Tag: Thoughts

Prom Dress Shopping

Photo by Arsham Haghani on Pexels.com

Suddenly, we find it. The prom dress shop. Right up till that moment, we’re still not sure we’re on the right road, and I for one am completely convinced that we must be wrong. No way would a posh frock shop be situated in such a downbeat place. We’re in the most downtrodden of areas, just outside the bus station. On this pedestrianised stretch, only one shop in every six is still trading. Most are boarded up, desolate and dirty, and despite the day being bright and clear, I’m uncomfortable here. The brightness is that of a grating strip light and the air metallic. People are shabby with eyes downcast.
I still can’t believe my daughter, who had always insisted that she would never attend prom, is dragging me here to a posh frock shop. I also can’t believe how excited she is. She’s been non-stop talking and practically bouncing as she walked.

She bounces even more as we open the door. We’re here because her friend Emma has a Saturday job at the dress shop. Caitlin and Emma aren’t traditional friends, and it is becoming more and more common that friends haven’t met in person. In this case, Caitlin and Emma have met. Ish. It was when we went to see Harry Styles at Manchester Arena. We had been drawing pictures in the air with our phone torches and noticed that another group of three about quarter of a mile across the arena, were copying our actions. Then we copied theirs. We did so for hours, and went home feeling as if we’d communicated in an age-old signalling ritual. That evening, one of the girls posted in Harry Styles fan group that they’d been copying flashing phones across the arena. They told the group where they’d been sitting and where we had been. Caitlin replied. ‘That was us!’. And voila, the online friendship of Emma and Caitlin was born.
The two girls run to each other and hug and talk non-stop. They know each other so well, but have never been in such close proximity. The shop is all bridal dresses on the lower floor, and the furniture metallic and sumptious. Black and silver. White and ivory. Velvet and steel. But Caitlin notices nothing, just shrieks excitedly with her friend.
Emma soon directs us upstairs and we walk up a twisting staircase to the top floor where we were confronted with alien swathes of satin, lurex, taffeta and lycra. Most of the gowns are royal blue, baby blue, peach, beige, red and navy. Three jump out as the freaks in the room: peppermint green, lemon and buttercup yellow. I’m immediately drawn to them as their colours are different though the styles are the same. I wonder where a person would go if they wanted a gown in deep purple or bright orange. Or if they wanted a non-traditional style. Long sleeves. Shorter skirt. High neckline?
While non-stop chattering, Caitlin chooses her first 3 frocks and I am led to a set of bright modern chairs (lime, pink, blue and scarlet) to wait. As I sit, I glance at laminated photos of the various dress styles and effects. They leave me cold, though it’s nice here. I’m happy enough to look at the royal blue carpet with occasional spilled sequin, and to wonder what’s happening behind the matching royal blue curtains with silver sequinned stripe.
The strip lights buzz reassuringly, so I write and wait.
Caitlin and Emma, secreted in the large dressing room, are giggling as if they’ve spent their whole life as best friends. Over this, I occasionally hear the near- whispered conversation of women in the next dressing room. That young woman is apparently a size 4. Size 4! I don’t think my girl was a size 4 even at primary school.
Its incongruous. The staff here dress in navy jeans, navy uniform t-shirts printed with the shop’s logo, and flat white shoes, yet they coax young women into tiny dresses and enormous heels in shades of peach and grey and shiny nude.
Still, I sit and listen as the curtain rustles and ripples and Emma fits Caitlin into the first of five dresses. There are mild noises of cars outside and occasional shouting of drugged up or drunk men, and I feel as if I’m in another, far more privileged world than that of the outside.
The kids now demand so much more elegance than I did at the same age. Tight bodices and floaty skirts. Off the shoulder strips of satin. Fairytale frocks.
I sit and make notes and observations of this alien place with its fleur de lys wallpaper and the clean glowing chrome curtain and clothes rack rails. I turn my head. Next to me on the painted white shelf, is a long bent pin, but it isn’t the pin that catches my eye. It’s a box adorned with pink and white stripes and displaying the product name Nudi Boobies – “Reusable Backless and Strapless Silicone Bra”. It takes me back to the days of working at Transformation in Prestwich when I assisted transvestites with their silicone breasts. There it smelled of old buildings and mildew. But this place doesn’t smell of mildew. It smells of nothing but the lightest of floral perfume.
Maroon 5 come on the shops speakers. Memories. I love this song and sing along which makes the girls giggle a little more.
Caitlin has decided to try dresses only in grey tones. She plans to rainbow colour her hair so wants a simple dress She’s ready to show me the first, and even I feel the sense of anticipation and thrill as the curtains are swept back.
The gown has an off the shoulder, tight fitting bodice and floor length A line skirt. Grey. Not metallic, but silvery blue dove grey with a corset back. It looks lovely on her, its satin drapes and sparkling lace bodice, with lace drifting from below the bodice, weeping organically onto the skirt. I can’t fault the dress and how it fits her.
Caitlin’s second choice is far simpler but looks equally lovely. It is black and silver lurex with a corset back.
Strange how she should choose such tones as she’s such a colourful character. Around me are sumptuous deep cherry red gowns of satin and taffeta, covered in beads reflecting light. My daughter’s usual butch style, her denim coat with blue and white polka dots. 1980s shape. Tan leather, her broken iphone lies on top. Screen cracked in a spider web. Her pink and green charging cord snakes around it.
I’m struggling to see her as a fairy tale princess, yet she is clearly not uncomfortable.
I’m also no princess, and neither do I feel uncomfortable though I’m scruffy here in my oversized jumper, flat laces ups and old jeans.
Now the shop’s stereo is playing disco classics from the 1980s. Wailing ‘Don’t leave me this way’ puts me in a good mood.
Caitlin tries another two pale grey dresses. Neither fits properly around her lower half. We discard them immediately. Her final dress is of a dark teal colour: very slinky with a mermaidy look which was not at all flattering.
With very little discussion, we choose the first dress she’d tried. As she dresses again in her own clothes I hear the girls talk of the corona virus and how there are now quarantined Chinese people being cared for in the Wirral. Strangely, the location of the quarantined Chinese people is round the corner from another of Caitlin’s friends.
We leave after paying the deposit and giving more hugs. Unsurprisingly, my daughter is high as a kite for the remainder of the weekend!

The 'Gypsy' Caravan

Photo by neil kelly on Pexels.com

Some weeks ago, just as my personal crisis was reducing to a manageable normality, my friend, Tabitha, informed me that she needed my help in getting rid of her caravan. The storage site was having some issues, and had told her that the caravan needed moving by the end of the month. I told her that I couldn’t really help as I didn’t have a towbar, but our conversation led to my already overactive mind cogs leaping into action.

