A Halloween Story

I wrote this several years ago and, as it’s Halloween, I thought I’d share it:

I have a confession to make.

We’ve all done things wrong, and we’ve all done things we’re not exactly proud of. But I think mine probably tops all of yours – I mean have you ever killed the one you love? No? No…I didn’t think so. To look at me, you’d never imagine that I could be capable of such a malicious, sorrowful deed – for I am perhaps one of the most humble, slightly-built older males you are ever likely to see.

It’s taken me a few days to collect my thoughts on the matter – a few miserable days, sitting in this cell – with only the faraway drone of the other inmates and the sparsely decorated walls to keep me company.

I’ll tell you the tale right now and I’ll pull no punches and spare no details, for I am
old now, with such little life left that there’s no point even attempting to preserve myself from whatever justice the authorities see fit for me. You may feel sympathetic to me perhaps, but then you may very well agree with the majority of society and deem me a villain – one not fit to share the world with the other right-thinking folk.

I’ve been in love with someone before, oh yes I have! When I was much younger! She was a lovely lady.

Virginia Wright was her name.

And even now many, many years down the line I still think of that name in a rose-tinted light. She was a few years older than I, and perhaps not the easiest lady on the eye – but out of all of her many suitors she chose me and our affectionate companionship slowly turned into a deep-rooted understanding and love.

I’ve always been too slow of head to be a well-versed romantic, but I’d have to say she was “the one”, and perhaps once I’ve been judged by the aforementioned forces of authority I may well be reunited with Virginia Wright in another life, somewhere far, far away from here.

The early days (honeymoon period) were my favourites – they stretch out before me even
now in a sort of effervescent movie montage. The places we went together, the little characteristics and quirks we both had that we learned to love so well, the people we met and of course those quiet moments that are shared between two like-minded souls, the quiet moments that no one else ever knows.4

However as time went on and age consumed Virginia faster than I, it became more and more of a challenge to get by – at the start of things it was a pleasant challenge to keep her happy, but toward the end it got so it was a struggle just to support her through anything. Whether it be helping her on a simple cooking expedition around the kitchen or a trip to the lavatory.

Everyone tried to convince her to ask for extra care, care that I (being no spring chicken
myself) couldn’t really provide, but being the strong soul she was she was determined to
carry on. And from that determination I will always carry inspiration. I still remember the day she died in my arms like it was yesterday, her soft hazel brown eyes closing as life was finally taken from her. It looked more like she was asleep than devoid of life, but perhaps that’s all death is?

Just another level of sleep, one that mortal minds can’t configure.

From a selfish perspective I was distraught at losing my life’s companion, but from a more senior, learned point of view I was able to eventually rest soundly to the oh-so-familiar tune of her “being in a better place”.

But alas, I’m getting off of the real point of my sin with all this talk of Virginia Wright –
perhaps I am more of a romantic at heart than I initially thought.

The lady of my confession goes…or rather went…by the name of Lily Swann, a pretty name I’ll agree, but very misplaced.

In the years following Virginia’s passing I had little or no connection with
anyone, Virginia’s family all lived away from the city and I, myself, was born of another
country and at my age I had no real way of getting back there. So it was a lonely life I led, a life spent mostly traipsing to and from various shopping centres, markets and outlets – people watching.

If I didn’t have a life of my own I could at least gain some interest from what
others around me were doing, you can earn an awful lot from people and from my various vantage points I saw many dramas, conflicts and romances unfold. Life has a simple algorithm, we just like to kid ourselves that it’s more complicated than it is.

It was while I was scanning the aisles of a second-hand store on West Street that I was
approached by a lady called Linda. She must have noticed my lonely existence before, as I was sure I’d recognised her from somewhere – but when you reach my age all the names and faces seem to roll into one and it becomes harder and harder to decipher any countenance that isn’t common place in your life.

Linda was a weekly carer for a lady called Lilly, and she must have thought of herself as some sort of matchmaker as she arranged for a few meetings with us. We didn’t really warm to each other at first, I didn’t feel I wanted her – and she felt she had no use for me, but the relentless matchmaking continued and eventually we fell into a mutual companionship.

