Night Shift

It had been a long, tail-chasing day as they all seemed to be those days.  He left the building where he earned a minimal wage as a desk jockey for the Department of Inclement Weather and walked towards the side street where his car was parked.  When he got there, he slumped behind the wheel in a robotic motion, took a deep breath and started to drive through the neon glare of fast food outlets, petrol stations and streetlights to join the country road home.


The traffic was light as the hour was late and he settled into the comfort of seating, air-conditioning, music and the gentle rise and fall, rise and fall of the way.  The occasional flick of the wiper blades punctuated the uneventfulness and hinted at more persistent rain.  The lights of settlements gradually grew less frequent as did fellow travellers.  He occupied himself in thought patterns concerning his employment, his twenty-five years in a black suit and, more urgently, a last-ditch attempt to win back the mother of his children.


He had to slow down when he approached a dirty estate car.  He saw the scarlet of his brake lights bleed briefly over the hedges behind and he knew that he would not be able to overtake this vehicle for several miles.  After a few minutes, his attention was drawn to what looked like a photograph taped to the inside of its rear windscreen.  He had difficulty in making it out so inched a little nearer then allowed himself to fall behind. He did this several times until he was fairly satisfied that the image was of a local woman who had been reported missing recently. He tried to recall the details that gossip and newspaper reports had half-taught him about the case.  The photograph reminded him of an icon as rain, now falling heavily in a formidable side wind, also hampered identification and aided mystique.  He seemed to remember reading that the woman had been found dead in a wood that lay a few miles from his present route but thought he may have been thinking of someone else.


A few minutes later, both cars were diverted by roadworks onto a narrow, twisting road which led through this wood.  Travel was slower now and the trees, whipped up by gusts, reached out their branches to touch the cars, scratching, scraping.  He sensed that they were the bony arms of witches trying to seduce him, to drag him into the undergrowth and leave him covered with moss, leaves stuffed in his mouth about which a horse-bit would be ritually arranged.  He laughed and shuffled in his seat, screwing up his eyes to see rain like arrows falling down on his wild imagination.


A cigarette butt was tossed from the other car and hit the wet tarmac in a brief, tiny show of embers.  He felt his hopes were becoming like this last breath of a drug discarded in a lonely place with only him as witness.


Suddenly, it became much darker with the sound of a storm replacing that of his vehicle.  He shivered and put his foot down but the car coasted to a halt at a crossroads.  He tried to restart the engine without success.  The trees, bent into contorted gestures by the wind, appeared to have moved nearer in a bridal train of leaves. In the gloom, he tried his mobile phone but there was no signal just the image of the woman in the photograph in the long-gone other car. He could see her smile knowingly at him until the battery expired in a brief blue steel blink and total absence of light reigned.


Night Shift image



I Thought I Had More Time


A camera I had last used nearly 15 years ago and thus effectively antiquated reminded me that learned procedures are not always remembered. I accidentally destroyed a 36 exposure colour film on a rainy hillside last weekend by forgetting that a certain minute dial had be turned clockwise in order to rewind the film.

(Turning one’s head in bed in darkness in a certain direction because you feel that there’s someone there though you know it can’t be true. You expect to see it but prevent it from being seen by daring it to appear.)

One day words will come alive. Literally. They will decide whether to change their meaning. Thus they will become even more senior partners in the realm of the emotions, philosophy and science. People will live under a tyranny of syllables, unable to remember what any word means, used to mean or know what they will mean. The experience of thinking, speech and writing will have the intense second-guessing feeling of being forcibly subjected to a universal sort of predictive text of the mind at all times. Words will have this mobility and independence retrospectively, in effect rewriting history. But they will rule their letters benevolently?


What goes through people’s minds when they are choosing a name for a child? Mohammed, according to a free newspaper, is the most popular boy’s name in the UK. Do people name a child after a parent, grandparent or another important family member? Or after a contemporary singer or actor? Is there anyone alive today called Achsah, that name I see on the gravestones of 19th century Biblically-educated Welsh-speaking West Wales?

Black Friday or rather the 1st Black Friday of December. A woman hit by a falling television set in a Tesco store. Melees break out over discounts and people raid the trollies of others, haggling taken to new extremes. Watch out for the rain of 50 inch smart TVs.


