As I wandered higgledy-piggledy the old streets of Colchester, I met a strange person who stared, stared, and stared. He had a round face, and it glowed like the moon, black spectacles, roll-neck sweater and jeans. Dawn was breaking to the west, and I strode on my way, not wanting to talk, nor look, nor hear, but he lurched across my path and weakly smiled but did not speak. He stared, stared and stared, and I saw his eyes were red with late-night reading. He did not speak, nor did I, but I knew I had met a fiend, a youth of wolfish learning, so I did not speak and higgledy-piggledy I strode on my way through Colchester.
Somebody always turns up to light the light that sits on the table beside my late-night reading, my late-night reading. Is he the fat man in a suit I saw in Colchester’s lonely late-night streets or the replica of the lamp-lighter? Somebody or something, then, always turns up to fill the darkness with sparkling beggared coins. As I walked along Head Street with twilight bloodstained by near dark, I saluted the passing ladies. I should have brought my beard. Suddenly, I spotted a splendid standard lamp beside a stuffed dog in a side-by shop. I determined to purchase it (the dog not the lamp) and use it for a light. But, who to light it when I have it? I cannot as I do not exist. Something will turn up no doubt, to stand behind my black spectacles and inside my roll-neck jeans. But now I must finish my late-night reading, late-night reading, as it is too dark to read by my eyes. I do not talk, I do not look, I do not even hear someone bark a lonely bark in Colchester’s lonely late-night streets nor even in its lonely late-night dreams.
(written 1967 – published ‘Psychopoetica’ 1999)
DEAR UNCLE HAIRLIP
DEAR UNCLE HAIR LIP.
WOT I RITE IS WOT I THINK AND I THINK YOU LIVE INSIDE THE BLACKBORED WATING TO GET OUT TO GET ME AND I LEEVE THIS BY THE CHORK DUSTER SO YOU WILL NO I AM ON TO YOU.
I am writing this from inside the blackboard and it is quite difficult as I am writing it back to front, if you see what I mean.
When you have a dream and there is something nasty in it, that is me.
When you have an irrational fear, it’s me that makes it make sense.
When the teacher smacks your bare bum with the yardstick, it’s me sitting in his brain making him want to do it.
When your body gets out of control and when you do dirty things to it and when the stuff sticks to the sides or comes out too soon too quickly, then it’s me champing at your vital bits, making it all happen.
Sorry, run out of space, where the blackness ends. Make sure this is rubbed off before the others arrive.
Not yours, but mine, Uncle Hairlip.
DEAR UNCLE HAIRLIP,
IT WOOD NOT RUB OFF AS YOU HAD CHORKED IT FROM INSIDE. THE TEACHER GAVE ME A CLOWT FOR USING IN-DELL-ABLE CHORK, HE SED. WOT MADE IT WURSE WAS I DID NOT UNDER STAND WOT HE SED. I DID NOT UNDER STAND YOUR MESSIDGE EEFER. LIFE’S LIKE THAT TO KIDS, AYNT IT. IF YOU WUR EFFER A KID IN THE FURST PLACE. SORRY ABOWT THE SPELLING. WORK MEN TOOK THE OLD BLACKBORED AWAY TODAY. IT WOS NO USE WIF ALL THAT RITING STAYING ON IT.
(published ‘Psychopoetica’ 1989)
TO THE WATER PALACE
I’m missing you. I always do – the access Mum lets you have is never enough.
What’s the news this time? Well, I had to go to the doctor’s on Tuesday. Nothing serious. Mum says it’s my age. I had to wait ages and ages at the surgery. Something to do with an emergency. When the doctor eventually arrived, he seemed all hot and bothered. But, strangely, his hands were very cold.
Not much else to tell you. School’s still a drag. I expect I’ll pass most of the mocks, except for Biology, of course. God didn’t make me to be a scientist, I suppose.
Anyway, much love to you and Rachel. Tell her I think she suits you. Can we go to the Water Palace next time?
Mum sends her love, despite everything. See you soon,
Thank you for your letter. Sorry I couldn’t make the weekend as planned. Rachel’s mother is still on the danger list, but the specialist says she’ll survive one way or another.
