Skills

I suspect that the bit of my job that I’m supposed to be good at is actually the bit of the job I’m worst at. so where do my skills lay?
supposedly I was good at poetry. but reading back, 99% of what I wrote was dross. what about the comedy? too chicken do see that through. the marketing stuff I’m proud of: binned by housewife and businessman alike. sometimes I feel trapped. it’s as if reality is wrapped too tightly round me. where I want to be, the things I want to try: remote. they’re distant mountains I climb in my mind. I could do that I think but it’s only based on other people’s stories. it’s easy to climb a picture of everest. impossible to conquer the real thing if the closest you’re going to get to Kathmandu is as a pub quiz answer. what do I want? I want to work for a nice b to c company. somewhere that has a product that gives tangible results tugs real emotions. is that something I could do? I’m good at ideas. good at whimsy. good at talking. weaker on…well to be honest, probably the thing I cherish most: writing. and possibly persuading. sure there are things my mind will  baulk at. places my imagination won’t go. and that’s a problem. how can I sell a benefit of something I don’t believe in. is it that I’m impressed by gloss? the car doesn’t have to be fast as long as it’s shiny? so once you’re actually under the bonnet of the thing, and there’s no shine is that what makes it look naff? or am I only interested in the gloss: the sort of narcissist who doesn’t care to think about things too deeply? Satisfied with the easy answer and ince it’s been said there’s no need to say it again. by which I mean, Richard fenyman tells the story of the plating company: they gold plated everything even if the gold wouldn’t bond. I think that’s a confidence trick. a lie. so when I see the faults in the product, how the guy in despatch scratches his arse inside his pants before picking up the goods. when I learn about that bit that wobbles which everyone’s been getting round to fix do I get the feeling that actually what we’re trying to punt is a load of shit? are there any products or services out there that don’t have that wobble or the dirty hands over them at one point? no. probably not. so by that logic I’m never going to find the company that’s the perfect fit. if the glass is always half full, no matter how ornate the glass is, I’m never going to be satisfied with the measure of what I drink.
Hilariously for someone who works in publishing, I’m not a details man. Or that I mistake complexity and long-winded Ness for detail. Given the job of describing a tree I’d instead describe the woods. Easier to skim over details than have to wrack my brains for the perfect words to describe the lizard-skin bark, the waxy green leaves that shine like polish.  See the hectic thatch of a bird’s nest snuck into the crook of two branches. It creates a strange stirring of sexy, looking as it does like a public bush. And the way the branches split, each one a cleft. Trees make me think of sex!

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Ice, ice baby

My wife is so self-possessed and independent that often it feels like I’m an optional extra. It’s clear that she could get by perfectly fine without me. This morning, it was frosty outside and the car windscreens all had a glaze of white frost. Today is my day for staying home from my shitty job because my boss can’t afford to pay me. So there’s no need for me to step out into freezing black of a January morning at all.

Except there’s the frost and I want to help my wife. “There’s no need for you to come down”, she says.

“I know, but I’ll scrape the ice off the windscreens for you.”

The plan that I’d sketched out in my head involved me scraping the ice off the car, while she sat in the car, heaters going. The point was that she didn’t have to go through the strenuous and unpleasant chore of de-icing. But, as I said, my wife doesn’t really need me. So instead, while I vainly chipped away at the ice with the scraper, she fished around in the car’s boot and found the can of de-icing spray.

So now we’re both outside de-icing her car. In fact, she’s used the can to melt the frost from all four side windows and the rear window, while I’m still scuffing off the driver’s side of the front windscreen.

With a flourish of fine liquid chemical spray, she demolishes the icy build up on the passenger side of the front windscreen.

“All done” she says, before lifting the wipers to ensure that they’re not frozen too. I want to say “I’ve done that already”, but she’s ushering me back inside. As I turn to wave to her, I see that she’s rescraping the area that I’ve already de-iced. So, not only are my efforts slower than what she can achieve on her own, they are also substandard.

My realisation that I am to all intents and purposes superfluous is not a giant ice-tipped bolt that stabs me through the skull like frozen urine dropped from a passing airliner. There’s no sudden incredulous gust of understanding that roots my inconsequential self to the spot. This is more like a gentle reminder.

After all, she doesn’t even know that I’ve seen her working over my contribution to ice-free driving.

That I don’t bring anything at all useful to our relationship is something that I’ve long been conscious of. Other than companionship, flatulence and a warm place to put cold feet, I don’t really add anything at all. Let’s be frank about the attributes I do bring, these can also supplied by a dog. The only thing that I’ve got that a dog hasn’t is opposable thumbs, so I don’t get trapped behind a closed door quite so often. Although, to say that it never happened would be to stretch the point into fiction.

It’s amazing that this confident, strident and independent woman not only has me hanging around but that she does things with me. More amazing again, quite often she does things for me – things I’m capable of doing myself, but not to the same sort of standard that she expects. Sometime marriage feels like the most comprehensive case of Stockholm Syndrome ever diagnosed. As a husband, I sort of have a sneaky suspicion I know what the kidnappers felt when Patty Hearst was better at robbing banks than them.

