The Old Man and the Museum

I hadn’t been working there long when I first noticed the old man. He was padding round the balcony, glancing about with a look of quiet fascination at the old maps displayed on the walls. He made three circuits, before descending to the ground floor and tipping his hat at the meet and greeter as he left.I quickly learned from my colleagues that he was a regular to the museum and had been for some time. Aside from taking walks around the upper floors, the old man also liked to tell jokes. He would often come over to the information desk and whisper “Have you heard the one about…” to whoever was stationed there that day. The punchlines were terrible, but we would laugh anyway out of courtesy and also because it was a brief spell of cheeriness amongst the drone of weary visitors.From then on, I paid close attention to his habits and saw how he would pause on occasion to pat a handrail or a stone column, like it was a trusted friend. At other times he would suddenly become fixated by an exhibit and beam at it with a knowing smile. This often had the profound effect of drawing other visitors to the object at which point the old man would slip through the bustle and continue on his steady meander.Most of all, he enjoyed looking at the Didier-Pouget that fills the wall outside the wildlife gallery. Nothing seemed to please him more than taking in the sunlit tufts of heather and the sprawling hillside as if it were a view he knew too well or perhaps longed to see in person.The first week he stopped visiting the museum, things began to deteriorate. Chunks of marble began breaking off the staircase in the front hall as visitors passed up and down. Surveyors were brought in to assess the problem, but they were unable to determine a cause and management had no choice but to close them off, indefinitely.The old man appeared a few days later, using the back stairs instead to reach the galleries. Although he still made his rounds, word quickly spread that he didn’t display his usual level of affection towards the exhibits or the building.The following week, the preventative conservator became convinced that there were new cracks appearing in the Assyrian reliefs. At first, no one believed her until she began taking pictures that illustrated the encroaching damage. The curators were bewildered, but those of us who worked on the galleries knew what was happening. You could feel it in the walls and the great oak doorways – everywhere was withering in his absence.The last time I saw the old man, his face was deathly pale. He still wore his broad-brimmed hat, but he’d swapped the tweed for a grey woollen suit jacket. He didn’t tell us any jokes. He barely made it up to the balcony.Over time, things returned to normal; mostly. The steps were able to be repaired and the cracks in the reliefs no longer seem to be increasing.How many have noticed the new addition, I couldn’t say. It’s barely acknowledged, except through the briefest of whispers or in the flick of an eye. But if you care to look, you’ll see that a second figure has appeared amongst the rose-tinted hillside where once there stood a lone female. There’s not much detail to make out apart from a broad-brimmed hat that’s being held aloft as if the person is embracing the scene.No doubt there’ll be others who’ll become a fixture amongst the museum and its collections. It’s what they deserve after contributing so much to the masonry and the treasures within. You might even call it a public service. For those yet to discover their own cherished item, I wish them long and healthy lives.

Dead leaves

Sam looks at the pavement as they walk. It’s covered with dead leaves and scraps of litter and there are weeds sprouting at the edges. The sight of it makes him uneasy.

Meanwhile, his dad is looking up at the sky. There’s a hot air balloon floating overhead, red and yellow striped.

Sam can see his dad smiling and he tries to copy him, but there are too many things wrong with the world today.

His dad reaches up towards the balloon and plucks it from the sky, his black hair turning white as it touches the clouds.

You can do anything, he says and tugs the balloon down to earth. The people inside it scream and yell as they are tossed from the basket to their deaths.

He looks at the limp balloon in his hand, wondering what went wrong.

No, we can’t, thinks Sam and he returns his attention to the decaying street and the brittleness of dreams.

The sky is ours

Their chanting beat against the morning stillness as Ahmed rolled the tyre along with a steady brush of his hand.

The youngsters grinned like it was a new game, but the others knew better. This was their duty.

Tarek looked back at the pillars of black smoke rising above the buildings. He was used to seeing the streets burn, but this was different. Today, they were the ones making the fires.

At a crossroads, Ahmed lay the tyre on the ground. The other children stood back while Tarek tipped the bottle of kerosene over it. When it was lit, another plume erupted, turning the air a dirty brown.

The children looked at each other, their stained faces fierce and proud while men and women cheered them on. Victory is ours, they cried. We’ve won back the sky.

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.

This place has a name

It was only a matter of time before it all came down. The last time I walked through was on my way to town. Up the mossy steps and across the walkways, into strange spaces layered with paintings.

But then came the great reconstruction. Hoardings went up sharing brash statements about what’s to come once the work is undertaken.

And it got me thinking that something is amiss, the way plans come to pass. Before you know it a block’s pulled down before anyone’s thought to ask: is this what we want for our city, the place that we call home, what would I like to see and feel when all is set in stone?

