A Fashion Blunder

The February air is zesty with unexpected sunshine and the northern wind softened to a breeze. Spurning my faithful duffle coat I reach for the cashmere coat with a fake fur collar that I haven’t worn since leaving London.  This coat has been on a long journey and in storage for two years.  Its chic appeal seems incongruous in this land of anoraks and woolly hats but why not be different today?  Should I wear the sheepskin gloves or the fluffy angora ones?  I go with the fluffy.  The dusky pink matches my suede boots.

The street is quiet, not even the builders around and no sign of my elderly neighbor who likes to feed the seagulls every morning.  A battered red pick-up truck rattles down the road towards the harbor trailing an aroma of fish.  I’m heading to the village shop for milk and bananas.  As my clumsy fingers place the house key in my coat pocket they dislodge a crumpled piece of yellow paper from the silk lining.  It flutters onto the waterlogged front lawn. The sulfur color reminds me of old moss, the sort that clings to old stone walls.

It’s not a discarded shopping list or a receipt for some long-forgotten object of desire but a couple of cinema tickets; Twenty One Grams.  It’s a poignant film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu about how people’s lives intersect and fragment due to a random event.  The story reveals the patterns concealed beneath the surface of everyday life.  The twenty one grams refers to the amount of weight which is mysteriously lost at the moment of death.

I went to see this film on my thirtieth birthday, the first of March, many years ago now.  We ate lunch in the roof top restaurant of an art gallery overlooking the Thames before going to the cinema.  After the film we drank cocktails in a trendy bar in Knightsbridge.  It was an enjoyable day in a faraway life. Tom and I were both in a good mood and we didn’t mind the cold wind, dodging the rain showers without an umbrella or searching for an elusive parking space.  I didn’t complain about the dirty pavements, the crowds or the traffic.  At that time I’d never heard of Caithness and living in Scotland was a romantic dream.  I was wearing this same grey coat with a leopard fur collar.  It felt like the wrong coat for a wet day.

Today I queue in the village shop while two incomers, a mother and teenage daughter stock up on junk food.  They are horsey types who have adopted a feral lifestyle.  The mother wears a red bandana and a dirty shredded t-shirt any eighties punk would be proud of.  Her bare feet are encased in flip flops.  Jagged green toenails protrude from a crust of mud.  Both women exude a smell reminiscent of rotting potatoes.  They spend more than twenty pounds on sweets and chocolate.  As they exit the shop Elaine reaches under the counter for the air freshener and sprays it around in a protective circle.

On my way home I wonder if I’m wearing the wrong coat.

 

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Photograph taken by the author

 

What Makes Us Human?

Is it our vulnerability, kindness, unpredictability?  Or is it our creativity and invention? Or perhaps, looking back sadly on human history, it is our immense proclivity for destruction and deceit?

Artificial intelligence is no longer a concept confined to science fiction novels.  We have self-drive cars, phones that talk and robotic vacuum cleaners.  A.I. is real and among us in the here and now.  It is a challenge to our previous ideas about humanity.  Are we really so special and superior after all?  Is Artificial Intelligence something we should welcome or fear?  Will it make us more or less human by comparison?

Alex Garland’s stunning 2015 film Ex Machina explored these questions and inspired me to write this poem:-

 

ROBO-MOW

Alan dreams 256 shades of green, hibernating
in his glass docking pod at the bottom of the garden.
Self-starting at sunrise, his solar panels slowly energize.
Recharged and updated with new kinds of seed,
66 brands of feed and non-toxic weed killers
plus the latest on invasive alien species.

Alan zips up his latex happy face
(with questioning eyebrows and a real pipe)
and his T-shirt declares ‘I love life’ (in bold font) for the Master.
After the BBC weather forecast, he initiates maintenance checks,
self-lubricates his cylinder, sharpens blades, tops up levels.
His friend, the virtual robin observes from a perch by the electric fence.

Alan has the same old routine every day,
downloading music while he works
(Tom Jones, The Green Green Grass of Home on repeat).
Perfect, straight lines along the wire perimeter,
perfect stripes overlapping by a centimeter, working left to right,
raking, aerating, weeding, feeding as he goes,

forming perfect crisp edges around the lily pond.
Sometimes he hopes for showers so he can count
raindrops falling into the water, watch his reflection crumble,
ripple into concentric circles.  Chaotic patterns
stir the surface calm, bubbles rise from the carp beneath,
flickering gold in the shadows.

 

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Note 1:- another excellent recent film about Artificial Intelligence, personality, ageing and memory is Marjorie Prime, directed by Michael Almereyda.  Click below for The Guardian Review.

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/aug/15/marjorie-prime-review-lois-smith-jon-hamm?CMP=share_btn_link