Kendall was a man

kendall was a man who did not know his worth. when he died no one was surprised. his wife hardly cried and his children flew back from the countries that they lived in. his few friends shook their heads and the landlord of the dragon put a round in for all of the early doors drinkers, all six of them, in fact all of his friends.

is this what getting old means? asked his son. the selfish dread of mortality sharp in his throat like a sliver of glass pricking him, every time he swallowed. and he closed his eyes and secretly willed his father alive again. he tried to grasp the hours and haul them back like a slippery rope, pulling hand over hand. he imagined yanking at that single strand, pulling it back until the threadof his childhood stood large and bright before him. His boyhood: an imaginary summer day with grass so green it was ferociously bright.

the day’s corners smudged with his finger prints where he had tugged it back marred the scene. he knew it was pretend anyway. the low drone of insects, the faraway clack of a bat against cricket ball, the tart taste of seasalt. no, that day hadn’t existed. he panicked: he could not remember his father at all. they had been two strangers all this time. and now it was too late. is this what grief feels like? he thought. this vast selfishness that blankets everything, this sudden greed for life? the quick knife cut of shame as his kother squeezes his hand and he cries. but only for himself.

Kendall’s wife sold the house that kendall had owned when he was alive and moved in with her son. At first the country where her son lived did not want her to stay. It did not want the responsibility of burying her. Although she did not want to make a fuss, she also did not want to be alone. But her son made sure it was fine for her to live there and she felt proud that she had raised a man like him.

Although she was loved, she was not needed. So she would sometimes stand in the kitchen with a bowl or spoon and not know in which draw it should be put away. Sometimes she would clasp her son’s hand, suddenly and firmly, and say “oh george” in such a sad voice that her son woule hug her tightly. Then at night he would lie in bed unable to sleep and try and pick apart all the mysterious intent in those two words. He woukd feel that small, hot pressure in his heart and try again to gather the endlessly spooling days back into his arms, as some one would gather a fleece. In the dark he felt his wife, his mother, his children receding quicker and quicker. No matter how much of anarmful he gathered, still they tumbled away from him.

Kendall’s wife lay awake, thousands of miles from the world that she and kendall had lived in. Under stars that had arranged themselves into unfamilar constellations, she thought of Kendall, of the  nights they had bearly looked at one another. She closes her eyes and sees kendall asleep, his cup of tea getting cold at his elbow, and suddenly she has never felt so close to him.

Pengelly

Pengelly is your typical Cornish man. He has short legs, a round red face and an ambivalent attitude to the Methodist temperance he was been raised to. His mother believes that his love for the sin of drink is a consequence of him choosing a wife who attends high church and uses the fine, bone china. His wife believes his penchant for a tipple is caused by being raised by the sort of woman who locks away the best china and tramps on Sundays to the bleak Wesleyan hall.

If asked, which he rarely is, Pengelly himself, thinks he drinks because he enjoys it.

Anyways, it’s not as if he’s a drunkard. In a mood that teeters dangerously close to psychological insight, Pengelly will decide he drinks because he is your typical Cornish man. Someone who works hard all week and should be allowed a restorative Wednesday night pint at darts, a friendly warmer for cribbage on Thursday, followed by the regulation skin-full on Friday night, followed by the more or less compulsory hair of the dog on Saturday afternoon. Then home in time for supper. And well, what sort of rogue wouldn’t escort his wife to the lounge bar for a pleasant evening in the company of friends and neighbours?

People from above the Tamar can be quick to assume that a red-faced man, with the sort of legs you’d see on a bulldog and the sort of belly you’d find bound in steel rings and kept in a brewery cellar would be slow. Look for instance at Pengelly cleaning his ear with the nail of his little finger. First left ear with his left hand, then right with the right. Look at the concentration and vigour that goes in to the task. With the features that are planted in the centre of his big red face all scrunched up with the concentration, surely, these foreigners all reason, this man is an idiot. Your normal tourist would pinch his monocle firmly into place, raise a well-educated eyebrow and say in the high falutin’ tones of your posh Devoner, something along the lines of “I say Margaret, look at that fellow. Is it not the most extraordinary thing, he simply must be an imbecile.” And then pay £6.50 for half a dozen eggs that have cost Pengelly, quite literally, chicken feed to get hold of.

“Free range, you say?” and the educated eyebrows wriggle around on the upcountry forehead, like two condescending worms at a maggot party.

Pengelly examines the small blob of yellowy gunge he has excavated from his right ear. He glowers at it, as if he’d been expecting rubies at the very least this time. Then surreptitiously (which is to say, not surreptitiously at all), he wipes it on the seat of his corduroy trousers.

“It means”, he explains “I let ’em run round.” He places a jar of home made jam (RRP £4.50) in the superior couples’ jute bag. Simultaneously he pockets the ten pound note that the couple have proffered: “You owe me anuvver pound, me dears.”

Later, the couple will tell a story about how they met the most charming local “thick as two short planks. Really, simple as Simon, but he sold the most fabulous fresh eggs and the most adorable jam.”

Meanwhile, Pengelly in the public bar says nothing and concentrates on hitting the double eighteen. After all, what can you tell people who are too daft to realise that fruit grows free in the hedgerows and jam is only £1.20 a pound.