Turning the volume up on the phone, the harsh chords of guitars, the pounding drum beats, the screamed vocals almost painfully loud, the bud type earphones vibrating as they try to cope with the load being pushed through them. Each new message received just pushes the anger higher, transforming it to a seething rage, a white hot fury, the urgent passion of the songs holding the worst excesses of the anger at bay but it is only a temporary fix, a short term reprieve and the anger returns, harder, deeper, cutting into the flesh in razor straight lines. The anger is always there, a background static hiss that has come to symbolise continuing life, almost a heartbeat, something felt moment by moment that proves that existence has yet to be extinguished…
Standing motionless, eyes closed, breathing slowly, allowing the stress and worries to sink through my body into the damp ground under my feet. The rain pattering gently on the roof of the old riding school a steady drumbeat to which I respond, swaying slightly, my hands hanging loose by my side. A voice beside me brings me back into the present, slowly opening my eyes, my mind clear, focused. Across the school, thirty metres away stands the big, chestnut gelding, the horse I have been watching for the last three months. His head is down, sniffing the cool arena surface, his ears relaxed. I watch him for a moment longer, smiling softly as I take another deep breath, becoming hyper aware of Blaze, the rest of the school melting into a dim background. I study him, the way he stands, the set of his muscles, his ears, constantly mobile, scanning. I take my first step towards him, another, another, his head lifts slightly, right ear turning towards me, his eye monitoring my movement. I pause, feeling the energy flowing between us, sensing that he is wary, unsure.I soften my body, relaxing and opening myself to connect with him more strongly, smiling as he half turns, head lowering again, a first tentative step towards me. He pauses, I move one step, another, another, slowly closing the gap between us, constantly watching him, reading his body language, his non-verbal communication with me, as though we are the only two beings in the World, the focus intense. He moves again, turning further, watching me for signs of my intent, my reason for approaching him. I pause, allowing him scope to gather the information he needs from me, letting him settle again, showing him through my posture, my eye contact, my stillness that I am no threat to him.
He relaxes again, taking the first steps towards me, head still low, watching, head moving from side to side as he slowly edges nearer. I wait, time stretching, dilating as the urge to go to him grows more powerful, but I hold myself still, waiting, patient, allowing him to set the pace, the scope on the interaction, allowing him to tell me what he wants from me as I am telling him what I want from him. He steps again, nickering softly, the first sounds between us apart from the soft rain on the roof. My heartbeat slows again as I breath deeply, relaxing further into the moment as I feel the energy flowing between us. To my eyes he glows, his energy an iridescent bubble, interacting with mine creating a boundary effect of myriad rainbow hues, swirling colours that complement each other, that blend together and in that moment I know that this is right. A deep sense of peace and love fills my being. He pauses again, ten metres from me now, his energy inviting me in and I respond, not with aggression or dominance but with kinship, a bond that foes beyond words, beyond comprehension at an intellectual level, something that is felt deep inside where the brains influence over the body is weakest. I step, again, again, close now, pausing, slightly lifting my right hand, offering connection, and he responds, stepping to cover the gap between us, moving towards me, slowly, but without fear, without hesitation, as if he is enjoying this as much as me….I inhale, a deep, cleanising breath, slowly blowing the air from my lungs, feeling my lips vibrate, lowering my eyes to my hand as I feel his nose connect with my skin, touching lightly, a single tear running down my cheek…..
“The disguise is carefully selected to match location and cover. There is no point dressing for a building site to try to infiltrate a corporate boardroom. Similarly there is no point wearing a tailored suit to a union meeting. Anything that stands out is a problem so research is paramount. It’s all about credibility, and that only comes from getting it right, down to the last detail. That can’t be rushed, it’s why these things take time. People don’t understand that any more, they thing it’s easy to just storm in and get the job done but that leaves no scope for finesse, for style, for the satisfaction of a job done well with a minimum of collateral damage. There was a time when professionalism actually counted for something, but those days seem nothing more than a distant memory, which is something of a shame. Anyone can go out and get one job done but to be consistent, to get the job done and get away successfully, to be able to repeat that process over and over again takes the skill of the craftsman. That’s where I tend to come in. I’m not cheap, and I’m not easy to find but if the job requires the skills that I have honed over the last thirty years then I’m worth finding because chances are fairly high that no-one else is going to be able to do the job successfully.”
