It was very unusual for me to be out in the evening as the cruise ships I worked on were always sailing by then. However, very occasionally, the stars would align, and I would jump at the opportunity to stretch my legs and go to see the sights.
On this particular night in early 2004, I had been out for dinner with my boss while we were docked in Hong Kong. He was a man that only had one volume, loud, and when he had run out of things to yell about, got out his phone and presented videos of him bellowing on previous occasions. Needless to say we have lost touch.
That night, I had been treated to a local delicacy of fried pigeon in a bar that was showing repeats of rugby matches from several years previously. I have very little memory of the pigeon dish itself, which is a small mercy.
I managed to lose the boss to the rugby and went to watch the symphony of lights in Victoria Harbour. It is an amazing laser show set to music which happens over the water every night at 8pm and can be seen for miles around. As I was watching, I noticed that there was a young man sat on a wall, painting the scene onto a small piece of black felt which he was resting on a hardback book. He wore a baseball cap and football shirt for a team I failed to identify. He used so many bright acrylic colours, reds, oranges, yellows and captured the reflection in the water perfectly. After the show had finished, I went to ask the painter if his work was for sale.
‘It is not good enough to sell’ he told me as he hastily put it in his bag.
‘I really like it’ I replied, and he looked at me like I was crazy. Eventually he let me have it for five Hong Kong Dollars (about 50p).
Looking at this piece of painted felt years later, it has remained one of the very few souvenirs I have from my time travelling. I never really bothered collecting stuff, it always just felt like a pain to transport but this picture is different. I wonder about that young man in the football shirt and consider what has happened in Hong Kong in the intervening years.
I hope he is still painting. I hope he is ok.
Astrape – Goddess of Lightening whips across the heavens on volant feet
Fool’s gold forges her path.
She summons her twin.
Bronte - Goddess of Thunder rumbles in response.
Reluctantly pushing club feet into hob nail boots; she hammers a steady tattoo on her weather beaten anvil.
And the pursuit begins.
Impatient, Astrape hurls expeditious volts toward her twin.
Bronte roars in response
a barrage of sound waves reverberates and the mountains shudder.
Together they race across the roof of the world until spent, they collapse and embrace.
Astrape glows with exertion. Bronte pours streams of sweat that tumble from the sky
And so the rain begins
She sits perfectly still
Beautiful in repose
Someone to trust
Having lived a sheltered life
Deep in the country
A simple uncomplicated
Her family giving stability
Her sisters loving and warm
Her parents hardworking
Bright and free
She entered the world
With an aunt’s backing
Happy to conform
To the strict code of the time
Understanding her role
To acquire a husband
Perform her duty
In order to provide for her family
To give back what they deserve
To also please herself
A Portrait in Words
Repeating the ways
Handed down to her
With a smile a laugh
Her faith won
Try as she could her
Love for god
Was all consuming
She had pushed
The material world away
Entered a convent
Saying goodbye to family
And reassured them
This was her choice
Shone from every pore
No one could ignore
It was now the younger
Sisters duty to conform
And to keep the traditions
Of the family alive
Leaving the eldest
Following her calling
THE CROWS – those most poetic of birds
Words at random.
“Caw, caw” Pa, pa.
Are you sure? Caw, caw.
Chew char. Here, now. No, nor.
Pull to shore. Caw, caw.
I will run but you can crawl.
If I fly shall I fall? Caw, caw.
What for? Caw, caw.
Call my bluff. Call a draw.
Pure poor. Caw, caw.
It has no rhythm, little rhyme.
We stand in awe, red in claw, wallow in gore, go to war,
it’s what I saw.
THINKING IN THE GARDEN
The garden, bleached brown by the sun, still in the acrid air, silent in the lazy day normality of the moment, waiting for the disturbance of bird, of beetle, of ant and of other creepy crawly thing. The life lurking in the garden, ever busy existing. No lockdown for them, no sense of isolation, too busy surviving, not becoming food for others.
Studying the ground, when what I mean is looking, I discern a centipede wriggling its tortuous journey, bending first one way then the next to circumnavigate stones or tufts of grass, shiny armoured in its glistening shell, punctuated by the numerous legs waving precisely, ever active until it reaches a shadow and disappears under a brick that marks the border of the flowerbed.
Avoiding the path of the centipede an ant scurries, bobbing and weaving its head to stay aware of its surroundings. Other ants do the same, all over the ground barely a square inch is without some ant, crossing it, leaving or entering it. The very definition of activity.
Bees, flies and other flying insects flit about. The bee being the most watchable, as its path seems deliberate and oddly slow when in the company of the others. Moving about the flowering beds and pots in the garden. Gently humming, a warm sound, so quiet, demanding attention to listen to it.
A metal bird feeder stands on the ground between two flower beds. Forlorn of birds, at the moment, its time is first thing in the morning, then the occasional visitor throughout the day, getting busy again as the light threatens to fade. Now the birds are busy signalling their whereabouts only to other birds of their kind, it would be impolite to do otherwise. The air a constant flow of birdsong, like searching an old-fashioned radio seeking a channel, finding one, then immediately searching for another; some are music; some are speech, some just noise. So it is with birds. One song, clear in its structure, repetitive, again and again the same phrase. Another bird warbles along as if for the sheer pleasure of singing the melody, varying it, and then pausing, waiting for a response or applause, then starting again. In the distance a cooing of the pigeons, the occasional cuckoo call becomes distinct. High above and in the distance, towards the sea and beyond, fly the gulls with their guttural cry piercing the air.
The wildlife of the garden reminds me that we share this earth, share this time. I am not alone ever, not for a moment.
The light, cloud dispersed,
The field blazing with false flame.
Cattle kissing the earth, oblivious.
