, with the broken corner on the plastic coals. The tartan blanket on the maroon one shade of orange too bright to be called maroon.

I don't know why I'm telling you this.

What is the point? It's not helping me, that's for sure. But I bloody miss that woman, my grandmother. Went and looked for her grave last month. Hadn't been for maybe five years. Normally find it within a minute. It took thirty. I was panicked it had been removed. So the new dead could be planted. I was even resigned to the fact, while panicking. Then found it. Filthy dirty. I should clean it - I tried, and wore out my hanky, just as I did that time before - but what is the point? Let the dead bury the dead, etc.

Oh I will just shut up. Sorry to rant and ramble. Off to inhabit memories.

Take care all. Dx

p.s. Today's Shelley (loved this since a kid):

Rough wind, that moanest loud
Grief too sad for song;
Wild wind, when sullen cloud
Knells all the night long;
Sad storm whose tears are vain,
Bare woods, whose branches strain,
Deep caves and dreary main,--
Wail, for the world's wrong!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

A Miscellaneous Hotchpotch

I have nothing to say, apart from that my head has been filled with a suffocating tension. I've been doing what I often do when in that state: read, read, read. If words are like wet concrete, then hopefully they will smother and weigh down that quiver in the grey matter.

It is nothing out of the ordinary, especially for the time of year. I'm content enough, if feeling weird. Anyway, here are some snippets I've come across recently.

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Two Quotations Regarding Visions

"Toward midnight on the 18th of July, Byron recited the lines in "Christabel" about the lady's breast; when Shelley suddenly started up, shrieked, and fled from the room. He had seen a vision of a woman with eyes instead of nipples. At this time he was writing notes upon the phenomena of sleep to be inserted in his "Speculations on Metaphysics", and Mrs. Shelley informs us that the mere effort to remember dreams of thrilling or mysterious import so disturbed his nervous system that he had to relinquish the task. At no period of his life was he wholly free from visions which had the reality of facts. Sometimes they occurred in sleep, and were prolonged with painful vividness into his waking moments. Sometimes they seemed to grow out of his intense meditation, or to present themselves before his eyes as the projection of a powerful inner impression. All his sensations were abnormally acute, and his ever-active imagination confused the border-lands of the actual and the visionary."

From Percy Bysshe Shelley, by John Addington Symonds.

The first notice I had of any important change going on in this part of my physical economy was from the reawakening of a state of eye generally incident to childhood, or exalted states of irritability. I know not whether my reader is aware that many children, perhaps most, have a power of painting, as it were upon the darkness, all sorts of phantoms. In some that power is simply a mechanical affection of the eye; others have a voluntary or semi-voluntary power to dismiss or to summon them; or, as a child once said to me when I questioned him on this matter, “I can tell them to go, and they go ---, but sometimes they come when I don’t tell them to come.” Whereupon I told him that he had almost as unlimited a command over apparitions as a Roman centurion over his soldiers.—In the middle of 1817, I think it was, that this faculty became positively distressing to me: at night, when I lay awake in bed, vast processions passed along in mournful pomp; friezes of never-ending stories, that to my feelings were as sad and solemn as if they were stories drawn from times before Œdipus or Priam, before Tyre, before Memphis. And at the same time a corresponding change took place in my dreams; a theatre seemed suddenly opened and lighted up within my brain, which presented nightly spectacles of more than earthly splendour. And the four following facts may be mentioned as noticeable at this time:

1. That as the creative state of the eye increased, a sympathy seemed to arise between the waking and the dreaming states of the brain in one point—that whatsoever I happened to call up and to trace by a voluntary act upon the darkness was very apt to transfer itself to my dreams, so that I feared to exercise this faculty; for, as Midas turned all things to gold that yet baffled his hopes and defrauded his human desires, so whatsoever things capable of being visually represented I did but think of in the darkness, immediately shaped themselves into phantoms of the eye; and by a process apparently no less inevitable, when thus once traced in faint and visionary colours, like writings in sympathetic ink, they were drawn out by the fierce chemistry of my dreams into insufferable splendour that fretted my heart.

2. For this and all other changes in my dreams were accompanied by deep-seated anxiety and gloomy melancholy, such as are wholly incommunicable by words. I seemed every night to descend, not metaphorically, but literally to descend, into chasms and sunless abysses, depths below depths, from which it seemed hopeless that I could ever reascend. Nor did I, by waking, feel that I had reascended. This I do not dwell upon; because the state of gloom which attended these gorgeous spectacles, amounting at last to utter darkness, as of some suicidal despondency, cannot be approached by words.

3. The sense of space, and in the end the sense of time, were both powerfully affected. Buildings, landscapes, &c., were exhibited in proportions so vast as the bodily eye is not fitted to receive. Space swelled, and was amplified to an extent of unutterable infinity. This, however, did not disturb me so much as the vast expansion of time; I sometimes seemed to have lived for 70 or 100 years in one night—nay, sometimes had feelings representative of a millennium passed in that time, or, however, of a duration far beyond the limits of any human experience.

4. The minutest incidents of childhood, or forgotten scenes of later years, were often revived: I could not be said to recollect them, for if I had been told of them when waking, I should not have been able to acknowledge them as parts of my past experience. But placed as they were before me, in dreams like intuitions, and clothed in all their evanescent circumstances and accompanying feelings, I recognised them instantaneously. I was once told by a near relative of mine, that having in her childhood fallen into a river, and being on the very verge of death but for the critical assistance which reached her, she saw in a moment her whole life, in its minutest incidents, arrayed before her simultaneously as in a mirror; and she had a faculty developed as suddenly for comprehending the whole and every part. This, from some opium experiences of mine, I can believe; I have indeed seen the same thing asserted twice in modern books, and accompanied by a remark which I am convinced is true; viz., that the dread book of account which the Scriptures speak of is in fact the mind itself of each individual. Of this at least I feel assured, that there is no such thing as forgetting possible to the mind; a thousand accidents may and will interpose a veil between our present consciousness and the secret inscriptions on the mind; accidents of the same sort will also rend away this veil; but alike, whether veiled or unveiled, the inscription remains for ever, just as the stars seem to withdraw before the common light of day, whereas in fact we all know that it is the light which is drawn over them as a veil, and that they are waiting to be revealed when the obscuring daylight shall have withdrawn.

From Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater.

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A Limerick

There was an old fellow named Sidney
Who drank til he ruined a kidney,
It shrivelled and shrank,
But he drank and he drank
But he had fun while doing it didn't he?

(from Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend

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Two Poems By Shelley (found in an old volume owned once by one James Pepler, 15th January, 1918)

Mutability

The flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow dies;
All that we wish to stay
Tempts and then flies.
What is this world's delight?
Lightning that mocks the night,
Brief even as bright.

Virtue, how frail it is!
Friendship how rare!
Love, how it sells poor bliss
For proud despair!
But we, though soon they fall,
Survive their joy, and all
Which ours we call.

Whilst skies are blue and bright,
Whilst flowers are gay,
Whilst eyes that change ere night
Make glad the day;
Whilst yet the calm hours creep,
Dream thou -- and from thy sleep
Then wake to weep.
(1821)

Lines

The cold earth slept below;
Above the cold sky shone;
And all around,
With a chilling sound,
From caves of ice and fields of snow
The breath of night like death did flow
Beneath the sinking moon.

The wintry hedge was black;
The green grass was not seen;
The birds did rest
On the bare thorn’s breast,
Whose roots, beside the pathway track,
Had bound their folds o’er many a crack
Which the frost had made between.

Thine eyes glow’d in the glare
Of the moon’s dying light;
As a fen-fire’s beam
On a sluggish stream
Gleams dimly—so the moon shone there,
And it yellow’d the strings of thy tangled hair,
That shook in the wind of night.

The moon made thy lips pale, beloved;
The wind made thy bosom chill;
The night did shed
On thy dear head
Its frozen dew, and thou didst lie
Where the bitter breath of the naked sky
Might visit thee at will.

(1815)

*

And finally:

"Brevity is the soul of lingerie" - Dorothy Parker, allegedly.

Keep safe all. Off to smoke.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Sheep and Goats

I am truly coming to believe there are only two types of people, and the old parable of the sheep and the goats fits well enough (except in the original the sheep are the nice guys).

Goats look you in the eye and recognise another person. Sheep are very good at avoiding you to the point where they don't even know you are there. A goat nearly ran me over - I gave her the glad-eye. Then I ate four sheep on the high street. Belch.



Other news? Totally disorganised a wallfull of a sport shop's football boot boxes - they were all in the wrong boxes anyway, before I got my hands on them. Found some for oldest boy who represents school on Fri.

Still no news from CPN. Perhaps his discharge has turned costive.

Enough silliness, found this poem today, and I liked it:

Passing

Passing away the bliss
The anguish passing away:
Thus it is
Today.

Clean past away the sorrow
The pleasure brought back to stay
Thus and this
Tomorrow.

Christina Rossetti.


Take care all, Dx



Friday, 19 March 2010

Rubicon, Decision, Break

CPN phoned out of the blue. I think he fancied some tea and cake. Anyway, I told him I'd put the kettle on once I returned his call. I heard the answer phone go, but we were otherwise engaged.

Anyway, when he came round, he was all for the small talk and the niceties. I cut to the chase, told him I wanted to get signed off, that I would probably be demanding a letter confirming I'm deemed well enough to go up high buildings, and p.s. a copy of my notes.

He did the guarded positive thing. But I'm going to hold him to these. The time has come. I'm big enough, old enough, and ugly enough to cope.

I pointed out I don't take any of their pills, there is no therapy in this area, and that I always do my damnednest to stay below their radar when I do get 'ill'. He couldn't counter those arguments.

So, why should I waste their resources? I have no reason, I get no benefit. Time to be me again.

Take care all.

(I'd link to Nina singing 'Feelin' Good', but that would be plagiarism. So here's something different.)





(p.p.s. ffs that is the best version I've heard of that song)

Friday Happy Poppy Music Morning


I see a clinic full of cynics
Who want to twist the peoples' wrist
They're watching every move we make
We're all included on the list

The lunatics have taken over the asylum
The lunatics have taken over the asylum

No nuclear the cowboy told us
And who am i to disagree
'Cos when the madman flips the switch
The nuclear will go for me

The lunatics have taken over the asylum
The lunatics have taken over the asylum

I've seen the faces of starvation
But i just can not see the points
'Cos there's so much food here today
That no one wants to take away

The lunatics have taken over the asylum
The lunatics have taken over the asylum
The lunatics have taken over the asylum - take away my right to choose
The lunatics have taken over the asylum - take away my point of view
The lunatics have taken over the asylum
The lunatics have taken over the asylum - take away my dignity,
Take these things away from me
The lunatics have taken over the asylum
The lunatics have taken over the asylum - take away my family,
Take away the right to speak
The lunatics have taken over the asylum take away my point of view,
Take away my right to choose

Chewing the Fat

Well, most disappointed (not really) that more of you didn't enjoy my kitsch quiche post.

But more importantly, I was just thinking about self-esteem, and how that is one of the swords rammed down my throat and out through my perineum and pinning me to the floorboards, and always has been.

Self-esteem. Ffs. I don't know. I wouldn't be surprised if I come over as having stacks of it. But that is a lie. And it's been a lie since... oh I don't know... how far do I need to go back? But maybe it is better to talk of when I started to learn to fake confidence. Late teens. And yes, it was all faked. I faked it until people started talking behind my back about what a confident chap I was. What a fake. And even after then, when I recognised my fakery, I kept on doing it. It's the only way for a chap or chapess to get on, y'know.

Now I'm just over a year from forty.

The thing I find hardest now about this in-built weakness is that whenever anyone says anything complimentary (and this has always been a problem, but has got worse over the decades) I firstly don't believe them, I secondly disparage or belittle their opinion, and thirdly I ignore them.

I am a weak worm. Voiceless and clueless. Chop me in half and both bits will wriggle for a bit.

I know this mindset is false. I prefer to believe other people rather than myself. It doesn't help.

I just try these days to keep things in mind, and not be horrible to people who are being kind in their admiration. [edit - this particular instance, mostly photographically related, but also a 'sane' person telling me what a good thing I did with Wern last year, and supporting my intention to do it again]

And last of all, I blame my mother!

