Our Shaun

“Our Shaun came over. His girlfriend has moved out so I let him stay. God, he can be a lazy boy sometimes, I tell you. Our Shaun will be sat up playing his games or whatever. I told him no friends and he brings three people over. I told him no, you can’t, get them out. They all went but he put up a fight.”

“You guys fight?” I asked.

“Do we fight? Yeah, I had to hit him with the broom and he threw a plate at me. He kicked down my door last week, had to have Joe come around and sort that one out. That’s what this is. I told him to go somewhere else, you know, get him out. He still works down by the quadrant bit. You know, next to the park? Right. He has bad luck with jobs, our Shaun, he does. He was in iron for a while.”

“Iron?”

“Prison, prison. Mop in zig zags, otherwise you’re just spinning around. Yeah, he was for a couple of weeks, he can be trouble, he can. Mind you, now I didn’t see it, but our Ella said she was out her flat watching. Shaun had four policemen chasing him. He tried to hide with Ella but our Ella, she’s smart, she says you can’t otherwise she’ll get done, you know. So he legs it. Our Ella tells us she saw him go up some steps and them police followed. Fifteen minutes later, it’s just Shaun. He’s blood on his face, his clothes are torn, he’s a state. No police though. Our Shaun can do that. Get himself out. Managed to do it pretty well when he shoved that pipe down that dogs throat. Dog was fine and he got nothing for doing it. He’s a big name, our Shaun, he’s big. I get lucky having him as my boy. I tell people I’m Daly or they see my name somewhere and they know that’s Shaun’s mum.”

She placed both her hands on top of the broom and rested it beneath our chin. “It’s safety most of the time. People knows me and people knows our Shaun. You don’t get on his bad side. You’re alright, he knows you and I do, too. That’s our Shaun.”

Be like Beethoven

 

Here’s how Beethoven can influence your writing.

Stories have been and forever will be manipulated in structure for a taste of originality. The basic beginning – middle – end formula has been expanded upon, rearranged, reversed and altered countless times. They’re the basic blocks of story telling and they’re all necessary for a well developed piece to entice the consumer.

Similarly, classic symphonies are often composed of three or four movements. For example, it may look like this:

Allegro – Adagio or AndanteMenuetto or ScherzoFinale: Presto or Finale:Allegro.

Like a story, these can change for impact and gesture but all are generally considered needed for a complete piece.

While the structure is played around with and is most likely different for any piece of music or fiction, the duration of these pieces is equally important and shouldn’t be left untouched.

This is when Beethoven comes in. In his first and second symphonies, he stuck to the rules, more or less. A gentle introduction to grab your attention, to entice you into the piece, to let you hear what he had put together for your enjoyment. What followed were lengthy sections of melodies for each mood of the palate. However, in the third symphony, he did something different. He kept the structure but what he modified was the duration. Note the introduction…

That’s it. It’s two notes, two sounds that rush you into the melody of the exposition. He doesn’t just grab your attention, he takes it. At the time, this broke the rules but what’s important is the maverick decision worked. This reflected his ambition to stand out and now he’s globally recognised, for your attention has been caught and now you’re listening.

Writing needs to do this. In the same way people came to dance to the melodies of Beethoven, people pick up a book or watch a film for the story. They read the blurb or watch the trailer and think that that’s what they want to see. The details given in an introduction, most of the time, can be left out and will be told naturally by the rest of the story.

It’s the classic example of show, don’t tell. You don’t have to tell us about how little Timmy grew up to be a strong, brave boy who was emotionally crushed when his father died in the boating race he initially protested against. Show us in his reaction, show us in his interaction with others, show us in the substance of the moment.

Like Beethoven showing off his talent, he just got to the music. No faff, no fluff, no waffling. Be like Beethoven.

The Unfavourable Side

The Unfavourable Side

Flying cars and hovering farms,
Hydrated desert plants and wizard charms.
Self-walking dogs,
Self-igniting logs,
And personal life alarms.

Mobilised running devices and prosthetic hearts,
Impossible coloured cubes with immovable parts.
Self-straining juices,
Self-applying mousses,
And valuable fat-free tarts.

Folding houses and controllable weather,
Wool jumpers with steel-like tether.
Self-preventing tsunamis,
Self-seasoning pastramis,
And skin that is made out of leather.

These things we would die for but do not need,
Are things we lust with our own infant greed.
Selfish people,
Selfish people,
Who must learn to bleed.

————————–

This is a piece I wrote when I was younger. It was part of my university application to provide some sort of a portfolio and I included this poem. I keep a hold of older things I write to look back and see if I can improve myself.

I’d change a lot in this piece, it’s by no means perfect, but I find it a fun read and a solid reflection of my pre-student imagination. It’s remained intact.

So, I Started Reading

Joseph said he was going to give up the drinking with his boys. Says he’s giving up the drink. And you know it’s not for health reasons because the boy is fine.