I was sitting at the back table of the coffee shop, back to the wall, away from the street windows, away from the passing trade of the counter, watchful, dressed in plain beige slacks, a pale blue t-shirt and blue blazer, loafers, no socks, typical coffee shop boho chic, maybe an advertising exec on a break, maybe a creative from one of the local offices, fitting in, blending in seamlessly. I was doing most of the talking, unusually for me. I don’t remember the last time I opened up like this but I guess there comes a point when someone comes along at just the right moment with just the right angle to make it interesting. I’d done my due dilligence, naturally, my guest sitting directly opposite me was known to several of my contacts. A reporter for a local daily, on the downward leg of a career that had seen them working at the highest levels of politics and international relations, reporting fearlessly on some of the biggest stories of the last twenty five years, bringing down two governments and finishing the careers of several politicians and industrialists as well as reporting against the mainstream on several conflicts around the World. I smiled internally, wondering for a moment if I should tell her that I twice turned down contracts on her because I approved of what she was doing. Would she appreciate that degree of candour? She must know that she had been, and to an extent still was, a high value target. She had upset a lot of powerful people over the years and you don’t make enemies like she had without quickly becoming aware of it. I knew that she had been shot several times, and that it hadn’t dampened her zeal, or her passion for the truth.
She didn’t ask many questions, I’d told her I had a story to tell and she respected that, just sitting quietly drinking her black coffee, taking notes in her own shorthand rather than recording my words electronically, something I appreciated. She let me talk, at my own pace, in my own order, slightly rambling but generally coherent I think, getting my story out in my own way. I knew that what I was slowly revealing was shocking, even to her, the depths of the rabbit hole far darker than even someone who has lived that life would think unless they had really explored to the very limits of possibility. I didn’t want this to be a full warts and all biography. I’m sure there are plenty of psychologists who would love to get me on the couch and pick apart my childhood and early years to find the root causes of my particular brand of mental distress that led me down the path I ended up on, but if I’m honest with myself I think I would have ended up the way I am whatever had happened. I think I was hard wired this way, the neural connections put in place way before any environmental factors started to shift them slightly. I genuinely believe that some people are just born to do the difficult jobs, make the difficult choices and make them without compassion or fear or feeling, without hesitation. The military trainers know this, looking out for these characteristics and shaping them further to make the best snipers and point men, people who act without compassion. I think I’m just an extreme example. I never needed that extra training…..
Drawing the breath deeply into my lungs, the air heavy with the promise of rain. A warm Summer day in August as I board the train, heading to my secret passion, my chance to get away from all the stress, all the anxiety, all the drama of my day to day existance. I can feel the weight on my shoulders lifting as the train sets off, the music from my headphones isolating me from the rest of the passengers as I focus on the screen in front of me, trying to capture the moment, the feelings, the release that I can already feel building. My days are a blur of jumbled thoughts forming and dissipating over and over, whirling through my overactive mind, images spinning and twisting, my body responding with adrenalin dumps that make my heart race and the breath catch in my throat, the peaks and troughs of fluctuating mental health made worse by the stress of having to perform, of having to wear my masks that allow me to function in a World that was not created for a mind like mine. This is my release, my break, my chance to be myself, to relax and let the tension fall away, the burden slipping from my shoulders.
