bookmark_borderThe long wait

Travelling back from London last week, I landed at Glasgow on time so knew I had 30 minutes to kill until I was getting picked up. Plenty of time for a coffee and to continue reading the book that had held me engrossed for the short flight.

Seating was at a premium, but I spotted a low, comfy looking seat over by the window, across from a man who was sitting quietly, staring out the window. I enquired if the seat was taken, he assured me it wasn’t.

I sat down and, as I tipped some sugar into my coffee he turned to me and asked where I was going.

“Ohh I’m actually just back from London, just waiting on getting picked up. You?”
“I’m waiting too, my wife lands in three hours and I know I’m a bit early but I’ve not seen her three months as she couldn’t get a work permit”, he said.

And so I found myself chatting to a complete stranger about how he had travelled to China to receive treatment for a rare disease, a disease that had brought about the end of his 15 year long marriage, and how he had met and fallen for one of the nurses who had cared for him whilst he was there.

He was very open, talking about how close to death he had been, about his divorce, and about how excited he was to be seeing his new wife again. He talked with passion about China, the people and the culture, he talked with fondness about his wife, and his ex-wife, he told me about how his sons had been accepting and understanding, and the whole time he smiled.

I don’t know his name. I don’t know if his wife’s plane landed on time, I don’t know if his disease will kill him in the next few years, or whether he will out live me.

But I like to think she turned up and they are as happy as he looked that day when he was talking to me.

bookmark_borderWords and books

I’m blaming Stephen Fry.

I tried, I really did try and read his autobiography but it just didn’t flow for me. As wonderful a wordsmith as he is, it just didn’t read well, the flow and cadence was wrong and I found myself slowing down to read things in his voice. Whilst I like Stephen Fry, taking him to bed every night got a bit taxing.

So I gave up. I stopped. I admitted defeat and stopped reading which isn’t something I’ve done before.

Actually that’s a lie, I’ve given up a several books after faltering in the first few pages but that’s different. That’s like taking the first bite of a meal before realising it’s not what you wanted, or isn’t sitting kindly on the palate, and so you call over the chef (cook, wife, whatever), send the meal back and ask for something else.

No, this was different and it took me a while to realise that, although I’d read over half of the damn thing, I just wasn’t enjoying it.

That got me thinking about things I do enjoy, things I don’t enjoy, and which things I would have to change in my life to get more of the former and less of the latter.

And before my mother pitches up, yes I know life includes things you don’t enjoy but need to do but gosh darnit I’m all grown up now and if I can’t sway things more in the favour of enjoyableness then… well… that’s just not fair! Or some other slightly more reasoned argument that I can’t quite think of at this time of the morning.

With that in mind, one of my New Year resolutions (and I’m very aware of such things, setting yourself up for failure and all that) is to read more. Like my resolutions of last year, I’ve written it (and two others) on a piece of paper and wedged it in the frame of the mirror I use everyday, so I have a constant reminder of such things.

I am now reading, and enjoying, Empress Orchid. A tale of the last Empress of China, a story with characters, intrigue, passion and no small amount of gorgeous imagery. It’s nice to find myself enjoying the act of reading again, and perhaps I’ve dwelt too long on “professional” books in the past couple of years. I need to make more time for the novel.

Which means my rather quiet Goodreads account should start seeing a few more regular updates. It also tells me I have 34 books in my ‘to-read’ pile but don’t let that stop you recommending me more.

bookmark_borderChapter 4

‘Why not’, he thinks as he circles the advert in bold red ink, ‘I’ve tried everything else’.

Wanted: People who can find lost things.

He’d always been pretty good at figuring things out, liked reading detective novels when he was younger, and he never failed to find his Christmas presents no matter how ingeniously his parents hid them. Yeah, this might finally be the job for him. God knows he’d tried just about everything else, and had the scars to prove it.

With nothing else catching his eye, he scoffs down the last bite of his pastry, washes it down with the last of his coffee and hustles over to the payphone in the corner.

“Yes?” a brusque voice answers.

“Ohh hi, I’m.. eh.. phoning about the job advert in the paper today?”

“Which one?”

“Well it just says ‘Wanted: People who can find lost things’ so, I guess, that one?”

“Ahhhh yes, of course,” the voice softens “yes yes, when can you come speak with us? Are you free this afternoon? It would be great if you were as we are very keen to get people started, especially smart and on-the-ball individuals like yourself.”

“Ohhh right, well I’m free all day so, yeah, I can meet with you this afternoon if you like.”

“That’s wonderful, yes yes, tell me, do you know the cafe on Mitchell Street, just up from the laundrette on the corner of 4th?”

“Well sure Mister, I’m standing in it right now.”

“You are! Ohh how delightful! Yes yes yes, I wonder, yes, perhaps I could pop over now and have a chat with you? Would that be acceptable? I realise it’s very short notice but time is always of the essence, isn’t it Mr. … Mr…??”

“Finch, Alan Finch.”

“Excellent, Mr. Finch, so if I could trouble you to order me a coffee, black, no sugar, I’ll be over presently to have a little chat. Yes yes this could work out quite well I think”

“Sure thing, you want anything else with that?”

His question echoes down the line and the dial tone confirms the reply.

