Issue #40 July 25th - 31st, 2003

Sunshine and the reason why
Except that sometimes it did. Or you knew it would, if only you could write it down somewhere, frame it in another life. Ink was liquid fairy-dust, it made all the difference.
By JohaN Hugo

Witnness Weekend - July 12th and 13th
I wandered into the Rising tent to get out of the bright sun. The band was just starting.
By Grainne Lynch

Stop Looking Down on Harry Potter
I was cleaning the bathroom and goodness knows why I was thinking about Harry Potter (cause you thought a house elf would come in handy? - ed.) when suddenly it dawned on me. It's the sort of story everyone -or well, almost everyone- likes to read because of the way it makes you feel.
By Dimitra Daisy

The Lost Diary of Miss S L Gleaden - Part 10
It's a little known fact that when a fish swallows a book it becomes one of the fastest creatures on earth. Scientists have been puzzled by this mystery for many years but owing to the question of whether it is really ethically correct to feed innocent fish big books very little research has been done in this field.
By Belle

Notes From a Man on the Production Line
That's it! I've quit the job! The ecstasy of my burden being removed. The weight off my shoulders is almost physical. I'm drained of it all. Now, to know that one can concentrate his life on doing what he wants to do is the most fortunate and precious feeling a man can have. But isn't it also a right?
By Paul Williamson

Impressions of Matthew - Part 1
He had just broken up with and moved out of the flat he had shared with Zoe (with whom I remain friends, and would still pick to play Holly Golightly if ever I was to do a re-make of Breakfast at Tiffany's - but in a nice way) and was staying with a friend of her older brother's...
By JohaN Hugo

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Sunshine and the reason why

It used to be the sunshine only, or a certain feeling in the air. The freshness of a cold and wintry night perhaps, with icicles for stars swirling crisply through the Gogh-like sky. Certain mornings were the times it came, whether the morning of the night before, or of the day to come. A certain (or uncertain) hope hatching in the heart, or else a slow despair and violin-sobbing melancholy. Spring, autumn, morning, dusk and sometimes full-moon too.

Later there were other things: clouds boiling over the mountains round your town like the vapours off a newly-opened champagne bottle; a field of daisies quilted through with those soft pink poppy-like flowers you knew were turning into devil’s thorns, ready for the winter’s end. Two dogs lying on a porch, in the sun - a labrador perhaps, and on its friendly tummy lay a small Jack Russell, old and wizened, comfortably pillowed. No, there’s no perhaps, they were these dogs - I could show you the house. The labrador’s still there every morning when I drive past - where has his companion gone? I wonder, shuddering to. The labrador looks mournful now - more than before - and shows ever less interest in the goings-on and passersby these days. That’s another story... but no, that is the story.

And so it would start, an image here or vaguely felt intuition there. Sometimes it was the line of a song, sometimes something said in passing by someone without it meaning anything. Except that sometimes it did. Or you knew it would, if only you could write it down somewhere, frame it in another life. Ink was liquid fairy-dust, it made all the difference. If you could just put it down in a small black notebook, squeeze it into crabby handwriting going every which way, across and down, vertically in the margins, somehow you’d know... know what? Know why this one thing out of everything there was, whatever this one thing may be, was squatting in your mind, unexplained and uninvited, like Miriam in that strange story by Capote. It never worked that way of course: no-one seemed to care about the soft glow of the evening light, for a few fragile minutes only, on the filmy slopes of the velvet mountains above your town. (For those few minutes they would light up from inside, pink and harmoniously whole - you always thought of the rose-quartz lamp your parents bought when you were small and on holiday in Namibia - a rough and awkward lump of semi-opaque pink stone with a bulb inside). No-one cared about that alone - and rightly so.

