H.A. Manhood

LIFE, BE STILL! And Other Stories

Gestalt Real Time Review continued from HERE.


My on-going thoughts in the comment stream below…

27 responses to “H.A. Manhood

  1. 12th story in book…


    “He looked like a boy flying a kite upside down.”

    A good-hearted tale of monstrous fishing, a monstrous haul of salmon plus a monster, as a gratuitous gift to the hungry Irish who had suffered enough from their three-nails priests, judging by the tone of the backstory of O’Fluddery and his Dad. Probably the first use of the words “we’re a long time dead” anywhere! The tale itself is a fishing party presumably from England: the narrator, Rich with his trusty pipe, and the Novice, three men eventually not in a boat but in a currach. Having come to the sea on the Irish coast, unimaginably close to the dreamcaught Gulf of California (!), the three them come to fish the sea since some Irish folk had poisoned the river of fish ‘cause of their hunger. The three of them having first met lame O’Fluddery in his cabin who takes them out. What a haul! How many times the word ‘haul’ is used I lost count. And it is a mayhem of slipperiness and lobster-pot and tugging, hawling, dreamcatching, grappling with words as well as fish. You will not credit how the saltiness laced with fishscales is injected straight into your veins. What a rollercoaster of a reading experience! Tantamount to a Noyes Fludde…

    “We crossed a second great bog and O’Fluddery stretched in his seat, pointing out where he had once cut turf and the place, famed in legend, where the women of two villages had long ago fought with prong and slaney over a matter of morals which had seemed merely amusing to their menfolk.”


    “Swine! Catch him out when he moved though.”

    I remember two-shilling bits well, sometimes called florin. As if it had two souls, or a choice of two morals for a fable like this one. A portrait of a boy with a well-earned florin, eager to treat his mum and himself, suddenly feels sorry for a blind beggar. Drops it as an impulse into the man’s takings. Then obsessed that the man isn’t blind. Stalks him most of the day, to test out his blindness. All a creeping and a darkly spying. Till the creeping came to running. But I never see God even hardly move, though. Can’t catch Him out, I guess. A gestalt of two shilling morals.

    “…after a thoughtful licking of lips, he picked up the florin, wrapping the scarf again about his thick neck,…”


    “— the shelter between the piers had become a chapel to them, a kindly holy place from which life, out of which they had so nearly slipped, was viewed with a sympathy and mellowness which had been impossible in their old state of loneliness.”

    “Their toothless mouths watered at its rosiness and they decided recklessly to eat it, chumble it…”

    Two old women, who seem to have lost their own children to death, as happened in those days, as it can happen today, too, both of them with a new companionship of slipped-away life, sitting in a seaside shelter, a sort of shelter where they might see me sitting on odd days. They see many others come and go, too, others of changing personage or demeanour, in this touching vignette, including a pretty girl who passes nearby, and the windfall of a rosy, juicy apple in the two women’s hands happens to roll away from them … to change destiny if not for themselves, but for others. A sort of vicariousness to be cherished.
    Life, be still!


    “‘Nothing wrong with you except boredom,’ he said. ‘You’re living too tamely, too securely. Your nerves and senses are only half-awake. Go and live under a volcano or on a floating island. Live dangerously and you’ll appreciate life.’”

    I walked to the one-sided island of Jaywick today (about an hour or so ago); a place that is my own volcano-equivalent to the eponymous rocker. My photos posted here just before I read this story, including a photo of the the pub ‘Never Say Die’…equivalent to the ‘The Merry Moment’, a cosy but wind-wrenched pub islanded in the middle of nowhere as it were? And the cottage its landlord rents out to a woman who is part of a death-dicing love triangle involving two brothers. Under the huge rocking rock, rocking like the pub in the wind. The story itself is the advice the doctor gives above at the start, and it is the job of doctors, if not priests, I guess, to make us never die, but at the end he is the one that the word ‘never’ never really was never. We who remain, always, meanwhile, believe that never lasts forever. Probably off our rocker!
    Life, be still!


    “‘What the hell do you mean by interfering with the kids?’ I asked him.”

    A brief tale told to the narrator by his father about his own tooth aching and going to the dentist. A tale about seeing, while waiting for the tooth appointment, a man in the park who was so hungry he tried to eat the coloured tissue from the kids playing with it in the park. Just like the woman earlier in this book eating cigarettes. There seems some sort of connection. Both dying from this hunger, being at least one connection. A tale about moral weaknesses and countervailing obligations laid out obliquely. Good teeth alone won’t necessarily stem hunger. Seemed at least half-significant that the father’s job at box-making entailed using 16 nails per box…


    “…like a rubber stamp of a rubber stamp,…”

    A spinster finds her art in the found art of the flowers in her garden, her father having been, she at heart realises, merely a chocolate box painter, not a true artist at all, his art still born, even if the author’s words to describe her father’s art are a literary art indeed. Yet, miraculously, my mind takes fire at the happy ending of this title story, but not the first, nor last, story in the book. The loveless spinster finds vicarious love beyond the thorn bush on the hill-top. Sees something religious as well as passionate beyond the crown of thorns, as it were. The keeping of the book of preventatives she now sees to have been pointless. Being still born is, I feel, life still being born again and again as if born forever.


