BOOK REVIEW – Day by AL Kennedy

wander beyond the ‘Buy One Get One Half Price’ table in Waterstones

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It was quite apt – Finishing Day by A.L. Kennedy during the week of Armistice Day.

I’ve been close to Alfred as his (second world) war has been gradually revealed to me.

The story of how one man, a rear gunner, repeatedly cradled in the belly of a Lancaster, came to be. How he came to be a man. A man as labelled by his peers, his family, his lover, his own mind. How a man fell out of the sky…….

Without telling the story (and, oh, to have a 100th of the writing prowess of Kennedy with which to do so!), a young man, with a painfully troubled upbringing, escapes the abuse of his parents’ world and is a willing and committed recruit to the war machine.

Based on a film set, where Alfred is tormented by his role as an extra in a war film (a mere 4 years after WWII had ended), the narrative bounces, initially, from past to present and beyond. Potentially confusingly, I did re-read the previous sittings’ last pages until I was in tune. From there, though, I sank into the uncomfortable, yet warm cradle of its pages’ embrace.

I don’t imagine there are many ‘happy’ endings in genuine war tales, and the depth of detail on show here of the horrors of, well, life, is extraordinary. The story evolves, centred on an anguished internal dialogue. Without resorting to shock tactics, genuine terror is sketched across the canvas of the readers’ imaginations.

If, like me, you enjoy being challenged, informed, cajoled and bowled over by new (to me anyway) writing, you’ll cherish this tale. As I said, reading it at such a poignant time of year only added to the delicate, historical pleasure.

For me, the masterstroke is the gentle touch of the author’s quill on the fragile soul that is Alfred. Some of his relationships are never quite expanded upon, giving the reader scope to build the characters in their mind. The cameo of his relationship with Ivor (they run a bookshop together), provides an almost light flavour to a beautiful but truly dark mix.

Good stuff.

On-Writing-A-L-KennedyWhilst attempting to develop my writing skills, I stumbled across On Writing, also by A.L. Kennedy. I really believe we all need to delve into (a process made so much easier in the digital era) subjects which interest us in order to discover inspiration and (in this case) wander beyond the ‘Buy One Get One Half Price’ table in Waterstones……..

 

 

 

Film Review – 100 Metro

I WAS ASKED TO REVIEW A FILM (ANY FILM) AS PART OF A TEST PROCESS FOR A COPYWRITING BROKERAGE AGENCY. LUCKILY, NICKY AND MYSELF HAD RECENTLY WATCHED THIS EXTRAORDINARY FILM……

A STRICT BRIEF AND WORD COUNT WERE REQUIRED AND THIS IS THE PIECE I SUBMITTED.

 

100 Metros
Thrown into a life controlled by Multiple Sclerosis, Ramon finds himself tempted by the unlikely challenge of an Ironman triathlon. With his heavily pregnant wife, a young son and his finances being challenged, an equally unlikely training partnership, alongside his eccentric and foul-mouthed father-in-law, is formed.
Based on a true story, Ramon’s journey, and that of his family, from a devastating, life changing diagnosis, and terrifying prognosis, to attempting such an extreme feat of endurance is one of epic proportions.
Having been goaded that he would never complete 100 meters, Ramon sets out to prove that he can swim 3.8 kilometers, cycle 180 and run 42.2, all within a 17 hour time limit.

The Spanish passion – it oozes through every scene, most vocally through Manola

The character of Manola, Ramon’s father in law provides chuckle worthy relief to the heart-breaking tenderness in the darkness of living with the uncertainty, and indeed, certainty of the disease.
Delightfully rugged, unkempt and with his own hinted at sadness and desperation, Manola is the link joining the circle of characters. He exudes bitterness and resentment yet can be gentle and poignant all in one scene. His request to ‘buy’ Facebook is hilarious and yet it signifies a true line in the sand moment in his own grieving process.
Being told in the native tongue of the film, with English subtitles, the passion and commitment of Manola is preserved as his increasingly unorthodox (but effective) coaching of Ramon develops.
The sometimes painfully strained relationships between the members of this family are stretched to near breaking point and the light touch approach in the directing allows the viewer to absorb the subtleties of these interactions.
From the limits of despair to the heart stopping highs of triumph, and everywhere in between, the countdown to race day is irresistible.