Somewhere in there you needed people - a hero, a friend, sometimes a betrayal although you weren’t sure you really believed in villains. Sometimes the closest you could come was with a lover, and sometimes there was only the heart-shaped dent left by the need for one. But always a beating heart, a warm breath steaming up this window you were looking through (or at), and ear to hear the birdsong from the dear green place, or a voice softly talking counterpoint to the passing traffic. Even those images that seemed so perfect and mysterious in themselves - a pair of tennis shoes hanging high up in a paranoidly barbed wire fence or another, tied at the laces and slung over an impossibly high high-tension power cable; the rocky slope between two sides of a freeway mountain-pass, glittering in the cold and wintry Karoo sun from the remnants of the glass-filled cargo-truck which must have slid down there some time ago - even these always drew you on to think of someone, some person who must’ve done, or even merely seen these things. This person was never purely you.

Who were you anyway? Where did you start and end? And what about me, then? You couldn’t tell, and if you could, you couldn’t really think of would be interested in lending an air in any case. You never did a hero-thing in all your life, although you may have had some friends who did, and your betrayals were of the banal kind.

And slowly then, you turned this way: a picture told a thousand words, and every one of those turned out to be about somebody else. A daisied field was something nice, but your thoughts would turn and bend towards that Finnish girl you knew, who taught you how to tie a daisy-chain, and crowned you, once, with one. The little horse you once saw, not beaten dramatically like some Nietzsche or a Dostoyevsky, just idly whisking flies, would lead you to dream of just the person who might take something from seeing that.

And so it carries on. You say all that you know how (although there’s always something more that won’t quite come right); wrap it, as the movie-people say or say they say; then think of a little final thought to up all the loose ends into final pretty little bow - a nicely-written paragraph right at the end. You take two steps back and squint appraisingly at this little present you are about to send to who knows who... and see that in the end, it all turned out to be just about you after all, and little else.

You sigh and start again. You just glimpsed something through your window...


JohaN Hugo

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Witnness Weekend - July 12th and 13th

I read an article over the weekend about how the cost of tickets to live concerts is just going up and up, and that you can spend more at a pop concert than you would for a night at the opera. If you want to go to a festival, you have to include the cost of a transport, food and drink, and maybe band t-shirts, fairground rides and pretty things from the stalls around the site. The final cost for the weekend could be twice the ticket price. A two-day ticket to Witnness this year was €109.50. I nearly didn't go.

Witnness is a two-day music festival sponsored by Guinness, hence the two n's. It consists of two out-door stages, three tents and a wide variety of acts. This was its fourth year. It's not Glastonbury with its 20 years of history and its worldwide reputation, but it's not too shabby and even Glastonbury had to start somewhere.

The weather was perfect all weekend - hot and sunny. It's a glorious way to experience music, sitting in the sunshine or wandering from tent to tent through the hazy sunshine, surrounded by happy people.

I always miss bands at Witnness, there are always things I'd wish I'd seen. I did a lot though. There were the bands that I had looked forward to, ones that I thought might be interesting, and then there's always a few surprises.

On Sunday afternoon, I wandered into the Rising tent to get out of the bright sun. The band was just starting. I didn't catch their name, but there was ten of them - lead singer, two guitarist, a drummer, keyboard player, three violinists, a girl on the saxophone, and a random guy who leap around playing percussion. They were really enthusiastic and really, really good. And they loved the reception that they got. I think it must be hard but the smaller bands who are playing early in the day to an audience that doesn't know them. This band was surprised and delighted with the audience reaction and I thought that was sweet!

I love the intimacy of the little, dark tents and I think it's exciting seeing brand new acts. And there were a few of those moments over the weekend. However, I think all my Witnness highlights came from the Main stage.

On Saturday, it was Damien Rice. An Irish act that has only been around for a couple of years he's only got one album and a couple of singles under his belt. He was on Saturday evening, just before Coldplay. And he went down a storm. I think nearly everyone in the audience had a copy of the album because everybody seemed to be singing along with every single song. It's pretty cool to be singing with hundreds, maybe thousands of people.

Sunday's highlights were provided by The Frames and The Flaming Lips. The Frames are always among my Witnness favourites. They seem to enjoy the day as much as everybody else. They performed a great set with lots of crowd favourites, including their cover of The Pixies Debaser. Again, there was plenty of singing along and a good time was had by all.