    “, like hounds eating the fox that was the reason for their existence, and being sick afterwards.”

    …the hounds or the hunters? Being sick afterwards. This most floridly and circuit-breakingly textured text has handholds or wormholes offered for the sophisticated reader, and is narrated by a young writer after when that young writer’s recently adopted mentor writer Begoney was killed by somehow inheriting his (Begoney’s) own boy child’s anger management problem in crashing into things. Begoney’s crash was in a car, though, a car as a faulty cocoon, not a bike as it was with his son. Backstories of Begoney’s bygone burnt hut with his manuscripts in it. Unrequited love with a counter girl replaced by a woman called Naomi for a disciple to adopt following Begoney’s death. It was as if the whole thing was all panned out before Manhood had even offered Naomi his manhood, with pen to this paper, and became Naomi’s surrogate husband now as a lover and writer transcended… says something important about the nature of fiction. Fiction and life. Fiction and life crashing into each other like an ill-suited oxymoron, but sometimes with a synergy only great writers can manage. I think I grasped how this work works, reading it like worming through wood, sometimes like climbing, and it takes a toll.

    “That sounds like a poetic belch, but I mean it.”


    “There were stacks of neatly roofed timber on all sides, oak and elm and walnut, too, more than he could ever use, but bought simply because he could not refuse fine wood of any sort.”

    A good-hearted tale about an old heart on its last legs, the narrator’s carpenter uncle, down to earth and pungent. A gambler man, too, who tells his nephew to ask the local shoemaker who also acted as a bookmaker to put some money on Walnut Will, a horse running that day. Good will, free will, of simply the will in philosophy or religion, there are so many synchronicities of deaths and happenstance that come together in this eventually and ostensibly tragic tale, it did not really seem tragic at all but a sign of a goodly share of wholesome destiny to those who are connected with and homing towards some wonderful gestalt, I guess. This book its own maker that way.

    “That was what belief was for, unexpected and only worth something to those who had it.”


    “I certainly hated that ladder — it was like travelling around with the skeleton of your worst enemy —“

    Maybe you should not be allowed to publish a retrospectively reprehensible short tale like this one. But it certainly is seasoned with good-hearted mischief. A sign painter abandons his ladder-cum-bike for a hi-jacked lorry and takes up with a ‘Professor’ selling miraculous healing ointment from fairground to fairground, but anything but fair this fare. A “faith” in fairtrade of a half-crown for this book’s earlier florin? No, the exchange of faith itself. A confidence trick in every sense. And a fable with a new expression for being dead: “wrapped in hymns.” Goose cooked. Hawled, not healed, by his own petard. A fable with an amoral not a moral.


    “, afraid that some bloody horror would gape over the high brick wall of the garden at them. All imagination, of course, but maybe it is good for simple folk to gather all their fears in one place, to be able to avoid them.”

    A striking concept that. As is this work’s title as a description of seeing the best in things. My theory, however, is that the title is a strong clue this is a ghost story after all, not one about plain philanthropism. A story of a house that has been abandoned by the elderly couple who lived there, one of whom at least is dead. A house feared by the community. A young couple break into it regularly for their trysts. Their life together promising to be a hard struggle against poverty…
    A beautifully engaging story about an atmospheric venue for a tryst and trust in the future. A ghost story, despite what the author tells us.


    “…sound seemed to be galloping loose on some crazy errand of its own.”

    I had not looked ahead to this story’s title when writing the previous entry!
    A story about some enthralling experiences of ghosts that turn out to be rationalised as not ghosts at all. Until we are told about the death of fox-lover Stuffer Martin. With an ending I will not divulge here, but will add that its nature seems to be the essence or gestalt of H.A. Manhood fictions as I have grown to love them while reading this book. A tinge or echo of a Mark Valentine essence, too?

    “…sound seemed to be galloping loose on some crazy errand of its own.”


    “…jackdaws wheeled away like something scorched by the sight of us. We slowed by the dew pond on Gaylord Tump, coughing and sputtering to a standstill.”

    A moving and inspiring story of a family’s first encounter with a horseless carriage and its oily power. One of them has moribund health but he takes on a new lease of life when able to set it going with the others aboard.

