Thursday, 15 September 2011

Addressing the Infinite

There used to be a television programme I used to watch as a boy, called Read, Write, and Draw. Vincent Price was the host, and he must have been over eighty at the time. I couldn’t have been more than twelve. 

I watched it religiously. Not that it was on at any particular time. I would catch it, when flipping channels in the afternoon, or mid-morning if I stayed home sick from school. 

The set of Read, Write, and Draw was dressed to look like a kitchen for some reason, and old Vincent Price would be standing there in an apron, or a smock. The premise of the show was always obscure to me, other than the fact it did involve reading, writing, and drawing. Vincent would read stories aloud, in that familiar, haunting voice of his; he would then ask children to send in more stories for him to read—and after every story he would assign whoever was watching to draw him a picture, using the story he had just read as the inspiration, and to please send it in. Once every episode he would take time to present these drawings, holding them up to the camera and describing what he saw in the scrawls of crayon and magic marker: here is a cat, and here is George Washington and the cherry tree, and here is a firetruck. His hands would shake. He would always read out the children’s names and their ages too, before unveiling a drawing. Tobias, age 6. Bridget, age 10. And his hands would shake.

I would always wonder at this point whether I was the only one watching. I would always wonder if Vincent Price himself hadn’t made these drawings alone, with his shaky hands, shortly before the cameras began to roll.  

At the end of every episode he would read out a Florida address where this was all apparently filmed, and where his audience were meant to send in their pictures. And he would read the address very purposefully, taking almost dramatic pauses after every word, then each number of the zip code. The assumption being, I thought, that children everywhere were in front of their TV screens, crayon or magic marker in hand, taking this address down. 

I never did. I never took down the address or sent a drawing for Vincent to hold up to the camera. But I watched the show religiously. Meaning that I would watch and listen to the very end, always to the very end, every time I caught Vincent Price standing alone in that kitchen. Feeling guilty if I didn’t bear witness, feeling that I needed to understand, feeling that this was important but not quite understanding why.

Monday, 12 September 2011

All Things

Just a nice little image I found while on my current George Harrison binge...Everything at the moment seems to make me crave (along with cigarettes, coffee, love, rain, river-swimming, conversations in the park, books, beaches, beautiful skies, a little peace, a little visible breath) chilled-out domesticity...
Isn't it a pity?
Now, isn't it a shame?
How we break each other's hearts
And cause each other pain?
How we take each other's love
Without thinking anymore?
Forgetting to give back
Isn't it a pity?

Some things take so long
But how do I explain?
When not too many people
Can see we're all the same
And because of all their tears
Their eyes can't hope to see
The beauty that surrounds them
Isn't it a pity?

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Museums and Women and Other Stories

Something about the cooling down of early Autumn has me not only remembering, sensually, newly sharpened pencils and eraser rinds and the eucalyptus leaves that used to shush me on my way to school--it also recalls the invariably foggy days I would be taken to Golden Gate Park as a boy. Specifically, if the September weather happens to be on the cusp of rain, it brings to mind wandering aimlessly through labyrinthine halls in the Academy of Sciences. The moody light and the cool, quiet corridors with their carpeted floors. The place has since been redeveloped, marble-floors put in, and most of the displays modernized. I've tried finding a picture of the way I remember the Simson African Hall looking back in the Eighties--dark, like a long abandoned airport lobby. At the far end, there was a Saharan scene that gradually, almost imperceptibly, would change from daylight to night, the sounds of the wildlife changing with it. But no pictures exist. It seems they've all be erased...But the stuffed animals remain, frozen in time.

...It’s funny, because I myself did it for a time. For a time, you know, I assisted in a museum, as a kind of internship for things to come. Waiting for the kingdom. In my official looking uniform. Black, with pleats in the skirt, and with Mary Janes....This was before Oxford...And the museum: it was very--What’s the word, now? Such a lovely, lovely, spacious word. What is it? Like a maze. (Pause, then with a soft-I) Labyrinthine. (Hard-I this time) Labyrinthine. A labyrinthine museum, with labyrinthine galleries. Floors, upper and lower. And always, I’d be stationed in the basement. All the way down. Out of sight, out know. Surrounded by all these forgotten relics, belongings and old bones nobody ever, ever came to visit...