Take care all, Dx


Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Flans, Tarts, Quiches, Pies.

Or, on categories of foodstuffs and the usages of history with special reference to the DSM.

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Dramatis Personae

Happy Presenter
Dr Dandruff
Dr Baldpate
Dr Combover
Dr Hairtoss
Dr Eyelashes
Dr Nunnery
1st and 2nd Lunatics
An Infinite Number of Goons

[Scene. Daytime BBC Studio. Cookery implements. Shiny smiles. Happy people. Vapid audience, both present in studio, and implied hiding within the cameras.]

Happy Presenter: Hello! And welcome to Diagnose That Filled-Pastry! This morning on the programme we are going to explore the vexed question of is it a flan? Is it a quiche? Or a pie, even! Remember, you, the viewer, decides!!! Or - now stop that giggling at the back - is it even that saucy thing some of us might call a tart? [rouses titters from studio audience with eye-flailing and suggestive arm-motion] Over to you, the experts.

Dr Dandruff: Well, the item before me definitely has a pastry base with raised sides. It appears to be filled with dairy products, both galline and bovine in origin, and various reduced vegetable matter. There may be some porcine protein hiding under the surface - may I taste?

Dr Baldpate: Define pastry!

Dr Dandruff: A rough paste of lipid fats, farinaceous matter, and for want of a better word, aqua.

Dr Combover: [munching]. It's tarte a l'oignon.

Dr Hairtoss: No, honestly! I think you'll find that is a perfect example of an onion flan.

Dr Baldpate: Define flan! Define tarte? Is a tart the same as a tarte? Do they taste tart? Do they taste as tart as a tart? Is the tartness commensurate with the tartiness? These are the specific and vital questions!

All: [Shut up! implied by shifty rolling of eyes and looking the other way].

Happy Presenter: Ha! Ha! Ha! Dr Eyelashes... You look like a girl who knows her tarts from her tartes... What do you think?

Dr Eyelashes: [bats] I think it's a quiche. If you refer to the study by Strudel, Kirsch and Gateaux (1996) you will agree with me, I'm sure.

Dr Combover: It's definitely tarte a l'oignon. No meat either. Hint of nutmeg. And something indefinable.

Dr Nunnery: As ever, it is the indefinable that is our greatest enemy. We must seek out the indefinable, and extirpate it, mercilessly!

Dr Dandruff: Is that usage of extirpate as in "destroy" or "censor"?

Dr Baldpate: Define censor!

Dr Eyelashes: Well I think that really, it doesn't matter. Who cares if we censor or put them to sleep? They are only pastries after all.

Happy Presenter: Ah! A question from the audience! Yes! Please! You, madam!

1st Lunatic: If I fold a circular pie with a topping in half and seal it, then is that a pasty, and is it still a pastry, and is it still a pie? And will it poison my husband down in the tin-mines? [Exit, dragged off by goons.]

Happy Presenter: [giggles] Moving swiftly on - but first, Dr Hairtoss, have you anything to say that might answer that lady's question?

Dr Hairtoss: [tosses] No.

Dr Eyelashes: I've just googled, everyone. [Pause] Apparently, quiche 1949, from Fr. quiche (1810), from Ger. (Alsace-Lorraine dialect) Küche, dim. of Ger. Kuchen "cake." Became fashionable 1970s; became contemptible 1980s.

Dr Combover: [Pause] It's jolly tasty.

Dr Baldpate: Define tasty!

Dr Dandruff: I believe we have discovered a new category! Rejoice, O peoples! [Scurries off to telephone DSM, hoping for a fat wee bonus.]

2nd Lunatic [interjecting from the audience]: What about pizza?

Dr Nunnery: [clears throat, sniffily] Only the coarse people eat pizza with a dough base. Refined people prefer a light pastry base, as it aids the digestion.

2nd Lunatic: So you're saying a posh pizza is a type of flan? And that common people eat bread? What about this kuchen? Why can't we eat that?....... [Exit goons and 2nd lunatic, draggingly. Faulty studio oven-hob explodes - close up on Happy Presenter still smiling as the blast decapitates him, mouthing 'tune-in tomorrow'. Pause. Rats eat corpses.]

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Monday, 15 March 2010

Reckless Blooming

"Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night." Rilke.

And it's only the crocuses and the tense look of the trees' twigs yet.

Sleep has not been great. Still averaging four hours, including drips and drabs of fugal states, which is better than nothing. I feel fine with it at present. Some interesting visuals at times, but nothing frightening.

Nothing to be sad about; plenty to be happy about. So what is there to complain about, eh? Nothing that I cannot say "Aroint!" to. Many irritations, but life is made of them. They are not worthy of listing.

At home, we seem to have our health, and that is something to be thankful for. There is too much trouble about.

On a completely unrelated note, I noticed something about those darkened-room images (or closed-eye pictures) whatever your preferred terms are... you know, spirals, patterns, faces, talking faces, people, scenes... They always feel as if they are crawling across the retina, but if you tilt your head side to side, or rotate neck towards each shoulder, they stay put - they have a fixed spatial basis in your perception that is unrelated to your eye. Therefore they are purely imaginary, and not a misinterpretation of an internal visual artefact. (Or else they are really there... ahem.)

Just thought I'd share that - often the obvious escapes us!

Keep safe everyone, Dx

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Therapy

So, another night with no sleep. The spring is springing, that is for sure.

The thought struck me, while leaning on an apple tree I planted - yes, it has grown that strong and sturdy, it can now be leaned upon. Or is that leant upon?

Therapy. That was the thought. The people who are the modern therapists are the worst qualified, because they jumped through all the hoops.

I wonder why we all get our dose from the well-rounded, salty, earthy, superb human beings that inhabit these blogs?

I would fall at the first hurdle. But I know I've rubbed my nose in so many different places that I can speak of the things whereof I speak, to mangle a phrase. At this time of night I can't even remem - oh - it's Wittgenstein.

You have all helped me, far more than I could possibly set down in words. Compared to the 'professionals', all you nuts are worth a billion psychiatrists, each and every one of you.

