A WRITER’S TERRITORY

Writing about Dylan Thomas (see under Notes on the Old and the New) got me thinking about writers moving to new towns. Dylan Thomas had moved several times. By the time he’d settled into the small town of Laugharne he had gathered ample idiosyncratic material to populate his fictional town Llarregub.  With license to exaggerate, caricature and lampoon, Dylan Thomas spun yarns among friends and entertained gatherings with tall tales. There is a funny story told by one of his friends who, on a visit to London wrote to Thomas that he feared he was being followed… by a man in a bowler hat.  It was the 1950’s when most City and Establishment exec’s wore bowler hats and pinstripe and carried black brollies and briefcases.

The el tracks (More thoughts on place and identity.  8023787865_9a1ee52a14-210x300
The El tracks. Bridgette Guerzon Mills and Angie McMonigal

I have long been interested in what impressions a Writer forms at the off…; the landscape, architecture, the sounds and smells they may pull in or filter out before moving onto character for we all look for character?  I find this the more interesting and have asked. Writers it seems, may find, like those who research the perfect murder plot, that the combination of curiosity and observation and research brings a flavour to the experience that can have undesirable consequences. I am thinking here about the response Hilary Mantel had to her short story: “Assassination of Margaret Thatcher” when in an interview she described a scene when the idea for the story came to her and later upon publication, questions were asked suggesting some actual wrongdoing might have occurred. Is this curious blend of observation, curiosity and imagination a problem?

WHAT INSPIRATIONS CAN YOU ATTRIBUTE TO NEW TOWN EXPERIENCES THAT TURNED  OUT DIFFERENTLY?

Approx. 2,000 words.I found the bus stop but didn’t yet know the places to which the numbered route system referred to;  I found the local supermarket and Post Office and the litter-strewn pavements, the potholed tarmac expanses edged with abandoned industrial warehousing and interspersed with asbestos clad huts and mechanical plant.  I watched the freight wagons rolling above viaducts (the great Victorian engineered arches and columns, the cracks and joins lacking mortar and provided a root hold to an array of vegetation and grasses) the footings of which were stained and crusted, dashed with sleet slush as each vehicle passed. I trod the walkways below and sidestepped the inches thick pigeon shit.  I avoided eye contact with the hooded gathering in doorways on a cold grey January evening and shivered (until services were connected) and made a new friend. It wasn’t so bad after all.

At twenty years older than me, my new friend introduced me to another of her friends and then another. The age difference didn’t manifest particularly but then I wasn’t looking at that; they were interesting and fun and of course they had social lives, jointly and severally with food and drinks high up on the unifying scale; art exhibitions, travel – the usual stuff but there was something else. I didn’t think about very much else at the time since they were characters, interesting, entertaining and fun and they knew the sort of things newcomers find useful or interesting. Then I had a moment; that was it… they didn’t dance they didn’t go out dancing!

The first extension; that’s what I came to think of her friends as … extensions.  Anyway the first my friend introduced me to I remember thinking when I first saw her, was that she was strikingly beautiful; perfectly made up, manicured, classically dressed, urchin haircut and not unlike Audrey Hepburn and funny. She’d attended a boarding school for girls she told me for no apparent reason and loved Italy as did my originating friend who joined in with anecdotes. We spent the evening, my face saturated with tears of mirth, with good wine and stories aplenty.

The third extension I was introduced to was a Polish immigrant. At around six feet tall, she wore her red hair high which made her appear much taller.  Held with a hundred or more anchoring grips that she shyly nipped at habitually she was never still.  Each grip received a thumb nudge or pinch until she appeared satisfied.  Satisfaction apparent as she patted at just above the nape of her neck only to start over at the first behind her right ear again. She’d worked in a coalmine (surface work) and fascinatingly, during the Soviet invasion of 1939. Unfortunately, she’d been in a hurry, some appointment or other she’d said. I asked after her in the days that followed, general things like her health, she must have been in her late sixties or seventies but my friend didn’t seem to know.

