memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Posts tagged ‘creative writing’

The Fragment of Porcelain

The painter Tanaka stood back and studied his work. He was quite satisfied. The painting encapsulated all the delicacy and grace of Japanese art. The composition was perfectly balanced with the juxtaposition of the girl, the tree and the carpet of blossom.

The geisha was wearing a beautiful white kimono edged in red, with her slender waist bound by the obi and a shawl draped loosely about her shoulders. The eye followed the line of her right arm holding out her kimono to the branch of the cherry tree symbolically leaning over her and finally down the trunk of the tree to the ellipse of cherry blossom under her feet. He painted his signature at the bottom right-hand corner.

Tanaka came from a long line of artists and had at first trained with porcelain, going through every stage of fabrication from the modelling of the clay, the first glazing and firing in the oven, to the design and painting and then the second glazing and firing process. These days he specialized in painting stylized figures in a landscape.

Noriko, the model, timidly asked Tanaka if she could see the finished painting. She tiptoed round the easel and caught her breath in admiration. It was perfect. How well her mother’s kimono looked!

She had known Master Tanaka all her life, as her mother was one of his favourite clients and he always treated her with great courtesy, addressing her as «Noriko-San». He was very generous to them both, always bringing them little presents such as pieces of silk, little elaborately carved boxes and sugared apricots and chestnuts – in fact the kimono that she was wearing in the painting came from him.

Noriko hurried from the formal water-garden into the house, with its light timber-frame and paper-thin walls, its sliding windows which allowed a beautiful light to permeate every room, suffusing them with a white softness. She helped her mother prepare the tea ceremony for the Master, singing quietly in her high voice. She was happy on that early August morning in such a tranquil spot, set as it was in the centre of such a large city.

Across the world, the Enola Gay trundled out of her hangar in the Arizona desert and started to taxi to her take-off position. The huge lumbering B29 Super Fortress had a crew of twelve – these included the captain, the co-pilot, the navigator, the bombardier, a special weaponry officer, the flight engineer, radio operator and the two gunners – only one of whom, the captain, was over thirty. They all knew the historical significance of the mission but had only just found out the name of the target city. The Enola Gay reached the beginning of the runway and paused, before accelerating smoothly down the strip and at last taking wing with a long, slow curve towards the west. She settled in for her long flight across the Pacific.

Noriko’s mother and Tanaka knelt facing each other over the low table and bowed, each one holding a bowl of steaming fragrant tea. Noriko served them with delicate little appetizers and coughed politely her pretty little hand covering her mouth:

–              Noriko, honey, have you caught a chill?

–              Yes mother dear, I think I may have caught something while I was posing under the cherry tree for honoured Master’s painting …

–              I’ll make you some special tea then.

–              By the way mother dear can we discuss the final plans for my acceptance into the Guild?

 As mother and daughter chatted away in their high fluting voices, Tanaka studied them and thought what a charming picture they made; automatically he started to compose them into a design, the daughter leaning in towards the mother, the frame of a window sketched in as a backdrop and the low table with its cushions tapering down to a point could provide the foreground.

The Enola Gay was flying at maximum altitude over the outskirts of the Japanese city. Visibility was good. The pilot set his controls for the heart of Hiroshima, the plane riding the sky, the Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse, high above the doomed city. As soon as the bombardier released the Bomb the captain wrenched the plane away, her engines frantically clawing at the thin air desperately trying to gain as much height and distance as possible before the shock waves hit.

At the moment of detonation, the fusion created a great white light stronger than a thousand suns, radiating out at light-speed illuminating the thousands of people, houses, gardens and factories in a ghastly tableaux before the explosion blasted everyone and everything into oblivion.

Two weeks after the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, a young American soldier making his way cautiously through the stricken city, bent and picked up a little miracle of survival – a small, charred ceramic bowl, fired again by the intense heat of the explosion, on which could still just be discerned the design under the blackened glaze of a girl under a tree.

The atomic bomb dropped in anger on Hiroshima on that 6th of August of 1945, followed by a second one on Nagasaki a few days later, brought the Second World War to an abrupt end.

A sort of collective innocence went out of Humanity. The world had been changed forever.

The man who kills goldfish with his thoughts

There’s really much to write about this subject except that 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.

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 become a Prince of Darkness.