That's all!

p.s. Alfie has just come down, and asked: "Is it early or is it late, Daddy?" I replied (and he is watching me type) that it is late in the night, but early in the morning. What is the time? It is five to seven. Goodbye sleep! Dx

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Categorical Blur and Electric Slop

One of the aspects of being diagnosed I have the greatest difficulty with is the insult and attack on my innate confidence.

All manner of behaviour, from maybe driving over the speed limit on the motorway, to enjoying a few glasses of wine, to sybaritic pleasures of lying in the sun, to eating too much or eating too little, to going without sleep, for having too much sleep, to arguing, flirting, smiling, frowning, showing-off, being self-absorbed, to playing with the children at their level, to feeling dark and inescapably knowing the world is going to hell, to taking on too many things, to not taking on enough things, for seeking people, for avoiding people, even to dressing up or dressing down: all of these things are suspect.

I miss being innocent and confident - unthinkingly confident - naturally confident. How I was.

Oh I daresay I do my best to mitigate this aspect by (maybe foolishly) feeling my perception of my own self is worth the diagnoses of a thousand psychiatrists, but in the end one cannot put the scales back over ones' eyes. Never such innocence again.

They say the unexamined life is not worth living. Who said that? Can't recall. I could google, but don't care. The problem is that perpetual self-examination can nauseate one to the core.

I have been feeling rather electric of late. Nothing to worry about, not yet, and maybe never. It is generally pleasant at present, apart from the mindless revving left over when I allow my mind to swirl away to emptiness.

It is all the old and tired things. It may not hurt to put them down again. The universe is embracing me, and I have a feeling of connection with it. Of course, I mistrust this rather lovely feeling: a simultaneous joy and horror comes into being. My mind is foaming over messily, like Marlon's bottle on the the counter. A silliness takes hold, a love of fun, of crudity, innocent and bland as a child.

Categories jumble, like toyboxes tipped out and kicked into a glorious confusion, and I relish the mess, the chaos, the freedom, all the while bemoaning the lost serenity of orderliness.

It is like that exhilaration when running down a hill, when one is just going too fast, and it is just too steep, before every nerve has to be strained to keep balance. A parachute is an essential item of the standard kit. Where did I put mine? Oh, the mice have been at it.

Lucky me (he lied), that I can never escape my own internal critic. The desire to smother that warning voice is always restrained.

The watchdog in my heart scrapes a clearing in the brain-mess, and barks warnings.

Eventually, I tidy up the detritus and lament lost innocence, lost bravura, lost... blithe panache!

Enough!

Take care all, Dx

-

The Lecture

The Lecture

"PHYSIOLOGIOSTS have been much puzzled to account for the varieties of moral character in men, as well as for the remarkable similarity of habit and disposition in all the individual animals of every other respective species. A few brief sentences, perspicuously worded and scientifically arranged, will enumerate all the characteristics of a lion, or a tiger, or a wolf, or a bear, or a squirrel, or a goat, or a horse, or an ass, or a rat, or a cat, or a hog, or a dog; and whatever is physiologically predicted of any individual lion, tiger, wolf, bear, squirrel, goat, horse, ass hog, or dog, will be found to hold true of all lions, tigers, wolves, bears, squirrels,, goats, horses, asses, hogs, and dogs, whatsoever. Now, in man, the very reverse of this appears to be the case; for he has so few distinct and characteristic marks which hold true of all his species, that philosophers in all ages have found it a task of infinite difficulty to give him a definition. Hence one has defined him to be a featherless biped, a definition which is equally applicable to an unfledged fowl: another to be an animal which forms opinions, than which nothing can be more inaccurate, for a very small number of the species form opinions, and the remainder take them upon trust, without investigation or inquiry.

"Again man has been defined to be an animal that carries a stick: an attribute which undoubtedly belongs to man only, but not to all men always; though it uniformly characterises some of the graver and more imposing varieties, such as physicians, oran-outangs, and lords in waiting.

"We cannot define man to be a reasoning animal, for we do not dispute that idiots are men; to say nothing of that very numerous description of persons who consider themselves reasoning animals, and are so denominated by the ironical courtesy of the world, who labour, nevertheless, under a very gross delusion in that essential particular.

"It appears to me, that man may be correctly defined an animal, which, without any peculiar or distinguishing faculty of its own, is, as it were, a bundle or compound of faculties of other animals, by a distinct enumeration of which any individual of the species may be satisfactorily described. This is manifest, even in the ordinary language of conversation, when, in summing up, for example, the qualities of an accomplished courtier, we say he has the vanity of a peacock, the cunning of a fox, the treachery of an hyæna, the cold-heartedness of a cat, and the servility of a jackal. That this is perfectly consentaneous to scientific truth, will appear in the further progress of these observations.

"Every particular faculty of the mind has its corresponding organ in the brain. In proportion as any particular faculty or propensity acquires paramount activity in any individual, these organs develop themselves, and their development becomes externally obvious by corresponding lumps and bumps, exuberances and protuberances, in the osseous compages of the occiput and sinciput. In all animals but man, the same organ is equally developed in every individual of he species; for instance, that of migration in the swallow, that of destruction in the tiger, that of architecture in the beaver, and that of parental affection in the bear. The human brain, however, consists, as I have said, of a bundle or compound of all the faculties of other animals; and from the greater development of one or more of these, in the infinite varieties of combination, result all the peculiarities of individual character.

"Here is the skull of a beaver, and that of Sir Christopher Wren. You observe, in both these specimens, the prodigious developnent of the organ of constructiveness.

"Here is the skull of a bullfinch, and that of an eminent fiddler. "ou may compare the organ of music.

