RUOK?

On a rather more serious note ….

I have received a lot of correspondence of late encouraging me to look out for the welfare of others. I am not always good at doing this.

So RUOK?

I know that this day is mostly about mental health and I that is something that I take very seriously …… but what I have to say is not, strictly speaking, about mental health.

But RUOK? means RUOK?

And an article that I read this morning struck a chord and seemed worth repeating (in part).

I do have a lot of friends (don’t act all shocked please) and a lot of them are female and some of them find themselves in and out of relationships that are not always healthy.

The writer of this article points out the real dangers of these relationships without sugar coating them.

She has one key tip……..

If your new boyfriend is super-attentive and tells you about his previous “psycho” girlfriend, that’s a warning to get out as soon as possible. It’s a sign he doesn’t take responsibility for his actions when difficulties arise in a relationship.

She also lists a potential sequence of events …

  1. The perpetrator had a history of stalking or abuse in previous relationships. That holds true except for those in the dataset in first-time relationships.
  2. The relationship develops very quickly. He is looking for commitment and that really means, in his eyes, forever. God forbid you should want forever to end.
  3. He starts to exert controlling behaviours. Where are you? What are you doing? Who did you speak to today? Who are those text messages from?
  4. An event or discussion challenges his control. The woman may decide she wants to end the relationship or he experiences personal difficulties such as losing his job, causing an abrupt change in his circumstances.
  5. Escalation – he tries to reassert control by increasing the intensity or frequency of contact, stalking, or threatening suicide. It’s about getting “his woman” back and diminishing any challenge to his status.
  6. By now, the relationship is dangerous. If the woman is lucky, he leaves and she will then be his most recent “psycho” girlfriend. Or he might attempt to exact revenge. In the worst case, he starts considering murder as an option.
  7. Planning homicide – buying weapons, making opportunities to get the victim on her own.
  8. Homicide – which may not be limited to the woman but also her children.

The Descent of Santa.

This is embarrassing.

As some of you may recall (stop giggling, Meg) this whole blog has been about my disastrous attempts to gain some credibility with the NYC Midnight people (here) who conduct regular competitions worldwide for aspiring writers.

My results, thus far, have been abysmal. But with my latest effort I believe that I have reached a new low. In round 1 of the annual flash fiction contest this year I scored zero points out of a possible fifteen. Having reread the story I have to concede that the judges have been overly generous.

BUT …. my pledge was to publish ALL these stories in the hope that the resulting embarrassment might spur me onto greater things.

And, as I say, this is embarrassing.

THE DESCENT OF SANTA

Peering out through the eyes of a reindeer. With the snow, soft, white and cold beneath rubber hooves. Rudolf beside me absentmindedly polishing his crimson nose as he stubs out another cigarette. Below us the neon lights of modern religious celebration blocking out the natural glow of the moon and of the stars. Excited children huddled in shivering groups at the base of the run awaiting Santa’s spectacular arrival.

We have been drinking heavily, of course.

What could possibly go wrong?

Santa himself, that crazy fucker, making the final adjustments to the homemade sled and the arsenal of fireworks within. A second sled attached behind, loaded to the brim with colourfully packaged gifts. A nativity scene, complete with plastic cows and sheep, nailed to the front. A manger with real straw. A slightly bemused Mary and Joseph atop and gazing down at the serenely sleeping Jesus.

Dave Harris, antlers under his arm, casting cautious eyes over the home built conveyance. “I’m not so sure that this is going to work you know, Bob. It’s not designed to go down hill. Certainly not at speed, anyway. And this second sled …. unless you keep it right in line it’s likely to destabilise the whole setup . Do you think that maybe we should just tow you down the Main Street like we did last year and you can let off the fireworks there?”

Bob Terry, self-appointed Christmas fire-works display coordinator, speaking confidently through a fake beard, “No way, Dave. I’m really raising the bar this year. Mobile fireworks! What’s the worst that can happen? I take a tumble in the snow and a few fire crackers get snuffed out? Alternatively, if I pull it off, it’s the stuff of legend. So put on your antlers, grab a rein and prepare for launch!”