The Flaming Lips were moved to the Main stage a couple of days before the festival, to replace The White Stripes. I was really looking forward to The White Stripes and I was disappointed when I heard they weren't playing, but I can't imagine anyone who could do a better job at filling in for them. I think The Flaming Lips surprised a lot of people because they really put on a fantastic show. Wayne Coyne is my new hero. He stood on stage encouraging everyone to sing along, repeating lines over and over again until we all knew them, and again there was that wonderful experience of hundreds of voices raised in song, and the spectacular site of hundreds of hands waving in unison. You can't achieve that on your own, everyone has to work together and there's a great feeling of equality and democracy. Again the band seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as the audience - and I love that - that feeling of togetherness.

There were other great bands (Snow Patrol, Ok Go, Polyphonic Spree) and there were other special moments, but I've tried to put some of the joy that I felt over the weekend into words for you, and I've not sure if I've succeeded. I think the wonder of an outdoor festival with good music and good weather is something that you have to experience. But trust me when I say that's it's worth the money!

Grainne Lynch

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Stop Looking Down on Harry Potter!

By the time I bought my first Harry Potter book he was already a phenomenon. Maybe not in Greece where I bought the book (I think he still was a bit of a secret here in 1999) but certainly in other parts of the world: the cover of the Greek edition stated that clearly. In an attempt to make the book more popular -which then seemed vain and now seems needless- it talked of parents staying up to finish a chapter after they've read the start to their children in bed and people who hadn't read a book in years being unable to put this one down. That was similar to what I had read in the newspaper about it, and, though intriguing, it was enough to put me off...

Indeed it did and I avoided buying Harry Potter and the whatever it was for six months, until Christmas Eve when, unable to find something else to buy and dreading the thought of three days with my family without a book to hide into I gave up... I started reading it partly out of curiosity, to see what the fuss is all about, and partly just because I wanted lie in bed without having to think of what was happening on the other side of my bedroom door, and that's why I was surprised when I turned into one of those people the newspaper talked about. It most certainly wasn't the first time I couldn't put a book down but I didn't think it would happen with this one. It had been advertised, for goodness' shake. Surely it's only bad books that get advertised. Surely something a lot of people like can't be as good as the things only a few people can appreciate... Surely...

These days I am older, slightly less pretentious and slightly wiser too; and I know greatness doesn't lie in secret places just because we like looking for it there. Indeed greatness can be found anywhere, even if it usually isn't; and sometimes it likes hiding by making itself way too obvious and placing itself in front of our eyes. That's not to say Harry Potter books are great and underrated: I'm not sure they're great and it's more likely that they are overrated; and yet they're something people enjoy looking down on which makes me want to stand up for them. But first I have to admit that I have never read Tolkien (you can stop reading this now if you like): people have tried to get me to do it, but he doesn't seem like my kind of thing (even though it is possible that when I do get round to reading something I'll be banging my head against a wall for thinking like that now). I have, however, read a few of the other things Harry Potter gets compared to (Ursula Le Guin's and Philip Pullman's trilogies) and yes, they are better. They're well-written as opposed to somewhat awkwardly put together, complicated in a meaningful way as opposed to so-simple-its-verging-on-simplistic, probably a lot more original, undoubtedly insightful, challenging your intelligence instead of underrating it; and, most importantly, the worlds they create are very strong ones, profoundly different from this one and yet complete and -may I say- eloquent.

Yes - if you choose to look at the matter like that, Harry doesn't stand much of a chance; and yet if you look at it from a slightly different angle, he's not that bad. Sure, the story is simple, it gets a little too obvious at places, the language isn't particularly charming, but... it's not too bad, it's just not very great, and I can live with that, because there is a reason to live with that... And of course, of course, there are a million articles written about that reason but to me it seemed that everyone kept missing the point ever so slightly; even though I wasn't sure what the point was until... Well, until I was. I was cleaning the bathroom and goodness knows why I was thinking about Harry Potter (cause you thought a house elf would come in handy? - ed.) when suddenly it dawned on me.