As the miles flash by, the urban structures giving way to green fields and trees I feel the strain easing, each breath coming easier. The journey isn’t long but the feeling is a million miles away from the things that damage me every day. Leaving the train my footsteps are lighter, easier, my back and hips moving more freely, every step bringing me closer to my joy, my happiness, my true place. Walking up the lane towards the yard I catch my first scent of equus, the unmistakeable smell of horses, a smell that unclenches my jaw. The gate ahead of me, I lift my voice, calling…. the response is immediate, a snort, the wickering of a horse greeting a friend after a period of absence. He stands at the gate, chestnut coat gleaming in the bright sunlight, his four white legs spattered with mud as we slowly touch, my hand outstretched, his muzzle brushing my fingers. I run my hand along his neck, his shoulder, his withers, fingers slipping into his mane, gripping lightly as i spring upwards, my leg slipping over his back, pulling myself up to sit astride my boy.
Clicking my tongue softly, squeezing with my legs he takes a step forward, turning as I turn my head, our thoughts connected as he relaxes with me, the union of horse and rider complete as he responds to my instructions, my wishes. We move through the paces as we cross the grassy field, a brief moment of trot before he accelerates at my urging, into canter, leaning forward over his neck as the speed increases, the wind whipping his mane, my hair as a rebel yell breaches my lips unbidden, shouting my joy to the wind as we take flight, a man and his horse, free, unfettered, unleashed…. I will never be trapped again as our spirits soar one last time, slipping away together….
It’s not easy, some days are better than others, but I don’t remember a time when I was without some degree of pain. Not the day to day mundane aches and twinges associated with growing older, not the general wear and tear that forty plus years puts on a body, but the pain of injury, of disease, of things going wrong in significant ways. I guess the fact that they are all to a greater or lesser extent self inflicted makes a difference in terms of how I feel about them. Each pain comes with a story, a narrative that arcs through my life from incident to incident, the degree of risk and foolishness of the incident and the severity of the resulting injury adding colour to an otherwise unremarkable life. At least to me, but I’m very aware that other people find me fascinating. I can’t help that. I try to be reserved, to blend in, to fit within the confines of the wider society, but if you set out from an early age to experience more than those around you, if you go out of your way to push yourself, to discover yourself through experiment and endeavour, then you are bound to stand out to some degree, no matter how hard you try not to. I knew that I was being watched for quite a while. Little clues, hints, the people who had started following my online presence. The approaches I received when out and about, the people who seemed to want to spend time around me. I put a lot of those feelings down to paranoia, not surprising given where my hobbies were taking me. I was doing a lot of reading and writing about some fairly dark activities carried out during the post War and cold war periods, highly questionable acts performed in the name of national security. I guess it was inevitable that thinking about the nefarious activities of those in charge would heighten my awareness of a perceived threat to my own wellbeing.
The pain helps in some ways, it keeps me grounded, reminding me that this is real, that I haven’t fallen down some rabbit hole into a parallel set of dimensions, an alternative reality in which nothing is as it seems and nothing can be trusted. As long as the pain is constant and unchanging I know that it isn’t all just in my head, that I really am on the right track, even if that track goes to some pretty scary places….
The journey branches endlessly, fibonacci would question his mathematics, the arguments for sacred geometry, golden ratios and ages appear momentarily valid…the pain eases, and in that easing I know I’ve missed my turning, I know I’m running down one of the many quasi-real alternative realities, there are so many, alternatives that seem so very real, so very plausible that if I didn’t have the pain to guide me I might be quickly taken in by, but I stay focused, using my pain as a guide, questioning everything, questioning even seemingly safe assumptions on the basis that my beliefs are not my reality, but that my reality informs my beliefs. The mental gymnastics of trying to keep hold of so many disparate strands almost overwhelming as the threads tangle, the lines cross. A moment of enlightenment and the path opens once again, another strand, another part of the story, another fragment of narrative. The pain remains constant, some days better than others, but I know what the pain is for now, and I know that without it I’m lost, adrift, helpless to navigate through the traumatic detritus of misdirection and mayhem….
…. It’s not easy, but nothing worth holding on to is….
