A whimsical song playing from an aged, scuffed jukebox. I remember the rough red carpet, years of spills and thoughtless movements poured into it. The pool table, the felt never intact and smooth, a forever odd assortment of yellowed balls and broken cues surrounding it. We played with them nonetheless, the obstacles an added challenge. I recall our neighbours who lounged in the adjoining room, a television forever broadcasting old films and distant dramas. One tall lad who would pad through most evenings in his pyjamas, carrying a mug of tea – always amicable, always ready for sleep.

The jukebox took pennies, so we’d endlessly play all of the 20 or so songs upon it. Pop and indie tracks from our recent years, singing of country houses and deserts and walking on our own. Sometimes we felt forlorn for a few moments and listened carefully to such tunes, as if they had any truth about them for us. We were never alone. We had each other, and the golden wood staircase and the echoing little corridors. The thorny shrubs that threw their hands up to the windows and tapped to come in when the wind blew. When we gathered inside we were a toothsome grin and a head of sleek black hair, a knowing look that masked only insecurity, a quirky smile and a bellow of a laugh that accompanied frequent quips.

The grass was short and sweet in summer, and then the winter rains long. In light and dark we’d venture in to this dimly lit corner of our world. To play our games amidst puffs of blue chalk dust and the click of balls on cues, tables and floors. Listening to our jukebox music, watching others come and go. Finding words to please ourselves and jokes to tease one another, all for the cameraderie we hunted after even as it emerged in our footsteps. Our worries were there, but not sharp things that could overcome us. For some of us it was an easy respite from all that had gone on before. There would be a tomorrow, and the winding path, and the musk of old cornflakes and forgotten cola. Some laughter, some music, some conversation. And the promise of it all over again, whenever we wished to reach out for it.

Time takes the ocean

Once there were the oiled waters and the lapping of the sea. Coils of black kelp ever moving, and a thick silty sand that rose too readily around our feet. A sickly foam, bubbles ripe and undivided upon the surface. The ocean that was a waste, holding all the times we had made hateful.

A scuffed feather reminds me of this – a single discard amongst a drift of little waves, fetching and calling, rolling in mere inches at a time. Pieces of cuttlefish, and lines of nonsense traced in the sand. Rounded pebbles lying high and low, haughty and bruising in grey and golden splendour.

There’s a shift in the winds and my oily sea is forgotten. The brine has the air, the very best of smells and a sharp reminder to the lungs to breathe. With it comes clarity and sunlight, all that lies far from our madness and decay. It is what comes after, when the rest has fallen away.

Air, light, and the bright blue water rubbing our toes and washing over our ankles. We come to it, drawn and unsuspecting, and it feeds us delight. Our sadnesses fall away for a while, our arms reach up to the gulls. A single moment it gives us that we did not have before. An untethered space that does not fit in our mosaic, drifts over our crumbly and well-trodden paths. Reminds us of something new, something untouched. Clear and powerful and utterly beyond our petty manipulation.

An expanse of salt, of all forces intermingled and no edge between here and there. I breathe in the ocean. I lose my boundaries, my past and future. On the scale of a fin our importance is held, in a handful of water our bonds are contained. Light shimmers, water falls, and the sand blows away.

Moments and the machine

It’s 3pm on a Friday. It’s 3pm and the folds are starting to shut down, the meshwork layers falling back in on themselves in a mass of minute electronic arrays. We gather them in as we do every time. The processes have fulfilled their daily cycle, and we bring them back round to the start. These vast metal folds form the heart of our machine that it is our toil to manipulate. Weights and balances. They’re here and we’re there, working through our control hoops, endless movement under the lofty cavern walls. Winding in the thick coils of unrelenting cable, tying up the weights for another day’s shift. Feeling the grit under our feet, the slick metal under our hands, the grit forever in our eyes. The machinists.

By night we sleep, although we do not rest. We look after the machine. The machine that takes time and feeds it back to you who know nothing of us. It will catch up the air-born whorls of moments that drift, spare, far from the world around you. It will cast them to where you, unheeding, may pause and take hold of them for a little while. Every time you stop to look at the shifting skies, feel the breeze on your upturned face, or take the sea air deep into your lungs from the safety of the sand-dusted shore; we were there for you. Us and our machine, giving you the moments of your life wherein you’ll find beauty and wonder.

Without us you’d have no daydreams, no idle minutes spent lingering in faint charm over the clouds in your coffee. You wouldn’t appreciate the laughing child on the swing, stoop to admire the lovingly tended tulips, or marvel at the glint of a river winding through your valley. You are all caught in a steep sharp process of survival, and cannot see or feel outside it without a little help. It’s the machine that makes little pockets of unfettered time for you.

