Ashes to ashes

I’ve not written a blog post for quite some time. I’ve also not done any proper writing for a bit. With the blogging it’s just been a case of not getting around to it, and not wanting to go on the PC when I get home. With the writing it’s just been idleness to be honest. That and getting a bit bogged down with the new book I’m trying to write. It needs a synopsis but I haven’t written one yet, and I’ve been putting it off.

The only way I know to get past writer’s block is to write. It doesn’t matter if it’s rubbish, it doesn’t matter if no-one else sees it. What matters is putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard and going for it. One of my favourite quotes is by Picasso:, when inspiration strikes I want it to find me in my studio’. I started writing a scene that’s going to be in the new book and then on the 11th of January I heard that David Bowie had passed away.

Now, I’m not a huge David Bowie fan, in fact for most of my life I’ve been ambivalent towards him. Mainly because by the time I was really aware of him, he was a big pop star. I have though always had respect for him, and I’ve liked a lot of his songs. Really good stuff. As I’ve got older my music taste has matured/mellowed and I appreciate much more music than in my youth, so I can understand why lots of people are fans of David Bowie, and I’m much more aware of how influential he was and what a difference he made.

His death was not a complete shock to me. Sixty nine is a good age, much better than twenty-nine and there can be very little dispute that he achieved a great deal. Much more than the average person. Nevertheless, I feel somewhat sad, mainly for selfish reasons. Space Oddity by David Bowie was one of the songs from my early years, and David Bowie and his music is part of the soundtrack from my youth. His death is a reminder of my own mortality and, as if the mirror wasn’t already pointing it out glaringly, another sign of my ageing.

Perhaps inspired by this quote by David Bowie I wrote the following story. “Confront a corpse at least once. The absolute absence of life is the most disturbing and challenging confrontation you will ever have.”

The man sat in his chair and looked around the room which he was in. It was a waiting room, a large one with white walls. One wall had windows high up, so high that he could not see out of them from his seat. The other wall was quite some distance away, plain white and adorned here and there with nature photographs. He looked up at the ceiling overhead wondering if he could see the many murmurs of sound which gathered there fluttering around like bewildered butterflies. He smiled to himself at his imagination.

A nurse walked by, her apron starched brilliant white, her dress blue. She gave him a brief smile as she passed. The thought then struck him that he was a in a hospital seemingly un-touched by the many reforms to the National Health Service. Everything reminded him very strongly of the hospital he had gone to as a boy, many years ago but thankfully without the over-powering stench of disinfectant. Where was he, how had he got here? He did not know. That’s the problem with waiting there’s nothing to do except be patient or, he smiled again, be a patient.

He looked at the other people in the waiting room, most of them were sat by themselves looking around wondering; most of them elderly or middle-aged, the years of their youth far behind them. He saw nearby a young girl sat with her mother who was soothing her. The young girl was very frightened. A few seats away he saw a man with long hair and mutton-chop whiskers, wearing denim, cowboy boots and a hat with an expression that was a curious mixture of surprise, disbelief and underlying everything a sense of joy almost as if at any moment he was going to burst out laughing.

As he watched he saw a nurse come up to this man and speak quietly. He did laugh then, a great roaring bark that echoed all around the room. The man stood up to follow the nurse, who was already leading the way, and as they passed the two men exchanged winks and smiles as though they were sharing a joke.

After they had gone the man closed his eyes, leaning back in his chair trying to think, to recollect the chain of events that had brought him here but try as he might he could only snatch fragments of memories, faces that felt familiar, a scent that reminded him of his wife, and feelings; so many feelings, a sense of dread and fear, peace, acceptance, pain, loss, deep sadness and wonder.

“Hello, how are you?”

He opened his eyes to see one of the nurses bent down looking intently at him. She had clear blue eyes, an open honest face and wisps of blonde hair escaping from underneath her hat.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I’m trying to think, remember how I got here but I don’t know.”

“That’s quite common, for the moment try not to think. Listen to the birdsong, we have nightingales outside, just for you.” She smiled.

“Really?”

“You like music don’t you? Listen and relax. I’ll be back soon and then the,” she paused, “consultant will be ready for you.”

“Is this a hospital?”

“In a fashion; we help people feel better.” She reached out and patted his shoulder before standing up, turning and walking away.

