Wednesday, 31 May 2017

May #1: Coming Down Is The Hardest Thing

Saw my old gigging mate Dave at the weekend, for the first time in about 18 months. Yes, we went to a gig. Probably my only one for this year. More on that soon. Anyway, he was telling me how he's taken the plunge and booked a ticket for Tom Petty's only UK date this year: Hyde Park in July. With Stevie Nicks in support. (What are the chances they'll do Stop Dragging My Heart Around?) I'm jealous, because Petty is pretty much top of my wishlist for artists I still haven't seen, but there's no way I could get to that gig. Even if I could afford it, I'm on holiday that week.

Maybe next tour, Tom, you won't just do one UK gig...

After the video, there's a silly little story I wrote a long, long time ago based on one of Tom's biggest hits...

1. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Learning To Fly

Learning To Fly

Jonathan started flying to work the day after the M62 pile-up. Two lorries, five vans and fourteen cars, three of which were indisputably Audis. He didn’t get home ‘til after nine. Missed Property Ladder with Sarah Beeney, which Jess had asked him to video because they were doing Sheffield, so he caught hell from his girlfriend on top of everything else.
He was sick of it. The delays. The queues. The road rage. The utter lack of… civility. The vanity plates with their 4’s that were supposed to be A’s and 7’s straightened into T’s. The off-white vans with ‘I wish my wife was as dirty as this’ and ‘She is, mate’ finger-written on the back. The way that whenever you left a decent stopping distance on the motorway, some arsehole always pulled into it. The taxi drivers. The skip wagon drivers. The motorcyclists. And, yeah, the Audi drivers. Eight years he’d been doing this journey now, to and from a job that wasn’t worth half as much effort, and he couldn’t take it anymore. So the next day, he left his car at home and flew. It took him just over quarter of an hour, from Huddersfield to Leeds, as the crow flies. After that, he was kicking himself – why hadn’t he ever thought of this before?
            He tried to calculate his average speed by putting a ruler on his Big AA Road Atlas of Britain (pages 64 & 65 – rather annoyingly, his exact destination lay smack in the centre binding), but got pissed off because he couldn’t figure out the simple mental arithmetic that’d allow him to work out miles per hour. Throwing the Atlas across the living room, he knocked over the Aloe Vera plant on the windowsill, spilling soil down the back of the radiator. Genius! Similarly, he struggled to estimate the average height of his flight-path – high enough to be mistaken for a bird from the ground, he reckoned, but not so high he was in any danger of headlonging the jumbos circling for Manchester Airport. He half expected to be spotted lifting off, exiting every morning through the dormer window in the attic (riddled though it was with bastard woodworm) but he soon gave up worrying. People round here, they kept their eyes to the ground. Nobody looked up, not in this street. As for his landing, he touched down as a rule on the multi-storey carpark across from work. It rarely got so busy that anyone was parking on the top floor before nine.
            Bad weather could be a problem – but it had been when he was driving too. He didn’t get any wetter than if he were riding a bike to work, and he carried dry office clothes in his backpack, arriving in plenty of time to change in the Gents, even after that glorious extra half hour in bed. The rain didn’t bother him so much – OK, it bothered him shitloads, but he kept trying to tell himself it was invigorating. He thought about those crazy octogenarian Norwegians he’d seen in that documentary on Channel 5, starting each day with a naked dip in the icy fjord. They said it was good for you!
Low cloud was a pain though – not only was it like flying through a sauna (except one where the steam was freezing), but sometimes he ended up heading in the wrong direction entirely. One time he was halfway to Burnley, and only a near-collision with the Stoodley Pike monument set him right. Having broken a bone in his toe kicking the top of the monument in one hundred feet high dudgeon, he couldn’t put weight on that foot for a month, and really had to watch his landings.
            After a while, he started to take it for granted. Discovering he could fly had been an incredible moment (tapered by the irritating idea that if it’d always been possible, only he’d just never tried it before… he’d wasted so many unnecessary years walking, driving, and catching the bus), but that was as far as it went, and soon Jonathan wanted more. He tried out a few other incredible capabilities – breathing underwater, shooting laser-beams from his eyes, sending horny messages to Jess via telepathy – but nothing else took. It was the lack of physical strength that niggled him most, and not just because he should have been able to boot the top off that fucking monument… but because Jess wanted a lift.