You might call it clearing your mind, or pausing to take a moment. Dwelling upon the unnecessary that will not further your future nor mine. To briefly become aware of the seemingly non-essential, yet being at one with it is everything. Doing this does not come to you naturally, nor with ease. We machinists, who are separate from you in the world, make it happen. Our weighting machine, that we built piece by piece. That folds and unfolds, that moves and swings the balances. Reaches out and gathers time for you. Tended by us who gave up the everyday process of just surviving. Survival was the original machine, and now we work for another that helps free you who remain. We serve you, the unheeding. You who never know why there is that which glitters scattered around the core of toil each of you endure.

Some of you are greedier than others. Taking in so many glances and whispers, awash in a slew of stilled beautiful instants, and so often startlingly aware of it all. New cobwebs amongst the dawn thistles. Attic mirrors, hand-written letters and pressed flowers from a summer long ago. A spring magnolia morning, the rustle of reeds, and the flick of a stickleback’s tail. There are others who do not care for these moments so much, seeing what they could wander into but turning away. They do not know what this may mean for them in the end. The industrious business person, the occupied and fretfel parent. The man huddled under the bridge, the woman crying in the cold house. The disturbed, the egocentric. Some trapped by duty or habit, some by circumstance or fear.

How did any of us come away from there, to here? You may ask, though it’s not a path you’ll ever tread. It’s a place in your mind where you push, and there’s a new direction you know only by the feel of it, and you’re taken away by a guiding hand. To where the asphalt is pattered by strange impish feet, and there is a mind to the wind and a sense to what happens. A place of meaning, and mystery, inexplicable yet without a single chance occurrence that carries no import. A place where the world makes sense for you. A place where anything at all is absolutely possible, from your brightest dreams to your darkest fears – yet it all turns at its centre on a preordained wheel. By weights, and folds, and long, long cables turned by machinists long forgotten who cannot rest. In the between place outside the process of survival, surrounded by wonders we cannot touch.

Spare a thought for us, once in a while, when you feel the sun on your face. When you watch the raindrops splash, or have your breath taken away by a chorus of perfect song. When a loved one opens your heart and there is nothing but light between you. Just spare a thought, and we’ll know, and for a fleeting instant we’ll have a moment of our own.


It’s the time of year when I recall the sunflowers, standing strong and true and blazing. When the outside does call and oh my, the sunshine.

It’s bright and hot and the heat will sink deeply into your skin, warming you through like the best of fires in winter. It relaxes, too – eases the muscles, softens our skin. That’s part of what I like. That and the smells the sun brings forth, so different to the cooler and damper days. Which very much have their own distinct array – of wet leaf and rainwater, of damp stone and cool, pine-laden airs. This is spice and salt though, this sun-bright day. Warm pepperyness mingling with the heavy earth, hints of oil and bitumen amongst the faintest overlay of garden rose and

The sunflowers tower above them all. The scents, our heads, the waves of heat rippling from midday ’til night. Then cast in their fringed shadow and for a moment not seeing them at all, I wonder of if. If this should be said, or if this is repeated. If I’ve already spoken of the rainwater scents and the hoot of an owl, of the deep blue shadows of the night. If I’ve told before of the overhead starring that takes us up and out of ourselves, our land, our world. Of whether in repetition there will be weariness, and that it would be better to lie quietly in awe. To say little at all – but as if differing moments were ever the same, as if their true descriptions might ever weary!

Ifs and whethers are shaken away. Gleaming canary-gold petals catch my eye again. The air is stirring here under a near-blinding midday brightness. There’s a flourish of branches from some silver-tinged tree that hints of willow, but grows like apple. It is duly hacked and shortened each year, only to bounce back with a mop of leafy springing shoots each Spring. It’s often home to the songbirds in the area, who chirp even as our saws and grinders whine into the summer air with a hint of nostalgia.

Grass mowers, woodcutters and rotary timber saws are the sounds of a summer childhood. My summer childhood. A continuous thrum of machinery noise in the background makes a welcome accompaniment to warmth and light. Crushed slate pressing into my shoulder blades, the bitumen softening under my fingertips. Smelling pine sap, finding dried old cherry stones.

Funny, the things that can make up a pleasure and a memory. Peeling blue paint and staring at the tips of white shoes. Girlish smiles and sudden laughter. The sunflower nods and the summer ticks on, the delight of life unutterably precious.

The majesty of film

That moment when the music descends and there – all of a sudden you’re in the life of a film, however fleeting, and reality contracts around your vision. You don’t understand why the music does what it does, or quite where you’ve gone, but you crave it all the same.

