Memory Traces

I surfed the Web, randomly entering into Google the words I found in the notepads that were scattered on the desk. The desk was a mess, I noted. Scraps of paper contained notes and doodles, yellow Post-it notes yelled imperatives and reminders, and the rings from coffee mugs stained A4 sheets and the desktop. The ashtray was full to overflowing. The bottle of scotch was empty. Had it all been downed in one sitting? I worked around the chaos, carried on entering words. Pages were displayed. I scrolled and followed links. What I was discovering, what I was creating, was like a picture, a map, a simulation, a metaframework, of a mind.

I displayed pages about Devon, train timetables to Leeds, a Google map of Bristol. I zoomed in, found Montpelier. A page in one notepad contained only the words Flickr and Wiltshire. I searched Flickr for tags, looked at pages of photographs of beautiful, soft, green, Wiltshire hills. I read essays about reality, quantum physics, red rain, ghosts, and post-structuralism. As I worked, I saved all the pages to a folder on the computer. I printed out pictures and texts that took my fancy, and placed some of them in a physical folder. Other pages I placed on the cream walls of the office using the pins and Blu-Tac I found in the desk drawers. I made connections between the pages using the coloured ribbons I had also found in the desk. I used as clues the scribbles I had found, the Web pages I had read, and my own intuitions. A ribbon linked a Google map of Dereham to a photo of a UFO, then a Google map of Roswell. One blue ribbon stretched from a map of Banbury to a picture of Leeds University. The link was one made from intuition, as Banbury had been a station my train had stopped at on a railway trip I had once made from Reading to Leeds. From that picture, a yellow ribbon stretched across the wall to a photograph of Middlesex University. The ribbon was pinned and then turned 90 degrees, ending at a picture of Meg Ryan. I believe that Middlesex University once had a performance arts course, and Meg is, of course, an actor. It made sense. It made sense. Of course it did. I felt it in my gut. I searched around the desk, the Web, for another link, looked in the notebooks, at the scraps of paper and Post-It notes. Soon, I had found the connection and pinned it to the wall. It was, of course, Jim Morrison. I printed the photo and placed it on the wall, added more ribbon from Meg to Jim.

I continued to do this for half a day. I trailed ribbons around the walls of the office, connecting by inference and reference, induction and deduction, intuition and knowledge. I stood back and looked at the walls, at my fully-realised network, my wall Web. At that moment I should have been proud of that Web. I wanted to be. I wanted to admire its utility, its coherence, its completeness. But all I could do was shake my head in dismay. I sat down heavily in the black leather office chair, rested my arms on its leather arms, and continued to look at the wall. It was obvious to me now. I had been such a fool. I should have used the colours of the ribbons to also present information, to indicate particular types of connections and relationships. Although dismayed, I am by nature, dogged, persistent; some might say obsessive, although I think that is too strong a word.  It didn’t take me long to work out a system I could use that would could convey the additional information. The ribbons were only available in a limited range of colours – less ROYGBIV, more RGBY. I made a note of the colours and the information each colour would represent on a scrap of paper, and then set to work again, stringing the ribbons from photo to map to document. I hardly needed to refer to the key I had devised. Unsurprising, I suppose, when you have a mind like mine.

I sat down again, leaned back in the leather chair, my hands behind my head, satisfied, proud at last of my labours. I lit a cigarette. It was a shame the whiskey bottle was empty; my throat was dry. Researching, making connections, following trails through the evidence, was thirsty work. I thought about making myself a mug of tea, but I didn’t really want to leave the room. For a moment, my world, the world I was constructing, the world I would shore against my ruins, was in this room, and only in this room. The picture was not yet complete. That much I knew. I closed my eyes and relaxed.

 *

 Now, I open my eyes and turn to the computer on the desk. My attention is drawn to the photograph on the wall above the monitor. She is a pretty woman, there’s no doubt. Blonde, slight, laughing, her arms outstretched in front of her, ready to catch something, it seems. A ball, perhaps, or a frisbee? There is blue sky behind her, and trees, heavy with full, fresh, green leaf, lean into the photograph from the side of the frame. Her summer dress, long, maroon, has been arrested by the act of photography, but I can imagine its movement continuing, twisting the dress around her. I wonder what she would think if she knew that I was still here, in her house? The house was quiet. I knew she wouldn’t be coming into this room today.

I am going to enter into a database all the Web pages I have so far saved to the computer. I shall also scan the documents and photographs and also enter those into the database. I can then cross-reference all these motes of information programmatically. The database will not be as visual as the map on the wall, will not so instantly conjure for me fragments of memory. Yet, in time, the database will offer up more interconnections, intersections and permutations. I will add more documents to the wall, more ribbons that show the all-important connections.