I thought Tabitha had sold the caravan before she set off on her holiday to Greece, and forgot to ask her about it for a couple of weeks, but when I finally did ask, she admitted that the sale had fallen through. This led me to think even more, and the thinking pattern went like this…

My first novel, Past Present Tense (published under the name of Lesley Atherton, and now republished as Finding Dad by Meredith Schumann) was primarily about hoarding, but a subplot was about alternative life, and time spent in a caravan. My second novel, The Waggon, is basically set almost entirely within the setting of a traditional gypsy waggon.

So, my thinking was that
1) I could acquire Tabitha’s caravan and pay someone to transport it to my driveway.
2) I could use a lot of my creativity (at that time, deeply frustrated) in updating the inside of the caravan by doing a lot of sewing and painting (two of my favourite things).
3) I could get someone (possibly my daughter) to spray paint the outside of the caravan in the style of a gypsy caravan.
4) I could set up the inside and an awning to be a kind of shop for the crafts that we make, and we could travel to events and festivals, selling stuff and running workshops etc.
5) I could get someone to signpaint text on the rear and side of the caravan, in order to promote the two novels which mention caravans.

I believed I might get the therapy I needed from all the making and painting, and would also end up with a useable promotional tool, a potential working space (writing room or craftervan), a potential holiday home for me, and a potential holiday home for others (a decent money earner, according to my friends) should l need any of these things in the future.

So, I acquired the caravan. It had a flat tyre, but I was able to get hold of a local guy on Facebook who was willing to transport it half a mile to my driveway, for a small consideration. It arrived, and then the work began. Being of a creative attitude, rather than possessing an engineering state of mind, I began with the bits that I could see, rather than the hidden bits. My thinking was that I would enjoy the caravan space far more if it looked and felt good.

First of all, I pillaged my secret DIY space (behind the fridge and freezer) and scooted around for some spare paint in interesting colours. My first task was to remove most of the curtain fittings (not the pelmets) then to get painting. So, in vinyl silk throughout (as recommended by many caravan adaptation websites) I began painting the ceiling a deep, dusky pink, the walls of the living area a paler grey-pink, and the walls of the kitchen area a funky blue. Once this was done, I began on the soft furnishings.

I bought thousands of metres of a subtle ethnic stripe fabric in shades of red, gold and green, and covered each of the seats. The rear of the backrest cushion was also trimmed with an ethnic tapestry design. Then, the four weirdly shaped armrests were upholstered with a funky green wool fabric, with fancy trim. I’ve had the fabric for many years, and had never found a use for it! After that, I made seven cushions, some with printed panels of a gypsy fortune teller, or gypsy dancers. I also mended three rag dolls (the two largest made by a friend of my mum’s and the smallest a Holly Hobbie doll I found in a charity shop’s 10p bin).

After that, it was curtain time. I used the same fabric as the seat covers, but trimmed it with lots of ribbons, braid and black cotton lace that I’d acquired over the years. I then made the pelmet covers from the most expensive of all the fabrics I’d purchased (£12.99 a metre!), and created the net curtains for the kitchen window, and long drapes separating the bed area from the kitchen area. These aren’t ordinary nets – they are embroidered with red and yellow flowers in a Jacobean style. I’ve still to make the curtain tie backs. I purchased braid online for them as I couldn’t find anything nice locally, but only then did I realise it would take 2 months to arrive as it was coming from Hong Kong.

The kitchen, being a brighter area than the more subtle sleeping/living area, was given a set of rainbow stripe curtains. Lovely. And, while I’m in the kitchen, I managed to get hold of a lot of bargeware and brightly coloured items. They fit in beautifully, including pans and a kettle, storage pots and tins. Then, using rugs pinched from my house – red fur and a circular rag rug – I laid the floor and was set up. I began to move things in – cutlery, plastic pots, toiletries in tiny bottles, some of my home made items for the craft shop, a television and DVD player, some brightly coloured plastic plants, lanterns and candles, books, and a few rapidly dwindling snack items. I even moved in my wooden parrot and my painted African four string oilcan guitar, and they look amazing!

I was then ready for the next step, and painted the cupboards a fantastic combination of forest green and ruby red. I’m still in the process of doing this, and absolutely love how homely it looks. A cross between a caravan, a narrowboat and a gypsy caravan. Now, I want to buy a bigger and more powerful car so I can get the caravan out on the road, but before I do anything like that, I have to get the outside of the caravan sorted.

My idea of painting the caravan’s exterior in the style of a gypsy caravan has been taken on board by my daughter who says she’ll do all the painting and design work in exchange for a new mobile phone. OK, I said, so that’s in the design stages at the moment, which is fantasic.

So, that’s the story of my caravan. I’m writing in it at the moment, and it is a lovely work space with muted lighting, and is peaceful most of the time. My recommendation, for anyone who is creative and is going through a dark time – find yourself a project. A big, but deadline-free project seems ideal to me. Give yourself no pressure, but do give yourself as much ambition and enjoyment as you can manage at any time. The caravan has been the saving of me, and for that I am very thankful!

#meredithschumann #author #authors #thoughts #gypsy #gipsy #caravan #wagon #waggon #thewaggon #project

‘The Year of the Runaways’ (by Sunjeev Sahota)

Questions relating to Masters Degree exercise

Sahota’s novel is perhaps less stylistically innovative than some of the other novels we’ve read on the unit. How did you respond to his prose style? How would you characterise it (what key features would you identify)? Does ‘stylistic innovation’ matter to you as a reader?

