Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Amatuer Sleuthing.

Norman and I commandeered Samuel’s Volvo in our quest to find Challoner. We didn’t get to see everything though. There are stone circles as far south as Matlock and as far west as Buxton, so we ran out of daylight, or rather Challoner will have done. After the first stop we realised that all we needed to see was his blue camper van to know if we were in the right place or not. We didn’t have to walk up to every circle. Norman, despite the seriousness of the – well I’m going to stop calling it our quest, but what should I call it, a mission? Despite the seriousness of the search, Norman was so liberated by being out of the house, driving down hedgerow lanes, or through old stone villages, that he seemed happy to have missed turnings, didn’t bother overtaking pootlers or even bikes, and insisted that we hike up across the boggy sheep-lands to check Challoner hadn’t come in a taxi or god knows what else he was thinking might happen. He kept the window rolled down all day, to take in the clean air. I don’t care if it’s sunny – January is still January, and January is winter.

At the Barbrook stone circle I found a small pile of pistachio shells a few metres from the stones themselves. I guess that means Challoner’s been there, but I don’t know when. The shells looked pretty manky so, again I’m guessing, they’ve been there a few days. It’s not exactly hard science. And a small pile of empty shells isn’t exactly a middle-aged magical theorist with a file I’d trade my toes for. It’s been a frustrating day.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Detective Work.

I went back to the map of the peaks, since there’s still no word from Challoner. Working south from the Bamford stone circles, there’s a number of other sites that he would have planned to visit prior to Enright’s resurrection. I have no idea of his schedule, or how it must have been rewritten with his sudden popularity, so I figure if I hit the southernmost and work north then I’ll meet him coming down. But that requires me to get to them all in one day, since we could cross paths overnight. For all I know he could have gone back to where he started from. It’s only because of everyone else still being here that I’m confident he’s even in Sheffield.

I got the call from Enright though, or rather one of his subordinates. There’s a strategy meeting on Wednesday. Not at his house this time, some pub in town. They’ve hired the function room. Samuel says the crowd in The Brown Bear were shaking their heads about corporate takeover. The Ruskins crowd (the Carvers, although Samuel distrusts the distinction), they’re looking forward to it.

Samuel was asking his own questions about Reeves, but found it frustrating. The candlelighters and carvers don’t all go to the pub at once like a work social, they drift in and out, going home for a few days, or heading off elsewhere, and return.

Samuel’s only theory on his beating is that Reeves wanted to settle an old score. Unfortunately he’s killed a lot of demons over the decades, and he rarely found out who summoned them. Reeves never went in for demonology though – not by reputation.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Punishing Routines.

Samuel was unimpressed with my sleuthing skills. He wanted to know why I didn’t ask more about Alex Reeves when his name came up with the candlelighters.
“Ask what?”
“What he’s doing here? For a start.”
“Same as everybody else, isn’t he. Wants to know what Arthur Enright’s got.”

Samuel’s point was that he took a beating from Reeves’ men before Enright found his stone. He was still angry about it when it came to our training, although he did apologise. I have a bruise on my leg now, the shape of Australia and the size of a leaflet on domestic abuse.

I went to see Rocky after that, so I’ll know what the guys are talking about, if they liked it. I went to Meadowhall’s cinema, which seemed the best bet to get away from all things magical. In The Brown Bear I heard how one of the once-magicians got burnt on Tuesday Midnight. The loss of magic wasn’t like a switch, it took some spells first and others seconds later. A bottle of flaming liquid burst on his shelves as the bottle lost its ability to cope with volcanic heat – the liquid fire spilt over his room and through his clothes, burning the skin off his chest. After skin grafts and therapies his body is like patchwork plastic. The makeup in Rocky was reassuringly fictional.

Meadowhall doesn’t stay open late on a Sunday – its glass domes aren’t cathedral like enough to get away with it. I stayed as long as I could though, and grabbed a burger on the way home to avoid another teatime. Yesterday, Chris told Norman he’d make someone a lovely wife one day, because he’d made an effort over the food. Norman was understandably upset. Angela told Chris to apologise. When we’d finished eating, Chris said “Thanks Mum.”

Meadowhall is one of half a dozen American style malls that cling to the motorways like septic piercings. I sat, having no money to spend, and watched as the clumps of similar faces, and similar clothes, talking in similar tones about similar needs, wandered along. It was like being at an open audition for a play about thickos. Enough has been said about the evils of consumerism to fill a trilogy and sell all three volumes for less than the net book agreement. I don’t care about that. If I ever have enough money to buy toys of no consequence then I’m glad they built a theme park dedicated to that pursuit. I just wish it wasn’t filled with mallowy, unshaven fathers in tracksuits, dissolving wives with hysterical eyes, sugared up girls with jammy faces, Boudica’s pushchairs, and impatient laughter. I won’t even start on the skanks and their chain-link boyfriends – I’m just glad I’ll never go to school again. At least in Castle Market there was an honesty – no one went there thinking it was the ripe fruit of democracy. No one bought anything there like it was the beating heart of Jesus. I miss it, a little bit. I wish I had reasons to go there.

Angela wanted me to tell her all about Enright’s again when I got back. She wanted all the details this time:-
“Not just the mechanics. Not like it’s a quiz question.”
I didn’t have anything else to tell her though. Besides which, I knew she’d only come in to talk about her own problems.
“Maybe I should go back with Chris.” She said, to herself. “Maybe it’s time to grow up.”

I let that go, but there’s been nothing childish about what I’ve seen and heard for the last three months. Grow up to what?

No word from Challoner yet, nor Enright for that matter.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Brown Bear.

No sign of Challoner yesterday or today still. I went to his hotel. He’s still a paying guest there, but he wasn’t in his room, and his little van hadn’t been seen for a few days. It’s possible he’s camped out by one of his stone circles but you’d think there’s more important stuff going on now than old rocks.

After this morning’s workout I went down to The Brown Bear to see if any of the crowd Angela met there were still around, and if any of them knew anything about Challoner. No one did. I recognised a couple of them as candlelighters from Enright’s house, so they know who David Challoner is. At least they explained one thing for me: the bag of peppery walnuts everyone seemed so pleased with was more than a weird party snack on Challoner’s part.
“When a spell is cast,” one of the candlelighters explained, “it causes a distortion to the physical world. The distortion creates a ripple effect, which can be picked up by organic matter – souring milk, upsetting mushrooms, that sort of thing. Walnuts pick it up rather well, as they’re still edible, just a little peppery, and the result is fairly consistent.”
“I thought you used iron pyrite to detect magic.” I said, trying not to sound begin-again.
“Yes, I’ve heard of that too. Mineral reactions are possible, but historically organic reactions are the most commonly known. The use of walnuts dates back to the ancient Romans, who called them Jupiter’s stones. They were proof of power.”
“So Challoner’s bag of nuts convinced everyone that what we saw was real?" I laughed.
“I didn’t need nuts to convince me! I stuck a pin in the man’s corpse as he lay out on the table. I won’t say where, but if he’d been alive he would have shifted.”

