View from a Ducking Stool, descending.

Posted: January 2, 2011 in Short Stories

View from a ducking stool descending



“This whole existence is alive. And this aliveness I call godliness, divinity: no person, but only a presence which is overflowing.” Osho

 ‘ Where the fuck’s that tree at then…?’ Sandra


Christmas Eve, dateline Basingstoke:

The box was made from clear plastic and I could see the big juicy roll of twenties inside. As I turned it in my hand it reminded me of a Rubix Cube. How fitting then that it should belong to a child. But I needed the tree, and it would be mainly him that appreciated it. So I’ll take a twenty and maybe just one more for a little warming drink with which to get the tree. Hell if he hadn’t locked it good. The pig’s face on the money box stared implacably back at me, its snout twisted in a sneer of reproach at what I was about to do. 

A crack to the side and I’m in to hold the crisp notes as folded and unused as only a child could keep them. Twisting the thick stub of bills between thumb and forefinger it struck me what a ridiculous thing money really is. Of itself it’s got no intrinsic value at all, yet the sense of satisfaction we get from owning and holding it shows what an idol, what a potent symbol it is. Just imagine if people felt as strongly about other worthless objects as they do about bank notes? Rich or poor, spin the wheel of fortune and see where I’m at on this revolution. Poor. Stoney broke. Even Simon Cowell must stare down at a bottle of Thick Bleach out the corner of his eye when he takes a piss. Looks can be deceptive. An Ace card in itself is worth less than a penny, but in the right game it can represent a million pounds.

I stuff the roll of banknotes into my pocket and replace the lid of the piggy bank. I catch my face in the mirror and my squinty greedy eyes register the real pig in the room.

As if on cue my mobile phone vibrates with a text from Sandra. Is this how we must always communicate now, at a safe digital distance? She made me feel like Count Dracula when I first saw her ordering her cappuccino. She was so ripe, so full of sweet juice and vitality that I wanted to bite her neck and suck some of that effortless joy deep into my veins, to replenish my world weary blood. But now, five years later the process had been reversed and she’d become a haemogoblin draining my life-force.

Why was I lifting my son’s savings? Why was I skint? I’d had hundreds of jobs in my time, jobs you wouldn’t ask a dog to dig down to get. Bone crunching and soul destroying. Labourer, Bar man, Sewer cleaner scrapping the white fat from London’s clogging arteries. You name it. I’d rather drive through the Gaza Strip blasting James Brown’s Living in America from a massive soundsystem. I’d also worked as a silver service waiter at the wedding of two hateful aristocrats and ended up pissing into the punchbowl I’d spent all afternoon making, full of yellow straw hangover urine, thick and brutal. I watched from the servants quarters as each took their sup from my loving cup. Fuckers. All minimum wage; maximum hassle, but now, I was once more unemployed.

My old gran used to sing me to sleep with a song about how the meaning of life was written in felt-tip on the underside of a pigeon’s wing, but when I finally grew old enough to check for myself the rain had smudged the ink. OK, I guess I was having a few problems, you know the kind of issues people don’t like to talk about at dinner parties.  I’d lost my temporary job working for the Civil Service after making a protest against cuts to the disabled services our division was overseeing by constructing a catapult using two bungee ropes and using a derelict crane on the South Bank to launch old Victorian wheelchairs through the glass windows of the City Hall building.

So I’d taken myself away from the maddening crowd and the sound of rusted wheels smashing through plate glass in search of a moment’s pause. I needed to smell pine needles and grass, air and distance, even on this, one of the coldest days of the year. A day of such brutal unforgiving that I felt myself walking in a Bruegal painting as I snapped the brittle snow-covered twigs underfoot.

Have you ever sat listening to carols by yourself in an undecorated flat? Something snapped inside me and I knew beyond all reason that by 4am there would be a mother-fucking Christmas tree in that living room.

Hitting the streets I head for the shops with the only Xmas spirit in evidence coming from the smashed brandy bottles and occasional patches of vomit reminiscent of Egg Nog. I get there to find that even the forty won’t cover it. The smallest tree was thirty and I needed enough for presents. So, coming up a little short I decided to steal one from the local supermarket. It must have been a rare sight seeing a thirty-six year old man dragging a ratty Christmas tree whilst being chased by five burley Turkish men all wearing floppy red Santa hats. I ran with the tree aware of the young Turks gaining on me and took the corner too fast snapping the tree from just below where I held it. I looked over my shoulder to see the Turks stopped, bent over their fallen comrade. With no better idea in my head I just carried on running to find myself in this forest.

About ten minutes in with the silence only broken by the cough of crows, I felt as pleasurably lost as if I was back in the Indian jungle. Or at least as it’s possible to get within the Tarmac embrace of the M3. I can’t remember the last time I was genuinely tired, not working and having no money leaves a man many things, but needing sleep isn’t one of them. But the chase up here actually wore me out and I gratefully sat down by the huge root of an ancient oak, feeling the massive cold root in the cleft of my jeans.