Nuances of place is heavily underrated, developers don’t see because there’s no money to be made from it. Even when it’s included in the literature, which inadvertently contributes to the decline of what’s being pitched to you.

Luxury apartments in the heart of the street art scene, but in reality it’s being ripped apart by JCBs while men in hard hats and suits watch as the fruits of their labourers plays out.

Why can’t we take the rough with the smooth, no need for every last pock mark to be removed, renovated? It seems like some things are better left unregenerated.

For this history isn’t medieval or wartime but my-time. The paintwork and the street corners are part of a time-line that speaks of the most subtle feats of human endeavour.

Pavements beat bent and broken from stomping children, trees like grandparents leaning over parked cars pushing their roots up to make bike ramps.

Streets where the graffiti is a landmark, plotting a course to a destination where ancestry and intention is lived out.

Conversations over a rusty gate, the flaking paint dropping with the years it takes for bonds to grow so strong that they might just pass over to the next of kin.

These things weren’t prefabricated, but grown from a thousand imprints, thoughts and visions pressed together in a coalition so deep and intricate most would miss it. Except the ones who seek to add their own.

A house to call home

This is my second attempt at poetry and is on the subject of housing. I couldn’t think of a decent title and probably need to work on my formatting, but I enjoyed writing it. As before, any comments, likes, not likes or cheques in the post are welcome.

“Can I help you?” asks the man in the shirt and tie. I look at him and think, well, can you? Can you cut house prices by

40%? Can you force developers to build actual affordable housing that isn’t like stacked containers, replicated in their thousands?

No, I want to say. You can’t. Because what I’m asking for is about as fantastical as the Gallagher brothers being reunited in a musical.

But is it really so far gone, to want to buy a place to call your own and stop pouring cash down the blackhole called Rent, leaving you at the mercy of an agent, just in it for the payment that wires its way to the landlord in some far and distant land?

Hand in hand, they eliminate the dream. Another investment opportunity taking precedent over any sentimental notions of a house to call home.

Where it’s just the latest postcode, a borough on the brink; open up another branch, tell people what to think.

It’s up and coming, vibrant and edgy and every other buzz word. 75% already sold before foundations have been laid down.

In this town, speculation is king.

The thing is, I’m not looking to make an investment or increase my portfolio. I’m looking for a home like the one I grew up in.

A place where I can fill in the cracks and paint the walls, think about which pictures would look good where, so a gallery of our history can emerge.

To take satisfaction in every weed I pull out, and watch the spring seeds sprout, each year a little more like something to be proud of.

To stick drawings on walls that gently curl at the corners as the months go by, find accidental dents in the worktop that make you say “that was when…”

To know the worn banister, smoothed down from hanging and climbing and sliding, and pat its trusty newel post that’s held a thousand coats like a faithful hound.

There doesn’t seem to be much of this thinking around, or perhaps its just that others are keeping their dreams close to the ground, wondering, hoping that the day will come when a place to live isn’t a commodity and its not an oddity to want a place to call your own without looking to sell before it’s even halfway a home.

No fixed address

This is one of my first attempts at poetry. I decided to give it a try after hearing the talented Hollie McNish perform her poem Megatron. It’s a new way of writing for me so any comments are appreciated. (NB this poem has nothing to do with giving birth or is anywhere near as good (as Megatron or giving birth!))

I’m having a midlife crisis, or perhaps I’m just indecisive. Because at 35, is life passing me by or is it just expectation telling me a lie?

That by now I should be getting somewhere or got there already, my career path on an upward arc, the angle holding steady. 

A profession they like to call it or an occupation, you know, the thing that defines you when having a conversation.

You can see it in their eyes when you get asked the question, and answer that the thing you once studied isn’t included in your present direction.

That actually you’ve changed your mind, multiple times in fact with no fixed interest keeping you on track.

Why does it have to be that we are tied to one address, frowned upon if we move about and take up temporary residence?

What’s wrong with not following a single road, why can’t we veer and take in the view, stopping off if we feel like it and learning a thing or two?

Just don’t do it for too long, or else you’ll end up: what? No chance at being the CEO, stuck in a place that ambition forgot?

House prices are a joke, they say pensions no longer exist. Why take the trouble to grind the same old stone, who’s system is this?

So here’s to the indecisives, the start stoppers and the unsures. The ones who still don’t know, but continue to grow in several directions.

The chancers, the samplers, the in and outs, the toe dippers and the skimmers, the what’s it all abouts.

There might not be a mortgage receipt to show for it or a five star CV, but experience is golden and the memories are free.