The prose style is basic but I do view it as a kind of positive in this book.The ways Sahota writes does enable clarity and reduces the ambiguity we’ve seen in many of the other course novels, though I have to agree with certain reviewers who have described it as workmanlike, pedestrian and overly simplistic. The reader can tell who is speaking and won’t need to re-read sentences in order to make sense of them.It is a good job really, as there is already potential for confusion with the lack of clear characterisation and the use of Punjabi.I do find that when a book is complex of plot, or when the characters and places are words you aren’t familiar with, then I, as a reader, do appreciate a simpler format and style.
Stylistic innovation matters little to me when I am reading.What matters more is that the story is well told and effectively written, whether this is in flowery descriptive prose or in short, terse tag lines.Provided the style matches the material rather than overwhelms it, all styles have their plus points.
The Year of the Runaways follows four main characters – Randeep, Avtar, Tochi, and Narinder – through the use of discrete narrative sections. In this regard it might be compared to other novels on the unit, such as NW, Arlington Park, and The Heart Goes Last.
In terms of stranding, what differences or similarities can you see between Runaways and these other novels? Do you feel that Sahota’s approach has any significant advantages or disadvantages in relation to the others?What effects does Sahota’s approach to stranding have upon the way we interpret the novel’s characters? As in most of the other books we’ve looked at, plot and action aren’t always entirely clearly drawn. Clear stranding therefore does help, as does the revealing of character history. Did you find the novel more ‘readable’ as a result of this approach?
I am not sure that I find this novel overly readable.I like the style and structure but the lack of book’s length and its clarity regarding the characters did cause problems for me.One Goodreads review says “it’s as if Sahota has decided that realism demands minute attention to detail, no matter how uninteresting the detail. Yes, the lives of the young men are a grind, often boring, repetitive and exhausting, but the detailing of it puts a serious drag on the book’s momentum”.
The novel utilises third-person narration. As we have discussed in previous sessions, point of view has a fundamental effect upon the meanings generated by a novel. How would the novel have changed had Sahota opted to use the first person for each character?
The use of first person would have given the stories a more personal feel, and this wouldn’t have necessarily allowed us to view the characters in the same way.We’d be much more subjective rather than objective.Also, the novel seems to have been built on the external lives of the characters rather than the internal dialogues which are inevitable as a result of the use of first person.
The first chapter – ‘Arrivals’ – introduces the novel’s four main characters before focussing upon each on in turn. How successful do you feel this opening is? What kinds of expectations does it establish for the reader? How does it ‘frame’ the subsequent story?
I quite enjoyed the opening to this book, though it wasn’t always clear who everyone was.I found it gave a strong sense of how the young men lived and how seedy their lives had become.Yes, it does ‘frame’ the story by rooting its beginning in a time and place, but the reader doesn’t get a clear sense of who the story is about.What I found interesting was the acceptance mixed in with the conflicting interests, the religion and the secular society, loyalty and reasons for being where they were.The beginning of the book gave the reader a window into the kinds of people, the seedy locations, the overcrowding and some of the generalised anxiety involved.
Are the strands given equal weight in terms of length? Did you feel each character was equally well served?
Each of the strands is substantial enough to work as its own, but none of the stories would be enough to keep my interest.I do feel that a novel should be more than a group of interconnected stories, and I don’t think this novel succeeded.I can’t clarify about what element should tie them together, and on the surface it does appear that there are very clear connections between the characters, but to me, it seemed it was only their proximity and their lives.Psychological links are what I want, and I didn’t really get them here.
Narinder is the only character who hasn’t been completely squashed by the way they are all living, perhaps because she’s a local and understands the country’s systems a little better?Who knows?
I also wasn’t sure that any of the main characters were actually fully rounded – perhaps this is what stopped my feeling the links between them.Narinder is the most likeable because of her sacrifice but all the characters have sacrificed themselves quite large extents.All have suffered and all were important to the story’s flow.
How successfully does the novel deal with time (for example, you might think about the sections which employ analepsis, and the ‘present’ of the year in the title)?
It is hard to get into the world of this novel and to comprehend how these young immigrants must be living.We hear about what goes on but don’t get much feedback on how they feel about it.The novel takes place over a year and cover how life treats the main protagonists during that time.During the story, much is mentioned of their pasts, and this use of analepsis is necessary in order to get some sense of what the characters are background-wise in comparison with where they find themselves at the time of the novel’s writing. I don’t feel that the novel dealt with time all that clearly owing to the characters’ lack of inner lives. Though the majority of the novel’s narration and dialogue is in English, Sahota uses a great deal of Punjabi dialect throughout. Some of that usage is accompanied by clarification: ‘Not far from the train station he stopped outside a theka, a liquor store’ (41), or ‘“Vo he tho hai mera naam,” Kishen finished. A schoolyard phrase, about their names being all they owned’ (58). However, the majority of dialect is not defined: ‘So, even in England she wore a kesri. A domed deep-green one that matched her salwar kameez’ (3), or ‘Three days after Navratri, the rains came, blasting the red earth.’ (59)
How did you respond to the frequent use of Indian dialects in the novel? What sorts of effects does it generate? How does it position the (non-Punjabi-speaking) reader?
The frequent use of Indian dialogues can be dealt with in a number of ways.The reader can sit in front of a computer or dictionary and look up each unknown word, as I did when I first began reading this book.However, after a little while this impedes the flow of the book.It gives the effect of making the non-Punjabi speaking reader feel more of an alien, perhaps this being intended because the characters are all aliens in a foreign place too.I quite enjoy the frequent use of Punjabi words, but found the three male characters’ names and characters to not be well defined enough, so I got mixed up almost all the way through the book!A Goodreads review puts it very well- “
Given the presentation of his characters’ speech and thought into English, is Sahota’s use of Indian dialects necessary, in your opinion?
Because there is little interior life for any of this book’s characters, the story is all about who does what – and when.It is left to the reader to work out how the characters are feeling, emotionally.In some ways this makes the reader feel that the characters are more helpless and this draws us in a little into their lives with a sense of curiosity.Few comments are made by the characters regarding how bad their lives are, though they clearly live pretty unpleasant lives.It is my feeling that the static nature of the characters only really comes to life when the Punjabi words give them a sense of racial identity.
In a more general sense, how do these two types of usage (defined and undefined) position the reader, respectively? Is one approach more successful than the other, in your opinion? Might either approach work well, depending on the novel?
When the usage is defined, the writer is assuming that the reader is not a Punjabi speaker or familiar with the details of these lives.This puts the reader in a position of being an informed alien.When the usage is not defined, it gives another alien sense.It’s like being at a meeting where everyone else has a clear understanding of the agenda, specific business-related acronyms etc, and you are lost in a sea of strange language.You struggle on as well as you can but are always looking for clues to make sense of the situation.This book’s approach, using both defined and undefined, does actually work.It is one of the stronger elements of the novel.
Similarly, how important is it for the reader to have a grasp of the contexts of the novel – the Indian caste system, Hindu nationalist violence, the Sikh religion? Does the novel assume that the reader already possesses such knowledge, or does it impart it? How relatable did you find the story and its characters?
It isn’t important to have a grasp of all the contexts, though I think it is vital to realise that when the people come to another country, it isn’t all about economics – it is about family honour, politics, class, and so many other things.If a reader had no idea,then the background writing of India does give some background.Even if we don’t fully understand, we can appreciate some of what these desperate characters may be going through. There is a lot of veiled sociological criticism but, as a Goodreads review reads – “…
We have discussed the language of place and setting in relation to other novels on the unit (most notably Arlington Park and The Road). Think about the way in which India and England are described in The Year of the Runaways. Are these settings adequately distinguished or individualised, in your opinion?
Having never been to India I cannot speak from person experience, but I do feel that the setting is quite well described.I felt about the setting much as I did with that described in “Time for a Tiger”. “The Road” has a strong sense of place, though the details of place are more sordid and person-specific, rather than area-specific.“Arlington Park” uses a location built around a sense of middle class superiority yet simultaneous lack of satisfaction.The settings described by Sahota are specific and vibrant (in the case of India), but damp, drab and unfriendly (in the case of England).What the book lacks regarding character differentiation, it makes up for with the setting differentiation.
How does the novel explore the relationship between the ‘runaways’ and England? How ‘complete’ a picture of the country and its people does the novel offer?
The three male ‘runaways’ have little or no relationship with the country or society of England.Their existence within England seems to have been forced upon them by circumstance, and have become entirely an economic transaction, there being little or no inter-racial integration.This must be intentional, for how on earth could the workers be so exploited if their friend groups were able to defend them and give them a sense of contrast with the outside world of non-immigrant working people in England.Because of this, I didn’t feel there was a detailed or evocative image of England written.England was a backdrop for squalor, as was India, and, though there were clear differences between the European and Asian scene settings, I didn’t get a clear sense of place for the writing about England (though I did for India).Narinder, the only female runaway, was the only one to originate in the UK.She spent time alone, on public transport, at temple and community centre etc.She was able to do this, being a legitimate UK citizen.So, although she still spent much of her time within her own community, she did have more of a historical and current relationship with the country than the others did.
How did you respond to the end of the novel? Did it provide a satisfying pay-off?
Although I generally enjoyed the book’s simple prose, the use of Punjabi and the feel of the novel, I didn’t really feel the plot was satisfying, particularly the ending.  The only main female character seemed inserted into the action.  A man needed a visa wife, and in came Narinder.  Though her character was the most likeable and had the most convincing psychological status, she was required to give legitimacy to her husband but her story was very much too short, especially considering it was one of the major pivots for the whole book.  This was a book which was too long, disconnecting, and which lost my interest very quickly.  Like Narinder, the epilogue seemed added on as an afterthought and as a result it was unsatisfying.  I would have preferred the story to end inconclusively, possibly with the threat of deportations and the promise of a good job giving the reader something to consider about the characters’ future, rather than the reader being presented with a future of little interest. 

