Inspired by my involvement with the Safe Space Writathon, I decided to see which of my piles of notes I might want to attack and turn into a book. I know Stu will say Capricornus but I find myself drawn back to Terra Exitus. I guess I could easily fail to do both at the same time.
So I wandered off to my backup drive and started having a rake. Inevitably, I was distracted by all forms of nonsense. I started reading my first attempt at a novel from oh so long ago, Orion’s Belt. I published the 1st chapter on this blog a while back. I quite enjoyed the second chapter too, it made me laugh for lots of reasons, not least because it retells the true story of the night I finished reading The Crow Road, an anecdote I’ll avoid telling Mr. Banks when I have the pleasure of meeting him soon. Or will I? We all remember the “Attenborough Incident” don’t we? And I never did learn morse code.
Anyway, here it is it all it’s unedited glory, Orion’s Belt, Chapter 2, The Hubcap Graveyard. I shudder to think what age I was when I wrote this.
The Hubcap Graveyard
The walk home from the station was about three quarters of a mile although the actual distance usually depended on the weather. Today the distance seemed at least two miles. My thin suit jacket was no defence against the biting February wind blowing hard in my face. The wind always prevailed against me. In the morning it propelled my sleepy, unwilling carcass down to the train. At night it fought my desperate attempts to get home.
I approached the bottom of the hill after what seemed like an hour since I had left the warmth of the train. I rued my decision not to buy a coat for the winter. A quick phone call home would’ve no doubt resulted in new coat but this was a course of action I had decided to avoid. Perplexed, I looked again at my watch. On a warm summer’s evening, when the walk from the station is pleasant and even invigorating, I arrive home all too soon. Days like this, however, see the time drag on forever. They say time flies by when you’re having fun. Physicists would put this kind of phenomena firmly in the hands of psychologists. We are soundly instructed on the vagaries of the equations of motion. At school we are led to believe that they define all that moves. Only later do they allow us to learn that they are but an approximation and that in fact nothing can be predicted. Still they search for a unified theory. If they ever discover it there’ll be a quick five minutes on the Nine O’clock News and it will be over. It won’t really help anybody although we will be told that it has massive implications on the origin of the universe blah, blah, blah. Why can’t they search for something useful ? They’re looking for the wrong unified theory. Why don’t they unify the physics of the equations of motion with the ‘time flies by’ psychology ? If they could quantify how long things would take dependant on mood I would find the world easier to understand. They could call them the Equations of Emotion. Maybe that’ll be the name of Stephen Hawking’s next book. You never know.
The road from the station is an undulating rollercoaster of an avenue. Its surface is scarred with many repairs and is a test to the even best suspension. Several hundred pounds have already gone the way of a new exhaust that fell victim of this bruising boulevard. Another symptom of the vehicular punishment that this road dishes out can be seen not far from the mini roundabout at the end my street. To understand the causes of the strange phenomenon you have to get inside the head of the average driver.
You’re on a particularly bumpy road. You begin to imagine the broadening smile of the manic mechanic. Then, at the bottom of the hill, a mini roundabout appears. It’s an escape. Quick, faster, got to get away. You sweep briskly through, or screech noisily, round and you’re free! What you don’t realise until you get home is that you have left another sacrifice at the Hubcap Graveyard.
To the left side of the mini roundabout is a small grass verge about 3 feet high. All along its flanks lay the evidence of many unsuspecting escapes. Hubcaps of all sizes and nationalities lie car-less against the grass. Some have been badly wounded; shredded by the attentions of other vehicles speeding to freedom. Others sit up expectantly, waiting hopelessly to be retrieved. Every day there are new additions; every day the previous victims have mysteriously disappeared.
The bottom of the hill arrived quite quickly. Time flies by when your mind is wandering aimlessly. Another variable perhaps. The Hubcap Graveyard is my signal to turn left and walk the last few yards to my house.
