memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

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Dream

Dream.

Polly and me

Polly is five, like me. I’m five too.

Polly is my friend.

We’re playing on the beach

A game with little stones and shells in the sand

Drawing a house for us to live in when we’re big.

Sometimes a wave comes in and takes the house away.

So we build it again: the shells are the roof and walls and the stones are the windows and the door.

Another wave comes up over the wet sand and drags our little house back down with it.

I kiss Polly.

Later as mum is putting me to bed she reads me a story … and the prince and princess got married and lived happily ever after.

And I’m going to marry Polly I whisper as I drift into warm sleep.

 ***

She stood at the kitchen sink, staring out at the back garden with unseeing eyes; she automatically folded and refolded the damp cloth before eventually hanging it up in its usual place on the oven-rail. Angie, her friend and neighbour, was sitting at the kitchen table, smoking nervously and biting her nails. Neither women spoke. The situation was just too sad, too tragic – the only thing one could say about the accident was that Robbie hadn’t suffered much and people did say that after the funeral, clasping the cliché and hoping that it would comfort her. Angie broke the silence:

–          How are the children bearing up, Pol? Here, sit down and have a glass of wine; they’ve all gone now and your sister-in-law is with the two kids. You’ve got to slow down, you haven’t stopped all day … don’t beat yourself up about all this, it’s not your fault you know.

–          Chloe is being very adult about it all but poor little Josh doesn’t really understand what’s going on. I should be feeling grief or anger or something but I don’t feel anything, just numb. You do realize that we were going to separate, don’t you? The papers didn’t mention that, did they? Only the Other Woman.

TABLOID HEADLINES

Polly closed her eyes; most of the papers had run the story, the broad-sheets with a discreet paragraph on page two: PROMINENT MERCHANT BANKER IN CAR CRASH or SIR ROBERT MACKENSIE IN FATAL ACCIDENT, but the tabloids went to town on the front page WHO WAS BANKER’S BIRD or CRASH MYSTERY WOMAN!

–          Look Pol the funeral’s over, the guests have all gone and you’ve given Immaculada and Magda the rest of the weekend off. Everything went as well as could be expected and now you’ve just got to try and relax …

(The front door bell goes).

–          I wonder who that is; I thought all the Press had gone, oh of course Magda’s not here, I’ll go.

PORTRAIT OF POLLY - PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

PORTRAIT OF POLLY – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

I hadn’t exactly forgotten Polly, far from it but we’d drifted apart in our teens. Her family moved away to a more expensive part of the city and she went to a posh boarding-school while I slogged on at the local comprehensive, and so we never saw each other again.

I heard about her from to time to time. After university she drifted from job to job before writing a best-selling cook-book, so I couldn’t avoid seeing her glamorous face on the cover – in fact I bought a copy in Waterstones.

(The recipes were not really to my taste, being a fussy reworking of traditional dishes in the Nouvelle Cuisine style).

Marriage to a highly successful business man put her completely out of my reach. The years went by and I pursued rather unenthusiastically my career as a teacher, eventually becoming the assistant headmaster of a school in the suburbs. I married another teacher but it didn’t work out and after about a year we parted, amicably enough.

There was no passion in my life.

I was loveless, childless and middle-aged.

Thus it was until last week when I read in the newspapers all about the death in a car crash of Polly’s husband. The effect on me was surprising. I was inordinately stirred and moved with empathy for my childhood friend. After brooding about it for several days, I decided to travel by the underground to her Chelsea address which was splashed all over the papers. The imposing house was in a discreet street just off the King’s Road. I loitered outside her door, dithering and wondering if she was there and what on earth I would say to her. I noticed some press photographers on the side of the road and beat a retreat with beating heart and eventually returned crestfallen to my home in south London. That was yesterday.

Now today I’ve come back again and plucking my courage, I climb up the steps and firmly press the bell. I hear steps crossing the hall (probably a maid, I think, or one her children) and the door swings open – it’s her. A neat stylish woman (but with the story of the last months written across her beautiful face) is standing there looking at me enquiringly:

–          Please excuse this intrusion on your grief, Lady Mackensie. I’m sure that you don’t recognize me but we used play together when we were children living in Hastings

–          I’m sorry I can’t quite place you … oh yes of course I remember, we used to play on the beach together?