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 and Nutters 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 be taken up to a high place and shown all the Aston-Martins, Rolex waches, private yachts, trophy wives, (trophy mistresses), Armani suits, i-pads, i-phones, i-gots, i-think therefore i-am hand-me-down religions of the World and ask Him:

–          OK, now what’s the deal?

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

I’m not.

But I must confess to thinking of her wretched fish some years ago – long enough to write this little sketch.

Scene – A tank in the kitchen of Angela’s house.

1# goldfish – Ooh look! There’s Angela.

2# goldfish – Ooh look! She’s having her breakfast.

3# goldfish – Ooh look! Here Angela’s mum to say hurry up or you’ll be late for work!

Later, about mid-morning – and here comes the sad part – the fish, perhaps unable to bear the excitement of life in Angela’s kitchen or simply feeling unequal to the struggle for existence, gently and gracefully expire.

When Angela’s mum comes back from the shops she notices that the fish have died. Oh dear, she thinks, Angela will be a bit upset – I know, I’ll break it to her gently.

Later Angela comes home from work. Her mum says:

–              Hello dear, how was your day?

–              Not bad.

–              Listen, I’m afraid I’ve got a bit of bad news.

–              What?

–              Well, let’s put it this way, you don’t have to bother to feed the goldfish this evening.

–              Why not? Has Dad been feeding them again?

–              No, it’s because they’re dead.

Angela feels annoyed. Those damned fish keep on dying on me, she thinks. I know I’ll go this Saturday to the pet-shop to make a complaint.

Saturday, at the pet shop:

–              Good morning Madam, what can I do for you? Some piranha fish… a nice little shark… perhaps an albatross….?

–              I’ve come to make a complaint. Those goldfish that you sold me last weekend have already died!

–              No they’re not dead, they’re only sleeping.

–              Sleeping! They have not moved for days!

–              Yes these Oriental fish like to hibernate sometimes…

–              Look, they are dead! They’ve gone to that great fish-tank in the sky! They have shuffled off their mortal coil! They have kicked the bucket! They have cashed in their chips! They are deceased…. They are ex-fish… they are DEAD!

–              Well if you’re sure… would you like three more?

Angela goes next door to the café and has a soothing cup of coffee to calm down

THE MAN WHO KILLS GOLDFISH WITH HIS THOUGHTS

(Those who can, do; those who can’t, blog)

A Wedding (in a time of crisis)

May 2008

Mandy is going to have a wedding. She has had her heart set on a white wedding in a church with flowers, bridesmaids, Reception in a posh country hotel with all the trimmings, ever since she can remember. The fact that neither she nor her boy-friend Mark can really afford it is not going to stand in her way.

She left school at sixteen and went to work in a local beauty salon; she lives with her mum Tracey and her brother Wayne, in a West London suburb in one those endless streets that you see flashing by as you begin your final descent into Heathrow.

Mandy works hard at cashing in on her best asset – her looks. She goes to the gym twice a week and spends a fortune on make-up, hair products and above all clothes. She buys all sort of gear, whether from Top Shop, Miss Selfridges or Zara in the shopping mall or on the market stalls on Saturday mornings where she picks up all sorts of tat. As for her face and figure, well, let’s just say that she makes the most of them; she puts her best foot forward as they say.

The furniture of her mind is sparse, being over-loaded and cluttered with a series of superficial images, clichés and sound-bytes derived mainly from the TV, magazines and the chatter of like-minded colleagues and friends. Like Sarah Palin, the Republican running mate for VP in the American Election, she would probably be unable to name any newspaper that she reads on a regular basis.

Her mother Tracey has aided and abetted her daughter in her quest for a suitable husband. Tracey and her daughter subscribe to the principle of instant gratification and buy now, pay later. As for brother Wayne, let’s not even go there.

What is rather more surprising however is that, while, the whole of the Western World is going into financial and economic melt-down, Amanda and Tracy seem to remain blithely oblivious to the situation and don’t even attempt to reign in or curb their spending habits, rather like a driver who, taking the same route to work every day, doesn’t slow down at a blind corner, on the grounds that I drive round here every day and there’s never been anything yet.

So far they’ve run up a credit card debt of over twenty thousand Pounds and the wedding will cost six thousand more; but it’s worth it – Mark is a real catch.

