Being human and living the life

Tis a tough ask, just being. So when asked to write a life, a whole life span…

January 14, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a life span. It can a life of a person  as if flashing by or the life of a honey bee. What key elements would show a lifetime in brevity? Does it add to a character’s development or create tension? What is the emotion or is it void?

…I’m rather foxed. The good people over at Charli’s carrot ranch, those mean writers of flash the Rough Writers, have already come up with some corkers. Take a look if you don’t believe me. It’s a high quality week amongst a continuingly improving group.

Normally, about now, some link to some idea that the prompt has triggered fires my crusty old synapses into action and I can ramble hither and yon a bit before getting down to cases. This time though, my links are rather, hmm, maudlin.

I wonder if the problem with a life span is that a span is finite. It’s kind of over, isn’t it. The beginning and middle are fine but the end? You have to have an end, a death, as well as the bits before. And however we dress it up, ends, for those people and things we care for are grim. I’ve said it before, I do not buy time as a great healer. Time merely adds a layer of new experiences that help numb, neuter and anesthetise the grief, hiding it.

This was brought home to me in two conversations over the last couple of days.

Conversations one: Brown and Green café at Crystal Palace station – seriously , if you are in south London, go there. I love it –  a man was asking to put up a poster of his dog, a Scottie. The dog had just died of a heart attack and the man, bereft, wanted to do something positive so was setting up a Just Giving page in his dog’s honour to raise money for the PDSA which, for non Brits, is a pet charity. He clearly wasn’t coping well but what made it hard for him, he said, was the lack of understanding how grief affected him. Lose a child and, of course, the sympathy is deep and long lasting. Lose a parent when you’re a child and ditto. Lose a parent as an adult, or even lose a pet and people assume you’ll get over it. It isn’t that easy. Really. Not for everyone.

Conversation two with my Bro in law. When my mum died aged 82, the Archaeologist and I decided we would have a funeral that was truly a celebration of a life well lived. Humour was at its centre; my mother was a funny woman, with plenty of anecdotes. Lots of warmth amongst the sadness. Then my uncle, her younger brother spoke. He thanked my brother  and me but he was in tears. His beloved sister had been a mother to him, he said. When their father fell ill in 1937, she, aged 12 left school to nurse him and bring up him and their younger brother while their mother, my Gran, went out to work. When my grandfather died in 1940, she continued to look after the boys and run the house until they went to boarding school and she went into the ATS. He felt he could never repay that debt. She never saw it that way which, in its way, made her going that bit worse for him. Few people there, me included realised, until that moment, the extent of her sacrifice and his desperation to live up to her example. Despite rich lives, fully lived, that burden never eased.

In this photo, from June 1940, Ted is preparing to repel the Luftwaffe. Mum and Ted lived in Herne Bay on the North Kent coast and watched the dog fights fought between Spitfires and Hurricanes on one side and Messerschmitts on the other as the Battle of Britain played out that hot tense summer.

mum and ted

So perhaps that explains the introverted and somewhat gloomy piece I have penned. As I hope this blog has shown I am, in the words of my malaproping daughter (who is clearly, despite a considerable education, taking over from her great grandmother) an eternal octopuss and cheerful by nature. There is always a little shade somewhere, of course.

Uncomfortably numb

Mary let the sun caress her. Paul watched, worried as she said, “Do you ever know another person? I thought I knew dad. He was my hero. Omnipotent. The war, the battles with illness. Sanitised snippets, like a highlights show. Some doubts, little dustballs in the corner – they made him fallible, more human, you know? They were never so bad I couldn’t forgive him. Always. But this? He’s dead and there’s this whole other him I knew nothing about. Adulterer, father of my twin who might be buried in the garden. What am I going to do, Paul? What?”

If you want the previous instalments of Mary’s story, please click here.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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14 Responses to Being human and living the life

  1. Annecdotist says:

    Poor Mary! Your readers always felt sorry for her, even when you gave her such a hard time.
    I love the story of your mother and the photo. Of course, you couldn’t experience her the way that your uncle did, but the revelation must have added another layer to the celebration of her life.
    Coincidentally, I have a similar setup in my latest novel project of a boy who was brought up by his elder sister (although she was a bit older than 12, that’s very young to have to become a surrogate mother), with a similar photo of them together, although yours is more nuanced than the one in my mind.


