Category Archives: Music

We Are Dreamers 2018


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As some of you may know, I’ve been working on an art installation with Arc to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War.

There will be hundreds of ‘dream’ boxes from local children, adults and artists depicting their dreams and aspirations.

Ten of the boxes, (of which mine is one), will honour the life of a Stockport soldier who lost his (or her), life.

The point of these ten boxes is to honour these people as human beings who had lives outside of being a soldier. In fact, this is what made up the vast majority of their lives. And they had dreams and aspirations too. What would have become of them?

 

The soldier I picked lived locally to me in Heaton Mersey. His name was Herbert Jackson. He worked for Cheshire Lines Railway in Cheadle Heath and played several instruments in the Heaton Mersey Prize Band.

He was due home on leave in the Spring of 1918 to marry his fiance. Unfortunately, his leave was cancelled due to the massive German Spring Offensive of March and April. He was wounded by artillery fire on the 26th April and was moved to a Casualty Clearing Station where he died the following day aged 25. He is buried in Haringhe (Bandaghem ) Military Cemetery, Poperinge, Belgium.

The letter, (which rests on top of the box), is not real. It is something I thought Herbert might have written to his fiance whilst in hospital. Tonally, however, it is based on actual letters from a friend of mine’s grandfather who fought on the Somme.

The ‘Princess Mary’ tin, which was given to all soldiers I imagined would contain mementos of his fiance, such as a lock of her hair.

For me, Herbert’s dream for the future was to come back to the two things he loved most – his fiance, and music.

The sheet music, which lines the interior of the box, is by J.S. Bach and the lyrics are in German. Whilst I doubt that Herbert would have spoken German, they would share the common language of music.

This tribute is to honour the life of Herbert Jackson and all the other men, women and children from every nation, who died in the First World War, and to what futures there might have been.

The We Are Dreamers 2018 exhibition opens on the 11th November, 2018 at the Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery.

Private Herbert Jackson’s biography details were provided courtesy of http://www.stockport1914-1918.co.uk/

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The Boating Party with Michael Koropisz


Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1881. By Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

The Boating Party is a series of Q&As with writers, artists, photographers, filmmakers, musicians, sculptors, illustrators, designers and the like.

In times of economic hardship, the Arts are usually the first things to be axed. But, in my view, the Arts are one of the most important aspects of our civilisation.

Without the arts, we wouldn’t have language or the written word. Without the arts, we have no culture. Without culture, we have no society. Without society, we have no civilisation. And without civilisation, we have anarchy.

Which, in itself, is paradoxical, because so many artists view themselves as rebels to society. To me, artists aren’t rebels, they are pioneers.

Perhaps, most importantly; without the Arts, where is the creativity that will solve the world’s problems going to come from? Including economic and scientific ones?

In this Q&A, I am delighted to welcome artist Michael Koropisz.

I love the way he paints in a classical way yet adds a modern twist that make you look twice.

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Michael Korpisz

What has been your greatest personal or career achievement?

Well, that is a tough one. I have three which were all great achievements at the time, but looking back some outrank others in my present stage of life.

My first great achievement was in 2012 when I was 16 years old. Whilst studying Art GCSE in secondary school, I painted a portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II, and sent it to her as a gift. I thought that was the end of that until I received a reply of gratitude on her behalf from her Lady-in-waiting. I told my art teacher and he surprised me by alerting the headteacher and the local news papers. That day was filled with interviews and photo shoots. I found myself in the newspaper and for a week or so I was recognised in the streets on many occasions and congratulated on my achievements.

My second achievement was winning the prestigious Aon Art Award in which the company Aon (sponsor for Manchester United) leased two of my paintings for their client suite in the heart of London. My works were on display for a year before they were auctioned and sold for a generous sum.

My third is a personal achievement, and the most recent. I spent the year training to be a school teacher. I was doubted a lot by others and endured many hardships but after a year I successfully graduated.

What has been your greatest sacrifice?

My greatest sacrifice was the year I spent training as a teacher. It was something that I highly underestimated, as do many. The job is filled to the brim with paperwork, the hours are very long, and I was intimidated by the staff in my department. I was completely unpaid and struggled financially. Every day in school, I thought of what I could be achieving had I pursued my career as an artist. I am now a full time artist.

To whom do you owe a debt of gratitude?

My parents. They have always supported every decision I made and have complete faith in me. I owe everything in my life to them.

Who, or what, inspires you?

History (18th-19th century) is my inspiration for everything; my clothing, my compositions/music, my artworks and interior design. I often believe that I had a past life, as I have had a real connection with historical clothing and furniture from a very early age, and in turn modern clothing and décor feels uncomfortable and wrong to me.

What makes you unhappy?

To see a lack of manners and disrespect to other people and animals.

What makes you happy?

Many things make me happy, but the main thing is music. I, as many, can listen to music for hours and discover new elements whilst being transported into the world of the composer. It is truly the most powerful art form, and we still have no explanation or definition as to why it is so meaningful.

What are you reading?