It turns out that the choice of this pub and Ruskins was to do with the library being nearby, among other things. The proximity of the theatres was just a coincidence that Enright exploited.
“Other things?” I asked.
“The winter gardens are very relaxing.” I was told, but I don’t think that’s the full answer.

I didn’t have much else to say, since they knew nothing of use about Challoner, but I still had half a drink left and I wasn’t on TV, so I stayed to finish it. I listened in to the half dozen once-magicians: they were the usual group of patch aged men, both ruddy and haggard.

They talked mainly about their own achievements in magic, in which they knew little of each other’s work, and then about what happened to them personally when magic failed – what they lost that day. They talked about where they would go next, as though expecting to be sent on assignment. Only a couple of them thought to choose their own destinations. And of course, they shared their theories of Tuesday Midnight. Amongst magicians this seems to fill the role of the all time best England squad for men of a different bent. It’s one of those endless topics, with no real answer but plenty of possibilities. I heard the idea that we’re in a duplicate universe again, and the perfected world theory (shot down by the atheistic candlelighters), but the strongest contender was that a specific group of people are responsible – like some sort of terrorist wizards – they went too far, perhaps unintentionally, maybe they’re among us now, wondering how to fix what they’ve done. This is Arthur Enright’s theory of choice.
“Should I expect to hear from him?” I asked, not wanting to brag about my private audience with Enright.
“He hasn’t called you yet?”
“I don’t know if he’s going to call me.”
“He will. He’s busy right now. Alex Reeves is still I town, you know. So Arthur is entertaining him, until he moves on. Arthur isn’t penniless, but he needs to secure decent finance from someone. So few banks offer loans for metaphysical investigations.”
“Don’t worry,” said another of them. “You’ll be next on his list.”

I was about to ask why, but I already knew from what Challoner had said, and Samuel had hrumpfed in agreement. Neither of them went into details though – is it the books or one of the objects that he’s interested in? It’s possible that whatever Enright wants it was stolen in the break in – so small I never noticed it was gone.

Challoner’s suspicions, I realise now, were invented for his own benefit, in order to secure the invite to Enright, as some sort of chaperone. Samuel is in constant paranoia. And Enright is the man who’ll find the answers.
“What shall I do, when he calls me?”
“I’m sure he’ll let you know.”
“But I don’t want to sound stupid.” I said – aware that this in itself made me sound stupid.
“He’s spent the last week talking to Alex Reece. By now he’s probably impressed by a coherent sentence.”

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Be Prepared.

When Samuel found out I’d been down to the market to meet Challoner on my own, he went a bit funny. He said I’d taken an unnecessary risk. I agree it’s a bit rough down there, but I thought he was going a bit far.
“There are people who go to those markets who don’t like us.” He said.
“There were people who didn’t like you.” I told him. “And I would have let you know, but you were still sulking about Reeves.”

Samuel, ever since I told him about Friday, has been wondering what to do about Alex Reeves. At least one of the thick-necks who beat him up is in the employ of the millionaire magician, one of the most powerful men in their elite. I had questions to ask Samuel about what happened that night, but Enright’s resurrection interested him about as much as a makeover show. He doesn’t know why Reeves would want him hurt, or worse. I suppose compared to that, when he’s dealt with magic for seventy years, Enright’s brief suicide is like a Punch and Judy show – divertingly violent, but old fashioned fun.

We spent two hours today doing martial arts, at the end of which I wanted to throw up. Samuel almost broke my arm, showing me how to defend myself. He said my body was like jelly on a stick – which I thought sounded nice. That was lesson one.

When we were done I had to put up with Chris in the kitchen, asking me why Angela’s so keen to stay, what’s keeping her here, what’s wrong with him, like I’m Trisha or something. He doesn’t get what she’s looking for.
“It’s not another man.” He said, confidently. “Right? I mean, she’s told me that much.”
“I don’t know why she’s here.” I said. I realise now that’s actually true, but at the time I just wanted Chris to shut up while I ate some sugar.
“What’s the attraction? That guy?”
Norman had emerged from feeding the rats in the study and was locking the door. He turned to find us staring at him, and there passed a mute moment of mutual consideration. And then Norman went upstairs to watch Diagnosis Murder.
“She’s rather be with that Viking than come home.” Chris whined. I put this down to beard envy. Angela and Norman are close, but only because they don’t know anyone else. It’s not as though they’re in a special magic club together. Angela can tell me even less about Friday than Samuel’s tight lips have given away. Norman, as usual, knows nothing – but he was at least excited by the prospect of magic recovering, and he’s taught me how to make pizza from scratch.

Still no word from Challoner. His hotel say only that he’s not in his room.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Let Downs.

Today’s meeting with Challoner didn’t happen. He’d lured me down to Castle Market as an over familiar place, and left me sitting there for an hour. I’m not surprised. He’s got my number if he couldn’t make it, but he already got his invite out of me. He got to mix with all the men he’s been jealous of for so many years, and no doubt he’s made himself central to Arthur Enright’s club. I don’t even know if has a file to give me.

When I came home I found Angela’s boyfriend in the house. He came up on Tuesday, but they spent most of their time in Angela’s room. He’s pretty scruffy looking, with a beard that forgot to grow in places. He’s asked Angela to go back down to Devon with him when he leaves. No one feels comfortable talking about magic with him around, even though he knows about Angela and Tomlin.

I called a couple of the guys instead, but they’d already gone out – they all went to see the new Rocky film together – so I’m stuck in the house. I’ve told the others about what happened on Friday, but they didn’t see it. I wanted to talk to Challoner about that as much as anything else. For the last two months I've been wanting to know that magic is real, and now that I've seen it in front of me, it really is the most terrifying thing in the world.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Friday, January Nineteenth.

As I was the only one from the house to be invited to Arthur Enright’s gathering, I caught the 52 over to Broomhill, then the 60 up to Fulwood, and walked the rest of the way to his rather large house. I was shown through to one of the big rooms downstairs, that I guess would be the living room if he had a TV in there.

I was one of about forty guests, all men in suits and ties, some of whom I recognised from Castle Market. The house was like a show home, with everything new, magnolia and impersonal, and the gathering was like some weird brotherhood meeting, like the Masons or something from the Fifties when all the wives stayed home. I could see them telling each other who I was: eventually a few of them actually talked to me. Challoner was there, talking to a tall, thin man who looked about forty or fifty – he had greased black hair and cheekbones like cuts. When I tried to talk to Challoner, the thin man brushed me off. Challoner said he was still waiting for his file on Ilford Dyson, or rather you, to come in the post. I heard a theory on the loss of magic I’d not heard before, from another of the guests:-
“We’re not in the world anymore,” he said. “We’re in a copy, in a finite universe, with limited physics. The mimic universe was created, bodies and all, and then we were transferred. Our consciousness was transferred, into this imperfect version. And now you’re wondering why. Because our real world has been taken over. And now you’re wondering, why not just kill us. Because we’re being observed, so that the new inhabitants can learn how to use our world.”
“And now I’m still wondering, who?” Said another in his circle. “Or else I’m wondering what you’ve swallowed. Have you any evidence for this at all, or is it just more speculation?”