It's the sort of story everyone -or well, almost everyone- likes to read because of the way it makes you feel. It catches your heart the way 'The Sound of Music' does; because I think that everyone has, at some point or other, felt they don't belong to the world around them, or wondered what it would be like to loose the world they belong to... And that part of ourselves is overjoyed to hear about the boy that everybody looked down upon discovering another world where not only does he belong to but he is also very special, so special, actually, he is a hero just because he is who he is. And wouldn't you like to discover that being yourself matters so much, the world needs you to keep doing it? Well... get me drunk and climb with me on the rooftop on a starry night and I'll probably tell you that's the way things are anyway. But until then, stop looking down on Harry Potter.

Dimitra Daisy   

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The Lost Diary of Miss S L Gleaden - Part 10

It's a little known fact that when a fish swallows a book it becomes one of the fastest creatures on earth. Scientists have been puzzled by this mystery for many years but owing to the question of whether it is really ethically correct to feed innocent fish big books very little research has been done in this field.

Like all good scientific discoveries the aptly named "speedy fish" syndrome was discovered quite by accident when Jed Crooks, a disenchantered scientist, threw all 45 of his lab books over the cliff nearby his remote research station on a small island off the coast of Western Scotland. Incidentally the island was overlooked by BBC officials who were searching for a suitably remote island to film the series "castaway" on the grounds that it was neither remote nor suitable. As Jed pondered his future career he noticed a large cod jump out of the water and swallow one of the falling books. Despite his desperate situation career wise his training as a scientist held him in good stead and at this point as he kept a watchful eye on the curious cod.

The fish gulped with surprise and then zoomed straight into the experimental pond at the far end of the bay. A very excited Jed ran after the fish who was now caught in a small enclosure thrashing about like a blue bottle in a jam jar. Jed worked day and night constructing a fish tank which would allow the excited cod room to manoeuvre and him room to observe the strange phenomena. Being a resourceful person he harnessed the fish's newfound energy and was able to provide enough energy to power the whole of the island. News spread throughout the scientific community and Jed was awarded grants left right and centre to continue his work. He retired at the ripe old age of 28 having exhausted his research and having earned enough money from selling electricity to the island. He spent his retirement wondering about the possible causes of speedy fish syndrome completely oblivious to the fact that in the middle of the Pacific Ocean a fish called Wanda was careering towards New Zealand at a terrific rate.

The poor Diary of Miss S L Gleaden who had apparently triggered this case of "speedy fish" syndrome by being swallowed by the grumpy fish was completely baffled and ever so slightly sea sick as Wanda reached Tom Bowling Bay on the Northern tip of New Zealand. At this point the fish seemed to come to its senses and spat out the dazed diary and slowed down to a reasonable pace.

The fish looked around bright eyed at its foreign surroundings. It introduced itself as Eve to a couple of the locals, and happily swam off into the sunset to lead a new life safe from the taunts of those people who knew it as Wanda. It also left behind the poor diary, abandoned, bedraggled and alone in yet another country.

Still never mind 'eh?

Because as we know by now many weeks later it washed up on the shores of a small town in the long forgotten county of Cumbria. Locals were impressed by the story contained within, not to mention the book's ability to wash up on the shores of a landlocked town, and after many hours were able to track down the explorer herself and made sure that the book returned to her but not before they had read it from cover to cover of course...

Day 17 (a bit later)

The Cumbrian locals idley eat a piece of Blackpool rock. Then with antcipation and sticky fingers turn the page on the diary of Miss S L Gleaden's diary

I and E was delighted when he learnt how fast he could get the small blue mini to travel. Molly and myself were lightly less enthusiastic and clung each other as we were flung form side to side of the car. From the front seat of the car I and E would occasionally turn around beam at us saying:
"its good isn't it?"
before turning to face the front and patting his now treasured possession.

I was feeling as particularly eager to reach the border as soon as possible and suggested that we take the most direct route and travel on the main road to Kalemyo. I and E shook his head slowly and wisely and pointed out any government spies who were watching us would be less likely to notice us if we took a more convoluted route.
"If there is anyone out there who has made it their business to keep tracks on our goings on there is no point in making their jobs any easier than they need to be. Any government official with half a brain cell to rub together could work out what we are up if we go hurtling of towards the border having just packed enough supplies to last us a month."

