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Collecting Characters in The Rain

There’s a sign above my desk I’m wondering about making into a lapel badge. “Warning; Novelist at work. Bystanders may be written into the story.” Then again, if I did that (and it would need to be in French), would I lose all the wonderful stories that fall into my notebook when I’m out and about?

The events and interactions I collected on Monday past gave me at least the material for a short story or an episode for a sit-com. This is where the value of the lapel badge comes into question. Would people go shy and forget what it was they wanted to say or enforce if they noticed it?

Saving €14.10 we took the non-toll route to Montpellier; setting out at 07.30 and according to Mappy, we would arrive at our destination at 10:04. Perfect; that would allow the person at our first port of call an hour to blow away the Monday blues. Mappy however, didn’t note the torrential rain across the region and the journey took almost an hour longer than scheduled.

Inner-city parking at its best, there was nowhere except illegal parking slots free so we took one of those and walked to the halls of residence office in the complex where our son would stay for the rest of this academic year. Amicable introductions quickly went down the drain with the rain outside when within the first minute, the grumpy advisor told us we didn’t have the correct papers and our son wouldn’t be allowed to stay.

Yuri looked panicked. Homeless on day one of the New Year and lectures to attend in the afternoon.

‘So would you mind explaining which papers we have forgotten?’ I smiled and made direct eye contact.

‘This, that and 2 of those,’ she didn’t smile or make eye contact.

‘Oh they aren’t on the list,’ I smiled again, she avoided eye contact.

‘Of course they are,’ she stared into the torrent outside.

‘No, they aren’t. Look, here’s the list and we have all those documents.

Silent scrutiny. ‘Well you are still missing these four.’

‘Apart from number two, your finance office has the other three on the system. Without them, Yuri wouldn’t have been offered accommodation. We will send you the second document first thing tomorrow morning.’

‘I need all four. Please show me what you have brought.’

We handed them over, she returned one.

‘That one is unacceptable, it’s in English.’

‘Yes, it’s a UK official tax document. Your colleagues in the finance office have a translated version on the system.’

‘Do it again.’

Still calm, taking deep controlling breaths. ‘Very well. What about those that you say are missing?’

She listed them again; we knew they were already on the system, I asked her why the repeat. No response.

Several tuts and mouse clicks later, her demeanour suddenly changed to the person we all like to meet. Smiling, friendly and helpful.

‘Yuri isn’t on the email list. Somebody must have left him off. I was on holiday.’

More taps and clicks on the computer followed by resizing of the passport photos we provided and she produced the card key giving Yuri access to the compound entry gates and his room on the fourth floor of block two. The system failed. We had to wait ten minutes for it to come back online but our son was in. His ‘I might be homeless’ look faded, he smiled and after almost an hour armed with a list of four demands for repeated papers, we went to view his nine metre square box with a view.

It was quite a walk from the front gates and our illegally parked car but there was plenty of space on the internal car park so I buzzed the intercom and our new friend answered. She wouldn’t let me in, I didn’t have a pass and as a parent, I couldn’t get one.

Four trips through the unceasing torrents of wind and water, stairs to the fourth floor because there’s no lift and at last, Yuri was installed among his boxes, bags and duvets with just enough time left to catch a tram to his lectures. We did the sensible thing and joined the traffic to Ikea at the other side of the city.

‘There it is! Take the next exit.’

I did as instructed and we found ourselves on a tree lined dual carriageway passing the east side of Ikea. Using my built in GPS, I followed the last exit at the roundabout, two kilometres down the road and we got lost on an adjacent out-of-town shopping centre. The blue and yellow of Ikea was gone and still pouring, the rain kept people off the streets. Nobody to ask, midday had swapped its place with midnight and it took another twenty minutes to find our destination. We headed straight to the café for Swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes with all you can drink coffee cups.

Hey man, the atmosphere was so relaxed and although not very loud, I could hear my favourite performer on the radio. It would have been his seventy-first birthday. I thought you died alone, a long long time ago, dear man who sold the world. The art on the walls reminded me of him too although it was nothing like his. I drifted away to the lake in Sweden and thought about a friend who lives there, hoping it wasn’t raining so hard in Sweden.

I don’t like shopping much but it’s almost a pleasure at Ikea. Especially on a quiet day when the money you are spending isn’t your own. My usual character scans didn’t come to much though. Everybody calm, relaxed, almost clone-like, going about their business with dignity and awareness of other shoppers. By the time we reached the clothing stores in a different section of the Oddyseum complex, it wasn’t far off closing time. Shoppers were easily outnumbered by assistants pretending to be busy.

Still not much to say about characterization until sale signs drew us to a Walmart style store called Géant; the fifth largest hypermarket chain in the world. Needing new clothing for work and a great bargain spotter, Sarah quickly found two tops with 30% reduction labels. Off we went to the checkout and a smiley cashier served us. But no reductions on the till receipt.

‘Oh, I’m sorry. You need a store card to get those reductions.  Go to customer services. They will organise it for you.’

Customer services was a considerable walk and the only person behind the counter leaned on the till looking jaded.