A sudden wind takes up and swirls the powder. I am caught by the white fragile snowflakes spinning around me and for an instant they become blue veiled spirits of everything I’ve ever been and everything I’m going to be. My guilt and my hopes stir round me like a cyclone.

There in the fairy tale dark I could see a small pine tree growing in the overhang of an oak and I try to pull it out. It seemed to scream like a mandrake root as I tugged at it, my fingers scratching up frozen mud, but its roots ran too deep. I fall on my arse defeated and a wood pigeon lands on the exposed root. It pecks into the mud at a goal unseen, but as I lean in I can see it has exposed a tuft of gold fabric attached to something bigger beneath the dislodged earth, buried and covered in the dried dirt of years. I reach in, wiping the worms and the congealed mud off the leather covered rectangle. It’s a book.

A reflex cough reminds me of more pressing business and I carefully place the book on my lap, reaching into my pocket to procure the instruments of my destruction. As I roll the joint I can’t help thinking how I’d rather be standing at night on the Mount of Olives in Israel  listening to the opening soundtrack of Blade Runner and watching Jerusalem sprawl out before me. Instead I get this ratty damp forest and two cigarette papers that won’t stick together.

I finally get a fix and pull the smoke deep into my lungs mixing with the sharp cold forest air before carefully unwrapping the silken binding made as delicate as moth wings by its earthy sarcophagus.

No name or address, just this scrawled in the flyleaf:

‘What I’ve learned so far. Just as there is a left and right hemisphere of the brain so too is there a duality to our minds. A real self and an ego self. I’m sure someone far wiser than me has probably written this before, maybe Freud, maybe Jung, maybe Jaws. As children we either grow in self or ego depending on our life experience. Most people live on the middle of this mental see-saw, some lucky people sit purely on the self side; whilst naturally to balance, others will fall and live totally in Ego. In my experience the people that fall in ego are usually very successful or become alcoholics, no middle ground by nature. Those living purely in self will usually remain financially poor in the money sense, or super-rich by natural talent.

I’ll leave you to figure why… it’s just another secret that I heard back in the bullpen. If you stick around, I may tell you another…

All children are born living completely in ego. Until we learn any better our toddler lives are consumed with totally subjective and selfish instincts, but if we are lucky enough to be surrounded by people who teach us to look outwards, be compassionate and think of others then we begin to glimpse the possibilities of true self: the non-ego reality living in each new moment. Once we reach adulthood, our spiritual and emotional education usually stops, and we step out into the world seeing confidence as the pre-requisite for success. This quickly becomes a wall of ego front. I chose ego too, but as my ego was verging on Narcissistic wrapped in a gingerbread icing exterior of low self-esteem then it became so ingrained I’m only just getting over it now at twenty-seven.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Not many people know that December 24th is a very special day. It is a day where all the energy in the universe converges on the galactic apex and any decisions or life-choices you make on that day will get locked in place, set upon the cosmic gears and played out over the coming months.

It’s therefore very important that you’re careful what you agree to with your own head that day.

The thoughts we have are very important to external events. Imagine you are thinking about a party on the Saturday. If you are thinking about it as you stub your toe and then get a nasty shock from the toaster, sub-consciously when you come to make the decision even days later about going to that party then you will be dark on it. The vice versa is also true. Imagine you’re in a casino playing roulette and are thinking about whether to buy a car. If you are thinking about the car as you put money on red and it comes in, you’ll probably think the car purchase is sanctioned by the universe.

Well, December 24th is sort of like that but to the power of ten. The thoughts on that day are more influential than at any other time. Last year I asked for the meaning of life to be revealed to me, and what I got was ‘BBB’, the three B’s. The goal to Be myself, Be in the moment, Be without Ego. I realised that I’ve been living through my ego for most of my life. It’s a dangerous creature, and to be truly happy everyone must kill their own torturer. The worst thing that can happen to a person is to get very successful very early, because then your ego becomes so well-fed and monstrous that the real self withers and you become empty on the inside, a glittering husk.

In fact, nothing in the  past really needs thinking about at all, that’s what sleep is for. Dreaming is the brain’s way of processing the information into its relevant drawer, like throwing a pack of cards at a wind fan and watching them fly into a migration formation before dive-bombing into their appropriate filling cabinet. Waking life is for the moment, the now, the present – a headlong rush trusting to the Great Mystery, whilst remaining without ego. Do what you love until someone pays you to do it, whilst being your true self without act or front no matter how threatened you feel, for this IS ego.

This is what I’ve learned so far…’

I slam shut the book like a Venus flytrap causing another flurry of snow to whip up and extinguish the red tip of my joint with a fizz.

I look at my watch in the gathering murk. It’s quarter to four. Feeling a little foolish I shout out my heartfelt wish to the cosmos on this Christmas Eve, just in case.

But Santa and I are above the clouds right now, whilst across town a little boy hopes both of us break through to reality…


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