#india #punjabi #review #sunjeevsahota #theyearoftherunaways #thoughts

‘The Road’ (by Cormac McCarthy)

Questions and answers from Masters Degree in Creative Writing

This is perhaps the most stylistically distinct book on the reading list.  The novel’s typical sentence structure is unlike any others in this unit, matching a pared down prose style with an austere, unadorned world.  Yet despite its literary minimalism, it would also be true to say that McCarthy is a lyrical writer.  Do you think McCarthy finds poetry in sparseness? 
I do feel that McCarthy finds a lyricism and poetry in sparseness.  Sections I particularly felt illustrated this include pg 210 “They left the cart in the woods and he checked the rotation of the rounds in the cylinder.  The wooden and the true.  They stood listening.  The smoke stood vertically in the still air.  No sound of any kind.  The leaves were soft from the recent rains and quiet underfoot” (repetition of ‘stood’, concentration on movement and lack of movement – vertical smoke, still air, silence, quiet leaves, rotation, etc).  The sparse sentence – “The wooden and the true” could be interpreted in a great many ways, so the seeming simplicity doesn’t always simplify intended meaning.  Much seems to be more like prose poetry than standard descriptive prose. 
Also, I consider the following to be really endearing writing – “He’d a deck of cards he found in a bureau drawer in a house and the cards were worn and spindled and the two of clubs was missing but still they played sometimes by firelight wrapped in their blankets”.  It has almost a breathless quality, lacking in punctuation, but it is both sparse and lyrical. 
Many of the other novels we’ve looked at employ elaborate prose styles – polysyllabic, hypotactical, linguistically playful – whereas McCarthy uses a pared down and noticeably paratactical style.** Does this make McCarthy’s language any less charged?  Is The Road’s compression and concision in fact more powerful and/or provocative than the contrasting prose styles on this unit?
Pared down writing of a type referred to as ‘paratactical’ is undoubtedly the intentionally selected style for this novel.  According to an article on literarydevices.net, the function of parataxis is that it is “…useful in explaining a rapid sequence of thoughts in poetry and prose.  They could evoke the feelings in a similar way as though they happened at once.  It is a helpful device when describing a setting.  In simple word, parataxis helps the readers to focus on a particular idea, thought setting or emotion.  Also, cultural theorists use it in cultural texts where a series of events are shown side by side”. 
To get inside the mind of a complex person in a complex society (for example, the characters in “Arlington Park”), description and connection are required.  The psychological intensity needs description.  However, in “The Road” the society has been reduced to desperation levels and the human beings equally so.  I feel therefore that the short and snappy prose is both powerful and provocative.  Its lack of description and frippery simply mirrors the world in which the characters all live.  It makes the reader uncomfortable and miserable, and that is how this probably should be.  It also enables the reader to connect with the difficulties of the man and boy, in a way that detailed introspection may not.
Why do you think McCarthy writes in this particular style?  Think especially of the novel’s sentence structure – sentences that often read like individual clauses subtracted from larger sentences, so that something seems to be missing either from the beginning or the end of the sentence.  Does this make the novel’s images seem isolated, or does the prose work by a slow process of accumulation and accretion?  What is the effect of parataxis?
I believe that this style is used intentionally.  The world of the book is fragmented and the prose is too.  To some extent the imagery in the novel is a series of tableaux, but are connected by the isolation and desperation within.  I don’t feel the prose works because of accretion and accumulation but certainly the endless style consistency does add to the numbing effect of the writing.  Perhaps there is some element of accretion owing to the fact that the book does work towards a climax (the death of the man), at which point it ends. 
Can you find any notable uses of simile or metaphor? How does McCarthy use these devices?  Does his minimalistic style lend itself to lyricism, or is a significant effort of modulation required?
The beginning of the book uses these devices when the man is dreaming – “Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls.  Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granite beast”.  Interestingly, the very final paragraph of the book (pg 307) uses these devices – “On their backs were vermiculite patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming.  Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back.  Not be made right again.  In the deep glens where they lives all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery” – regarding trout in the streams.   
Regarding the rest of the book, there are far less than might be expected in a book of this length and depth.  I wondered if perhaps this encourages the reader to consider that still in the man’s mind there is a lyricism and appreciation of beauty and coincidence etc, and towards the end, we get this again and feel a little more hopeful – as if we may be looking towards new beginnings and new adventures to be had, etc. 
Parts of the book which do use metaphor etc, tend to refer to thoughts of the past or the future – pg 43 at the waterfall – “He’d stood at such a river once and watched the flash of trout deep in a pool, invisible to see in the teacoloured water except as they turned on their sides to feed.  Reflecting back the sun deep in the darkness like a flash of knives in a cave”. 
The novel has very distinct tones (ominous, forbidding, weighty, almost biblical) and textures (rough, hard, mineral), and uses a consistent palette of greys and shades (ashen, leaden, ‘the gunmetal light’ [p. 4] …) How does McCarthy evoke these qualities, and to what effect?
McCarthy evokes the darkness and misery of the novel not only by the use of stark sentences, but also by the use of stark words – bleak, black, limp, long, cold, grasping, grudging, scared, shuffled, frail.  It just goes on and on.  The first time I read this book I was completely unable to finish it as I was very vulnerable at the time.  Finishing it this time, feeling stronger, I nevertheless did find the tone of the writing to be biblical in its inevitable apocalyptic portrayal and the ultra down-at-heel nature of the characters.  There were no kings in their towers, and no slaves etc.  Each person is as miserable and scared of each other as the next.  Also as one example, there were many little things – like when the man goes through a house and finds an apple on the ground outside. Pg 127 “He’d stepped on something.  He took a step back and knelt and parted the grass with his hands.  It was an apple.  He picked it up and held it to the light…”.  There is an air of miracle and of the parting of the red sea: the apple symbolises the purity of fresh food (now dried and withered) and the fall of humanity in the garden of Eden. 