The fourth introduction revealed a younger friend. She’d been retired from her housekeeping job prematurely and with nowhere to live and with no pension, my friend was glad to help and let her stay at her house. They’d known each other for years and in their company, together with the Audrey Hepburn lookalike, I listened to stories and shared memories but there was something else, I could feel that something was amiss but for the time being I was mopping up like a sponge.  Soon enough, I met a fifth.

This extension had to dispose of someone’s ashes and asked my friend to help. We met up at the pub where I was consulted with a view to accompanying them. The problem was that the deceased had expressed his wish to rest in a restricted area so we planned our strategy.  My friend hid the spade under her overcoat.  We skirted along the back streets, an area I hadn’t ventured to yet. It was dusk but I remember looking about and thinking that it was the maddest place to want to be laid to rest I could ever imagine; I can’t disclose where because I think it’s an arrestable offence and if I’d known, I would have thought twice about it since neither could have made a run for it if it had been necessary. I kept lookout while my friend dug a hole.  Her friend hissed every few minutes that she should hurry. Fainting with laughter, we held one another up on our way out of there. I recommended that my friend invest in incontinence pads to spare us on any future mission and a story started to scratch in my thoughts. We stopped off at the pub; my friend propped her spade up against the wall ; we toasted the deceased and the success of the mission; and forgot the spade. We fretted…, it was evidence and they, the authorities, would trace it…, we had to recover it.

I began to revise the premise of my story; no one would believe these old birds as characters; I’d have to weave a little. Three days later my friend took delivery of a new wardrobe. The old one was to be disposed of over the back garden wall and left for collection. We managed to get it up onto the wall but a Policeman approached. He was suspicious, I could tell. My friend was convinced that we were about to get collared for burying cremated people on private property and I thought we might also get framed for other burglaries in the neighborhood. The wardrobe slid out of our hands and crashed onto the pavement. The Policeman leaped out of its way and managed to save a nearby parked car from getting crushed… that, it turned out, had been the Policeman’s interest, he could see how stupid the idea was. My friend should seriously think about getting incontinence pads, I said.

I met another of her extensions, a woman who had lived in Rhodesia and lived in the next street. The woman asked about Vera. My friend’s eyes shone with excitement. Vera would be home the following week. I asked who Vera was. My friend said:

‘You’ll love her, she’s a gas.’

The Rhodesia woman couldn’t wait, she’d missed her, the town had been dull in her absence she’d said. We polished off the third bottle of wine, opened another and told the Rhodesia woman about the clandestine interment and the wardrobe. My friend slid off her seat and rolled about in energy sapping laughter until we helped her up…; I resolved to buy her a pack of incontinence pads.  My story was taking shape… I had a madcap old lady and a bunch of her aged crazy friends and there was more… Vera.

My friend was to spend the weekend in the country, a cousin had invited her; she asked if I would look after her dog while she was away.  I had met Chipper briefly as third in order of extensions.  He came with food, a pillow and an itinerary. His first walk of the day took place at the park at 8am.  This was when I met another friend, a German. I learned later that she lived with her dog in a sprawling great house somewhere on the edge of town.  As I mentioned, I met her at the park, no…, not met exactly.  I’d heard a woman hollering. I didn’t think I knew anyone at the park and didn’t think I was being shouted at. I looked across the green expanse to see a large, white-haired woman in Wellington boots marching across the open grassland, waving a dog leash; I looked around again to see if on the off chance there was any sign of a dog that had slipped its leash.  She waved the coiled leash above her head; there was no doubt, she was shouting at me… I was late. She knelt down to commiserate with Chipper and looked up at me as though I’d murdered someone. She assured Chipper that it wouldn’t happen again.

‘We’ll see what Vera’s got to say about this,’ she said.

That was it! I knew there was something. Where the hell were the men?  I know men are thin on the ground, the best ones always having been taken and all that and I realised that my friend’s age group meant that men were probably even scarcer but this was weird, I hadn’t even seen one standing nearby no, wait a minute… with only their word for it, the only reference to a man had been the urn containing a dead man’s ashes.   I thought about Dylan Thomas’s bigamist character in ‘Under Milk Wood.’ My story was halted. I couldn’t frame a story within the fun and humour I’d envisaged.