 

The Soul Survivors

Tears cascade, the cask rolls through the curtains. Good souls escape the fire though. They drift casually, silently, unseen, across the moors. The oldest oak calls, its whisper carries easily though the valleys and tors. “Forever, forever, forever,” the rustling of vibrant green leaves calls, “forever on the wind”. Autumn comes but the leaves don’t fall. Yet, only those whose lost loved ones bore good souls notice the ever green oak. The souls on the wind follow the call, “forever, forever” and a faint vapour wisps up the ancient trunk, through the knot of the soul survivors.

 

(PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook)

A QUEUE FOR A RUCKSACK

Run a mile or plenty away

A poem by Kevin Bonfield

A QUEUE FOR A RUCKSACK

Maybe a confusion here for
A tiny frail elderly man who
Needs pockets and to lock it
And to keep his life safe.

A Brazilian office worker rushing to work.
A salad, maybe sweet chilli sauce
And fruit and a rare treat
Wrong colour wrong timing.

A mid-life crisis in full flow
More a waistcoat but, hey
Rucksack sounds more rugged
Run a mile or plenty away

A hiker, a traveller, a primary school
Kid who might fit in theirs
Young Mum, baby milk and wipes
Or mine with a scribble and a pen

The Memory Cafe

Knees up. Mother who?

Another poem, from my growing collection inspired by living with someone who is living with dementia.

 

THE MEMORY CAFE

by Kevin Bonfield

 

 

Knees up. Mother who?

 

The songs, and posters, the

 

Jokes and the jokers

 

For just one minute they

 

Bring back you

 

 

 

My old man. He said

 

Ahhh the mini van. I

 

Remember the plate

 

The eyes for that minute

 

Aren’t so dead

 

 

 

So when it’s my turn

 

Will Oasis and Blur

 

Or The Who and Kinks

 

Be my memory prompts

 

That I should learn

 

 

 

But Every nice girl

 

Sure loves you, sailor

 

As you stir from the back

 

From black empty holes to

 

An hour in this world

 

 

 

And yes, you still do

 

Like to be beside the

 

Seaside, beside yourself

 

Perhaps you don’t

 

But the sea air IS you

 

Work, Rest & Play

sound like Donald Duck ordering a croissant

Below is a 1000 word short story, set in a bizarre future……..

WORK REST AND PLAY

by Kevin Bonfield

 

The shaking is uncontrollable, I can feel the sag in my cheeks slamming against my dentures. I’d shout for help but I’d sound like Donald Duck ordering a croissant. Of course, even if I could shout, there is only me here, shaking and slamming inside the bubble of this stupid buggy.

Schlopp, schlop schopp, like wellies in deep, muddy puddles my cheeks exclaim with every involuntary toss of the head. I try and move my hands to press my cheeks in but they are shaking so involuntarily it must look like I’m trying to swipe a swarm of violent wasps off of them. My arms making ballooning shapes in the air as I barrel around inside the cabin. It’s starting to look like I’ve been dropped from a great height in here, pieces of the futuristic, highly technical controls just shearing off and shooting at me from all directions.

The Marskart started so easily after I’d climbed aboard but it seems now every button I press just makes the vibration worse. The whole thing is vibrating out of control, bouncing like a slamming motor in those one of those vintage films from the turn of the century, when petroleum was all the rage. And the noise, the grinding, the squealing, the buzzing, the alarms, the almighty crash every time the kart hits the hard rock of the surface of Mars. Slam, slam, slam. It feels like there’s a block of platinum crushing each of my internal organs in a completely random pattern with each lurch of the out of control machine. I don’t know whether I’m coughing, gasping, screaming, retching or reeling, but I wouldn’t hear anyway amongst what is starting to sound like a purgatory of white noise.