The dark of the night seemed to crowd in on the windows of the workshop, hidden away between the trees at the bottom of the garden path. The plain concrete slabs forming the walls held in place by the steel frame, the structure topped by a raft of corrugated iron sheets, painted a dull olive green to blend in with the encroaching foliage. One door and three windows are the only access to the structure, the frosted glass in the frames preventing the observer from seeing more than the diffuse light inside and the occasional shadow as the occupant moved inside. A solitary figure, now pacing, now bent over some undiscerned task, now blocking the light, now disappearing from view into the deeper recesses of the building. For six months, every night the occupant had walked the path from the house to the workshop, always alone, always with a preoccupied air of someone with too much on her mind. Always dressed in the same manner, bib fronted coveralls and a long sleeved sweatshirt, industrial workboots and a knitted wollen cap, unmindful of the prevailing weather conditions the clothing taking on the essence of a uniform, workwear for an undefined task. Her previous life, her routines, established over fifteen years service to the military-industrial complex, and before that five years of undergraduate and postgraduate study at some of the most prestigious universities in the country, has embedded in her a sense of order and structure that is impossible to break. The pressure of a woman operating in the extremely male envionment of engineering and even more so military engineering research has given her a single-minded determination and an intensity of focus that precludes mundane concerns of fashion or social interaction.
A bright, sharp light flashes within the workshop, the harsh actinic blue glare of an arc welder, the sputter and fizz of molten metal as pieces are fused together. The cover of the trees and the postion of the structure make accidental observation almost impossible. An observer would have to know what they were looking for in order to discern anything of the activity inside. She was on a watch list, everyone associated with the projects she had worked on until she walked away six months ago was. High security risks, high risk of being tartget by the opposition. Security awareness had been drilled into her early in her career, and as with her style of dress, had remained with her, ingrained in her psyche. Her routine, though rigid, allowed for variation of working hours, of movements, strategies designed to confuse and disorientate any watchers trying to establish a pattern of behaviour in their target. Her personal security awareness paying dividends now as her personal project neared completion. The security extended to the sourcing of materials, a trick learned fully seventy years earlier by minds more attuned to subterfuge than hers. The secrecy surrounding the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic bomb, no supplier being given enough material orders to guess at the eventual use, the secret being kept despite hundereds of thousands on people with a small amount of knowledge but no idea of the bigger picture. It had made sourcing materials far harder but she slept more soundly knowing that she had done everything she could to avoid detection.
Raw power,. uncontrolled, fleet footed, muscles bunching under the skin as the horse gallops across the field enjoying the warmth of the latwe spring sun on his back. I lean on the gate, watching, smiling, feeling the stress of the last few days draining from my body into the ground at my feet, running off me like water cascading down my body in the shower. I lower my eyes for a moment, draw a deep breath, and, cupping my hands around my mouth, whistle loud and long. The horse stops, turning his head to look towards me, whinying in recognition. I smile again as he accelerates into a trot, les crossing the grassy field as he approaches. I climb the gate, entering the field as he nears, standing, waiting as he trots over, circling away once before slowing to a walk and approaching, muzzle lowered, as I, eyes down, extend my hand, fingers open, palm up. His nose touches my hand and I feel the hot breath from his nostrils as he snorts, renewing our friendship, reaffirming our bond in his own language, a physical language of gesture and posture, one which I have learned as we have grown up together.
I stroke his cheek, running my hand down his neck as I move closer, his head over my shoulder as he nuzzles my back, the connection strong, growing as we stand together, a man and his horse, a connection stretching back to the earliest domestication of animals. The horse and the dog were the first and it shows as I feel the history of my ancestors, men and women of the horse through the generations. The feeling comforts me as I rest my head against his shoulder, my arms around his neck, finally at peace amidst the wreckage of my shattered psyche. This is the therapy I need, not words, not medication, just the connection with another living being who asks nothing of me other than to be treated with respect, who demands nothing of me that I am not willing to give, who will never hurt me unless I make a mistake. I am at peace, at rest, and I feel my heart beat slow as I breath in the sweet smell of his sweat, burying my face in his neck as the tears begin to fall…..