I’ve always firmly believed that if you try hard enough you can learn to like, and who knows, maybe even love someone if you really want to make it work. It was hard getting used to Lily’s hair-string temper and shoe-string budget but I settled into the idea that I would never find anyone else to love at such a late age.

That woman proceeded to wear me down – both physically and mentally. I’m not trying for sympathy now, I’m sure that perhaps I could have just upped and left somehow, but I just could never find the nerve.

She used to mumble to herself all the time, what she was saying I couldn’t decipher at times – but I knew it was nothing positive, her mutterings gradually changed to insults – mainly aimed at me. Useless. Never has a word cut me so deep as that, through my whole life I’d been a hard worker – both at work and in a relationship, and to be constantly called this whenever I was with her or helping her hurt me in a way that you cannot imagine.

Never has such a simple word, fired at me so maliciously, made me feel so redundant.
But as we grew to know each other better, and as we got older, words turned to actions. The little things at first, nudging me out of the way when she wanted to hobble a short distance across the house, spilling the odd drop of boiling tea onto me without the slightest murmur of an apology and then slowly moving to the physical. She soon fell into the habit of kicking me from the solitude of her own gnarled rocking chair whenever something annoyed her. As if I was some sort of worthless scapegoat that
she could unload her pathetic, ill-founded frustrations on.

Alas a few days ago the two of us had decided to head into the city for a day’s shopping, and this is where things came to a head. Having your body fail on you is the worst part of old age, a body that you’ve grown so used to over the years – suddenly becoming rigid and hopeless.

We were a few yards away from the house when I felt a sudden pang in my creaking limbs, and before I knew it they’d stopped – locked up completely – I couldn’t go any further.

“What’s wrong with you? You’re useless. I want to be back in time for the soap operas”.
With that she straightened herself up and flung a leg at me, striking me a lot harder than I would have expected from a woman of her age.
“Useless. Useless. Useless. Supposed to be there for me. Useless”.
With each cry of useless her foot connected against my limbs, until I felt something rise
inside of me, an anger so sharp and so stunningly severe that I’d never felt it before. But an anger that brought new life into me and I found myself lunging forward at the old hag – we toppled to the pavement in an ear-splitting crescendo of shouts and screams- noises
of pain, raw emotion and rage. Next thing I knew, all I could hear was a sickening, crack as the old lady’s head met the pavement. It was only then that I realised just what I had done.

Emotions. They often get the better of you in the end.

Oh…wait, what’s this that has broken my tainted string of thought? The cell door in front of me is opening, finally! It’s barely been opened since the day I was first banished here. Two policemen appear in front of me – bored and tired in their dark blue, padded uniforms.

After a moment they fix their attention on me and the room, and I can hear the first
one speak: “Bloody impound lot gets more and more cluttered every time I come in here”, now he turns his attention to me, and me alone, “stupid rusty wheelchair, that can go to the scrap yard I don’t think we’re going to be needing that anymore.”
“That from the Swann woman investigation?”, asks his younger colleague.
“Yeah, weird one. Found her on the pavement with the chair on top of her, but no one could seem to find anything wrong with the chair itself, ‘cos she wasn’t even on it at the time. Almost as if it just got up got up and rolled on top of her”.
His colleague laughs.

I know my fate is sealed. The scrap man calls.

Virginia, I’m coming, I won’t be long now.

by Ashley Brown

Minidisc players and the idea in you

 

A few months ago my cousin was clearing a few of his old things out from his parents’ house.

He came away with a small box of items that had meant a lot to him as a youngster.

Among these trinkets was his old minidisc player.

For a short while in the early noughties, minidiscs were supposed to be the next big thing.
Their popularity soon stifled though, as digital recording and playback became the norm – lost to a generation of people who didn’t want to have physical copies of their music. (Ironically though, with the resurrection of vinyl, this is tilting the other way).

For a short while the minidisc had been his very favourite thing. With an air of nostalgia he turned it on and listened to the disc that was inside – a tune that hadn’t been played for over a decade.

He remarked simply, yet philosophically, on how it was weird that one day he’d just turned it off and never used it again – only for it to turn up some fifteen years later.

