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Betrayal

Crow“So, what d’you fink?”  The crow is back on the lamp post outside my window.  It is his third visit this morning, but the air outside is still cold so I have been pretending to ignore him.

“About what?”  I ask, through my grudgingly opened casement.

“This, mate.  This!”

I stare cluelessly at him for a moment while he turns to face me, then away, and finally perches on one leg with his shoulders hunched and his head lowered.  At last I comprehend.  He is posing.   “Very nice!”  I try to sound enthusiastic.

“Nice?  Nice?  Do you know how long this took me?  Look at them fevvers!  Look at that shine!  Sex on wings, mate, that’s me.  Irresistible, in’ I?”

“You look very…”  I grope for a word…”personable.”

“Personable?”  I have ruffled those magnificent feathers.  “No, mate, I ain’t like no person.  Not like a person at all.”

I have neglected to remember the world outside is heavily engaged in the machinations of Spring.  Cherry blossom is on the bough, clouds are white and fluffy, and there is romance in the air.

“So, you’re going courting?”  I say.  “I thought you guys were supposed to be monogamous?”

Crow fixes me with a reproachful eye.  “You ‘ave to do that, don’t yer?”

“Do what?”

“Remind me!  Listen, mate.   One lot of kids – out the way.  They’re gone.  Me, I been workin’ me beak off fetchin’ an’ carryin’, stuffin’ the little buggers wiv’ anything I can find just to keep their crops full.  Now they’re big enough to do their own stuffing, and I got four days – five if I’m lucky – ‘fore it’s all twigs and mud again; know what I mean?”  He refers to the next clutch of eggs, of course.  I nod my understanding.

“See, it’s not jus’ me, is it?  You should see ‘er!  She’s down the playing fields hoppin’ around wiv that chuffin’ chough from Number Three Elm, makin’ out like she’s just two again.  She’s been comin’ home wiv ‘er tail fevvers in a ruck for a week!  It’s disgustin’, that’s what it is!”

This drift in our conversation is making my crow agitated.  He is stamping his feet on the top of his lamp-post perch and pecking the plastic cover repeatedly.  “How do I know whose chicks I’m goin’ to be slavin’ over next month?  Do you know what chough eggs look like?”

I admit that I don’t.  “You’re concerning yourself unnecessarily.  I’m not sure what you’re suggesting is even possible.” I stop myself from chuckling, because my friend is obviously a soul in torment, caught in a very human dilemma.

“Maybe you do need some recreation.”  I say, more to placate him than anything else.  “What will you do with your four days?  Do you have a seduction plan?”

Again I am treated to that askance look.  “If yer mean am I goin’ to pull – too right!   I’m off down Carter’s Farm this very mornin’, I am.  They’re sowin’ the twelve acre, aren’t they?  Twelve acres of hedge to hedge talent, mate – you wouldn’t believe!”

“Mind you don’t get your beak caught in the drill.”  I warn him sardonically.  “Aren’t you getting a little mature for this?”

“Are you talkin’ about my age again?  Here, watch this.”  Crow launches himself from the top of the lamppost, executes a near vertical climb, then an immaculate stall turn, which he recovers with vigorous wing flapping.  Just as suddenly, he turns the ascent into a nose dive, wings near-folded, only to convert into a banked turn a few inches from the ground.  To complete this curious demonstration of corvid aerobatics, he does an upward swoop, landing back on the lamp-post with elegant precision.  “Does that look ‘old’ to yer?  Does it?”   His wing is dragging a little and clearly hurts him.  He stabs it with his beak in annoyance.  “In me prime, mate.  In me prime.”

I give him a twisted smile, with as much of my face as remains unfrozen by that inclement morning breeze.   “You’re not really going to cheat on your wife.”  I tell him.  “You’re dreaming.  Those young birds would laugh at you.”

“Nah.”

“Pardon?”

“Nah.  Alright?  Nah, I’m not goin’ to cheat on ‘er!  She’d peck me ‘ead in, she would.  I’d lose me tree rights.  I’m a territorial, I am!  I got a nest site, I have – and a good one, too!  I’m respected!  See what I mean?”

I do see.  The winter has been mild, leaving a sky full of spring survivors, and only a few of those young birds will be able to breed because there is simply insufficient space.  The older ‘territorial’ birds will monopolise the breeding as they always do.  But there will be squabbling and fights.

“So you intend to seduce some poor young innocent into thinking you’ll settle down and have chicks with her, when all you really want to do is ruffle her feathers?”

The crow pauses to consider my euphemism for a second.   “Fink so, that’s about it.”