My friend returned from the country.  Chipper mounted the pillow energetically and with vigorous movements held fast until he fell off, exhausted.  He did that when he was excited my friend had told me. We heard the sound of traffic and felt a fresh driving gust pass in from the hall. Vera had let herself in; she had her own key. My friend’s eyes glistened as she stepped forward to greet her friend. I knew it was her before the introduction. Chipper wheezed before rolling onto his back.  Vera held her hand out loosely but withdrew it before I reached her fingertips.  She passed that slim pale hand across her forehead in a display of wilting fatigue.  Vera chimed a resonance with the open door in my mind; my friend fluttered with restrained admiration and asked me to retrieve a bottle of wine from the fridge while she brought the luggage in. I heard Vera erupt into a fit of laughter; I smiled, an ache inducing smile when I caught the tail end of the story of her encounter with a man.  She used the word “tit” regularly. He, a different man who she didn’t name, was a “tit” and someone else had got her saggy old “tits” out. I returned to the kitchen a “silly” little thing for the “silly” old corkscrew and delayed my return while Vera was saying that my friend knew nothing about me, and asking if I could be trusted. I turned to the orchestrated opening to Frank Sinatra singing ‘This Town’ on the radio.  I turned the volume up. I wondered what had prompted Lee Hazlewood to write the lyrics.

‘I’m really sorry,’ my friend said.

‘You silly old thing,’ Vera said.  ‘You are the limit; cant’ trust you on your own for a minute umm?’

I turned to see my friend standing in the doorway, her head held low.

‘Chipper likes his walk at eight,’ she said.

I handed over the corkscrew and collected my coat and handbag… but what turned out differently you might ask?

I saw Vera in the pub with Audrey Hepburn; they were laughing…, something about “tits”.  Audrey Hepburn looked away when she saw me.  The next day the tall redhead spat a dry rebuke in Polish as we passed in the doorway of the chemist.  I saw Vera taking Chipper for his three o’clock walk.  I saw the German, leash in hand but no dog and they saw me.  I watched as they rounded the pond and saw the potential.

I set about doing some research… I tapped out the word “ligatures” (definition).  I like that word but checked synonyms just in case.  I wanted to know how deep the pond was and took a bamboo cane from the runner bean bed.  I knew Chipper’s seven o’clock walk would find the park almost deserted.  I did a trial run but it was busy around the pond.  It must have been a weekend thing… I waited.  I did the run on Saturday evening and again on Sunday evening and I was right, it was almost deserted and the German didn’t take her leash for a walk in the evening.   The following week passed slowly.  I set my stopwatch and checked the time it took to jog to the pond again.  I had shaved another six seconds… it would all be over in 2.6 minutes…

“Pipe down in there… Lights out in five…”

It was that bloody Policeman, the one with the wardrobe; he’d observed my suspicious behavior… around the pond… unbelievable; I know!

Angeles Bean

WHAT INSPIRATIONS CAN YOU ATTRIBUTE TO NEW EXPERIENCES THAT TURNED OUT DIFFERENTLY?

I moved to a new town on the fringe of large sprawling City. I didn’t know anyone and within weeks I’d had a few experiences, sufficient for me to want to move, straight away. I didn’t; it wasn’t an option but the thought stayed with me for some time. I found the bus stop but didn’t yet know the places to which the numbered route system referred to;  I found the local supermarket and Post Office and the litter-strewn pavements, the potholed tarmac expanses edged with abandoned industrial warehousing and interspersed with asbestos clad huts and mechanical plant, I watched the freight wagons rolling above viaducts (the great Victorian engineered arches and columns hosting an array of vegetation and grasses) the footings of which were stained and crusted, dashed with sleet slush as each vehicle passed, I trod the walkways below and sidestepped the inches thick pigeon shit.  I avoided eye contact with the hooded gathering in doorways on a cold grey January evening and shivered (until services were connected) and made a new friend. It wasn’t so bad after all.