One of these controls, it’s one of these controls. One of them makes the damned thing hover, I’m sure I read it on the instruction glass on the way here. Maybe it’s this one. Maybe it’s not, we’re rolling now. Space, rock, space, rock, space, rock, too fast for me to register which way up I am now. The last nutrient infusion is becoming increasingly likely to reappear. Oh, this is crazy.

What other eighty-year-old gets bought a solo trip to Mars? By his parents? Just because they’ve always thought I lived on another planet. I could have stayed at home I suppose, to be honest, they’re nagging me so much about leaving home, I thought the break would do us all good.

Well that was over a year ago, and quite frankly I think I’ve had enough of a break now. If this lunatic machine doesn’t stop hammering me into the walls, floor, ceiling and control panel the breaks will be all over my body.

Apparently, Dad wants to retire next year, and they think I should get a proper job now I’m eighty. Not be such a drain on their resources. So, he’s going to start taking it easy at a hundred and ten years old. It’s crazy, like me being here on this forsaken barren planet, that he’s working at all since they won the Galaxy Gazillions Lotto. Fair enough the implants have given us all a new lease of life, but surely, he realises his wealth would support him for another two hundred years, regardless of how many ridiculous trips to space he buys his ungrateful offspring.

If only you could see me now, Dad. Spinning out of control, rolling, bouncing and crashing against the unforgiving rocks on the surface here. Only he can see me, the Eyespy implant meaning he sees the world through my eyes as well as his own. Which seemed like a good idea but the mind controller constantly plays up, meaning the poor guy had the full three-dimensional view of that episode with the two lovely ladies who gave me a rather too thorough physical, er, preparation for this trip. Until it dawned on me to close my eyes. I could almost hear his voice pleading me to open them again, he always was a saucy so-and-so.

None of the preparation ACTUALLY prepared me for this hammering though. Apparently, people used to don gloves, enter a roped off square of canvas and set about punching each other. I’d always thought that boxing sounded rather barbaric. But it’s starting to seem mildly appealing compared to the constant thumping I’m taking as my unwitting vessel hurtles across the surface of Mars at some unthinkable speed. Twisting, rolling, slamming, squealing, screaming, whining with the constant wailing of alarms from what’s left of the console piercing through the cacophony, the industrial, chaotic symphony of noise to drive me to wrap my head in my arms. Although all I achieve is to slam myself in the face with my forearm, slapping the opposite cheek against the floor as we roll towards what can only be my terminal destiny.

I know I should have paid more attention to those instructions, but quite honestly, they were just weird. How hard can it be to drive a Marskart. I’d spent nearly a year on the Planetbus, so really, I could have read a bit more of the instruction glass. But once I found a way to stream that Pacman game, that was pretty much the year taken care of.

Hang on, we’re slowing down, whichever button I touched then has slowed us down. There’s a horizon again. I don’t believe it, we’re hovering. I knew I could do it, how hard can it be, I knew it. There we go we’re passing slowly and smoothly a few meters from the surface.
And . . . relax.

CONTROL

“Is that what you meant to do?” she sneered

The Following is a short story, entered into a couple of competitions (unsuccessfully) – the prompt was “Is that what you meant to do?” 