The horizon, obscured by cloud, or is it smoke? The view held his eyes, his thoughts had a mind of their own. The ground was soft from the overnight rain, the air sweet to breathe, the grass clung to the side of the boots and underfoot the water gathered in the depression left by his footsteps. It was a bit chilly for the time of year and he was glad of the coat he wore just in case it rained again. Although the sky was clear when he looked directly up, it was cloudy on the horizon, merging land with sky, a distant obscured vision.
He walked further on and viewed the fields in front of him. Endless he thought. He still was amazed by the distance he could see when he left the town; an infinity of space he thought. The cattle, spaced well apart and still, looked tiny in the fullness of the space. Despite the presence of the cattle it sounded empty, still. The silence emptied ahead of him, pulling his thoughts with it.
He resisted the desire to walk on past the wire fence that probably was intended to stop the cattle from walking pass, restraining himself to just standing and seeing.
The more he looked the more his imagination came alive. The field was full of dark red weeds, rising in clumps and moving so slightly in the wind, looking like flames. The clouds suddenly taking on the characteristics of smoke. He could almost smell the smoke, but there was something wrong with the smell, it was more chemical, like a deodorant or stale perfume.
Behind him Castle sloped towards him, the sound of the mud being sucked by her boots announced her arrival, interrupted his silent meditation.
“Forensic have finished, d’want ta see the body ’fore they take tit ‘way” she drawled.
“Where the hell would he come from?” mused Writter, still staring hard at the fields. The cattle continued ignoring everything, including each other.
Castle followed his gaze and after a few seconds turned towards him:
“Boss. D’you wanta see the body or should I tell ‘em to carry on an’ take tit ‘way.”
He turned and looked at his assistant “Might as well take it, don’t think I can learn anything more.”
Castle turned, pulled her boot out of the mud and sloped back to the tent that covered the body and served to protect the ground.
“You can take it ‘way” she shouted, waiving one arm pointlessly in the general direction of the tent. A head popped out from the tent and gestured towards her with a thumb up. She lifted both of her arms, the thumbs clearly up. “OK” shouted the head and disappeared back inside the tent. Castle, shoulders hunched, arms held stiffly by her side, her steps overlong it seemed, moved on towards it.
Will, as Writter always thought of himself, talked to himself, aloud. A habit he cultivated to a degree as it made anyone in his vicinity stay quiet. The sound of his own voice served to remind him that he had choices in what he thought. The silence he now wrapped himself in brought on that sense of solitude he seemed to always be seeking. Here he found it, if only for a short moment, it made life endurable here and now. He resented that he would have to return to the reality of his job.
“What would he be doing out here?” “How did he get here?” ”Walk? Drive somewhere else? Walk from there? “ The words seemed to be hanging in the air, he almost felt as if he could just reach out and touch them.
The light seemed to be failing, it must be mist rolling in from the sea, he mused. He could taste the moist mist on his tongue. Will glanced at his watch: 16:25 he thought to himself. Another couple of hours of light if the mist does not continue to roll in.
“Need to know what is out there” he muttered aloud. “How one could access the fields”. “Who knows the local farmers?” He turned and walked back towards his car. Hands pushing deep inside the pockets of his coat. “Jack” he thought, “Yes, Jack would know
Escape from Lockdown
Playfully, he nudges me,
Gracefully he runs ahead.
Unacquainted with his own elegance.
His sable hair ruffles in the breeze.
He stops, turns and looks expectantly
I laugh, I call his name.
Joyfully he returns to me
Oblivious to worldly complications
Social Distancing immaterial
We wander home.
Our daily walk is done
I Hate Driving In The Car
This week I travelled somewhere by car. This for most people would be a normal daily occurrence but a car journey for me is so rare I remember Now, this isn’t because I have some moral objection to cars but simply because I have no need. I love busses, tolerate trains and am quite happy walking and this has always been the case. In fact, I am in my late thirties and have never had a driving lesson.
A lot of people find it unusual to find a man of my age who doesn’t drive and often assume it is because I have been banned following a terrible incident. Actually, it is because I find the idea of driving terrifying.
Firstly, there seems to be a lot of admin involved. Licences, registration, tax, insurance. Plus, the commotion of actually buying the car. All this seems overwhelmingly complicated and I would rather not bother.
Secondly, the process of learning to drive is; (I am led understand) expensive, lengthy and difficult. Multiple lessons followed by exams. I haven’t taken an exam in twenty years and the idea of failing multiple times and retaking over and over again in a spiral of humiliation is horrible.
Then there is the actual driving bit. Being a pedestrian can be unpredictable. Other people, weather, birds and dogs all present hazards while walking around but it is unlikely any of these will result in hospitalisation. That is not true in a car, so many drivers are crazy. Having vehicles flying corners around from every direction at moment plus the pedestrians, weather, birds and dogs make the idea of being in charge of a potentially deadly heavy object unbearable. Plus, if anything did happen there would be yet more admin.
I think I will stick to walking.
You can find more of Martin's work here.
Pacing along the riverbank. Passing through the intervals of sunlight and shade. We take in the beauty of the day. The welcome clear air fills our lungs now we are apart from the city’s busy rush. From beneath our feet rises a slightly damp, earthy scent. Almost heady, the essence of nature below the tread of boot. It mixes with the freshening air rising along the riverbed. Restoring our spirits.
Sunlight heats our backs. The quiet reverberation of the men fishing from the steeper bank as they speak softly to each other. Their words few. Not wanting to alert the fish below to their presence. Overhead clouds chase across sky. Fluffy, white followed by heavier, solid grey. Trees filled with chattering birds move in the breeze. Branches full of leaves create a green glory which cast dappled shadows out over the water. To be stirred by the ripples of the river’s flow. We relish the peace and breathe.