Recently everybody has been discussing darkly the financial markets – the Dow Jones, the Dax and the Taipei index; the pundits explain sagely about hedge funds, the collapsing housing markets, sub-prime loans, negative equity, toxic debts and so on; they worry about the various Governments’ bail-out plans – in short everyone has become an armchair expert. But the trouble is that there are no experts for this unprecedented situation: no one really has a clue.

Mark is, until recently at any rate, indeed a catch. He works in the City as a market trader, specializing in Futures, for a large Investment Bank, Lehman Brothers; this multinational octopus has its Head Office in Wall Street. Mark and Mandy met while out clubbing in the West End. He and his friends were celebrating a piece of adroit financial wizardry whereby, in few hours of buying and selling shares, they’d made over a million pounds. She was on a girls-only night out on a binge but always keeping an eye out for available men. They literally bumped into each other at the bar with Mandy spilling her drink all over Mark’s tie; it was instant attraction and, one thing leading to another, they ended up at Mark’s flat for coffee and sex.

The next morning Mark blearily staggered off to work, thinking that it had only been a one-night-stand and that was that. The calculating Mandy however had different ideas. She waited for a couple days and then phoned him on his cell phone (he’d drunkenly written the number on her wrist) suggesting they meet up for a drink after work. A couple of months later Mandy announced that she was pregnant and Mark did the honourable thing. They decided to get married as soon as possible.

FORMAL VOWS . PAINTING BY THOMAS MILNER

Meanwhile the world stock markets, first Wall Street, then the City, the Bourse, the Berlin and Geneva stock exchanges, and finally the Asian markets – Hong Kong, Tokyo and Beijing – all begin their catastrophic plunge and then go into free fall. Governments frantically pump in billions to shore up their failing economies. Central Banks struggle to contain the situation by lowering interest rates. But in the world markets, trillions are being wiped out every day. Whole countries, like Iceland and Bulgaria, go bust! And during all this financial turmoil, before the Western Governments, in desperation, step in to nationalize them, some of the huge Investment and Lending Banks, like Lehman Brothers, (Mark’s bank), go into liquidation.

Innocent of these stirring events, Amanda and Tracy are happily planning the wedding:

–              Look Mum, what do you think of this one?

–              Oh Mandy, It’s fantastic! And it suits your colouring too and the great thing is that you’re not showing yet …

–              No, that’s right! I couldn’t bear the thought of going up the aisle all fat and ugly and everyone knowing that I’ve got one up the duff and thinking, get her! Hope she doesn’t pod in front of the altar!

–              Yeah, that’s right! Now what are you wearing for the going-away outfit? Casual or formal?

–              Oh Mum! I mean, Hello! This is 2008 you know, Casual, of course! I thought maybe my new jeans with one of those great tops I bought yesterday … oh and my white, open shoes, you know, the ones with the heels?

–              Yeah, and after the reception you and Mark will be going straight to the airport?

–              Yeah, just think it’s only a two hour flight to Ibiza!

The great day arrives. Mark, now out of a job, is increasingly worried about their financial situation and has put out feelers among his contacts in the City. But times are hard; too many people are chasing too few jobs; besides, stock market traders are perceived as being responsible for the mess and therefore not exactly the flavour of the month. He has suggested to Mandy that they cancel the church and the Reception and put off the honeymoon until a later date when their finances are more stable. Instead they could have a simple ceremony at the local Register Office, followed by a champagne lunch at a nearby restaurant, attended only by family and close friends. But Mandy insists on going through with the original plan – the full Monty, the whole disaster! Not for the first time, he wonders whether or not his wife-to-be has got a screw loose.

And it is indeed a bit of a disaster. The only good thing about the wedding is the weather with a glorious sun shining all day in a very un-English way. More typically English is the way His family looks down their noses at Her family; the flowers in the church aren’t quite right either; the Vicar doesn’t seem to know who they are and, to make matters worse, the Bride and Groom have just had a whispered but bitter row in the lobby about money. So the ceremony runs its course; the couple exchange vows and rings, with stony faces, and kiss briefly before turning to progress down the aisle, to the strains of The Wedding March. What a hollow triumph for Mandy. What a disillusion for Mark.

At the church door, Amanda breaks away and starts to run down the path, casting a reproachful look back at her husband, (much to the delight of the official Photographer who manages to capture the moment).