"Here is the skull of a tiger. You observe the organ of carnage. Here is the skull of a fox. You observe the organ of plunder. Here is the skull of a peacock. You observe the organ of vanity.* Here is s the skull of an illustrious robber, who, after a long and triumphant process of depredation and murder, was suddenly checked in his career by means of a certain quality inherent in preparations of hemp, which, for the sake of perspicuity, I shall call suspensiveness. Here is the skull of a conqueror, who, after over-running several kingdoms, burning a number of cities, and causing the deaths of two or three millions of men, women, and children, was entombed with all the pageantry of public lamentation, and figured as the hero of several thousand odes and a round dozen of epics; while the poor highwayman was twice executed---

'At the gallows first, and after in a ballad,
Sung to a villainous tune.'*

You observe, in both these skulls, the combined development of the organs of carnage, plunder, and vanity, which I have separately pointed out in the tiger, the fox, and the peacock. The greater enlargement of the organ of vanity in the hero is the only criterion by which I can distinguish them from each other. Born with the same faculties, and the same propensities, these two men were tormed by nature to run the same career: the different combinations of external circumstances decided the differences of their destinies.

"Here is the skull of a Newfoundland dog. You observe the organ of benevolence, and that of attachment. Here is a human skull, in which you may observe a very striking negation of both these organs; and an equally striking development of those of destruction, cunning, avarice, and self-love. This was one of the most illustrious statesmen that ever flourished in the page of history.

"Here is the skull of a turnspit,.which, after a wretched life of dirty work, was turned out of doors to die on a dunghill. I have been induced to preserve it, in consequence of its remarkable similarity to this, which belonged to a courtly poet, who having grown grey in flattering the great, was cast off in the same manner to perish by the same catastrophe."

After these, and several other illustrations, during which the skulls were handed round for the inspection of the cmnpany, Mr Cranium proceeded thus: ---

"It is obvious, from what I have said, that no man can hope for worldly honour or advancement, who is not placed in such a relation to external circumstances as may be consentaneous to his peculiar cerebral organs; and I would advise every parent, who has the welfare of his son at heart, to procure as extensive a collection as possible of the skulls of animals, and, before determining on the choice of a profession, to compare with the utmost nicety their bumps and protuberances with those of the skull of his son. If the development of the organ of destruction point out a similarity between the youth and the tiger, let him be brought to some profession (whether that of a butcher, a soldier, or a physician, may be regulated by circumstances) in which he may be furnished with a licence to kill: as, without such licence, the indulgence of his natural propensity may lead to the untimely rescission of his vital thread, 'with edge of penny cord and vile reproach.'* If he show an analogy with the jackal, let all possible influence be used to procure him a place at court, where he will infallibly thrive. If ,his skull bear a marked resemblance to that of a magpie, it cannot be doubted that he will prove an admirable lawyer; and if with this advantageous conformation be combined any similitude to that of an owl, very confident hopes may be formed of his becoming a judge."

A furious flourish of music was now heard from the ball-room, the Squire having secretly despatched the little butler to order it to strike up, by way of a hint to Mr Cranium to finish his harangue. The company took the hint and adjourned tumultuously, having just understood as much of the lecture as furnished them with amusement for the ensuing twelvemonth, in feeling the skulls of all their acquaintance.


(Chapter xxii, Headlong Hall, Thos. Love Peacock)

Monday, 8 March 2010

Spring Is In the Air, aka Love/Lust

Tangleweed has a superb post up. It deals with that so-called symptom of hypersexuality (spits), and much more besides. I thought I'd set down some thoughts on how I see that urge.

Firstly, (and speaking from the male point of view) the balls are at the seat of things. But personally, the effect upon the self is an unbridled generosity, above all else.

Secondly, our innate (and all too familiar) control transmutes mindless lust into friendly love - the love of our fellows - the love of everything living and growing on the surface of the earth - the love of just living, and all others living here with us.

Thirdly, an immense spreading and smearing of boundaries takes place. Selfishness evaporates, leaving behaviours that are selfish from the viewpoint of wives, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, etc. I believe this to be all part of the general merging of meaning that can take place during high episodes.

Fourthly, that selflessness is, I believe, a key sign for me, personally. It involves a general shedding of the self, and all the ties of the self. It is a dangerous sign.

Fifthly, I don't believe we stray more or less than so-called sane people. I think the infidelity streak is shameless in its profligacy and choosiness.

Sixthly, I have always been faithful, though tempted more times than I care to number.

And last, but not least, I believe the generous impulse here defined is a fine flag fluttering at the top of the mast of whatever passes for humanity today in this world: love, and try to do no harm. If only it was so simple in real life. But it will pass muster, as an ideal to live up to.

Take care all, Dx

Friday, 5 March 2010

I List the Signs

I list the signs

An appetite, gluttonous
as the aloof hog who lets droop
his long lashes across his eye
while feasting on sweet primroses.

Sweet swine - beloved of Venus, rootler,
swindler, garbed in arcane robes,
despoiler of the morning - force
your shame and conscience to the fore.

It shall not help. Before the day
is out this boar shall think he's special,
allow himself to take on graces,
til bacon day unsettles him.

I list the signs: the jester's motley,
the goat-ascendant, a brazen cock
that shocks the dawn, why blame a pig?
Be glad his nature is kept hid.

(2nd draft)

I Am Better I Think Than A Year Ago

Hard to tell really, with the Spring pressing hotly against my eyes.

Last year was a shit time. The taxman was taking me in every orifice. I must confess it sent me into la-la land, but not as badly as the spring before.

At the moment I feel like a pan of milk at the moment when the surface starts to dance and quiver before boiling up in the pan. I hope I've poured myself into a big enough pan this year. (Every year I weld more onto the pan of myself. I use common sense for rivets, and resignation for solder.)

And just want to say, after having cast my eye on my troubles 12 months back - you are all a lovely bunch. Thank you. Dx


Thursday, 4 March 2010

Summer/Winter

It was the first of July, and the skies were deep and blue, the clouds brisk and high. Ducks ploughed the river, and by the shady bank was a bob-throated moorhen; a rook stared down from a ragged nest in the green branches; and the swan with his sad sway, that snake-necked, dragon-shaped bird, glid silently behind his mate, white and dazzling on the brown waters.

In a field by the bank, a woman stood quietly by a crowded beer-tent. She turned her face into the breeze, while the roaring steam-rally circled around. The iron and brass traction-engines gouted wreaths of white smoke and steam over the green hedges. Their heat made the air tremble like water, and the torn sods flung from their wheels flew dark like sparrows against the sky.

She wiped her arm across her forehead, breathing deeply. She glanced up and down the procession of engines, wondering if she could dash through. Her eyes were wide and smiling, as if the circling hot metal was just a ripple and mist on the surface of the river.

