About Me

Tollesbury, Essex, United Kingdom
I was born in the Summer of 1969 in Dagenham, just on the border of East London. School was largely unproductive but enjoyable, setting me up for something of a wayward but interesting life! On leaving school I had various jobs including putting up stalls at Romford Market, working in a record shop, putting up ceilings, gardening and road sweeping. After resigning from an insurance company to play in a band, I found myself unemployed for two years. Then finally I got back on my feet and I've been a psychiatric nurse since 1997. I wrote A Cleansing of Souls when I was 22 years old and followed it up with Tollesbury Time Forever almost twenty years later. I started writing The Bird That Nobody Sees in September 2011 and it was released in July 2012. In terms of writing, my heroes are Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck. I would also include Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits as literary influences. So that's me I guess - scruffy, happy and in love with literary fiction, music and life...

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Bird That Nobody Sees - Prologue


It all began with a washing machine.

And it ended with angels.

The electrical appiance in question, the defunct washing machine that really triggered all that was to follow, was housed in a low outbuilding in the concrete beer garden of The Rising Sun Public House in Chelmsford, Essex. The building had been used by previous landlords to store all sorts of pub trade remnants, from broken chairs to out of date pork scratchings. The current landlord, however, had cleared everything out except for the old washing machine. It wasn't plumbed in and had no discernible use, certainly not in terms of for what the manufacturer intended. The round door was hanging on by a thread, or to be more exact, a rusty metal pin, and there were dents and scratches all over its once pristine white surface. But despite its woeful appearance, it was still kept behind the double-padlocked door of the outbuilding.

On the morning of New Years Day, 2011, Glyn Parsons, Landlord of The Rising Sun sat cross-legged on the floor staring into his washing machine. Having bemoaned the round door for its precarious bearings and life in general for being so entirely against him, he removed the plastic carrier bag from the metal drum. He then pulled out the rectangular receptical that was used to hold the powder and conditioner and retrieved two smaller bags. It was then, at the height of his concentration, that the terse blare of a horn blasted into his morning. He thrust the larger  bag up the front of his t-shirt and quickly returned the two smaller bags to the powder/conditioner drawer. He slammed the round door shut – or tried to. The force of the motion led to the bent pin snapping. The washing machine door fell to the floor, performing a half-hearted piroette before coming to rest in front of Glyn's feet. He didn't like days at the best of times and this, clearly, was going to be another year full of days just like all the others. The horn blared again.

Glyn emerged from the gloom of the outbuilding and stomped into the beer garden, all scowl and temper and hatfuls of hate "Can't you just knock on the door like everyone else?"

The van driver to whom Glyn had addressed his less than chirpy question grinned from the safety of his cab.

"Come on Glyn mate. Cheer up! It's a new year! Now open up the old hatch and let me deliver you the finest quality spirits your money can buy."

Glyn shook his head as the  man reversed his van. The driver then jumped out and opened up the two  doors in the ground that led to the cellar. Pulling out a pallet trolley he began loading it with wooden crates full of whisky. Glyn looked on dispassionately.

"Phone's ringing, mate."

"Sorry?" replied Glyn.

"Your phone. In the pub. It's ringing."

The phone was indeed ringing. Glyn left the driver to his work and his oh so cheerful demeanour and went back in the pub via the back door, expecting news that was going to do little to elevate his mood. He guessed it would be either the hospital or the brewery.

So the driver unloaded the last of his tax-free French Supermarche whisky looking bottles and slid the bolt across the top of the hatch. It was then that he noticed that the door to the outbuilding was open. He had never seen it open in the two years he'd been delivering to The Rising Sun. He was what would be referred to in Court as 'an opportunist'. He had a pallet trolley and a van. And there was a washing machine – a decidedly forlorn washing machine, but years of experience had taught him that for every 'second-hand' item there's a willing buyer somewhere. Even for a washing machine without a door.

As the driver had careered out of the alley alongside The Rising Sun, so it had soon become apparent to him that he hadn't secured the back door to his van. A good thief plans and takes his time. An opportunist, well, he just takes his chance. The sharp left hand turn out onto New London Road had toppled the unsecured washing machine onto its side and the first pot-hole in the road had succeeded in flinging open one of the two rear doors of the van. The driver looked fretfully into his mirror. He had a decision to make. He wasn't aware that at that stage Glyn was upstairs packing a bag to drive up to Nottingham to see to the body of his deceased mother. Thus his fear of being caught was momentarily misplaced. But an opportunist doesn't acknowledge such feelings – it's all about the hush and the rush and the squeal and the shhh. No time for being organised and certainly no time for slowing down. The left hand-turn into Redmayne Drive, just a hundred yards further down the road had seen to the final unveiling of that poor washing machine.