–          Yes, I’m glad you’ve remembered; it makes it less embarrassing for me.

–          Won’t you come in for drink, we’re in the kitchen.

–           No, I won’t bother you any further now, but maybe we could go out some time next week or something?

–          Yes OK, I’d like that.

Polly returns to the kitchen.

–          Who on earth was that?

–          Oh just a ghost from the past; we used to build sand-castles together when we were kids. We agreed to go out for a drink, sometime next week.

–          Surely you’re not going!

–          Why not. It’ll take my mind off all documents I’ve got to sign; besides he looked rather attractive in a pathetic helpless sort of way. There’s only one problem, though.

–          What’s that?

–          I can’t remember his name!

My new Kindle

PATTERN HAND-PAINTED by FRANCES MILNER

PATTERN HAND-PAINTED by FRANCES MILNER

I used to be a techno-snob

I observed each passing phase

With a tolerant disdain

Without worship or marvel

I bowed to its inevitability

I viewed the digital era as mass mediocrity

The mobile phone as a paradox

Of communication breakdown

My generation couldn’t type

Never saw the need

Shunned e-mail until

The last moment

 

Then my life suddenly changed

Radically, irrevocably

Fell into the pit

With the other losers

Equally decrepit

Scrabbling helpless

Feeling for the edge

 

Went into survival-mode

Had to relearn a load of stuff

In my solitary world

Can’t be squeamish

Sauve qui peut

 

Tech was my lifeline

Bought a laptop

Steep learning curve

Trained myself to the

Muscle of memory

Dash of culture

Bob’s your uncle

 

Began to tap the long climb back

Each word a painful hash

Each sentence a fatigue of correction

Each paragraph an exhausting triumph

 

Wrote a book

Fumbled ineptly through

The para-world of online

Self-publishing and

After about nine months

Gave birth to a pink

Wriggling little book

Like all parents

Inordinately proud

 

I have been reading

A book every day

For over 50 years

Though not the same book

Not the same book

 

Time was when I read voraciously

Long, squat dense paper-backs

With miniscule print

On cheap paper

Crime and Punishment

Look Homeward, Angel

Tristram Shandy

A Dance to the Music of Time

And so on

And so on

 

Of late my 60-year-old eyes are tiring

But not my 60-year-old mind

I still need to fuel my philosophy

Feed ideas into the gaping

Furnace of my being

 

So I, who have over two thousand

Books spilling out of every room

Of my little apartment

By the sea

And further hundreds

Spilling out of my room

Here at the Home

(What’s the best place to hide a book?

In a library, of course)

I have decided to go Kindle

 

Instant addiction

I love it

I love its lightness of being

The handiness of it

Above all I love its potential

The collected works of

Emil Zola

For a couple of Euros

Here I come!

Kindle_paperwhite_1 

Be cool

Go Kindle!

Thirty nine shades of grey

You’ve all heard of the grey areas of moral/ethical/sexual protocol in the bedroom (and how a certain book caused the sales of hand-cuffs to rocket by 400% in the UK alone) arresting stuff no doubt but let’s not go there.

Allow me instead to introduce you to the world of grey food.

Not rather grey, not quite grey, not fairly grey, not greyish but completely grey, utterly grey, absolutely grey – a dismal, dreary, drab, depressing grey.

The Chinese have a saying: may you live in exciting times.

 (Well we certainly do live in exciting times, what with our various crises – economic, ecological, socio and geo-political, moral and spiritual).

 But the Spanish greeting: may nothing new happen to you today is more to my taste, so the following incident took me by surprise.

 It was unexpected; it came at me from an angle low on my left flank when I was looking the other way.

 (It was a bolt out of the blue).

It’s dinner time. First there is the usual yellow soup which is OK if one is partial to that kind of thing – as for me I can take it or leave it but what the heck we eat to live here (not the other way round).

Then you can knock me sideways and call me Dick Turpin if the main course doesn’t turn out be more soup; but not just any old soup; this stuff is special; this stuff is grey!

Well I’ll be jiggered, I think, whatever will these inventive and resourceful people come up with next? Blue spaghetti, green potatoes … anyway grey soup was a «first» for me.

