Author Archives: sam

We meet again

No, not our dreamy queen, whom I’ve never seen in person and who, as far as I can recall, has yet to invade my subconscious.

Nor Labour MP Emily Thornberry, one of the speakers outside parliament protesting the presidential visit and generally all things Tory.


she even knitted her own jumper

Nor the ghosted Juliet Stevenson, who I caught back in 2004 alongside a brainy ironside.

Nor Mark Rylance, as seeing him on the small screen doesn’t count.

Making a statement

This is who I’m talking about:

We were most concerned.

I was hardly in my element yesterday, as I don’t like crowds,

ticked the box for Brexit,


(we all have disreputable bedfellows at times)

and don’t see myself voting Labour again any time soon.

But as happens so often, London beckoned.

I can’t imagine Lilibet was giddy with excitement at another opportunity to do her duty, even as the BBC graphically wet itself with anticipation.

Balloonists, on the other hand, had a field day.

As did punsters,


even Photoshop sharpening can’t save this

jokesters,

and anyone in the mood to rattle some cages.

My goal for the afternoon had been to see Jeremy Corbyn, if only for ammunition to give him a speech balloon. This was not to be, as he took to a platform on Whitehall rather than the expected patch of green surrounded by stone cold worthies where I had stationed myself.

Every party needs a DJ. Ours started with Comfortably Mum Numb,


bottoms up

which would come to half describe my arm after holding an umbrella for an hour. Then came the relentless rain and reggae (even groovy tunes can wear one down).

Midway through the speakers


Brian Eno got there early too

I packed it in and commenced escape, only to be stopped short opposite Green Park, where a hassled but humbled group of us were barred from crossing the empty road for an indeterminate length of time.

The only sure way across the border was to catch a train. One expects to be herded through cattle fencing during such events,

but this seemed a pointless exercise in creating a power vacuum.

Before heading home I stopped by the National Gallery. It looked a little like a protest was going on there, too.


“You can’t change him, he’s immutable.”

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High Weald Drifters

I frequently launch my bike into the wee small hours, savouring the peace and quiet and moonlight when celestial bodies are feeling generous. Just the road and me for an hour or two. 20 miles, give or take: nothing epic, unless you count thoughts drifting out forever into space.

Early this morning, later than usual so with dawn’s early light in full glory, I bumped into a pair of horses contentedly having breakfast just off the high street of a nearby market town.  I passed on by, thinking it odd, but unsure what to do about it, when it struck me that this was an accident waiting to happen. Though traffic was still sparse, some drivers take advantage of the usual lack of obstacles to put the pedal to the metal.

Who to call? 999 came immediately to mind, but did this qualify as an emergency?

Either in search of greener pastures or wishing to escape from the guy with the phone camera, they headed down the street, weaving in and out of front yards.


Not all of us know what we are

As I was pondering which authority to summon, a motorist passed by and rolled down his window. We had a brief discussion about who to contact, agreeing it didn’t seem cut and dried. After he left I rang the number for the local police, which needless to say at that hour offered voice menus offering nothing useful.

At this point a guy walked by with his dog, or vice-versa, and sensing my dilemma (staring at him helped), also suggested emergency services. I decided screw it, 999 it was.

The police operator took down the relevant information, including the colour of the escaped ungulates, which I had to think about as they’d disappeared from view and apparently I have the memory of a horsefly, which for the purposes of this post we’ll agree is quite short.

Black wasn’t so hard to remember. The other was brown and white, I seemed to finally recall and told him, thinking there must be another name for that. (Pinto, it turns out.) He thanked me and told me I had done the right thing by getting in touch. Job done, I headed home, pleased to have overcome my initial shrugging off of responsibility and happy at the break in routine.

I live about a mile outside Burwash, best known for its VIP Rudyard Kipling. The village looks like this:

or so I imagine it did in his time. Surely everything was still black and white then. A few days ago I’d led a band of cyclists down this very street, halfway through a ride from Hastings to the sea. This fine morning, parked in front of the village shop was evidence that we definitely live in a less genteel age:


Mind reading number plate

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Easy as 123

Today marks my 123rd day without sugar. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up, say, ketchup, which needs it to keep the tomatoes in line. It means saying no to foodstuffs like this

this

this

and yes, even this sweet thing, as I’m also currently avoiding fructose

So basically, everything that makes a life worth living. Though frankly I can live without apples for another 123 days.

This isn’t the first time I’ve deprived my body of the building blocks of fat. In 2016 I managed a similar fast that lasted almost as long, and reduced to my lowest weight in decades. (Cutting down my usual grazing to three meals a day also helped.) Unfortunately I then spent the next couple of years suffering a case of sugar-induced amnesia that made me forget how good it had felt to be 32 again.

It’s been easier this time. Except for a pop tart [what I call all toaster pastry products by default] -related delirium about a week ago, I honestly haven’t had cravings.

I sense this has to end at some point. It isn’t sustainable. The centre cannot hold. But perhaps it can get smaller first.

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Please stay

For me, the work of writing has always, in some way, been a fight against oblivion. It’s my way of resisting death and (however delusional) of trying to ensure that a trace of me remains after I’m gone.
Julija Šukys

It’s inevitable. At some point after arriving safely home on my annual pilgrimage, I’ll take the short walk to the cemetery lying at the foot of the appropriately dead end street (a good place to run infinite loops as a child, but powerful incentive to go out into the world) and pay a visit to Leslie.