The driver stopped and slammed on the brakes the moment his trusty van had deposited the doorless appliance into the road. There had not even been an unbilical cord to lend grace to the descent. Just bang and clank and clonk and silence. There it was, a few feet from a bemused Rod Langford. A stolen washing machine minus a door with eighteen amphetamine tablets in the conditioner compartment and, ironically, nine grams of cocaine in the powder compartment.

Rod stood there, his little hands in his little pockets looking about as cool as anyone could who has just had a washing machine land in front of them. The flustered driver leapt from his cab and hurtled around to the back of the van all ready to load up the purloigned appliance.

"Alright?" said the driver when he saw Rod staring at the machine.

"Alright?" replied Rod.

"It's a washing machine. Fell out the back of the van."

Rod considered the validity of this statement.

"Do you want a hand getting it back in?" he asked.

"Do you want it for thirty quid?"

"Thirty quid?"

"Yeah. Thirty quid."

"It hasn't got a door."

"How much is a door going to cost you?" reasoned the driver.

Rod considered his options.



"Ok," said Rod. Twenty-five quid for a washing machine. No more trips to the laundrette in town. Liz would be over the moon.

"How am I going to get it to mine though?"

"Where do you live?"

"Just down the end there on the right. Pearce Manor."

"Give us thirty and you can take this pallet barrow. That will do you."

Rod took out his wallet from the inside pocket of his leather jacket and took out thirty pounds. He'd just got his benefits and only this morning Liz had sighed at the pile of washing that needed to be sorted. Had Rod known of the word serendipity, he may well have felt rather serendipitous at that particular time. But it was as he was wheeling his newly acquired appliance back to his flat that his life changed. Someone who is technically classified as a midget can only reach so high it seems.

The white van did a three point turn, mounted the kerb and sped away. Job done. The driver had made a miserable git more miserable and a little man happy. Not a bad morning's work. And so thought the two police officers who, in their unmarked car, rounded the corner onto Redmayne Drive some moments later, to come to the aid of a small sweaty man in a leather jacket who was struggling to convey his washing machine to his third floor flat.

Serendipity indeed.

Chelmsford Magistrates Court is at the top of Chelmsford High Street, that steep hill lined by banks and appliance shops, fashion retailers and fast food restaurants. The wide, pedestrian-only thoroughfare gives a parisien feel to what is otherwise a non-descript stretch of commercial enterprise. During the day, particularly Saturdays, people scrabble backwards and forwards, up and down in search of items and articles and remnants and goods that they believe will enhance their existence. The receipt is as important as the purchase and the credit card is the king of all kings.

At night there is a hiatus as the High Street is swept clean and the revellers do enter the scene. It always begins the same – foolery Tom foolery and the high jinx jazz with a splattering of frolic and jolity fun. But come late eve when drink and drugs have addled the minds and frazzled up the nerves, well that is when the foolish becomes the fractious and the inebriated become the indignant. There's a staggering and a posturing and a wailing and a flailing. Words change. Language changes. It is all of a sudden an alien persuasion that has persuaded the Chelmsford nation to recoil at beauty and retreat from all that is good. And that's what the two Police vans at the bottom of the High Street are for. And that's what the Magistrates Court at the top of the High Street is for. Drink and drugs on a Saturday night are just a one-way ticket on the invisible Essex cable car that leads only to judgement.

"Mr Langford," said the frowny, course-haired, hard-boned magistrate. "We find you guilty of being in possession of illicit substances of a sufficient amount that would indicate an intent to supply. Your defence that the white goods in which the drugs were concealed had 'fallen off the back of a van' does not mitigate your guilt in the proceedings. You are hereby sentanced to four months imprisonment. Take him down."

In this life, there are people considered to be good and there are people considered to be bad. The fact that such people are merely opposite ends of the same continuum will sometimes be forgotten. Circumstance, whim, a calculated choice even can move one closer to the other. Nobody is predictable and everybody has the capacity for change. That is what makes life so incredible.

So if several months later, you were, say, a policeman and you and several of your colleagues were running up a hill in a park in a small town in Essex looking for a midget and you happened upon a huge oak tree at the foot of which are four drunk men singing 'Sit Down Next To Me' by James and then suddenly the midget whom you seek appears from out the top of the tree and does something entirely unbelievable – well, just think of it as life. That's all. It's just life.

And angels of course…


Nick Wilford said...

Good start, Stu. Full of humour and I like your depiction of Chelmsford on Saturday night. I went to Essex Uni in Colchester and we tended to avoid the town centre at the weekend because it's pretty similar!

I've tagged you in the Lucky 7 meme and there's some questions too. If you don't have a page 77 yet, just do the nearest page ending in 7. Details are at my blog! :)

Stu Ayris said...

Thank you Nick! Hope all is well with you!

Colchester? It's about twenty minutes from Tollesbury but it's like an entirely different country at night! Squaddie town...

Lucky 7 sounds very interesting - will do what I can mate!!