The light at the end of the tunnel

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Willows weeping for Dartford

By the banks of the river Darenth that skirts through a far corner of Dartford municipal park, Jonah sat on a bench and gazed at the weeping willows. There was sadness in his heart. Things had gone pear-shaped with Anna-Belle and she was no longer talking to him, said she never wanted to see him again in her life. Never, jamais, ever, she’d shouted. And he’d had such high hopes for a future with her ever since the day he’d chanced upon her, after an absence of thirty years or more, sitting in the King’s Head in Bexley Village reading War and Peace. But no. Nothing had gone according to plan. Would it ever?

It was a beautiful early autumn afternoon, and the park was virtually empty except for clusters here and there of school children who had bunked off for the day. Young boys and girls chatting and smoking and struggling to act cool under the fierce impact of their impetuous adolescent hormones.

And in Jonah’s head, that tune that had been haunting him ever since he’d woken earlier that morning. You can’t always get what you want, no you can’t always get what you want, you can’t always get what you want, but you just might get what you need. The voice of Mick Jagger, the voice of Jonah’s adolescence. He’d grown up with the Stones’ music, every party he’d ever gone to, back in the days, the same old songs blasting out of the stereo, you can’t always get what you want. No satisfaction!

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Let’s play Blow-Up. Can you spot the heron? Click on photo to enlarge.

Raising his head, Jonah looked across the river and spotted through a narrow clearing in the forest, perched on a tall palisade, a large heron. At first he thought it was a statue, the bird was so still. But then it moved its beak. What, he wondered, was going through the heron’s mind? Pointless speculation. The heron knew nothing of Anna-Belle, knew nothing of his troubles, lived in a parallel universe in which instinct ruled the day, not love. Herons always got what they wanted, he mused.

On his way into the park, Jonah had stopped off at the Library to enquire about the location of the no-expenses-spared monument to Mick Jagger. He’d often heard of the existence of this tribute to a local hero, but had never managed to locate it. He spoke to Chris, a volunteer librarian and was told that the Brancusi-inspired art work dedicated to Jagger was at the far end of the park, where it tapered off into woodland, close to the Brooklands lake. Why had it been sited in such a remote spot, Jonah asked. That would be because the council wanted to discourage Japanese tourists from trampling all over the flower beds, Chris explained. Some things are logical and some things are not, Jonah thought to himself.

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Monument to Mick Jagger

Nevertheless, the sun was out and the air in his lungs was fresh and wholesome, so he picked himself up and sticking close to the mighty river, he trudged off in the direction he had been told to follow. And sure enough, after a good thirty minutes trek, with sweat breaking out across his brow, there it was, Mick Jagger in all his glory, beautifully captured, microphone in hand, in an exhilarating dance pose, craftily wrought in wrought iron. The thick crust of rust on the iron merely conspired to enhance the natural quality of the sculpture which would not have been out of place on the sea front in Cannes, where the Stones had spent some of their time in tax exile in years gone by and best forgotten now. There it was finally! And next to it a monument to Vox amplifiers, a product manufactured in Dartford in the fifties and which had helped fuel the rock and roll revolution, delivering decibels to the millions. Thoughtfully, a narrow bench had been provided for those whose knees felt a little weak at the sight of this magnificent, astonishingly lifelike representation of their idol. Jonah stood in contemplative silence. He thought of Anna-Belle for a moment and muttered a silent prayer. You can’t always get what you want.

