One Day a Summer

Back in the days when we still had dreams, when Gabriel Garcia Marquez was God, we'd stare out over the sprawl of London town and fantasize of a great and joyous sorrow when the scent of bitter almonds would come our way too. As yet unwise to the three-card trick and the sleight-of-hand, we accepted magic and marvelled over where things went and the mysteries of death and the universe. And that's how we were, in that break of youth, in a time of magic, when Gabriel Garcia Marquez was God.

I didn't know who she was. She'd sometimes just appear, be stood there, smoking and looking out to the farther world. “Imagine all those lives going on out there,” she'd say, closing her eyes and blowing her smoke through the evening. “All the fuck-ups and those with nothing but the distance to keep them going. O, I want to be something, to do something. The beauty of this life is too terrible to do nothing. We've an obligation... A duty.”

And we all felt like that. Like life branched out from there in a thousand different directions from a thousand different tributaries. With every book we read and every name we learned and every word we mastered, it all seemed to be leading somewhere, to some thing, to a changing of the guard. There was an excitement and a fervour in everything we did. Our own thoughts excited us. England and what lay beyond excited us. Music and art and literature and philosophy excited us. And most of all, the cyanide of love and its promise to come excited us. It was as if we could build something impossible together. That if only we had someone to hold onto through desperate nights then the morning would always come and tomorrow would be an antidote to yesterday. For a while back then, even poverty felt kind. We grew and became more complex and more brilliant with the less we had. We fostered fantastic lives and adopted fantastic roles within them. If we had no coffee to wake up to we'd make homemade lemonade. And we were happy to wake; to see the world through newborn eyes, to make sure our folly was real.

- - -

“Read to me,” she would always ask through those great hot stuffy nights when the moon wasn't long enough in the sky to cool the city. “I've great dreams,” she would say, “and I know you do too.”

And so I would read, and the words would transport us to holy places and each night promised some mighty breakthrough that filled us with a queer kind of hope that we had no right to feel. On occasions we'd play music in an unknown language, close our eyes and imagine a carnival of life.

“What do you see?” she would ask. I would tell her of men on stilts in top-hats and Union Jacks, singing foxes and black midgets with muskets. I'd tell her of the longing sound of a ship's horn and the crashing wild of the sea and of flying fish and a journey to strange lands of rituals and death. “We're gonna get out of this place,” I'd say, and she'd smile and silently weep and look up at the moon and dream along.

“It's all bullshit,” I'd tell her.

“What? What's bullshit?”

“The moon. That we went to the moon. But it's a nice story.”

“It is,” she would say. “It is a beautiful story, isn't it... it's one of the very best.” And then she'd break down from some unknown melancholy and we'd both be lost then.

Nights like those did something to us. They brought in an all-knowing and savage poetry. They let us know, without a doubt, that we were prisoners to so much more than the economy and our little slither of town. We understood that we could be ripped apart by our emotions, by our lovers, by our mothers and fathers, by unrequited love, unrequited anything. We understood that the pursuit of the dream is often the death sentence and that romantics die such terrible deaths, always.

Lord Byron – septicemia
P B Shelley – drowned
Huysmans – mouth cancer
Oscar Wilde – syphilis
Lermontov – shot through the heart


Well, the winters came and the winters went and once in the middle of March it snowed. For a while I lived with a lover in a room with no windows, with nothing but an old hairdryer to defrost our fingers and toes. We tee-pee'd the covers on our bed and spent most of our days sitting under there, reading and talking and inventing a world outside that appreciated art and repaid suffering and was waiting for us to emerge. We believed these things. We collected the rotten, discarded fruit from the market and we drank black tea and that is how we passed the bad days and convinced ourselves that those to come would be so much better. And then they came.

- - -

He had lost his mind and he used to tell me this terrible story, the only story he could remember to tell. He was on the Falkland Island, running across the flat peatlands of Goose Green with a hundred kilos of kit while being peppered with machine gun fire. He told me of the early morning sun and the burning gorse and of his escape from the anarchy and madness of men and countries. When he was finally free of the bullets, collapsed down into the safety of shelter, he spoke of this great melancholy that descended upon him, of how safety and mortality had not saved him, but had left him looking back and yearning to run the lottery of that machine gun fire once more. His comrades had been cut down and his Commanding Officer taken out in the first steps. He had lost too much to ever be able to celebrate survival. He was ashamed of his survival, had lost himself in that desperate race across burning terrain, screaming for sanctuary and life and the comfort of his mother.