Brief description:

•             Name:   Farinho de pão

•             Colour:  Grey

•             Odour:  Fishy, definitely fishy

•             Shape:  Amorphous

•             Texture:   Viscose

We are served thus: a dose/dollop/splurge of the stuff/substance is ladled/sloshed onto our (not-soup-but-normal) plates, in such a way that there is a slight danger of the capillary effect coming into play in cases of plate-overload (which can be messy, very messy).

The buzz-word of the meal (farinho de pão) started at one end of the dining hall and spread/creaked/whined/rumbled from table to table like a mournful mantra.

 I calculate that these immortal words (farinho de pão) were repeated (in tedious succession) between 50 and 60 times.

Hey-ho, grey thoughts on a grey day.

Returned to life

Suddenly I heard the sound of someone whistling, a cleaner perhaps or a technician of some sort and something in me flickered back to life.

I gathered air into my lungs, help me!

Get me out of here!

But my voice echoed silently around my head; there seemed no escape from that grim chamber. After what seemed an eternity a small door opened in the wall of the cave and two nurses came in and transferred me onto a trolley and wheeled me into the subdued lighting of the intensive-care-unit, all in complete silence.

Now there was an attempt to insert tubes of various colours (blue, yellow, red) into my lungs   (colour-coding, I thought automatically) and fought it and worried about it for hours and days. Every now and then someone from my past life appeared at the door of ward and pleaded with me to accept the tubes, but I still resisted. Then a new rather forbidding-looking doctor appeared, a middle-aged woman dressed in a green smock, and said let me get at him I’ll sort this out and then managed to cut the right colour (blue) and I, the bomb, was defused, problem sorted what a relief!

I felt myself ebbing down and sideways and agonized and struggled with my demons. Abandon hope all ye who enter here. I was trying to run across a muddy field in winter but I could not move. I stared down at my feet – they were buried up to the ankles in clammy ooze; I changed direction towards a cliff to jump over – and thus wake up – but I couldn’t get near to the edge I just couldn’t get near enough to that edge to jump I just couldn’t get near the edge I just couldn’t …

I heard the clatter of a helicopter landing outside, bringing someone to visit me no doubt; who on earth could it be I wondered; but it was only some boring local politician whom I had never even heard of. The doctors urged him to try to make me speak but I wouldn’t, I was completely unimpressed by him and even refused to shake his hand. I was too busy trying to concentrate on a new voice saying my name, calling me to wake up. I want to but I’m still down here below the surface of the water … I tried to raise myself to the surface into consciousness but you know what it’s like, that sinking breathless sensation trying to stay in a dream, trying not to wake up … Tom, Tom the soft voice repeated, can you hear me? I woke up holding my sister-in-law’s hand, nodded weakly to various people and then went to sleep.

And dreamed and dreamed – terrible dreams.

One night in the ICU I heard a faint hissing sound. From my bed I could see the corridor to the left of the open ward and saw an extraordinary sight, a double figure gliding by on silent wheels, a male dwarf driving the contraption with his wife bolted to his back facing the opposite direction. Apparently they only came out at night (they lived in one of the private wings of the hospital). It was a tragic accident said one the nurses, impossible to operate, just imagine it, I thought, stuck together forever, what horror! One night I woke to find them at the foot of the bed staring intently at me, the man then wheeled round for the woman to have a look.

More macabre hallucinations followed. I used to wake from these with my bed soaked in sweat and my body thrashing about. Sometimes I used to cry out so loudly that the nurses, (back in the neurology-ward now) used to have to wheel me into a special room so as not to disturb the other patients. My paranoia persisted – I imagined that some of the medical staff were conspiring to do me harm, (probably because of that vision of the doctor in the crypt).

I suffered.

I did not endure it.

Every morning the doctor would make his rounds and at my bed he would read the report of my night’s delinquencies, glancing at me from time to time quizzically. I asked him for ever stronger medication to sleep.

One day after lunch a new doctor appeared beside my bed and talked to me gently and sympathetically. She evidently specialized in patients who were mentally disturbed or were suffering from drug-induced paranoia or post-operation trauma. She came every day for about ten days and patiently listened to my babbling rants. But she helped me to start rebuilding my shattered self-esteem and dismantled psyche. She said she found me an interesting person and that one day I should write it all down, which is what I have just done.