Taking one final swig from his bottle. Climbing aboard. Pausing for a moment of meditation before loading the first of the fireworks into the launchers and delivering final instructions.

“Right men, here’s the drill. Keep well out in front until I pick up speed then step aside to let me pass. I’m on my own after that. By my calculations the whole show should last about seven minutes. But it’ll light up the mountain,” glancing around the tiny vessel to ensure that sufficient firepower is loaded to fulfil his vision, “once I’m about twenty yards from the crowd it’ll be ‘cease fire’ and I’ll be easing her around to the right and up on to that snow bank where she’ll come to a stop. The elves’ll meet me there and we’ll start distributing the presents to the kids.”

There have been no actual calculations, of course. There has been no trial run. The whole concept of ‘mobile fireworks’ concocted only last week. The sleds hurriedly fitted with the rocket launchers and other attachments before being dragged to the top of the hill this very morning. Ropes now attached to each of the inebriated reindeer as we begin slowly to haul the thing forward towards the precipice.

Santa Claus holding up a hand. A comically solemn lowering of the head, “Merry Christmas to all. And God bless.”

Shouting to his team of reindeer, “keep it tight boys. Easy. Easy. Stop laughing. This is serious!”

The sled edging, under tow, towards its date with gravity. Henry Jackson falling forward and impaling his antlers into the snow. Uproarious laughter.

Over the edge. And he’s away. So far, so good. Santa flicking the cigarette lighter and igniting the first of the fireworks. Suddenly the entire valley awash with noise and colour and the explosion overhead. And then another. This is genuinely spectacular.

Moving faster and faster down the hill. Santa lighting one incendiary after another. The formerly peaceful valley suddenly reminiscent of a war zone.

The launch team – a herd of drunken reindeer – lying breathless in the snow and watching the sled and it’s lunatic pilot speeding away.

And just maybe he’s going too fast.

“Hit the brakes! Hit the brakes!”

“Brakes?”

A disturbing revelation. Brakes – a vital safety feature. Evidently overlooked in the rush of construction. In all other regards the sled performing brilliantly. Going like a missile. Bang on target. But there are sparks everywhere and the hint of a small fire developing within the straw of the manger.

Over an outcrop of rocks. The rope to the second sled severing. Three wise men turning sharp left and directing an alternative route to oblivion. Christmas gifts aflame.

Santa recognising the seriousness of the situation and preparing to evacuate. Cigarette lighter in hand intending one final defiant display of colour before aborting the mission. Dropped lighter. Fireworks igniting at his feet.

The sled still gaining speed but losing directional control. Veering violently left and right. The bright red crash dummy in the cockpit flaying hands in all directions attempting to subdue the flames.

A Santa suit is not flame resistant, I suppose. And now it is encased in a ball of fire careering down the mountain – the terrified St Nicholas within, standing briefly before being thrust violently back into the seat by the force of another heavy landing. The flames creating a comet like tail behind. Predictions of ‘lighting up the whole mountain’ proving disturbingly prophetic.

Santa Claus is on fire. Frantically attempting to tear off beard and hair. Nylon suit a magnet to the flames. The speed of the descent serving only to feed the fire. Wide eyed nine year olds standing below in hushed silence, still unsure if this might all be part of a scripted show. Horrific screams from the blazing human sacrifice hurtling toward them putting all such thoughts to rest.

Santa Claus is long dead when what is left of his sled comes, finally and fortuitously, to a smoking halt in a snow bank.

Children everywhere sobbing. Charred little pieces of Christmas wrapping paper falling like confetti from the sky.

How sad.

Christmas will never be quite the same without Bob.

At the End of Winter

As usual, I have not posted anything for some time. This can be put down to fact (the sad reality) that I am old, boring and uninspired. Nevertheless I still feel a need to indicate that I draw breath and have not, just as yet, passed to the other side.

My habit is to make comment on the work of others, work about which I am frequently humbled and, just a little bit, intimidated.

My comments are frequently self-defensive and bordering on trite. I suspect that my lack of talent is equaled only by my lack of courage.