‘No, I can’t help.  Go back to the checkout operator, tell her to refund, issue a store card and then resubmit the goods and pay again.  Go back into the store through the entrance and walk down to the checkouts.’

A security guard stopped us because the alarms sounded when we tried to re-enter the store. We explained the situation, and he spent a few minutes attaching security labels to our shopping. Back at the checkout with the smiley cashier we joined the queue. Five minutes later she informed us that only customer services could issue refunds, we would have to go back. Flabbergasted we did as instructed once more and the customer services lady told us we had misunderstood her. She issued the refund, and we went back through the procedure with the security guard and back to the smiley cashier who had gone off duty.

The new cashier processed our goods, gave us a store card and explained that the 30% reduction was only redeemable against other purchases that had to be made at that store and within seven days.

‘We live two-and-a-half hours away; can’t we use our local Géant?’

‘No, I am sorry; it has to be this store.’

‘Why is this not explained anywhere in the store?’

‘I don’t know you would have to ask customer services.’

We stayed positive, maintained our good manners and left with Sarah’s bargains but we would never see the 30% off.

The rain didn’t let up once all day. Leaving the city, we aquaplaned around a corner and I momentarily lost control of the car when the rear decided it wanted to lead the way. Recovering the situation without mishap we headed for the countryside, deserted villages and very little traffic after our day of unnecessary challenges. It had been such a challenging day we did something unthinkable when we spotted a McDonalds and went in for a drink. If our children found out, our reputations would be finished.

French Connection ii

Reserach for Beyond The Pyre took me deep into the pyrenees where it must be said that the lifestyle is far from typically French. I’m not going to analyse that now, suffice to say, it is very different up there. When I visit, I can feel it, it is a wonderfully spiritual feeling and life there is certainly not a breeze for many.

Like many places, there are myths and legends. Who knows, some of them might be true. If not the entire story, there might well be messages within.

Jean de l’Ours or John Bear is an old French legend that originated from a village in the French Pyrenees. Traditionally told by word of mouth and passed down through the generations. I have read and reread this story; there are so many possibilities of meanings and interpretations. What do you think?

Once upon a time, a woman meets a large bear in a forest. The bear takes the woman into a cavern and prevents her from getting out by putting a large boulder in front of the entrance.

The woman and the bear have a child named Jean de l’Ours, and he becomes very strong. One day, Jean pushes the boulder away from the entrance, and he and his mother leave the bear’s cavern.

Then, Jean works for a blacksmith, but the blacksmith doesn’t pay him well. So, with some pieces of iron, Jean makes himself a cane and leaves on a journey.

Jean eventually meets three strong men: Roue de Moulin, Coupe Chêne, and Porte Montagne. The four men travel together and find a castle in the middle of a forest. They enter the castle, and on the next day, they decide that three of them will hunt for food while one will stay home and prepare dinner. Once dinner is ready, the person will ring a bell to tell the huntrs to come back and eat. They will alternate who will stay home at the castle every night.

Roue de Moulin is the first one to stay at the castle, and he is preparing soup for dinner. He hears a noise coming from the chimney. Then, a hand, an arm, an ear, and a head fall down the chimney like hail, and they form together to become a man. This man is the devil, and he asks Roue de Moulin to light his pipe. However, Roue refuses, so the devil beats him up and prevents Roue from finishing the dinner or ringing the bell. The others come back to the castle without hearing the bell, but Roue fabricates an excuse and doesn’t reveal what really happened.

Coupe Chêne and Porte Montagne have the same experience as Roue de Moulin when it is their turn to prepare the meal.

A few days later, Roue, Coupe, and Porte are out hunting, and Jean stays at the castle to prepare dinner. When the devil comes down the chimney and asks Jean to light his pipe, Jean hits him and puts a large boulder on top of him. Jean prepares dinner, and he rings the bell to call everyone back to the castle. Before they get back, the devil escapes from under the boulder and goes down the water well next to the stove.

Jean de l’Ours tells his friends the story about the devil and that he has escaped, and the four men look around the castle. Eventually, they see the water well next to the stove and the rope that the devil used to escape. With the rope and the bell, Roue, Coupe and Porte follow, but they get scared and ring the bell to signal they want to get back to the kitchen.

Then, Jean takes his turn, and finds a castle at the bottom. An old woman there tells him she is the devil’s wife who introduces him to the devil. He gives Jean three treasure chests and three princesses. Jean rings the bell, and he and his friends use the cord to lift the chests and princesses to the surface. When they get the chests and princesses to the top, Jean’s friends run off with them and leave Jean at the bottom of the well.

Jean talks with the devil again, and the devil gives him a white eagle that’s locked up in a cage. The devil tells Jean that if he gives the eagle raw meat, it will fly. So, Jean gets on the eagle’s back, gives it some raw meat, and they begin to fly back up the well. However, Jean runs out of meat before the eagle brings him all the way up. So, he cuts off a piece of his thigh, gives it to the eagle, and they continue until they reach the top.

Then, Jean goes to the city with his cane in search of his former friends. When Roue de Moulin, Coupe Chêne, and Porte Montagne see Jean, they jump out of a window, run away, and Jean never sees them again.

