“Unlike Stanislavski, Brecht requires the audience and actors to retain a degree of critical detachment from a play and its performance, to be objective and not empathise or identify with the characters or events.”
Outside Walnut Avenue, there’s a watery October sun. A Sunday morning. A whole day off. I’ve got some Chicago playing.
‘Och. What’s this shite?’ asks BJ popping his head round my door. ‘Shall we go looking for mushrooms? Perfect day for it.’
I’ve been re-reading my little book on them. Hand drawn pictures of Liberty Caps. ‘Will you recognise them if we see them?’
BJ nods. ‘Come on. Let’s find some fields.’
I know from my book that they’re likely to grow on low-lying cow pasture.
We tramp across some rough meadow. The grass has dew, though the sun’s making more of an effort. I’ve brought my book. Every step there are mushrooms visible to the naked eye. ‘What about this one?’ I peer and poke, try to discern gills and stems.
None of them are convincing to BJ. ‘Och. They’re much smaller than you think.’
‘Look.’ I point across the field. In the far corner someone’s bent over, peering at the grass. ‘Maybe we should go over there?’
‘Och, let’s try here first,’ says BJ dropping to his haunches.
I’m stooping, lifting tufts of grass, peering.
After an eternity of fruitless searching, with an aching back, I hear an exclamation. ‘Oh yes!’
I rush over. BJ’s holding an olive green pointy mushroom, shiny from dew, poking through the grass.
‘That’s it!’ I check the book. ‘Definitely it. Well done. Are there any others? The book says they grow in troops or clumps. Where there’s one there should be others.’
I’m desperate to find my first one. Even if I must break my back bending. Then BJ comes up trumps again. ‘Here.’ I scurry over. There’s another olive green nipple, and close by, a dark stem, black top. An older version? The stems are difficult to nip. Another sure sign according to the book. They smell of earth.
‘I’ve got to find one myself.’ I’m off, obsessed, pawing at the grass, desperate. And then I come across not one but three close together and my back stops complaining. ‘You beauty!’ There’s another that’s white. Dried out?
After a time we have about thirty between us. The other person in the field has gone so we wander over to where he was searching. ‘Here! There’s more.’ BJ’s excited, scrabbling.
Then it’s my turn. A proper troop of three or four, waving at me. Hands up like at school. ‘What shall we do with them?’ There are about seventy altogether.
‘Och. We’ll make some tea with them.’
Back at Maynard Road, BJ’s got some herbal or fruit teabags. We count out the shrooms, and pour boiling water over them, the smell immediately making me want to gag. ‘How are we supposed to eat these?’ Lifting them up with a fork, they hang together; like some grotesque sperm chain.
‘Och don’t be so fuckin’ woosie. Get them down you.’ He shovels a spoonful into his mouth and begins chewing noisily, dribbling.
The fruit tea’s no help; they still taste like shit, forcing me to peg my nose to eradicate the taste. Brush my teeth straight after. Gag. But I get them down. Now what?
BJ’s washing out his cup. ‘The good thing about them is they come on slow; half an hour or so. We’ll wait here, then go for a walk in the woods. OK?’ He goes into his room. Music. It’s something weird with guitar jangles, turned up loud. He comes back into the room - ‘The Dead. Great.’ - then starts to air guitar.
I wander round the house and eventually out into the garden. It’s pleasant warm sunshine now. Leaves falling. Colours. I breathe in the smell of autumn; earth and leaf. When I close my eyes, kaleidoscopic patterns cross the dark.
‘Och. Let’s get the fuck out of here.’ BJ’s twitchy. Wants to get going. And so do I.
It’s only a short step to the woods. I spit occasionally as we walk; BJ gobs lots. I wish I couldn’t taste the things or that fruit tea. But I’m beginning to feel different. See different. Smell different. The colours of trees and the leaves on the floor are vivid. Vibrant. Moss glows, iridescent, seems to be a mass of movement, like thousands of emerald anemones wiggling under water. We stop in a small clearing and gawp. ‘It’s amazing.’ I’m looking at my hand, trying to work it out. I can feel strange thrills running through me. My eyes are wider than they’ve ever been. Properly open. I feel like Captain Kirk on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. My head is a computer of infinite possibilities. This is great. Better than anything.
We stumble round the woods for hours, stopping to meditate on the universe and its wonders. Every leaf now seems perfectly and beautifully formed. Russet and burnished bronzed leaves flicker and float to the floor; a magic carpet. The light becomes intensely pleasing, like my brain’s basking in sunshine. My peripheral vision is a myriad of shapes and flashes. Birdsong is language. Chirrups, chitterings and chirps are intelligible.
‘You’re not religious are you?’ I ask BJ.
‘No fuckin’ way. You?’
‘No. And this just confirms my belief.’
Everything now seems obvious yet revealing; is deeply significant. I’m aware of existing, though I’m constantly transforming to new states without dimensions. Just being. Pure awareness. Pure being. A state of acute physical and intellectual pleasure, I’m perfectly adjusted, perceptive; capable of the simplest but greatest insights. Feelings that no language can describe. Words just hold me back from the feeling.