Anyway ….

I did write a response to a wonderful poem from my distant pal, Cyranny, but I am not sure that it works well, if it works a little bit, or if it is just bloody horrible. Cyranny herself cannot be relied upon to give an honest appraisal. Hers, clearly, is considerably better …. Here is what I am talking about

My own poem, I think, is about a girlfriend that I once had (‘once had’, I suppose, suggests a position of ‘ownership’ – nothing, I assure you, could be any further from the truth) who seemed to spend most of her life in a bikini. I can’t really remember what she looked like in winter. But she treated me (now that I think about it) with a fair degree of condescension for all 12 months of the year.

Here is what I wrote to Cyranny. Tell me if it is terrible and I will attempt a stylistic transformation before making further contributions.

At the other end of winter

When the path is clear

You appear.

In dreams

Little schemes

Tricks of the mind

I pretend to find

You

Melting in the snow

But I know

That you live only in summer

Sun on your skin

Safe within

Your world

Unfurled on your bed

Your head resting

Cynically testing

A love

I could betray

By looking away

This treasonous season

No reason

‘Tis my fate

To wait

And pretend

At the other end

Of winter.

I’ll Never Smile Again

I was chatting to my pal and yours, Stella, an inspiration that you should visit if you have not already, yesterday about my mother. I may have spoken about my mother here on other occasions. I’m sorry to bore you with it.

My mother was a Doctor of English (a clever lady who became a bit eccentric in her old age) with a passion for History, particularly the ancient variety. She dragged me (and my father) many, many times around Italy and Greece, excitedly pointing out old bits of rock and explaining the events that had taken place long, long beforehand upon the same ground that our feet stood.

I didn’t study history (I didn’t study much at all, if truth be known) because I could never have lived up to her standards.

But one day I was playing some music from my hero of the time (Ross Wilson – I may have mentioned him too many times here also – sorry) and she walked in. He was singing a song from her own era. His rendition (as you can see and hear) was delivered somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and it occurred to me that she may have found it offensive.

Quite the opposite was, in fact, true. Her eyes lit up like stars and she called to my father, “Darling, come here! Come here! Listen to this! Listen to this!”

It was as if we were back in Athens again and she had found a link to the Trojan Wars.

Eventually she went completely bughouse and forgot who I was.

She forgot who she was too.

But I haven’t. And I miss her.

So I thought I’d play it again for her one more time.

I’ll never smile again until I smile at you
I’ll never laugh again. What good would that do?

For tears would fill my eyes
My heart would realize
That our romance is through

I’ll never love again, I’m so in love with you
I’ll never thrill again, to somebody new

Within my heart
I know I will never start
To smile again
Until I smile at you

And this is my mother’s version Here

But my favourite one (I was a very young dude at this concert) Here

Safety in Johannesburg

Further to some comments that I made yesterday about walking the streets of San Francisco……..

Another place I spend some time walking the streets alone is Johannesburg. People have warned me that this is unwise – that to wander about in groups of less than 4 or 5 people was to compromise one’s own safety.

I have always taken (and expressed) the view that muggers only pick on those they perceive as vulnerable and if one walks about the place looking like one who owns it and is, themselves, a potential physical threat, then one will be left alone (this is not advise I give to women, mind you).

Recent events suggest that I might have to review my approach.

When the Australian Rugby Union team we’re visiting Johannesburg recently and returning from dinner in a small group one of them was singled out from the rest and his new phone was stolen. He initially took off in pursuit, but his friends held him back, taking the (very sensible) view that a phone was not worth a knife or a bullet.

The man who lost the phone was Taniela Tupou. That’s a picture of him above. He is 23 years old. He is a professional rugby player and therefore unusually strong, fast and fit. He weighs 130 kilos (that’s 300lbs). He is referred to as ‘The Tongan Thor’.

So …. I may have to change my approach. If these guys are willing to take on Taniela (with half his teammates standing within 30 ft) I don’t think they’ll hesitate too much about Brutus.

The only advantage that I may have over Taniela is that, most of the time, I look like I’ve already been mugged.

More of the Tongan Thor here.