I do not read many books, but I do read online. I mainly read non-fiction on philosophy, religion, history, physics (time travel theories and astronomy) and the theory of music/composition as well as art.

Who, or what, are you listening to?

I listen mainly to classical music. From my early childhood I adored Baroque music, especially the works of G. F. Handel. However, as I grew older my taste moved to the more comical side of music in the way of operetta. My current favourite composer is Sir. Arthur Sullivan, known for his partnership with W.S Gilbert as Gilbert and Sullivan.

When I play on my piano or harpsichord, however, I cover a vast range of genres from the Renaissance, Classical, Ragtime, Jazz to Pop.

You’re going on a day trip. Where are you going and what is in your ‘day’ bag?

I would go on a day out in the English countryside and find a picturesque spot for a picnic. I would not take a bag, but a car filled with antique clutter. The aim would be to create a ‘show’ which inspires passers-by to hark to the past themselves. I would take a decorating table covered in a linen cloth, gold antique chairs, my gramophone, fine china, tea pots and a croquet set. I would wear my original Victorian clothing complete with my 1880s moleskin top hat and pocket watch.

What’s your favourite film?

Titanic, as the historical accuracy captured by James Cameron is incredible as well as the music by Horner.

What’s your favourite tipple?

Normally water, but on the occasional night out, white wine or champagne.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

I have two places.

  1. Last week’s Euro lottery draw with the winning numbers written down.

  2. Victorian London. I would love to spend a week or two there. But not for too long due to the dirt and diseases.

What frightens you?

Ghosts and Death.

What do you do to relax?

I write music. Orchestral scores such as sonatas, operas, operettas and arias.

What do you do when you’re angry?

I go cycling. It really helps me calm down and perks me up for the rest of the day.

What can’t you live without?

Hot water. I shower three times a day.

What’s your motto?

“You cannot sit on a coal mine and wait for the coal to magically come to you. You must go in and dig for it”. This implies that an artist cannot spend his life waiting for inspiration, he must push himself to achieve greatness.

Where is your Utopia?

Upper/Middle-class Victorian England, with its social morals and respect, beautiful clothes, architecture, art and music. Not to mention the lack of car pollution. Though the north of England was probably worse with all that soot and smoke due to the industry.

If you only had one year to live what would you do?

Travel the vast land of North America.

Up who’s arse would you like to stick a rocket, and why?

My college art teacher who claimed I was not an artist as my work was not relevant in today’s society. She was a modern artist and had me disqualified from art. I therefore have no A-level in the subject.

Who would you like to be stuck in an elevator with?

Prince William, so that I could convince him that I should be his court artist for the remainder of his life. Being young, his patronage could be really useful.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on local commissions and extravagant portraits.

What is your ambition?

To spend my life as a painter and change the outlook on the world in a way in which we do not forget the aesthetics and skills of the past but take the best parts from it.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

I would remove cars. I feel that local communities have broken down because of them, they clutter streets and people would be much healthier and happier without them. Though this would take some time to adjust to. Imagine a world in which everyone walks, travels on horseback, in carriages or cycles.

Which six people would you invite to your boating party?

  1. G. F Handel (Composer)

  2. Sir Arthur Sullivan (Composer)

  3. Queen Victoria

  4. Franz Winterhalter (Artist)

  5. A passenger from the Titanic- It would be interesting to hear about the night of the sinking in detail.

  6. My father – Being from a very working class background I would love to see his face as the snobbery unfolded.

Though, by the sounds of it, this boating party would consist of me and my father sat with a pile of corpses, as most of the guests are dead.

What would be on the menu?

I think that the guests would be very hungry after not eating for over a century. Therefore, I would serve a meal commonly eaten in the Victorian era, consisting of around 8 courses, as was done at the time.

What question would you have liked me to have asked?

Do you paint on commission? The answer- Yes I do. Though, as I have already mentioned, I would be happy for anyone to contact me regarding personal commissions. I can paint from photographs, although I do prefer a sitting, though this is not always possible if someone is unavailable or far away.

Thank you Michael.

Scroll down to see some of Michael’s stunning work. There are also links to his Facebook and Instagram pages. Plus, two fabulous YouTube videos of classical music he has composed. And, if you like his work, drop him a line. I think he’s going to be a star of the future. Hopefully, not too distant.

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Artist’s biography.

I am a 22 year old artist living in Cheshire, England. Art has always played an important role in my life. I have been painting for as long as I can remember. My mother bought me oil paints and canvases in my very early youth as she clearly saw potential for some sort of talent.

I went on to graduate in 2017 with a degree in Fine Art and Art History from the Manchester School of Art. After that, I graduated again in 2018 with a degree in secondary school teaching.

The theory on which I base my practice is as follows:

We live in the shadows of the past. Some of us try to ignore them and others sentimentally hold onto them. I, however, live within them. Through my studio practice, I debate the ideas of beauty and aesthetical values, based upon the creations of artists, both past and present.