Hiroshima, Mon Amour

The painter Tanaka stood back and studied his work. He was quite satisfied. The painting encapsulated all the delicacy and grace of Japanese art. The composition was perfectly balanced with the juxtaposition of the girl, the tree and the carpet of blossom. The geisha was wearing a beautiful white kimono edged in red, with her slender waist bound by the obi and a shawl draped loosely about her shoulders. The eye followed the line of her right arm holding out her kimono to the branch of the cherry tree symbolically leaning over her and finally down the trunk of the tree to the ellipse of cherry blossom under her feet. He painted his signature at the bottom right-hand corner.

Tanaka came from a long line of artists and had at first trained with porcelain, going through every stage of fabrication from the modelling of the clay, the first glazing and firing in the oven, to the design and painting and then the second glazing and firing process. These days he specialized in painting stylized figures in a landscape.

Noriko, the model, timidly asked Tanaka if she could see the finished painting. She tiptoed round the easel and caught her breath in admiration. It was perfect. How well her mother’s kimono looked! She had known Master Tanaka all her life, as her mother was one of his favourite clients and he always treated her with great courtesy, addressing her as Noriko-San. He was very generous to them both, always bringing them little presents such as pieces of silk, little elaborately carved boxes and sugared apricots and chestnuts – in fact the kimono that she was wearing in the painting came from him.

Noriko hurried from the formal water-garden into the house, with its light timber-frame and paper-thin walls, its sliding windows which allowed a beautiful light to permeate every room suffusing them with a white softness. She helped her mother prepare the tea ceremony for the Master, singing quietly in her high voice. She was happy on that early August morning in such a tranquil spot, set as it was in the centre of such a large city.

Across the world, the Enola Gay trundled out of her hangar in the Arizona desert and started to taxi to her take-off position. The huge lumbering B29 Super Fortress had a crew of twelve – these included the captain, the co-pilot, the navigator, the bombardier, a special weaponry officer, the flight engineer, radio operator and the two gunners – only one of whom, the captain, was over thirty. They had all been hand-picked; they were all experienced, phlegmatic and rather unimaginative young men. Only three of crew were historical significance of the mission but had only just found out the name of the target city. The Enola Gay reached the beginning of the runway and paused, before accelerating smoothly down the strip and at last taking wing with a long, slow curve towards the west. She settled in for her long flight across the Pacific.

Noriko’s mother and Tanaka knelt facing each other over the low table and bowed, each one holding a bowl of steaming fragrant tea. Noriko served them with delicate little appetizers and coughed politely her pretty little hand covering her mouth:

–              Noriko, honey, have you caught a chill?

–              Yes mother dear, I think I may have caught something while I was posing under the cherry tree for honoured Master’s painting …

–              I’ll make you some special tea then.

–              By the way mother dear can we discuss the final plans for my acceptance into the Guild?

 As mother and daughter chatted away in their high fluting voices, Tanaka studied them and thought what a charming picture they made; automatically he started to compose them into a design, the daughter leaning in towards the mother, the frame of a window sketched in as a backdrop and the low table with its cushions tapering down to a point could provide the foreground.

The Enola Gay was flying at maximum altitude over the outskirts of the Japanese city. Visibility was good. The pilot set his controls for the heart of Hiroshima, the plane riding the sky, like one of the Horsemen of The Apocalypse, high above the doomed city. As soon as the bombardier released the Bomb the captain wrenched the plane away, her engines frantically clawing at the thin air desperately trying to gain as much height and distance as possible before the shock waves hit.

At the moment of detonation, the fusion created a great white light stronger than a thousand suns, radiating out at light-speed illuminating the thousands of people, houses, gardens and factories in a ghastly tableaux before the explosion blasted everyone and everything into oblivion.

Two weeks after the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima, a young American soldier making his way cautiously through the stricken city, bent and picked up a little miracle of survival – a small, charred ceramic bowl, fired again by the intense heat of the explosion, on which could still just be discerned the design under the blackened glaze of a girl under a tree.

The atomic bomb dropped in anger on Hiroshima on that 6th of August of 1945, exactly 67 years ago today, followed by a second one on Nagasaki a few days later, brought the Second World War to an abrupt end.

A sort of collective innocence went out of Humanity. The world had been changed forever.

HUMANITY – COLLAGE BY THOMAS MILNER

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