The novel isn’t broken down into chapters, but is instead made up of short blocks of text.  Why do you think McCarthy has chosen to structure his narrative like this?  And what affect does this have on you as a reader?  How does it affect narrative qualities like pace and suspense?  Does it add or remove a sense of scale (e.g. a sense of the relative importance or impact of specific moments)? Does it make it harder for the writer to modulate between different moods, emotions, experiences, different levels of significance?
There is no end and no real beginning to the story.  The short blocks of text give us a feel of a lack of structure to days and to lives, and to the grim monotony of their daily misery. 
I am not sure if pace and suspense are altered as a result of the block rather than the use of chapters etc.
Perhaps it does make it harder to discern the different moods, levels, emotions, significance etc.  But I actually think that the sameness of absolutely everything makes even small real events stand out a little more. 
How does McCarthy use dialogue?  What effect does containing snatches of dialogue in short isolated sections have?
Dialogue is presented as part of the prose, with no defining punctuation.  Unlike “NW” and “Arlington Park”’s treatment of dialogue, I did not find the unusual treatment in “The Road” to be pretentious and irritating.  I actually found it to be the absolute best option. 
Using the short dialogue sections does make things interesting.  It makes the reader feel that silence is the status quo and conversation of any kind is exceptional so therefore deserves its own section.
Why the removal of some punctuation (particularly in words like ‘cant’, ‘didn’t’ etc)?  And what is the effect of removing speech marks?
The effect of removing speech marks almost seems to be a depersonalisation of the humans, and mixes their utterances with standard prose.  The people are as much a part of the desolate scenery as the deserted houses landscape is. 
I suspect that punctuation was removed in order to make the reader more aware of the sliding effect of the misery – in other words, all senses of grammar and punctuation is lost because civilisation is also lost. 
How do thoughts of the man’s past life filter through into the present?
They tend to filter through regretfully as dreams, more than as positive reflections. 
How does McCarthy fill us in on the past, on both a cosmic scale (e.g. what has happened to the earth) and a local scale (the past life of the man and the boy)?  Is the narrative method oblique or direct?  What role does mystery play in the novel?
There is a lot of unclearness regarding what has actually happened to the earth and the people on it.  The mystery element is actually beneficial to the way the story plays out.  We don’t need to know about the people and the places and what happened.  We just need to know that it did.  We also need to know that everything, even the earth, has lost its identity and the oblique narrative expresses this well. 
How does McCarthy frame the book’s philosophy, ideas, symbolism?  Is there profundity in the novel, or is it too strained/forced? Does the narrative slip into allegory at all (e.g. the boy and the man stand for something larger)?  (The section pp. 178-85 listed in the close-readings below is worth looking at in these respects. Is this a parable?  A fable?  Or just a story?)
I don’t feel that the profundity of the novel is strained and forced.  Yes, I believe that the boy and man do stand for something larger – but they don’t need to.  They stand on their own as characters.   The quote on pg 179 is interesting “People were always getting ready for tomorrow.  I didn’t believe in that.  Tomorrow wasn’t getting ready for them.  It didn’t even know they were there”. 
Who says this on p. 209: ‘Do you think that your fathers are watching?  That they weigh you in their ledgerbook?  Against what?  There is no book and your fathers are dead in the ground.’ ? And the section on pp. 279-80 beginning ‘He got up and walked out to the road’ to ‘To seal my mouth with dirt’; and the novel’s final paragraph? What is happening to the voice in these moments?
My first assumption was that the man had been responsible for the quote about fathers watching.  My afterthought was that it could have been the narrator breaking through. 
In these sections, the novel becomes more allegorical and more fantastical.  It is harking back to better times and looking forward to better times – temporarily removing the characters from the misery. 
How is time treated?  Think of the many painful moments that last and linger, and then how suddenly a series of days will simply pass in a clause (‘In three days they came to a small port town’ p. 280); or how the harrowing thought of the boy unable to leave his dead father is stated with no ornament (‘He stayed three days’ 301).
Time is treated as a fluid entity that is almost incidental.In a place where there is no reliance on jobs, on punctuality, or keeping appointments etc, the time itself is not necessary to be considered.So, the boy staying with his dead father for three days indicates that’s the time it took him to deal with it, rather than some arbitrary boundary that needs to be bidden.
**(Parataxis is when sentences and/or clauses are kept short and declarative, usually orchestrated by coordinating conjunctions [most commonly ‘and’] rather than subordinating conjunctions [‘therefore’, ‘because’, ‘so that’, ‘which…’, ‘perhaps’ etc].  Hypotaxis occurs in more complex sentences, often made up of multiple clauses which use subordinating conjunctions and qualifications.  Henry James’ writing is a prime example of the hypotactical style, and Ernest Hemingway’s of the paratactical.)

#cormac #cormacmccarthy #desolation #dystopia #review #theroad #thoughts

Migraine Breaks all the Rules

My eyes cling to the inside of their sockets with gritty and excruciating agonies, as my fingertips tentatively probe pulsing temples and press, release, press, release…

Close eyes, open eyes, close eyes, open eyes, as the icepack shocks against my flaming forehead.

I wonder at what point I might succumb to this pressure. Might weaken for good. Might transform into nothing more than the physical manifestation of a migraine. Another being.

