Sunday, 10 May 2009

Folio 7 ~ A Bag full of Dreams

The second most annoying authorial strategy is the use of the episodic cliff-hanger; so called because it leaves the reader hanging in midair and exclaiming, “Sodic” (or something similar).

The most annoying strategy is when an author uses the aforementioned device and then makes no further reference to it.

I would like to begin this blog with a mention about this itchy patch on my foot... but then again, I could not be so mean to someone who has shown to me so much forbearance. So let us return to Caroline...

The man on the plush velveteen cushion smoothed his moustache (which didn’t need much smoothing, but was an action heavy with significance as it manifested an inner psychological turmoil) and puffed a bubble or two on his nargile. The water in the glass bowl gurgled in a nice soothing way. But what caught Caroline’s eye was that each of the bubbles contained a little world.
In one bubble, a small girl, with pig-tails, danced with a graven eagle in fields of gold and songs. In another, silver-grey horses were galloping along a deserted beach that was blood red with romance and the setting sun. In yet another, a man was walking down a long corridor that turned into another corridor (exactly like the first) and then another and another. Another bubble was filled with monkeys thay were tap-dancing to the tune of a hurdy-gurdy. A swirling carnival of party-goers in masquerade masks whirled in a flurry of glitter and ribbons in another. It was actually all rather wonderful.

The man looked at Caroline in alabaster silence. His eyes hooded, but on fire. He took another suck at the pipe. More bubbles, more little worlds, more unspeakable magic... and with it something else – was it fear? It was like the edge of a cool wind on a summer’s evening, when you want to lie back in a deck chair and watch the bats play among the first stars of dusk and yet you can’t quite relax; you’re not exactly Uncomfortable, but then again you are not entirely comfortable either.

“Look long enough in there, little madam,” the man's voice was soft and as mysterious as light shining through blue glass, “and you will see yourself.”

Caroline swallowed the last of the Battenberg cake and turned her cat-like gaze upon the man. “Why?”

“Because,” the gentleman smoker replied, “everyone is here.”

“How?” Caroline’s curiosity rose and rose like a huge, big, itchy itch. This was turning out to be a most marvellous day. She hopped around on one leg while she scratched an itch on her left knee. It was not an action with which the gentleman appeared to be completely comfortable.

“Because, dear lady,” he announced in a haughty tone which suggested that he thought that someone who scratched scabby knees while he was trying to smoke was neither ‘dear’ nor a ‘lady’, “I am Misteris Q Ventris. I spin dreams. What you see are the dreams of the world; your dreams, the waiter’s dreams, everyone's dreams are here. The dreams of the Queen and her chancellors and officials, the dreams of the fat butcher and his wife (full of sausages and candles and smiles), the dreams of the gentleman tramp snoring among the bracken and blazing gorse; every dream that dances to the music of the heart (which, after all, are the only real dreams). And, with my little parasol made from the woven strands of night, I catch them all and I spin them into new stories.”

Caroline scrunched up her nose in deep thought. Misteris Q Ventris continued,

“Your skies are light with blues and whites and greys, but the sky above me is always velvet black and school-ink blue. But while your roads are tarmac black and wet-slate grey, mine glimmer like silver ribbons under the seasons' moons. For my hour is the hour of the badger, owl and vixen fair and my music is the lantern’s sigh. I have no shadow, but that painted by the moonlight’s smile. My path is lit by marsh gas flare and glow-worm fire. My trees are forever black; in winter they run their bony fingers through the stars and they warm their hands upon the moon; in summer they burst like owl-hooting fountains.

"I travel the countryside, the portways and the herepaths, the greenways and the drovers’ tracks, the packways and the byways and the old-ways forever lost; through the sleep-walking cities and the towns that slumber to the tick of the town hall clock (as round as the moon). I pass silent as a knife through the villages, asleep under steeple spire and village cross, and the huddled hamlets, with their chimneys still breathing the pale-blue smoke of embers in last night's ash, and the farmsteads that ring with dogs’ barks and the smell sweet of cattle and night-scented stock. And every dream – I catch in my parasol.”

“Are there any dreams left in your umbrella?” queried Caroline, straining on tippy toes and trying to peer into the parasol (even though it was furled).