The man with the theory said he had clues and indicators, but wouldn’t share them. At which point he was huffed out of the conversation, like a Garth Brooks fan. Also discussed and derided was Enright’s performance of The Transported Man at The Lyceum. It’d annoyed me that Angela got to see what seemed to have been genuine magic, on a far more impressive scale than Challoner’s glowing stones – she’s already had magic in her life. While we waited for Arthur Enright to appear, his series of appearances at the theatre were dismissed as stage magic, bluff and showmanship, or even arrogant swindling, from various factions in the room. Someone close to me wondered what he would do that night – saw a woman in half?

Across the room from me a set of sliding doors were opened full to double the room size and reveal Arthur Enright, sat on a dining table, accompanied by twenty or so men, also dressed smartly. Enright was singular among them, wearing long black robes that were tight at his neck and covered his feet. He alone among all these men looked unwearied: he looked awake and happy, rather than taxed and fretful like his companions and those around me.

“Good evening.” Enright called out, silencing those who hadn’t noticed him, and all of us wondered if he’d been there the whole time. “Thank you all for joining me. Before the night is through I think you’ll be glad you showed the patience I now ask you for. There is a question all of us need to be answered. I don’t profess to have the answer, nor do I believe the answer is to be found easily, like the unpicking of a riddle. What I know to be true is that our great deprivation is not universal. Some things have survived, and now part of that power is in me. So I hope, that when we part tonight, we will gather again tomorrow, and the next day, and for each day until we have our solution. We must work together to discover what happened that Tuesday Midnight.”

And then he pointed out a few names from the crowd, while the magicians who’d been on my side of the divider exchanged glances – the sort of glances they’d give if Michael Jackson started teaching P.E. to their kids. Arthur Enright came over to me, and he shook my hand. He started to say he was glad I could come, but then a boy appeared from behind his robes and said hello to me.
“This is my son.” Said Enright. “Also called Arthur. I was wondering if you could stay with him through this evening.”

I thought that was typical. The boy, who was short back and sides, spit on a handkerchief smart, came up to my rib cage, so I guess that makes him about nine, but all kids get stuck together when adults have no interest in them. I’d flattered myself for a moment, that Challoner was right about Enright’s interest in my father’s books.

With young Arthur beside me, and I was just about to ask him where his mother was, Enright returned to his central position by the dining table. Some of the heavier set men who were with him now moved to the doors around the room and locked them, then they blocked them.
“Again I ask for your patience.” Said Enright, projecting his voice across the crowd. “And please, for this first stage, please do not act to intervene.” No one knew what he meant yet, but I was thinking of the saw a woman in half trick. Enright opened his black robes, letting them fall to his feet, and revealing his naked body. My first thought was no wonder the doors are locked, and then another of Enright’s men came forward, carrying a long, unsheathed dagger. He held it with the tip of the foot long blade resting on one finger, and the short handle on the palm of his other hand. Enright said: “The most important thing of all is that we believe magic will come back to us.” Then he looked at his son, I think I could see tears starting to wash his eyes, and then he took the dagger and forced it deep into his chest – into his heart. The boy grabbed my hand and squeezed it tight, but he wouldn’t look away. There were shouts and moans from the other men in the room, but Enright’s son didn’t make a sound. I hate to think what kind of life he’s had, raised in a world of distorted expectations.

Enright’s men held a couple of the guests back, while Enright himself fell back onto the table and struggled against the death he’d invited. It didn’t take long, and there was a lot of blood. It ran over the grain of the table, onto the floor.

“He’s dead.” Confirmed the knife bearer. “Feel free, any of you, to check.” He pulled Enright’s body up so that it lay down the length of the table. “Feel for a pulse, check for breathing, his eyes, whatever means you wish, but please do not move the body.”

There was a silence at first, and then someone Samuel had pointed out to me at the market, Alex Reeves, stepped forward and put his fingers on Enright’s neck. He also pushed the blade to one side and looked down its length into the wound. He nodded, satisfied, and stepped back. The man he was with was one of the thugs who beat Samuel up, but it’s only now I can think to wonder if they arrived together – I’d seen neither of them before that point, and I didn’t see them leave. At the time I was horrified by the dead body in front of me, and by the procession of men going up to test the corpse. I had no intention of getting any closer myself, but then I felt the small hand of Arthur pulling me forward. His other hand reached out when we got to the table, but then returned to his side before he touched the body. He didn’t look upset, but more like he was thinking very hard.

In a few short words the room burst into shouts of demands and insults. I could hear some insist that they be let out of the room – “This is the real world now,” they said. “We can’t just do what we want anymore.” Others started to question who else was in the room – “I suppose all of them, the one’s behind the screen, are all carvers like Enright. But what about him? Do you know him?” – “And why do you suppose he invited all you candlelighters in the first place?” – “Do we know who’s represented? Could anyone here be from 1349?” The discussions and spats went on, with touches of hysteria as the demand recycled “What did he think he was doing?”

I stayed with Arthur, next to the table, and when the last poker and prodder was satisfied, the knife was pulled out and the black robes were lifted over the whole body, hiding the face and the look of pain. Arthur led me away then, over to one of the chairs in the living room and said:-
“So your father was a magician too.”
“From what I gather. He was, yes.”
“And what type of magic did he do?”
“He never told me.”
I don’t know if it was Arthur’s questions or my answers that others were listening to. Drinks were passed around, by Enright’s helpers, who I gathered now were more like servants rather than once-magicians. Alex Reeves was asking what everyone thought of Enright’s proposal, that they work together, sharing any information they have to try and solve what happened on Tuesday Midnight. One of the candlelighters, if I’ve got my factions right, shouted back that since it was Enright’s proposal it was tinged with lunacy. Others said that was disrespectful, but I didn’t see how. My eyes had barely moved from the suicide’s shape under the soaked robes, so it may have been me who cried out when an arm shot up from the body of Enright, pulling the robes away, revealing the man as he gasped for breath. Enright sat up. The wound in his chest was still open but it was healing over. He looked across the silenced room with the broad grin of a drunk. A laugh went up, and then hoorahs. Enright, still covered in his own blood, gathered the robes about his waist and knelt down to hold his son.
“It worked.” He told Arthur, and then louder for the whole room to hear. “Some power has survived.”
I was shuffled to the edge of the room as the groups mingled, all smiles and amazement now. Enright spoke to almost everyone there, even Challoner, who had somehow become some sort of grand mixer, joking and laughing with one group after another, offering them walnuts from a brown bag he’d brought along, like a pensioner at the pictures. It was pistachios up at the stone circle, but everyone saw the funny side of his eccentricity, nodding and winking as they ate them. I was offered one myself as I tried to pin him down for a meeting on Wednesday. The nuts tasted of chilli.