Her father had died three years ago, just up the river in Tewkesbury. Her mother was long dead. Deirdre was born when they were beginning to feel their age. She had been left the house on the river, and knew herself fortunate.

What a day, with the children distrustful of the noise and the parents considering ice-cream. She had come to the steam-fair to see the men stood proud on their footplates, with caps above their sweat-red faces. They went round and round, an iron wheel circling, made pretty with brass, and they mind lessly turned with it, making a shriek and smoke across all the green fields and hedges.

She glanced again at all the men in turn, but not for long.

A steam organ on the other side of the field began to hoot. She shivered, quickly turned her face away and slipped into the beer-tent. A different note came into the engine noise, and she quickly turned, but no, passing one by one were the shapes of the still-circling machines. The sunlight was shining through the orange canvas, making the scuffed grass look like brasswork.

As she drank, she pondered herself. She was looking for a man, she was bored, body and soul. A recklessness was upon her; she would snatch the first who was half-decent and half-honest. She laughed, excited by the thought. Men were asses, stubborn, yet easily led with the carrot of their self-esteem. But it made her laugh, the thought of a half- decent, half-honest man.

The circling engines slowed and stopped with gasps and groans of release. Husbands dragged their wives closer to the steaming contraptions.

Deirdre slipped through a gap between two engines, then walked down to the riverbank. She watched the swans downstream,the noise of the fair still brazen behind her. The swans were almost out of sight, turning the bend, but they turned again, across the river; the throaty drumming of a diesel engine came along the water, and a narrow-boat swung slowly from around the bend.

Smoke from the funnel obscured the man steering as it came into the sunlight. Then another man came out from under the long green tarpaulin rolled back by the bows, filthy with coal. He balanced along the gunnel to the stern, talked to the man at the tiller, nodded, ran back while the boat steered to the bank, shouted, pointed to the engine drivers coming down the bank, jumped to the bank, and wrapped a rope around a tree.

He was quite tall and sturdy, and quick in his movement. His eyes were stark in his grimy face. A few drivers wanted to buy coal off the side, so he jumped down into the hull and began to heave old fertiliser bags up to them. The man at the tiller took the money.

Deirdre walked along the bank and beside the boat. Roses were painted on it; it was called the Gloucester Swan. Dirty green canvas awning, damp smell of coal, diesel and oil. Old car tires hanging as buffers against the sides, and seventy foot long.

She looked down into the hull, and the man in there looked back at her from his sack-filling. His hair was all awry and choked with coal-dust. He smiled quickly, and bent back down to his work. On the river, the swans began to take flight, their wings battering on the water. The bilge pump was grinding and choking, and Deirdre wrinkled her nostrils at the stink of damp.

She leaned briefly against a tree, looking at the river. A tight smile crossed her lips. She walked back to the open side of the boat.

'Hello? Are you going to Tewkesbury?'

His head snapped up, his eyes startled, his shovel poised above the coal. He frowned. 'Well, yes, we are.' The sun wobbled upon the water.

Deirdre leaned over the open tarpaulin. 'In that case could you give me a lift along the river? My house is up that way. You could sell me some coal while you're at it.'

He gathered himself and squinted directly up at her, the sun in his face. She watched him assessing her prettiness. 'Well, yes, if you want us to,' he said. 'You live there?'

'Yes.' She gazed down into the dark hull at the shiny coal blocks glittering in the sunlight; the heat fell hard on the back of her neck. She moved quickly, scowling as a driver of an engine nudged her while shouldering a bag of coal. He barked an uncouth apology, then stamped away.

'Well, yes, you could take a lift with us, if you like?' He studied the coals at his feet briefly. 'I'm Richard. That's Nick - Nicholas.' He gestured towards the stern.

'Deirdre.'

He smiled and passed the shovel back and forth between his grimy hands. 'We'll be stopping for a drink. I'll be up in a tick. Do you want a drink?'

'Yes, alright.'

He began to shovel coal again. 'What are you doing hangingaround a bloody place like this?'

'I don't know. Looking for something to turn up.' She grinned, seeing the back of his neck tense as he bent over the sack.

'Oh yes?' He strove for a non-commital tone. 'You know, something different. I'm been so bored the last few days. Don't you ever get like that?'

'Yes, often.' He smiled directly at her, climbing out of the hull. 'Let's have a drink.'

They started to walk back up the field to the tent. Deirdre turned to him, smiling at his dirtiness. 'What are doing when you get to Tewkesbury?'

'Don't know. Getting drunk probably. Nick, that's my brother, he wants to meet someone. Then he'll be carrying on to Gas Street tomorrow. I've got to go back to work.'

'What do you do?'

'Work in a bank.'

'A bank! You don't look like a banker.'

'It's alright. But I don't like it much.'

'I couldn't work in a bank. Too stuffy indoors. Where about's your bank?'

They insinuated their bodies into the crowded tent. 'What do you want to drink?' he asked.

'I'll have a pint.'

'Gloucester. Westgate Street. It's crap, but it does me for now. There's no future in the boats though. It's easier to use lorries on the motorways. River and canals are silted up badly. Nick reckons it'll be too expensive to scrape the boat up and down in ten years.'

'Why?'

'The more rubbish that blocks it, the more it scrapes off the bottom of the boat. I mean, though it's cast iron on the sides, the bottom's made from elm planks. What with all the rubbing, they get weak.'

'Planks?'

'Here you are.' He passed her his beer. 'Well, they're more like beams than planks. But they cost an arm and leg.'

'I'll bet.' She paused for a moment, watching him, and sizing him up. 'What do you do in the evenings?'

'At the moment? Not much. Let's get out of this bloody tent.'
They walked back down to the river bank, then along a little way, out of sight of the crowd.


Deirdre walked along to the stern. The blare and whistle of the rally increased as the engines shuddered into motion again. This time they circled separately, competing. Nick was wiry and dark. He stared at her for a moment.