Misteris took another slow puff of the nargile with his eyes closed. “Oh no, dreams are fragile things. That is why you must treat another’s dreams with care. It is a dreadful thing to break another’s dream, you know?” his eyes flashed like a lion, but then, almost immediately, he grew calmer, “No my dear [and this time I think he might actually have meant it!], I only catch the dreams in my parasol. I keep them here in my Gladstone bag.” At which point, he motioned a finger towards a large (and rather battered) brown leather bag, with a large tarnished brass clasp, that was placed beside the cushion upon which he was sitting.

“Are my dreams in there?” Caroline asked, devouring the bag with her eyes.

“They were in there when, after you finished dreaming them, they drifted out from your sleeping head. And I was standing outside, on the glistening rain-wet street among the lamp light and prowling cats, and I caught them in my parasol and then I locked them safely away in my Gladstone so they wouldn’t get broken.”

“What would happen if they got broken?”

Misteris smoothed his moustache once more. “Have you ever had a nightmare?”

“Yes,” she replied, which was true.

“That’s because your dream was broken. They crack very easily, don't you know? If you go to bed with a grumpy head, or fidget and fuss when you should be cleaning your teeth, or even [and I cannot believe that you would do anything of the sort] smuggle up some biscuits to eat in bed and make your bedclothes all itchy with crumbs. Dreams are like eggs with shells of finest blown glass. When they crack they let all sorts of things in. Horrible, Ghastly things, Monstrous things.” Misteris Q Ventris' head seemed to grow, his teeth leered like tombstones, and his eyes grew narrow and blazed red fire. His whole body seemed to expand and stretch as if he was made of elastic and he towered over Caroline in way that was, quite frankly, frightening. Caroline gazed up at him, scratching the scab on her knee, and snuffled her nose. This was all very, VERY interesting and she thought that she wouldn't mind trying to grow like that as soon as she got home. But it was really not the sort of reaction which Misteris was expecting and he subsided into a rather despondent heap, “Well,” he continued with a half-hearted flick of his hand, “that’s what happens. Nightmares are when the bad things get into your dreams. It’s one of my jobs to make sure that doesn’t happen. So I keep them safe in my bag and then I pour them into my water-pipe.”


“To mix them together. It’s an expert job, don't you know? Highly skilled; to blend dreams. You wouldn’t want the same dream every night would you? That would be as bad as having a nightmare. So in here I gently mix them up and spin new dreams.”

“Is my dream in there then?” asked Caroline peering into the glass bowl.

“Oh, once it was, but now it has been melded into something quite, quite different and rather, I don’t mind admitting, wonderful!” Misteris Q Ventris gave a pleased little smile that made Caroline want to hug him with excitement.

“Will I dream it tonight?” she begged.

“Who knows, young lady? Who knows?” he evasively replied, rather amused at the way his young interrogator was hopping from one gumbooted foot to the other.

“How will I get to dream it?”

“Outside your house, below your window, when you are fast asleep – and by the way I can tell when you are really only snoozelling – I will place a handful of dreams into my parasol, lift it into the night sky and then let them fly!!” And with that, he tossed both his hands in the air with such an ecstatic cry the tearoom once more fell silent.

Readers’ Notes
‘To snoozel’ means to scrumph your head into your pillow, put on the most innocent face you can muster, and pretend *tsk tsk* to be asleep.
As you can probably guess, visits from Father Christmas, the tooth fairy, and a rather scrumptious and slurplicious lemon tart (left in the fridge which had mysteriously disappeared by the next morning), made Caroline an expert at ‘snoozelling’.

For awhile Misteris Q Ventris sat in silence, smoking his nargile, although, it had to be admitted, getting increasingly agitated at being the focus of the unwavering cat-like stare of this small girl. At long last Caroline broke the silence.

“So do you make dreams then?”

“Oh, good gracious No! I cannot make dreams; no one can. I mix them, I mould them, I blend them together.”

“So, where do my dreams come from?”

“They come from you of course! They are your older and deeper voices that are uncovered by your sleep; they are like writing that was once on a page, but is no longer there. Some voices will never die. They are too important. Those are the voices that make your dreams. And those are the dreams I blend and shape.
... And now,” he said standing up, “I must be on my way.” And with that he picked up the entire water pipe and carefully placed it in his enormous Gladstone bag.

‘How absolutely wonderful,’ thought Caroline as she watched the man reach down and pick up a wide brimmed slouch hat, which he placed on his head, and then pick up his dream-parasol.

