How to Time Travel

Time travel isn’t easy but it can be done if you try. Seriously. 

And, no, this isn’t a Science Fiction thing and neither is it a thing where I end up copping-out by talking about time travelling into the past only.

I’m talking about time travelling into the future. It can be done. You have to think about it a bit before you can do it but that’s all you need really, a little thought and perhaps a little memory.


Shall we try it? I’ll do it and then you can perhaps give it a try yourself sometime if you like.

Here’s the secret.

Nobody knows what the ‘future-that-hasn’t-happened-yet’ will bring. It’s a drawn-veil to us. So we can’t travel there or, at least, I can’t tell you how to. What we can do though is to travel to our own future from our own past. It may sound a bit silly but, as an exercise, it can actually be quite instructive.

Watch me, here I go…

There’s me thirty years ago in 1982. It’s New Year’s Eve and it’s about eight o’clock in the evening. That’s me there, behind the bar, serving the customers. Nineteen years old, hair too long or not long enough (it’s hard to tell), a bit spotty. I’m being forced to work on New Year’s Eve and that’s a complete bummer because this is the night were you get to kiss all the girls if you can only get yourself close to them. On this night only, you can smooch who you like and they will smooch you right back. For a spotty kid with indeterminate hair, it’s a bit of a red letter night. And this year, as is the case most years, the place where all this kissing will happen is The Baymount Hotel, down near the beach in Strandhill. Not me, though, not this year. This year I’m behind the counter in Harry’s Bar and the cosy late-middle-aged crowd are settled-in and are evidently going nowhere anytime soon.

The clock swings round towards ten-thirty. The merriment increases inside everyone except me.

Suddenly Sean appears from the back bar where he’s working. He’s my friend and he’s been feeling just as bad about having to work. He doesn’t look like he’s feeling so bad any more though. In fact, he looks bloody pleased with himself.

“Call last orders.”

“What?”

“Call last orders, quick. We’re allowed to close up early.”

“Jesus.”

The customers don’t like it one little bit and we don’t blame them but last orders is last orders and we’ve been ordered to shut the place down early and Sean has his van parked out the back and it’s pointing towards Strandhill so drink up and let’s go people. You don’t have to go home but you certainly can’t stay here.

We take the back road to Strandhill. Neither of us drink at all but the cops will be on the front road and they might possibly take up time hassling over brake lights and such. As we bump along the super-dark back road, I am excited to be getting to the melee after all. But I’m also tired… so tired. I close my eyes for a moment.

And when I open them again it’s ten years later. It’s New Year’s Eve 1992.

It’s quiet. A telly is on, some New Year thing. I am in a little house, a nice little house. The ground floor layout is all there to be seen, living room, kitchen, door into bathroom and cute stairs in the corner. I’ve been dozing on the couch for a bit among the Christmas decorations and the dim light from the gas fire. There’s a girl in the kitchen, cooking something. She looks nice. Who is she? She turns and smiles at me, she knows I’ve been dozing. She has a ring on her finger, two rings, like she’s married, like this house is hers, but who is she and what am I doing here with her on this New Year’s Eve?

I shut my eyes again, to help me figure it all out, and when I open them I find that I’ve travelled another ten years and now it’s New Year’s Eve 2002. That girl is there still. She hasn’t aged a bit. She isn’t alone anymore though, now there’s two little boys too. One is about five and the other must be only two or so. The house is bigger and there’s a real fire burning, a bigger tree. It’s nice and cosy, I feel like we all belong here together. I feel like there’s no place else in the world I would rather be. But there’s a pull on me, a distant juddering as the van hits another bump in the road. I’d better wake up soon because we must be nearly at The Baymount.

I jump again, one final time. It’s now 2012, New Year’s Eve and, like the climax to all those end-of-year stories, I am in a cemetery, standing alone in front of a grave. It’s cold and dusky and the wind blows the drizzle hard onto my face. I squint and look down and see my parent’s names etched on the granite in front of me. A small oval picture of each, one on either side. The newest of the dates is very new indeed.

