Saturday, 10 July 2010

Dorota's Dad's Distress

This is the latest installment in the continuing story of Darren Roberts. If you are new to the story, click here for Chapter One.

Chapter Six
Pyotr said goodbye to Mark and walked back to the hospital, keen to see his daughter. He had protected her all her life and it was a hard habit to break. It was funny, he thought: she was twenty-two now, she had a job and a flat and a bank account and a boyfriend, and he still thought of her as his baby, his responsibility. This had been the cause of some discord in the past.

He reached the revolving door and took his turn to wait for the walls to move. Like Darren, he hated these things. So complicated! So much extra thought required! A simple hinged door would work so much better. At least people knew where to stand.

He walked past the restaurant that sold food worse than the patients got and reached the lift, pushing the button for the second floor. He got in when it arrived, and then tapped his fingers impatiently as he listened to two verses of 'the Girl from Ipanema' as it made its glacially slow ascent.

It finally stopped and he got out, retracing his steps to the ward he'd visited before. The nurse recognised him and smiled.

“Good evening, Mr Frackoweski,” she said. “Were you able to find Mr Roberts?”

“Oh yes,” he said. “We talk much of lives and heroes. Now I see my daughter Dorota pliz.”

“Of course, Mr Frackowski. This way.” The nurse beckoned him and tapped her hair bun into shape. She was an old-fashioned lady who appreciated old-world manners.

She led the way to bed five and opened the curtains. “Dorota, your father is here...” She stopped, open mouthed at the sight before her: an empty bed, with specks of blood on the right side, covered in the adhesive pads used by the heart monitor, ECG, etc.

“Excuse pliz,” said Frackowski. “Where is daughter?”

“I'm not entirely sure,” said the nurse. She called over a colleague. “Nurse Flannagan, have you seen where Miss Frackowski has gone?”

“No,” she replied. “I've not seen her since she woke up and screamed.” She saw the look on Pyotr's faced and smiled that reassuring smile again. “It's OK, I think she was just a little disorientated because she'd just woken up. Why don't you take a seat and I'll track her down. She's probably just gone for some tests.”

Pyotr went to sit down and the nurse wondered why she had mentioned the tests. She knew there weren't any tests that were scheduled to be done. Of course she would know. The young lady was her patient. But she had no idea where she was and a little white lie was better than a frantic and potentially litigious relative.

She went to the nurses' station and asked the other nurses if they had any idea where the patient had got to. They had none. All the MRIs and x-rays were already complete, and the other tests for blood, urine, etc, could be done while she was still in the bed. She checked the toilets, and apart from finding a junkie shooting herself up, there was nothing amiss. But there was something missing. Dorota could not be seen anywhere.

She checked her reflection in the ladies, made sure her hair was neat and the clock at her breast was in position, practised her smile, braced herself and went to tell Mr Frackowski that she'd lost his daughter.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Bodging, Trees and Butterflies

Today was an interesting day. I am someone who thrives on new experiences, and there were many to be found. The wardens at my block of flats had organised a day trip to a local park for residents and filled it with activities.

First we were to be tutored in the art of 'bodging', the working of wood using tools unchanged since the days of the Tudors. It was humbling to attempt the manufacture of a candlestick using techniques used in the construction of the ships that sank the Spanish Armada in 1588. While blades were made from metal, the main structure of the tools were made from wood. There was a pleasing symmetry in working wood using wood.

We took a hunk of green wood and split it using a special kind of axe, one that is flat on one side to ensure a straight cut. This was struck with a rough wooden mallet to produce a chunk of wood that would be shaped using a two handled knife similar to the 'mezza luna' used by Italian chefs.

An example of this is shown above. The purpose of the exercise is to turn the wood into a circular shape suitable for turning on the foot-powered lathe. As may be seen, everything about the vice used for working the wood is itself made of wood. The pressure that holds the wood in place comes from the foot.