            “Go on then, Storkman – take me for a fly!”
            But he couldn’t get off the ground with Jess in his arms, couldn’t even feel the boost from the soles of his feet.
            “You saying I’m too heavy?”
            “No… not at all. I couldn’t lift a skinny lass either…”
            So there was another argument. She wanted him to fly her to Paris. But even if he had been able to lift her, he didn’t think he could fly that far in one journey. He’d had to stop and rest for an hour in Kettering on his way to see Eric Clapton at Alexandra Palace (saved fifty quid on the train fare though!). What’d happen if he ran out of propulsion halfway across the Channel? Not that it really mattered, he had very little desire to go to Paris without Jess anyway (actually, he had very little desire to go with her, other than to stop her moaning about all the blasted romance – and was that any reason to do anything?) Anyway, after that, the flying really became an issue between them.
            “Maybe if you worked out – developed some kind of upper body strength – the stork could become an eagle…”
            But he wasn’t going to join a gym for anybody. And when Jess bought him the dumbbells from Argos, he lost it completely.
            “If you’re not happy with me physically, then sod off and find somebody else!”
            So she did. And two nights later, the police were at his door, with a warrant  for his arrest. His solicitor told him not to worry; the CPS couldn’t even decide what to charge him with. Public nuisance? Flying without a pilot’s license? Common assault was suggested, but no-one could take that very seriously. There was absolutely no precedent.
            “I haven’t assaulted anyone!” Jonathan protested.
            “They could try and argue,” his solicitor explained, in a drab, windowless office that really needed a good dusting, “that you’re putting anyone who witnesses you in the act of… ahem, ‘flying’… in direct fear of imminent force or criminal attack… though first the prosecution would have to demonstrate malicious intent on your part, or a propensity for violence which…”
            Jonathan hoped nobody had seen him booting the top of the Stoodley Pike monument; or kicking hell out of his neighbour’s dustbin that time it’d blown over, spilling yoghurt pots and teabags (how many teabags did that tosspot get through in one week anyway?) all over their shared back yard; or putting a brick through the windscreen of the green Audi with the ever-shrieking car alarm that was always parked on the end of their street, but didn’t seem to belong to any of his neighbours; or knocking over the temporary traffic lights up Scapegoat Hill that’d been stuck on red three nights running; or…
            In the end, he struck a deal. No more flying to work, and no charges would be pressed. MI5 wouldn’t be informed and The Sun wouldn’t be given his home address. Jonathan was resigned to the outcome; he’d always known it was too good to last. But he couldn’t go back to queueing on the M62 every morning, so he quit his job and went on the dole, supplementing his income while he waited for the first benefits payment to come through with various activities that he refused to feel any shame about. They’d driven him to it, after all, the bird-burglary (as opposed, you see, to cat-). Well, if they had him down as a bad guy anyway – why not?
He was cautious now though, taking care only to pursue such activities on dry nights, with no moon, so nobody would see him entering via the unlocked skylights, bedroom windows, and twelfth floor flat balconies that led to his loot. Wet nights, he stayed in and watched stolen DVDs.
            As for Jess, apart from the time she had to call out the chimney sweep to extract the dead stork from her flue, she never heard from Jonathan again. No great loss there. Her new bloke worked for Ryan Air, and flew her anywhere she wanted.  


  1. Fantastic story (in every way!) This was the first thing I read this morning and it has set up me for the day; I get such a buzz from other people's talent. Thank you Rol. More please.

    1. Thanks, C. I feel a bit of a phoney posting such old stories... particularly as I haven't written anything new in a few years. But those old stories are just sitting gathering dust, so if I can dig them out and find a couple of new readers who appreciate them, it doesn't feel like they're completely lost.

  2. Learning to fly - it's a dangerous thing

    1. There's a reason they haven't let us have flying cars yet...

  3. I love that you used songs as inspiration for your stories. This is another really great one and again, the main character has superpowers. Methinks you have long hankered after such abilities!

    No, definitely don't let these stories gather dust as there are always new readers who will indeed appreciate them. Keep 'em comin'.

  4. You know my views.....more of the short stories please. This was a wonderful read


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...