This is too hard, this vision of my future. Too hard for a teenager who only wanted to be kissed. Is this what life ultimately has in store for me? A deserted graveyard? A family lost to the cold hard ground? I turn to look around at the mountains and valley I know so well, they at least unchanged by the decades, and I see the woman and children again, down there on the path beyond the headstones. She still hasn’t aged at all but the two boys are older now, tall and handsome, the elder so much taller than I am and the younger quickly catching him up. They are waiting for me there, down on the cemetery path. They want me to leave this cold place and rejoin them.

I think I will.

A deeper bump on the road jars me awake. I’m being glared at from the driver’s seat.

“You better get yourself in gear. We’re going to have to move fast to get into this hall by midnight.”

I shake myself. What had I dreamed? A vision of my distant future or just some semi-conscious illusion. Who knows? Sean needn’t worry, though, I’ll move fast all right. There’s one girl in particular I’d like to bump into. She normally wouldn’t look at me but tonight… tonight is New Year’s Eve and strange things can happen on this night of all nights…


Happy New Year. 



A Stream of Christmasness

I wrote a post a few months back about memories and how it’s a shame that people like me can become in thrall of forging an acceptable story out of a memory. Some kind of a story that has to have a beginning, middle and end. Some kind of a story  that has to incorporate a gag or an irony at the conclusion. It’s sometimes sadly true that the best memories get waylaid just because they don’t fit neatly into that ‘anecdote’ requirement.

Coupling this with the fact that my Sunday blog post is falling very close to Christmas Eve this year, I thought I would just sit here for a few moments and think about the Christmas Eves of my childhood and, without the requirement to corral them into a coherent entertainment, just write them down.

In sitting and thinking, I find that the various elements of my Christmas Eve recollections meld together such that I can’t say what happened in any one particular year. To get over this hurdle, I decided I would write about one particular childhood day but this day is actually an amalgam of various Christmas Eves. 

No point to it, none that I can easily explain anyway. We write what occurs to us and we hope it makes some kind of sense sometime, somewhere.

So…

When I think of my childhood Christmas Eves today, the overriding impression I recall is one of utter bafflement. “How can they act so normal?” I was always thinking, “how can they do that?”

It was true, all the adults were simply going about their business. The Vegetable Man was calling with earth-ridden carrots and rampant cabbages, the house was being hoovered, neighbours were stopping and chatting on the street about silly irrelevant things. “How Can They Do That?” Santy is coming, this very night. How could they be so incredibly cool about it all?

Kevin Bray called around for tea. Kevin was a great friend of the family. He brought me a present. This was unheard-of, a present before Christmas Day. I was allowed to open it. It was Lego. I was overjoyed, literally, I had a present and it wasn’t even ‘Santy-Time’ yet.

But, even with some new Lego to divert me, the clock still ticked terribly slow. There was no snow, ever. There was drizzle such that you couldn’t really go outside without getting drenched. There were parcels growing mysteriously under the tree as people got their wrapping done and dropped things there. The butcher had to be visited, Clive and Vinnie in striped aprons seriously debating the cuts of meat with the current customer while recklessly bantering with the customer waiting behind.

A bad cartoon on the telly in the drizzly afternoon, Rudolph and Santy in cotton-wool laden stop-motion. “It’s not a real cartoon, it’s one of those from ‘Out-Foreign’.” A Laurel and Hardy film, Stan and Ollie sitting on a bench in front of a huge hedge. I could hit Google and find out what movie it was in about thirty seconds flat but I don’t want to. The flickering image of my distant memory is far far better than the truth.

Confession in the afternoon. Although you might not go too much throughout the year, you had to be all-sorted-out for Jesus’ arrival in the morning. A cartoon abandoned, a real one this time, to trudge up the back-alley to the church to sit and wait for your turn to confess to the priest. Sitting in line on the arse-shined, bench with the other (older) people. Shuffling your own bum along as the end person goes into the box to tell all. Then it's your turn.

“Bless me fadder for I have sinned, I was bold and I was cheeky to me Mam and I told lies and I was late for mass…”

“Is Santy coming?”

“I hope so Fadder.”

“I hope so too. Three ‘Hails Marys’ and an ‘Our Father’. In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti…

Dusk. A candle lit in the upstairs window, the front bedroom curtains left drawn so that the guttering light can shine out onto the street and onto the black river beyond. “A welcome home for the travellers,” Mum used to say.

