Thursday, 19 April 2018

Spending and Paying!

If only the purchase of an elegant new laptop computer guaranteed the production of a new and elegant writing style!  Alas!  How ever much one lavishes on technology, the writing still demands that the brain does the majority of the work.

So, with far, far too much expense under my fingertips, how will I justify the splurge of money that I cannot afford on technology that I do not really understand through the words that you are reading now?

Perhaps I can give you some sense of the breadth of the life that I live by letting you know that my new computer (Dell XPS 13 9370) was not the only purchase that I have realised (because I actually paid for the thing some time ago but I’ve only just got it in my hot little hands) today.  Oh no, not by a long chalk.  The other purchase I am wearing or perhaps displaying might be a better word.

Today started well with my waking up at a reasonable hour so that I got to the swimming pool bright and early and completed my regulation 1,500 meters in time enough for me to cycle home from the pool, have a well-deserved cup of tea and then prepare myself for my 3 months check up at the local hospital.

Parking in the hospital car park was a true nightmare.  As my appointment was for 12.10 everyone in the world had already parked there and there were not spaces to be hand, not even for ready money.  So, I began my lonely round of circling the parked cars in the hope that somebody, anybody, would suddenly appear and produce a space.  Perhaps lonely is not the right word as there were a number of us circling, like lazy Indians waiting for a weak spot in the wagon train to appear.  No weak spots did appear.  False hopes, yes.  A space would appear to appear and, as you eagerly made your way towards it, it rapidly became apparent that the space was illusory, the left-over space from a badly parked car overstepping the line and ruining two other spaces.

I eventually found a space into which the car could fit, but I couldn’t get out.  At the time the idea of crawling through the hatchback did not occur to me so I moved on.  The more I drove the more spaces did not appear until I was driven (so to speak) to return to the thin space and see if there was any way in which I could make it work.

By dint of driving&reversing&driving&reversing for few minutes I managed to create a space on the passenger side which looked doable.  I crawled over and eventually out.  I have to admit that I would not have been able to insinuate my way out a few months earlier, but the diet of low fat, no salt, little taste eating that I have endured did mean that my stockily svelte figure sashayed thought the gap with minimal (but significant) pain!

The hospital itself was packed: at least the bit that I was in was.  There was no seating available for patients in the area of the consulting rooms and I had to take a spare seat by the large windows in the corridor.  I was, to put it mildly, depressed at the number of people waiting to be seen and I knew from past experience that such numbers meant a long wait.

I kept my eye on the door to consulting room 36 and was further depressed to see no movement whatsoever: nothing!  From other rooms people emerged, some in white coats, called out names, and indicated an order in which people were going to be seen.  From room 36, nothing.  I had arrived in good time and it appeared that I would have been able to waltz in hours later and still not miss my place.

Three minutes before my scheduled appointment, a doctor and a nurse suddenly appeared and went into room 36.  A minute later the nurse reappeared and said those magic words, “Stephen Morgan?” and I was up like a long dog and into the room before anyone else with those unlikely first names took my place.

The main aim of my visit (at least for me) was to get the doctor to change my twice daily injections for a simpler pill.  If possible.  Please.

I had qualified success.  The doctor agreed that a pill would be better for me as my stomach (the site of 180 injections so far and counting) looks more like a fleshy war zone, with lumps, bumps and bruises, than a repository of fat and salt free comestibles.  Tomorrow I have to return to the hospital and have a series of blood tests to check the progress of the blood clots or rather their dispersal that are the cause of all my problems, and, depending on the results of those tests I will be able to stop sticking myself and allow my much-abused stomach to get its own back and dissolve a pill instead.

All of this sounds like good news, but one aspect of the meeting has had a colourful consequence.  For the first couple of weeks after I had been discharged from hospital I had to wear a pair of thoroughly unflattering pressure stockings.  It took the two of us to get the damn things on and I could not wait for the two weeks to go to get rid of them.  To my undisguised horror, the doctor that I saw today told me to resume their use.  The only concession was that I needed to wear only one and it could be just up to the knee rather than thigh length.

I am now the proud possessor of a bright blue (still unflattering) tight blue stocking.  Which I have to wear.  Until when?  I sincerely hope not long.

Meanwhile, life goes on.  Although my appointment tomorrow is for 9 am I would not be unhappy for it to drag on for hours.  The simple reason is that tomorrow is also my Spanish lesson day and in our last lesson we had a surprise test and I have absolutely no desire to find out exactly how I have done.  Because I know exactly how I have done!  

It appears that I am, after all, capable of shame!

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Castelldefels, one winter’s day

The way that the Spanish talk about their climate makes the British preoccupation with the weather look like a casual remark.  Each year that snow falls in Spain (as it does every year without fail) it is greeted as a unique phenomenon and one worthy of vast swathes of television time, showing presenters knee deep in the white stuff with a 'natural' background of snowball throwing kids.  The falling level of the reservoirs in the summer is painstakingly documented with drowned villages seeing the air again and spoken of in apocalyptic terms as if the rains of Februrary are never going to happen and fill them up again.  And so on for each season as highs and lows are lovingly relayed to appalled viewers who at least have a ready made topic of conversation for the rest of the day.
     This year we have, to be fair, had pretty bad weather.  At least we have if you are looking at the whole of Spain and not just at Catalonia and Castelldefels.
     Here in Castelldefels we usually get off lightly.  Snow in Barcelona (it does happen!) does not mean that anything falls on our little town.  Even The Beast from the East has not really had that much effect, though it has been cold and we have had torrential rain.
     In all the years that I have been living in Castelldefels I have never seen snow where I live, near the sea.  I have once seen snow on some of the surrounding hills, but in my front of back garden - never.
     It was therefore with something approaching shock that I looked out at the car park from my inside seat in the cafe in my local swimming pool and saw undeniable flakes of snow.  Not only did I note it down in my ever-ready notebook, but I took a (bad) photograph of it failing to stick on cars as proof that it actually did occur.
     It seemed fitting to note the occasion with a poem and the following is what, with the sun shining outside and the temperature at 16C or so, I have come up with.
     The last line is one of the main reasons that I live in Catalonia!

