In Cold Blood Klub

Five days into the school holiday, I took the children to the local Kidz Klub, the aim being to let them burn off all of their excess energy by diving into ball pools, hurtling down slides, and anything else that works up a sweat.

I knew the place well: the building used to be a social club that was extremely popular when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Of course the decor had changed, but the layout was more or less the same. In my mind’s eye I could still see the jostling forms where the bar had been, all eyes and bluff and posturing.

The kids kicked off their shoes and raced for the nearest rope ladder. I got myself a coffee and claimed a table, taking my battered paperback out of the carrier bag. I emersed myself in the story, occasionally coming up for air to locate the children and again see the building as it used to be.

But, in the gents toilet, there was little need for a concerted re-imagining. The place was a time capsule, exactly as it used to be save for a lick of paint.

Instead of individual urinals, there was one of those long, marble trough sorts that ran the full length of both walls. Night club; kids club: it was still there.

I saw the ghosts of young lads, each showing various stages of unraveling as the night wore on, standing with their heads leaning against the walls as they relieved themselves, eyes closed, awareness elsewhere. Motown thudding against the door.

Coming back out into the regular time zone, I reassured myself that my children were okay and returned to the table, once again picking up my book.

“Excuse me,” a woman on the adjacent table said to me, holding up an image on her iPhone. “I just thought I’d ask, you being a man and all, I need to get a shower head, one of those ring ones, for someone to fit at the weekend. Do you know if this is the right one- it needs to fix onto tiles instead of a wall?”

“I’m sorry, I’m really not a DIY guy. I couldn’t tell you. In fact, if my wife was here, she would be pissing herself just at the fact that you are asking me this question.”

She understood my inadequacy, and said she would take a chance and order it. It was only a fiver after all.

I went back to my book: Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. I picked up where I had left off. Though I had never read read it before, I was familiar with the case, and so knew that Smith and Hickock were nearing apprehension by the authorities.

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As I was reading, I became aware, above the exuberant screams of excited children, that Christmas carols were quietly being played over the speakers.

Christmas carols? In February?

Oh, come let us adore Him, Oh, come let us adore Him, Oh come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Attempting to tune out the out-of-season music, I yet again returned to my book, and immediately read:

Christmas carols were in the air; they issued from the radio of the four women and mixed strangely with Miami’s sunshine and the cries of the querulous, never thoroughly silent seagulls. ‘Oh, come let us adore Him, Oh, come let us adore Him’: a cathedral choir, an exalted music that moved Perry to tears . . .

What were the odds on that? Reading, of all of the lines, in all of the pages, the very line of a Christmas Carol that was at that very moment being played over the speakers? In February?

It was not the first time that I had been left astounded at such a moment of synchronicity. When, somehow, something implausible and unpredictable breaks through into this ordered universe of ours. When two seemingly random and separate things come together despite incalculable odds. At least incalculable for this mathematics layman.

I don’t know how it happens. But it does.

After taking time to appreciate this bizarre coincidence, I went back to Capote. If there was mention of a shower head, or a pathetic, incapable handyman, I was seriously going to freak.

 

 

 

 

Five Point Update

First day of the kids being off school for a week.

We went to the library, where a woman breastfeeding was too much for my giggling five-year old son. He was whispering to his sister (not very quietly) “Millie!” while pointing at the woman, then having fits behind a bookcase.

I began writing a new poem called ‘Corvid’. Crows, woods, roadkill.

I started reading Capote’s In Cold Blood. The only novel of his left for me to read.

I watched a programme about sharks off the Cuban coast. Encountered one I’d never heard of before: the Silky shark.

Not a bad day at all.

And going to a concert tomorrow. More on that later.

City Escapes, In Starbucks

Today was a good day.

I spent much of it in Starbucks, in Manchester, drinking spiced pumpkin latte and reading accounts of adventures in such far off places as Tangier; Haiti; Ischia; New Orleans.

Sitting directly opposite me, oblivious to my mental escapes, was a young woman, wearing a blouse of long, black-laced sleeves, locked in an insular world with her bespectacled beau. She looked comfortable enough in their interactions, but had enough self-conscious affectations to suggest that their love story was still in its infancy.

Whoever they were, they weren’t local, and their story had brought them here.

Perhaps they were from Tangier, Haiti, Ischia or New Orleans. You know how sometimes coincidence plays itself out.

Sometimes I find myself people watching, wondering, creating, until I realise I am in danger of becoming the Shopping Centre Creep and shake myself back out of my reverie.

I plunged myself back into my book, next wondering if Hollywood is still a childless city. And how empty and lifeless such a city would be.

My travels went on, and on, then, in the evening, as the coffee ran dry, Manchester itself began to wind down:

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A Library Burns Down

You know, in my head, I’m still a teenager. Early twenties at a push. But last night a little reality leaked in when I spent an hour or so outside, reading The Mockingbird Next Door, by Marja Mills.

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There is some controversy about this book. Harper Lee issued a statement saying that she had not participated in the writing of it. But (in effect a rebuttal of the rebuttal), her elder sister, Alice, issued one confirming both their involvement and approval of it. As did a close friend, who was quoted many times in the book. It does seem that Harper’s close circle of friends, for so long famously protective of the author and unwilling to speak about her, were suddenly available and willing to talk, indicating that they had indeed been given permission by the Lee sisters.

Perhaps.

Maybe the source of this new openness to engage was an anxiety about two movies being made at the time about Truman Capote, spotlighting Lee’s role in the research done for his book In Cold Blood, in addition to a new, unauthorised biography of Lee due to be published.

I loved the book, throwing as it did new light on a favourite author, and also a disappearing window of the world.