“If that isn’t cheating, I don’t know what is.  I’m ashamed of you!”

“Yeah, but….”   He looks at me uneasily.  “What do we do it for, eh?  I mean, what do us males get out of it?”

I am flattered by this inclusion.  I find myself briefly checking to make sure I am displaying no feathers of my own.  “Us?”   I try to answer truthfully.  “What does anybody get out of it?  Nothing, I guess – maybe a kindred spirit to cleave to when the wind blows; maybe another voice in the silence.  Perhaps that isn’t the way to think of it.  We don’t do it for ourselves, do we?  We do it for our children.  It’s what they get out of it that counts.”   Trying a smile, I add:  “And a few precious moments following the seed drill on Carter’s Farm.”

My crow is suddenly still.   “But then yer chicks grow up, don’t they?  And that’s us left chasing dreams.  An’ every summer is a summer less, and suddenly there’s no chicks anymore, and we can’t fly as high as we did, or as fast.  An’ sometime we have to stop, and ask ourselves really, what was it all about?”

I find I cannot answer.  To try to do so would be to confront my own broken dreams, and in my own defence I must close that portal or it will consume me; so, with sadness, I reach up to the window sash, to gently pull it closed.  As I do so, I catch the eye of my crow watching me, sharing my thoughts, exposing my innermost dread.    I might almost imagine his sigh, but of course, that is impossible.  With a graceful shift of balance the bird takes flight, away into the grey morning, and away from me.

In my heart I know I will never see him again.

 

 

 

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I think I may have betrayed this secret before, but since I am not bound by any rule of the confessional, nor am I in (or is it under, like a racehorse?) Holy Orders, I can whisper the truth:  I am over sixty.

And then some.

A while ago I used this blog to confront the phenomena known to the cosmetics industry as the ‘Seven Signs of Ageing’.  I got to number four, at which point I figured anyone who was still reading was probably as bored with the subject as I, so I rested it for a while.

Now it’s back!

Why?  Well, perhaps because ageing is a holistic experience, and one which I left hanging just a little over half-istically.  Perhaps because I am encountering the next phase, the one beyond invisibility.

I am sliding inexorably towards societal checkmate.  I am becoming an Old Fart.

Let’s discuss symptoms.

1  Absent-mindedness:

There is an age when OCD moves seamlessly into Alzheimer’s; when being unable to find the way home becomes a medical rather than a psychological condition.  Nowadays I take the dog every time I go out, because she is the only one who knows the way – or she used to.  Since she is rapidly succumbing to Dogzheimer’s, there is more than a chance we will both get lost.

I do not regard my absence of short term memory as anything more than a minor inconvenience, but those around me do.  They smile indulgently, their tone subtly alters.

“Oh, bless him!”  They say, giving a sort of third party smile, as if I am not actually there.  And then they move on, because the companion adjective to Old Fart is ‘tedious’.

2  Emotional Instability:

It is hard to explain exactly why the precise position of a postage stamp on an envelope should have become a matter of such importance, still less easy to understand my shaking incoherent rage at the sight of an un-cleared restaurant table, or the feeling of an unnecessary draught.  Nor can I account for my uncontrollable tear ducts, which fill up at the least provocation.  Bursting into tears at a weather forecast may be excusable, given the weather lately, but it is embarrassing.

This same lack of self restraint manifests itself in other ways.  The other day, in the company of a young client, I drove past a woman wearing a very dramatic outfit.  I disguised a quiet snigger.

“She’s very smartly dressed, isn’t she?”  I suggested.  What I really wanted to say – I mean really, really wanted – was ‘Mutton dressed as lamb’?

“That’s my mother.”  My client replied.

Close one!

3.  The shakes.

Now these are a little more disturbing.  I was never going to be a brain surgeon.  My hands were ever prone to the quivers, especially when nervous.  In ‘respectable company’ the cup, saucer and spoon were always a musical instrument where I was concerned.  But lately….

In extreme cases raising a cup from a side table may send my wrist into a rapid thirty degree oscillation.  At best the surface of the tea when it reaches my mouth will resemble a storm on Lake Huron, inducing me to sip and sniff it in equal quantities.  It’s the sniffing part that doesn’t work out.  Oddly enough, the result does not inspire the same sympathetic response that applies to my absent-mindedness.

 I hit the brong jeys on my leyboarf; I reach for door handles and miss….

4.  Deja vu.

Where’s an accent key when you need one?  In the young, second sight is regarded as a gift and those who possess it are guaranteed an audience, some of whom will travel miles and endure force majeure to hang on each word that drips from their mouths.  My problem is that I was actually there before, but no-one wants to listen.