    “That ride home was like a swift dream shared by every tiny bit of us.”


    “His interior design was all wrong, he said; doctors had wept over him, saying it wasn’t possible for a man so muddled inside to live. But he managed it all right, and how?”

    This was the eponymous character’s sales pitch to Moses Lodden about his miraculous medicine, saying he thought Moses only had two months to live, otherwise. Moses does not buy the medicine but believes the prediction and adjusts his life accordingly. The engine of life is as muddled as many of us believe that engine in the previous story is! Well there are many more machinations of plot leading to a good-hearted end, as I hope we all have. Each of us our own version of impossibility. I reckon Moses’ eleventh commandment was Thou Shalt Not Die, one that was suppressed by a worried God.

    “Moses hauled and bawled, not understanding for a moment. Then he shoved the limp, lanky Human Impossibility back on the bed much as a dog might drop a peppered bone. He peered close and began to laugh.”


    “They’d an engine to run the mill and they pulled and pressed ten ton of apples quick as boiling kettles.”

    A ripe pungent word-roistering tale of ugly mischief and righteous recrimination, and double dealing, concerning a man called ‘Pendent (short for Independent) keepering or poaching, a thin line, pocketing a hare for a bet, then a fine cider press, cider barrels supposedly topped up with animals’ meaty bits as thoughtless tinkering, like the earlier medicine bottles bottomed by half-crowns, well not exactly, but you will know what I mean, if falsities as to crimes committed become no crimes at all. Or vice versa.


    The word ghost as a verb is not unusual in its figurative sense of a fey gliding gait. Here, though, it means to create, for sometimes selfish or nefarious reasons, ghosts … or, indeed, to encourage haunting by any existing ghosts that are believed to exist. Here a little girl is assumed to use “soot and mice, water and fire” to deter people buying Presamber Grange where she wants to stay living. But cherubs are fickle. Children, too. An unmissable tale for ghost story enthusiasts. Quirky like Reggie Oliver. Perhaps the only ghost story in the whole book? Although many other stories in this book do ghost.


    “peculiar, seaweedy tweeds,”

    This story has the most hilarious ending you will go far to find. I even laughed out loud, something I rarely do. The story of two surviving brothers out of five, one a collector of stamps, the other a writer of incredibly popular detective fiction, that might do GK Chesterton proud. They have guests as part of these activities, ending with billiards or snooker in the eponymous room, only just big enough to accommodate a choice of cues and the resultant required potshots. If I tell you any more, it would spoil this undoubted comic classic. But what, I ask, is “an ill-in wrestler”, “a complicated still which looked like a brooding family of pelicans”, and dusty “Bume-Joneses”?


    “Independence could be good or bad. People needed each other, but most times they were too proud or stupid to admit it. Ah well, regret never showed a profit.”

    Aunt Tom (Thomasina) a widow, sees the eponymous vision outside her house, and a gradual friendship builds up. Touching, moving, poignant, roughshod, rueful, clownish, and all that these words mean, with more meaning on top, replete with idiosyncratically crepitating observations. With another brilliant ending, not to die for, but to double and do for.
    What a Manhood orgy of relatively brief tales I have experienced this afternoon!


    “Hadn’t seen him like it since he photographed Hitler in a bathing suit eating ice-cream.”

    A long time dead, as this book coined earlier. I didn’t conjure that quote out of thin air. It’s real. But it is just as unbelievable, I agree, as this story, as this whole book, in fact. This one is a of a ten year old boy (told to you when he was older and you have now told it to me), a boy who was once diddled by a legacy in an envelope from Hereward Unless, told not to open it till he was sixteen. “It was like having an oyster swear at you while you squeeze the lemon, but I didn’t weaken.” You must not weaken when you read this book. A sort of poetic belch or literary cough induced in anyone who dares to review it! I am an old big-headed man myself now, and a quote from this last story had me in stitches – judging by the photo I chose above several days ago. “…and while he was looking the old man woke up, his big head rolling and his pig’s eyes staring.”

    Let me treasure this book in silence at least for a while.

  19. A message for our times?
    “Scant hope theirs or ours to escape life’s high carnage of semperidentity by subsisting peasemeal upon variables. Bloody certainly have we got to see to it ere smellful demise surprends us on this concrete that down the gullies of the eras we may catch ourselves looking forward to what will in no time be staring you larrikins on the postface in that multimirror megaron of returningties, whirled without end to end.”
    from Finnegans Wake

  20. See my real-time reviews of John Cowper Powys, James Joyce’s FW, GK Chesterton’s Father Brown stories, Flannery O’Connor, etc.

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