I and E's more convoluted route just happened to lead us right past the spot that a just a week earlier a certain small white flower had appeared.

Molly looked at me with raised eyebrows; we sighed and agreed that the devious man might have a point. He nodded seriously as we eventually agreed with him, but as he faced the road we caught sight of a mischievous grin.
"how on earth have you managed to put up with him all of these years?" I asked molly.
She smiled loyally and lovingly in I and Es direction
"he reminds me to live every day of my life, rather than just wait for the next to come around" she replied simply.

We both turned to continue looking out of the speeding car window. Although I recognised landmarks on our journey into the mountains things looked different when passing them by at speed. The tree shaped like and elephant standing on one leg seemed to almost be holding hands with the boulder that looked like a giant turtle but days before I remembered whole minutes passing between seeing the oddly shaped quirks of nature. At around midday, and at around the place I and E, the poor beast and myself had found the flower we stopped for lunch.

"you two are looking tired. Why don't you spread the picnic blanket under that tree and relax for a little while? I think I'm going to stretch my legs."

Molly raised her eyebrows so far that they disappeared beneath her dark fringe. I shook my head slightly. But neither of us said anything. I and E sidled off. Casually bending over from time to time fiddling with his shoelace, or pretending to pick something he had dropped from the ground. 30minutes of similar behaviour later he returned with no sight of the small flower but a strangely optimistic look on his face.

The light faded and I and E switched on the headlights. As two milky yellow beams of light illuminated the road he looked at the car with new admiration and wondered to himself why on earth he had put up with that lazy horse for so long. I reminded him that it was that lazy horse and not this new obsession which had found small white flower that he had been looking for his whole life. The car fell into silence as we neared the Burmese boarder. I could feel my heart pumping faster at the thought of illegally entering yet another country.

"my brother says that the part of the border that we are heading for is guarded by two men. They are both very lazy. You know the type, just took the job because they thought it would give them a peaceful life, don't do anything more than they have to. My brother says that rumour has that each day they take it turns to buy alcohol from the nearest town Maungdaw and each night they drink themselves senseless." Said molly
"There is a road 2 km north of their look out post which will take us directly into Bangladesh. We'll have to drive slowly and quietly and without the cars lights but with any luck we'll get through without any problems."

I looked at molly as she finished talking and then said:
"are you sure that the two of you want to come with me? Its very dangerous and if we get caught we'll be in serious trouble. It might be easier if you dropped me hear and make my way on foot."

"Are you kidding?" Said molly. "this is the first time in my life I've been on such an adventure and I'm not turning back now just as it is getting exciting!"

"there is no way you are turning back now oh sweet-smelling wife of mine, not when we have these in our possession." I and E pulled out of his pocket a handful of dried up brown seeds and showed them to us proudly.
"these small white flowers are going to be grown in a country whose government doesn't Jail people for having opinions of their own" he said triumphantly.

Well I must stop writing dear diary. Its time to turn the lights. Please try to stay as quiet as you can this bag of mine. I hope we all make it through safely.

Rachel Queen

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Notes From a Man on the Production Line

It's all the same pathetic means to the same drib-drab fucking ends. And what's worse is that this will happen tomorrow and the day after and the day after. And what's even worse than that is that I will be here to witness the whole sad charade of humanity. Now who's laughing? But then what do we know about things like that- we only pack pet foods. Oh yes. Almost forgot. This new century. Yes. Here. Now. Some things are ok to fuck over, I guess…

Tonight I feel like getting drunk. Why? Because I am fucked over myself by the dregs of society. Some people know things, others know the other things, and all I know is that I have to quit the job, the packing of Pal and Pedigree, just as soon as it is humanely possible. I hate them all. The stem of humanity. "Humanity at its best is a failure." Who said that? I wonder…

I'm sick of all this that goes on, and the laughing and bonhomie makes me ill. I am so tired right now. I don't want to work anymore. I don't want to. I feel unable to cope with it. That's it. I am, me, unable to cope. Is this wrong? Work? The money is a luxury. I can live without it. Some things, however, sustain me, they are what I need. I don't want what I don't need. Remember who you are, Bickle. How old are the people packing Kit-e-Kat, and how old do you become by packing Kit-e-Kat? I don't understand anything. Ah, that's his favourite line, and it means what to me because of him?