My studio practice falls within the domain of painting as an expanded field. Through my work, what I hope to achieve is a display of context wherein the viewer can critically look through the many layers of history, taking from it fragments that still resonate with today’s society, as opposed to those isolated from an informed or questioning eye.

My current studio practice consists of producing elaborate portraits in oil paints. I see great visual beauty in many realist works. And I question what beauty is? Is beauty mathematical? Is it natural? Why it is that Vermeer’s attention to detail is beautiful? His painting of floor is beautiful. His calculated lighting is beautiful. My work consists of both mathematical and natural beauty. I use many techniques such as the golden ratio and chiaroscuro, but I also follow my minds guidance to produce visually striking work.

My artistic practice is based on this idea of analysing art history and taking from it the most ‘successful’ outcomes to be used in my work.  I do this with my eyes wide open, and with full knowledge and appreciation for modern art, as taught on my current course.

Though, in my portraiture I strive for realism and beauty, I make it clear that I am not recreating new works in a past style, but simply appropriating the techniques of past painters to question class and status. As well as implementing modern ideas and characteristics into my work.

My work displays a combination of artistic skill, aesthetic beauty and a suggestion of humour towards the modern world. An example of this is can be found in my recently painted female nude. I was inspired to paint my model in the style of William Adolphe Bouguereau, a romantic painter specialising in the female nude and painting of angels. However at the sitting, I discovered that my model had some tattoos and piercings. I originally intended to paint them out, however after some thought I decided that is was the beauty of merging a romantic style with the modern day. Rather than to replicate an exact style, I was able to create something new based on the ideas of the past.

Baroque and Classical music interests me also, and through my studies I examine the links between both painting and music. Whilst studying baroque composition, I came across a heavy set of rules just as there are in art of the same period. Music and art seem to intertwine with one another and I am fascinated by how both art forms have the power to correspond with each other.

When I am not working on my artworks, I write orchestral music. I am currently writing a comic opera about a love potion for a full classical orchestra complete. The music is light but in some areas very moving. My dream would be to have it performed by a live orchestra and singers. I wrote both the music and the libretto myself.

Artist’s web links.

My Facebook art page – https://www.facebook.com/mr.koropisz/

My Instagram art page – https://www.instagram.com/m.koropisz.artist/

The overture from my comic opera (performed by a virtual orchestra) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyycbjVluOM

My baroque composition performed by my brother on the recorder and myself on the harpsichord- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lGyyBA5J358

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Happy 200th birthday, Emily.


Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Emily Bronte.

Haworth, where the Brontes lived, holds a special place in my, (and my children’s), hearts.

We visit the place as often as we can.

Here’s a little haiku I penned after a walk on the Moors with my daughters a couple of years back.

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Knee deep in heather,

Bright red sock wavers aloft,

Boot stuck in peat bog.

Brontë Parsonage Museum

Brontë Parsonage Museum

 

Brontë dining room

Brontë dining room

This is the room where, Emily, Anne and Charlotte did most of their writing. And that is the actual sofa in the background that Emily died on aged just 30. (I didn’t pass that information on to my children.)

Patrick Brontë's study

Patrick Brontë’s study

If you haven’t read Wuthering Heights yet, I urge you to do so. I promise you, it’s like nothing you have ever read before. It’s a complex and staggeringly passionate tale of unrequited love and dastardly deeds, set amidst the bleak and rugged Yorkshire Moors.

And, if you get the chance, watch the recent film adaptation by Andrea Arnold. It’s a pretty radical take on the book and one of the best interpretations I’ve seen to date. (See trailer below.)

wuthering-heightsIt’s not just the collective brilliance of the Brontë siblings that I find inspiring, but the whole beautifully barren backdrop of the moors. That, coupled with the picturesque cobbled streets of Haworth itself, makes perfect for a day out.

Haworth

Haworth

"Top Withins" Emily's inspiration for Wuthering Heights. (Now a ruin.)

“Top Withens” Emily’s inspiration for Wuthering Heights. (Now a ruin.)

"Top Withens" as it would've looked back in Emily's day.

“Top Withens” as it would’ve looked back in Emily’s day.

P.S. It’d be positively churlish of me not to also include this classic by Kate Bush… whose 60th birthday it also is today. Bit of a spooky coincidence, don’t you think?

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I [heart] America


There’s been a lot of hullabaloo this past couple of years because of the Cheeto-in-Chief of the good ol’ U S of A.

What with cosying up to dictators and alienating allies he certainly cuts a divisive figure. Unfortunately, this has had a backlash against America in general and its people.

So, to redress the balance, I wanted to write a positive post about some of the things I love about America. After all, one Mango-Mussolini shouldn’t taint the whole country.

In no particular order…

MUSIC

From Elvis Presley to Tom Waits to the Talking Heads. Who could argue that America has produced some of the greatest artists and genres the world has ever seen. Who are your favourites?

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Next up, MOVIES.

When we think of American movies we tend to think of Hollywood blockbusters. But there are so many unbelievable directors and actors. Here are some of my favourites, who are yours?

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As I have a penchant for the Arts, I’m going to pick out a few photographers who have inspired me over the years.

