I’ve created this page to showcase some new, possibly experimental, writing that I hope visitors will read and comment on. It’s not meant to be a finished article – rather an idea that I’m playing with that may, or may not, work:
This is my first such post:
The crash came from nowhere, unpredictable as the stormy weather that swept the M62 motorway across the top of the bleak Pennine moors.
The car radio was tuned to Radio Two. Mama Mia was playing, and I sang along.
It was mid-winter, and not the best time to be heading for Leeds. Gale force winds lashed the rain sideways, and buffeted my small car.
“Mama Mia, here I go again.” I lean forward to peer through the windscreen. The wipers fail to make much impact on the rain and spray from the heavy traffic thundering close by. I spot a big problem up ahead, on the opposite carriageway.
A lorry has clipped another and veers across the motorway, smashing one car aside like a broken toy. I see the lorry driver in his cab, desperately heaving on the steering wheel, but the lorry hits the grass on the central reservation, crosses over and tilts. It’s heading straight for me, looming fast out of the murk. I brake, look desperately for some means of escape, but there is none. Cars on both sides of me, scatter. One hit’s the side of my car, then it’s gone.
The lorry is alongside me now, on two wheels, about to go over. I notice Lurpak written across the side. A mad thought pops into my mind – I’m toast. Might just make it, but no. I hear myself scream and brace myself. No chance now. Time slows as the lorry crashes on top of my midnight blue Ford Focus. I see the bodywork crumple around me and…Christ I’m being crushed. Pain shoots through my body like an electric shock. I feel a bone snap in my leg, and a massive weight crush my pelvis. Never felt pain like this. My seat gives way under me. The windscreen presses on my chest. The radio has stopped playing. It’s black all around me – and I smell petrol.
I feel myself drift in and out of consciousness. Not oblivion exactly – something and somewhere else. I no longer feel pain. I drift, and feel myself in water. I’m in a sea, one of millions of strange creatures. Some shine with internal lights, squid-like, pumping water through their bodies to jet through the water – others just hang there. I sense a large presence somewhere – a predator moving silently through the water.
The scene warps and shifts. I’m on dry land, an odd landscape. The sky red, and a huge baleful yellow moon hangs on the horizon. All around me steam escapes through hot rocks, and geysers make a deafening roar as they shoot pressurised water and steam hundreds of feet into the air.
The images that play in my fractured mind move on. As a child I recall an old speeded-up black and white movie where a train races through the English landscape at seemingly breakneck speed. It’s like that – snapshots come into focus as the pace slows, then suddenly speed picks up again and everything begins to blur.
Now I’m on a grassy plain, surrounded by my companions, and I feel happy. The sun is on my face and we edge towards an injured baby elephant, wooden spears in hand. The elephant looks strange, covered in long brown hair. My friends look funny too. They are also hairy, with apelike faces, and I communicate with them by thought. We don’t have speech. Knew a bloke looked like that once. He was a local in a pub in the Lake District, near the village where I grew up. I recall him with a smile – Chainsaw Jack his name. Happy days those, of lock-ins, laughs and frolics with local lasses on the long walk home down country lanes, often breaking our stroll in fields behind honeysuckle scented hedgerows.
I digress. Back to my simian pals and I. We edge through long grass and I spot a huge mound of dried dung. I pick it up and drop it on the head of the hunter by my side. He looks funny, but can’t react for fear of alerting our prey. I silently laugh, as do the other members of the hunting party – including shithead.
The scene fades, time warps and I’m on an open boat, rowing through mist. All around me men are rowing. No-one speaks, but instinctively I know I am a Viking, and we are near shore on a raiding mission. A face appears in my mind, a very old and heavily lined face, wearing a metal helmet. There’s a smell of old leaves and fungus, like earth freshly dug up from somewhere. The vision speaks in my head. It occurs to me I’m past words now: “Welcome,” says the voice. “You have probably realised by now that what you are seeing is your life. Not just this little interlude, but all life, from the beginning of time – what you were, to where you are today.
“I am you from long ago, and we are now in the 8th century. I’m here as your guide through the continual thread that has been passed down from father to son. We are following only the male thread of your life – truth is we don’t have all day – no time to recite an encyclopaedia of your whole existence.”