“Ice Station Zebra” on the telly in the tea-time dark. A big movie. I didn’t care. Please let it be over, please let bedtime come. Kevin Bray had brought a toy for my older brothers too. An intercom set – two futuristic handsets with a thin thread of extended red string between them. When the string was pulled tight the voice would carry down it. That was the theory anyway. We stretched it up the stairs and over the gap between the back bedroom ceiling and the wall. I was up there, on top of the bedroom wardrobe, trying to hear my brother whispering from down in the hall. It never worked but it passed some time.

Nearly bedtime and another movie on the telly. This time it’s “High Society”. Nothing else has ever seemed so utterly irrelevant to my life. Santy is Coming and everybody is watching this… this stupid rubbishy thing about some eejit who apparently is called Deckscrub.

A neighbour comes in. Do I have to wait until they stop chatting and leave before I can go to bed? Oh, please, please leave and please please, Deckscrub, stop singing so that the News can come on and I can finally hit the hay.

The News, at last. Santy is on there. He seems to be climbing on a train in Connolly Station with a huge sack of presents. How the hell can that work? Don’t think too much. It’s time for bed, it won’t be easy to sleep but it’s best to make a start. PJ’ed up, hugs all round, pipe tobacco smoke aroma from Dad, savoury stuffing scent from Mum. The turkey is in, most of the cooking done tonight for reheating after Mass tomorrow.

Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight. Don’t forget to let the fire burn down, leave the guard off the front of it so the big fella can get out, eh?

Everybody is so very cool, so very normal. I still don’t understand.

How can they do that?

Don’t they know that Santy is Coming?


So I Had An Idea…

I had this idea.

Not so unusual, I have ideas quite regularly. More ideas than some other people, I like to think.

But this was a good idea. Well, a better idea than most of mine, I reckon. A cut above the rest.

So I did what I do. I got my little book out and I scribbled something down about it and then I looked at the scribble for a while and thought, “Yup, it’s still a good idea.” 

Then, when I got home and on to my computer, I rattled down a page-and-a-bit about it.  I have to do that, not so much because I will forget the idea but because I can quickly become very un-enamoured by it. If that happens, and I’ve not bothered scribbling something about it, then it’s gone. But, if I get it down, and then grow to hate it, I may look at it again in months or years to come and rekindle some old flame. Who knows? Either way, it’s a shame not to cover the bases just in case.

But that’s not the point. You know my posts, the points tend to come in this middle part, after an only-tenuously-related preamble. It’s like an older Simpsons episode, in that respect if no other.

The point of this post is actually about the little train of thought I had after I got this good idea. I had got the idea scribbled down, like I said, wrote a bit more about it, then I looked at it some more and I said to myself, “I know, I’ll write that up as a pitch and I’ll pitch it to ‘X’.” (‘X’ is a particular person I had in mind.) That thought actually remained in my brain, unchallenged, for at least thirty entire seconds. My brain sort of wallowed in it for that time. A nice pitch from me, lots of excitement and interest in the pitch, an offer, a gig, ‘Bob’s Your Feckin’ Uncle’.

Than that other part of my brain kicked in. The real part.

“Sorry, who the fuck are you?” it said.

“Eh? What?”

“Who the fuck are you? William Goldman or someone?”

“I don’t really follow your-“

“”You’ll pitch this” and “you’ll pitch that”.”

“I don’t-“

“You don’t, you don’t… Wake up. You Don’t Get To Pitch Stuff, Fuckwit.”

Ah,

Yes.

That particular part of my brain is thankfully pretty sensible. It may go to sleep for the occasional month here-and-there but eventually it will snap back awake and sort me out, often in a rude fashion similar to the one illustrated above.

I sometimes need to be reminded how I don’t get to pitch stuff. I’d been reading too much Twitter again. I know people on there who get to pitch stuff and make good things happen in that way. For a moment or two, I slipped up and mistook myself for one of those guys.

I’m not. They get to pitch stuff and I don’t.

And why do they get to pitch stuff and you don’t? Eh, Ken eh? Why is that?