I entered the house as disgusted as ever at my inability to keep it even vaguely tidy. Leaving my jacket on, I hurried to the heating and turned it on. I poured myself a small whisky; one of the few bad habits I had inherited from my father. Pressing myself firmly against the now warming radiator, I surveyed the carnage of the night before. As was becoming the norm cooking had not been on my agenda. The conveniently effort free Chinese take away had been making good business from my laziness. The collection of silver trays at my feet was evidence of a bank account that had burgeoned at exactly the same rate at which mine had diminished. This was not the self-sufficient person that I had led everyone to believe lived here. When my mother asked if I was eating well, what else could I say but ‘yes’ ? If you spend at least a fiver a night on food how can you not be eating well ? My mother would not have seen it this way but it was important to me that she did.
I had warmed up enough to take off my jacket. Stepping over the remains of my healthy sustenance, I threw it on top of the pile of clothes that had at once time been a chair. Walking back for more whisky I planted my foot firmly into the little silver coffin that contained the congealing body of a once choice chicken satay.
I had long ago decided that I my life needed a little more shape. The mess in which I had been living, I knew, was unacceptable. The observation had been easy; the will to do something about it had been less forthcoming. It is a measure of my plight that it took a large step into convenience food before I resolved to do anything about it. Perhaps it was more than just the step. Maybe it was the effort to remove the container that gave me more impetus.
Sensibly, I concluded that the kitchen was the best place in which to escape the clutches of the limpet chicken. I shuffled slowly towards the door. It opened obligingly. Had I not been otherwise occupied I would probably have chastised myself for again not having done the dishes. Instead I lunged for the easily cleaned haven of the tiled floor.
Had I paid more attention to the equations of motion, that I had earlier on been dispelling as useless, I may have avoided the indignity which now befell me. One of the key factors in making the equations slightly less straightforward than their purest form is friction. It may not be easily quantifiable but without it we could not move. Well, not in a controlled manner anyway. This was more than adequately exemplified by my first step into the kitchen. You maybe can’t easily measure the coefficient of friction but you certainly know when it has changed. Had I been feeling ironic that day I may have used the words ‘some engineer I am’ as I flew backwards through the air. As it was, given my sullen mood and the short time I had in which to react I only managed to produce a rather urgent sounding ‘SH-IIIIIII-TE!’ before landing unceremoniously on my back.
This, to most people, would have been sufficient molestation to elicit some sort of change of attitude. It seemed, in my case, that fate had to be a little more certain. On landing, my head was thrown back catching the edge of the spare ribs carton in a perfect catapulting action. The chewed collection of bones leapt into the air and, forming a perfect parabola as they flew, scattered themselves liberally over my prostrate body. Allowing enough time for decency and the action of air resistance, the remaining greasy barbecue sauce arrived a split second later. Of course, by nature of its form and weight, the sauce did not reach as far down range as the bones. A far greater unified theory dictated that the sauce should fly just far enough to cover my face and hair in the once edible slime. The voodoo God of Physics had sent me his message.
‘Thou shalt not take my laws in vain’ it bellowed. Its breath smelled of greasy beef and barbecues.
I wiped the sauce from my eyes to consider my situation. My first thought was that I was glad that I lived in a flat. It would be a story I would never escape had anyone witnessed my descent as they passed by. Looking around I began to see the real state of my life. I lived in a nice flat. Far bigger than I needed and probably far better than I deserved. What had I done to it ? It had become a shrine to my indolence. Clothes, dishes, papers and bottles all piled high. The one clear space in the whole room revealed where I sat in front of the television. Everything I needed within easy reach; whisky, Gameboy and bag of sweets. The newspaper lay open showing last nights viewing. The light on the video told me that it had succeeded in taping Neighbours for me to watch later. It became apparent that my experimental fusion of Chinese cuisine and fashion was just the icing on an already stale cake. I knew then that this had to stop.
I started to pick the bones from my chest and place them slowly back in the carton that had rather conveniently landed the right way up at my side. My luck continued to get better when, turning to my right, I spotted the T.V. remote control under the sofa.