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Darenth flora

Despondently, he resumed his long march by the riverside until he came to a long long tunnel. He paused at the mouth of this cavernous construction. Suddenly there was music, sweet music, the celestial sound of Handel’s Water Music, emanating from this vast, brick-lined vault. He could not believe his ears; music, the food of love! And in the background the gushing sound of rushing water merrily tipping over the weir. And as he advanced into the dark tunnel, right there before his eyes, at the very end, as though an epiphany, a message from the gods, at the far end, a brilliant patch of light appeared: at last there was hope and there was light. Something inside Jonah trembled and for a moment his vision blurred and his head began to spin. Was he about to swoon? Was this his footpath to Damascus? It was as though his whole life had been building up to this moment of revelation. All the bitterness, all the hurt he had suffered at the heartless hands of Anna-Belle, just slipped away, dropped from his shoulders like a hairshirt he was no longer obliged to wear. His soul was naked and pure and bright. Here before him, life was renewed. He was free, free at last. Free of Anna-Belle, free from the past, free from the endless pillow-pounding sleepless nights, free from the grey drudgery of loveless days. Nothing would ever be the same. He had found it. Eldorado. Nirvana. The grail. Now nothing but the untrammelled future lay before him. Fresh pastures green. New love. He had found it. Just what he needed. Sweet, soft music to his ears. The light. The light at the end of the tunnel.

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Dartford’s musical tunnel of light

A sad note from the editors

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Count Dracula at his country estate

We regret to announce the immediate cessation of our agreement with the author of the Jonah and Anna-Belle saga. It would appear from everything that Dr Van Helsing has told us that our poor colleague’s recovery may at best take a lifetime, and at worst may never happen. 

In addition, recent figures have shown that the readership for the installments of this sorry saga has dwindled almost to nothing. It seems that the busy busy people of today’s digital Candy Crush age have no interest in the lives and loves of our eponymous heroes. Some will even go as far as to say “good riddance” when they read this news. So be it! Jonah and Anna-Belle are now doomed to go their separate ways for all eternity!

The pastiche of Bram Stoker’s language used in the portrayal of the Dutch Dr. Van Helsing, (originally summoned to Whitby by Jonathan Harker to protect Lucy and Mina from the attacks of Count Dracula), has fallen particularly flat. It may have been worth a try, and there is no dishonour in admitting that it failed miserably to capture our readers’ imagination. Bram Stoker’s ground-breaking Gothic novel is, however, still heartily recommended.

 

Dr Van Helsing’s bulletin on health of Jonah author

The distinguished Dutch psychiatrist, Dr Van Helsing, has kindly just sent us this bulletin on the health of our dear colleague, the author of the saga of Jonah and Anna-Belle, who has been returned to the secure NHS facility in Whitby, following a two-day absence, after absconding from those premises. Some readers may recall that he was found only last night in the vicinity of Bromley South railway station.

In the interests of forensic science we have refrained from sub-editing the good doctor’s English for fear that we might reduce the powerful impact of this woeful narrative:


Whitby secure NHS facility, Saturday 29 August 2015

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Exterior view of window bars

So I go pay visit to the patient in his room, and he is pale and thin and his green eyes are drawn and he is sit on the corner of his bed closest to window. He don’t react when I enter his room and so I stand in silence and I observe his mannerism. First he count the fingers of the left hand “One, two, three, four, five.” He stare at the fingers and say: “Nothing changes.” Then he repeat the exercise with his right hand, like so: “One, two three, four, five.” And again he say “Nothing changes.” This procedure he repeat a number of times as if never going to stop.

And now I step forward and I ask him, “My dear boy, what never change?” Here he look at me with those deep sorrow filled eyes of his and he say: “Nothing. Nothing changes.” And he turn and look away out the window. “Who is Jonah?” I ask him. He answer without look me in the eye. “Jonah is a sailor.” “And Anna-Belle,” I ask. “Who is Anna-Belle?” He pause, he turn now to look me again in the eye and he say. “Why Anna-Belle is the girl of Jonah’s dreams, of course.” “Yes, yes, my dear boy. But do these people really exist? This Jonah and this Anna-Belle, are they not mere figleafs of your fertile, dare I say febrile imagination?” Now he look at me hard and enquiring, from head to toe he look at me, and then he say: “Of course they are real. I created them, and they are real and I hate to see either one of them suffer.”

I am truly amaze and baffle, I never see a case like. So dysfunctioning, so severe! He appear not to distinguish between reality and the stuffing and nonsense of fiction, so it is as though this Anna-Belle and this Jonah are living and breathing humane beings. Most astonishing for a man of his quite obvious sensitiveness and intellect. Most concerning.