After another hour of talk, only half of which made sense to me, Enright thanked all his guests for their patience again, and the doors were unlocked. Many were as surprised as me to realise they needed to be let out, since no one had thought of going anywhere until Enright said it was time.

“Mr. Fold though.” Enright said. “I wonder if you could stay another minute.” Fortunately he wanted to clean up first – I might have been sick if he’d stayed all covered in his blood. When he’d washed up, he came back into the room buttoning his shirt – the wound was now just a pale scar. He said:-
“I hope we can be friends, you and I.”
“Sure.” I said. There’s not much more you can say to someone who you just watched come back from the dead. “Yeah, sure.”

It was only Saturday morning that I wondered why he would want to be friends with me. But despite Challoner's jealous warning, I'm glad he does. I would rather a man that has given me nightmares be my friend than my enemy.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Before I Can Go Any Further.

By the time I came home on Friday night it was too late and I was too tired to go over what had happened. What I saw gave me nightmares that night.

I could not bring myself to put things down in words on Saturday, but I know I must, so I will not go to bed tonight until it is done. The nightmares came back last night.

The first thing I must do is think through what I actually saw and separate what I have seen in my dreams since. I must put everything down in order, so that, if nothing else, I can read it back and know what is true.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Transported Man.

When I called Enright to ask if Challoner could come to his party too, he laughed and said of course:- “I didn’t realise he was still in the area or I’d have invited him myself.”

Angela has seen him since. She went down to the theatre to find the magicians and ended up seeing a show. About twenty or so of the magicians were in Ruskins bar over from the theatres, with another dozen in the The Brown Bear round the corner, split along some political division or other that I don’t get. Apparently one lot believe the other lot are exploitative or something. I must look into to it more, since my father probably belonged to one of the camps, and the others are less likely to invite me to their parties. An acolyte of Enright went round the pubs and gathered them all into The Lyceum.

They took their seats in the front few rows of the stalls. Angela was invited along, because she knew enough about magic to bluff an invite, and her looks probably did a lot to help. Enright appeared on the stage and welcomed them all. He said some of them knew why the market venture had now ceased, but for those that didn’t:-
“We have succeeded, beyond our reasonable hopes.” He announced with a flourish, and stepped down into the crowd, where he shook hands left and right like a politician. And like a politician, he never really said what it was he was claiming as a triumph, and then he backed out of the crowd, out of the doors, which slowly swung closed behind him. And then instantly he was on stage again: Enright shouted from the stage:-
“We have found what we sought!”
And he stepped down from the stage again, into the crowd, who this time shook his hand with greater enthusiasm, some of them laughing, some of them baffled or even angry. Enright spoke naturally – the people Angela spoke to afterwards said he knew them and continued the conversation he’d just been having – and then he stepped out of the door again, to appear in the circle seats above them, triumphant again. As soon as he was hidden by the angle of the balcony he was on stage a third time, and this time he just clapped his hands and joined the now delirious crowd.

“I thought, since as an illusionists trick this has been given some recent popularity, it might be fun to indulge in the real thing.” Enright said.
One of the more cynical members of the audience said afterwards, when they were back in The Brown Bear, that he had extreme doubts and reservations, but since he happened to have a piece of chalk in his pocket (by force of habit), the second time Enright joined them from the stage he had marked his sleeve, and the same mark was on his arm up in the circle, and the same mark was on his arm as he reappeared on stage the third time.

It’s not impossible to perform such a trick and fool an audience of strangers. The timing of it, since one of the cynics went back stage and timed the distances, would require at least three people who looked identical. Not only that, but the audience were not strangers. There were people among the crowd who had known Enright for decades, and who would know if he was false in any way. There were people in the audience who had trained themselves to recognise any such deceptions. The unanimous opinion was that this was genuine. Enright has found a source of magic that survived.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Invitation.

When I told the others of the need to go back to the market one more time they took it as a given. They had not given up on the idea of finding anything of use from the once-magicians there, and had no doubt that the invite to look beneath the market would be the start of a series of revelations. Even Samuel, who sticks to his belief that magic has gone forever, wants answers to the why and the wherefore.

I also complained that my trainers were now double ruined, after a second trek over the moor, and Angela said I could get that sorted at the market too. I didn’t know what she meant, because what she meant was to buy new trainers at the market and the idea was so ridiculous it couldn’t take shape in my head.
“Why not?” She asked.
“Because my name’s not Kyle and I don’t wear sovereigns.”
“But you do need trainers.”
“I’ll go to Meadowhall.” I said, and tried to leave the room.
“You think the market’s beneath you?”
“The market is beneath me. The only thing not beneath me in that market is what’s beneath the market.”
This took her second to follow:- “You’re a snob.” She said. “And you don’t have enough money for that privilege.”
“I prefer to think of it as having higher standards.”
“I’m sure you do. And that would be fair enough if you set your own standards.”

At the market on Monday I found Arthur Enright at one of the cafés near his stall, making slow work of a cooked breakfast. I’d gone to the stall first and one of the other magicians escorted me to him, and then withdrew, like he was their bishop or godfather. He was quick to dispel the idea of me seeing the castle foundations – as he could not get full consensus from his associates. What he wanted to invite me to was a gathering, at his house, on Friday night.
“There is nothing much left to see here.” He assured me. “What there was is now in our possession. The stall will close at the end of today, and really only lasted so long because it gave the others somewhere to meet, but now they have the theatre bar, which suits them better.”

I phoned David Challoner in the evening. Why none of these people have mobile phones I don’t know, but maybe the 21st Century will find them now that they can talk via crystal balls or whatever they did. Challoner thanked me for calling him, and said that he would have his file on Ilford Dyson soon – his colleague had posted it to the hotel, but not first class. He would have it by Friday though, and proposed that we meet at Enright’s. I asked if he knew what the gathering was all about, and he said he didn’t. I asked if he’d actually been invited to the gathering, and he said he hadn’t.
“So how will I meet you there?”
“Ask Arthur Enright if I can be your guest.”
You ask him.”
“He wouldn’t even take a call from the likes of me.”
“You’ve said stuff like that before,” I said. “What type of magic did you used to do?”
“I’ve never practiced magic. I’m the lowest of the low, in their eyes.”
“You’re a muggle?”
“I don’t know what that means I’m afraid. I’m what’s called a magical theorist. I study magic, in its causes and effects. It’s fascinating really, or rather it was, but I’m afraid it lacks respect from those who cast spells. They don’t see any other course open than their distortions of the created world. And the irony is, that now it’s all gone, I’m one of the few people who can help them.”
“And you’ll give me the file on Friday?”
“Everything I know.” He promised me. Which means tomorrow I’ll ring Enright.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Walking In Circles.

