Know thyselves

I look at my reflection in the mirror; it’s not what I expected. My face seems big and clunky with a jaw that’s almost comical. How did it get like that from such a slender, effeminate youth?

The light from the window brings out a sheen on my skin. It’s not the healthy kind though, but one of apprehension that goes well with my pasty complexion.

I’m just tired, I tell myself. But then I make the mistake of looking into the murky blue of my own gaze and I’m caught in a paradox. Do they know something I don’t?

Brain separates from body and I feel myself coming apart at the seams. Two halves of a whole sharing a mutual level of distrust. How can I possibly get on with the day if I can’t even get on with my selves? Hang on, there’s three of us in this now?

Self-awareness is a real mindfuck.

Two birds

Kevin glanced out of the window as a magpie landed in the neighbour’s garden.

He quickly turned away, but the fear had already set in and Kevin dragged himself back to the window.

The bird was pecking at the ground, trying its luck in the cracks between the patio stones. Kevin pressed his face against the glass while he scanned the trees for another.

After a few minutes, the magpie took off over the neighbouring houses. Kevin swallowed hard as he watched it disappear behind the rooftops. Then he walked steadily down the corridor towards the front door.

As Kevin passed the kitchen, his head turned involuntarily towards the oven. He stopped and stared at the display. It was off. He was sure of it.

Kevin had almost reached the door before he sprung back to the kitchen like he was tied to it with elastic. Nothing. It was definitely off.

His damp fingers fumbled with the latch while a frenzy of other unchecked disasters threatened to take hold.

As he opened the door, Kevin saw movement overhead. Two birds. He couldn’t be sure if they were magpies or not. He took a long breath. They would just have to do.

The cyclops

I felt bad as I looked back at Rob through the rusted bars. Although he was happy to go and look at abandoned buildings, Rob didn’t quite share my passion for exploring them (not to the extent of scaling a 15ft gate).

He’d never say that of course, or complain that I was leaving him lingering on the pavement in a foreign city. That was Rob, forever forthcoming, even when it visibly distressed him.

But we had come to Berlin, a mecca for urban exploration at the time and I was determined to get in somewhere, even if it was just the once.

On entering the building, however, I was dissapointed to find that the place had been stripped bare. It was impossible to tell what the building had even been used for.

Exposed steps led me up a few floors, and I scouted the corridors hoping to at least find a view worthy of snapping. And then I saw it.

The facade made me think me of some archetypal gang lair from an 80’s film. I found myself imagining what it must have been like when the new generation first discovered these places, choosing to reclaim them in their own way after the powers that be so dramatically fell apart.

I took a picture and then hurried back down to the gate, where Rob was waiting, albeit looking a little put out.

I was happy then, sufficiently cleansed of my selfish impulses and glad to be here with a good friend. Then we headed off to discover what else had emerged out of this newly reborn city.

Above and beyond

I entered a mountain writing competition last month run by the John Muir Trust.  The theme was ‘The day a mountain changed my life’ so my entry was probably a bit low key, but what can I say, that’s my style. (Actually, it’s a rewrite of a post I did a while back on hiking in Snowdonia, but from a more inward-looking perspective.)

It must have been 6am when I unzipped the tent, or thereabouts, judging by the grey light that draped across the mountainside. The two bodies that were crammed in next to me lay motionless, matted hair sprouting from the tops of sleeping bags.

I slipped on my boots and staggered out into the cool air. Whether it was the noggins of whisky from the night before or the rolling view that made my head swim, I couldn’t be sure and I headed for a nearby rock to steady myself.

As I gathered my wits, I became aware of the shrill calls of sheep bouncing about the horseshoe curve that enclosed our camp. I spied their white shapes, shuffling across the farthest reaches of the slopes, as though they were all trying to outdo each other in their quest for the next tuft of grass.

My gaze travelled further down the valley towards a golden light that had only just broken across a neighbouring peak. From there, I turned my attention to the sky and watched how the clouds mingled together; reforming and reshaping as if the day was still busy sorting itself out.

After a few minutes, it occurred to me that not a single thought had passed through my head about where I was and what I was doing. In this environment, there was no need to figure things out or analyse the situation as I was so used to doing in my day-to-day life. It was enough to just observe and be in the moment.

But more than that, everything that was happening before me seem to make perfect sense. This was life in its most fundamental state; the shifting forces of nature, adapting, renewing, destroying and replenishing in one continuous, majestic display.

Just then, a muffled groaning broke my trance as the camp began to stir. Rich poked his head out of the tent and we exchanged mumbled greetings, but I didn’t feel able to convey what I had just experienced, at least, not in words.

I looked about the ridgeline, knowing we would soon be up there as we made our way to the top of Snowdon and beyond. The thought left me with a sense of trepidation and awe as I anticipated how many other breathtaking scenes we were likely to encounter on our expedition. Then, with a growing light, our day began.

Tower block lights

Night after night we’d criss-cross the centre like a knitted sweater, connecting up places with thread. Then we’d pick a colour and chart a course through the night and in our heads to find the perfect setting.

Passing through the heights of Kingsdown, we knew every one of those tower block lights, twinkling with promise. Then we’d dip down to Park Street, not quite our scene except for a few sidestreets in between where the shirts didn’t go.

In the old town, we discovered bars where possibilities resided. The tunes were different, Bacardi Breezers didn’t feature and black wasn’t only for metal kids. Late nights, not fighting, but trying to find a sense of belonging was our commonality.

Weekends were spent on Gloucester Road, sitting in coffee shops before we knew what real coffee was. All the way down the stretch, we felt like we were keeping it all in check, clocking changes when a shop rejigged its name or a familiar figure no longer looked quite the same.

Sometimes we’d end up in St Andrew’s park, but I never went for that daytime lark, the air stiff with smoke and the sound of beer cans under foot while kids flew past their grans on bikes. Curiosity might push us on to the cusp of Montpelier, where, like tourists, we’d stare over the allotments and into the east, its neighbourhoods infamous and out of reach.

Occasionally, when the city got too much, we’d head up to the Downs and over to Ashton Court. Mess about in trees and talk awkward stuff on the grass, before wheeling it back down through Clifton, insecurities surpassed by the breeze and our expertise for shortcuts.

Success (and a special offer)!

Dear readers

I am pleased to say that I recently gained a qualification in proofreading with the Publishing Training Centre. As I’m just starting out (and it’s nearly Christmas), I’d like to extend a special offer to fellow writers and authors to proofread your work for free!

This is strictly a one-time offer while I find my feet. If you need a fresh pair of eyes to look over what you’ve written, please get in touch (providing its not a full length novel – I’m talking articles, short stories or a couple of chapters).

Hope this is of help to some of you.