PHOTOGRAPHY

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Marilyn Monroe by Eve Arnold

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Gloria Swanson by Edward Steichen

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Vivian Maier

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Ansel Adams

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Cindy Sherman

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Saul Leiter

Understandably, most people couldn’t give a rat’s ass about advertising. But I do, because I worked in it for 30 years. When Doyle, Dane, Bernbach set up shop in the 1960s they revolutionised advertising. They focussed on simple product truths. Their ethos/philosophy permeated continents and generations. Still does. I had the privilege of working for DDB Dublin.

ADVERTISING

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Leading on from advertising we have GRAPHIC DESIGN, and this iconic classic by Milton Glaser for the New York tourist board. which has been ‘parodied’ a trillion times. (Yes, including me.)

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Milton Glaser

Next up, ARTISTS. Again, a multitude to pick from. Here are a couple of my faves.

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Jean Michel Basquiat

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Edward Hopper

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Mary Cassatt

Moving on to something non art related – LANDSCAPE. America has such a diverse landscape, from snow-capped mountains to sun-scorched deserts.

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I’ve always loved CLASSIC CARS, Mercedes, Jaguar, Citroen, Volvo. But I also love American cars for their sheer ostentatiousness.

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I couldn’t write a post about America without including a few WRITERS. Too many to choose from. Here are a few of my heroes who have inspired me over the years. Recommendations anyone?

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What else do I love about America? I really like their ARCHITECTURE. Whether it be a monumental skyscaper or the traditional colonial white-picket-fence style complete with veranda.

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You won’t get very far in the States without some top-notch tucker. What is more quintessentially American than the humble DINER?

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Who says Americans don’t get irony? They make some fantastic COMEDY and have some wonderful comedians. Obviously, you’re not as funny as us Brits. But you’re getting the hang of it. (Benny Hill.)

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There you have it. Have I forgotten anything, anyone? What would you have included?

Obviously, there is one other thing I would like to give credit to. And that is the American people. (Well, only those that didn’t vote Trump.) You’re an innovative and inspiring bunch. Not only that, you saved our asses in two world wars! So, cheers for that.

My, (our), world would be a lot poorer without you.

 

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Art for heart’s sake.


I’ve been doing a lot more painting since I began volunteering at Arc.

Since going to workshops, I’ve managed to loosen up a bit. Let go of the hyper-realistic view that we often place on ourselves, yet are happy to discount when looking at other artists’ work.

Anyhoo, I’ve been going through a bit of Basquiat phase. I watched a documentary about him a couple of weeks back. I loved the vivid colours and his strikingly bold, graphic style.

I’ve also been experimenting with collage and mono printing. Feel free to have a goosey. If anything tickles your fancy, drop me a line.

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Screenshot-2017-10-23 David Milligan-Croft ( milligancroft) • Instagram photos and videos

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You Have 1 New Friend Request


Okay folks, here’s the second idea I had for a novel.

It’s called, ‘You Have 1 New Friend Request’.

Here’s the basic premise:

Social media romance, or elaborate Facebook phishing scam?

What begins as an innocent correspondence between an English hack and a French-Canadian furniture restorer, soon descends into the seedy underworld of the French sex industry and people trafficking.

Will Ted and his daughter be able to save Natalie before she disappears into the murky French underworld? Or is she just a ruse to lure in his daughter?

So, same as yesterday, really. If you have the time to have a read, I’d appreciate your feedback. And, whether you think it has potential. Also, whether you prefer this idea to the one I posted yesterday. Don’t ask for much, do I?

Your help is greatly appreciated.

You Have 1 New Friend Request.

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By David Milligan-Croft.

CHAPTER 1.
COUCOU!

Ted was scrolling through his Facebook news feed when he heard the ping of a notification and a little red number ‘1’ appear over the ‘friends’ icon. He clicked the silhouetted couple and saw the tiny profile picture of what looked like a beautiful woman with a name he didn’t recognise. He immediately felt curiosity and suspicion in equal measure. He clicked on the profile of Natalie Marceau, and when he saw an enlarged image his heart did a double beat.

She was stunning. Model stunning. Movie star stunning. So why was she ‘friending’ Ted Miller – an average looking 40-something? He looked on her profile page and she appeared to have about half a dozen friends, all of whom seemed roughly the same age as him if not a little older.

‘Probably phishing for old pervs,’ he thought to himself. ‘Then plead some sob story to extort money.’

She was 25 years old, living in Brittany, France. Originally from Montreal, Canada. He clicked on the photos header and was aghast. Her auburn hair cascaded over her slender shoulders. Her blue eyes shone with a light emanating from her vivacity and her smile was luminescent with joy. Whilst she was sensationally attractive, she had a natural air about her, as though she was almost unaware of the fact – or didn’t care. Ted’s finger slid up the track-pad of his MacBook, the cursor hovering over the ‘accept or decline’ button. Deep down, he knew this was a mistake. A scam. But the romantic in him could not resist. He clicked – Accept.