Am I? Are you? Does anyone really care? Define it, go on…What is happy? How do you know? A smile? A laugh? They can be faked, forced. The rush of endorphins in the brain on an fMRI scan? That can be induced by all sorts of things! What’s the point in happy? What purpose does it serve other than to beat down those who don’t feel it for being less worthy, less perfect, somehow fundamentally wrong and flawed for not being able to experience happy, not being able to shake the black dog every day and bounce around like a grinning idiot on command. Maybe, just maybe it isn’t me who is broken…. maybe, just maybe it’s the inability to see anything to be happy about in this World of shit and pain where brother kills brother, father, sister, mother, this World where life is measured in dollar values, where the press and the politicians are wined and dined by the same fat wallets and corporate expense accounts, where nothing is too extreme, nothing is too corrupted to be considered possible, where planet wide genocide and biocide are commonplace, where life is no longer sacred, where the very building blocks of life are for sale at any price.
Give me a break, and have one yourself while you are at it. Don’t think happy is everything, anything but a word, that it is an aspiration, it really ain’t, not until we have something to be happy about….and that day is a long way off once you step outside your little bubble life….
Sitting, headphones jammed into my ears hard, blocking out the world outside as, eyes closed, the music swells transcending the limitations of the cheap speakers, the flawed digital source to blend within the filters of my mind into the crescendo of a live performance, the passion, the sweat, the energy, the anger, the screaming guitars and souring vocals scouring my soul over and over as the music fills me, bringing sweet oblivion from stress and dis-ease. Without bidding my thigh muscles begin to twitch in time with the pumping drum track below the bass. I can’t fight this even if I wanted to…my toes push against the inside of my boots, lifting, pausing, waiting for…..the beat, the lashing, cracking, deep, velvet, purple beat of that bass drum foot pedal crashing the head of the beater against the taut skin, the reverb backlash of the bass beat pounding, driving the bass line faster, harder, the toes slamming down, fury, anger released against stress that has brought me to this point, this need for freedom from pain, lost in the music of my youth, the lost and jilted generation, the post-war pre-millenials, the misfits, the outcasts, the lost boys…..the only ones
Deep brown, rich, fertile soil,. turned by spade and fork, improved by the addition of humic matter, the vegetable remnants of the previous season mixed with the waste from the local stable yard, horse shit and straw, the composting material changing the soil structure and adding much needed nutrients to the ground. Dug in in the autumn and allowed to work it’s magic over the cold, dormant winter, the warmth of the sun in spring completing the process as the spade once again turns the soil, integrating the rich matter into the ground. The soil worked, broken down, refined to a fine tilth in preparation for planting. In the potting shed, compost fills pots and trays in preparation for the seeds, the beginning of the long process of back garden horticulture, the “grow your own” hobby that provides relaxation, joy, and healthy crops to the family, reducing their reliance on shops and large scale agribusiness. Each seed sown in the shed is tended with loving care, watered, monitored, the temperature checked and adjusted as germination and growth transforms the small brown seed into leaf, and stem, and root, the potential unleashed as the young seedling grows rapidly, tracking the sun, increasing in height and strength towards the day that it is ready for planting out.
The calloused hands of the gardeners, a couple, mature, the rough edges knocked off by life, tender as they transfer the peat pots and plastic trays from the potting shed to the prepared ground of the vegetable plot. Trowels and small forks open the ground to accept the young plants, welcoming them as they are firmed in, earthed up, watered, tended. Beans, with their bamboo frames for support, brassicas, brocolli, cauliflower, sprouts, cabbage,then the onions and shallots, the leeks, the potatoes, lovingly chitted in the warm dark of the airing cupboard. In the greenhouse the tomatoes and peppers, cucumbers and bedding plants. A cornucopia of cropping plants growing to provide the gardners with sustainable and health meals through the late summer and autumn. The simple joy of sitting amongst the growing crops watching the wheel of the year turn as they ripen towards maturity, the pleasure of a well tended and productive garden. The reward for the efforts of cultivation….