 

 

CONTROL

By Kevin Bonfield

1694 Words

 

“Is that what you meant to do?” she sneered.
Obviously, it isn’t, thought Trev. Trev, short for Trevelyan. Trevelyan, a name Trev was rather proud of. Trevelyan, a name that had subjected him to some fierce and cruel ridicule over the years. Primary school, football teams, harsh industrial workplaces populated with gang mentalities. Yet, it was certainly individual and Trev definitely wore it with pride.
“No, it isn’t,” was Trev’s actual reply, “I’m sorry, the drill bit ju…” “Then WHY did you, eh, eh, is there nothing, NOTHING I can actually trust you to do? EH? EH? TRE! VEH! LEE! ANN! Tell me, please, because you are ruining everything. Again.”
You can trust me to give you a sly yet enthusiastic V-sign behind your back as you leave the room, thought Trev. “No…..sorry” he whispered, fighting back tears, swallowing hard as a lump formed in his throat. Normally a sign that the darkness was coming.
Trev swallowed hard again, how did I get here, he pondered. Over and over again, day after day, month after miserable month, year after vacuous, pointless year.
“It’s a good job you’ve got me,” continued Valerie, on a roll now, “baling you out over and over again. I thought you would have finished that by now, have the kids’ dinner on, I suppose if I don’t want them to die of starvation, I’LL HAVE TO DO IT!? EH? EH?” she raged.
Kids, thought Trev. Kids? They are twenty and sixteen. And starve? They are lazy, spoiled, gluttonous, consumption obsessed rats crawling in the shadow of their greedy, money crazed mother towards what, in their case, is laughably called adulthood.
“No, no, I’m sorry, I’ll do it.” He said, his shoulders curling in, chin sinking to his chest.
Val couldn’t have known that Trev had a plan. She was so arrogant, so confident of her complete control of everything, that nobody, in what she perceived to be her empire, would ever dare cross her.
For a year or more, Trev had been creating another existence for himself. Taking tiny, tiny steps towards a future. A future to call his own.
When Trev had collapsed whilst on his rowing machine and went to seek medical help he wasn’t diagnosed with any physical ailment. Trev was depressed. Val scoffed openly at the diagnosis and made it impossible for him to have the time to attend the counselling sessions he was offered.
Unwittingly, Val had given Trev a gift. Deep inside he felt anger, a quiet murmur, a prodding, but definitely anger. He started to teach himself to swallow back the darkness and keep glimpsing the light flickering at the end of the unthinkably long tunnel.
“What are you going to say to some nosey head doctor, eh? Eh?” she had spat, “If you’ve got anything to say, anything to moan about then you can say it to me. I’ve given you this fantastic life, so if you have anything to complain about then I can simply and quickly tell you to man up and, well, shut up. So, come on, what is it that’s so awful that you can’t tell the person that knows you best? EH?”
“Nothing, no, it’s fine. I’m fine.” Trev mumbled.
From that day on, every little bit of overtime he managed to bolt onto his shifts resulted in a little bit more secret money he could pass to his one remaining friend, Ian. Trev and Ian met at the rowing club before Val put a stop to Trev’s Sunday mornings on the river. Ian also shared Trev’s passion for painting, and Trev felt they were kindred spirits.
“Why, tell me, why, you would choose to spend our precious Sunday mornings with all those other idiots huffing and puffing up and down the river? Eh?”
Because it’s beautiful on the river, it inspires me, it gives me light and life and fresh, unpolluted air and fresh, unpolluted conversation, with fresh, unpolluted people, Trev enthused internally.
His painting didn’t fare much better, “What are you pissing around with those brushes again for, eh?” Val would mock, “Nobody is ever going to BUY that nonsense, are they, eh? Who exactly are you painting for?” she would laugh.
Trev would just stare into the middle-distance thinking, well, me, actually. “No, I’ll leave it now then.” Would be his whispered, ashamed reply.
Val felt she was so, so in control of Trev’s life that she had slipped up and he had managed to filter off the money he had previously paid to the rowing club each month, further boosting his escape fund.
Once Trev had managed to convince Ian that he was indeed serious about making a plan to disappear, Ian had become almost as enthusiastic as Trev himself. Having a god father in Norwich who had a few rental properties, Ian told Trev to hold tight as he knew one of those bedsits would soon be available to let. Ian had managed to negotiate on Trev’s behalf meaning he could move in without a deposit or awkward references.