Anyway, I digress:

In my head, I’m still a teenager, and all that . . . but while reading, I occasionally came inside to get a coffee, answer the call of nature, etc, and in doing so I would catch a glimpse of my reflection in the kitchen window. Wearing a particular blue jumper, and my reading glasses, I saw in that reflection both my father, and my grandfather. I could imagine a long line of Murray’s behind them, too, stretching back far in time.

In Mills’ book there is an African proverb quoted:

When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.

All the acquired knowledge and wealth of life experience, gone. I get that.

I am by no means an old man, still in my early forties, but as the unacknowledged (by default) historian of my family, I often think that I should start writing down the things that my grandparents and other elders told me, along with the stories that I have discovered in the pursuit of uncovering the lives of my ancestors. Because if I leave it too late, all of that information would be lost, to my children and their children. The struggles; the triumphs. All gone.

Wasted.

It would indeed be like a library burning down.

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So Spoke The Grass

Sometimes, when I haven’t been out of doors for a few days, I begin to get a little tetchy. Confined and cooped up, I need to escape for a few hours to remedy my growing impatience and lethargy. And a walk into town won’t do, either. It has to be somewhere wild, or at least green, in a park or over fields or something. Recently feeling so afflicted, I escaped to our local woods, buzzing with life as they are at this time of year. While I was there, I saw a young guy, oblivious to my presence, walking through the trees with headphones on. There seemed something contradictory about this, something perverse. Even pointless. It is like going scuba diving blindfolded.

As he walked ahead, disengaged, the wind was blowing through the long swathes of grass that surrounded him, and, although the seasons were different, they overlapped in the following lines from Capote’s The Grass Harp that came to mind:

Below the hill grows a field of high Indian grass that changes color with the seasons: go to see it in the fall, late September, when it has gone red as sunset, when scarlet shadows like firelight breeze over it and the autumn winds strum on its dry leaves sighing human music, a harp of voices…

… Do you hear? that is the grass harp, always telling a story-it knows the stories of all the people on the hill, of all the people who ever lived, and when we are dead it will tell ours, too.

Taken yesterday, on Tandle Hill.

Taken yesterday, on Tandle Hill. Talking.

Elsewhere in the book, there are other such passages of wonderful prose, elaborating further:

But the wind is us-it gathers and remembers all our voices, then sends them talking and telling through the leaves and the fields…

… On such a night, now that it was September, the autumn winds would be curving through the taut red grass, releasing all the gone voices, and I wondered if he was singing among them, the old man in whose bed I lay falling asleep.

I don’t know what the lad was listening to. It could have been something utterly divine, some of the most moving music ever created by man. But could it be more beautiful, more evocative, than the grass harp, singing and speaking all around him, the birds, and the trees adding layer upon layer to that great symphony?

Maybe he was listening to The Sex Pistols, or Anthrax. One man’s meat and all that. But still, there’s a time and place. I’ve never seen a sunflower headbang.

When we tune out, we disconnect. All around us, the natural world shares both our stories and our fate. It celebrates and laments, and provides a window of inspiration.

The wind got up; the swathes danced; the harp played on.The man vanished from sight, rounding the bend of the river. Capote’s final paragraph, as I sat on the hill, taking it all in:

It was as though neither of us had known where we were headed. Quietly astonished, we surveyed the view from the cemetery hill, and arm in arm descended to the summer-burned, September-burnished field. A waterfall of color flowed across the dry and strumming leaves; and I wanted then for the Judge to hear what Dolly had told me: that it was a grass harp, gathering, telling, a harp of voices remembering a story. We listened.

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On Books And Obsessions

So today is World Book Day.

The school run this morning consisted of me taking a wild, red haired Merida (from Brave-I was given the Death Stare for mistakenly calling her Meridian), and a gun toting Woody along the usual route, turning heads before we merged into a colourful sea of Mad Hatters, Supermen, and Wicked Witches at the school gates. We were greeted at the door by a grown up Hungry Caterpillar.

It was like something from a surrealist’s dream, or a drug taker’s confessional.

My contribution? Well I didn’t dress up. I know, I’m such a bore. But let’s face it, a guy who won’t use his daughter’s Frozen umbrella when it’s pouring down is not going to skip to school as Pennywise the Clown, is he?

No, my book themed contribution was to call at the local library on the way home to pick up 1984. Somehow, I have made it to forty-three without reading any Orwell, which I’m going to remedy after reading Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms.

imageLike all good book lovers, I have a backlog of stuff to get through, and this one is next in line now that I’ve just finished Norman Mailer’s Marilyn.

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 This is now the last Monroe biography I’m going to read. I tend to get fixated on a subject, read two or three books on it, then move on to another temporary obsession.

Marilyn is brilliant writing from a double Pulitzer Prize winner. I shall leave you with the moving, closing words of his book, which, appropriate for this day, also name checks another great author:

Once, across the years, she sent Rosten a postcard with a colour photograph of an American Airlines jet in the sky, and on the back, in the space for message, she put down, ‘Guess where I am? Love, Marilyn.’

Rosten wrote:’I have my own idea but am keeping quiet about it.’ Let us not hope for heaven so quickly. Let her be rather in one place and not scattered in pieces across the firmament; let us hope her mighty soul and the mouse of her little one are both recovering their proportions in some fair and gracious home, and she will soon return to us from retirement. It is the devil of her humour and the curse of our land that she will come back speaking Chinese. Goodbye Norma Jean. Au revoir Marilyn. When you happen on Bobby and Jack, give the wink. And if there’s a wish, pay your visit to Mr.Dickens. For he, like many other literary man, is bound to adore you, fatherless child.