“We are on an expedition to England at the moment – off the coast of Northumbria. There’s a lovely little monastery, a ripe plum to pick and an easy target. Then we head down the coast to trade – animal skins and honey, and a little walrus ivory in return for silver and jewellery. You and I – because we are one – live in a small settlement of about 150 people at the top of a fjord, and you’ll be glad to know we have a wife – a captured slave from the northern coast of Europe – and two children. Row now, we need to get on.
With guidance from my old self – a bit maggoty I note, but he seems pleasant enough – we journey on through the Middle Ages. A dark period this and not the finest moment for my ancestors and I, as most of it seems to be spent mucking out stables, trudging with pigs through mud, tugging forelocks at the local lords and ladies, sleeping on flea infested straw and suffering some very nasty diseases. The smell is terrible and my teeth seem to constantly fall out. I have five different bodies during this time, and lose ten sets of teeth. Along the way there are quite a few rolls in the hay with local wenches from the various shires where I live – nice to know some things don’t change, but all my conquests seem broad of beam, many with more facial hair than I.
My lot doesn’t improve much in the early part of the 17th century, when apparently I am called Hancock and live in the Derbyshire village of Eyam. At the start it is a happy time. I farm a little, have a wife called Elizabeth, three teenage children – eight originally but five die in childbirth or shortly after – and I am the village blacksmith. Then the whole village begin to get ill. By the end of 1666 most of us are dead – myself and my family included – killed by plague imported on a bundle of cloth from London.
“Have I never been famous then?” I ask old maggoty, recalling numerous television documentaries where people claim to have experiences from a previous existence. They always seem to recall being people of consequence, royalty even, in their past lives.
My guide ponders: “Not really,” he finally replies. “Not unless you count sharing a cell with the highwayman Dick Turpin in 1739 in York gaol – a bad bastard that one, threw a woman on a fire when she wouldn’t tell him where her money was hidden. Nothing like the fictional character, and you – we I suppose – weren’t much better. In there for stealing a horse, just like Turpin, but you’d both done far worse and got away with it.
In my minds eye I am there: Whitewashed stone walls and a stone flagged floor covered in straw with open bars to the long corridor outside. It is Spring but still bone chillingly cold and damp – no natural light and a constant din from other prisoners crying, arguing loudly and the occasional scream…suddenly cut short. I am wrapped in a coarse grey blanket to keep out the worst of the cold, but Turpin seems oblivious to the discomfort.
He has lost none of his swagger, as he strides round the cell, his pockmarked face screwed up in anger: “I tell you John Stead ( my name then) this prison will not hold me. I shall be away within the week – you mark my words.
He is partly right – both of us had our necks stretched at the Knavesmire gallows just outside York seven days later.
A wily smile cracks old maggoty’s wrinkled visage: “Oh yes, you did have one moment of fame. You worked as an under footman to Lord Alfred Douglas in 1895. Made quite a stir. We’ll skip forward to that event in your life.” Time picks up again – more rapidly flashing images of flag floors, cow’s arses and muddy fields, before we end up at an elegant Georgian mansion. Peacocks strut at the front, haunting calls punctuating the otherwise rural calm. This is more like it.
The scene shifts to an upstairs bedroom where a man dressed in a rather elegant dressing gown stands before another, naked and bent double. I recognise from old portraits the dissolute face of poet and man about town, Oscar Wilde, and know in an instant who the other man is – me. Maggoty is grinning – rather unkindly I feel – as Wilde speaks: “ ‘Pon my soul what an uncommonly sturdy pair of withers I am presented with – and before one has partaken of breakfast. Steady young steed,” he says, dealing me a painful smack across my buttocks with a horse whip. “And pass me the butter Bosie. One has a much better use for it than to spread on ones breakfast muffin. Lets a canter – come Bosie you can hop on as well.”
From the corner of my eye I spot young Lord Alfred sprawled languidly on the rumpled bed, pouting petulantly: “For God’s sake Oscar, he’s a bloody footman – just get on with it. This is becoming extremely boring.”
I don’t need second sight to know what happens next, and Maggoty has the decency to fade out the scene before butter, buttocks and bard become one. He takes up the subsequent story: “You were the talk of below stairs for weeks afterwards, and there was even a possibility you would appear as a witness in Wilde’s trial for gross indecency. Never happened of course – a servant couldn’t be relied on to tell the truth, and it was thought that, anyway, you were probably too stupid to know what had happened to you.