No sooner had he accepted Natalie’s friend request, a message appeared in the chat icon. Tentatively, he clicked the button.

Natalie Marceau: Coucou!

Ted opened up two pages of Google translate in his browser. One to translate from French to English, the other from English to French. He cut and pasted the word into the text panel for translation: Coucou = Cuckoo or hello.

Not being up on French colloquialisms, Ted opted for a more formal reply.

Ted Miller: Bonjour.

He remembered a little French from school and from various holidays in the South of France but not enough to hold a conversation. He could get by ordering things in restaurants and hotels, but the problems began when anyone replied in French. They’d usually speak much too quickly for him to comprehend any of the key verbs.

The three dots made a wave to signify that she was typing. If, in fact, this was a ‘she’ at all. Ted had visions of a twenty-stone Russian spot-welder sitting in his vest and underpants in front of a laptop with the stump of a cigar hanging out of the corner of his mouth tapping away at his keyboard. That, or a Nigerian banker in Lagos promising to deposit $10 million dollars into his bank account for a paltry administration fee of two hundred dollars.

Natalie Marceau: Are you good?

‘That depends.’ Ted thought. ‘On whether you mean, ‘am I a good person’ or ‘am I feeling okay?’ He opted for a response to the latter.

Ted Miller: I am very well, thank you for asking. How are you in sunny France?

‘I bet she’s impressed with my French.’

Natalie Marceau: I do not understand. You want to know if France has sun?

‘Shit,’ Ted clicked the ‘suggest alternative translation’ tab.

Ted Miller: Sorry, Google translate. Probably didn’t come out too well. Do you speak English?

Natalie Marceau: Not much.

Ted Miller: Don’t you speak English in Canada?

Natalie Marceau: Not in Montreal. Is French. Not British.

‘That’s me told, then.’ He walked to the fridge and opened a bottle of San Miguel then sat back down at his laptop. He glanced out of the window, ship lights were shimmering off the blue-black water of the harbour basin. ‘C’mon, Miller. Think of something interesting to say. It’s what you’re supposed to do for a living, for God’s sake.’

Ted Miller: Yes, you did indeed win that particular skirmish. But we kicked your arse at the Battle of Waterloo! (Winky face.)

‘Stick that in votre pipe, Ivan!’

The circular green dot that indicates that a person is online to chat disappeared.

Ted leaned back in his swivel chair and took a swig from his beer. ‘Maybe not a Russki after all.’

He scrolled through some of Natalie’s other photos. She looked like she had a stylish apartment. In some photos she wore her hair piled on top in a bun, in others it flowed in waves about her cheeks and shoulders. Her clothes were elegant and chic. In some, a blouse button opened provocatively. In others she wore large, black-rimmed spectacles. He wondered if they were for show. They certainly gave her that librarian look. Most of them were selfies, so there weren’t many full length shots. Although, she did look tall and slender, but it was difficult to tell. Ted began to wonder if he had been a bit quick to be cynical. Surely, not everyone on the internet was a potential fraudster. Perhaps he should try and make amends. Or, perhaps, this was exactly the tactic they use to lure you in. He was just about to type a conciliatory message when the chat box suddenly read: This message has been temporarily removed because the sender’s account requires verification.

‘Oh well,’ he mused. ‘It was fun while it lasted.’ He pulled the computer onto his lap and swivelled the chair to put his feet on the window ledge. His reflection blurred with the orange and yellow neon of Media City beyond. He downloaded a photo of Natalie to his desktop then dragged it into Google images to check the source of the photograph.

‘Nothing unusual there.’ He tried with another, then another. All the photos of Natalie seemed above board. No links to other identities or spurious sites.

Ping! Another friend request. ‘Wow, I am popular tonight.’ He clicked on the button and it was Natalie again. Ted’s brow furrowed in consternation. How could he not? He clicked accept and immediately began typing.

Ted Miller: Where did you go?

Waving green buttons.

Natalie Marceau: Sorry. I think someone was hacking my account.

Ted perused her FB page. This time, he was her only friend. ‘Ah, so I’m the only one that took the bait, am I? Or did one of the other old pervs report you to Facebook?’

Ted Miller: Really? That’s a shame. Glad you’re back. (Smiley face.)

Ted Miller: Sorry about my Waterloo comment. I was only joking.

Natalie Marceau: Really? Never mind.

Ted swallowed hard. ‘I think a lot of this is going to get lost in translation.’

Ted Miller: If you don’t mind me asking, how come you wanted to be friends? It’s not as if we have any friends in common.

Natalie Marceau: Don’t you want to be my friend?

Ted Miller: Of course I do. I was just wondering, that’s all. It’s not often a 42-year-old man gets befriended by a young French goddess who could arrest a heart with a flash of her smile.

‘Bit soon for that kind of talk, Ted,’ he took a swig. He was feeling the buzz from the beer. But she didn’t take the compliment bait.

Natalie Marceau: Twenty five is not that young. Besides, age is unimportant.

‘Couldn’t agree more, my dear.’ Ted drained the last of his beer and got another from the fridge.