How often do you have that with a thought or an idea? All that thinking about something, only to switch off and forget about it.

Ideas aren’t physical things, such as minidisc players. If you lose them it’s much harder to get them back.

As a creative I always used to, annoyingly, have my best ideas when I wasn’t able to write.

The novels, the stories and the concepts that I’d come up with…usually when I was driving or in the gym…right at the time when my laptop was out of reach!

I used to think to myself – ‘I’ll come back to that idea when I get a sec’.

I never did though. Because the enthusiasm for the idea would disappear before I could touch methaphorical pen to metaphorical paper.

So now I carry a notepad with me at all times. So I’m never caught out. I can jot down my ideas whenever and wherever.

I think this is a better option that writing it on my phone. My phone is a bustling hub of distractions…and a big reason of ‘why I didn’t write today’.

I also invested in an expensive notepad. Not because I’m materialistic. But, because I figure that…the more I pay for something, the more naturally valuable it seems and the more likely I’ll be to use it.

Unlike that minidisc player, it’s unlikely that your ideas will come back to you. So have something with you at all times to note them down.

Before you know it, your notebook will become a goldmine of creativity.

I know it seems simple, obvious even, but yet so many people let their ideas slip away.

The writer Robert Louis Stevenson reckoned that ‘Treasure Island’ was born from a couple of dreams that he had.

He also remarked that, had he not have had a pen (or quill back then) by his bed, he’d have forgotten the idea before he could have converted it into a story.

Don’t let your ideas walk the plank…take note of them!

(image credit: wikipedia)

Of dirty pigs and big problems

In our personal lives and our creative lives we run into our fair share of problems.

And, as I’m sure you’ll agree, sometimes it’s easy to get stressed and lose your shit when you come up against one of the bigger problems.

But that’s not always the best way.

In fact, some problems aren’t even worth your time.

Here’s a quote to keep in a mind:

Don’t ever wrestle with a pig. You’ll both end up dirty”

Don’t make the mistake of being the loneliest whale in the world…

Somewhere along the Pacific north-west coast of North America lives a whale who has been given the name ’52 Hertz’ by the scientists who’ve been studying him for the last few years.

Whales, like many of us, spend their days looking for love. They market themselves to appeal to their perfect partner.

While we use Tinder and Grindr, they use a more traditional method. That of the mating call.

To attract a mate a whale will sing out in its distinctive tenor and then wait to see what happens.

Regular blue and fin whales sing at about 15 to 20 Hertz – whereas our friend, 52 Hertz, signs at a frequency of…52 Hertz.

This has made him something of a celebrity in the scientific world.

It’s a sad story though, due to his unusual voice, he hasn’t been able to attract anyone.

In a sea full of voices, his is too distinctive – it’s too out there and, as a result of this, no one can connect with it.

As storytellers and marketers we should keep the unfortunate ‘Hertz 52’ in our minds.

Because, while it’s good to be different, you should also make sure that you’re not too different.

Your audience needs to be able to resonate with you to a certain degree…or else you can’t hope to have a connection with them.

The sad thing for ‘Hertz 52’ is that he doesn’t seem to be able to change his unusual voice…but you can change yours. You can adapt your words and writing style for your audience – remember that!

It worked out for Bridge Jones in the end…so I’m sure that, one day, ‘Hertz 52’ will find his significant other.

(Photo credit: National Geographic)

Book Review: ‘French Rhapsody’ by Antoine Laurain

Reading ‘French Rhapsody’ isn’t the worst mistake I’ve ever made.

Although, if I’m being honest, had I have truly known what the novel was about I don’t think I’d have ordered it and read it quite so eagerly as I did.

It’s not that it’s a bad book…it’s just that I well and truly judged this book by its cover and its blurb – and it wasn’t what I was expecting. Which seems to ring true with a few other reviews that I’ve seen.

I was expecting it to be the story of a middleaged doctor who receives a long-delayed letter from a record company – offering his old band a record deal, before telling us how he went and reunited with the rest of the band members.