I sat up slowly trying to stop any more sauce sliding off my face onto the carpet. This I achieved without too much difficulty. It was only then that I noticed that the satay sauce had been slowly making its way from the carton and had already ruined the chance of at least one sock being worn the next day. My suede shoe didn’t look all that clever either. I stood up and deliberately made my way toward the kitchen again. I walked with rigid limbs like someone in a film trying their best not to annoy the family of spiders camped out over their body. With due deference to the voodoo God of physics, I kicked the carton off my foot into the kitchen and walked surefootedly to the sink to start the clean up operation. It was only when I made it into the kitchen that I realised that the clean up operation would have to encompass far more than the remains of last night’s dinner. I had to include the biological evidence of the other previous dinners which were becoming museum pieces in the display cabinet that I had the cheek to say was a place for cooking. It made me think that the evidence so hungrily gobbled up by archaeologists as proof of the lifestyles of previous civilisations was more likely only the detritus of the more slovenly representatives of the culture. If the more well to do members of those bygone ages could see what was being written about them they would probably have cause to sue.
‘Your honour, we have never and would never have cause to use a midden and as for this ludicrous broken pot allegation, well, we recycled all our old crockery. I can assure anything you found lying around did not come from my household. And as for the graffiti you call ‘cave painting’, I’ll have you know that those responsible were severely dealt with at the time. The only evidence you need look for my and my family’s existence is the lack of any such evidence.’
It seemed my duty to represent my epoch in a better light in the future by giving the kitchen a good clean. Of course, it is the performing of such important acts for which an alternative can so easily be found. My attempts at the dishes so nearly failed immediately due to the lack of hot water. This could easily have led to watching T.V. while it heated up by which point my reforming goals would have all but disappeared. I switched on the hot water and did indeed consider sitting down for a while. However, faced with the pile of bones lying in the living room I owed it to myself and my descendants not to leave behind the evidence of such primordial behaviour.
As it turned out, it took well over half and hour to remove to top layer of debris from the kitchen surfaces before I could decide what should be thrown out and what needed to be washed. I started to fill the sink secretly wishing that there would be no washing-up liquid. If there is one good thing to come out of not doing the dishes, of course, is that there will always be washing-up liquid left.
The dishes took a very long time to clean. While scrubbing I thought over the basis for a theory which would state that the length of time required to clean a pot is directly proportional to the amount of time that pot is left after use without contact with water. This would require a large set of constants to be calculated for varying kinds of food ; Turner’s Coefficient of Food Adhesion. It would range from perhaps 2 or 3 for the starch left over from cooking rice to somewhere upwards of 100 for a burnt pot of chilli. The biggest flaw with this I decided was that Turner was not that sort of name that associated with a theory of any scientific reputation. I would have to change my name to something far more exotic before I could pursue my studies further.
I took a brief break from my research at the sink to refill my whisky glass. Looking at the level in the bottle a more profound and useful theory occurred to me. It was something to do with a correlation between the volume of whisky imbibed and the stupidity of thoughts/words/actions. Shocked by this latest discovery I put the bottle down and started to giggle uncontrollably. Quod Erat Demonstrandum. I regained enough control to complete the cleaning to a better than acceptable level. For reasons that only the whisky theory can explain, I decided to go outside for a walk.
A dark, starry sky swirled around my head as I ventured out into the cold. What warm air there had been during the day had long since drifted up to the heavens; freed by the lack of clouds. It was far colder than it had been when I was out earlier but the biting wind had gone and it made it almost seem warmer. Wandering aimlessly for a while, I eventually found myself at the end of the country road that led away from the city. Looking around for onlookers, I stepped through the fence and into the field that run alongside the road. I took off my jacket and, throwing it on the frosty grass, sat down. Away from the street lights and houses the stars seemed far brighter and more numerous. From one horizon to the other the sky was filled with thousands of shimmering white lights. As I sat and stared I became more and more surprised at what I was seeing. What was more surprising was the surprise itself. I couldn’t quite understand how I could have lived all my life underneath this sight without ever having really looked at it properly. I had always known the stars were there, I even knew the names of many of them and the constellations they formed but I could not point to any one of them. It was with a mixture of shame and wonder that I continued to gaze at the stars as if I had just seen them for the first time. Staring at my new discovery I decided on the first act of my new found determination. I would find out about the stars in sky.