That’s simple. Because they’ve earned the right to get to do that. They’re earned their spurs. They had some good ideas, earlier on, and they brought them to realisation by sweat and guts and perseverance and sheer-force-of-will.  Now people will heed their pitch – because they know they can deliver a good product off the back of it. Oh, I’ve had plays produced (eight radio, eight theatre, I think) and I’ve won a few things and had bits-and-pieces published here and there but I haven’t proved myself widely enough to be in a pitching position. Not yet.

So you’ve got a pitch, Ken?  That’s good, a pitch is a great foundation, a template for things to come, a hanger to hang your newest writing-thing upon.

Now just go and bloody write it.

All of it.

Not a pitch, not an outline, not a draft, not a treatment, sketch, schematic, synopsis, not none of that. Not none of it. Write the whole thing. Then rewrite it and make it  as great as you possibly can.  (But it’s a novel, this idea… 95,000 words, I think). Brilliant, off you go, you’ve done it before, now do it again.

I don’t get to make pitches… but I get to write whatever I want and, for now, that’s exciting and good enough for me. I’ve always thought that I’m a good writer. Sorry if that sounds poncey, I just have. And recently, my confidence may have been a tad less than what it previously was. But, sod that, I think I’m back on track now. I reckon I’m pretty damned good and if I can do the work that I know I’m capable of then I can move forward in the way that I want to and pretty much need to.

So consider this a Mission Statement for yours truly. I’ve had a great idea for a new novel and I’m going to write it and write it and write it and edit it and then write it some more and I’m going to make it as good as I bloody well can…

And if I do it well enough…

And if someone likes it…

And if…

And if…

And if…

Then maybe I can be a pitch writing person too.

Let’s just see…




Short Fiction – Nobody Knows Where You Go When You Die

Some people think they do. Some people are actually pretty sure. But none of them really know.

Nobody knows where you go when you die.

I’d never given it much thought before it happened. If you’d have asked me, I’d have probably said that you don’t go anywhere much. That the lights would just go out and then you'd be done. Turns out I wasn’t a million miles from the truth. Funny that.

 
I did figure this much. If there ever happened to be a choice of two places, I would be bound for the lesser of the two. That was easy figuring. In life, I wasn’t ever much of a man, not really. I was mean and angry and I’d most likely hit you as soon as I’d look at you. No. If there was ever going to be a good place and a bad place, you could safely mark me down for the bad one. Like I said, I didn’t think on it too much ever.

Then, after I died, I pretty-soon got an inkling of how things were going to be. I didn’t like it very much either. I was in bed, when I died, and it was sudden-like. My son came in and tried to wake me up but he couldn’t cos I was dead. He ran out, all annoyed and such, and started shouting for people to come.

How do I know? I hear you ask. How do I know what he said and what he did after he found me dead in my bed?  Well that’s just it, isn’t it? That’s the inkling I got. The sense of how it was going to be.

I could hear him, you see, I could feel him. Hell I could even smell him. I was dead but I was still there inside me, listening and feeling. I couldn’t see cos I died with my eyes closed but everything else was working for me.

That was the inkling I got.

And that’s how it was going to be.

I’ll spare you the details. This isn’t meant to be no horror-novelette. Let it suffice to say that it’s not any great fun to be stripped and scrubbed and autopsied and embalmed when you can still feel most everything. I knew I was dead all right and there was a sense of panic and fear inside me like I never felt before. I could feel things, like I told you already, but thankfully the feelings were not as ripe as when I was alive. When they cut into me and prised open my ribs, it was like my flesh was rubber and my bones were twigs. It smarted quite a bit but not like you might fear it would. A small mercy that was. A small mercy indeed.

I remember being in the church for my funeral. I could hear the mourners filing past but my box was too thick for me to hear too much of the eulogy. That’s probably just as well.

And that’s pretty much it. They put me in the ground and filled me in and here I’ve laid ever since.

It’s been seven years.

You’d think I wouldn’t know. You’d think time would become a meaningless concept in the eternal darkness and unchangingness of your coffin but no. Senses become heightened, when other things go, and that remains true even when you’re dead. I couldn’t move and I couldn’t see but I could feel. I could feel things through the conducting-fluid of the sodden earth outside of my oaken casket. I could hear the sun go down and the dawn come crawling back in. I could mark every day in my mind and add them all up together and keep them tidy.

I could do all this.

After the madness passed.