Those voices that sound the same. Delegates, representatives of somewhere or something. They aren't of a local dialect. They aren't of any dialect. But where does it come from? The 'I' brigade is everywhere, and people like that make me sick. Disenchanted two-star dancers who are not looking for more than what they already have. Is it break time yet?

I need action. Something to, or someone to, take me away from all of this for a day, a weekend or whatever. Just chuck me in the boot and take me somewhere else. Still tired. Some things need to go somewhere, others need to go somewhere else, don't they? Oh, here's a cackling supervisor, a little man with a ball of snot under his left nostril, yep, here's some noise I can do without…

Things are always going wrong one way or another. This place. It's coming to a head, I can feel it. Rules and regulations. The regulatory piss. It's so bad that, yet again, I have to laugh like a madman to retain a sense of worth and reality. "Take me to a happiness beyond human reach." Now, who the hell said that?

Behaviour by the pound, as money, as a form of profit or loss; human beings as a system, a business to be bartered. It can't go on like this…

That's it! I've quit the job! The ecstasy of my burden being removed. The weight off my shoulders is almost physical. I'm drained of it all. Now, to know that one can concentrate his life on doing what he wants to do is the most fortunate and precious feeling a man can have. But isn't it also a right?

Time to catch up with myself again. But there's still this niggling urge, a fear of what I can and cannot live without…

Who was it, I suddenly recall, who said that I always look so lonely, even in a crowd? She was drunk…ah yes: Sarah, curse of my blood brother. No, I bear her no ill, only the fact that she caused Garry so much pain is still etched in my memory. But remember also the joy she gave him, having lived, lost, alone for so long. Long distance runaround. Sometimes I imagine myself being stalked. I wonder who's took my place on the line? Some things you have to lose along the way. GOOD. Some things are trivial and so that's the way it is, I suppose.

This television. These people in a night club. What can you call what these people do her, now, on this television, in this night club. Is it pseudo-hedonism? The niceties of nihilism? It is something…

In trouble of the financial kind. The television has to go back. So does the video recorder. Bastards didn't pay me my money, although I half-expected that after walking out like that. Underneath the bridge? Must see her again. When is the 4th June? Next week? Ah yes. Where did you see me? Must remember the 4th June, the 4th June…

It's the 4th June and I am even more in debt. I can't deny that I'm weak sometimes because a denial of weakness is a denial of life itself. I like that that one. Christ, I can't even get anything out of this fucking library until I pay my fines. How on earth did I get myself into this mess, this debt? Don't laugh, Bickle, don't laugh at yourself this time. Lots of things, lots of other things, are much more laughable than that.

Who said that they knew me?

Soon it will be October. Too much noise, too much noise to concentrate on anything, anything at all. Christ, "look so lonely" for a minute, read as "took so long." I see they're advertising for packers again. Maybe I'll change my name. They won't remember a face…

Paul Williamson

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Impressions of Matthew - Part 1

First, an ink snapshot. Actually, it's a description of a real photo, but I want you to see it as I do, and hence: rather in words. The scene is the front of a filling-station shop. The light is bright and gives nothing away, but I remember it well and I know it's a summer's mid-afternoon, somewhere between two and three. I (as the photographer) am sitting in the car, facing the shop, and through the windscreen one sees Matthew coming towards the car, grinning as he sees me raise the camera. His khaki sleeves are rolled up to his elbows, as usual, and he is carrying the can of soft-drink he has bought. It is my last photo of him.