He watched her go and again fragments of remembered feelings came back to him: temptation, fascination, desire and pleasure but it was like flicking through an old album of photographs: pausing briefly at one or the other, before moving on. She was gone and now as he listened he could hear the sweet thrilling cascade of notes from the nightingales; first one, then two, then a pause before three, then two, then one, then three then a pause, a moment to allow the golden notes to soar up and up, away from the earth. He wished he could see them. How long had he been sitting here? He felt like getting up, going for a walk to discover just how big this room was but then he heard the heels of the nurse on the floor, then saw her coming back looking efficient and busy.

“He’s ready for your now. Will you come with me please?”

“Who is he?”

“Come and find out. There’s nothing to worry about. I’m sure you have had enough of sitting, waiting.”

“Yes.”

“Good. Come along.” She stood to one side, gesturing with one hand that he should rise, and the man at first with some hesitation for he remembered now that he had been very ill, slowly with both hands either side of him raised himself up onto his feet. Then he was struck by another feeling, one he had never forgot but had not experienced for many years. He felt like crying.

“But I’m old,” he whispered.

“You were,” the nurse corrected. “Now, we really are rather busy.”

“I feel like I could hop and skip and dance,” he said, spinning around in pleasure. The nurse smiled kindly at him then turned and began walking briskly, the man hurried to catch up with her. She maintained her pace and he did not have much time to look around at the cavernous waiting room or the views through the windows. She stopped next to an open door and gestured that he was to go in.

“Thank you,” he said.

The corners of her mouth twitched in a quick smile before she spoke. “He’s waiting. There’s nothing to be concerned about.”

The man passed through the door into a small comfortable room with easy chairs next to a warm glowing coal fire. Through a window he could see trees and flowers, somewhere a wren was singing and sparrows twittering. A man sat in one of the chairs, reading a book. He had thick closely cut white hair and beard. He looked up hearing his guest arrive.

“I’m pleased to meet you. Please sit down. Would you care for something to drink? Can I tempt you to a single malt? We have some extremely fine ones.”

“No, thank you I don’t drink. I haven’t touched alcohol for many years.”

“Yes, I’ve noted that but I thought perhaps under the circumstances. Any particular reason why you gave up alcohol?”

“I didn’t like the person I became, or rather I should say I didn’t like the parts of my personality it brought out.”

“Tea then? Or coffee, juice?”

“What sort of hospital is this?”

“It’s not a hospital, although a great many people make that assumption. May I call you David?”

The man paused then smiled. “I seem to remember that was my name.”

“That’s correct. My name is Peter. I’m going to have some tea. Will you join me?”

“Yes please. What is this place Peter?”

“A place to help, somewhere to begin to make sense of what’s happened.”

“Is this heaven?”

Peter laughed. “A cup of tea, and an armchair by an open fire. I suppose it’s some people’s idea. Do you object?”

“No,” David said, looking around the room again. “No, it’s very familiar, it reminds me of my childhood.”

“So much of our adult lives are shaped by our childhood. It is perhaps the most important time of a person’s life but the time when you have least control over it. A child is at the mercy of its parents, school, the circumstances and area in which it lives.” As he spoke Peter, got up and went into a small kitchen.

David lay back in his chair and closed his eyes. He had been ill, very ill, he remembered now and sometimes the treatment was more painful than the illness. He remembered his wife and how much he loved her. The years they had spent together, and he remembered his daughter and his son. The flood of memories became a torrent and tears sprang to his eyes before rolling down his cheeks.

“I’m back now,” Peter said, carrying a tray and setting it upon a table. “Ah,” he said again. “I’ll get you a handkerchief. It’s good to cry, don’t be embarrassed. It’s part of the healing process.”

David took the offered handkerchief and after wiping his eyes spoke.

“Will I ever see them again?”

“Yes.”

“I’ve died, haven’t I?”

“Yes,” Peter said. “Tea?”

David looked shocked, then angry before suddenly bursting into laughter. Peter smiled before busying himself with the cups and tea-pot. “Death is part of life, it’s completely natural. Without death there can be no re-birth.”

“But it’s the great un-known,” David said. “We don’t know what happens afterwards and there are so many conflicting views.”

“Some are correct and soon you’ll discover which but for the moment the most important thing is to accept,” Peter said, handing David a cup of tea and sitting down in his chair.

“I accept it but I feared it, not so much for myself but my family; the separation, the permanent absence.”

“You may see death as you being in one room and your family in the other.”

“How does that help? I can’t go back to that other room!”

“No, not yet, but if you knew your wife and family were next door it would be a comfort, although you would be sad that you could not see them, and angry that you were being prevented.”