At twenty years older than me, my new friend introduced me to another of her friends and then another. The age difference didn’t manifest particularly but then I wasn’t looking at that; they were interesting and fun and of course they had social lives, jointly and severally with food and drinks high up on the unifying scale, art exhibitions, travel; the usual stuff but there was something else. I didn’t think about very much else at the time since they were characters, interesting, entertaining and fun; they knew the sort of things newcomers find useful or interesting. Then I had a moment; that was it… they didn’t dance they didn’t go out dancing.

The first extension, (that’s what I came to think of them as) my friend introduced me to I remember thinking when I first saw her, was that she was strikingly beautiful; perfectly made up, manicured, classically dressed, urchin haircut and not unlike Audrey Hepburn and funny. She’d attended a boarding school for girls she told me and loved Italy as did my originating friend who joined in with anecdotes. We spent the evening, my face saturated with tears of mirth, with good wine and stories aplenty.

The third extension I was introduced to was a Polish immigrant. At around six feet tall, she wore her red hair high which made her appear much taller and held with a hundred anchoring grips that she shyly nipped at habitually she was never still; each grip received a push until she appeared satisfied but she started over and nipped at each one again. She’d worked in a coalmine (surface work) and fascinatingly, during the Soviet invasion of 1939. Unfortunately, she’d been in a hurry, some appointment or other. I asked after her in the days that followed, general things like her health, she must have been in her late sixties or seventies but my friend didn’t seem to know.

The fourth introduction revealed a younger friend. She’d been retired from her housekeeping job and with nowhere to live and with no pension, my friend was glad to help and let her stay at her house. They’d known each other for years and in their company, together with the Audrey Hepburn lookalike, I listened to stories and shared memories but there was something else, I could feel that something was amiss but for the time being I was mopping up like a sponge.  Soon enough, I met a fifth.

This extension had to dispose of someone’s ashes and asked my friend to help. We met up at the pub where I was consulted with a view to accompanying them. The problem was that the deceased had expressed his wish to rest in a restricted area so we planned our strategy. My friend hid the spade under her overcoat.  We skirted along the back streets; an area I hadn’t ventured to yet. It was dusk but I remember looking about and thinking that it was the maddest place to want to be laid to rest I could ever imagine; I can’t disclose where because I think it’s an arrestable offence and if I’d known, I would have thought twice about it since neither could have made a run for it if it had been necessary. I kept lookout while my friend dug a hole.  Her friend hissed every few minutes that she should hurry. Fainting with laughter, we held one another up on our way out of there. I recommended that my friend invest in incontinence pads to spare us on any future mission and a story started to scratch in my thoughts. We stopped off at the pub; my friend propped her spade up against the wall ; we toasted the deceased and the success of the mission; and forgot the spade. We fretted; it was evidence and they, the authorities, would trace it; we had to recover it.

I began to revise the premise of my story; no one would believe these old birds as characters; I’d have to weave a little. Three days later my friend took delivery of a new wardrobe. The old one was to be disposed of, over the back garden wall and left for collection. We managed to get it up onto the wall but a Policeman approached. He was suspicious, I could tell. My friend was convinced that we were about to get collared for burying cremated people on private property and I thought we might also get framed for other burglaries in the neighborhood. The wardrobe slid out of our hands and crashed onto the pavement. The Policeman leaped out of its way and managed to save a nearby parked car from getting crushed… that, it turned out, had been the Policeman’s interest, he could see how stupid the idea was. My friend should seriously think about getting incontinence pads, I said.

I met another of her extensions, a woman who had lived in Rhodesia and lived in the next street. The woman asked about Vera. My friend’s eyes shone with excitement. Vera would be home the following week. I asked who Vera was. My friend said:

‘You’ll love her, she’s a gas.’

The Rhodesia woman couldn’t wait, she’d missed her, the town had been dull in her absence. We polished off the third bottle of wine, opened another and told the Rhodesia woman about the clandestine interment and the wardrobe. My friend slid off her seat and rolled about in energy sapping laughter until we helped her up…; I resolved to buy her a pack of incontinence pads.  My story was taking shape… I had a madcap old lady and a bunch of her aged crazy friends and there was more… Vera.