Once the wood is sufficiently round, it can be used on the foot-powered lathe. This is a wonderfully simple device, powered by a combination of the tension in the string and the repeated foot movements which keep the wood turning at a surprisingly high speed. Applying a chisel to the wood allows it to be shaped in a way recognisable to anyone who has seen a wooden chair leg or wooden pepper grinder.

Bart (the man in the pink shirt on the left) is certainly on my list of people I want to know when the world economy collapses and we are forced to live off the land again! Everything we did today required no electricity, no cost (the wood was taken from his copse in Wales) and had zero carbon emissions. True it took longer than the modern approach of electric plunge routers, jigsaws and angle grinders, but it was significantly more satisfying.

After a hearty barbeque (again, requiring no electricity although some carbon emissions) we were taken on a nature walk by the park ranger (a job title that made me feel like Yogi Bear and put me on the lookout for unattended picnic baskets). This was useful, interesting and informative. We made little cardboard wheels for identifying butterflies, insects and trees and were taken on a guided tour of the trees and hedgerows. We identified trees from their leaves and learnt which ones could make tasty beverages like dandelion and burdock. We learnt about the uses of elderflowers and elderberries and reminisced about the effects of elderberry wine and sloe gin.

I kept a keen eye open for butterflies, although I had been warned that the overcast day made them unlikely to see. How like us, the humble butterfly, to stay at home when the weather is not to our liking! The park ranger regaled us with interesting factoids about the plants we encountered, eg, the phrase 'burning the candle at both ends' came from the days when rushes were burnt to light the homes of the poor, suspended by a string in the middle and lit at either end.

All in all, this was an interesting and an enjoyable day and I look forward to my next lesson in the ways of wood and nature. And the opportunity to meet our opposite numbers at the evocatively named 'Windswept House' was a welcome one.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Darren and the Dad

This is chapter five in the continuing story of Darren Roberts. If you are new to the story, click here for chapter one.

Chapter Five

Darren looked at Mark, Mark looked at him and they both ran to the capsized car, now rotating gently on its roof. The driver seemed to have the wherewithal to open his window and remove his seatbelt, and they helped him from the vehicle; He didn't seem to be injured.

“Fuck me Jesus!” he said. “Hell of a ride”. His English was strongly accented. “Excuse pliz... one of you is...” He consulted a piece of paper he pulled from his pocket. “Darren Roberts?” He took his time with the 'R' sounds, giving them an otherworldly intonation.

Darren braced himself and took a step forwards. “I'm Darren Roberts.”

The older man stepped forwards too, put his arms around him and kissed him on both cheeks, regardless of Darren's somewhat paranoid reaction. “I am Pyotr Frackowski and you have saved my daughter Dorota. Nurse tell me you here. You call me Pete, if pliz you.”

Darren took a step back to get out of kissing range and extended a firm and manly handshake. “Nice to meet you, Pete”. He tried to make his grip as heterosexual as possible before releasing it as soon as decorum would allow. “How is your daughter? They won't tell me.”

“Ah, such a system,” said Pete. “Not even man who saved her life can be told that she is alive. You did a good thing, Darren. You saved my little girl. She is so precious to me.”

He looked at his car and sighed. “Things like my car do not matter when my baby's life at stake. At least doctor say no permanent damage to head. That good. You saved her. You hero like Superman.”

Darren looked at his feet and mumbled a few words of thanks. He was not so craven as to feel good about his charade. He left Mark talking to Pete and made his way to the hospital, narrowly avoiding being run down by an ambulance that sped to the site of the car crash.

It felt good to be walking back to the hospital. He'd just had half of Mark's joint, he'd heard the best news he could imagine and the cool April air set his mind tingling with possibilities. He had to find this Dorota and talk to her, persuade her that he wasn't involved in her accident. He needed a story. Maybe the wrench was dropped by someone else on the scaffolding: as the foreman said, he didn't look like he worked there. But it would only take the police interviewing a single rubbernecker who saw him there and his alibi was blown. Maybe he could say that he was just walking down the street with a wrench in his hand, he was idly catching it and he missed on one occasion and it hit her. But they could probably do tests to work out it was a six pound wrench falling twenty foot that caused the injury. He'd have to wing it. The seat of his pants would have more frequent flyer points than Richard Branson after tonight.