My earliest memory of her was when we were in a play together at school. Actually it was a dramatization of a poem a small working group of us seventh graders were asked to compose. Impatient with poetry-by-committee, I’d made it my homework to just write the damn thing myself, presenting it as a fait accompli the next day in English class.

I don’t recall exactly what it was about, but it involved a murder and I was cast as the guy packing heat. There’s a dramatically off-kilter snapshot of me holding the gun (perversely innocent now we’re in the age of metal detectors beeping at real ones) in the depths of the family archives.

Looking delicate and lovely in her yearbook picture, I’m amazed I didn’t fall for my classmate, but we were just friends, till even friendship passed away for some obscure reason.

She died around the time I was getting married. We’d last run into each other on a chilly afternoon on the quad at the nearest large way station to credentialed adulthood. I remember her telling me about a trip to England, where I’d eventually land.

Leslie has since become my guide to the underworld, as it were: those dark mental caverns where I sit in full Rodin’s Thinker mode contemplating my own time on earth. Her long afterlife haunts me and reminds me not to take breathing for granted. The school where we first met has since vanished, leaving a smooth green sward for drive by memories.

Leslie Faye Hoyda

I don’t know if we’ve all got a book in us, but surely we’ve all got an obit. During the last couple of years I’ve taken to reading these short stories, a habit you’re not supposed to acquire until closer to your three score and ten. One day I was surprised to see William Bradley, face framed by copies of The Best American Essays on the bookshelf behind him.

Bradley had come to my attention around the time I started exploring Facebook, incidentally a medium I’d love to hate were I more invested.*

Hey, a writer in Tiffin! had probably been my first thought. Someone I’d like to get to know.

I was impressed that he made it through so much oncological horror without falling into the bottomless pit of self pity I’m pretty sure would be my final destination. We’d both ruminated over Warren Zevon’s last album, but for him it was a soundtrack to nearly unbearable experiences.

I admired his passion for the essay. He really got meta on its ass.

Alas I was never able to eek more than a polite like out of him when replying to his posts on FB, which nipped any possible RL friendship in the bud. Then again, as I later learned, he was going through rather a lot at the time; there was no opportunity for a concerted charm offensive.

I’ve been lucky in life. The Grim Reaper hasn’t collected anybody close to me. Loved ones are all still present and accounted for. I don’t know many people who’ve made it to their middle ages so unscathed.

Were I superstitious, this would be a good time to find a large piece of wood to knock on. The centenarian that held court in front of our house would be a suitable candidate if an almighty wind hadn’t brought it down, making me question its prophylactic qualities against reversals of fortune. I’m left pondering its ancient corpse, already sectioned by a tree surgeon but left to bleach in the sun.


happier times

Frankly I’m in wonderment at having made it this far myself. On a few occasions I’ve taken Jack Kerouac too literally and found myself laid out on the road, emerging from limbo.

It’s bad enough losing yourself. The thought of losing others is more painful still.

Fortunately (or not, from my DNA’s point of view), I don’t have children, so never faced the possible horror of that loss.

There is a little heart I fear stops beating, that of the impossibly dear rabbit who shares the house with us. It’s only a slight exaggeration to say I’d rather go before him, which hopefully would make him a very long-lived long ears indeed. It’s amazing what pets can do to you.

Childhood dogs and cats and such are typically said to be the unwitting instructors on how to process grief before you’re old enough to read Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. It’s a lesson I haven’t learned.

Recently I went looking for Bradley’s website and was unsettled it was gone. I don’t know that he would’ve cared, but oddly I did, perhaps highlighting my own thanatophobia by putting myself in the shoes of a dead man slowly being erased.

Thus did I recruit myself as curator, reconstituting and expanding the collection of links that had been in his library. Although this will allow anyone who happens upon the page a chance to help him continue to cheat death, it was in fact a selfish act.

He’s both alive and not, like Schrödinger’s cat, but of course, mostly not.

Now I won’t ever get to chat with him about newspapers, one of my favourite topics. Or horror movies, one of his.

Or bone up on puns

Or tell him You’re a Wonder was wonderful, joy rides in second person, less so. (Maybe not right away, but down the line, after a few glasses of wine, though I don’t drink, it’s just a prop.)

Or that I also fear inadvertently revealing my internal monologue underneath my polite, bland, midwestern facade, which would likely see me punctured with pitchfork holes.

Or that the label “creative nonfiction” makes my eyes roll (more vino please. My first impulse is to say let the reader decide – possibly on both counts – but I know it’s the taxonomy, stupid.) He’d probably then roll his eyes at me for further and quite seriously informing him that bunnies are so much better than cats it isn’t funny…

Or collaborate in crowdfunding a mercenary to put a very liberal whupping on Aaron Sorkin.

Or bump into him at Kroger the next time I’m in town and ask if he remembered to put the eggs on top.

Or thank him for making me consider how essay means to try.

Death be not proud, wrote Johnny Gunther’s father to generations of school kids and John Donne to eternity. Appetizer for last supper conversation though that may be, here’s someone who really knew how to wrap things up:

*I’m not even invested enough to use my real name. Well, my current one.

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