A grey mass appears within my peripheral vision, and moves closer. Each action of this blurred shape makes me wince.

A cat. My cat. It makes a sound – a high-pitched yowling – and my foot automatically kicks out to make it stop. My cat cries and scurries off, its footfalls thudding vibrations throughout my frame. Later I’ll feel sorry, but for now, no.  I am suffering the self-obsession of the unwell. 

Blue light. White light. Speckled orange clusters. I beg for my vision to normalise. I beg whoever or whatever is out there to take away this feeling and to take me back to my ordinary self. 

My lids close. But it’s no relief. I’m painfully aware that my eyes still see, though their curtains to the world are drawn. Speckles of light. Blotches of light. Lightning flashes of agony.

I lay my head, as gently as I am able, onto my pillow. It has already been scented with a lilac night time spray. It is supposed to prevent headaches, or heal them as you sleep, but now the smell is stifling. I can’t bear it.

I carry my soon-to-explode skull tentatively to another unscented pillow, and as it lays itself down, the pressure behind my dulled orbs threatens to pop like a boil of badness.

Neck pain. Nose pain. Cheek pain. Socket pain.

Shoulder pain. Back pain. Chest pain. Fingernail pain. Ear pain.

Scalp pain.

Hair pain.

Each and every follicle pain.

A dull, heavy ache in my heart pain.

The ‘wearing my soul in a crash helmet’ pain.

The ‘wish it was all over’ pain.

The ‘floating above it all’ pain.

The ‘ceiling hovering’ pain.

The ‘wait and see’ pain.


My favourite piece of creepy art

Look at this picture. I mean, just look at it! 
It’s a little girl with tiny doll-like hands (or Donald Trump-like hands). She’s wearing a huge white bonnet, and what seem like multiple layers of smocks.
But it isn’t an image I’ve picked up randomly on the internet. I found it (the real painting) but then I let it go.
Two years ago, I was wandering round the lower sales floor of Bygone Times in Eccleston (Chorley, Lancs). It is a huge complex full of collectables and antiques and generally wonderful stuff, as well as  the usual tat (because one person’s tat is another person’s treasure!).
Tracy, and I were wandering about, looking AT the usual stuff, and looking FOR the usual stuff.
Doubtless we were also wondering how much longer we could wait before we legitimately mentioned to the other that perhaps it might be lunchtime…
And we encountered a portrait. There are huge numbers of portraits in Bygone Times, but this was not like any other I’d ever seen there.
Actually, I’ve seen a great many portraits in a great many art galleries, and this one was undoubtedly unique to my eyes.
As I often do when I encounter something amazing and more than a little bit odd, I decided to take a photo. 
But the photo proved to be inadequate for my needs. 
Why, oh why, didn’t I take the painting home with me instead of its electronic image?
I should have bitten the bullet and put it under my arm instead of just wracking my brains trying to justify bringing it home and making a space for it on my already far-too-busy walls.
It isn’t just because the picture itself is so compelling that I can’t stop looking at it. I’ve more practical reasons for wishing I’d picked it up.
I’d love to use this image as a book cover for ‘Can’t Sleep, Won’t Sleep, vol 5’ (a book of short stories).
That’s why I’m asking for help to identify this amazing and unusual image.
Does anyone recognise the painting or the style?
Was it on your stall at Bygone Times?
Did anyone purchase it? (Go on, you can admit it to me – I love it too!)
Has anyone seen it hanging eerily on the wall of a house?
Or has it perhaps been homed in a skip, having brought horror and havoc to all who associate with it?
Seriously though, if anyone knows even the smallest thing about it, please email me on scottmartinproductions@gmail.com.
Excited rant OVER – thanks for reading!

#creepy #art #can’tsleepwon’tsleep #bygonetimes #chorley #creepy #donaldtrump #eccleston #eerie #littlegirl #lunch #painting #thoughts

Christmas Card Rhymes

I was asked to put together a few very simple Christmas card rhymes – with a Christian rather than a secular feel. These were what I came up with. Feel free to use them on your own Christmas cards, but do credit me!

This card is sent

This card is sent with tidings
True strength and joy it brings.
For there was born a Saviour,
For there was born a King.

Could he be my Saviour?
Could he be yours too?
The crying baby born that day
Would grow to speak the Truth.

Could he be my Saviour?
That boy, God’s gifted son?
Yes – on that day, a boy was born
Who would save everyone.

No room at the inn

No room at the inn,
But the stable was free.
The first home of a boy
Who would soon die for me.

No room at the inn,
But God’s house isn’t there.
So where is God’s house?
It is everywhere.

No room at the inn,
But my heart has room free.
And there’s room in the Church.
Both for you and for me.

A stabled lamb

An angel speaks
To shepherds, awed.
“A boy will come.
Your God. Your Lord.”

A stabled lamb.
A newborn boy.
Three wise men visit
Full of joy.

The son of God.
He has arrived.
To influence
So many lives.

A mother’s pride,
A father’s love.
A precious gift
From God above.

More than

More than – a baby born.
More than – a prophecy.
More than – God’s child on earth
More than – what eyes can see.

Love – how we live our lives.
Love – how we spend our days.
Love – how we talk to God.
Love – how we learn to pray.

The Day my Life Changed

When the nurse came into the room and told me – ‘I’m so sorry, Lesley, but it’s time to consider your choice of funeral director’.  That was when my life changed. 

Until that point, the prospect of losing my dad had always been at the back of my mind, as a cruel threat.  Like when we were in Anglesey together and he fell asleep in the holiday cottage. It was the year after the death of my mum, or perhaps two years after. However long it was, his grief was still excruciating, and numb-able only by alcohol and company.  I’d been putting the children to bed and returned to our huge holiday home living room.  Dad’s position (head fully back, almost at a right angle to his body, mouth wide open, eyes closed, skin grey) shocked me the second I saw him.  I edged towards him, calling his name.  My hands shook as I reached out to shake him. He woke.  Oh my god, he woke.  He was alright, just deep asleep. 

And there were times when his drinking was out of control.  His first introduction to my new boyfriend was when I had to call him to help me pull my dad up from the kitchen floor.  Again, it was in the early days after mum’s death.  Again, there was the involvement of the numbing power of drink.  My boyfriend was nonplussed – he’d told me many a time that his entire early life had revolved around over-drinking.  He was accustomed to scooping up people.

So, I’d been worried about my dad before, and been there to help him out, but I’d never been told that he was dead… 

I barely had a chance to respond.  I’d been talking to dad in the cardio ward, holding his hand and having a giggle.  The nurses were extremely concerned about dad’s blood pressure, heart rate, potassium levels etc.  He’d gone into hospital because he’d felt dizzy and fallen in the kitchen.  He thought he’d broken a rib.  But when he arrived they realised his fall was likely due to a mild heart attack.