We marvel at Nature. Talk with trees. Understand what they’re saying. Breathe in the mould and decay like perfume. Stumbling into a small clearing, a Stonehenge ring of perfectly formed agarics stand. An assault of red and white. We sit in the middle and laugh a lot. Feel ultra mellow; all knowing, and serenely calm. Loving life. Feeling profoundly alive. Profoundly, exultantly alive. A sponge absorbing and understanding everything.
It’s a bummer having to go back to Walnut Avenue as the light fades and the chill develops.
‘There’s some white wine chilled in the fridge,’ says BJ. ‘You get it and I’ll see to the music.’
The house feels soulless and oddly dirty for the first few minutes; after the colour feast of the woods, the walls seem drab, the floor strewn with grit and grime. Man made debris. My first sip of white wine also tastes oddly metallic. Fake. The leg of lamb waiting to be cooked might as well be an alien. No way do I want to eat meat now. Is that what taking mushrooms does?
I return with glasses and sit, envisioning, increasingly lost in the music.
How do I feel? On a more mundane level, I’m trying to understand what it is about Miss Dazzle that’s kept me like a puppet on a string for the past two years. And whether it was – is? – on a not so mundane level, love.
OK, she’s got the most amazing smile; one that lights up a room. But is that it? And she’s good at sport; that’s always a winner for me. Though she’s not keen on cricket. Oh well. And when we talk, she doesn’t avoid eye contact; another good sign. But do I? I always feel awkward when I’m in her presence. Don’t really know where to look. Don’t want to seem like some kind of weirdo staring at her chest; but when I look into her eyes I feel I go red. Feel inferior. That can’t be right can it? It means we’re not on equal terms at all. Why not? And I don’t really know what to say to her. Am I being myself with her? Or – more likely - trying to play a part that I think she might like? She won’t be keen on taking drugs that’s for sure. And she’s religious isn’t she? Always takes communion.
And of course, she’s married.
And what about Venus? What was that all about? I was convinced it could have been the real thing; that so much chemistry, so much potential, could only have led to something more deep. But love?
Love’s not the same as gawping at a beautiful looking woman who reminds me of Jenny Agutter. A daydream. Beauty’s only skin deep, right? In the end what did I know about her? Nothing. Just trusted to an instinct. My instinct. Is that enough? And was I being myself with her? I lied about my job didn’t I? Why?
The answer now seems clear.
I’ve been blinded by Miss Dazzle and I should have been truthful to Venus. That if I have to put on an act with anyone, not being myself, it can’t be love. Not love in its purest form.
I contemplate love and its infinitesimal possibilities. Does it exist in purest form? It feels like it should. It must. Mustn’t it?
‘What’s this music,’ I ask BJ as the track develops.
He chucks me the cover. ‘Och. Are you kidding? It’s the Dead.’
I pour another slug of wine; peer at the album design.
He takes the bottle. ‘“Dark Star.” Fuckin’ great.’
Later we visit an Indian and destroy vegetable curries. Starving. Ravenous. BJ’s stuffing himself, slurping, mouth open, chewing, but I don’t care.
It’s hard to get to sleep that night. There’s still something buzzing in my head, but I feel like I’ve been purged somehow. Cleaned. Maybe finally of Miss Dazzle; certainly of feeling embarrassed to be with her now. No need. I feel at peace with the world. Have a deeper understanding of myself. Become ultra mellow. Can see now quite clearly how to approach things. That I’m not at the centre of the universe after all; rather that the universe is made up of concepts. Like love. More than that, I’m resolved to be more myself. The real myself. I’ve learned to play a role at Fitzrovia, maybe even become one of them, and it’s been OK, but now I just want to be true to myself.
And I’ll hope to find love. In its purest form. Worth waiting for.
How great these mushrooms are. When can we do it again?
Soundtrack - The Back Story!
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Chicago – Fancy Colours
I first heard “Chicago Transit Authority” at school when I swapped albums with a mate. After that I was keen to get hold of their second LP, especially as “25 or 6 to 4” was released as a single. Great! It’s an eclectic mix of styles, but “Fancy Colours” was catchy and more typical of their style at the time – pre all that gooey slushy stuff like “If You Leave Me Now.”
The Grateful Dead – Dark Star (from “Live Dead.”)
I’d never really listened to the Dead until my mate Graham introduced me to them…and I’m still not entirely convinced by some of their interminable rambles, but “Dark Star” is a fave. This version, he reliably informs me, is the definitive one. It’s a proper journey through time…23 minutes to be precise!!!
About the Author: Richard Parsons
I’ve been fascinated with writing since I was a youngster; creative writing in English lessons was my favourite part of school life along with swapping music with mates or playing sport.
When I decided to quit teaching after many happy years, I applied for and won a scholarship to do a Masters at Plymouth Uni in Creative Writing. Drama was really the main string to my bow, but I soon became hooked on the idea of crafting short stories, and, eventually, the longer form of narrative. After graduating with a distinction, I cut my teeth writing for women’s magazines, but this was never in my own “voice” and was always formulaic. “Given Circumstances” is the real me.
Hope you enjoy it!