My hands are warm inside the latex gloves. I remember this – I had found these gloves, earlier in the day, today I think, in a drawer in the kitchen. I allow myself to turn my head and glance through the open door to the hallway. I will later clear away the bodies that still lie there so obscenely. Death has created a vacuum in my head. I am blanked, black, blocked, all empty, nothing. First, I must reconnect these fragments from my notebooks, my desk, My Favourites, My Documents, rebuild my world, rebuild my self, rebuild my identity, rebuild, rebuild, restructure, reframe, cross-reference – reconstruct me.

Only then, perhaps, can I know to whom those bodies once belonged, and why they are in my hall.

Simon and Julie – A Fragment – Chapter 2

[Simon and Julie is intended to be a long short story (perhaps a novella), involving various characters from the two as yet unpublished novels The Ethical Hitman and Raven of Dispersion. The story (and those novels) are set in and around the long, hot summer of 1976. The protagonists and antagonists are at that happy stage between A-levels and Uni (or A-levels and work ) – technically young adults, but these are not YA stories. As I work on this story, I will throw odd fragments here in the blog.]

Julie walked into town. She had no plan. She had rung Sarah’s house but there had been nobody there. Then she had dared ring Simon’s, but nobody was there, either. She had only momentarily contemplated ringing Tim before dismissing the idea. She had managed to elicit some more money from her parents, on a promise that it would be paid back from the money she got from Boots at the end of the week. She had bought ten Number Six in the Spar shop, and had enough left over for a drink or two.
The afternoon was hot and sunny. She was wearing jeans, tee-shirt, and jesus boots again, as she had seemed to do for most of the summer. Sometimes she despaired of the heat, wondered if it would go on forever, but most of the time simply enjoyed the odd, slightly Mediterranean, feeling that had descended on Dereham. Everybody was in tee-shirts and jeans, or in floaty, strappy, A-line summer dresses. Some of the more hippie girls were in halter-tops and skirts. In the evenings, people were drinking outside of the pubs, standing in the streets, smoking and chatting, and the beer gardens were, for a change, full and lively. Older people were preparing meals with salads and cold drinks and eating them in the garden. Young people hung their heads from car windows; music, thin and tinny, issued from the cars; hands  and arms were held out of the windows, sometimes flat and streamlined, sometimes made into blunt fists, and sometimes upright to cool the palms; shoeless feet rested on dashboards and doorframes.
She looked at the clock on the side of St Peter’s church tower. Five past one. The pubs would be open for another hour or so. She remembered what Simon had said yesterday. She should go to the White Lion. She hadn’t gone last night because… well, she had no money, and hadn’t wanted to bump into Tim. She’d had a nice day yesterday with Simon, Chris and Gray. The day had been so lovely and relaxing she had no inclination to ruin it by bumping into Tim.  In the evening she had watched some television with her parents and sister, and then gone to her bedroom to listen to Carole King and James Taylor and read a book. Today, Tim would be at work in Southleigh, so she was free to enjoy the sun. And perhaps enjoy Simon again, if he was around.
She crossed the road to the crescent of shops that curved around the market. In the centre of the shops was the White Lion. She walked up the steps, and went to the saloon bar. She poked her head around the door; there was no sign of Simon, but his friend Mark was there, chatting with two other people Julie knew, Imogen and James. She went to the bar and bought a Britvic orange. When she turned, she caught Mark’s eye. He waved her over.
“Nice to see you here,” Mark said as she sat next to him.
“Simon said I should come here more often,” Julie said. “Is he around?”
“No, he’s gone for a walk with Stuart, out over the hills. Fitness freaks, the pair of them.”
Julie knew that Simon did Kung Fu and Tai Chi. Stuart played badminton, and walked a lot. They sometimes did go off on long hikes together. Oh well, she would sit here and find out what had been happening in the worlds of Mark, James and Imogen.
“It’s too hot for that madness,” Mark said. “That’s why I have a motorbike.”
“Uh, I thought it was to pull the, uh, chicks,” James said.
Mark sighed, and then frowned. “There’s only one chick I want to pull,” he said.
Everybody knew who he meant, so nobody said anything.
Julie looked at James. He was drinking brandy, as ever. He had a job in Bensons at the weekends, and received generous amounts of pocket-money from his well-off parents. His beard was very extravagant for an eighteen-year old.  She smiled.  “Can I just say just say, your beard is more ridiculous every time I see it.”
Mark and Imogen laughed. “Always to the point,” Imogen said.
“But it is! You’re turning into a caveman.”
James had always been a fast developer, and had needed to shave before any of his friends, sometimes turning up in the fifth year at school with a faint five o’clock shadow. His hairiness had only increased during sixth-form, as he had become more of a freak, growing his dark hair until it reached his shoulders, and encouraging the beard that had quickly sprouted from his chin into a full Victorian-style monster.
“Shaving is for the bourgeoisie,” James said, always quick to separate himself from the proletariat and the middle-class, yet still hoping – while he drank brandy, pocketed the money from his parents, and read T S Eliot – that he was still relevant and connected with the working-class.