Talking about doctors, they’re never as busy as they make out, I reckon. Good job life’s all about targetting. If they had to do an ongoing survey, knocking on doors for patients ill enough to treat, instead of only depending on people coming to them, they’d be hard put to it. But with self-targetting by clients, their jobs are so much easier these days. On the other hand, as an insurance sales rep, I’m faced with door-stepping every day. Doctors (and their ilk) don’t know how lucky they are. Still, I target from the other direction, I suppose, ever since I started getting leads and referrals. I recently gave up cold calling altogether. Still, if it hadn’t been for cold calling, I’d never have met Rachel. It’s an ill wind …
Anyway, much love, Jani, from me and Rachel. How’s Benjie, by the way? I expect he’s getting too small for you now. I hope Mum is well,
Lots of love,
So sorry, to hear about Rachel’s loss. Mum also sends her condolences, although she never met her.
What you said about cold calling makes sense now. I never understood when I was younger what your job really was. It seemed strange to spend one’s life as an unwelcome visitor to people’s houses.
I didn’t quite understand what you meant about targetting. I suppose that’s something which can be related to religion in a way. Does God wait for people to die or does he go out looking for them? By the way, I’d put Scripture in the same class as Biology, as far as the exams are concerned.
Benjie died a few months ago. I thought I’d told you. We sold his carcass to the knacker’s yard. I’d got browned off with riding anyway. Mum said it wasn’t being terribly kind to my figure.
Well, Mum took me to the Water Palace, in view of your difficulties. She says you are welcome to more access, when I told her that I thought you should see me more often.
I think that’s all the news for now. Oh … I had to visit the doctor again, but the wait was less of a pain. Fewer people ill, I suppose. But I DO wish he’d warm his fingers more, before examining people. Still, you can’t have everything. See you soon, & love to you and Rachel,
So sorry to hear that you needed to go to the doctor’s again. What IS wrong with you? Mum hasn’t written to me about it, so I won’t fear the worst.’
Well, it’s a long story, so I’ll keep it short. Rachel and I have been visiting her relations round here, following the bereavement. No sign of bombs and terrorists. Reading the papers in England, you’d never guess this is a really beautiful country over here. Anyway, we’ve discovered Rachel is rich Well, we’re both rich, I suppose. Her mother has left us a veritable fortune. Who’d have thought she had so much stashed away in different accounts? Well, the less we go into that, the better.
The long and the short of it is that we’d like to share some of this windfall with you and Mum. As Mum seems to have stopped writing to me, can you test the temperature of the water, to see if she’d accept a gift? I want most of it to be put in a trust for you. It’ll help you through University.
Incidentally, I was very upset at the news about Benjie. I was very fond of him. And you were so excited that Christmas when you found him in the stocking, as it were. I can still picture your face all lit up with joy. Like an angel, you were to me. That memory will live with me forever.
Don’t know when I can see you next, hoping you’ll understand. But you can write to the above address. It’ll reach me eventually.
Your loving Dad. X
Dear Miss White,
Thank you for the kind letter. I had of course seen Daniel’s death reported in the newspapers, even before I heard officially from the authorities in England. I am not sure whether you knew – but he was born a Catholic. Such an irony makes a mockery of the whole affair.
I wanted to take this opportunity to state that I never held a grudge against you. I am sure you already realised that fact, despite the guarded tones of your letter.
Like you, I shall miss Daniel desperately, even though I had not actually seen him for a year or so. It was merely KNOWING he was a living person somewhere on this spinning world of ours that kept me going.
Now to the difficult bit. You asked me to tell Janiseed what his last words were. Well, daughter and father happened to die on the same day. I cease to think of it as a meaningless coincidence, but as a tragic divine irony. The anguish of these heartbreaks was far more than merely double their otherwise separate effects, as you can imagine, from their cumulative force. I understand Daniel’s death was a painful affair, and I’m afraid Janiseed suffered terribly, too. I can only recover by thinking beautiful thoughts of both of them … and of you.
PS: I cannot possible accept the enclosed cheque, in the circumstances.
(Published somewhere before – currently investigating where and when)