Trev had been concerned about just how he would organise the logistics of getting to Norwich, a journey of some two hundred and fifty miles, with his meagre belongings. His worldly possessions didn’t amount to much but they did include an easel and a rowing machine. Again, Ian had the answer, somehow arranging a one-way van hire which he insisted was cheap and anyway, would be a leaving gift.
The supermarket where Trev worked shifts in the bakery were more than happy to offer him a position in their Norwich branch, and he had just one more shift to do. Val, of course couldn’t have known that the shelves she had insisted he simply must go up, before he headed off to work, would be the last he would ever do.
“If that isn’t what you meant to do,” she continued, really getting into her stride now, “then, please, please tell me,” pausing for effect, Val’s voice dropped, now a barely audible, but quite menacing growl, “why. did. you. do. it?”
Trev simply stared at a random point on the floor.
Val had divorced her first husband, his redundancy package and house firmly secured. He had, Trev recalled from their one and only meeting many, many years ago, a deep haunted and hollow look in his eyes. In the cold, sober light of the reality of life, Trev imagined that long empty stare could well have been a warning.
Without complaint, Trev prepared the processed chicken fillets and oven chips which his grown-up step-children enjoyed with baked beans and lashings of ketchup. The resentment with which he delivered the meals to their rooms, so as not to disrupt their reality television and social media sessions, was greatly tempered by the knowledge that this really would be the very last time.
As he packed his work bag, his much scoffed at salad and fruit boxed up, “More rabbit food I see?” Val would chuckle, he said his routine goodbye. As usual, he promised to check in via text message at each of his breaks, “Just so that I know where you are.”
Fairly skipping to work, Trev started to feel quite light headed. Nervous, extremely nervous, but almost giddy with excitement for the future. He normally really enjoyed being at work, feeding the big ovens with huge batches of pre-prepared doughs, his mind released for ten or twelve hours from the pounding life gave him. Tonight though, time was standing still it seemed, but Trev was happy to suffer the wait. Happiness loomed. Quite a bizarre, previously alien sensation.
The plan was slick. Ian could not have been more helpful. Even calling around to the house on the pretence of borrowing art equipment, which would be bagged together with other belongings which would, of course already be on the van in the morning. Ian was sometimes already at the house when Trev came home, sat at the kitchen table, utterly charming.
“Why can’t you be more like Ian? Eh?” Val would complain, “You don’t hear him squealing and whining or moping around, eating all that ridiculous, supposedly healthy food. Do you? Eh?”
If only you knew, Trev would think, almost giggling internally, that he is helping me plot the greatest escape. The escape from you. Ian would be at the house in the morning, where he was going to be Trev’s wingman as he delivered the blow, got into the van and disappeared into the sunrise.
The shift couldn’t end soon enough, but end it did and Trev clocked out and headed home. Not quite the skip of the journey to work, nerves now playing havoc with his insides, but still a brisk walk. With adrenaline flooding his body, he turned into his road, for the last time. Sure enough, the van was there. No sign of Ian, he must already be in the house. Trev couldn’t begin to imagine what Ian was talking to Val about. As the bay window came into sight, he was further confused by what looked like a new easel, a monstrous tripod, with a canvas mounted, standing proudly in the window.
He thought he saw two figures disappear out of the early morning light into the deep shadows of the house. Trev’s heart was racing as he approached the front door. He paused, fumbling for his, key, expecting the door to open. Before it did he managed to insert his key and push the door open.
“I’ll have that.” Said Val, standing rather too close to Ian in the hallway, holding out her hand. Trev’s nervous, confused, sick feeling intensified as he desperately searched his friends face for explanation. He dropped the key into Val’s outstretched hand. Val smiled, something he very, very rarely saw, “You really are so pathetic, you couldn’t even leave me without everybody else sorting it out for you. Could you, eh? Eh?”
Ian reached out his hand, for a moment Trev moved his hand, thinking a handshake was being offered, but soon realised that Ian’s hand was up turned and moving towards Val, who, really smiling now, dropped the key into Ian’s hand.