Novemberland

The Road To Trowviille

Published by Darren Seeley on Sunday, 23 June 2013


We saw them on the road between Old Bridge Creek and Trowville. At first,  it was just part of a foot, the heel slipping between the trees back into the forest, but then a little further along the road where the apron of grassland widened in front of the treeline, we saw a whole one. 

Whether it was the headlights or the noise of us approaching that first drew its attention wasn't obvious, but we stopped the car on a verge at the side of the road and cut the engine.  Looking up through the windscreen, we saw it looking right back down at us.   

Despite the night, an almost full moon illuminated its skin to a curiously familiar bluish rocky grey. If you wanted to paint a picture of one from your imagination, it's exactly the colour you would use.

It examined us fairly nonchalantly in that disappointing way that wild things do, though we did see it was clasping food in its hand; there was the odd leg sticking out between the fingers.    It kept smelling the food, almost obsessively, every few seconds or so and because it's body moved so slowly the arm was continually going up and down like an old giant carnival attraction; without the grin.

We knew about the trolls, well everyone did really but me and Eddie had never seen one before and the first thing I thought was they do look pretty sad.  People say it's because they're hungry all the time having to live off what they find dead on the roads.  But it's a real melancholy behind the eyes and it looks like it comes from a place far deeper than the bottom of their empty stomachs.  Eddie said why don't they kill stuff, and I said they don't, they're just not made that way.   Lost their hunting instinct I guess.  

I said they were like giant carnivorous cows emerging from the forest at night to feed by the mercy of dumb animals,  bad drivers and luck. 

Eddie said what did they eat before the roads came.  I said I didn't know.

Now I've seen one I really like them but I can understand why some people wouldn't.  They are huge and scary things.

It wasn't bothered by us and in the end we got bored of watching and Eddie started up the car.

As we drove away I wanted to wave goodbye, and for a second I believed that it might actually wave back at me.  

On the Grass

Published by Darren Seeley on Saturday, 22 June 2013

Pete:    We walked for miles that day.  Was it warm?

Karen: It was perfect.  We laid down on the grass don’t you remember?

Pete:    Grass? On the South Bank? 

Karen: Yeah, just before the Oxo Tower.

Pete:    Of course. (smiling) I couldn’t move.

Karen:(smiling) What?

Pete:    You’d leant your head on my legs and I didn’t want to move (beat) in case you did.

Karen: I think I felt your heartbeat.

Pete: In my legs!

Karen:  (laughing) Yes!

Pete: Christ.  I was anxious. Didn’t you think it was strange though? Like maybe I was having a heart attack.

Karen: Not really, well, because I thought it was mine; my heartbeat.  It was the first move and I wasn’t really sure how you’d react.

Pete:    Oh so you were making a move!

Karen: Obviously! It was nice though.

Pete:    Yeah. It was lovely.

Not Waving But Drowning

Published by Darren Seeley on Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Now. When I say I am learning to swim, I really mean that I am learning the next stage after 'not sinking and moving about a bit in a body of water'.   I've never had formal lessons, but my inauguration to the first stage of such unassisted solo water activity began quite dramatically on the Costa Del Sol in 1974. 

 

I was five years old and one early evening was playing in the hotel swimming pool.  At the deep end I fell out of my inflatable rubber ring and began struggling to keep my head above water.   My memory is hazy but legend has it that my Dad immediately leapt from his poolside chair (he was fully clothed, wearing the heavy knit cardigan my Mum had packed for him 'in case it got a bit chilly') and dived into the water to rescue me.  The other poolside guests refrained from participating in the drama, and nonchalantly continued sipping their Sangrias, and lighting up fags.

 

This event persuaded my Dad to deliver an impromptu swimming lesson, and from that moment I discarded my safety ring and entered the world of 'not sinking and moving about a bit in a body of water'.  It is there I have remained since. 

So, whilst I plan to take professional instruction, I am for the moment relying on David Wilkie, whom conveniently wrote 'The Handbook of Swimming'  a copy of which I found in a second hand bookshop.   

Source
First published in 1986 it contains whole chapters on the scientific principles of swimming and has pictures of dolphins, propellers and Tarzan.   There are graphs and anatomical drawings showing me how, when and what with.  It appeals to my analytical mind and whilst the hours of video I have watched on You Tube has helped enormously, you can't beat a bit of hydrodynamic analysis of thumb positions to really drive things home.

 

Of course, anything that can be analysed to this degree means there is more to do in getting it right and that is the really difficult part.  You can't really cheat in swimming.  Unlike say cycling where you can stop pedalling and use momentum to continue moving you forward, it's difficult to pretend you're actually swimming if you're not.  


At school I remember the excitement of joining recorder club, and the succeeding abject boredom when I realised I couldn't actually play it, and was too impatient to really listen to any instruction.   However, I did devise an ingenious method of fooling everyone into thinking that my lessons had not gone to waste.  Instead of blowing air in the recorder, I would actually hum the tune I wanted to play through it.  