To some extent that is the plot – but it’s not a story about music, and it’s not really a story about the reunion. In fact it’s a cutting commentary on politics, bureaucracy and how relationships change over time.

I’ve never read anything by the author (Antoine Laurain) before so, in fairness, perhaps if I’d have been more aware of him I’d have known what to expect. The whole forgotten letter from the record company takes up only a small amount of French Rhapsody’s 215 pages.

The rest of the story mainly covers an upcoming French Presidential election and how two of the ex band members are running for office. One is a notorious leader of a far-right group, the other is a suave and mysterious economist who seems to have an answer for everything. Both characters are very engaging and there are a couple of twists with both of them that you’ll never see coming.

It’s a philosophical read and, when not talking politics, it brings up a lot of thoughts on how we change as we get older and how different priorities appear and take over those priorities that only seem important to you when you’re young.

I also liked how some of the chapters were written from other characters’ points of view, as if they were extracts from their diaries.

All in all, I couldn’t get away from the feeling that French Rhapsody was so different from what I expected that I didn’t feel satisfied with it – luckily it’s a fairly slender book, so it didn’t take up too much of my time.

The only other comment I’ll make is that, while I’m a fan of an arty narrative, it was a bit hard to follow – I wonder if perhaps a few of the sentences were a little lost in translation.

3/5 for me – but just be wary that the story is a little different to what the blurb indicates. Look out for a chapter about a giant, rubber brain that floats over Paris…

Eighty percent of success is…

“Eighty percent of success is showing up”
– Woody Allen.

I think this is a very apt quote for a site called ‘whyididntwritetoday’.

Because if you don’t start writing or trying to write success won’t come anywhere near you.

Woody Allen started out writing jokes for people, and then decided that he’d be good at delivering the jokes himself.

So he started by getting bit-parts in TV shows that he wrote the jokes for.

But, because he wasn’t a big name, they used to give his funniest jokes to the stars of the show.

Woody didn’t like this.

So he decided to only go for parts where he could play the lead.

Which meant that he had his pick of the best lines, monologues and jokes.

Look at him now. It paid off.

The Loan Shark and the Smiths next door

When it comes to advertising a product or a service – one of the key things that companies target is a customer’s social standing. 

Humans, by and large, want to be liked.

We want to look good. Take for example personalised number-plates, there’s a huge market for them – and, contrary to popular belief, one of the reasons why they’re so popular is because they disguise the age of the car…at least to the untrained eye.

Fancy that, ey? It’s not just to have your nickname on the front/rear of your car. It’s so the Joneses next door don’t realise that your car is actually ten years old.

But going back to those on the wrong side of the law, one of the best anecdotes on using social pressure to get what you want concerns a debt collector.

As you can imagine – the life of a loan shark can be pretty tough at times. Common sense is a gift not divided equally, and those who borrow money tend to not want to pay it back.

So the first thing this debt collector would do – he’d find out the address of his payment dodger’s mother or close family member. And he’d send them a postcard. Addressed to the payment dodger but going to the family address.

And, as postcards aren’t in envelopes, the family member would have to have the willpower of a Spartan not to read the back of the postcard.

Then they’d get in touch with the person that the card was meant for. Exerting social pressure.

Because no one wants to look bad in front of the family, right?

benidrom



(image credit: Hemingway Design)

If this method didn’t work (or if he couldn’t find a relevant family member) – the loan shark would send another postcard.

It would again be addressed to their client, but it would be addressed to the house next door. Instead of to the client’s actual house.

So, as you can imagine, the Smiths next door would read the postcard and find out that their neighbour owed money to the wrong people.

Presumably they’d then deliver the card to the addressee…and he or she would be served a massive dose of social embarrassment.

Manipulating the natural human instinct to care what others think can get you want you want.

It’s the same with getting models to wear clothes and showing lots of happy, cool people using an electronic gadget.

If we think it’ll make us look or feel a certain way, we’re likely to be more interested in it.

(I believe I first read about this anecdote in ‘How to write sales letters that sell’ by the enigmatic Drayton Bird – one of the greatest living copywriters, who I was luckily enough to meet at his seminar a few years back)

(featured image credit: www.sharkdiver.com)