Ted Miller: So, Natalie, what do you do for a living all the way over there in France?

Natalie Marceau: Nothing special, or good. I restore the old furniture.

Ted Miller: That sounds great. A very noble craft – bringing something old and decrepit back to its former glory.

He resisted the temptation to make a self-deprecating joke.

Natalie Marceau: Your words write nice. You are also a romantic, no?

Ted Miller: Well, it’s been some time since I was romantic.

Natalie Marceau: You do not have a wife?

Ted Miller: I have an ex-wife. Five years now.

Natalie Marceau: So you have not had a lover in five years?

Ted almost spat his beer out over the computer screen. ‘Get to the point, why don’t you, Natalie.’

Ted Miller: I also have a daughter. Who lives with her mother.

He wondered whether the green light would flick off at this last revelation, as it seemed to be taking an eternity for Natalie to reply. He looked at the clock in the top right of the screen. It was 21:45. Quarter to eleven her time.

Natalie Marceau: Give her a big kiss from me. Well, it’s getting late. I must lie down for a while. Good night.

Ted Miller: Yes, I will. Goodnight. Sweet dreams. You too. Nice to be friends.

Everything came out in a scramble as he attempted to say everything before she switched off. Then silence. Her green light disappeared and he was left looking at her smiling face. She looked as though someone she loved had just made her laugh. He even felt a pang of jealousy. Whoever took the photograph must know her intimately enough to illicit such an animated response. A lover? A best friend?

He read her final comment again – “Give her a big kiss from me.” ‘Why on Earth would I do that? She doesn’t even know you. You don’t know her. Odd thing to say.’

There was a photo of Natalie lying on a bed holding the camera above her face. The pillow and duvet were crisp white cotton. There was a hint of wooden floorboards to the right hand side. Her ochre arms extended diagonally out of shot. Her eyes were doleful, yet she was still smiling. She was lying on top of the duvet wearing a white vest top with a simple, graphic illustration of a cat on the front. Ted thought about lying next to her, smelling her hair, touching her gossamer skin. The light was bright, as though it had been taken in the daytime, or summer.

‘Get a grip, Ted,’ he thought. ‘You’ve got about as much chance of that happening as Donald Trump being the next American president.’ He clicked the ‘shut down’ button and gently closed the lid of the laptop. He looked down at the canal basin where houseboats glowed eerily against the blackness of the water.

CHAPTER 2.
LA FILLE.

Natalie Marceau: Coucou!

The ping on his iPhone woke Ted. He unlocked his phone and read the message from Natalie, then looked at the clock at the top of the screen: 07.30. ‘Well, I guess it is half eight over there.’

Ping.

Natalie Marceau: Good morning, Cheri. Have a good day! (Smiley face, smiley face winking, face blowing a kiss.)

‘That’s a pleasant way to start the day.’ He tossed back the duvet and padded into the living room in his t-shirt and boxers to start up his computer. ‘I’ll have to download translate to my phone as well.’ He logged onto Facebook and opened the translation tabs.

Ted Miller: Bonjour Natalie. Thank you. Have a great day also.

‘Ask her a question before she disappears,’ he thought.

Ted Miller: What are you doing today?

Natalie Marceau: I told you. I am restoring the furniture.

Ted Miller: Sorry, yes, you said. But it’s the weekend.

Natalie Marceau: I work on my own so I must work all the time.

‘Jeez, tough crowd.’

Ted Miller: Yes, I should have known. Do you have any plans for tonight?

Natalie Marceau: No. I make ratatouille for me and my cat and watch a movie.

Ted Miller: Your cat eats ratatouille?

Natalie Marceau: No. That would kill him. I watch the movie with my cat.

Ted Miller: What kind of movies does he like? The Cat in the Hat?

Natalie Marceau: That is a stupid movie.

‘I thought it was quite funny,’ he thought, stretching a yawn and scratching the cotton fabric of his t-shirt under his arm.

Ted Miller: How come you’re not going out on a Saturday night?

Natalie Marceau: I have no friends.

‘I find that hard to believe, young lady.’

Natalie Marceau: It’s complicated. I tell you later. I have to go to work now. Gros bisous.

And, with that, the green dot disappeared.

He cut and pasted ‘gros bisous’ into translate, even though he was fairly certain he knew what it meant.

‘Big kisses.’

‘Big kisses to you too, Natalie,’ he thought, allowing himself the warm glow of affection that it might all possibly be real. Then, cynicism returned. ‘You really are an idiot, Ted.’ He jumped up out of the chair and headed to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. Then, realising what he was doing, ‘Wait, what the fuck? I’m going back to bed.’

Ted awoke after a restless two hours bathed in sweat. He went to the kitchen and filled a large glass of water and took his medication to slow his heartbeat down. It was a condition he’d only recently discovered he had. Tachycardia, as it was known is when the heart beats excessively quickly. Often times, it would beat so fast that he could ‘hear’ it through his pillow, preventing him from sleeping.