He did look rather striking, but it was the large brown leather bag with the big brass clasp, that Caroline was most interested in. For in there, was the dream should would have tonight... oh yes, and yours is in there too! ;-)

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Folio 6 ~ A Dream-Parasol

The two elderly ladies watched the waiter disappear into the spectral mist of steam that swirled in the middle of the room. The waiter, rubbing the back of his head and bitterly regretting adding the extra ‘es’ to ‘premises’, nevertheless, walked with the jaunty air of a dog that had successfully bullied a rabbit into fleeing back down its burrow.

Gertrude looked a little crestfallen, but Clarice, aiming her ear trumpet towards Caroline’s ear, bellowed, “D’you know what the time is?”

Caroline, who was feeling relieved at not having to give a recitation of the Vicar of Bray after all, but also a little sad that Gertrude was so obviously disappointed, was determined to be as polite and helpful as she could be. And so she pulled out of her pocket the fob watch that the strange, dust-covered, ancient man had given to her in the park. Its hands still hadn’t moved. She shook it hopefully, but nothing happened.

“I am afraid it’s not working – it’s broken,” she told the two ladies.

“Well, which is it, child?” snapped Gertrude, a little sharply, “not working or broken? The two aren’t the same thing, you know?”

“Well it is with this watch,” Caroline answered, feeling the pilot-light of a really loud argument beginning to burn between her ribs.

“What does it say?” asked Clarice, leaning over the table and trying to read the face.
Caroline looked at it.

“A quarter past four,” she announced

“WE’RE LATE!!” yelled Clarice in alarm.

“But, it’s not WORKING!” Caroline replied. Her anger was now swiftly replaced with the blurred flutter of confusion (and a teaspoon full of amusement).

“We’re STILL late!”

“No,” Caroline tried to explain, “it said a quarter past four when the kind old gentleman gave it to me this morning!”

“And WHEN was that?” Gertrude asked, clearly in a state of agitation.

Caroline thought for a while... Well, she left her flat just before 9 o’clock and then she walked to the park (well ran – but running for Caroline is much the same as walking), sat on a bench and ate 2 whole Jaffa cakes (including some crumb scrunffling and licking of fingers) and then she met the strange gentleman who walked in his own cloud of dust. She wrinkled her nose (to show to the ladies that she was thinking really hard) and said, “Twenty-three minutes past nine.”

Clarice shrieked. It was a marvellous, glass-shattering, jaw-dropping shriek. It was a shriek that made even the lady singing Wagner temporarily falter (on a particularly high note).

“If it was a quarter past four at twenty-three minutes past nine this morning, we must be REALLY late now!” Gertrude gasped. Her face was ashen. She scrabbled for her handbag and a fox stole that was draped over the back of her chair. The fox winked at Caroline as it was wrapped around Gertrude’s (rather scraggly) neck.

“Come on Clarice!” she called, “get your bags. Waiter! CALL A CAB!!

The waiter, with a worried look on his face, hurried out of the door, followed by a flurry of ferocious, bombazine black. Caroline was rather relieved that her hosts had left. She was beginning to find their conversation a little wearing and so, cheerfully looking around the tearoom, she settled down to the last three pieces of Battenberg cake.

What is the perfect simile for happiness? Great writers have cast their lives to the fires of absinthe, sold their souls to the devil, and enrolled (at great expense) to ‘Horace Binn’s Correspondence Course for Aspiring Grate Authors’ to find that one, matchless description. That is because none of them had seen a Caroline contentedly munching Battenberg cake. It is, therefore, perhaps a shame that sitting opposite Caroline’s table was a struggling unknown writer. Readers will be gratified to know that, yes, he did wear a dusty black beret and he had a gloriously straggly beard and he wore a long shabby rain mackintosh with copious pockets. He looked up and quickly jotted down in a Moleskine notebook, ‘as happy as a small girl in a yellow summer dress and gumboots chomping on the marzipanny bit of a Battenberg cake’. The heavens were silent; Shakespeare was about to topple from his lofty perch as the greatest of writers. With an exultant ‘Hah!!’ the writer snapped the cap back on to his fountain pen, leaped to his feet, rushed out of the door and promptly lost his notebook. His name was Rainer Rilke.

*Readers’ Note*
Readers need not be too upset for him because I think he wrote some other stuff too (but, it has to be admitted, never quite as good as that).