Standing up I suddenly noticed the cold that had seeped into my body since the affect of the whisky had subsided. I picked up my jacket and, jumping the fence, hurried back to the warmth of the house. I marched swiftly into the kitchen and was pleasantly surprised by the what I had done. I took the noticeboard from the fridge and cleaned off the previous notes. For a couple of years now I had used this noticeboard as a place for initiating my hair-brained schemes. It was on this noticeboard that I decided to buy a harmonica. My unsuccessful foray in guitar playing had begun with a few scribbled words on its washable surface. As I wiped off the current words the ideas ‘learn to play backgammon’ and ‘buy a wok’ died before they had a chance to fail. I sat for a while with the clean board in front of me wondering if I would ever do anything that I wrote on it. I picked up the pen and purposefully wrote ‘Learn about the stars’ in watery blue ink. As I wrote I made a silent promise that this time I would actually do something I had set out to achieve. This was no guarantee of success. I had made such promises before and still failed. This time I linked the promise to the mental image of the chinky incident hoping that the embarrassment would spur me into action.
It had already been quite an action packed night and it was not yet nine. My stomach was telling me that the words ‘eat something’ would have been more appropriate to write on the fridge board. My instincts had already carried me to the phone before I had to throw down the menu and decide that this was not the best way to start my new regime. Unfortunately my cupboards were of little help. The ghost of Mother Hubbard smiled as I picked my way through the assortment of unconnected produce that made my up menu for the evening. Jelly, pickled gherkins, garlic puree, a tin of beans with sausages, 2 Oxo cubes and half a bag of macaroni.
‘Make something out of that then Delia if your so smart.’ I said bitterly.
I wandered about a bit trying to decide what to eat. The sight of the Chinese menu was burning holes in the back of my eyes. I turned away and set my sights on the beans with the sausages. The beans heated quickly and were eaten even faster. Doing a very quick mental experiment I concluded that beans would have a Turner coefficient of somewhere approaching 50. I quickly filled the pot with water so as not to have to prove this empirically.
Having eaten, although not entirely satisfactorily, I considered how much relaxation my new regime would allow. I was met with a favourable response and, pouring a small whisky, sat down in front of the T.V. My old friend the remote control struggled manfully to find anything decent to watch. It eventually settled on a sci-fi film. It looked like a guy and some robots were tending a big greenhouse in space. It all seemed like a reasonable enough sort of story so I settled down to watch some more.
It must have been some time after midnight when I woke up. The room was light by an eerie blue light. I’m not sure what woke me up as the room was completely silent. It seemed that I had one of those televisions that don’t bother letting out the white noise to wake you up they just give you a silent blue screen instead. Trust my mum, she thinks of everything.
I dragged myself up to bed and crashed out. I must have lay for half an hour unable to get to sleep. Why is it that you can sleep in front of the T.V. but the minute you go and lie down in your bed you are immediately wide awake ? I gave up trying to sleep and picked up my book to try to read myself to sleep. As I read I began to notice that certain words made me think of food. The words themselves were unconnected with anything edible. I began to wonder if I had discovered a strange psychological link. I grabbed a piece of paper and wrote down each of the words as the feeling came over me. ‘Farmhouse’, ‘individual’ and ‘cat’s eye’ all made their way onto the page. I finished the book, The Crow Road, at about 2.30am. I made a mental note to learn Morse code after I had found out about stars. You never knew when it might come in handy. By the time the book was finished I had about ten words on my list. I looked for the pattern that was sure to emerge. I sat for 10 minutes but no connection jumped up at me. I concluded, in the end, that I hadn’t had enough to eat and the connection was that I was hungry. I toyed with the idea of going to get some pickled gherkins but even the Whisky theory couldn’t make me do that.