 

This gave me an incredible repertoire and I was able to produce notes hitherto unheard from a standard issue school descant recorder.   One unfortunate side effect though, was the emission of large amounts of saliva from the end of the recorder at an unknown moment in the future.
  
My undoing, I see now, was probably when I started talking through it.  I'd misjudged my audience, and ignored Lincoln's maxim on fooling people.  I truly believed the looks they gave me were wonder, and not as I now know; pity. 


So I continue to progress and can indeed now move forward through the water in a reasonably orderly fashion.  From above the water I am told, I seem calm and focused which belies the chaos that sometimes unfolds beneath the surface as I try to determine whether I’ve blown out sufficient air, extended my arms enough, and am indeed not waving but drowning. 

100 Word Plays

Published by Darren Seeley on Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Royal Court theatre called for 100 word play submissions as part of their Young Writers Festival.  Luckily for me, you don't have to be young to take part.

I wrote three.  Here they are.


Washing Day

Two men sit together on bench in a launderette.

Dan        I don't see any other way. 

Mike      At all?

Dan        We've exhausted. I mean Mike, we've utterly 
               exhausted all other possible solutions.

Mike      And none's gonna work.

Dan        Nothing is going to work Mike.

Mike      It's disappointing Dan, really disappointing.

Dan        It is.

Mike      (pause) Ah! thought I had something there!

Dan        (rising from the bench) Shall we then?

Mike      (looking up) No time like the present eh? (stands up)
               (pause
               Where we gonna put the feet, his head, you 
               know all the bits and pieces?

Dan        In the garage Mike.

Mike      What the one on Ship Street?

Dan        Yes. (nods)

Mike      (nodding) Nice.



The Choice
 
Jack       We've never really talked about it.

Alice      You were happy with the choice we made.

Jack       The choice?

Alice      I know (beat) but I just couldn't cope with it 
               then.

Jack       And by doing this now, this is to show me how much
               you still think about it?

Alice      More than you are able to forget.

Jack       You mean that you think about it more than I forget 
               it? (beat) Or that I forget how much you think about 
               it? (Pause) Alice?

Alice      I never truly realised how much a part of you it was.

Jack       She, she was a girl.

Alice      I know. (whispers) A tiny baby girl.



No Dogs
 
Guard   No dogs! No dogs! No dogs!

Man      What?

Guard   No dogs. No dogs allowed.

Man      What (beat) this?

Guard   Not allowed.

Man      This is no dog.

Guard   Yes it is.

Man      Good, we agree then.

Guard   Exactly!  What? Why are you saying it's not a dog.

Man      I didn't.

Guard   No dogs allowed!

Man      I know, so please let me through.

Guard   You can't take that dog.

Man      Why not?

Guard   Dogs aren't allowed.

Man      Oh, dogs aren't allowed?  I'm sorry I had no idea.


Next Customer Please

Published by Darren Seeley on Wednesday, 30 November 2011

I realise now it is a strange behaviour but I cannot unlearn it. 

I have tried, truly tried and in my battle I have approached a place which felt very much like the margin of irrationality.  A checkpoint beyond which a worryingly few number of footsteps would put me in the very heartlands of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

I know that everyone does it, is obliged to in fact, but separating my shopping from others' on a supermarket checkout conveyor belt is imperative to my mental health. 


I will fidget nervously until one of the plastic dividers becomes available, and where there are many fellow shoppers with a small amount of items, the barriers are few and far between.  Such transience can tempt me to try stealing one from the adjacent checkout which may be, depending on the shop layout,  tantalisingly close to my errant hand; but this is often futile, as the same uncomfortable event is also happening to my comrades on this checkout. 


As others in front complete their transactions, time is running out for me as the checkout person begins to scan the shopping of the person directly in front of me.  I look around the shop hurriedly expecting to see a multitude of faces mirroring my panic, or perhaps at the very least a manager racing towards me holding aloft an emergency plastic divider.

When the manager doesn’t appear my only option is to hold back my shopping on the moving conveyor belt with one arm or tumble the leading items to a place further back in the line thus increasing the gap and demonstrating incontrovertible ownership.
 

What am I afraid of?  That someone will buy my shopping? 

Or perhaps, I am worried that I will lose a particular item that cannot be replaced?  What if it was the only one left on the shelf.  But then this would not happen because like others I'm sure,  I eye the last godforsaken item on the supermarket shelf with a deep suspicion.   They are usually over thumbed and at worst, have been injected with poison by madmen.   Like the biscuit aisle on pension day, they are best avoided.

No it seems to be a issue of possession,  and the oddity of whilst having chosen items to one's own personal specification from the supermarket shelves, they do not actually belong to you until the final payment has been made at the checkout.

However, we do assume ownership immediately and would no more give away a can of soup from our trolley than allow someone else to try on a shirt we were holding in John Lewis, even if there were another five in similar size left on the rail. 


As soon as we've decided we do not want the can of soup though, or the shirt, the discounted nearly stale bread, we will leave it in the first convenient place in the shop with the justification that it doesn't belong to us.    

I have seen socks discarded next to chilled ready meals and wondered what it was about convenience food which prompted the shopper to realise they didn't need socks after all.  