Because, yes, of course, there was madness. How could there not be? That’s why it might not be seven years. It might be seven years plus however many years my mind screamed at me in denial and panic and utter indescribable horror. If you can imagine it, my situation, then you must know that madness had to come visiting and it had to bide a while, there with me in my rancid box.

Utter silent screaming insanity.

For a time.

But it passed on.

All things pass on within the measure of eternity.

When my mind settled, it found things for itself to do. I had  always been creative in life so that was my way too in death. I wrote novels, plays, built up entire structures in my mind. I developed characters and plots and scenarios and I lost myself in them for a good long while.

I slept too. After a fashion. When all was quiet above and around me, I slept, and sleep was a respite. I was relieved from feeling my corporeal body collapse into itself as I lay. The interminable buzzing of the parasites within me were momentarily muted when I drifted away for a while.

But only when it was silent. And it was rarely silent. The worms outside the wood were noisy, who would ever have thought that? And the people above who shuffled past. And the people in the next graves, yes I could hear them too. The ones who had been there the longest were the faintest, their mildewed bones only gave off a faint electrical hum. The newer ones could be quite chatty. Chatty is perhaps the wrong word though. They were chatty in comparison to the millipedes and the slaters. Sometimes a story from their demonstrably pointless lives was recounted. Mostly they just bemoaned their unexpected lot. Once a new person was put in, six or seven rows over, and her screams gave us a very bad year or two.

People come to see me sometimes. My children mostly. I hear them up there, standing. Sometimes plucking impotently at a stray weed. They never speak. Nobody ever speaks directly to me. That is the worst of it.

Today is Christmas Morning. How could I know that? I can't say. We know things, we of the graveyard. We know the turning of the year and we sense the anticipation from the houses across the allotments. We can feel Christmas even from down here.

Somebody has come. I feel their weight on my sunken chest. It’s Martin, I think. He stands there and lays something on top of me. A holly wreath, I would guess. Still he doesn’t speak.

“Who’s down there?” A young voice. A living voice. Could it be my Grandson? My only Grandson, only a little bruiser when I died.

“Your Granddad. Do you remember him?

“Yes.”

“Although he’s not really down there, he’s up in Heaven with Holy God.”

(Wanna bet, Skinny?)

“I remember Granddad,” the young voice again, no more than ten, “I remember him well.”

“You were too young to remember him all that well.”

“I wasn’t. I do. He gave me sweets. I remember him. I loved him.”

Something strange is happening to me. I feel lighter. I feel some kind of breeze through my bones. Like air.

“I’m sure he’s glad to hear you say that, John, how you loved him.”

“I did. He bought me sweets and was nice and I loved him.”

I-am-going-I-can-feel-it-I-swear-I-am-going-somewhere-else…


“We have to go now, John, come on, you’ll catch cold.”

“Goodbye Granddad, I loved you.”

Oh-Sweet-and-Divine-Mercy-I-am-going-I-am_

Here.

I am still here.

Those things he said. The boy. They were almost enough, they were almost enough to send me on from here. From what I now know as my purgatory, my limbo.

Almost but not quite.

Perhaps he will come again someday. Perhaps he will say again how he loved me. Perhaps that will be enough to send me on. 

At least now I know there is the possibility of something else, something beyond this grave.

If only he would come again.

Someday.




Beg to Differ

This is something I’m still trying to figure out. So I won’t be getting all high-and-mighty about it or anything. It’s really just a notion that I am trying on for size. I find that typing about these notions sometimes seems to help me gain a little more clarity. So here goes. Let’s see if it works this time.

It’s mostly about agreeing with people, about finding people you agree with and about finding warmth and succour in their company. It’s about how that’s not necessarily such a good thing.

As is often the case these days, it was Twitter which highlighted this notion for me. Twitter is really very good at showing me stuff. Not just news and joke stuff but human behaviour stuff as well. You may not really discern anything much about general behaviour from looking at one person on Twitter or even ten people. But when you look at a thousand, regularly, perhaps then you can tend to detect discreet waves or movements and patterns within them. Actually perhaps you can’t. Maybe it’s that Jameson I knocked back half-an-hour ago. Let’s run with the idea for just a moment, though. Let’s just pretend that we can see stuff about human behaviour on Twitter.