There’s a hole in the sky, it’s shifting and you’re the only one looking for it, seeing it. There’s an avenue of trees, and an old lady passing by with her history hanging over her shoulders. Worn stones lie before your feet, warmed by the sun. A flicker of light on the water – shouting louder than the babble of sudden street voices that bind you in to their story nonetheless. It all says nothing about you, but feels so buoyant, so grand.

Yet this time will pass, and that one, and another. You slip from one delicious fiction to another. Until you reach the one that doesn’t reward you, the one that stands still and unveiled in mystery. Where you are no more than you are, and you’ll scream at the indignity of it. Feel little, and bared, as if some sort of magic has fallen away.

Where we will all be children again, as small and as sacred to each other as we ever were.

Back to the forest

I’ll go back to the forest, back to where it all began. Amidst the leaf mould vapours and the crackle of the tan. It gives, it crumbles, it slides beneath our feet – the earthen forest floor that embraces all it meets. Rot clutches wood and seed settles soil, and so renewal’s sown when time’s given toil.

A dewpoint held still by the smother of branches. A cool stream slipping by, and it rattles, it’s choked; flat pebbles and needles and twigs all amok. Fine tendrils of mist gracing the quieter pools. Glassy reflections of vast, cloud-scudded halls.

Down under the canopy, deep under the canopy, we can rest, we can sigh. Sounds captured in strands, passed by limbs to the floor – where wood rots to earth, in fragments, no more. A fern will unfurl, seen by unknowing eyes, and the breath from a pelt will puff out as it cries.

Along this rough bark in this deep fragrant mire, we’ll toss out our worries, we’ll wrestle and cry. It takes off our feathers, one piece by one. Then we’ll fall down, and we’ll shiver, and we’ll sob for the sun.

Yet the forest is quiet, and it’ll shelter us still. It’ll give naught more than impressions, take less than we will. For the forest is busy, feeding its cubs – the wood, and the water, and the crumbling muds.

Man and a rock

Make art, they told us. Don’t think, just do! Our little group – all of us deemed malfunctioning in some manner – had looked on blankly. Some in defiance, most in actual blankness. Chosen mindlessness, that is. It’s possible here to immerse yourself in dream while appearing to otherwise function normally. Shift your mind to its chosen dreamstate and you’ll still blink, breathe, move and nod or shake your head as needed. When you’re being shuffled from room to room to do little more than sleep and eat and defecate, it’s a good way out. No thinking, no wondering. No remembering the doors we cannot pass, the world we cannot reach. Yet I refuse to do it. Apparently this is a manifestation of my reluctance to deny or accept reality as it is. Their reality, I would add. That’s how I’ve always thought of it.

My name is Martin. I’ve been a little unusual for as long as people have been pointing it out to me. Apparently I see things a little differently, but it makes people, other people, uncomfortable. They twitch and mumble, apologise and wander away. We don’t quite see each other, and that’s how it’s always been.

Our art class, then. A once-a-week, Thursday afternoon slot where we were led by the hand to a room of tables and paper, pencils and inks, paint pots and modelling clay. No chairs, though. There is a theory that seating leads to indolence, and they think that all aspects of our awareness need rekindling to their level of perception. Their limited, unseeing perception – but on such a mass scale that it’s normality. Trauma has upset how we see the world, they claim. And there’s more of them than us so they’re the law. The odds are stacked against us however you look at it – we’re a few, and no-one quite likes us or what we can say, or think. I’ve been slowly becoming more interested in what that means we can do differently, though. It’s a little explored area. I’m about to embark on a bit of discovery in this art class, sloughing the more habitual indifference. Indolence.

We’ve shuffled into a circle about the tables, a small deep-grained wooden surface in front of each of us and materials to hand. It’s another white room with softly curving walls, but this one has windows. Near the ceiling they’re open, letting in some air. I stare for a little while at the untouchable outdoors, assuming we’re not being shown projections. If it’s truly what’s out there then it looks as if there’s just ocean and sky. Flat grey ocean, faintly rippled grey sky. No rocks, no sunbeams, no buildings, no sign of anyone else. I’m not sure there are even many others holed up in this tall old building. Maybe it’s just us, forming a circle in this room.

One or two are so shifted out to dreamstate that they’ve had pencils placed in their hands, and they’re just doodling. It’s near automatic movement, just lines and spirals that curl off the page. Sometimes these are analysed or played back to the artiste Rorschach style, to see what they think of them. They’re just involuntary twitches though. The hand jerks one way or another because they thought of ice cream, of the grit in their shoe or of when a grasshopper chirped. Dreamstate isn’t complex or else the other functioning doesn’t happen. Just simple moments strung together, unchallenging and unchallenged. You can see why it’s attractive when you’re in a place like this. We’re held in a web of monotony, and seemingly if we even made it outside there’d be nowhere for us to go.