Jean de l’Ours marries the youngest princess out of the three given to him. He uses some of the money from the chests to buy his mother a horse-drawn carriage. Jean, his wife, and his mother live happily ever after in the castle in the forest.

Dusty Files Episode 1

Deep in the recesses of my old hard drives and notebooks some strange files lurk and all carry my name as the author. I’ve dusted them down and present them here for your reading pleasure (or not). Yet reading these causes me to celebrate the wonder of human development when I look back and try to remember what my writing felt like then, compared to today.

As much as I live for today, the past serves as an informant, it is what I have become today. Aside from the philosophising, some of the dusty files I have rediscovered have potential as stand-alone works while others may well be swallowed into something greater.

As with every feature here at Beyond The Pyre, you are very welcome to add some of your own dusty files with a link back to you. Go on, dust them down, it’s a great experience.

The 4001st Hole

‘They said there were four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire in the 1960’s. Well, I can tell you that there were never four thousand holes in Blackburn; I know that because I was responsible for counting them and I don’t make mistakes. There was four thousand and one to be precise and would you believe it, they missed the most important hole that made its’ way from the street to the subterraway ever.

OK, you might argue that they didn’t actually miss the hole in question and that in fact they had included it in their total and had missed another one. Not true; I know that too because I followed them as they counted because I needed to employ an assistant and wondered if one of six applicants might be up to the job. They didn’t get the job because they proved to me that they could only see what everybody else sees and they had no capacity for spotting the special.’

‘What are you talking about, Bron? There are holes all over the place. The council or the utility people are always digging them. And, and, what’s a subterraway?’

‘It’s just a word to describe the underground routes around the globe and yes, they are always digging holes my friend but there’s a lot less now than there was in the 60’s. Anyway, I am not talking about any old hole. These are special. Imagine them as doors to other places that help you to travel almost at the speed of light to just about anywhere you want to go on the planet. Come on, I’ll show you what I mean.’

‘Have you been drinking, Bron? No, no, I know what it is. You been taking those two for one offers on ecstasy that they were on about on the news. You’ve frazzled your brain. I keep telling you to stay away from that stuff.’

‘I’ve not had any stuff and I’m offering you a rare chance to see something very unique. Now are you coming or not?’

With a resigned tut and thoughts of here we go again, Eric followed Bron through the shopping centre to the site of the old fire station where he suddenly grabbed Eric’s arm roughly and before he had a chance to say ouch, he found himself spitting sand from his mouth on a starlit beach in Goa.

Two hippies sitting nearby giggled and marvelled at the strength of the joint they had been enjoying while Bron encouraged the astounded Eric to keep his raincoat on and lead him away from the hippies after filling in the hole they had left. As they walked up the beach, Bron explained how they had come to be in Goa and how a network of subterraways connected the entire planet.

Eric felt sick. The skin on his face felt too tight and it hurt, as did every muscle in his body. He looked for familiar signs listened for familiar voices, looked for familiar shops, nothing was familiar and the sickly feeling turned to reality that Bron said would be washed away when the tide came in.

‘Here, eat this friend.’ Bron gave Eric an apple that he had picked up from Thompson’s on the way to the fire station. ‘It will get rid of that taste in your mouth and will put some of the sugar back that you lost on the journey. You see travelling at the speed we just did takes it out of you when you are not used to it.’

Eric still looked sick. ‘Why can’t I take my mac off?’

‘Trust me, you will need it in a minute,’ Bron said matter of factly and before Eric could utter another word he caught a glimpse of Bron’s arm and hand which held his before he felt himself being violently jerked through the sand. Several whooshing sounds and one very loud pop later, they appeared on a ledge beneath an ear-shattering waterfall near Ingleton, North Yorkshire.

‘I want to go home now. Please take me home,’ Eric simpered.

‘I have just given you the trip of a lifetime.’

‘If you carry on putting me through this I will have no life. I don’t know which part of me belongs where, I feel sick, I don’t know whether this is a dream, am I going insane or what!’

‘Most people would be thrilled.’

‘Yeah right.’ Eric was getting some of his usual confidence back. He walked forward, away from Bron who stood with his back to the wall in an attempt to keep dry. The force of the waterfall caught Eric squarely on the shoulders and forced him off the ledge into the pool some twenty feet below. Bron leaped off the ledge and joined him in the water, much to the amusement of several walkers who were enjoying a quiet picnic on a rare sunny day in the dales.

‘Take my hand and hold your breath,’ Bron yelled above the roar of the water.

‘No. I won’t, you are not going to get me again. I just want to go home.’

Before Eric could protest any further, Bron grabbed him and with unusual strength for a man with the appearance of Mr Punyverse, he pulled Eric to a dark shape at the bottom of the pool. Needless to say, the shape was a actually a hole and following another instant of body punishment, they appeared at the site of the old fire station in Blackburn where Eric stormed off, squelching his way through bemused shoppers. Bron was nowhere to be seen and when he got home, Eric felt sick again when he heard the newsreader say that the emergency services in Ingleton were baffled when two men disappeared.

 

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