I'd repeat that story to people and choke up as I told of those last words, that the truth is that the summer will kill us and rob of us of our essence. Escaping the war is no success, and being rewarded for words will not guarantee there'll be more to come. Our art and romance is safer in the doldrums, is more sure when you’re starving and drug-sick and your lover hangs on to your dreams and madness only because it's too hard to turn back. And our summer will come... Our summer is on its way. It is bleeding into the last of the winter and I tell you now, the heat will roll in soon and our skins will brighten and our minds will heal and we'll have a blast when she's finally here.

“It's a beautiful story,” she would say. “It's one of the very best.”

“It is,” I'd reply. "It is." . And then I'd quench the candle and we'd hunker down and the winter night would do its thing and there was not a trace of bitter almonds anywhere, just the stench of unwashed bodies and the fading scent of melted wax.

- - -

Thanks as EVER for reading... One Day a Summer, Shane. X

Lines for Joe M


alibinbin said...

I love this post. It seems to capture mixtures of the nostalgia or "Time gone past" or hiraeth as the welsh say. There is a certain point in my rattle which occurs just before it starts to become physical when thinking of past happier times can reduce me to an emotional wreck

_Black_Acrylic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
_Black_Acrylic said...

Really appreciate your bittersweet words, as ever Shane. Here's hoping you are well.

Ben x

JoeM said...

I really love it when you're in this mode.

This is like a mini Waiting for John. (In spirit if not gender - but I love all the Fuck Gender stuff of today).


(1) We'd stare out over the sprawl of London town and fantasize of a great and joyous sorrow.

(2) And most of all, the cyanide of love and its promise to come excited us.

(My favourite)

(3) It was as if we could build something impossible together.

Favourite paragraph:

That if only we had someone to hold onto through desperate nights then the morning would always come and tomorrow would be an antidote to yesterday. For a while back then, even poverty felt kind. We grew and became more complex and more brilliant with the less we had. We fostered fantastic lives and adopted fantastic roles within them. If we had no coffee to wake up to we'd make homemade lemonade. And we were happy to wake; to see the world through newborn eyes, to make sure our folly was real.

So utterly brilliant.

PS -

"P B Shelley – drowned"

"Pete Shelley - heart attack"

Shane Levene said...

Hey Joe... My own favourite writing is in this mode, and there is usually a little of it in most texts. But it's still nice to mix it up, and I think it can be appreciated even more when it's the odd text but completely drowns in it. I think a love for a man and a love for a woman are both the same thing - the experience is the same and anyone who has ever loved or has been loved can/should be able to empathize with any kind of intense love, no matter what the genders involved. But yes, Tristram had that same kind of whimsical romance and often existed more on memory rather than the dullness of his immediate reality - not that his immediate reality was ever dull!

The Buzzcocks were one band I never got into. I don't know why, was more just an impression they gave off or something. But I've never listened to them very much. Still very sad that Pete Shelley passed... Another little reminder that none of us will go on forever. All My Love & Thoughts, Joe... Shane. X

Shane Levene said...

Hey Ben... Thanks for your words, they always mean a lot. I'm not too bad... I could and probably should be worse, so (in the words of Chas & Dave) Musn't Grumble. X

Shane Levene said...

Alibinbin... I'm the same. Just before real junk sickness comes on I am plagued with this very specific and distant memory, almost playing out like a lullaby (only it is not pleasant but extremely emotional). It's always the same: sitting in a bar in the evening, earlier on in the year I became an addict, and Bob Marley's Redemption Song is playing on the jukebox. It was late autumn and the bar was empty but for me and the barmaid and one other fella. And that sole memory plagues me at the very start of sickness, and it echoes through me as the junk seeps. X

Mieze said...

When we knew we could, probably would be ripped apart by lovers, fathers and mothers, by just life itself… and knowing it, we either chose or were compelled to go on anyway. Yes, exactly. And even though it sometimes gets beaten out of us, something of it remains. Thank you for this piece of writing, for everything it says and doesn’t say directly.

(I'm repeating this here from a comment left on the Dirty Works site... if the comment there is lost when you clean up there.)

eyelick said...