So I say to him, thinking to go along with his delusion in order observe the path it lead, I say to him, “Tell me about this Jonah and this Madame Anna-Belle. Why you so worry about them, why you absconded from this place? What you hope to achieve?” Now he smile at me and open up, and relax spread wide upon his gentle features and he take deep breath and he talk: “Jonah and Anna-Belle were old friends from their childhood days. They grew up more or less side by side in two families that were very close. But life separated them and for years and years they never saw one another nor heard a word. Until one day they meet again and discover that neither of them is currently married. And Jonah sees that Anna-Belle is just as pretty and lively and feisty as ever she was in their youth and he feels the old spark reignite and he falls for her. They have this great common history, and as the days pass, the banter between them when they converse is electric and it is as though they were never apart, and it feels too that they should never have parted and that now they have rediscovered each other they should be together for ever and ever, and part no more. Nevertheless, there is a fly in this ointment, an imbalance, if you like: despite the deep deep feelings that Jonah professes to her, Anna-Belle does not fully reciprocate, and she insists on dating someone else and fails to respond to Jonah’s heartfelt pleas.”

Here this delicate over-sensitized soul pause to wipe a tear from his left eye, and I take advantage of the moment to jump in and I say to him, “But my dear boy. This is the stuffing of fairy stories, the stuffing of Hollywood. You surely cannot believe this ‘happily ever after’ finale crap, it is like the believing in the Santa Klaus or the Teeth Fairy, or the little leprechauns at the end of the Irish gardens.

Suddenly he grow tense, his fists clench. He lift his little green eyes and point them dagger-like right into mine and he say: “Dr Van Helsing. If you are not going to take me seriously, I will not say another word to you. Ever. EVER!”

At this point my face redden slightly and a cold sweat come upon me and I realise I push too hard: a mark has been stepped across and it better to press no further in my elucidations. And so I say to him in my best bedside, “Yes yes, now you should get some rest, my dear boy, and not overexert your mental facilities. We can continue our conversation in another time.” And so diploma-like I withdraw, but as I so do I perceive that his eyes have once again swung round to focus upon the window, and upon whatever else he see beneath the blue sky way beyond the bars. Such a sad sad situation! Where will it end?

Signed Dr Van Helsing, M.D.

Stop Press – Jonah author found in Bromley

From our Editor-in-chief

Dr Van Helsing
An artist’s impression of Dr Van Helsing

We have just received news that the author of the saga of Jonah and Anna-Belle has been found safe and well in South-East London. At around 7 p.m. this evening, following a tip-off from a member of the public, Sgt. Quentin de Link of the Metropolitan Police discovered our author sleeping under a railway viaduct just outside Bromley South Station. He was hungry and thirsty and totally disoriented according to Sgt. de Link.

When we spoke to the sergeant a short while ago he made the following statement: I approached our man very cautiously though he seemed to me to be in a state of very deep sleep, perhaps dreaming in some Freudian way, I could not say. I shook him gently by the shoulder not wishing to alarm him. He sat up and rubbed his little green eyes and just stared at me. When I asked him what he was doing in Bromley he replied, and I wrote it down in my notebook lest I forget it: “Who is Bromley?” 

Tonight we have also been in touch with Dr Van Helsing, the eminent Dutch psychiatrist who has been treating our author at a secure NHS facility in Whitby. Dr Van Helsing assures us that the patient will be returned to Whitby first thing tomorrow and that treatment will resume immediately and in the words of the good doctor “with a vengeance”.

We promise to keep our readers informed with up-to-the-minute bulletins.

More to follow tomorrow.

P.S. Readers new to this roman-fleuve will have to follow the “Jonah Anna-Belle” thread in order to know what on earth is going on!

Stop press – Jonah author absconds

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Secure facility

Unconfirmed reports are coming in that the author of the saga of Jonah and Anna-Belle has absconded from the secure NHS facility in Whitby where he had been receiving treatment from the eminent Dutch psychiatrist, Dr Van Helsing. This is most alarming if it proves to be true.

Seems that when staff went to our man’s room at around 9.30 this evening to take him his cocoa, they found the room empty, and discovered a note he had apparently left on his bed.