It was 09.35. He was due to pick up his daughter from his ex-wife’s in an hour. Before he showered he opened up his laptop to see if Natalie had sent anymore messages. Nothing. A thought occurred to him – he searched her name on Twitter. Nothing. ‘Not unusual. Most Twitter users have daft names anyway.’ He tried Linked In. Also nothing. There was no trace of Natalie Marceau on Pinterest, Tumblr, Tinder, Instagram or Snapchat either. He even tried eBay. The only place she existed was on Facebook. And only to him. He closed the lid. ‘Fuck it, what’s the worst thing that can happen?’

He pulled up outside his ex-wife’s house. Or rather, their old house. It was a grand Victorian semi-detached over three floors in the leafy Manchester suburb of West Didsbury. He had barely got out of the car when the front door of the house opened and the sturdy frame of his ex-wife filled the doorway at the top of the stone steps.

‘Still driving that heap of junk?’ Morag said, arms folded.

‘Hello to you too,’ he said, smiling. ‘This beauty? It’s a classic.’

‘Daddy!’ Audrey said, pushing past her mother’s hips and bolting down the steps.

‘Not so fast!’ rebuked her mum, then sighed at the futility of her request.

Audrey jumped into her father’s arms and he swung her around on the pavement.

‘Hello, sweet pea,’ he said. ‘Got me any presents?’

‘Hey!’ she said, thumping him on the arm. ‘That’s my line!’

‘What time you bringing her back tomorrow?’ Morag asked.

‘Usual time,’ he replied. ‘About six-ish.’

Just then, Kevin emerged from the shadows behind her, placed his arms around her waist and rested his chin on her shoulder. Ted cast his eyes down toward the pavement and opened the passenger door for Audrey.

‘Hey Ted,’ Kevin said.

‘Hi,’ Ted replied, but doubted it was audible enough for it to have reached the top of the steps. ‘Are you going to the recital tomorrow?’ He directed his question to his ex-wife.

‘Oh, we can’t, can we, darling?’ she craned her neck and planted a kiss on Kevin’s cheek.

Audrey gave a look of disgust. ‘We’re going to London this afternoon. You know… gotta make the most of a free night. Can’t wait. Won’t be back till late.’

‘How late’s late? Audrey can always stay with me tomorrow night as well. Save you busting a gut to get back.’

‘No, no. We should be back in time.’

‘Suit yourself,’ Ted said, walking round to the driver’s side. ‘See you…’ But when he looked up they had already gone inside and closed the door. He sat down and slammed the door.

‘So, little lady, where to?’

‘Anywhere away from here,’ Audrey folded her arms and pouted. ‘You should have called him egg head. And no, not because he’s clever!’

Ted smiled, patted his daughter on the knee and pulled off down the road.

‘And just so you know,’ she said, staring out of the passenger window. ‘I think your car’s cool. Better than his poncey Beemer.’

‘He treats you well though, doesn’t he?’

Audrey huffed. ‘S’pose so.’

‘I mean, that’s all I care about is that he’s good to you.’

‘Yeah, I guess.’

‘Look honey, I know it’s hard, but try not to be a hard-ass to him all the time. It’ll only come back on you.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean, if you keep knocking him back he’ll probably stop trying to care. And neither of us wants that.’

‘You and mum could always…’

‘That’s never going to happen though, is it, love? That ship has sailed, hit an iceberg, got torpedoed, then hit by a kamikaze pilot and sank without a trace. And, by the looks of things, old Kevin’s got his feet firmly under the table. Has he moved in yet?

‘Might as well have. He’s never out of the place. Spends more time in the bathroom than mum. And that’s saying something.’

Ted laughed. ‘You know, we could always go to the cinema if you like. They have a Studio Ghibli film on.’

‘Really! Which one?’

‘My Neighbour Totoro.’

‘Cool! I’d love that.’

After the movie, they went to Pizza Express for a late lunch. Audrey was perusing the menu while Ted was checking his phone to see if he’d had a message from Natalie.

‘Expecting an important phone call?’

‘No, why do you ask?’

‘You keep checking your phone.’

‘No, I don’t,’ he said defensively.

‘You so do! You’ve checked it about twenty times since we left the cinema.’

Ted raised his eyebrows and placed the phone on the table and picked up the menu. As he was studying it, his phone beeped. Before he could drop the menu and pick it up Audrey had already grabbed it.

‘Whoa! Who is she?’

‘Give it back, Audrey.’ Ted reached out for his phone but Audrey slid her chair backwards slightly making the legs screech across the tiled floor.

‘Wow. She is hot. Who is she?’

‘I don’t know, do I?’ Ted said tartly. ‘Because somebody has my phone.’

‘Natalie Mar-ceau, it says.

‘She’s just a friend on Facebook,’ he said, pretending not to mind and looked at the menu again.

‘Please tell m you’re not dating her, are you?’

‘Of course I’m not! Now give it back,’ he said irritated.

Audrey pulled the phone close to her chest. ‘Good. I’d hate to have a step-mother who was younger than me,’ she laughed.

‘She is not younger than you!’ Ted was getting angry. ‘You are 12. She is 25.’

