The Ship of Life

An opening to a novel I have yet to write…

Why do we live forever?

It was when everyone else was looking at the sky that I caught myself looking at her.

Of course I was scared and exhilarated, like we all were, almost to the point of vomit-inducing panic. I know that Jerry even pissed himself. You don’t read about that in all the heroic accounts of that day. There was screaming and shouting and the banshee wails of fear but I couldn’t take them in. I wasn’t even looking up when the giant sun-blocking shadow slipped over our shaking bodies like a wave. The most momentous thing that had ever happened in the history of existence and what was I doing?

I was looking at her.

She was serene, unmoved apart from the slight smile, the downdraft pushing her hair across her face. Why wasn’t she frightened?

Imagine, as I’m sure many of you have, that you were one of the few who were there to see it. Actually be part of it and what that felt like. It’s hard to remember. Of course our fame has long been well documented, but back then we were just seven people. Seven ordinary people who did ordinary things.

When people ask me, as they often do, what the ship was like mostly I lie. I tell them what the others said. I say things like ‘It was big and black,’ abstract things like that. Melissa said it was beautiful, the way it bristled with technology. But the truth is I wasn’t looking, it happened so fast and what was I doing? I was looking at her.

So I suppose my memory of it is one that’s tinged with regret. Like if you’ve seen a shipwreck and you stand by dumbstruck when maybe you should help those poor injured souls floundering on the rocks. Or when somebody shouts road-rage profanities at you from their car about what a lousy driver you are and you simply mouth a ‘sorry’. It’s only later can you think of witty reposts that would put their arrogant stupidity back in its box. It’s only later you can think about what you should have done. What the right thing to do would be.

My memory of it is her. And it’s been so very long since I saw her.

Now

Valium. It seemed like an odd drug to give me but I’m used to it now. I felt like it was something old fashioned, that housewives in the seventies got addicted to. Yes I know that it had other names. Diazepam, Xanax. Funny how they used give the same psycho-active drugs so many different names, maybe just to confuse us patients. We were by the tree when Joust gave me the pills. ‘Joust’, what kind of a name is that for a doctor? I still find it funny, the names they give themselves, even after all this time. I asked him if he had any other names. He said I could call him ‘friend’ so that’s what I call him. ‘Joust Friend’. Most of them don’t have second names. It’s like they don’t think names are important. Names of drugs, names of people. What do they matter? They are only labels; reference points to allow ease of communication. And in the end that’s all we have in life; imperfect ways of communicating things we can’t ever truly express. Not adequately anyway. I never told Melissa I loved her.

It was Joust who suggested I write this, although he suggested it as a journal. A journal of my experiences. But actually its more like a memoir.

The tree is famous too. It’s where it happened. Where we saw the ship. The tree is famous because it hasn’t aged. The scientists have long given up poking and prodding it, they know that it is the impossible oak that is forever blooming green as if there is perpetual summer. A tree stuck in aspic for all eternity. Although everyone knows that can’t be right. Nothing lasts forever. Nothing. Lord knows I should know that.

I live in a small room, five metres square. Of course it has windows, but I still can’t get used to them even after all these years. Each wall is part of an intelligent machine that is what they refer to as a building, so I can ask the windows to show anything I like. Usually I just ask for the view outside; a tree lined plaza. The people walk and talk and sit, like people have always done, but it still feels odd to me. Unreal.

I’ve lived here for ten years, before that I was asleep. For five centuries. Why did I choose that? It’s simple really, I didn’t tell the doctors I wanted to be dead but didn’t know how. So I chose to sleep. It was easy really, I just went to sleep one day and they couldn’t wake me. Some part of my subconscious knew they were trying for months to wake me but I had programmed myself to resist. Eventually they just let me be. Oh I know they did tests on me for years, trying to work out how I was still alive without food or water, but as the years passed I was left alone to dream.

I suppose the real question is why did I wake up?