If all is true we know only too well where he will be heading.

Dear dear me! Where will this all end?


The Editor would like to wish all those readers who have been holidaying on the Continent recently and will be returning to this green and wet but still pleasant land this weekend, a safe and comfortable journey home. Your loyalty has truly been appreciated.

Where’s the Pollocks?

A day in the life

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Tate Modern

So Sunday morning I wake at six o’clock as per usual and peek out the window. Can see it’s a blustery day and I feel that the grey clouds slopping about overhead are ganging up on me, just waiting for me to step outside. Does not bode well! Still, intrepid as ever, it’s shower, shave, gallo pinto for breakfast and out the door, notebook in hand, optimism in my heart. Head down to the tracks and off to London town in search of Pollocks. Readers may recall my previous Sunday visit to Tate Britain. No Pollocks there, but plenty of other first rate objets d’art so not a wasted journey by any means. This Sunday, it’s Tate Modern, gotta be Pollocks there, surely. Get to Blackfriars on the Tube and as I hit the street all hell breaks loose up above, cats, dogs, anything the weather can throw at me, so I arrive at the old power station drenched to my Wilson socks, shake it off like a dog and enter the monumental arthouse, nip up to the second floor and ask one of the attendants: “Where’s the Pollocks?” She’s very sweet, about 5’ 2”, glasses, dark auburn hair, just a tad overweight, but that’s her business not mine, and the bearer of bad news: “Sorry, my love, they’re all in Tate Liverpool for a big exhibition.” My face is now a pool on the Tate Modern floor. “What? In Liverpool? O for God’s sake! I’ve come all this way!” “Sorry, my love. But they’ll be back sometime soon, second week of September, if I’m not mistaken.” “But I wanted to write a piece about them, I’ve got a blog.” She gives me a long, hard, charitable stare. “Sorry, ducks. Can’t be helped.”

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Zhang Enli

Resilience, Battle of Britain spunk. I must have some of that somewhere. So, yeah, sure enough, I thank the girl for her kindness and consideration and traipse off down a few aisles, take a butcher’s at a few Dalis and Picassos, nothing to write home about and then I come across someone who just might be the ticket. Zhang Enli, never heard of him but his series of still lifes grabbed me by the . . . . Anyway, two and two together, cats and dogs, leaking roofs, why not buckets, memories of the Great Dartford Flood of 1968 when the branch of Woolworth’s was up to its ears and staff were obliged to enter the store (I kid you not) by boat, and I think “Eureka, I’ll write about Zhang Enli. Try to turn him into a household name. Do my bit at least.”


Born in Jilin, China in 1965, a teacher at the Arts & Design lnstitute of Donghua University, Zhang Enli currently lives and works in Shanghai. Doesn’t tell you much but the guy is good and he’s had exhibitions all over the shop.

Zhang Enli, Bucket 5, oil on canvas, 2007

Art is about focus, the mind homing in on something or some emotion before transferring that energy into an artistic product, notes on a stave, steps on a dance floor, words in the mouth of an actor, paint on a canvas, you get the idea, from the mind through the body into or onto whatever is the chosen medium. For a painter, Enli in this case, there are so many options, so many considerations, so many choices, oils, acrylics, board, canvas, grape stems, representational or abstracted, it’s always ‘make your mind up’ time. Art is mind on matter, even if that matter is the thin air fattened by a few Beethoven chords. Long and the short is that our friend Zhang has a technique and an eye that Pablo would have been proud of. Word of warning: No good admiring it on a computer screen, or worse still a crappy iPad. You gotta go and see for yourself the delicacy of the brushwork, the subtlety of the colours, the perfection of the composition. It raises the humble bucket into an icon, but the icon is dedicated to our humanity, to the essential ordinariness of all of us, our common bond in the occasionally very damp and gloomy human condition. Art is elevation. It makes us feel good and alive, and it is not a luxury, it is oxygen to our soul and any attack on the arts, by reducing curriculum time in schools, or failing to fund local arts, national arts, whatever, is an attack on the species. Forget global warming, the battle for the survival of the human race is an artistic battle. Still, that’s enough from me on my hobbyhorse. Uncle Toby would be proud of me, de gustibus non est disputandum. . . and so on and so forth. Get along to the gallery and get a load of it for yourselves.