He entered the hospital through the large, slowly revolving transparent door that always made him feel like a hamster. And as he waited for his chance to enter, he saw a woman on the other side waiting to exit. He looked at her again, out of the corner of his eye. He'd seen her somewhere. He paused. He'd seen her here, through the closing ward door. He'd seen her lying in a spreading pool of blood on an Old Town street. This was Dorota!

He cursed the revolving door as he got out, then missed his chance to get back on again and had to wait a full rotation before he could follow her.

“Dorota!” he shouted after her when he navigated himself free.

“I'm not her!” came the reply, as the misnamed patient staggered off.

“It's me, Darren!” he called. “I was the one who found you”

She turned and looked at him. “You do look lovely,” she said. “I was right about that at least.” She turned away, and looked like she was going to cry. She stumbled, missed her step, and slumped, landing with her knees bent in front of her and her head on them. “I've got myself into some trouble,” she said.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” said Darren, sitting down beside her and putting his arm around her. “I know exactly what you mean. Now, you know who I am, and I know who you're not. What I don't know is who you are.”

“I'm Claire,” said Claire. “Did you know you've got blood all over your hoodie?”

Thursday, 1 July 2010

What's in a Name?

Well, after much email based to-ing and fro-ing with my publisher, I now have a title for my book of poems. It will be called 'Reflections from a Broken Mirror'. I chose this because of the potential for double meanings. It could be the literal interpretation of echoing images in shards of glass. Or reflections could mean 'musings', 'broken' could allude to the fact I am bipolar and a 'mirror' could be a metaphor for a poet, whose job it is to hold a mirror up to life. 'Musings of a bipolar poet' is thus its encrypted title.

My first choice was 'Hemp Fandango', which again I chose for the double meaning. If you're not familiar with the term, it conjures up images of marijuana and dancing, two activities associated with pleasant feelings. If you do know what it means, you know it represents one of the most unpleasant feelings of all, that of slowly choking to death and kicking your legs impotently as an attempted hanging fails to snap your neck and just aspyhyxiates you instead. The 'Hemp Fandango' got its name from the hemp rope used in the Old West and the Mexican dance that victims seemed to perform as their feet spasmed.

'Hemp Fandango' was rejected by the publisher because they would not be able to sell a book with a 'drug suggestive title' to schools. Ironically, I chose a 'drug suggestive title' specifically because it was more likely to appeal to teenagers. Anyone who has ever visited a shop like the Blue Banana or the Trinket Box will know that the dope leaf symbol appears on everything from satchels to condoms. Dope references sell. But apparently it's the teachers that we should be appealing to, not the kids. Fair enough. I hadn't even thought of that market.

They suggested 'The Lunar-Verse of Andrew Barber', because they thought my poems were like the moon, with a light side and a dark side, different moods and phases, changing colours with the seasons, intimate and distant. I liked their analogy (I was flattered to be compared with the moon - I'm a big fan) but I wasn't wild about the title.

I suggested 'Black Dogs and White Tigers', because I thought the Black Dog was a good metaphor for depression (it was what Churchill used to call his) and the White Tiger summed up mania well, because it was an overgrown genetic freak with a hint of dangerous glamour that turns on its loved ones, eg, Siegfried and Roy. The black and white references suggested polarity, the light and dark side to my work that the publishers had noticed. But they thought it sounded like a book for pre-schoolers so that idea had to go.

So now we have 'Reflections from a Broken Mirror'. I like it. It's a title I can put my name to. And I've had some cool ideas for the cover. I want a hand mirror drifting through space, the stars symbolising the universal themes I write about (love, death, time, money, etc). The mirror is breaking, shards flying out from the centre like the big bang, each piece still reflecting a part of my face. There might be an eye flying out, then a part of my nose or whatever, like a Picasso painting. I think it could look really cool. And there's the angle that each shard, each poem, reflects a different part of me. Each poem is different and so is each reflection. I can't wait to see it.