The Lament of Handsome Stevie

[I was discussing poetry with a friend last night, and we mentioned in passing The Song of Hiawatha. Later, I went and looked at some stanzas. As often happens after reading Hiawatha, I can’t stop the rhythm banging away in my head. So I thought I’d just let it out in an homage ]

The Lament of Handsome Stevie

On the byways of the high Plain -
The plain that stretches across Wiltshire,
The high wide Plain that’s north of Salisbury -
Drives the handsome Stevie Dewey
In his jaunty silver Honda.
On his lap there sits a camera,
Such a big black Sony camera;
A camera with a mighty zoom lens
A mighty Sigma zoom lens:
To photograph the running roe deer!
He parks the Honda in the tall gorse,
Hides the Honda in the tall grass,
Waits in silence for the roe deer!
Sees instead a hawk a-hunting,
A handsome harrier on the quarter,
Swiftly raises heavy Sony
Goes to focus mighty Sigma
And finds the grasses foil his focus!
In a panic hunts the button
That will switch to manual focus,
But instead he starts to film
The out-of-focus waving grasses,
Curses Sony button layout,
Stops the filming, reverts to stills.
Now the bird is growing distant;
Cursing Stevie exits vehicle
Trips on seatbelt, presses record,
Begins a film of dusty byways.
Curses more, pokes random buttons.
Finds the proper camera function,
Scans the Plain for distant bird-sign:
Cannot see the hawkish V-wings,
Cannot see the big bird hunting.
Can only see the big sky empty!
Sends foul language to the heavens
Fills the Plain with many curses,
Scares away the timid roe deer,
That had been nibbling the tall grasses
Just the other side of silver Honda.
Handsome Stevie kicks the Honda,
Damns all fauna to extinction.
On the byways of the high Plain
Stephen mutters imprecations
Blind to falcons, hawks and red deer
That mock him from the trackside hedgerows
And the photogenic wide blue skies.
So our cursing handsome Stevie
Leaves the byways on the wide Plain,
The high wide Plain athwart the county.
Lists his cameras up on eBay
Takes up knitting, watches telly.

Simon and Julie – The Beginning – Fragment

[Simon and Julie is intended to be a long short story (perhaps a novella), involving various characters from the two as yet unpublished novels The Ethical Hitman and Raven of Dispersion. The story (and those novels) are set in and around the long, hot summer of 1976. The protagonists and antagonists are at that happy stage between A-levels and Uni (or A-levels and work ) – technically young adults, but these are not YA stories. As I work on this story, I will throw odd fragments here in the blog.]


Simon walked along Goldfinch Drive towards home. The sun was hot, the sky cloudless, a pale hazy blue, pearly towards the sun. The road was inclined slightly, and at the brow there was a shimmer above the asphalt. On both sides of the shimmering road were neat, semi-detached houses with well-tended front gardens. He had left Nick and Mark at The White Lion, sitting in the beer garden. Simon couldn’t afford another drink, and found sitting in the hot sun stifling. He had wanted to move, to stretch his limbs, so decided to walk home, where he would read a book, perhaps, in the shade.

At the top of Goldfinch Drive, just before he would turn into Magpie Road where he lived, Simon found Chris and Gray leaning against the front wing of a mustard-yellow, 1968 Triumph Vitesse. The car was Gray’s, and was in the drive of his parent’s  large detached house. Chris saluted as Simon approached.

Simon slowed. “Hey guys. What’s happening?”

“Nothing,” Chris said.

“Nothing yet,”  Gray added.

Yet? You have a plan then?”

“Could be, could be,” Gray said. “We’re thinking of going for a drive.”

“Where?”

“Anywhere,” Chris said.

“So why are you still standing here?”

“Petrol,” Gray said. “We only have enough petrol to get us to Southleigh and back. And we don’t want to go there.”

“Put some petrol in then.”