Meanwhile, busy busy busy. It’s still chucking it down outside when I head back to Blackfriars and I’m sitting on the train bound for Denmark Hill when the blog editor comes on the mobile blower to say we’ve had another sweet comment on Jonah and Anna-Belle, our running  soap, from dear old Molly Rosenberg. She’s such a darling, melts my heart every time. A ray of sunshine on a godawful day!

Note to myself: must get more sleep and slow down!


Jonah hits memory lane

Trials and tribulations

You might think it’s easy running a daily blog, but spare a thought. Some poor devil has to find new material every 24 hours to fill the void. So the blog duty editor is on call Friday night and there’s nothing for the Saturday edition. He’s searched the files high and low and there’s nothing he can use. But just as he’s about to despair, in a cupboard close to where they keep the bleach and other cleaning fluids, he comes across a plastic bag full of mouldy old papers and he takes a look and he discovers a couple of typed sheets with the heading “Jonah hits memory lane”. Someone has used a red felt tip pen to scrawl B-I-N in huge letters across both pages. Nevertheless, he starts to read the piece and only a few seconds in, thinks to himself, God, this is real drivel, I’ll never get away with putting this online, the boss’ll sack me the moment he sobers up on Monday morning. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, so he puts the sheets to one side and continues to hunt for material. About three hours later, he’s still looking and getting more and more exasperated; he’s found absolutely nothing and what’s left of his mind has gone completely blank. He picks up the Jonah story and thinks, Well maybe a change would be good for me. New job, new faces. . . you never know! And he takes the plunge! But you have been warned and you may well want to skip this post.


Jonah hits memory lane

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Jonah gets his comeuppance

Jonah is sitting at a desk in the Humanities 1 Reading Room of the British Library, gazing at the spring sunshine streaming through the dusty transom windows and scratching his head. At fifty-eight he still has a good head of hair, but if he keeps on scratching he’s going to wear a patch in it. Next to his beaten-up laptop is a copy of Murphy, Samuel Beckett’s first novel, published in 1938. To his right, an elderly Indian woman has just put down a book called Astrology, why I believe. Jonah smiles to himself. Personally he’s not a believer. Coming up on the train from Dartford, out of idle curiosity he’d looked at the stars in the Metro free newspaper. Jonah is a Sagittarian by birth, a merchant seaman (retired) by trade, an agnostic by nature, and spent almost half his adult life overseas. But he’s been back in London for the past eighteen months having barely survived his most recent shipwreck off the coast of Brazil.

Just outside London Bridge Station he’d noticed that someone had painted #surviville in huge bright green letters on the walls of a rooftop, and that was just about how he felt now he was back in London, a survivor. However, his stars for that day couldn’t have been more confusing. His horoscope read as follows:

You may be suffering from some major delusion, so watch your step and if the going gets too rough, seek professional help pronto. On the other hand you could be on the brink of a financial or emotional breakthrough, so whatever project you have on the go, money or romance, don’t give up too soon, hang in there at least till the fat lady starts to sing.

Fat lady, indeed, Jonah muttered to himself. He’d never liked opera, never would! Without ceremony, he’d screwed the newspaper up into a ball and tossed it into the bin.

*

Then there was Anna-Belle. Son-of-a-bitch! Anna-Belle O’Malley! He hadn’t stopped thinking about her since the previous day in Old Bexley. Anna-Belle O’Malley, after all those years. What goes around comes around, he chuckled to himself. He hadn’t been down to the medieval village of Old Bexley in decades, but reckoned it was high time he made his peace with his kid brother, Malachy. Malachy could be a bit tetchy, he being of the quick to anger, slow to forgive type, and they’d almost come to blows the last time they met ten years ago, so you can understand Jonah being a bit wary. Which explains why, upon leaving the railway station in the village he’d decided to pop into the old King’s Head for a couple of pints, to steady his nerves.