He’d broken into a far more major heart attack when I was with him.  I was encouraged to leave the room as they began to resuscitate him.  I was led, gently and compassionately, to the Family Room and remained there alone, for 30 minutes.  During this time I tried to dad’s partner and other family members.

The door opened.  ‘I’m so sorry, Lesley, but it’s time to consider your choice of funeral director.’  She told me they couldn’t bring him round. 
They’d been working on him for half an hour, with no response.   He was gone.  And, within a few moments of me hearing her words, and staring at her in disbelief, there was another knock on the Family Room’s door.  ‘We tried one last time.  We got him.  Your dad’s back.  34 minutes, and we got him back.’  Or words to that effect.

I was a mess.  And that feeling lasted for another fourteen months, till I received the news, on Brexit election day, that my dad would not survive from a terrible heart infection which had led to pneumonia, chest infection, liver failure, kidney failure.  The doctors had done what they could, but it was now all about end of life care.  And the following morning, I received a 5am phone call from Wythenshawe hospital advising me to come down.   I told them I would be with them as soon as I had dropped the kids at school.  But there was something in their voices I didn’t quite understand.  I wanted to ask if he was dying, but I knew they weren’t able to tell me.  I said I’d be there as soon as I could.  I roused the kids and told them I had to go to hospital and they had to come with me.  Within a few hours, dad was gone.  A heavily pregnant nurse who’d cared for dad wept almost as much as I did at his leaving us.

Special moments.  I was glad I was there for him, as he had always been there for me.  But I also wish I hadn’t been there.  Because as we approach the 2 year anniversary of losing my dad, I know that every time I think of this story, I will cry.  Because these are defining moments, not in the life of my dad, but in the death of my dad.  Things are still too raw for me to be able to confine these to the back of my mind for now, to be pulled out in quiet moments of contemplation.  Soon, I shall only dwell on his life: on his funny but infuriating IT support calls; on his insistent generosity; on his 2 digit text messages – OK; on his cheeky smile; his silly dancing; on the way he walked with hands behind his back; on his sports jackets and his explosive laughs at the most mundane of mainstream comedy.  He was one in a million, and I was lucky to call him my dad.

Narcissist in our Midst

The narcissist considers herself to be intelligent, complex, analytical, logic-based, and something of an enigma. 

To the stranger she seems strong, secure and in tune with her own needs, and she loves to exploit that, but the reality is that her character is underdeveloped, pitiful and weak. It’s a weakness which seems strong – she energises when required to fight, she seeks a battle which will enable him to (over and over again) establish what she feels is his superiority over the remainder of the human race – the fools and the decent, responsible people who (by and large) willingly comply with what is required for a smoothly-run society. 

But the fools’ general acceptance, our general acceptance, is what keeps the world running.  Narcissists mistrust that.  Perhaps they outwardly demand political change and overhaul, but once again they’re often hiding their own truth behind a facade.  A narcissist needs those very systems as much as the rest of us do.  Without those systems they would not survive, as they do not have the character to effectively support themselves – they need the financial backup of the state.  Perhaps they hate the police and law and order in general, but would be the first to make the call if a group of youths were getting a bit too rowdy.  There’s a constant and underlying hypocrisy at play.

‘My’ narcissist: she’s surly, sturdy and intimidating.  You can’t put your finger on exactly what it is, but there’s something uncommon about her body language, about the way she holds her neck and shoulders, about her stance and about her stare… It may be indefinable, but it is certainly not quite right.  Not quite trustworthy.

And if you’re the person I think you are then you feel things, you think things, you empathise and always try to look at the brightest glowing embers of your fellow humans.  You probably also try to view shortcomings as challenges or chinks in otherwise flawless armour. And guess what – you’re just the type of person my friend and her narcissist comrades are looking for.  They need you to make them function and each will draw you into their world by love-bombing you early on – so you’re inclined to think the best of them in later times of cruelty and pain. 

At first there will be gifts and compliments and tolerance, but soon (and these things start small so you can’t always see them till it’s too late) you’re backing away, defending yourself, constantly dealing with insults and unpleasantness and unhappy times. 

If you are happy, the narcissists give you reason not to be.  You look to outside your relationship for relief, only to find that they destroy those relationships, or even destroy the people themselves.  Soon you, the empathic being that you are, will be providing the narcissist with precisely what they require, perhaps out of fear – or perhaps through misplaced loyalty… or perhaps (and this is one of the reasons why their love-bombing is inevitable) the hope that all this may be just a temporary phase they are going through.  It isn’t.  It’s permanence and it’s reality.

Narcissists give you nothing but flattery, commands, insults and grief.  Why? 

Because this person can only take.  And you can’t heal a narcissist – not ever.  This person will never be changed because, to change, first you need to want to change and understand that change is required. 

But narcissism is egosyntonic.  No narcissist may tolerate any thought or statement about themselves which challenges their own existing belief system.  They cannot accept that they may be unpleasant or might benefit from some form of behaviour management, and they are certainly not people you would ever find studying a self help book for nuggets of truth and assistance. 

Consider asking someone what, if anything, about their personality they would change or like to work on. Most of us thoughtful types would surely put forward a suggestion – perhaps we’d like to remove our negativity or gain more confidence or decrease our gullibility or take command of our lack of self control…. whatever.  Most of us have our suggestions.  Some of us have a great many.  Narcissists, on the other hand, would state with great bombast that you must be crazy if you think that it’s them that’s the problem.  They are perfectly in control.  They are just right as they are.  They are perfect.  This is what they do – projecting their own mental condition back onto you and to anyone who dares question them.
After all, this is simply a game, the game of narcissistic life, and, yes, a narc will play till the end.  But they will play only by their own rules as those are the only ones acceptable to them.  When you wish to play another version of life – the normal, not narcissistic game, no matter how many times you may try to explain, the narc will say, ‘No. You’re a fool, that’s not the game’.  You, your thoughts, your possessions… all inadequate, all wrong, all pathetic – so they say. 

So why won’t they let you go? Why do they hold onto you if you are so inept?  Because you, you poor ordinary soul, are his lifeline and link with normal humanity – his victims.

Life with a narcissist is a form of hell, and just about the most unpleasant time you will ever experience.  They say one thing and when you question them about it they deny it (that’s called gas-lighting).  They project their weaknesses onto you.  They demand their narcissistic supply (a supply of attention, good or bad, which keeps them fired up and makes you unwell, confused and hurt).  Oh yes, they hurt you.  They make excuses and give the hurt a reason, but my God, how they hurt you.