    • TanGental says:

      Steal my story! I’d be delighted… Thank you for sympathising with Mary, even if you make me sound like a dreadful character abuser! It’s Charli’s fault (well, maybe that and my subconscious).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the photo and the story about your mum and Ted. Also, great flash and title twist on the Floyd song.
    I feel for the man at the cafe. My cat was my first child. My furchild. We always referred to him as the oldest with our kids. I still miss him. I’ll never get over it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      Nope, never will, will you? Glad you liked the flash though. And Uncle Ted was easily the best man ever. I wept at his funeral as I didn’t at my parents’ because he was unique in just being loved.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s interesting our reactions to the deaths of loved ones. And, sometimes, friends…acquaintances… You never know whose death will shatter you. I’ve had some surprises. Ted sounds like a great man — and a lucky man being loved by so many so deeply.


      • TanGental says:

        True, we can’t know how it will hit us; I usually find funerals, especially church ones, numbing because of the formalities that I have no way of accessing (not believing a word of all the religious stuff). But then, sometime after, wallop.


  3. Charli Mills says:

    Mary’s story is one that shows us that we never know another’s suffering until we come to that breaking point of grief in our own life. And grief is variable. It is hard to contain, explain or anticipate. It has tiny flash points like lasers. I felt the grief of the man I don’t even know in a cafe in a country across the sea. I felt the grief of your uncle. I felt it in the words you wrote. Maybe grief is an inner sea, the primordial soup we all still have in our DNA. When it’s authentic, we recognize it. When it’s contrived we blow it off. Writers can’t learn to pen the real deal. And sometimes it makes it hard to write. but when we can feel another’s grief, we are no longer strangers. We know and are known. Mary’s story has such deep potential.


  4. Sherri says:

    Comfortably Numb is one of the songs we played at my young, first husband’s funeral. My memoir is about this time so I don’t mention it on my blog. You are right, no matter how old or how young, why do we have to come to the end of someone’s life, before we really begin to understand or know someone? Then I think of your mum and your uncle and then I read this: ‘ ‘Few people there, me included realised, until that moment, the extent of her sacrifice and his desperation to live up to her example. Despite rich lives, fully lived, that burden never eased.’ The beautiful photo of so evocative and tells of lives lived so long ago, yet still very much alive in your memories as a son and nephew, share here with us now through your wonderful writing. You have given me a great deal to think about with this post Geoff, a great deal to ponder. Great flash too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Ah me, well I’m glad I’ve struck a chord and it’s not discordant! Funny old world, isn’t it Sherri, with a couple of conversations gelling with Charli’s prompt to come together like that. And then the link back to that tragic time in your life through song. The curious interconnectedness of things. That feels like a Stephen Hawkins book title.
      BTW I meant to mention that in my weekly serial, Buster and Moo I have one character, the young, streetwise and sexy Sheri (one ‘r’). It was a name I took before I knew you; however, having got to know you a little I sort of guessed you’d more likely feel flattered than offended and o I didn’t change it. Hope that was right!! It’s not too late…


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  6. I love hearing about those early days in your family. We are so far removed from things like spitfire dog fights and although we have seen it in the movies to hear of it being spoken of in an almost everyday fashion makes it seem so much more real. As did Uncle Ted’s words at your Mum’s funeral.
    I can also understand the man grieving his pet. People are becoming more understanding but there is still a way to go.
    As for Mary she still doesn’t know. I can partly empathise with her not knowing her father despite thinking that she did as we found out a year ago my great grandfather was a bigamist. To my knowledge there are no bones in the garden but for my mother (who says thank heavens grandma is dead) it really came as a shock. Waiting with baited breath to see where we go next week.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Bigamy? Blimey. We have several criminals, a moralists and General nare-do-wells but I’m not aware we have ticked that particular box yet! Thank you for the kind comments Irene.

      Liked by 1 person

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