pub_kings_head_bexleyIt was just after midday. A laconic sun hung lazily in the sky and a chill wind was blowing up from the south. Anyway, Jonah pushed open the door to the saloon bar and there she was in her vintage Laura Ashley pinafore dress, sitting all alone like a displaced duchess, in the alcove by the fake leaded window, deeply engrossed in a paperback as thick as a brick. She had a gin and tonic on the go which looked as though she’d barely touched it. But maybe it’s not her first, Jonah thought, she’s never been averse to the odd tipple. He’d recognised her immediately. The unforgettable autumnal hues of her bubble-cut hair, cute curls framing a cute little face. And to cap it all, the old dear was even wearing a pair of sensible pumps, just visible under the table. Gone were the days, so it seemed, of stilettos that could pierce a man’s heart!

*

First time Jonah had ever really got to know Anna-Belle was about four decades ago in the Freemantle, a large function hall little more than a llama spit from the King’s Head. It was an eighteenth for one of Paddy Delaney’s girls, Julie or Josephine or Jennifer, or Jane. . . what the hell. . . and there she was, Anna-Belle O’Malley, herself just turned sweet sixteen. How well he remembered that do!

In those days Anna-Belle was one of God’s greatest creations, a little wisp of Jewish thrown in with the usual Anglo-Irish mix, had created something of a blueprint for female beauty. Petite at five foot two out of her plimsolls, she had the sort of endearingly deep ocean blue eyes you could drown in for hours, as long as there was oxygen in your tanks. And she was perky. Boy she had attitude and devilment all rolled into one: in short, she was fun!

That night there’d been a long line of lads snaking out the door waiting to say hello to her and get on her dance card, and her brother Jeremy was puffing and panting, barely able to keep order amongst them. But Jonah didn’t wait in line; he just sauntered up to her, cock-of-the-walk, took her pale lily-white hand into his own, and bent over and whispered “Pleasure,” in her ear. She gave him a cold, hard smile, whispered something like “bastard” under her breath and directed the daggers of her eyes at Jeremy, as if to say: “For the love of God, can you get rid of this creep!”

But she and Jonah, they’d had a history, a secret history. And that first meeting was not, truth be known, the first; nor was it the last, no sir. Now after all those years and the separate lives they’d led, there she was again. Anna-Belle O’Malley. Jonah ordered his pint and when it was ready he sidled over to her table with a sneaky grin on his face.

“Mind if I join you, ma’am?”
“’S a free country,” she said, not taking her eyes from her novel.
Jonah caught the title. She was reading War and Peace!
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
She raised her frosty eyes and examined his features closely, hesitated, and then it hit her.
“Jonah,” she said, “Jesus Christ, Jonah, what the. . . !”
And her mouth dropped and she said nothing else.
“Damn right,” he said, “been a long time, Anna-Belle. Too long?”
She caught the hint but did not react: picking up her glass, she took a gulp of her gin and tonic, spluttered some of it over her novel and set the glass down again, before slowly running her tongue over her lips. Jonah admired her small trembling hands and the manicured nails as she did so.
“Too long,” he said again. “So good to see you. How you been?”
“O,” she said cautiously, “I been. You?”
“O I been too. I been, all right. Plenty to tell if you have the time.”
And he paused and looked her over again. And they both just sat staring into each other’s eyes like two dredgers working the Thames and let the silence and dust of all those years wash over them.
“You’re looking so well,” Jonah said eventually. “By God, all those years and you’re looking so damn well.”
“Diet,” she said. “Melon and salad, and the odd bagel from time to time, can’t beat it. Plus I keep myself busy. Hard work, you ever heard of that?”
But for the merest flicker of a smile, Jonah let the shot pass over his bow without rising to the bait. Sharpest tack in the box as always, he thought to himself. Some things change, some people don’t. And she ain’t changed.
“Still teaching dance?”
“Aha.”
Jonah raised his glass in a toast.
“Well, here’s to you, babe. Anna-Belle O’Malley, son-of-a bitch. Here’s to you. No, here’s to us and to God knows what the future holds. Son-of-a-bitch!”

Editor’s note: This is not to be continued, under any circumstances.