All this was over five years ago and I still survive, living in care, wheel-chair bound, fractious at times and obsessively neurotic.

I am an alien in this place and read much of the time.

At night I go elsewhere in my dreams but in the morning here I am again.

The anguish of that time will never really leave me.

Babel (1)

INSPECTION – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

We are pleased to report to this Council that, on the planet under inspection, at the height of their Christian Era (some nineteen centuries after the birth of the prophet Jesus) their Inspired Scripture, (The Holy Bible) had been translated into most of myriad languages of that world.

Thus, for example, right at the beginning of the Scripture in the first Book (Genesis 11:1-9) all the after-mentioned languages (see list) would be able to enjoy the charming, quaint etiological conceit to explain the need for above-mentioned translation:

Everyone on earth spoke the same language. As people migrated from the east, they settled in the land of Shinar. People there sought to make bricks and build a city and a tower with its top in the sky, to make a name for themselves, so that they not be scattered over the world. God came down to look at the city and tower, and remarked that as one people with one language, nothing that they sought would be out of their reach. God went down and confounded their speech, so that they could not understand each another, and scattered them over the face of the earth, and they stopped building the city. Thus the city was called Babel.

List of languages into which The Holy Bible was translated – circa 1860

I. MONOSYLLABIC

Chinese, Burmese, Arakanese or Rukheng, Peguese, Talain or Mon, Siamese, Laos or Law, Cambojan, Anamite, Karen, Munipoora, Khassee, Tibetan, Lepcha.

II. SHEMITIC

Hebrew (Old Test.), Hebrew (New Test.), Samaritan, Chaldee, Syriac, Syro-Chaldaic, Modern Syriac, Arabic, Judeo-Arabic, Maltese, Mogrebin or W Arabic, Carshun, Ethiopic, Tigré, Amharic.

III. INDO-EUROPEAN

Medo-Persian Family

Persian, Judeo-Persian, Pushtoo or Affgan, Beloochee, Ancient Armenian, Modern Armenian, Ararat-Armenian, Kurdish, Armeno, Hakari and Ossitinian.

Sanscrit Family

Sanscrit, Pali, Hindustani or Urdu, Hinduwee, Bruj or Brij-bhasa, Canoj or Canyacubja, Kousulu or Koshala, Bhojepoora, Hurriana, Bundelcundee, Harrotee, Oojein or Oujjuyuneee, Oodeypoora, Marwar, Juyapoora, Shekawutty, Bikaneera, Buttaneer, Bengalee, Magadha, Tirhitiya or Mithili, Assamese, Uriya or Oriss, Cutchee or Cachee, Sindhee, Moultan, Wuch or Ooch, Punjabee or Sikh, Dogura or Jumboo, Cashmerian, Nepalese or Kaspoora, Palpa, Kumaon, Gurwhal or Schreenagur, Gujerattee, Mahratta, Kunkuna, Rommany or Gipsy, Tamul or Tamil, Telinga or Teloogoo, Karnata or Canarese, Tulu, Malayalim, Cingalese, Maldivian,

Celtic Family

Welsh, Gaelic, Irish, Manks, Cornish, Breton or Armorican.

Tuetonic Family

Gothic, Alemannic or Old High German, German, Jewish-German, Judeo-Polish, Old Saxon, Anglo-Saxon, English, Flemish, Dutch, Surinam Negro English, Creolese, Norse or Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, Faroese.

Greco-Latin Family

Ancient Greek, Modern Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Indo-Portuguese, Italian, Daco-Romana or Wallachian, Provençal or Romaunt, Vaudois, Piedmontese, Romanese or Romansch,  Upper and Lower Enghadine, Catalan, Judeo-Spanish, Curaçao, Dialect of Toulouse.

Thraco-Illyrian Family

Albanian

Slavonic Family

Slavonic, Russ, Polish, Bohemian, Servian, Croation or Dalmation-Servian, Carniolan, Bosnian, Slovakian, Bulgarian, Wendish-Upper, Wendish-Lower, Wendish Hungarian, Lettish or Livonian, Lithuanian, Samogitian.