We have stopped here for some fuel, and the cool-drink, on the way home. Matthew has just the received the new, flame-red Volkswagen which is replacing the clapped-out and faded old blue Ford which had served him fitfully - and now, in retrospect, so faithfully - until its timely demise a few weeks before, and we have spent the morning going places with it. I have my camera because one of the places - and our chief objective - had been the old house I had discovered some days previously while walking the dogs with my mom and dad in the recently-cut timber-forests on the plateau leading out to World's View, the vantage-point over Pietermaritzburg and surrounding valleys, and scene for so many late-night cigarettes and slugs of whiskey in the years before. The house - or whatever it had been - was now no more than a crumbling ruin with trees growing around and through it, gaping holes in the walls and roof and assorted graffiti, and Matthew had liked this description as much as I had known he would. Earlier we had gone there, he with paint and some brushes, I with my camera, and both of us with a six-pack of beer.


I remember the first time I tried to take a photo of him, only about a month before this, and this photo I have to describe, because in my inexperience and eagerness for a surprise photo, I had forgotten to switch the camera on. But I can describe it, because I'm perfectly sure of what it would have looked like. I was visiting our mutual friend Caleb in Durban (in fact, though, as with many of my friends, I am no longer certain how we had become friends in the first place, I think it was Caleb - who had been in the same primary school as I, and in the same sixth form class as Matthew - who had first introduced us). At this stage I was studying in Stellenbosch, a thousand miles away, and Caleb and Matthew both in Durban, so that I only saw them every six months or so. I had been with Caleb and his then-fiancee Cindy-May all afternoon, and Matthew was coming to join us after finishing his shift at the book-store. I had already taken some photo's of Caleb and Cindy-May with the camera I had bought to take to the Netherlands with me in a month's time, and was waiting for Matthew. The buzzer rang downstairs and Caleb opened the safety-door. I was waiting at the top of the stairs. The photo would have been dark, even with the flash, and it would have shown him just after the turn of the stairs, coming up the stairs towards me, unaware of being pictured, only his dark-blonde hair, dyed slightly darker, throwing some of the flash's light back at the camera, his clothes dark-green and browns. His head was down, looking at the stairs as he came up them, two at a time. The camera was not on, the photo lost.


The day at the ruined house was in fact a little out of the ordinary. Even though for the last five years, since I had left to study at Stellenbosch, we had seen each other only very intermittently; when we did, we tended not to really do anything. Very often we would simply meet up wherever he was staying at the time - I would always stay with my parents in Pietermaritzburg while visiting during the holidays, and though they adored Matthew, as they did my other friends, it wasn't too comfortable hanging there - someone would put on some music, and we would talk a little, mostly about music, sometimes about writing or films or something similar. Eventually a little about ourselves, perhaps. That has always been, for me, the true mark of our friendship: that, even though we'd been through a lot together and shared all the other things friends do, this was the unique thing, that even after not seeing each other for a long time, there was never any urgent need to fill silences. Sometimes we would hardly say anything for an hour, but it wouldn't be uncomfortable, though with other people it would always be. Sooner or later we would drive somewhere and talk a little more, perhaps, or sometimes not. Though we sometimes did, there was never any need to do something. We could quite happily do nothing, and enjoy it.


Once, I think it was two years after I had left, I was visiting him in Durban. He had just broken up with and moved out of the flat he had shared with Zoe (with whom I remain friends, and would still pick to play Holly Golightly if ever I was to do a re-make of Breakfast at Tiffany's - but in a nice way) and was staying with a friend of her older brother's, a boy with nothing if not good musical taste, and a vast musical collection, recently augmented during a trip to England. The furniture was beat up in a big way. I remember an old sleeper couch with more sag than stuffing, and a cigarette-pocked carpet. Some cd finished playing and he took another from the cupboard, asked: "Have you heard Belle and Sebastian?". I wasn't sure if I had, and confusing them with Sly & Robbie, said tentatively that I thought I had, but didn't think it was for me. Unperturbed he took the cd out of its bluish-grey cover and put it on, sure that I would like it...


Sometimes he would play me the music he was making himself. He had recorded some with a friend of his that I didn't know, but more often played little runs he had devised himself on his home-sprayed white blue and red Fender. Later, when he went in for trumpet instead, I bought the guitar off him. I play it now in a Belle and Sebastian tribute band, using the chords he taught me way back in high school.

To be continued...    

JohaN Hugo

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