'Afternoon,' he coughed, standing up straight by the tiller. 'Can I help you?' She explained. 'Be my guest. Step up on the gunnel there.' He reached up to help her balance on the narrow side-plank. His hand was sticky with oil and dust. He turned and lit a cigarette. 'Have you been watching the tractions?' His accent was strange. It sounded as if he were exaggerating it.

'Yes.' She leaned against the cabin side. 'But I find them boring. Round and round and nothing else.'

'Eh? Oh, I know you mean. But they're good beasts those tractions. I'd have one if I'd the money and somewhere to put it.' And he stared utterly without interest across the field.

'Do you own the boat?' she asked, leaning out a little over the water.

'No. I just work it. Dick helps when he gets bored. He likes it enough.' He stared at her legs, followed the line of her body up to her breasts, and pushed at the tiller a little. 'Are you spoken for already?' he asked, smiling.

'Mind your own business,' she replied mildly.

'Just you watch out, Dick's a right rake. I'm only telling you this because he's my brother.' He smiled and winked.

'What does he normally do?

'Eh? He's in training.'

'The bank?'

'In Gloucester.'

'On holiday?'

'Eh, no, not at all. He's skiving. He's been with me this past fortnight. I told him he'll get sacked. He's a clever lad though. He says he doesn't like the pen and paper work. He'd rather play in the filth. He likes the dirt. He jumps in the mud any chance he gets. And if there's a drowned dog tangled up in the propellor, he's the man to clear it.' He winked at his brother, who was at the rope, and opened the throttle. Almost immediately the steady cough burst into a rattle, which settled down into rapid thumping, and the far nose of the boat began to swing slowly into the current.

Deirdre smiled. 'How long have you been boating?'

'Four years now.' Heavy think. 'And ten months.'

She smiled again. Richard came along the opposite gunnel, sweating.

'Alright there?' he asked, facing her across the cabin roof. His eyes were bright as he looked at her.

She nodded, and watched the field of tractions receding. Still circling, their noise faded, replaced by the slapping of water and diesel-thump. She breathed the smell of water and oil. They motored past some oaks, the crown branches reaching out over the river. The two men were humourously sending messages to each other with their eyes. Once the fair had passed completely from sight and hearing she turned and smiled at them.

'Thanks for giving me a lift.' Her eyes blazed in the sunlight, pale and unfocused.

Nicholas muttered something, watching the river ahead. Richard watched her, his mind yoked to his thighs and stomach. He was aware of the eight feet of cabin between her and him. He fumbled for cigarettes and passed her one across the roof in silence. She gave him a knowing glance.

They smoked quietly. The river foamed white and brown by the fender. They passed a dredging boat, like a raft of girders, mobile home, crane, all brown with mud and laden with filth, bicycle frames, car-tires, and other rubbish unrecognisable. A muddy figure stood smoking, watching them without interest. Nicholas laughed as they passed, then turned to Richard.

'He shouldn't be slacking! The canals are bloody awful these days. He should get up to the Wors and Brum. He ain't got time to stand there!' His face had worry in it, but he waved his arm in a mock salute, and turned again to stare ahead. Deirdre watched the man become a remote brown figure in the distance, ghostly in the sunlight.


Her house stood some fifty yards away from the river, at the top of a scrubby field. Nicholas steered towards it, and Richard jumped down and tied up. The bank shelved steeply; and a gap of water lay between the boat and bank. Richard held out his hands to help Deirdre cross. She readied herself,looking at his face, jumped and slipped and collided with him as he tried to catch her. He smelt of oil and coal, industrial dirt.

'Oh bloody hell! I'm sorry,' he muttered, flushing. Her white dress was covered in black smuts and smears from his overalls.

'Doesn't matter - it was my fault; I was clumsy.' She laughed suddenly, tossing her hair back and staring frankly at him. She laughed again, quickly, her eyes flashing. 'It'll wash.' She rubbed at one of the stains and laughed a final time as she discovered it oil. 'Well,' she added, 'never mind - what's done is done.'

Nicholas came up, staring at his brother with a faint anger in his eyes. 'What's the blasted fool done now?' he cried. 'Bloody hell - I am sorry - your nice white dress. A bloody clumsy oaf - how did you bloody manage that?'

'It doesn't matter, really.' She was flushed. 'It was my fault - an accident. Don't worry about it.' She smiled, still flushing. 'You can both make up for it by carrying the coal up to my house for me.' She pointed up the field.

The men nodded slowly, shouldering a heavy bag each, Nicholas still staring with pretended disgust at his brother. They followed her up a dry path through the field, which smelt of heat and dry soil, and dusty flowering grass. Holding open the gate, she pointed to an outhouse.

There was a lot of coal heaped there already. Richard placed his burden down, moved aside to let his brother through. 'You've got enough here to last till winter after next,' he remarked.

She nodded, absent-mindedly. 'Can you wait a moment?' She disappeared into the house. Once she had gone, Nicholas laughed quietly and gave Richard a cigarette, his eyes amused and wrinkling.

'You bloody clumsy oaf,' he repeated. 'But she must be well-off to live here. I wonder what she does for a day's work?'

Richard glanced around the garden. Apart from the house, a large brick barn gaped hollowly at them. Richard stared into its darkness, so plain against the glowing red of bricks in sun. Ivy grew up in places, and also some small yellow flowers that had rooted themselves between bricks. He was startled as she emerged from the barn, having come from the house.

She had changed, and the sunlight caught her, and her legs were silhouetted in her dress. Her head and shoulders were mantled with the flame of her hair, framed with glowing brick and yellow flowers. Then she turned to face them, opaque, counting out money.

Nicholas was quicker than his brother. He hastened forward.'Don't you worry about that. We owe you a dress as it is. Put back your purse - I won't take it.'

She smiled and nodded. Then to Richard, standing there, frozen and insensible. She pressed the shillings into his warm hand, that involuntarily clasped her own in a sudden grip. Then he smiled and relaxed.

'Thank you again,' she said, half-laughing. 'I'm sorry the pub's shut; I would have bought you a drink.'

Nicholas shook his head, laughing with closed eyes. 'Eh, no, I have to be in Tewkesbury at half-five as it is. We're meeting a friend there. Anyway, nice to have met you, and look after yourself.' He turned to his brother with a sly smile. 'Coming Dick?'