“Ah, well, now there’s the crux of the matter, the very rub if you will. We have no money.”

“Well, I do have about fifty pence in my pocket,” Chris said.

“I want to move,” Gray said. “It’s hot, I’ve got a convertible, I want the wind in my hair and a breeze in my face.”

Chris nodded along the road. “It’s Julie,” he said. Simon and Gray turned to look.  A young woman approached them along the road. Her hair was shoulder-length, blonde, straight, parted in the middle. She wore jeans, jesus boots and a tee-shirt.

“Can’t you borrow some money from your mum and dad?” Simon said.

Gray shook his head. “The kiddies are gone away. On holiday. Torquay.”

“Oh great,” Simon said. “When’s the party?”

“No chance,” Gray said.

Julie drew level with them. “Hello there. There’s a party?”

“No,” Gray said.

“His parents never forgave him for the last one,” Chris said. “They told him they’d sell the car if he did it again.”

“I love my car.”

Julie looked at Simon. Her eyes were very blue. They sparkled in the sun. “I thought I saw you down town with Mark and Nick.”

“You did. But they wanted to drink some more. I was too hot. I met these two on the way home. They were idling.”

“Do you have money, Jules?” Grey said.

Julie put her hand in her pocket and withdrew two ten pence pieces, a five pence piece, and a couple of coppers. “Not even enough for ten Number Six.”

“Here, have one of mine,” Chris said. He offered Julie the cigarette, and lit it with a match.

“So where’s Tim?” Gray said.

“We’ve fallen out,” Julie said. “I haven’t seen him for a while.”

“How long is this separation going to last?” Simon said.

Julie blew smoke into the blue, tilted her head back, smiled. “Don’t pretend to be interested. I’ll talk to Sarah about it later.”

“Thank god for that,” Chris said. “We have important matters to think about. So how much have we got between us? Si, you said you had about fifty pence. Julie, you want join us? Put your twenty-eight pence in the pot?”

“Sorry, I need my money,” Julie said.

“And I need mine for a class,” Simon said.

“Oh, come on,” Gray said. “Why go to a class in the summer when you don’t have to?”

“It’s kung fu.”

“Oh yes,” Gray said. “Forget I said anything. Ahem.”

“Haven’t you two got any money?”

“I’ll need another packet of fags,” Chris said.

Gray shrugged, pouted. “And I have some money, but I need to make it last for the week.”

“Have your parents taken their car?” Simon said.

“No,” Gray said. “It’s in the garage.”

“Has anybody thought,” Simon ventured, “to siphon some petrol from the Mini?”

Gray looked at Chris. “Well, you’re the mechanical brains of this outfit. Can we?”

“Well, yes, we can. Simon, that is brilliant. If you smoked, I’d give you a fag. Julie, give him a kiss.”

Julie dropped her cigarette on the floor and scraped it across the asphalt of the driveway beneath her sandal. She leaned over and kissed Simon on the cheek. She smelled of tobacco, scent, soap and sunshine.

Simon and Julie – a Fragment

Simon and Julie is intended to be a long short story (perhaps a novella), involving various characters from the two as yet unpublished novels The Ethical Hitman and Raven of Dispersion. The story (and those novels) are set in and around the long, hot summer of 1976. The protagonists and antagonists are at that happy stage between A-levels and Uni (or A-levels and work ) – technically young adults, but these are not YA stories. As I work on this story, I will throw odd fragments here in the blog. In this section, Simon and Julie have been out for a walk. As usual, for that summer, the night is warm, the sky is practically cloudless. They are lying on a patch of brown, dried grass at the edge of a housing estate, only dimly lit by streetlights, and looking at the sky. They have been talking about a mutual friend, Sarah.

Julie picked at some of the brittle, brown grass. “Do you like Sarah?”

“Sarah is pleasantly pneumatic,” Simon said.

“Pneumatic?” Julie said. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s from TS Eliot. Uncorseted, her friendly bust /Gives promise of pneumatic bliss.”

“Oh, I see. I think.”

“And Huxley uses the word too, in that sense. He describes Lenina Crowne as Wonderfully pneumatic.”

“Are we talking about breasts here?”

“Maybe.”

“Are we saying … I mean, are you saying, Sarah has large breasts?”

“Perhaps.”

“Well, haven’t I?”

“To be honest,” Simon said, “I’ve never really noticed your breasts. I mean I’ve looked at them, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think you’re a boy or anything.”

“I am relieved.”

“But I’ve never really thought about their… err… size. They are not the thing I notice first about you.”

“Well, what do you notice first, then?”

“Your eyes.”