Christmas shopping. Droves in streets which used to welcome and channel drovers. What to buy? The shops seem so replete with unnecessary objects which still are attractive to the buying throng. Giant illuminated red stars hang over the main roads, an ironic, unconscious nod to the former Soviet iconography. What appears to be a massive, stylised bolt of lightning has embedded itself in tarmac between a brand new insurance office block, a retail centre and the place I work. In all of this colour and activity I try to locate a music venue whose name is a reminder of my minority language in the capital city of the country whose language it is. I can’t find it…..


My journey to work takes me past a mental hospital (“not A and E”). It looks like a Victorian construction, like an overgrown church with the tall, thin chimney of a crematorium. My drive is on the valley road, virtually the only road in and out. Local speed limits, traffic lights and a light drizzle add to the feeling of tedium. I am a little anxious as I am still getting used to a car which replaced one wrecked at one of the roundabouts on this road a few weeks ago.


I catch a train in a polite queue and find a seat. Most passengers are reading the free newspaper, books, their mobile phones or laptops. There is little conversation. One of the guards seems to have a voice a little like Dylan Thomas but then again maybe they all do in this centenary year. I look out at the fields, surprised at how green this formerly industrial area has become, at how tired I have become.


My reverie is ended by my arrival in the city to crowds of people carrying takeaway coffees as if they were lanterns, showing the way. The entrance to the station has a casual guard of three chatting policemen.


A short way from these officers, six street drinkers sit on steps descending to a car park. They look brown, happy and worn. A discarded rail ticket lies pasted onto the damp pavement as does a card with the flag of a country I can’t identify at the pace of the pack I am in, trying to do up a broken zip on my coat as I go.


At traffic lights, people take risks when the red man shows, when death could arrive in an instant from one of five directions.


In the shiny shopping centre, an old man with a white and yellow beard sits slumped next to a restaurant which is based on recreating USA youth music and food of the 1950s. He uses two sticks and talks to himself, the very antithesis of what this eating place trumpets.


I reach my office, a fairly large, squat building now being slowly dwarfed by the office block rising on legs of concrete across the road.

In The Spirit of Crazy Horse

Recently I heard of the death of Peter Matthiessen, the American author and naturalist at the age of 86. When I say “heard” I more properly mean “read” as it was on the internet that I obtained this sad news. One is more likely to receive news from this source nowadays rather than hearing of events as in former days or so it seems.

Like so many I had been introduced to Matthiessen’s writings by “The Snow Leopard”, a stunning physical and spiritual adventure set in the Himalayas. This is one of those books which remind me, in my godless state, of something other out there. I recall blue sheep, the incredible remoteness of destinations and Matthiessen’s strong, craggy, browned face staring back at me from the book’s cover like a latter day Saint Francis of Assisi.

I salute Matthiessen for his tireless work in the world of wildlife, his vivid travelogues, his skills as a storyteller able to engage, thrill and inform his audience, and his intelligent longevity. From the perspective of my cultural circumstances I felt there was something about him of the learning, the purity and the reverence for Nature of the early Celtic Church. It is the loss of a keen focus in a world where much does not get even a second glance.

Lunch Hour

It was Friday and the countdown to The Promised Land that promised to be the weekend was well under way. Ironic that Biblical concerns still had relevance in this age. It had been a difficult period of changing procedures and low morale and a colleague suggested we did something, went somewhere different in our lunch hour.

We waited for the traffic to stop then headed for a scarlet building hiding behind its much newer and taller surroundings, mostly hotels and South American restaurants. My friend said that it had been described as the city’s “forgotten” market. Climbing four storeys, we briefly took in the myriad of antiquities for sale until we were stopped in our tracks by a Bren Gun, big, lean, brown, with a light patina of rust, perched on a sustained firing tripod. We wanted this weapon though we knew we lived in homes too cramped for such supposedly unnecessary items.

We excitedly discussed this antique over tea and scones in a rooftop glass structure with views of railway tracks. My friend pronounced “scones” as in “cones”, I as in “cons”. I fantasised about a use for this inert gun, proposing that we would volunteer, as a developmental opportunity, to attend the next senior managers meeting. We would present the Bren gun wordlessly to the Area Manager and only briefly hang around to view the bemusement. We of course would expect to be dismissed though we suspected that the reason for this would not be fully understood by the decision makers. We chuckled, enjoying the last moments in this oasis in the heart of a city winding up for Friday night.