Audrey did a quick calculation in her head. ‘She’s still closer to my age than she is to yours,’ she said cheekily.

Ted sighed as the waiter arrived. ‘Large glass of house red, please.’

Audrey sensed her father’s irritation and slid the phone back across the table. He picked it up, glanced at the screen then placed it back down.

‘What does it say?’ Audrey asked?’

‘I don’t know. I don’t speak French,’ he said flatly.

‘So how do you guys communicate?’

‘There is such a thing as Google translate, you know.’

‘Excuse me for asking.’ Audrey folded her arms.

Just then, the waiter arrived. ‘I’ll have the Quattro Stagioni, please,’ Ted said. ‘But, can I have it mixed up?’

The waiter scribbled on his order pad and nodded.

‘Pizza Diavlo and a Coke, please.’

‘Try again,’ Ted said.

‘Sheesh, sparkling elderflower, please,’ she handed the menu back to the waiter. ‘Kevin lets me have Coke.’

Ted smiled as he handed back the menu. ‘Good for him. But I’m not Kevin. See, he’s not all bad. You never know, you might end up preferring him to me.’

Audrey gave her father a kick on the shin. Ted burst out laughing.

‘Aren’t you cross that he lets me have Coke?’

‘I don’t make the rules in your mother’s house,’ he said. ‘But she knows how I feel about it.’

‘Why did you split up?’

‘Audrey! We’ve been through this a thousand times.’

‘No we haven’t! You say we have, but we never do. You just fudge around the subject.’

The waiter arrived with the drinks. Ted took a large gulp of red wine. ‘Your mother misread the marriage vows; she thought they said, “In health and in wealth”.’

‘See! There you go again! What’s that supposed to mean?’

‘It means I’m not as well off as I used to be when I worked for The Guardian,’ he said.

‘You still work for a paper though,’ she said.

‘Not a national. It’s just a local rag.’

‘How come you can afford to live in Media City then?’

‘It’s a friend’s. He’s on secondment in Beijing for two years so he said I could flat-sit for him. He gave me a really good rate. The rent would normally be double what I’m paying.’

‘That was kind of him. What you going to do when he gets back?’

‘Move out, I guess. Let’s not think about that, it’s a long way off. Tell me about school.’

After the meal they drove back to his apartment in Media City overlooking the canal harbour. Audrey sat at the kitchen table drawing Manga cartoons while Ted checked Facebook for news from Natalie. There were four messages.

Natalie Marceau: Coucou!

Natalie Marceau: Bonjour!

Natalie Marceau: Bon soir!

Natalie Marceau: You are obviously busy.

Ted Miller: Hi Natalie! I’m here now. I’ve been out all day with my daughter. Sorry. How was your day?

Natalie Marceau: I want you to know I am ordered, but not obsessive. I do not like the mess and I like things to be in their place.

I am loving, very affectionate, not stuffy. I’m not possessive or jealous. I am not excessively envious or pathological. I demand you to be faithful. That is not my fault because I was born under a sign of love.

I am calm and quiet, polite, discreet, very reserved, but when I have something to say, I say it to the face. I am courageous but nonviolent. I am extremely patient, (e.g. I can stay to wait hours anywhere).

I am not vindictive, I let the wheel turn, even if it takes time to turn, because I know it will turn one day or another, and when I have said what I had to say everything is over.
I am faithful in friendship as in love. I am fair and just. I hate when one is attacking the weakest (oppressed). I am able to lead the fight against injustice and racism.

I’m looking for a loving man, funny, generous, caring, faithful and sincere who will respect me and love me for who I am. A man that will teach me to love him with all my heart. If you are that person!!!!!

‘You’re also a fruitcake,’ Ted thought.

Natalie Marceau: All I look for is a man who will support me, that will not make me suffer and who will love me for what I am, nothing more. I’m not materialistic nor bad. I am just a little heart to take. A generous woman, sincere and kind who wants to live a beautiful story.

‘Bloody hell, that escalated quickly,’ he said aloud.

‘What did?’ Audrey asked, looking up from her drawing.

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Mourning Strangers


I found an old CD the other day. It had fallen under the passenger seat of the car.

The front cover was missing. It was like one of those Now That’s What I call Music compilations, except with decent Indie music on it.

I played it and it took me right back to the 90s.

It got me thinking about how we mourn stars.

I’ve seen quite a few posts from cynics criticising people who eulogise about our recently departed idols because we never ‘knew’ them.

And they’re right.

I absolutely loved Bowie and Prince but I didn’t know them. It’s not a traditional kind of grieving that one would do for a loved one, though. It’s a grieving for all those times when your favourite singer was there for you. Through the good and the bad.

They punctuate the important times in our lives. When we were happiest, when we were broken-hearted.

We didn’t know them, but they knew us.

And that’s why we mourn them.

Tara Sparling writes about it much more eloquently than I, here.

Why this Sleeper track? Well, it was on the CD I found.

Let’s just say, it reminds me of a great big exclamation mark.

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