Let me tell you something. Ever since our mate Gozzer got his new place, next door to the Two Pence pub that is, we’ve been coming to the pub every Saturday for 12 years. That’s 12 years of drinking, chatting, story sharing, banter, snooker, pub quizzes, darts and shots. By ‘we’, I mean Gozzer, Bigsy, Paul, Joseph and myself. Not one of us has missed a night. Never. It’s what we do. It’s our tradition. There ain’t much else to do in this town of 200 people so we’re sure to be there every Saturday.

Joseph said he’s giving up drinking. Took some convincing but he still came out the week after. He drank less but he still came out.

Then, he says he wants to go to a different pub. Suggested the Horseman. Said it’s because he didn’t like the noise at the Two Pence. He says this after 12 years all of a sudden? And it’s because of the noise? As far as I know – and here’s a big, fancy word from me – but the words ‘pub’ and ‘noise’ are synonymous, especially in Mickleton. No matter which pub you go to. We stayed at the Two Pence and went back the week after. Sure enough, Joseph still came out.

Then, he says this: “Why come out if I ain’t gonna sip the nectar, you know, it’s not fun being the sober one when everyone else is on Merry lane.” That’s how he put it. ‘Sip the nectar’ and ‘Merry lane.’ Funny boy, he comes out with some strange stuff.

None of that changed. We drank at the Two Pence and we all had beer and that’s how it was.

One Saturday, the 26th it was (I remember because Joseph is our sports man when it comes to the pub quiz questions), Joseph didn’t come out. Thought he might be ill or something so we let him off. Let him break the tradition because he was whingin’. Even Harry came out the morning after he had his operation those years ago and he had a pint.

But when he didn’t turn up for the second or third time, we thought there was something wrong. Couldn’t let him get away with not seeing his boys. Or maybe he was ill and needed some comfort. So, we head to his house. It’s all of us, including Paul’s girlfriend, Lara, who’s practically a conjoined twin to Paul considering how much time they spend together. We knock on his door, his wife answers. She’s lovely, she is. Lovely girl. Let’s us in and says he’s in the living room.

And it’s right before we get to the room when I realise…

Shit. What if he IS ill? What if he’s got liver failure from drinking? What if he’s got leprosy or some shit? We can’t come storming in here expecting him to come out if his bloody leg’s falling off!

But it’s too late. We’re all walking to the living room and we can’t stop. Curiosity, probably.

We get in there and Joseph is sat in his dressing gown with a fucking book in his hand. I then think there’s still a chance he might be ill – you know, because he’s reading – but he’s got a whiskey tumbler on the little table next to him and he’s smoking a cigar! He was fucking living it up! We didn’t ask questions. Shock got to us all. Gozzer was speechless, his big mouth hanging open. We poked a bit of fun at Joseph for his dressing gown because it was baby blue, as you do, and then left.

Joseph came out with us the week after. He felt bad for us for not making the effort. Gave us a little apology. I bought him a beer from the far end of the bar – the expensive ones. Christ, even the handle for the tap was dusty when Frank poured it. Felt it needed to be done for our Joseph, you know. Give him something nice.

He thanked me for the drink and said he liked the taste, but he nursed that pint throughout the night. Bigsy had three and he’s a slow drinker. That shows something wasn’t right.

What was odd about Joseph is that he showed no sign of, well, anything. Bigsy was talking about the time he slept on that church roof after a drunken night out at the Foresters – wakes up with a pigeon on his head. Nothing from Joseph.

Paul and Lara told us again about when Gozzer got in that fight with the barmaid’s husband. Funniest story there is – nothing from Joseph.

Bigsy then told us again about how he chased that pig through the field – and then he got stuck with his pants down in the mud! Classic tale. But nothing from Joseph. I asked him what was wrong. He said, ‘I’ve heard it before.’

I understand it now. Joseph had heard these stories a thousand times. He’s heard them every weekend every time we’ve been here. That’s all we talk about, that’s all we’ve ever talked about. Just reliving our old days every Saturday. And he’s right. Couldn’t tell you where Paul works now, couldn’t tell you how old Bigsy’s kid is. I had no idea who Gozzer was married to now, if not anyone. We don’t talk about the present or the future. Maybe because we’re all scared of it. Joseph had put up with it this whole time and the excuses he had were just to get away from it all for a bit. He tried to not hurt our feelings, you know. Kind kid and we gave him stick for it. Felt awful for him, we fucked up really bad there, for the pressure and all.

I remember not long ago, me and him got in a little bit of a fight. No fists or anything, but a lot of insults, lot of nasty words and it ended with Joseph leaving the pub early, stumbling out the door whilst giving us the finger. I caught up to him outside, he was slumped over a fence throwing up. I tried to start with an apology, I hate fighting and we’re all mates. Sometimes the alcohol rings like a wrestling bell. He stopped me and said this:

‘habit is a great deadener.’