The idealism of early adulthood feels wonderful, so much possibility and knowing you're going to be someone, do something important. (You have, just unsure if it's what you imagined.) & Yes, everything seems so connected, synchronized toward something big, some major upheaval, progress. And the shittier, more labor intensive my job, the more life was a struggle - the more alive it made me feel. Now poverty seems like a pile of steaming shit & am alive to see how many of those ideas were not accomplished, the major detour never expected & only ever imagined one time as a joke. Life is funny that way. But this text brings up fabulous memories. Thank you.

Shane Levene said...

Mieze, I don't think we do realize that life can rip us apart at that age. We feel like we can take it to life and take it to our lovers and kick the shit out of this and that and survive plane crashes and the entire collapse of society. And then one day we get almost mortally wounded by something as seemingly insignificant as a lover walking away.

Here's an interesting thing.

The Clash song 'I fought the Law'. Growing up, I'm talking even from the age of ten, I always sung that song as 'I fought the Law and I won, I fought the Law and I won..." That's how I thought it went and I couldn't understand how anyone with anything about them would sing a song about taking on the law and losing. That seemed ridiculous. It was only when I got in my mid 20s and had taken a beating myself that I understood how much more human it is to have fought and taken a beating and been beaten into submission... That that is the romance of such fights... That losing can be beautiful and singing or writing about your losses is so much more powerful than your victories. Alex Higgins, when asked about his favourite moment... his greatest achievement/victory, said: It wasn't a victory... It was my losses... The way in which I lost.

A reference to that almost made it into this text. It had the same kind of overwhelming emotional power as the end of the text that I eventually went with. And that's really all the text is, an acknowledgement and a celebration of being beaten, of taking all that, being brought to your knees and then still being able to whisper the most incredible stuff into someone's ear. X

Shane Levene said...

Eyelick... X

That time as a young adult that you talk about, I was living in the old family home (that sounds quite grand, but it was a government issue house for poor families and was falling to pieces and imbued with 20 years of tragedy). Any way, I was living there and it was a Victorian house with these old wooden floorboards. I'd get up early on summer mornings and I'd open the windows and get a bucket of soapy water and I'd tidy up and scrub those floorboards until the room smelled of wet wood. I'd sit down in that fragrance and it was early but already you could feel the great heat coming in and there seemed so much time and so much you could do in a single day. I'd be off all over London doing everything from hunting around in secret music stores to researching old Victorian rubbish dumps and roman fares. There was so much time you could get drunk and sober up all in the same day! You could paint, fish, fuck and write books and still have time to murder your grandmother. Existence is a beautiful thing no matter what... And the realisation of being mortal and having extremely limited time is maybe what makes it so. X

eyelick said...

Finally ordered your book 3 days ago! So excited! It took me forever, it's kinda hard for me to get past just the level of get by + semi indulgence (lattes & chocolate, excessive cigarettes, mainly far as that goes) and the ability to be a lazy ass. "Man, never been so fucking hyped for a book!" Lol. Probably have in my case, but what's definitely different is the, "writing all that was never written for me," factor.

eyelick said...

Your book was a little complicated to get because they weren't sure if it had been sent or not. But after receiving it, it's been a slow process, trying to make it last! Picking it up on occasion, reading it out of order. There's one section left. You seem to touch on just about everything. Some of it is familiar, including reworked stories no longer accessible. Really love how you rewrote the story about Ewan to reflect your thought process - going over the image in your mind & in person, noticing more little details each time. It's been wonderful. Thank you!

Crystaliciousxxx said...

I've been following this blog for years now, silently creeping into the stories and adventures you've been through. I've through so many similar situations- kind the time my boyfriend at the time lived in a van. User lots of plastic, lots of blankets, a mattress and often turning the van on and off just for that 5 minnies of warmth. I love your writings and wish there ate more ♡

Anonymous said...

I really hope you're ok.
Clare, NSW

MB said...

Hope you are all right,

Concerned occasional reader.

Solidus said...

Hope you're OK, would love to see a new post from you.

Anonymous said...

Seem that Shane is in England now, so this project is over i think. So bad.

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It is evident that, for whatever reason, Shane has finished here. I thank you all for allowing me to lurk in this haven these last ten years.
I note some disheartening comments of late but I'm confident there are still real people.

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