Caroline was just pondering whether ‘the proprietors’ would take a 'dim view' of the licking of the plates, when she noticed in the corner of the room a tall distinguished gentleman smoking a nargile (a Turkish water pipe). He had one of those faces that was both pleasing and awful. Readers of cheap fiction would here be reading that his was a face of ‘cruel beauty’. Fortunately, you will be pleased to know, you are NOT reading cheap fiction. Oh no - far from it. The man had a face which was ageless and (note the wonderfully subtle and {incredibly clever} nuance I add here!) ... timeless. It was as if his skin was made of porcelain; cold, unreal, but devastatingly alluring. In fact, he had a face of cruel beauty. A thin pencil moustache sliced, glossy black, across his upper lip. His eyes, one green and one coal-black, were kind and distant and as fierce as my old maths teacher. However, what piqued Caroline’s curiosity wasn’t his appearance but the contraption from which the gentleman was smoking. It was made of gleaming brass and glass and some rather exciting snaky tubes. And so, shoving the last half slice of Battenberg into her mouth, she got up and thwap, thwapped in her gumboots over to where the he was sitting, legs crossed, upon a large plush-velvet cushion.

The man looked up and saw Caroline staring down at him with bulging cheeks and saucer-like eyes and he flinched. Now, I am not sure if I have clearly described this man. He was distinguished (military style), imposing (authoritative), and he had a face of cruel beauty. He was the type of man most would flinch away from – in other words, he would be the ‘flinchee’ rather than the ‘flincher’. But, nevertheless, in this instance he visibly flinched. Furthermore, he not only flinched, but he inadvertently swallowed (rather than exhaled) which resulted in a turmoil of smoke, bubbling and eye watering splutterings. Now, in his defence, it must be admitted that although Caroline had a VERY dainty mouth (she could probably fit only 4 marshmallows in it at one time), her cheeks did bulge rather alarmingly with Battenberg cake. Caroline watched all this with great interest; still munching away. The man took out a silk handkerchief from the pocket of his velvet dinner jacket pocket and wiped his smarting eyes with it. His fingers were long and bejewelled with ornate rings that sparkled with fire and colour.

An irritating tickle had lodged in the back of the gentleman’s throat and refused to budge, even after the most explosive of coughs. He dabbed at his eyes again (now very red). Caroline, not really sure whether what she was watching was normal behaviour when smoking a water-pipe, decided to open the conversation and so she gave a quick snuffle of her nose and said, “Excuse me. Is that your umbrella?” Bulging cheeks are one thing, but bulging cheeks and a snuffled nose (even a quick one) are an altogether different basket of thing-a-mees. The man proceeded to have another coughing fit, whilst simultaneously gurgling noisily and waving frantically with his hand.
‘How odd,’ she thought, ‘and how absolutely WONDERFUL’.
Caroline decided that smoking a nargile looked to be of immense fun and that she would have a go as soon as she got home.

The man wiped away something strange (and a little bit slimy) from the end of his nose and tried to recollect his impressive and distinguished demeanour. He looked at the little black silk parasol that was neatly furled on a very long, cane handle.

“Yes, it is,” he said, rather coldly and looking at the girl standing in front of him even more coldly.

“It looks a bit odd,” Caroline remarked, studying with a critical eye. Fully unfurled, it wouldn’t cover an area larger than a biggish dinner plate ('unfurled' is what we umbrella-ists call 'open').

“It is my Dream-Parasol,” the gentleman replied haughtily. He checked his thin black moustache to make sure that nothing untoward had lodged in it following the unpleasantness with the coughing fit. In some way, he found this young girl with sphinx-like eyes and yellow dress and gumboots faintly unnerving. It was a new sensation for him. And it was distinctly odd and distinctly NOT wonderful.

“Oh,” said Caroline cheerfully, “that sound marvellous. I think I would like a Dream-Parasol. What do they do?”

“Well this one is mine,” snapped its owner, “and it catches dreams of course. And then sets them loose again.”

“How?” asked Caroline.

“Don’t you do anything, but ask questions?” the man irritably retorted.

“Why?” asked Caroline.

“Oh never mind,” he sighed. He felt his strength sapping and his will to live curl up beside his resolve in the wicker dog basket of his soul. “Where is that damned waiter? I need a spot of tea to restore my equilibrium.”

“He went outside to get a cab for the two old ladies,” replied Caroline in her most grown-up and helpfullest of voices, “but I don’t think he would be of much use to you - he is a bloody philistine, you see?”

The man gulped and made strange jerking movements into his hankie.

‘That tobacco,’ thought Caroline, ‘must be incredibly strong.’ She looked at the glass bowl, that bubbled so gloriously, and blinked twice. She couldn’t quite believe what she saw...