An ethical dilemma. Advice please.

If one wanders through the streets of San Francisco (as I do … aimlessly … with some regularity) it is not uncommon to hear people shouting. It is difficult, most times, to be sure of what they are shouting about or at whom the vitriol is directed. Everything and everybody, in most cases, I think. The language, even by my own colourful standards can be very blue. The sorts of words that one might expect to hear from a sailor who has just dropped a brick on his big toe.

But it’s nice that people can feel sufficiently comfortable, I suppose, to express their feelings so openly in an open forum. Heavy drugs and mental health issues probably help.

But it was different the other day. There were two people shouting and they were shouting at each other. They were both on bicycles. They were stopped at a set of lights and there was a black guy shouting at a white woman whose bike was about 6 feet in front of his. She was facing away from him but turning her head such that she could hurl abuse at him with the added benefit of ugly facial expressions.

In terms of a verbal contest I would judge it as having been fairly even. The dude probably had the upper hand with regard to volume and arm waving, but that was balanced out by the superior vocabulary deployment of his opponent.

But then she turned her bike and rode back towards him so that she could get her face about 2 inches from his. She started to prod him with a finger. Then she grabbed him by the shirt. The dude pushed her back but she was clearly gaining ascendency. He looked frightened. Things seemed like they might escalate rapidly.

I don’t know who these people were. They might have been lovers – although they looked like an unlikely couple. I don’t even know what the argument was about (who ever does once an argument really gets going?) and I’m fairly sure that I didn’t care.

What was clear to me though was that, if this thing was to become violent, then the black dude was going to be outclassed. She had a definite weight advantage. She was some years younger than him. He was in for a beating. So should I have intervened?

My intervention skills are limited. Things have gone badly wrong before.

(On one memorable occasion Mrs Richmond had me stick my nose into a domestic dispute. Some lunatic was beating the crap out of his wife. There were punches and tears and ripped clothing and blood all over the place. I managed to hold him still for long enough such that she could make an escape. And then I was king-hit from behind. By the assailant’s mother – a woman of about 60 with a savage right hook. A week later the happy couple were back together, but I was still recovering from a mild concussion.)

Nevertheless, I am no stranger to physical confrontation. And it’s not like one more broken nose is going to make me any less good looking at this stage in life. But should I have intervened? Should I have stepped in to defend the underdog? Can you imagine how it might have looked? When a policeman walked around the corner as I was wrestling a young white woman to the ground as an older black guy looked on screaming obscenities?

By the time the decision process had gone through all its twists and turns I was upon them. They had both stepped off their bikes by now and she was pushing him backwards into a brick wall where, I assume, she would be better positioned to get a decent swing at him.

I did the only sensible thing.

“Good afternoon,” I said to them both.

And then I kept walking.

It’s only love

Goodness. I seem to have gone brain dead (or brain deader) and can’t think of much to say. Nothing of value, anyway. I just returned from Alaska and maybe I indulged in too much visual and sensual stimulation (there can be no question that I indulged in a few other things to excess, too) and it has sucked any remaining vestiges of creativity out of me.

I just thought that I should post something to indicate signs of life.

And I have been a bit nostalgic.

I am a bit nostalgic quite a lot, to be honest.

So I entitled this post ‘It’s only love’ because, right now, I think everything is about love (certainly every story or silly poem I have ever written is about love in one way or another) but it really doesn’t have to mean that much …. you know? It’s only love. Get over it.

And the picture above is of my old pals Mike and Bill (Bill left the planet a few years ago, alas) but they did once produce a little tune with the same title as my post.

You can listen to it here if you wish.

And they did another song called ‘Disco Dilemma’ which I understood so well …. but if you weren’t a male in the 70’s it would mean nothing to you. But the last few lines echoed a teenage experience for me ….

She can’t hear what you’re saying

Another record is playing

So you don’t get to say

Goodbye

As you push through the crowd

The music’s playing so loud

No one hears you’ve got tears

In your eye

****

As I say …. I’m feeling a little nostalgic and melancholy.

But this is just me saying hello, really.

Hello.