Between a drink in celebration and a second dose of country air, I collapsed in the armchair last night, and woke up to find Samuel’s morning ritual of exercises going on in front of me. It’s not indecent, but nor is it the sort of sight that lets you get back to sleep again.

On Friday I left the house without telling the others and caught the bus out to the peaks about 2. The bus driver dropped me near Bamford and I walked up from there. Bamford is like a street from Sheffield that’s been picked up and put down in the hills. The road leads up through it and then up to Ladybower Reservoir, at the far end of which is the car park for walkers that Challoner told me about.

A wheelchair friendly path runs parallel to a rougher woodland path and parallel to the clearing for phone lines beyond, where I eventually found myself. It wasn’t even clear if I was allowed to be there, but there was a rough path up to a wall, and a break in the wall where I could jump over a stream onto open moorland.

A couple of ramblers were coming towards me, so I felt less like a trespasser, but more foolish. I’d only walked a little way onto the moor and already I’d gone ankle deep into mud, ruining my trainers and jeans. I had no food or water with me and the high winds were cutting through me as well as knocking me over. Every large boulder was a candidate for the stone circle, but the moor is full of them, fallen down from the huge cliff that runs along the edge of the plain. The ramblers hadn’t heard of any stone circles in the area and were surprised by the question. The tourist maps down by the car park turned me to the drowned village of Ladybower rather than the wilds behind.

Even so, I was confident of finding it, of finding Challoner, and having turned around, I had a feeling, an instinct, that I was on the right path. I’d doubled back now, to the drystone wall I’d come through, and I kept this to my left as I climbed up the steady slope. Over the other side of the wall is a spooky looking forest, in the deep shadows of fir trees, but the path itself leads up, out of grazing land, into a grove of oak trees.

Here the path becomes a gully, filled deep with dry, fallen leaves and suddenly I was surrounded by the bare, gnarled hands of the oaks, and my footsteps, after the brooks and tussocks of the gale-blown moor, were now the only sound, cracking and breaking the leaves. It was like walking in another world; the twisted trees were all distinct, but like reflections and imitations of each other.

I emerged from the grove with a spiritual calm, adding to my conviction that I would find what I was looking for. As the trees opened up to reveal a view of Ladybower, now far beneath me, I found what I was sure must be the stone circle, but having climbed up to them, I discovered it was only a circle of boulders, laying where chance had put them. The winds were now severe, and I was hungry, and the impossibility of finding David Challoner by fluke sunk into my bones. I turned home.

The others had been to Castle Market without me, which I didn’t mind. After two months of asking each other for answers, it’s probably obvious that they’d seize on this. Angela claimed a breakthrough though: Enright had asked for me when they approached the stall, and has invited me to meet with them – so I may finally get to see what they’ve been hiding. I told her then about the frustrations of the day. She went out of the room and came back with an old Ordnance Survey for the Peak District.
“This is a little known magic, barely known to man.” She said. “It is called, a map.”

She unfolded it and we found Bamford. The stone circle was on top of the cliff, where I was heading but would never have reached in those winds. All the stone circles on the map, and the oak grove, and other areas, have been ringed in red, and notes by my father have been scribbled down, in the same encryption as his journals.

I went back on the bus on Saturday, armed with the map, decent provisions and the idea that if Challoner was on the cliff top Friday, then he would have moved on to the second of the Bamford circles. After a little looking, and a growing dislike of the moor, I found him. A little camper van was parked as close as the road would allow – a blue and white version of the mystery machine.

Challoner was zipped up in his anorak, wearing those plastic over-trousers ramblers wear and sturdy boots. He had a cool box, a stack of books, a measuring tape, some coloured poles, and a weathered looking deckchair.

The stone circle itself was not much more impressive than the coincidence of boulders I’d found Friday, but Challoner’s enthusiasm raised them up to stained glass windows or golden minarets.

Challoner greeted me warmly, striding across the boggy moor and putting a pebble in my hand. It was black, with little flecks and veins like gold.
“What I wanted to show you was this,” he said, not bothering with how are yous. “Come on.” He led me closer to the stone circle. “Hold the stone up, in the palm of your hand,” he said – referring to the pebble. “And now look.”

The gold veins in the stone began to glow slightly. It was hardly noticeable against the daylight, but in its shadow above my hand, I could see it was like a candle had been lit inside the stone.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Iron pyrite.” He held up his own piece.
“No. What makes it glow? Magic?”
“Ancient magic. Not the self serving kind that those novices down at the castle are moaning they’ve lost. Not the demon givers and power spells, nor the conjuring tricks. This was about surviving the winter, and reaping the harvest, fertility, longevity, the life of the earth.”

I didn’t really see how that wasn’t self serving, but Challoner insisted that modern magicians were like scientists rather than farmers – poking into the workings of things instead of helping things to work.
“This was a magic of man’s intention to belong to the earth.” He said. “And now look. It still lingers. Because this power comes from the universe itself, not the man who cast it.”

I told him then about the day before and how I felt drawn to the oak grove, and the sense of peace there, but also unease.
“Well that’s interesting.” He sat down in his deck chair and took a flask of coffee. “Natural enough though. The trees are descended from an ancient oak, used for rituals of the oak king. Your father knew their significance. Your sense of belonging there suggests some truth to the theories of tribal memory. You’ve given me something to think about. Here.”

He handed me one of the stones.
“Isn’t it valuable?” I asked.
He laughed, in a gurgling noise. “It’s fools’ gold.”
“But it’s magical.”
“It’s not magic. Just a reaction to magic, as all things of the world have – only this is a thankful bit more visible to the eye. It’s just a reaction to the distortions magic has caused. But it’s the memory of magic.” He turned the pebble over in his hand. “Don’t look so disappointed. At least the stones remember. That’s more than most things have. More than they’ll find in the castle walls.”
“You don’t think it’s worth going back there?”
“Not for the stones. But that isn’t to say you can’t learn anything from the people.”
“I’ve been invited down there by Arthur Enright.”
“Then you should go. But just be careful, not to listen to flatterers. They used to teach that in Sunday school, but you forget as you get older.”
“Why would they flatter me?”
“Because you own your father’s study.”

He went back to work for an hour or so, taking readings of the reactions from the stones, from different directions and various distances. He talked about the unselfish symmetry of the druids’ magic, and I helped fetch and carry for him, like his apprentice. Before we left I asked him if he knew the name Ilford Dyson. He said he did:-
“Interesting fellow.”
And that was it. He left me with the deckchair under my arm as he walked off.
“Well what do you know about him?” I asked, a little annoyed but a little pleased.
“I’ll tell you what.” He gave me the number of his hotel. “You can call me when you find out about Enright’s invitation, and in the meantime I’ll dig out my file on Ilford Dyson.”