“My eyes?”

“Yes. They are light blue. And they sparkle.”

“But aren’t they rather narrow. Don’t I look like Clint Eastwood?”

“Yes. Clint Eastwood with breasts. I just don’t know their size.”

“My eyes or my breasts?”

Simon laughed. “Your eyes may be narrow. I cannot properly gauge that. I mean, obviously you’re not doe-eyed–“

“Obviously. Thank you for reminding me.”

“But.. and there is a but… your eyes shine. They coruscate. I like to make you smile, because then the light dances and dazzles in your eyes.”

“Really?” Julie smiled, and light danced and dazzled in her eyes. Simon fell for a moment, a giddying moment in which the Earth lifted and spun and itself danced. And just in that moment there was not enough breath in the whole world. And then Julie punched him lightly on the arm.

“You great big enormous flirt,” she said. She brushed some strands of his long fair hair away from his face. “I’ve always liked your eyes, too. A deep blue. And flirty, like you.”

They were silent for a few moments. Simon rolled over on his back. He tipped his head and saw long stalks of grass. He slowly pulled one from its sheath, and put the moist green end of it in his mouth. “Arrr, ” he said. “You know, we also call her the Coventry Climax.”

“Who? Sarah?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Well, she works in the banana factory­–”

“Sometimes it’s like Innuendo City around here.”

“Yes. Indeed. Anyway, they have fork lift trucks there. That’s their name. The make and model. The Coventry Climax. Pneumatic Sarah, the Coventry Climax.”

“I hope you would never call her that.”

Simon shook his head. “Why, of course not. When I say we, I mean Nick, Mark and Gaz. Nick named her thus.”

“Ah yes, Nick. A cad and a bounder.”

“He is. I shake my head and tut loudly whenever the epithet is used.”

Simon rolled over onto his side. He wanted to see Julie’s eyes. Julie was already on her side, her head leaning against her hand, looking at him. “Take that piece of grass out of your mouth, Si,” she said. “It is not cool.”

“Oh. Don’t you actually think two bits would be cooler? Wouldn’t I look dapper?”

Julie smiled again. The world tilted slightly, then  Julie looked at her watch and righted it again. “We have to go Si,” she said. “You’re a lazy-arse student, but I have to be in the shop at 8.30.”

Simon sighed. “Alright.”

Julie leaned over and kissed him lightly on the lips. The world whirled. “We’ll meet up again soon, yeah?”

Simon could barely get the words out. “Yes, of course.” He stood, and then offered his hand to Julie. He pulled her up. She smiled. If only she would stop smiling the world might successfully and uninterruptedly spin and orbit, and he might walk her home securely attached to its surface.

Julie slipped her arm through Simon’s and they began to walk towards Julie’s house. “You can tell me more of the names Nick has given people.”

“I will. They are, quite literally, Nick-names.”

“Oh, very good. Do I have one?”

Yes, Simon thought. Miss Lovely

Review: White Noise

White Noise
White Noise by Don DeLillo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I read “modern” novels of the “literate” variety, I am often perplexed at the dissonance that occurs between what I am feeling as I read, and the blurbs and puffs and reviews I glance at as I pick the book up and put the book down. “Splendidly funny”? “Macabre comedy”? Apparently, “nobody could complain that” the “novel isn’t funny.” See me? I’m holding my hand up.

Apparently, it’s “social comedy meets science fiction”. I laughed until my jetpack fell off. In the sense that there’s a “disaster”, and there’s a newly-invented drug, and there’s some colourful sunsets caused by the “disaster” it is a kind of science fiction; SF-light that contains the sort of vague techno-jargon that appears to make non-science-fiction-reading reviewers weak at the knees.

Of course, it couldn’t be a contemporary American novel without exposing “the absurdities” of “American existence”, observing “small town culture”, and “examining the ways in which American culture alienates people”; and apparently White Noise duly does. Although all I found was a slightly wry look at extended familial relationships in an age of easy divorce and serial monogamy. Yes, there were some pokes at post-modern academic life with the protagonist’s Hitler Studies and his colleague’s ramblings about popular culture. However, the colleague, while an able foil, falls out of the book unnoticed, and the point of their dialogues, apart from the arch amusement they provide, is difficult to fathom.

In the end, the characters seem thinly drawn, and motivations seem lacking; this lack of motivation is particularly telling when it came to the denouement, I felt.

Nonetheless, I read the novel through to the end, and I might even read it again one day. There was enough wryness and archness to keep me vaguely amused. The writing style was interesting enough that I might consider other DeLillo novels in the future.

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