He hangs up and as he walks back to his seat he realises that he doesn’t know who he is meeting, or what he looks like. He turns to eye the street outside, looking for… well he doesn’t know who but he looks anyway.

The waitress idles over and he turns and orders two black coffees. As she leaves she glances down at the paper, the advert circled prominently and as the hint of a smile starts creeping across her face, turns to fetch his coffee.

He is still staring out of the window when a voice interrupts him.

‘Mr. Finch, Mr. Alan Finch?’

Startled he turns, his elbow catches his empty coffee mug and sends it hurtling towards the floor. The man standing there deftly reaches out and plucks it from the air, then places it firmly down on table.

‘Wow, Mister, good catch!’ he says, only now looking up and into the face of who he presumes is the man he spoke to on the phone mere moments ago.

‘Yes yes, I suppose it was, just a reaction thing I guess, always been quite good at that kind of thing. Do you mind if I sit down?’

As he sits he draws a business card from his pocket, holding it out with long powerful looking fingers, ‘My name is Bachman, Richard Bachman, thank you so very much for meeting me at such short notice’.

The business card has the same name on it, with the same phone number listed for the advert. Nothing else.

He takes the business card, flips it over and back again, looking for some sort of clue of what this might be about. He is just about to ask that very question when the waitress arrives, steam billowing from white china mugs. She plonks them down on the table, and in a flat drawl tells them to enjoy their beverages.

Alan looks up at her as she turns to walk away and he’s sure she winks at the man sitting opposite. Alan turns his attention to the strange man sitting there, taking in the thin yet powerful looking body, and the weary looking face offset by the most piercing grey eyes he’d ever seen.

‘So young man, I’m guessing you are wondering what the advert is all about? Yes yes I can see it in your eyes already, itching for knowledge, for answers. Well don’t worry I will tell you everything in good time, but first a question for you, do you mind if I ask you a question Alan?’

‘Of course not, fire away’.

‘Alan, and I need to you be very very honest, if you lie I will know and that will be the end of the interview. OK, you do understand that, don’t you Alan? I do not like time wasters and have seen enough to know when that is the case, do not lie to me’.

‘I won’t, look I need a job, you are advertising for… well, something, I don’t know what, but I need the work so I’ve no reason to lie, do I?’

‘Excellent! You are quite right, yes yes of course you have no reason to lie, yet people do for a myriad of reasons, right and wrong. But yes, you are candid and honest, good qualities, ones I like and that have taken you a step closer to being successfully chosen for this position. Yes yes I feel this is going very well already, now that question, it may sound odd, it may sound … what is the word now, oh yes, macabre, yes a delicious word but not one you’d hear at many a job interview, is that right? Yes of course it is, so, yes, that question, are you ready for the question Alan? Ready to answer truthfully?’

In his mind he was already beginning to regret making that phone call, and that the man sitting opposite him might not be completely sane… but what other options did he have? None, he knew it and he sensed this odd man sitting across from him knew it too. He had no other choices, no cards left to play.

‘Yes, I’m ready to answer truthfully’.

With that the man leans forward, his face hardens and his eyes seem to glow. In a low clear voice he asks the question. The question that will change everything.

‘Alan, have you ever looked into a dying man’s eyes?’


Ghostwritten by David Mitchell.

A quick search confirms some basic facts about this book, including the oft repeated fact that it is an astonishing debut. Written in the style of a series of short stories that share a common thread the writing style never seems forced and flows from tense set pieces to languid descriptive prose without missing a beat, and somehow manages to keep both the stories and the reader involved.

Continue reading “GhostWritten”

We didn’t start the fire
A while back I said that I was going to use Billy Joel’s track to give my modern history a bit of an updating.

Seems I now have another little learning aid based on the same song. I wonder if Mr.Joel thought his song would live on in this kind of way…

“‘Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnny Ray, South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio.
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, Television, North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe. [chorus]
Rosenbergs, H-Bombs, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom, Brando, The King And I, and The Catcher In The Rye.
Eisenhower, Vaccine, England’s got a new Queen, Maciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye. [chorus]
Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev, Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc.
Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dancron, Dien Bien Phu Falls, Rock Around the Clock.
Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team, Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland, Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Khrushchev, Princess Grace, Peyton Place, Trouble in the Suez. [chorus]
Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac, Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, Bridge On The River Kwai.
Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball, Starkwether, Homicide, Children of Thalidomide.
Buddy Holly, Ben Hur, Space Monkey, Mafia, Hula Hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go, U2, Syngman Rhee, payola and Kennedy, Chubby Checker, Psycho, Belgians in the Congo. [chorus]
Hemingway, Eichman, Stranger in a Strange Land, Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion, Lawrence of Arabia, British Beatlemania, Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson, Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British Politician sex, J.F.K. blown away, what else do I have to say. [chorus]
Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again, Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock.
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, Terror on the airline, Ayatollah’s in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan.
Wheel of Fortune, Sally Ride, heavy metal, suicide, Foreign debts, homeless Vets, AIDS, Crack, Bernie Goetz, Hypodermics on the shores, China’s under martial law, Rock and Roller cola wars, I can’t take it anymore! [chorus]”


What? I did say my muse had left me… (and I’m sure to get some interesting hits from Google now! 😉