I didn’t know what it meant – especially with half a keg of beer in me. But I remembered that. Both of us went home, to sleep it off. In the morning, I searched what he said online. Came up with some play about two tramps or something. Waiting for something, can’t remember what it was called. But there was a little help box for phrases – you know, for kids, probably, or thicks like me. Clicked it and said it means that if you do the same things, like over and over, it kills it. It kills the enjoyment or fun.

God I felt shit.

All Joseph wanted was to see what was over the hill. He wasn’t wearing these blinkers like the rest of us were, who were happy and content with routine. He wanted something different, even if it was spending his one night off reading Moby Dick or Waiting for Whatever. I stuck up for him when he didn’t show up on Friday. Bigsy and Harry both gave him banter in the texts they sent but I stuck up for him. I don’t think they’ll understand, and I didn’t think I would either.

Good thing, though, was that Joseph was a lot happier.

Saw him buying his skimmed milk – of course only Joseph would buy skimmed milk – down in Mahed’s last weekend. He was really happy. Non-stop talking, you know. I was jealous, I gotta say. It’s like he’d had sex for the first time all over again. Just from a bit of variation to his life, reading instead of drinking. He wasn’t smug about it neither – he even apologised, though it wasn’t necessary, for not being with us and for breaking the tradition, but he said he join us again soon.

Couldn’t get that image out of my head. His fat, podgy face buying milk, smiling and content.

There’s a coaster nailed to the ceiling at the Two Pence. On it, it says ‘Variety is the spice of life.’ Makes sense now. I was never smart in understanding what stuff like that means, but now I do. Just had to follow Joseph in his footsteps.

So, I started reading.

That Red Balloon Smile

That Red Balloon Smile

Twenty minutes to cover his face
With a brush and dirty mirror
And fifteen minutes more to carefully
Paint on
That red balloon smile.

He travels to the fort
The doorbell rings, calling all soldiers
To the porch.
Immediately bombarded by children who
Pull on his hair, squeeze his nose
and blow kazoos into his pudgy, white face,
The bread to the pigeons
The flesh to the vultures
The seal to the sharks.
He treads softly on the laminate flooring,

His eighteen inch shoes fold as he
Knocks the skirting board.
With the kids on his lap,

Squirming, impatient and eager,
He moulds the balloons
Into long, bendy giraffes,
Into sleek, slender cats,
Into round, stout pigs.

The animals that were given life and shape
Don’t live long.
They are swept up by a dustpan and brush.

His colourful trunk is invaded and the thieves,
Extract his shield and armour,
Wielding them.
They throw the deck of magic cards,
They javelin the extending stick,
They frisbee his magic hat.

It’s 4 o’ clock, the mother shouts
And the children run to the garden.
She hands an envelope to our clown.

He wanders across the hall
Retrieving his loot from the battle
That ensued.
The ball for his nose
The fuzz for his hair
The batteries for his spinning bow-tie.

“Will you be back?” one child asks,
as he retreats to the door.
“Perhaps,” he replies; the clown exits.

He retreats to his single bedroom flat,
Kicks off his shoes and
Pulls out a brush, wiping off
The icing from the cake,
The confetti from the popper,
The wrapping from the presents.

It could have been this or it could have been
Dodging bulls, blowing whistles
Probably with fewer casualties.

Twenty seconds to wipe his face
With a tissue and warm water
And fifteen seconds more
To remove
That red balloon smile. 

When I have Fears That I May Cease To Be

“Lester Drinkwater died last week. Hands down, greatest bartender there ever was. Pulled the best pint, served the best food and without a doubt, he was the best story teller that I had ever met.”

“He told us he was a writer. You could tell, the stories he told stuck with you. Even when you were slumped over the bar, trying to keep the hiccups down, you’d remember every detail of he had to say. They were gripping, they were epic, they were remarkable.”

“Every time I went for a pint, he had a new story to tell. There was always a new one and they were always exciting. The Tramp in the Boxcar, he had the one about the channel swimmer and one about these girls who escaped this big festival fire. Publishers would have made millions off of him. Heck, Hollywood should have picked up him and produced the next 15 best films of the decade using his mind as a script.”

“Police told us to come and collect some of his things this morning. His will stated all the locals were entitled to the possessions in his flat above the pub. Now Drinkwater said he was a writer, but there was nothing of that matter in his home. I would have loved to take home a book he wrote or an anthology of poetry he created, but he had nothing. He never put pen to paper.”

“His stories will start fading, now. The ones we remember, none of us could tell them as well as he did. He died without ever having anything down for someone else to read. He never got to share his ideas outside the village. If other people didn’t enjoy them as much as we did, that would be okay, but he will never know how they would have done when shown to the world.”

“That got me thinking. I’ve got to start fucking writing.”