Perhaps a Creole dish had given them visions of wandering barefoot in the sand of a Caribbean desert island, a place where socks would be frankly, ridiculous.   If I close my eyes I can imagine myself walking barefoot around that paradise; but I would be looking for a microwave. 


Welcome to Novemberland

Published by Darren Seeley on Saturday, 1 October 2011

It seems appropriate though somewhat tardy to be finally putting this domain name to use a whole ten years to the month since I first registered it.   Back then with dreams of world domination, I imagined it would become a household name to join the Holy Trinity of Google, Amazon and Ebay and necessitate the creation of a new holy doctrine made up of four divine entities instead of just the three we were all so familiar with.  However, whilst I was a ferocious digester of the internet, my contribution to it was small.


My actual internet journey started six years earlier in 1995.  A time when you couldn't buy Viagra™ online even if you wanted to.  As well as spending up to 8 hours a day 'looking up stuff' (All this inconveniently in my own time rather than my employer's who hadn't got around to providing their staff with free unlimited internet access at that time), I did as hobby sell rare books and CDs around the world via Usenet, a global bulletin board service.  Unfortunately I underestimated the growth of consumerism and failed to take full advantage of it. 

The mid nineties was a blossoming uncynical time for me and technology and incredibly exciting.  It was a time before Google existed and the gates to the world wide web were guarded by the now vaguely remembered likes of Lycos, Web Crawler and Alta Vista.  This early experience has undoubtedly spoiled me somewhat and I do lament a time when people didn't think a search engine was the actual internet.    


Are we now though just continually manipulated, because for most of us today's technology is just that little way beyond our understanding, or have I just reached an age where my rose coloured spectacles are chipped and faded and just too damn cynical.  

1995 was a time when  one would buy a book in bookshop and not just window shop to buy it later (and cheaper) from Amazon.  I fondly remember travelling up and down the country scouring shops for rare books that had somehow been overlooked or mis-catalogued in an out of reach corner.

I do fear the decline of proper books.  Already Amazon are selling more e-books than printed ones, though perhaps by their very scarcity in a far future world dominated by electronic readers, books will become strange and desired objects once again.

Sadly, it seems most of us don't covet horses now that we have cars in our driveways.


1995 was also a time when buying someone else's possessions that they no longer wanted meant going to a charity shop or a church hall, or perhaps a field.  Now Ebay lets us  trade with each other instantly.

Interestingly, there are similarities with the less modern art of bartering, though this isn't tit for tat; not actual swapping.  Six of my toy soldiers and this bag of marbles for your James Bond car.  Somehow once out of childhood, we seem to have an aversion to this model of trade.


Indeed, several attempts have been made at introducing swapping type websites but they are difficult to monitise and ultimately as adults, we seem more comfortable if there is a financial transaction involved, perhaps because we do see Ebay as a proper bona fide retail outlet and not the online all weather car boot, flea market, charity shop and jumble sale that it is.

We are very familiar with these rules of exchange of goods and services for money, which is why we don't take old jumpers into M&S hoping to swap them for something else.

There is argument that Ebay promotes the reuse and recycling of goods, but I feel that unless you buy something from your next door neighbour, any modicom of green credential is soon vaporised along with the fuel it took to ship the item to you and produce all the packaging it was sent in.

© Bruce Forster
But people don't use Ebay because they want to save the planet.  They use it mainly to find scarce items and because they want a bargain.   Add to this the auction model and you have the introduction of competitive time sensitive purchasing.   If buying stuff cheap makes peoples happy, feeling like they won it in a race will make them even happier.

Could the same psychology that makes people fall for the 3 for 2 offer ends soon supermarket trick, make them spend money on Ebay just to win?  I wonder.

When I was in Santa Barbara recently there were a group of homeless people who hung out by the pier.  They had set up a blanket and a plastic tupperware box on the sand below the pier with a sign that said "Try your luck at the bullseye"  One day we sat and watched for at least an hour as a constant stream of people threw small change off the pier trying to get it into the plastic box.

Needless to say the blanket was covered with coins.  I'm sure many didn't know who had set the game up, but they wanted to play, they wanted to win.

Missing the box was like being outbid on Ebay.  It was only pennies, you could keep going, keep bidding, keep throwing until you won the item and were happy in the fact that your bid above all others had been successful and you would soon be in receipt of something possibly worthwhile, that perhaps you had a use for, maybe.

You had against all odds, thrown a penny into a plastic box.


I had a crazy thought that the homeless people were actually professors of psychology and mathematics conducting experiments on their days off.  Perhaps they were, but either way, if their ingenuity got them all cup of coffee and a sandwich, or a bottle of bourbon, then that's just great. 

The internet is now a very scary place where people have actually bought Viagra™ and in exchange for a share of $30million, given their life savings to the recently deposed Nodambizia Minister of Agriculture.

So, as Novemberland finally becomes a little something ten years after it officially began, I am content to be contributing once again.  I cannot hide my cynicism but will try to at least  to disguise my misanthrope.