© 2018 Simon Poore

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Writing a book is like climbing a mountain…

Two weeks ago I climbed a couple of mountains. Which is kind of a new experience for me – a man who lives in Norfolk, one of the flattest parts of the UK. The aforesaid mountains were in Wales; Snowdonia to be precise.
We decided that people who live in mountainous regions of the world must be fitter and have better calf muscles than those who live on the flat.
The first mountain is called Cadair Idris (ninth highest mountain in Wales – 893 metres). This is a truly beautiful place, with stunning streams and waterfalls. ’Cadair’ means ’chair’ so this mountain is, according to myth and legend, the ’Chair of Idris’ – Idris being the name of a mysterious Welsh Giant. A mountain that sounds like it is screaming out to have stories written about it.
If you are ever lucky enough to go there I recommend two things. One, have bacon sandwich before you start the climb, and two, make sure that you go to the stunning lake, which is more than half way up. This is what we did, instead of climbing to the summit.
This lake looks like it is formed from the bowl of an extinct volcano, although geologists say that this isn’t the case. The lake has the clearest still water; water from distant cascading streams falling from the summits filling it incessantly. You can almost feel the slow march of geological time that has shaped the place. You feel small and humbled.
The short swim in the lake was an experience. It was incredibly cold (breathtakingly cold) and beyond a short ledge of submerged rock and scree it drops to an incredible 50 metres deep. The feeling of floating above such mysterious clear black depths in icy water was most disconcerting. Needless to say I didn’t swim for long.

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The lake at Cadair Idris…

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Would you dare swim?
Obviously if you are going to climb mountains in Snowdonia then you have to climb Snowdon itself, the second highest peak in the UK (1085 metres). It is also one of the most popular tourist mountains as it has a train that can take people to the summit. People tempted by the train are commonly known as ’Train Cheats’ by all those brave enough to climb one of the many routes under their own steam (as it were). Personally I couldn’t understand those who spent considerable sums to take the train on the day we climbed Snowdon. The summit was covered in cloud (as it often is) and taking the train just means you pay a lot of money to stand in a cloud and not see any of the stunning views.

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The view just beneath the clouds near the summit of Snowdon…
My five tips for climbing Snowdon – one, eat properly! Two bits of toast for breakfast isn’t enough! (Can you tell I am not a seasoned climber?). Two, choose a sensible route for your fitness level (we walked the ’Rangers Route’, which I would describe as a medium route and is still a bit tricky in places, especially if your knees, like mine, are not so hot). Three, wear some layers; once you reach a certain height, even in summer, the winds can be pretty chilly. Four, if you find it hard going comfort yourself with the promise of the best hot chocolate in the world at the summit cafe. Five, don’t be a ’Train Cheat’ – challenge yourself!
So, what did I learn from my novice climbing experiences? As a writer any travel to new places can give you backdrops for stories that you never previously perhaps imagined. I can see Idris the giant in my mind’s eye, straddling his gargantuan chair.
And the climbing itself? Well, climbing a Mountain is actually a bit like writing a novel. The last hour of climbing Snowdon (which took 2 hours 35 minutes – not bad going for an old fart with dodgy knees) was really tough. It’s that thing where you continually think you are nearly there only to find around the next bend or over the next lip of rock there is yet another steep climb looming ahead of you. It can feel like the summit is forever beyond your reach. Writing a novel can feel like this, with the ending so far out of sight, locked away in the clouds. When you hit this wall the only choice you have is to dig in and keep going.
On a mountain you pretty much have no choice, once you have reached a certain point going back down would probably be as hard as keeping going. In other words you can’t actually give up (short of being helicoptered off the mountain by Prince William of all people!). So you simply keep going to the top, however hard it seems.
Of course with a novel you can give up. You can write a hundred thousand words and still feel that the summit is lost from view, out of reach. My suggestion here is that you treat the novel (or any challenging endeavour) as if it were a mountain, as if you actually have no choice but to finish it. There is no going back, you have to reach the summit. Finish what you started, if only to feel the amazing joy of tired satisfaction of a challenge overcome…
How is your climb going?

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The novelist with cold tired knees near the summit of Snowdon…

© 2013 Simon Poore