Castelldefels, one winter’s day

Light touch weather,

fleeting, not to stay.

The hills greyscale in mist.

The ‘snow’ a gesture of thrown flakes:

they’re countable.

The kids’ gloved hands,

are raised in

supplication to the skies

to catch the drifting cold.

The stark-pruned spikey canopies

await the promised picturesque.

Lo!  They come again!

Rain’s ghosts!

Zigzags to blot

in spots so slight

the cold evaporates.

Beach side

no flurry fell.

White rain is for TV

and not for us.

And all too soon

the mundane wet will come,

and then, the sun.

Friday, 5 January 2018

A friend's death.

This has been an odd, unsettling and downright disturbing poem to write.   
     And at this point I was going to include a half/inaccurately remembered quotation about some nineteenth century writer or philosopher who when a very small child was asked what he was thinking about, and replied, “Mortality!”   
     Well, I couldn’t find the quotation, though I spent far too long enjoyably clicking through clues on the Internet and meandering my way through various dictionaries of quotations.  It must have been someone like John Stuart Mill or one of those absurdly gifted kids from a couple of hundred years ago who could speak Greek at the age of three and had translated a Shakespeare play into Hindi by the time he was seven.  That sort of thing.
     My point was going to be that thinking about death, even the death of those close to you is nothing out of the ordinary.  Just another of the ‘What if?” questions that float about in our consciousness or just below the level of active thought.
     I was, I think, perfectly happy when I started writing the notes for this poem, just one of those progressions in free writing that flow from fugitive thought patterns.  But when you have written anything about a friend’s death, even if it is only a title ‘A friend’s death’, and even if the friend is not actually dead, you feel as though you need to explain yourself or at least give a little context.
     My nails are brittle and they do tend to fray and break.  When I was younger I would use my teeth as nail clippers and try and make the edge smooth.  That was generally only achieved when the nail was flush with the skin of the finger, the nail having been bitten down to the quick!  I also sucked my thumb, to the extent that my teeth became misaligned and a perfectly healthy incisor on the top right hand side of my jaw was extracted to give room for my front teeth to settle and align.  Neither my nail biting nor thumb sucking met with the approval of my parents, who eventually resorted to smearing my fingers and thumb with proprietary noxious (though safe) liquid to ‘remind’ me by its sharp taste that I was doing something ‘wrong’.  It didn’t work.
     The prohibitions brought me to my absent parents; as they are ‘absent’ for most members of my specific generation now, perfectly naturally, you might say, as time goes on.  But still very much absent.
     It is the realization that, as one British friend said in a self-contained conversation on the phone to me in Catalonia, “Are you coming over to the UK soon?  Oh, wait, there isn’t anyone here left to die for whom you will have to go to the funeral!”  And when I responded that there were friends and cousins, she said, “Don’t say that.  That’s our generation!”  Indeed it is, hence the
                    wry smile from
          empty generations now consumed
in the poem!
     People deal with loss, and the concept of inevitable future loss, in different ways.  In the poem I look towards the commemorative funeral service where one could be called upon to speak and take the
          for memory that vivifies
and through recollection breathe live into the dead person through personal anecdote.
     With friends there are too many instances that come nowhere near ‘anecdote’ but that are as telling as the quotation that I could not find for the start of this piece!  The three lines of italicised listing might seem incongruous and odd, but each element refers to something tangible and ‘real’, an actual experience and, at the same time stands for so much more than the mere words themselves.
     Friendship is everything: the good, the bad, the indifferent, the stupid, the boring and every other adjective you can think of to sum up years of knowing.  But even, or possibly because, it is impossible we must make the effort, because lives (even if they are dead) matter. 
     I try to express this in the final stanzas by using syntax: ands as conjunctions and links, and so’s as the results and consequences of joined lives together with the necessity of saying, the use of words to make a memorial that is worth preserving.
     I’ve read and re-read the last six or seven lines and, while they contain what I think I am trying to say, they still need work.
     I am posting the 11th draft of this poem and I think I need to let it rest for a while before I return and work on it again.

A friend’s death.

She is not dead.

And that’s not just a metaphor
for memory that vivifies:
she is alive.

But on a bright-warm-cool autumnal day
while trying not to rip
an irritating, ragged nail,
thoughts’ dominoes began to tip and
tap, tap, tap, they fall against
remembered, bitten, finger ends
and teeth skew whiff
thumb sucked to wonkiness
until, at The Parental Eye,
they stop.

And being always The, not a:
an only child.

And now, and for the rest of nows,
an orphan too.  And then,
a clack around to loss.

And a wry smile from
empty generations now consumed,

to here and us, and

if I were left alive
and called upon to speak,
I would remember her.

What memories might my
recall select?

Of food, and toothpaste, things not said?
Of friends, and swimming, curtains raised?
Of Music, stolen cars and care?

And then, the thought,
if these, then what dictates, “not those”?

Because, I know, good stories
need a choice,
or else it’s one-for-one
and time must parallel
to show entirety.

Which is the only truth, of course.
But, no-one ever tells it all.

Moments pass by, day by day
and what we were goes with them too,
unless we stop and take a breath
and say,

“We are alive, this time ago,
where lives are filled with ands and so’s;
so, trust the syntax as your link
that locks the here and then alike,
and let voiced statements make a space
where some shared truth may be believed.”
Thus I, remember, her.