And it’s all for one reason – because of their desire to control you and keep you with them.  Not out of any kind of love, because this person won’t experience love as you or I know it, but out of their need to be with someone who meets their need for control.

Complex aren’t they, these narcissists?  Well, they’d certainly like you believe that – that they’re full of intense mystery and hidden depths – but the reason they need to intimidate, bully, hurt and siphon off your powers is because they have none of their own.  You see, at the start of their lives, when the emotional self was maturing, they stagnated.  They’ve never moved on towards full emotional maturity or into a state of taking responsibility for their own actions, growing their own true personalities, developing their strengths and improving their weaknesses.  They’ve remained in a semi-toddler state going through the functions of being a real human being, but not actually managing.

It’s all an act.  The only thing that isn’t an act is the nastiness.  And you, the normal, the empath, the victim, the enabler, had better get out when you can, as soon as you can.


Do we owe it to ourselves to keep in good health?  Do we owe it to the society that protects us?  I wasn’t sure of the answer to that question until I saw him: a large and lumpy man.

I could describe him from the top down, but that wasn’t how I came to him. As he sat himself into the nearest chair to the door I saw him as formed from the bottom up, as emerging from the ground on which he sat, and merging with the strong metal chair legs.  His feet, large and long, were also wide and fatty. Folds of effluent flesh seemed desperate for release from the confines of his sweaty trainers, leaving his ankle skin darker and mottled. I thought of skin infections and yeast, and of ulcers soon to come.

His legs were large in girth, but were nothing when compared to the dimensions of the man’s torso which eventually tapered again to narrow shoulders and a comparatively tiny skull: a skull wrapped in generous waves of adipose tissue.  There was no denying it: this man was large. I give no value judgements. He was large, but so am I. Perhaps a few stages down the line from him, but certainly I’m no longer the skinny wretch who used to be called ‘The Cambodian’ at high school.

But the thing that fascinates is not his size. That’s almost incidental, almost symptomatic.  It’s like the freakshow poster for a rather dull event – completely irrelevant to what really matters.  What fascinates, what entices and draws my eyes and prevents any kind of release, is the mouth. The man’s mouth is of a size I don’t believe I’ve ever before seen. I’m guessing it’s an efficient fuelling device.

He speaks to me, but not in friendship, or out of interest in who or what I may be.  He speaks to give me his order, and as he voices his words I back away. Hot, festering sewage smells emanate from a mouth of scanty yellow-brown tombstone teeth. The smells linger when he shuts his mouth after saying ‘Full English. Chips. Syrup sponge’.

‘No problem, sir,’ I said, ‘would you like a drink with that?’.

‘Bottle of Coke,’ he said. ‘Litre.’ I marked it onto his order. ‘No problem,’ I said.  ‘We’re offering free side salads today, sir. May I bring one for you.’
As he shook his head, gathered dandruff fell like oily, sifted flour onto his jacket’s shoulders.  I nodded, half expecting my own shoulders to fill with the same, but they were clear. I know because I checked as I walked to the counter. I lifted my hand up to my mouth and cupped the outgoing breath.  It was OK but I popped a mint in anyway.

Dave, our chef pointed at the clock. ‘What can I get you, sunshine?’ he asked.  ‘Today’s lunchtime special?’

‘No,’ I said, looking back at the full English Breakfast man. ‘I think I’ll have a tuna baked potato with plenty of salad. And orange juice.’

‘OK,’ said Dave, ‘side of chips too?’

‘Not today.’

That feeling, you know that feeling when you see something of yourself in another, and it’s something you don’t like one bit? That feeling was creeping down onto me and pushing me into a place of guilt, of revulsion, of fear.  Dave passed me my potato. ‘You ok?’ he asked.  ‘You’ve been standing there staring at the wall for five minutes. Not how I’d choose to spend my lunch hour, sunshine.’

I took the plate and sat on the table reserved for break-time staff.  I could see the man. I guessed he was younger than he looked. I watched as Sarah served him his Full English, and noted how he devoured it. I could smell his clothes, his breath, his body, and Sarah backed away as I had. He’d eaten and drunk his order before I was half-way through mine, and he’d already put his money onto the table and got up to leave.

But as he took his first step, his right leg crumbled and he tumbled onto the floor. Sarah rushed to his aid, as did Dave, but they could not lift him.  I joined them, somewhat reluctantly, but even with my newly honed gym muscles, I couldn’t add any useful pulling weight.  ‘Are you alright, sir?’ I asked, but he was silent, his head resting on the fancy lino, now stained with blood and vomit.

‘He’s clearly not alright,’ sneered Sarah.

I called an ambulance. We closed the café. There was no other choice, as the man’s body blocked the doorway. He’d brought down the brightly coloured ribbon insect curtain too.

As we waited, I sat with him.

‘It’s OK, ’ I said as I held his hand, stroked his face, and cupped my own nose and mouth with a tea towel to blank out the great ape smell emanating from his form. How could something so huge also be so frail?

‘They will be here soon. They’ll look after you in hospital.’ I spoke, but there was no real tenderness.  He was a hindrance. I wanted to get on with my job. I was kneeling in the doorway of the café and was being stared at by every passer-by. And it was beginning to rain.

But as I touched him a little more I realised something important. He was many things, but at the heart of it, he was just a man.   And I was just a woman. It wasn’t ‘here but for the grace of God,’ – it was something warmer and deeper that was drifting over me and seeping into my bones like a healing ungent. He was a man in pain. He was unwell. He was addicted. He was possibly unhappy. Perhaps lonely. Mentally ill? Unable to cope? Perhaps he struggled to communicate? Perhaps he had learning difficulties. Perhaps Prader Willi Syndrome or undiagnosed Cushing’s Syndrome. Perhaps he was homeless. Perhaps food was his only comfort?

How dare I judge him? How dare I? How dare I lose my humanity to this terrifying extent. How dare I make him responsible for all his life’s errors? How dare I consider myself so highly over him that I treat him this way?

The paramedics arrived and it took six burly men to hoist him onto a stretcher, then into the waiting ambulance. As he left he was coming round, and he told them his name. ‘Alan Edmunds,’ he said.

Two days later I visited Mr Edmunds in hospital.  He had been admitted to the general medical ward with a huge number of chronic medical conditions.  He’d been bathed, and his teeth had been brushed. His hair had been brushed too, and he was wearing crisp, clean striped pyjamas.  He wasn’t looking well, but he was certainly looking better. Brighter.

Alan thanked me for looking after him. We had little to say to one another, and many of the 20 minutes I was there were passed in silence. I left, also in silence, knowing I wouldn’t visit again.

But, then again, I just might. He needed a friend, and that’s something we can all do for someone, no matter how humble and inadequate our own means.