She waits. She looks around for more visitors.
Once in awhile we might get the missing link of an alligator chain down there: children who’d gone missing, strays wandering around, all holding hands, or linked arm in arm, and I would have to pretend. To look after them, I mean. Like I was their tour guide and these were my, you know, my charges...

She stands
Long pause. Again she awaits interruption, a voice from above.

And I remember they used to forget, some nights, about me. Some nights, the people at the museum would just...leave me behind. Forgetting....The lights would go black and then I’d hear the locks...With my torch, I would wander around alone, waiting for something, I know not what, to just happen....And I soon found this big luxurious bed down there on the basement floor with me. An old four-poster, I’m talking about, built for kings and queens. And it was this that finally proved my undoing....I used to fall asleep there whenever I got left behind, you know, pulling the big thick heavy curtains all around me. Shutting out the world that had shut me out. Promising myself I’d somehow be renewed in the night, restorated. Dreaming, maybe, that I might awake, yes awake in some other place and time when I opened those velvet curtains again. But one morning I managed to oversleep and that was that. They found me. I ran away. I got sacked...(Pause.) I wasn’t even being paid, so what did it matter? I was just passing the time before I was due at Oxford. I didn’t really care, not really. This was only just the beginning, this stint of mine at the museum. Haven’t thought about it in years...  
(This is from an 'experimental' play I just finished... with apologies to Mrs Basil E. Frankenweiler) 

Monday, 5 September 2011

Gib ein kleines Zeichen

Courtesy of Nathalia Terza

He started with fairytales, these little stories he’d make up for imaginary children, younger versions of himself, and I see no reason why I shouldn’t maybe try doing the same. Just begin with wonder, begin with unformed dreams, and work your way back: this, I suppose, is the first thing I learned from him. I’m not sure if the image is his or mine anymore, but I see my beginning, here, writing this all down, rather like digging in the undergrowth, getting at the roots underneath. Or, just as likely (this one is definitely his) closing your eyes underwater and, in that darkness, sensing the magic play of light, groping for it.

There was something in the walls of the house. I’d only been there a night, maybe two, when I decided there was something creeping through the wall space, in those underappreciated gaps between one room and the next: a flutter along the hallway skirting, a thump inside a cupboard, whispers in the ceilings and hardwood floors. Infrequent but noticeable, these weren’t even sounds so much as sensations, shifts in atmosphere. There was something invisible in the house’s anatomy, I realised, more than just the usual insulation and plumbing, and it was shifting around. It seemed to follow me around the house. I imagined, at times, the wallpaper rippling with goosebumps. I’d be sitting there, alone in this big empty stranger’s house, and I’d suddenly get startled by some little change in the room’s ambience. I’d look up from whatever I was doing (reading, most likely, struggling to absorb words on the page) and I’d wait. I’d wait like anyone does who’s about to be caught. It was like some sort of private seance: I’d stare up at the ceiling or over at the bookcase, just waiting for whatever was inside the walls to come out and reveal itself. I’d sit there listening, and in that re-focussed silence, that distillation of quiet, I always thought I could hear something or someone listening back. Then, just as quick as it had arrived, it would disappear, and the silence would again lose its flicker of personality. 

The first few times it happened, I forgot about it, as anyone would, putting it down to old houses on the edge of the city and returning to my heartbreak, my dizzy spells, my reading, my whole nervous enterprise. But it kept on happening. That invisible presence kept returning, kept sidling up on me unawares. It was frustrating. I’d hear its little noises, my awareness would bridle, and I’d look around desperately trying to locate it—but still, nothing. Just this tight-lipped house, and the tail of a Felix the Cat clock in the far off kitchen ticking away. The eyes, I'd imagine, going back and forth, back and forth.

 Courtesy of Nathalia Tereza

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Soulful Resonances

Today I awoke and opened a novel that I completed nearly 2 years ago and haven't looked at for some time. It fell open to page 165, and this was the paragraph I read...

He recognised that Susanna's presence was still trailing through him electrically. What he really wanted, now, was to prolong the sense that he was still with her, caught up with her story, that their lives hadn't now gone their separate directions. Her dextrously long-fingered hand had, at one point, slid to him from the opposite side of the kitchen table, helping to emphasise something she was saying, and though she hadn't reached him where he was sitting, she had come close. He could still see her hand there, lying slender and flat before him. It hadn't touched him, but something inside him certainly had been, and was still resonating. He almost felt he had just learned, in remedial fashion, some new style of being-with-a-woman.  (from Transatlantic)