“But I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to leave them all alone.”

“They are not alone. The body is at best a shell, a vehicle provided for the benefit of its passenger. You have left your body behind. You can’t go back to it. But you have left behind much more than a body. You have left so many memories, so many times when you have touched other lives consciously and unconsciously. The memory of you will live on, and in time be a comfort to those you have left.”

David sighed. “I miss them.”

“And they miss you. You were lucky, you lived a long life and a very productive one. You touched a great many lives.”

“I made many mistakes.”

“All humans do. To err, to make mistakes, is human. You cannot have life without death, light without dark. They are opposites that define the other.”

 

 

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Drowning in a tide of effluvia

I was lying in bed thinking about all sorts really. Some thoughts were connected with programming, new ideas, introspection and dwelling on the week I’ve just had – not a particularly good one as it happens and then I started thinking about the English language and how it changes.

JRR Tolkien made the study of languages his life’s work. I think he knew about 19 languages and, of course, he created several new ones himself: Quenya and Sindarin being the most well-developed. He also wrote a few books that gained some recognition but some of these were off-shoots, a mythology creating a history, and therefore reasons, to explain the growth and change in his invented languages.

Language changes all the time and it’s impossible, and most would argue un-healthy, for a language not to change and evolve. The languages we speak are not perfect. They don’t always capture precisely the emotions we feel at a particular instant or what we wish or desire. Our interaction with the world around us and with each other is complex because as humans we are complex. We like to understand and make sense of things. Or at least I do!

English is one of the most popular languages on the planet, first spread by the British in their heavy-handed attempt at world domination, and then in the many resulting consequent waves. Curiously, though there is, or was, great diversity in the pronunciation of English within the United Kingdom. There has never been a defined or correct way to say a word. Therefore we have words such as ‘READ’, that can read one way, or taken as read. We have words like ‘DOES’, female deer but also a verb: he does go on a bit doesn’t he? Now, that English is a global language the pace of change and the range of influences on the language are vast.

Words come and go. They come into fashion or their meanings change. Sometimes for the better. To be described as sophisticated is now rather a compliment, whereas originally it meant you were un-trustworthy, not straight-forward. Another such word is funky. She’s funky, that’s funky! Sounds cool eh! Except that funky originally meant something that smelt bad. Sick, seems to be going through such a change although for me sick is another word for vomit and to be sick is to be ill.

There are other words that are similarly changing and I’m thinking here primarily about business language. Leverage is one such word. Growing up one applied leverage in order to move something. Within the banking sector that’s still the implied meaning. We need to apply leverage. But there is growing trend to see the word ‘use’ being replaced with ‘leverage’ and that doesn’t make sense to me. Why discard a perfectly nice word for some big clumsy lever of a thing? If you are going to use something then use it! Don’t leverage it! That’s a very specific meaning but sadly I think I now sound like an old pedant moaning about change.

Another word with a specific meaning that is now changing is impact, and the various ugly abuses that result from the over-use or over-leverage of it. The Meteor Crater in Arizona is the result of an impact. A rock from space hit the Earth and the result of that impact can still be seen today. A negative impact is an oxymoron. Quite often with some words I’m able to make a swift mental substitution, when I hear leverage I replace it with use, ‘impacts’  is replaced with ‘affects’ but I sometimes struggle when I hear negative impact. Can I use unfortunate consequences, bad luck or shall I just batter the person who has uttered this banality with a heavy club therefore demonstrating forcibly the true meaning of the word impact! A negative impact is when I don’t hit you thereby doing nothing!

Unfortunately, there are many such examples and I don’t think there is much that can be done to stop this rising tide of effluvia. I’m sure there are one or two other like-minded people out there who see and hear these words and cringe just as much as I do but there are others who seem to quite cheerfully use them without much regard for what they are actually saying.

Why get so worked up about this? Well, it shows a certain lack of imagination, it shows a certain dimness. For me the word impact has gained popularity for the same reasons as awesome. It’s a bigger, more impressive sounding word to use in a marketing presentation. We want this fruit juice to make a big impact! Good for you! I hope it doesn’t leave a hole in my body.

But now everyone is out making an impact with the result that the meaning of impact is now somewhat lessened. Impact should be used to describe the immense contributions of Einstein or Shakespeare, now it carries all the awe-inspiring grandeur of an angry drunk kicking a dustbin outside his ex-girlfriend’s house at nine o’clock on a Tuesday night.