One of the things Twitter has shown me is that people tend to respond more to people who express opinions that they agree with. My instinct, and it’s nothing more than that, is that they also tend to fall silent at those moments when they disagree.

It’s no big surprise that they tend to do that. People don’t always like to be disagreed with. Your opinion is a bit like your property. If somebody bursts in on it and tramples all around on it and possibly even piddles in the corner, over there by the wall, your inclination may be to get quite put-out about that.

It’s easier, all-in-all, to stay in the ‘like’ group. Not necessarily to pretend that you like something just to get ‘in with the gang’, I don’t mean that, although I guess it must happen. I mean shouting out really loud when you agree with something and then shutting-the-hell up whenever you don’t.

But how, you may well ask, how can I be so definitive about this foible if I’ve only seen it in passing on Twitter? The answer to that one is pretty simple. I relate it to myself.

Twitter, like it or not, is like a big fat digital mirror. If you can only manage to decipher the bits and bytes that make it up, it can show you yourself quite clearly,. If you don’t believe me, run a little test for yourself. Pick a moment when you’re really annoyed or angry about something then go straight on to your twitter. It will reflect that bad mood of yours, I bet you it will. Go on again when you’re happy and buzzing and it’ll be mainly sunshine and flowers. It’s a big mirror, if you can only see into it.

This therefore follows; if I notice people appropriating strength from each other, on the basis that they all feel the same way about something, then I can be assured that this is something that I do myself and that it is simply being reflected right back at me by my Twitter.

And that’s true. I know I do it. Well, I have done, in the past. I’m trying to do it less. But it's not all that easy.

I dislike conflict, you see. I tend to shy away from it whenever I can. One of the reasons is that, when it comes to conflict, I have a pretty clearly defined tipping-point rather than any kind of balanced response. Up to that tipping point, I tend to be pretty patient and understanding. I try to sort things out as best I can. Beyond the tipping point, I’m afraid I can be rather an unpredictable little cuss, liable to do or say almost anything. That’s why I try to avoid such situations. I find them very tiring indeed.

This is where I need to learn a little. I need to learn that a ‘difference of opinion’ is not the same as a ‘conflict’. This is much easier to grasp and instinctively understand in real life. On social media, a difference of opinion can quickly become a conflict and it regularly does. On social media, an expressed difference of opinion can often cast you out of your nice cosy little group and make you feel quite isolated and odd.

But still… I now think it should be done as often as possible.  We should beg to differ.

Here’s where I reckon we’re going wrong. We are celebrating each other for the things we agree about when we really should be full of the greatest appreciation for those things we feel markedly different about.

Imagine three writers in a room. One of them writes a line. “How’s that?” he asks the others. “Great, good, lovely.” Says one. “Brilliant. I love it,” says the other. How good is that line actually going to be?

For creative things to be good, really good, they have to be torn apart, criticised down to the finest detail, deconstructed and then built back up again. Everybody sitting around and congratulating themselves on how they all love something may be warm and embracing but it won’t ever produce anything new or good.

That’s why I want to cry, “vive la diffĂ©rence,” a bit more often. If you feel different about something, I like that, I respect that and I want to know more. If I loved it and you hated then you are right and I am right too. Let’s try to find where the creative spark between these two correct positions lies.

I’m trying this at the moment, I really am.

A useful side-effect of me trying to be better at this has come to light. I now value my own opinion much more than I have ever done before. Movies are a good example. Previously, if I saw a movie and liked it, and then found that everyone else didn’t, I might have kept my head down a bit and perhaps even wondered where I went wrong in liking it. Silly me. With movies, as with most things, it’s all about my own personal reaction to it. This reaction may be unbalanced, swayed by the mood I was in at that moment or some other circumstances which helped forge my opinion. My view might be skewed and irrational but that never means that my view is invalid. Far from it. The more honest I can be with myself, the more valid my opinion must be.

One finesse though. Social media being what it is, I may still hesitate to jump in and express my polar-opposite opinion to yours. To date, my experiences of doing this have not been all that positive. I may not jump in to openly disagree but I will however quietly celebrate your alternate point of view and I will try to hear as much about it as I can.

So I disagree with you. Do you hear me? I disagree.

Isn’t it great?