IV. UGRO-TARTARIAN

Euskarrian Family

French Basque, Spanish Basque or Escuria.

Finnish Family

Finnish Proper, Lapponese, Quänian or Norwegian Laplandish, Hungarian, Karelian, Olonetzian, Dorpat Esthonian, Revel Esthonian, Tscheremission, Mordvivian or Morduin, Zirian or Sirenian, Wogulian, Ostiacan or Ostjakian, Wotagrian or Wotjakrian.

Tungusian Family

Mantchou, Tungusian Proper.

Mongolian Family

Mongolian Proper, Calmuc, Buriat.

Turkish Family

Turkish, Karass or Turkish Tartar, Orenburg-Tartar, Karait-Tartar, Tschuwaschian, Trans-Caucasian Tartar.

Caucasian Family

Georgian.

Samoiede Family

Samoiede.

Dialects of the Islands of Eastern Asia, and of Corea

Japanese, Loochooan, Alentian, Corean.

V. POLYNESIAN OR MALAYAN

Malayan, Low Malay, Formosan, Javanese, Dajak, Bima, Batta, Bugis, Macassar, Hawaiian, Tahitian, Rarotongan, Marquesan, Tongan, New Zealand or Maori, Malaguese, Samoan, Feejeean, Aneiteum, Lifu, Nengoné, Australian.

VII. AFRICAN

Coptic, Sahidic, Bashmuric, Berber, Ghadimsi, Mandigo, Jalloof, Susoo, Bullom, Sherbro-Bullum, Yarriba or Yoruba, Haussa, Timmanee, Bassa, Grebo, Accra, Fantee, Ashanti or Odjii, Dualla, Isubu, Fernandian , Impogwe, Sechuana, Sisuta, Caffre, Zulu, Namaqua, Galla, Kisuaheli, Kimbamba, Kinika.

VIII. AMERICAN

Esquimaux, Greenlandish, Virginian, Massachuchusett Indian, Mohegan, Delaware, Cree, Chippeway, Ojibway, Ottawa, Pottawattomie, Micmac, Abenaqui, Shawanoe, Mohawk, Seneca, Cherokee, Chocktaw, Dacota or Sioux, Iowa, Pawnee, Mexican, Otomi, Terasco, Mistico, Zapoteca, Mayan, Mosquito, Peruvian or Quichua, Aimara, Guarani, Brazilian, Karif or Carib, Arawack.

Killing goldfish softly

My physiotherapist has developed an idée fixe over the years that whenever I think about any goldfish, it dies.

I think that she is making a rather drastic confusion between cause and effect.

A GOLDFISH TRYING TO ESCAPE

I dearly wish I had that mental power – there would no flies on me anymore.

I wouldn’t restrict my zapping powers to mere goldfish;

I would have other fish to fry.

I would extend it other creatures;

I would attend a Harry Potter-style academy and work my way up the food chain.

I would achieve a BA (Black Arts)

then an MBA (Master of the Black Arts)

and finally a PhD (What’s it All About, Alfie?)

I would then change my identity and appearance but I wouldn’t go for the George Clooney/Brad Pitt look, rather I’d choose that guy in Patrick Susskind’s novel Perfume (must reading, by the way) you know, the pervy little alchemist who could become invisible at will.

(Oh, and while you’re at it, lop off a couple of decades from my age, will ya?)

Then I would sally forth and hire myself out to all the Presidents, Prime Ministers, Chancellors, Dictators, Czars, Sheiks, Kings, Absolute Monarchs, Autocrats, Nutters and Sociopaths with cash to spare.

I would become all the rich and powerful megalomaniacs of the world’s worst enemies’ nightmare. I would become a millionaire, a billionaire, a trillionaire.

I would become The Lord of Darkness.

THE LORD OF DARKNESS

I would be taken up to a high place and shown all the leafy mansions, lobster dinners, Aston-Martins, Rolex waches, private yachts, trophy wives, (trophy mistresses), Armani suits, i-pads, i-phones, i-gots, i-buy-therefore i-am hand-me-down religions in the world and ask Him:

–          OK, now what’s the deal?

But all this is predicated on the hypothesis that I am the man who kills goldfish with his thoughts.

I’m not.

So you  can stand down and relax, goldfish.

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