So I shall go back to the market again on Monday.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Wrong Turns.

Yesterday, we attempted once again to ingratiate ourselves with the magicians at Castle Market, and their weird stall. Samuel is also on the look out for the men who beat him up, but what he’ll do if he finds them I don’t know. The more I think about how he procrastinated when we saw them on Tuesday, the more it seems as though he froze. It’s odd and unlikely that a man who claims to have been to the depths of hell and fought with demons should be afraid of a bunch of fat lads down at the market, but there it is. I’ve seen proof of the latter, and only have Samuel’s word on the former.

We went in turns to the stall, although Norman had nothing to say and felt awkward. I spoke to the shopkeep, Nicholas Graham, and he passed the time smugly telling me nothing. He seemed fascinated by Angela though, as I suppose a man like him would be. Samuel didn’t impress him at all.

Samuel knows a few of their faces, from his dealings as a greyman – although whether they helped or hindered him isn’t clear. One of their group, hanging around at the back of the stall, is Alex Reeves, a necromancer of repute and fortune. He spent years interrogating the dead for the whereabouts of their buried treasure. His presence, according to Samuel, means that there must be something worth looking at under the market – especially since Reeves spent football wages for unlimited private access to the British Museum only a month ago.

On my second trip down to the stall, Graham withdrew behind the partition that in most cases would screen off surplus stock: in this instance it concealed an excess of socially inept men muttering to each other. They can’t go down into the foundations until the markets close, but rather than meet at the end of the day, they huddle together and watch each other closely. It was the man with the pen stroke moustache who came back to the counter. He introduced himself as Arthur Enright: -
“I gather you want to see what’s left of the castle walls.”
“We want to see what everyone’s so excited about.”
“And you’re Edward Fold’s son right?”
“You knew him?”
“In as much as any of us know each other. For those of us who follow this path, we’re only aware of other people dimly. It’s more accurate to say I met him.”
“When was this?”
“Hard to say. We may not have been in the same year.”
“Well what does-”
“So! You’d like to see what we’ve found.”
“We would, yes.”
“We? Oh, the others. Well I don’t know about them, but I shall ask about you. There has to be consensus on these things of course. If you’ll wait, I’m afraid we’re not all here.”

I returned to the café we were using for the day and told the rest of them to give it a rest for now. They all went their separate ways instead.

After a few minutes I was joined by a man not quite like the magicians at the stall. He had the same academic pallor, but he looked a little sharper – I didn’t place it at the time, but he was able to look me in the eye without the sense he was counting them. Even Arthur Enright, the most self confident of that group, still appears to talking as though he’s just learnt eye contact is good manners. This new chap was in his fifties, in gold rimmed round specs, the collar of a white shirt poked up from under his tatty jumper and he wore one of those quilted, strung at the waist anoraks that old people seem to find important. His name is David Challoner, and he said the only sensible thing anyone said all day: -
“You know this whole enterprise is a waste of time.”
I asked him why.
“For two reasons. Firstly, they’re looking for remnants of energy from the manor house of Waltheof. But, as anyone who pays attention will know, the manor house was never here. It was out in an area they call Malin Bridge, heading out to the hills along the Rivelin river.”
“It’s more of a brook.” I said.
“You know it?”
“I live round the corner.”
“Of course.”
“Let me guess,” after Enright this was starting to grate. “You knew my father as well.”
“I met him once, yes. He was kind enough to grant me an interview, but didn’t answer any questions. He would have made an excellent politician if he’d cared about people.”
“What’s the second reason?” I said, ignoring the slight.
“Mm, yes. Simply that if they find the remnants of Waltheof’s manor, it couldn’t possibly have any traces of power left after all this time, no matter how potent the source. Wrong sort of magic. But of course they can’t see that. They’re all so post-fourteenth-century that they forget their history.”
“Meaning what?” I was getting sick of riddles.
“They’re looking for the wrong stones.”
I said nothing, but stared at him for more.
“Ancient magic. I’ve told them, but they won’t listen to the likes of me. There are stone circles by the dozen out in your peak district, with magics older than history, reaching back to the tribes of Celts before the Romans came. But they won’t listen to me. Too busy scrabbling round in the dark.”
“So you mean like Stone Henge?” I said, pretty sure I’d have heard about something like that close to home.
“Nothing so grand I’m afraid. But then, it doesn’t have to be. Stone Henge itself was completely dried up, as was Avebury. But, do you know Bamford?” I told him I did. “Well there are a couple of stone circles near Bamford where I shall be investigating for the next couple of days. If you go down the road along the reservoir, there’s a picnic area to the left, and above that is the first of the stone circles, do you know it?”
Again, I said I did.
“Of course you do. Well, I shall be there tomorrow. Wear your hiking boots.”

An hour or more after David Challoner left the market, one of the magicians from the stall came over to me. Enright had sent him over, to say that a consensus had not been reached and so I ought to go home. He conveyed Enright’s apologies and suggested I try again tomorrow, which is to say today. I thanked him, and without telling the others, I resolved to meet Challoner at his stone circle.


It was my intention to tell you about this next, but having been disturbed by Angela and kept up late talking, I eventually fell asleep at the keyboard and have just woken up in some discomfort to find I hadn’t posted this entry yet. I have to go again now, but I will tell you all about yesterday when I return - hopefully with a more positive result.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Snake Oil.

The stall run by the magicians is on the ground floor. A thin man with black hair and a pen stroke moustache ducked into the back before we could ask questions. It wasn’t at all clear what they claim to sell, but they have shelves of bottles filled with familiar looking liquids. A short, bald man came out to see us. He looked as if he’d been boiled clean, and he began by asking what ailed me: -
“Is it love you lack? The girl you want doesn’t notice you. No? Then perhaps it’s physical prowess? A little muscular advantage? We have a four week or a ten week course. No?”

The others were hanging back, so their potential inadequacies were not explored, but before he could get on to my big feet, the curly haired stranger from Monday moved out from behind the back and whispered to the salesman. The salesman looked at me, and then behind me to Samuel.
“Allow me to introduce myself,” he said. “I’m Nicholas Graham.” He began to put the proffered bottles away again. “Don’t mind these. I expect you know from your own experience that they went the way of everything. And yet we’ve had some remarkable results!”
“You’re selling old potions.”
“And at a profit.” He chuckled. “I may stop here and carry on.”
“After what?” Angela asked.
“Well,” said the bald man. The magicians Norman had followed before were suddenly at the corners of the aisles, watching us. “Well, what is it you’ve come to see us about?”
“Why are you here?” I asked.
“You know why. I believe you’ve even been to see some of the old castle yourself.”
“But why here? There’s better castles, older castles.”
“Bigger castles,” admitted the bald man. He looked at me for a long time, and then carefully around at how far the others were from us. “We live in a time of promises, don’t you find? So do you seek out small promises that you’re sure can be kept, or do you find one big wish and tie all you faith to it?”
“One big wish.” I said, because it seemed the thing.
“A long time ago, a long time ago, a great man came North to escape the Roman’s and their persecution of the Druids at Anglesey. He settled here, and he minded himself. But one day, after centuries, the affairs of men caught him up in their ways and their worries. Couldn’t mind himself any longer. Became advisor to Lord Waltheof of Hallam, and got him killed. A sorry affair. But the fact remains, and well your father knew it, that the most powerful man whoever lived, lived here, on the site of the first Manor House of Hallamshire.”