Air pollution?  Nothing like the smogs of the 1950s.

Peace in our time?  Rubbish then and rubbish now.

Jam tomorrow?  Oh, yea

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Cold winters?  In 1963 a car was driven across the frozen Thames at Oxford.  Richard Blackmore described a 17th Century winter so cold the sap froze in the trees and great oaks split apart.

All right, I wasn’t actually there for that, but……you’re not listening, are you?

To my mind age gives me a certain paternal wisdom.  I have the gift of knowledge to impart.  I should be venerated in my old age, treasured for my sagacity.  Those around me should be glad to mop up a little, speak a little louder and accept my judgement.  They should stop moving me around like the furniture and not look at me as though I am spoiling their design for the room.

I should be honoured.  Yes, that’s it – I should be honoured.

Wait!  Stop!  Where are you going?  Can I come?  Why won’t they accept mobility scooters in nightclubs?  I remember once, back in 1962…..

Tom’s Story

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Not Tom. This is just a stock photograph. Throughout this article names and identities have been altered to protect the besieged.

I’ll call him Tom.

Tom is eighteen years old and he lives in a typical English village.   That is, a small community of chocolate-box cottages with a shop and a pub surrounding a placid village pond.   The outer perimeter of this idyll was blessed in 1948 with the addition of a small clutch of social housing, and again in 1985 by a further estate of featureless rabbit hutches which their developer sold as ‘desirable executive homes’.   Commentators at the time suggested (quite unfairly) that the developer had only built them to give the social housing tenants something to rob.

Today the owners of the chocolate box cottages huddle by their wood-burning stoves to the tune of the picturesque village street, which is filled with window-rattling heavy traffic.  Taken over by a large brewery the pub was run down and closed in 2006.  It remains boarded up and empty.  The village pond is far from empty.  Abandoned by any wildlife two generations since, it is full of old car tires and the occasional shopping cart.

In Tom’s council-built estate many prospective Banksies have bequeathed their efforts to the critical eyes of those short-stay tenants who come, desecrate and depart. Detritus adorns those places the planners intended as recreation areas:  abandoned furniture, abandoned cars, abandoned needles.

The ‘executive homes’ gaze out upon all this with tombstone inscrutability.   Owners do their best to pretend they have nothing to do with the village.  They never use the village store, for example, preferring to drive to a larger town nearby.

Tom drives too, though the cars he drives are rarely his own.  The village store, or the area outside it, is where Tom spends most of his time.   He and his friends, seated on their pedal-cycles or just on the pavement filter the store’s customers:  the chocolate-box people are intimidated by him and unwilling to shop there.  Soon the store will go the way of the pub, and the village will have no facilities at all.

Tom does not work.  There are no jobs in the village, but this is not his real problem.  His parents have never worked or provided him with a role model:  in the benefits culture there are no disciplines and few routines, so the nearest Tom ever got to either was during his brief, sporadic relationship with school.

Academia has no place for him.  He is disruptive; he is not bright.  Any spark of brilliance there might have been was extinguished promptly by teachers who singled him out as a butt for ‘class humor’, leaving him with a dread of the desk and the dusty room, and a phobic terror of examinations.

Nevertheless, Tom does work, albeit in unskilled labor and the ‘cash economy’.  With his benefits and irregular extra earnings he has enough to finance his expensive smart-phone and trainers.  Perhaps his purchasing choices are more responsible than anything else for society’s verdict.  They belie his real poverty, giving the impression that he is living well on the benevolence of The State when he really has very little of any worth.

Tom is eighteen.  His girlfriend is pregnant.  He walks with his hood up and his head down.  People say that if he looks up it is only to check out your roof for any loose lead.  He drives stolen cars fast and recklessly, because he likes it.  One day the magistrates’ patience will wear out.

I know that this is not a new story.  It is entrée to a genre that promulgates a certain view of British society which, however accurate, will win no friends at the tourist board.  It is one view, but it is the crossroads at which I stand, because Tom, or someone very like him, is the ‘hero’ of my next book.

This is the book I need to write.  It is the tale of all the Toms I have met and known down the years, people not equipped to meet the demands of the technological society, the ‘no hopers’ who are not that way of their own making, but who simply landed on the wrong planet at the wrong time.  Real people with real value, and with a real morality which sadly all too few of the gifted, great and good appear to share.

Tom deserves his story, but how, from where I sit, do I truly get inside his head?  Where is his future and from where does he dredge the one thing we all seek, his shred of hope?