There’s only really two of us in the room, then, along with the tutor. My companion, a beetle-browed mutterer called John, has found some chalks. He doesn’t shift to dream much, just carries on as he is and mutters to himself. It never makes sense to the rest of us. There again that’s why we’re here – not one of us makes sense to anyone else.

John is blending tones in endless stripes across the page. He likes lines. He told me once that he likes it best when the lines merge and fade in and out of one another. Then he’d said that he’d told them this once and that they hadn’t liked it at all. I guessed I was missing some context, because that seemed a bit strange even for their minds. Nonetheless they let him work on these endless striped pages, and so he continued. Muttering. Unsettling our watchers, but only a little.

Some modelling clay lay on my table. I thought about it for a bit. What do they expect? I wondered. What can I make that’ll really put the cat amongst the stuffy ol’ pigeons?

The pigeons have some rather detailed tomes on how the world works, although they’re always revising it. Delving deeper, as far as I can tell – subdividing to an ever smaller scale and apparently never seeing the gelling whole. It struck me, at that moment, that perhaps they didn’t know about that. How everything came together, to my mind. It seemed like the kind of thing that would blur the lines, ruffle some feathers. I mentally shrugged. Might as well give it a try, I thought. They didn’t seem to have any idea of letting us out any time soon, and I wasn’t giving in to the dreamstate. Not yet, not until I had to.

Black and grey clays. I worked them with my fingers and palms, moulding pieces and blending them a little in places. Shades of grey. Formed curving shapes and little bent sticks. Sticks that became branches, worked onto fine strips of bark and a trunk. A tree was forming under my hands without my quite realising it. Small, stubby, looked as if it had grown up on the shore – weathered and beaten and saltstruck. I let the branches feather out, working steadily and surely. The tree spanned the space of a small globe with its outreaching limbs and roots. As if it were trying to take a breath, breathing, taking in one air and expelling another. Shifting nutrients and water and gas, only it was all clay. Tiny little particles of clay. So small they almost weren’t there.

Breathe! I thought suddenly. Under my fingers this little ensemble had come together and now – I felt it come alive. An extraordinary sensation ran through me. I could see it moving. It was shifting gently in the breeze that crossed the room, a current that blew right to the feet of the tutor. Just at that moment she looked up. She saw me, and my tree, and its soft impossible undulations. She saw us, and for the first time I’d ever known someone saw me.

This didn’t make them very happy though. They took me, and my tree, away. Left John to his muttering and the rest to their mind-numbed sketches. The tomes I told you about, they don’t say anything about letting clay trees work like that. Don’t allow them a little cycle of their own going on because it’s not something that already exists. To them it’s new – it’s just subdividing though. Break it down and I can see the same things moving around. If you can see how they all stick together you can turn them about a bit. Make clay breathe and maybe have the air fall down as tiny little motes of solid dust.

They put me in a new room. I couldn’t keep the tree – although I took a tiny half handful of clay while they weren’t looking, hid it in a pocket. Later I made a small model. Just a pebble, looks like a simple rock. Only it shifts ever so slightly if you watch it carefully and I know it’s breathing. Breathing, like me. In my new room, with air that fits the descriptions in their tomes. Most of the time. I think I can make this air into dust, too – they won’t notice. They’re still unsettled by the tree.

They keep asking me questions, and once they brought the tutor in. She wouldn’t look me in the eye. I didn’t say anything that time. They later told me she was finding it hard, especially dealing with the hypnosis. Apparently I’d hypnotised her. I asked them about the tree, then. They didn’t say anything about that. Asked me if I’d like to shift to dreamstate and draw them some theories they could take a look at. I told them what to do with the pen and paper, and they left. Guess they didn’t like what I had to say then, not at all.

So now I’m waiting. Something is going to change, and soon – they’ve told me some other people are coming. I might get to leave this room. Me and my rock – they still haven’t seen it. The last time they came for one of their chats I left it in the middle of the bare floor, and not one of them saw it right there. Inhaling quietly when they breathed out. What it takes and what it keeps is its own business – I like it though. It’s kind of a pet. An unusual pet – malfunctioning in just a perfect way. I think it sees me, in its own manner. It feels as if I have a connection. Not as brilliant nor as fleeting as that moment with the tutor, but a link nonetheless. What the pigeons don’t know is how searingly, blindingly wonderful that feels.

Now – if only I could make all of them see. All of them. Just a matter of time, I figure. So I wait, I wait and I will see. We breathe.