Deirdre glanced at Richard. 'You can stay here a while, can't you? You could get to Tewkesbury later. I'll give you a lift.'

Richard blushed under his brother's stare.

'Suit yourself Richard,' Nicholas laughed. He walked down the path, went through the gate, and across the field. He seemed uncomfort able. Richard stirred uneasily, about to follow.

'See him off and come back.'

'Yes... I'd like to. Wait a tick.' He turned, walked quickly away, and glanced back at her. She was walking back into the barn, oblivious. He cursed under his breath.

Nicholas grinned at him as he untied. 'You staying or coming?'

'I'll stay a while, I think.'

'Don't blame you.' He shook his head with mock-sadness as he started the engine. 'Lovely, isn't she? Bet you won't mind having her - come to think, I wouldn't mind either, if I wasn't tied. Actually, I still wouldn't mind. Light as...' He frowned, struggling for a word, but gave up.
Richard nodded glumly, standing on the gunnel.

His brother stared at him, mocking him. Then he burst into harsh, friendly laughter. 'Don't you worry about it - I'll see you later, or perhaps when I get back from Brum.'

'In a couple of days,' Richard muttered.

'Get away with you, and untie the bloody boat. Wish you luck.' Nicholas laughed. 'Don't go getting yourself into my predicament. You know what these bloody women are like. Go on. See you soon, you lucky bugger.' He winked, exaggerating his coarseness, 'And give her one from me too.'

*

It was the shortest day, the snow lay upon the ground, and the December sunlight was an icy yellow in the misty air. Inside the barn, Richard and Nicholas, both dressed in wedding suits and looking like fools, had just finished arranging the tables and tablecloths, cutlery, nap kins and glasses. Now they leaned back, exchanging doubtful, nervous smiles; lit their cigarettes and walked into the white yard.

Their smoke and breath hung in persistent clouds as they paused and stared out over the white fields, broken by black winter trees. Birds sang in the faintest warmth of the sun.

Nicholas spoke. 'When's the beer get here? That's the important thing in my eyes.' He was subdued, walking to and fro, kicking the ground.

Richard glanced quickly at his watch. 'Soonish.' He moved to the fence, knocked some snow from it and leaned on his outstretched hand, his wrist and arm protruding whitely from the jacket.

'Cheer up,' Nicholas muttered. 'I'd have been happy if it had snowed at my wedding. Makes it whiter than a white one, if you see where my drift goes. Here you are, with the elements all turned out in sympathy for you.' He peered closely at Richard. 'You look pissed-off and nervous. You regretting it?'

He laughed, averting his face. 'A bit. My head's broken, and my stomach's filthy.'

Nicholas was amused. 'Yes, mine feels like that. But I quite enjoyed myself - you alright? Take good deep breaths. The frost'll do your stomach good. You should have had it the night before last.'

'I would have. She insisted it had to be the night before.Said it would set me up properly.'

'She doesn't seem too bothered about the day itself.'

'Well... it's just a day, isn't it.'

'It's what's to come that counts, true enough. Silly to get worked up about it. Who's going to give the bride away then?'

'It's only the registry. She's responsible for herself. No-one gives me away, do they? Anyway, it does n't matter. As far as I'm concerned, marriage starts when you first think about it.'

Nicholas smiled broadly, raising his eyebrows. 'It? Far too many marriages for a man to think about.' He laughed as Richard threw a handful of snow at him. 'Well. I'm going to see how Helen's doing in the kitchen. It's time you got that fire lit, or else we'll be freezing to death later. Stupid idea if you ask me.'

'Yes, I'll go and light the bloody fire.' Richard threw his cigarette away, clapped his brother upon the shoulders, and walked back into the barn, the frozen snow squeaking beneath his shoes.
He enjoyed sitting with a cigarette and a dark glass of beer, watching the yellow flames wriggling up through the kindling. The silence outside was only broken by the crows throating distantly. Two great pieces of wood on either side of the hearth supported large boughs, be neath were stacked lesser boughs. On top and all around black coal was piled. The flames rose higher into some of the larger wood and the black-gleam of frost hissed on it.

He stopped to stare out over the fields, and watch through the open door the crows gliding in the sunlight, then he sat carelessly on a chair, his thighs relaxed, his hands resting on his glass between them, his neck drooping forward. He would be a husband before the sun set. A log spat making him flinch, and he shoved back his chair a little, resuming his pose of slack ness at a distance. But he could not get comfortable again. He stood, crossly, and walked out down to the river.

Deirdre was already there, knowing that all had been set in motion towards readiness. He saw her, and shivered in the frost. In ten minutes they would go to Tewkesbury.
The Severn slid blackly between its snowy sides. She leaned against a fencepost and stared into its waters, not looking at him. So black and glassy-deep and sullen, and dull-heavy beside the white snow.

The imminent marriage shocked her. It was too simple, it seemed dangerous. Somewhere, the sureness was wanting. She thought it was Richard who had the unsure heart, shying from her. But he was caught and she could drag him beneath the black surface, and drown him in the cold depths. She was the black water horse, who drowned her rider in a mad welter of dark water and hooves, and then grazed peacefully on the flood meadows.

The wind began to blow. The river was flowing uneasily, iron-grey surface flecked and mottled by the wind. Over at the far bank, agitated water slapped and thudded against the pilings, nervous, the wind twisting wavelets into little racing flocks.

Deirdre laughed, a sudden heavy blow of wind making them stagger on the bank. Grey waves racing, knocking hollowly on the dirty metal pilings. Again the blow of wind, but they braced as they heard it in the branches before stooping on them. She turned to him, as the waves slapped the pilings, staring at the confusion in his eyes, and her limbs seemed caught with flame, her nostrils arched, her eyes rolled up darkly like a terrible horse, that having once shone its madness, returns a terrible calm gaze again.

They heard their names called. The river rushed swiftly and darkly past, and for a moment it seemed still and she and he and the land were careering past its waters, white and silent.

Nicholas was warming his car; Helen, his own wife beside him. Deirdre opened the door and Richard climbed in. The car lurched and slipped across the frozen yard, and swung out past the dark river, then disappeared among the hawthorn hedges. The river poured past, unceasingly.