My friend was to spend the weekend in the country, a cousin had invited her; she asked if I would look after her dog while she was away… Chipper came with food and an itinerary. His first walk of the day took place at the park at 8am.  This was when I met another friend, a German. I learned later that she lived with her dog in a sprawling great house somewhere on the edge of town.  As I mentioned, I met her at the park, no, not met exactly. I’d heard a woman hollering. I didn’t think I knew anyone at the park and didn’t think I was being shouted at. I looked across the green to see a large, white-haired woman in Wellington boots marching across the open grassland, waving a dog leash; I looked around again to see if on the off chance there was any sign of a dog that had slipped its leash.  She waved the coiled leash above her; there was no doubt, she was shouting at me… I was late. She knelt down to commiserate with Chipper and looked up at me as though I’d murdered someone. She assured Chipper that it wouldn’t happen again.

‘We’ll see what Vera’s got to say about this,’ she said.

That was it! I knew there was something. Where the hell were the men?  I know men are thin on the ground, the best ones always having been taken and all that and I realised that my friend’s age group meant that men were probably even scarcer but this was weird; I hadn’t even seen one standing nearby no, wait a minute… with only their word for it, the only reference to a man had been the urn containing a man’s ashes.   I thought about Dylan Thomas’s bigamist character in ‘Under Milk Wood.’ My story was halted. I couldn’t frame a story within the fun and humour I’d envisaged.

My friend returned from the country.  Chipper mounted the pillow energetically. We heard the sound of traffic and felt a fresh driving gust pass in from the hall. Vera had let herself in; she had her own key. My friend’s eyes glistened as she stepped forward to greet her friend. I knew it was her before the introduction. Chipper wheezed before rolling onto his back.  Vera held her hand out loosely but withdrew it before I reached her fingertips.  She passed that hand across her forehead in a display of wilting fatigue.  Vera chimed a resonance with the open door in my mind; my friend fluttered and asked me to retrieve a bottle of wine from the fridge while she brought the luggage in. I heard Vera erupt into a fit of laughter; I smiled, an ache inducing smile when I caught the tail end of the story of her encounter with a man.  She used the word “tit” regularly. He, a different man who she didn’t name, was a “tit” and someone else had got her saggy old “tits” out. I returned to the kitchen for the “silly” old corkscrew and delayed my return while Vera was saying that my friend knew nothing about me, and asking if I could be trusted. I heard the orchestrated opening to Frank Sinatra singing ‘This Town.’  I turned the volume up. I wondered what had prompted Lee Hazlewood to write the lyrics.

‘I’m really sorry,’ my friend said.

I turned to see her standing in the doorway, her head held low. ‘Chipper likes his walk at eight.’  I handed over the corkscrew and collected my coat and handbag… but what turned out differently you might ask?

I saw Vera in the pub with Audrey Hepburn; they were laughing…, something about “tits”.  Audrey Hepburn looked away when she saw me.  The next day the tall redhead spat a dry rebuke in Polish as we passed in the doorway of the chemist.  I saw Vera taking Chipper for his three o’clock walk.  I saw the German, leash in hand but no dog and they saw me; I watched as they rounded the pond and saw the potential.  I set about doing some research… I tapped out the word “ligatures” (definition); I like that word and checked synonyms and I wanted to know how deep the pond was.  I knew Chipper’s seven o’clock walk would find the park almost deserted.  I did a trial run but it was busy around the pond.  It must have been a weekend thing; I waited.  I did the run on Saturday evening and again on Sunday evening and I was right, it was almost deserted and it was obvious that the German didn’t take her leash for a walk in the evening.   The following week passed slowly.  I set my stopwatch and checked the time it took to jog to the pond again and confirmed that I could cut another six seconds… it would all be over in 2.6 minutes…

“Pipe down in there… Lights out in five…”

It was that bloody Policeman, the one with the wardrobe; he’d observed suspicious behaviour… unbelievable I know!

Angeles Bean

WHAT INSPIRATIONS CAN YOU ATTRIBUTE TO NEW EXPERIENCES THAT TURNED OUT DIFFERENTLY?

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