“Still, even the possibility of being a witness did mean you had to be got out of the way, and with a purse of gold coins in your back pocket to boot. Did quite well actually – used the money to emigrate, and ended up a moderately wealthy coffee plantation owner in Kenya. Never married but died aged 75, with your 25 children and their six mothers either at your bedside or out in the hall. All’s well that ends well, so let’s move on.”
The scene changes and we are on a canal, on a narrow boat loaded with slate collected from open cast quarries in the Cumbrian hills and destined for the industrial cities of Lancashire. An old shire horse plods along the towpath, attached to a rope and a pair of long reins. It’s a beautiful day, and the sun warms my face.
Ahead I see the yellow pall of smoke that tells me Preston, and beyond that Manchester, is but a day away. It’s 1938, and the threat of war grows in Europe. I read in my newspaper that Prime Minister Chamberlain has met Mr Hitler and reached an agreement,. Thank God for that, as my father and many of his friends and relations died in the trenches during the Great War.
Chamberlain is pictured on the front page holding a piece of paper in the air and declaring “peace for our time”, but I also read that Mr Churchill remains sceptical, and believes Germany’s invasion of the Sudetenland will not salve their appetite to dominate Europe.
Today war seems faraway as we plod down the towpath of the Lancaster Canal. Men are in the fields with their horses, ploughing to ready the land for winter crops, and I walk behind our faithful old shire horse, Ned. My wife, Jess, pops up from the tiny rear cabin with a welcome pint of hot tea. A sturdy lass – near as strong as I – and works the lock gates better than most men.
We pass under a small humpback bridge as a large black Austin passes on the road overhead: “Mark my words,” she says. “First it was the railways. Now all these roads will be the death of our trade.”
I turn and laugh: “Don’t be daft lass. Who is going to carry this lot cheaper than we can – and right to the dockside to boot. What do you think, Ned?” Hearing his name the horse turns and lets out a huge fart. A pile of dung hits the towpath. It seems my destiny is to spend my life at the back end of beasts of burden, being crapped on from a great height.
The scene fades and fast forwards. I am in a caravan in the Lake District. It’s the late 1950’s and it’s raining. I recognise from old photographs a young sullen-faced boy, his head pressed against the glass window. Me, aged 10. Not a happy child.
Then I remember The Beatles from a few years later in the early 1960’s, and the old 45rpm record Love Me Do. I still have it in a bottom drawer somewhere. They were the years of early teenage fumblings with young girls, and that first time with a big redheaded girl two years older than me – over in a flash.
Not a bad life, I reflect. The faces of my daughter and partner flash into my mind. They will cry for me no doubt, but within the year I’ll be in their box of memories, along with the ex-cat and the long dead parents – to be opened briefly at Christmas and birthdays, then not at all. Life goes on.
I look at old maggoty, a tear in my eye: “It’s time,” he says. “Someone will come to guide you the rest of the way.” He fades slowly away, and I see a light – white and blindingly bright. Through it walks a statuesque woman.
She is beautiful, but ever changing – black like a Nubian princess one moment, then turns and presents a different image – still hauntingly beautiful. I look at her eyes – captivating, intense, as she seems to gaze into my very soul.
“Are you an angel?” I timidly ask. But the voice that appears in my mind bears the flat vowels of West Yorkshire: “Nur, Claudette’s t’name, an’ I worked Tesco before I wur ’it by a car. Come on love, time’s up.” She reaches out a slim cool hand and as I touch her I feel myself being pulled towards a circle of light. We approach it together, closing fast now, and just make it through before it closes with a funny sort of pop.
She is gone, and all around me now it is black, and I am alone…
Outside on the moors firemen with their cutting equipment have freed the wreckage, and a crane lifts the lorry clear. Two policemen peer into the car: “Poor bugger, didn’t have a chance,” says one. “Funny thing though. He seems to be smiling at something.”
“Nay bloody wonder,” says his colleague. “He’s probably nice and warm where he is, and it’s still fuckin’pissin’ down out here.”
Both men look out over the bleak moorland, and sigh.
THE END – or maybe a beginning?