I asked to stay, as did we all in turn, but we were turned away. It wasn’t down to them, Graham explained, but they would ask if we came back tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Again, all four of us made the trip to the market. This time we went in the afternoon and kept the appointment Norman had made to see part of the old castle’s foundations. The guy was very apologetic that there was so little to see, as most of the stones are under the food market and can’t be shown to the public for health and safety. There was even less on show than I expected: the guy (he’s a warden of sorts for the market) played a tape of an actor recounting the castle’s history, and the tape lasts three times longer than you can spend looking at it. Out of the corner exit, near where Samuel was attacked, is a wooden door, leading down a dozen stairs to a white room, well lit and damp. The room contains about fifteen foot of wall, six foot thick and six foot high. It used to be the corner of a tower. Other unearthed stones have been piled up next to it. Finger long drops of white mould hang along the stairs, which set off Samuel’s unusual lungs into a coughing fit that our guide assumed was asthma. There’s a glass square in the floor that used to be lit, when it would show an original timber from the first castle made of wood.

We thanked the guy for showing us, and took our obligatory places for a cup of tea in yet another café. This one had a sign boasting good grub. It was then Samuel slid down in his chair and pointed out three men walking aimlessly through the stalls. None of them was the stranger, who I had mentioned to Samuel but held back about him calling Samuel Salt. I could see they had a look in common though – like antique hunters caught in a gale: acquainted with money, acquainted with cheese, unacquainted with good sleep or deodorant.
“There’s not many women are there.” I said to Angela.
“I’m more interested,” Samuel said, “In the fact they’re getting on. They seemed to be sharing a joke. Or at least an amusing anecdote. Before last year they wouldn’t have shook hands.”
“How come?”
“Professional paranoia. Hardly any magicians share their work, especially in progress. But if they’re here to investigate the foundations, they must have agreed on some sort of working arrangement.”

They went past us, and Norman followed. When they went past again, Norman was still a few metres behind and said they were just idling, doing a circuit of the place.

“More interesting still.” Said Samuel, now hiding his face behind a tabloid left lying on a neighbour's table. “Those are the men.”

I turned to see four biggish black leather jackets, topped by doughy faces and short back and sides. They walked with manc swaggers in too tight jeans. Bruises, black eyes and one with a limp testified they'd been in a fight too.
“I thought there were six?” I said.
“Two elsewhere. That’s them.”
“Well who’s going to follow them? Angela?”
“Certainly not.” Insisted Samuel, his chivalric streak not quite Twenty-First Century.
“Well you can’t, they’d recognise you. That only leaves me.”
“Again, certainly not. If they realised, they could-”
“They’ve gone.” Angela said. “If we see them again, I’ll go. As long as I don’t faint.’

We didn’t see them again though. And after a few hours of waiting the markets were closing and we were asked to leave. We met up with Norman outside, who told us the three magicians had wandered around until just before closing, when they stepped into an empty stall and closed the screen behind them.

“They’re in there now.” Said Angela. “They’ve found a way around the health and safety. They’re on the inside now.” They can sneak down any time they want.

Back at home we talked about where the thugs who beat up Samuel fit in, since we never actually saw them talking to the magicians. Angela took this as her cue to censure us for our indecision again. Norman told her that a man had called for her a second time: -
“Didn’t you call him back?”
“Thank you.” Angela said, with a note of the final word. She didn’t badger us about procrastination after that.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Spanish Castle Magic.

Today, all four of us partook of the time-travel that is a visit to Castle Market. Angela, despite no prior interest, opted in and rushed her boots on. I suppose we make an odd quartet, and I don’t know what the people who saw us on the tram must have assumed, although University answers an awful lot around here. Samuel has his hair clipped from cleaning the cuts, and was wearing one of my father’s raincoats rather than his brown leather, but even so, in shades and bruised to a melon yellow, he’s like a victim of paintball ’Nam, he’s got to make people wonder what. In the markets though, among all the freeze-dried old women, spasticated waists and tattooed bruisers, he looks relatively normal.

We stayed longer than before, just to frustrate Samuel out of his pessimism, as he still insisted there would be nothing to see, no one to find. I was becoming more interested in the effect my trips had on him – that he implied a vague threat, but refused to talk about his own assault. It was easy though, to make him wait into the afternoon, since Angela’s cocoon of uninterest released a child of enthusiastic delight. I don’t know what the larval stage of that metaphor is but Angela was transported back to her school days and skipped verily from stall to stall. I think Granelli’s sweet shop might have done the trick. She took Norman off to find shellfish at my suggestion of paella for tea, leaving Samuel and me in the café.

The question I’d finally formed for Samuel was “If there’s nothing to find here, what would be worth beating you up for?”
“Sheer bloody-mindedness-” he began, but then he stood up. He snapped at me “Stay” and took off. He paused at the corner, or else I’d think he was just avoiding the question.

Before a minute passed, his place at the table was taken by a stranger. A man with excess pounds and oblivious curly hair joined me with a cup of tea. He had off-duty clown hair. He looked pale, and his fingers were ink stained.
“Was that Salt I saw you with?” He asked.
“The chap in the sunglasses, Salt. The chap in the raincoat, I think he was sat here.”
“His name’s Samuel.”
“Is it now? Samuel, and not Salt.”
“Ha! Very good. Nevertheless, it was Salt. How did he come by his bruises?”
“I think you’ve mistaken him for another man.” I said.
“And what would your name be? I wouldn’t want any further confusions of identity.”
I told him, although childhood warnings came cartoony to the fore.
“Really? Well I suppose that explains the bruises.”
“Meaning what? What’s your name?”
“Maybe I’ll tell you, if I see you again.” And then he vanished – not into thin air unfortunately, but into the crowd, so that a man became scraps of fabric and then nothing.

Samuel came back before the other two. He’d seen one of the men who attacked him, but lost him on the top floor. So we both agreed to go back again tomorrow. I told him about the stranger. It seems typical that the first magician I find turns out to be a bigger dodge than the people I was worried about down there.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Another stake out.

I returned to Castle Market on Saturday, despite Samuel’s protestations. He insists, and Angela backs him up, that I will not simply know a magician when I see one. I asked if they didn’t all carry wands and top hats, but he didn’t get it.

Norman came with me this time. I was less turned about than before, and found a whole fourth floor of shut down shops. Norman found a man who can tell us about the castle foundations, and arranged to meet again in the week. He asked if anyone else had shown interest in the foundations lately, but the man is proud of his work, so he told us that he has lots of enquiries every day- history groups and the like. We ate lunch in one of the cafes along the edge of the food market, and found ourselves pointing out strangers, asking each other if they might be wizards. Then we talked about what we preferred – wizard or sorcerer, warlock or magi. I think Norman and I have been too worried to talk to each other fully since a month back, and even before then I never really talked like myself. But with this new beard he’s like a new person in the house. It’s strange that a place as beaten down as the markets could bring out that levity.

We returned again today. This time Samuel came too, despite my protestations. We went through the place again, and ate lunch at another of the cafes. We left, as always, before the worst of the sorts you can find down there began to emerge. We saw no one, as Samuel predicted. And perhaps it is true that they’ve all moved on. I’ve no reason to doubt that, but a few hours of looking one place at a time isn’t proof of anything. I asked Samuel again why they attacked him and again got his half answers, so I guess the same resolution applies.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Castle Market.

It’s been two weeks now since Samuel returned to us after his beating at the markets. He’ll barely admit that it happened, despite still needing to favour his left arm. He also refuses to speculate on their motives, citing nothing beyond thuggery. Angela’s theory is a reunion of demonologists recognised him and decided to put a good shoe in. After another day of high winds and the same rooms again, I went down there myself. If nothing else, this may force Samuel to tell the whole story.

I’m going to assume you’ve never been to Castle Market, since I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Sheffield. It’s housed in a five storey Sixties block of concrete, with the bottom three levels given over to the stalls. Walking in at street level from one corner, I went up a half flight of stairs to find a makeshift café, leading to a row of stalls selling hot drinks and sugary cakes, skirting at the edge of the vast food market. As I walked through, there were chords of scents – first bread, then chips, then apples and greens from the four veg. stalls in a row, and then the blood of the butchers’ stalls, then the fishmongers and then they cross over, and they blend. I’ve never smelt the blood like that before. There were fish I’d never heard of laid out whole on stained ice, or cut into portions of layered flesh. Whole, skinned rabbits lay in rows, while next to an ice cream tub full of coleslaw was a tray of tripe and the jelly from a cow’s hoofs. Bones for dogs stood up in buckets, and I saw a whole pig cut right down the middle – I looked into the inside of its head.

On the far side of the food hall, stairs split up and down to the other levels that are on above the other. The foundations of the old castle are underneath the food market. Upstairs, although I almost took a wrong turn into the Ladies via another route up, I found another bakers, old fashioned sweet shops - still selling by the quarter from big jars, a nut and raisin man, a battered looking new age stall called Enchanted Garden and an opticians – empty except for a woman in her coat, sat in front of a sign that read free eye tests for all. Throughout the whole market, but most obviously here, there’s no modern finish or fashion: it’s all right-angled edges, chipped on the corners; it’s speckled Formica and Blue Tac-ed signs.

On the upper levels are a half-crowd of old folks in coats and red faced parents pulling kids about. Down on the ground floor there are even less people, and it suddenly struck me that the place was dying. In the centre, rolls of carpet tower above the other stalls; there are fabric stalls and a hardware store like shed that’s bubbling over. Two book stalls sell nothing but water-colour covered romances. The electrical stand is piled into walls of blister packed alarms and parts, while a row of antique hoovers block the aisle; when I told Norman, he joked that maybe they were Ilford Dysons.

Despite the rock t-shirt emporium in the basement, the market is for an older generation. Even the younger people look out of date, as if money really is time. I kept expecting to see prices in shillings and pence, or marked up to the ha’penny. No wonder Samuel got so turned around he came out of the wrong exit – the place is a labyrinth: there’s a clothes shop on its own, half way up the stairs between the top and bottom floors; tucked into a corner is a carribean food stall, stacked up with yams and hair products; and I think I found where Samuel was attacked. Out of the far corner of the food market leads to a white spiral path around the drive up for deliveries, like a toy town.
There was no one there looking obviously like a magician. I don’t know what I expected to see really, but as Angela said later on – they won’t be walking round in long robes and pointy hats. I suppose I imagined they’d be serious looking: booky and specs. Certainly I imagined men with more money than the people I saw, although again Angela corrected me: most magicians compress every penny into the pursuit of their art, and they don’t always take care of themselves. In truth, the men I’m looking for are often as neglected as the regulars in the market. Samuel insists they will have all moved on to their next false hope, but I’m going back again. I want to see them before they go.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Catching up.

My friends, who had sent text checks over Christmas, called to see me. I kept them at the door like Jehovah’s Witnesses, while I got my coat and boots together. Then we went out.

We recreated a medieval banquet with burgers and milkshakes, and I got the full list of CDs, DVDs, books, games and random curiosities that now defy recall. I’m not going to get all middle-aged about the commercialisation of a spiritual holiday, because that’s the world we live in: like a reality show, God and the corner shop have swapped places. I can’t help thinking we’ve got it wrong though. The impossibility of remembering more than three gifts given to four people suggests a glut of spending more about the denial of the cold and wet than any kind of celebration. So maybe we need to rethink what it is we need in mid-winter, and what could comfort us, rather than things that offer distractions. Maybe I should work on that for next year.

That said, I’ve got a new second-hand printer/scanner, courtesy of Cobber, who got an upgrade; and Fuzz got two Rolling Stone best ofs, so he gave me one of them. I won’t pretend I’m not happy with them.

They all spent New Years day with headaches, dehydration and a ravenous aversion to food – more interested in Andrew’s Resolve than resolutions. The second of January was spent in that slow motion dash of people who’ve lost a day, lurching to recover the bits of themselves they’d let drop. And still they shake off grumbles about never drinking again, as if they’re telling war stories.

Cobber asked “What did you all get up to for New Year’s?” although no one asked why I didn’t let them inside, where Samuel's still lain out on the sofa in yellow smudges. He looks terribly theatrical, in my father’s dressing gown and blankets, the curtains half drawn, and wearing his sunglasses in the dark, even for those who’ve seen his eyes. I had to change the subject, since I’d no wish to hear them telling me that I should be on my own.

Angela says that modern drunkenness is a pitiful attempt to recapture a Dionysian rapture. She says it was pitiful before November but now, since the grapes lost their full potency, it’s also impossible. All alcoholic pursuits are in vain, she says, yet people seem compelled to follow the echo. I suggested genetic memory, but she doesn’t believe in that.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The New Year.

Last night, Angela found me in my room. She said she couldn’t help me in the same way she’d helped Norman, because his loss and the manner of it was particular to him. She told me this instead: -

The world of dew is
A world of dew, yet even
So, yet even so…

It was written by Issa, a Buddhist poet, after his only child died. I don’t know yet whether it helps or not, but I keep saying it to myself. We’ll see what the new year brings.