AJ Reid

Writer of Speculative Fiction and Masher of Notes for the Broken-Hearted

Tag: nostalgia

A Special Kind of Actor

The craggy face of Rutger Hauer glared back at me from the battered VHS case.

‘Don’t let your mum find it. I want it back when you’re done.’

‘She’ll find it. She finds everything.’

‘Hide it under your bed.’

‘First place she looks.’

‘Dammit. She’ll kill me too if she finds it. She’ll know I gave you it.’

‘Is it that good?’

Simpler times, perhaps. This exhange took place almost 30 years ago between me and another 11-year-old boy, furtively examining VHS contraband in the shade of a giant oak tree. School was out for summer, but for us, it was forever: our last day of primary. Ties loosened, shirts unbuttoned and laces undone, we were finally free and Rob T lived up to his term-long promise that he would bring in this film for me.

‘You’ll shit yourself.’

‘Cool cover.’

‘Watch it when your parents go out.’

‘I don’t want to get in trouble.’

‘We could go to mine and watch it. My parents don’t get home from work until seven’

Back at Rob’s, we settled down with a plate of barely warmed fish fingers and tomato sauce and pressed play. The scratchy white lines fizzed and flickered across the screen as the tape got going, indicating that it had been watched almost to the point of wearing out.

‘It gets better. Probably just needs tracking.’

The Hitcher

This was no X-rated “adult film”, nor splatter/slasher gore horror. This was something different. I could hear a message in the film, something more profound than “Don’t pick up strangers”. The Hitcher was a brutal, cathartic experience that made me value peace and resent violence. After the final credits rolled, I couldn’t wait to see my family to make sure they were all still in one piece and hadn’t picked up any hitchers in the two hours I’d been at Rob’s.

It was probably the first time I had seen an actor convey his message with such startling presence. Rutger Hauer as a mysterious homicidal nomad is a performance I will never forget. His ability to slow down time onscreen was matched only by Reed, De Niro, Nicholson, Day-Lewis etc.

What made Hauer such a great villain was the ever-present slivers of endearing humanity he would weave into the performance, confusing the audience by earning their sympathies and respect one minute, their abject disgust the next.

Similarly, his heroes were often shot through with irritating flaws, sometimes full blown personality disorders. Still, we loved them. We wanted them to overcome adversity all the more because they were like us: imperfect.

Split Second

I can’t wrap up this short tribute without mentioning Rutger Hauer’s greatest unsung work: a little-known sci-fi thriller that brings to mind Bladerunner and Alien. Split Second is far from being a perfect film, but there is much to recommend it. The scene between Hauer and Kim Cattrall is particularly memorable because of the unexpected tenderness therein and reminds us how powerful he could be as an actor, even in the midst of a rather chaotic narrative, so if you’re a comic book/graphic novel fan still unsatisfied by cinema’s adaptations of the form, you could do a lot worse than to check out this highly enjoyable flawed gem.

There are not many actors or artists out there as memorable as Hauer. I’m grateful, as I am to all actors with soul, for the inspiration. He altered our collective consciousness with an ad-lib, ffs (see Blade Runner roof scene). That takes some doing.

Thank you and happy trails, Mr. Hauer.

For more thoughts on film, click HERE.

For Rutger Hauer IMDB, click HERE.

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“Feuilles Mortes” Shortlisted in Writing Magazine’s Poetry Competition

Delighted to have made the shortlist for this one, being the first poetry competition I’ve entered in a few years. Thanks to Writing Magazine. It will be available to read in a collection called The Crystal Barrel, which I am compiling for 2020. You can read “Feuilles Mortes” for yourself here.

Find more poetry here. Sign-up required to access poetry and stories.

Check out some of my favourite poetry from T. S. Eliot and Seamus Heaney.

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Perseid Promise

Last night, after the captain and crew went to bed, I stuck around on the bow of the Sarinda to catch the Perseid meteor shower.  I wedged my rucksack under my head and kept my eyes fixed on the night sky until bright green lights began streaking across it, leaving vapour trails in their wake.

I didn’t have a wish ready: I had to root around for one, trying to choose something not too selfish and not too far-fetched.  The corner of North Wales looked like it was being attacked from space at one point, making me wonder what would happen if one were to strike the estuary, which is still reported to be full of unexploded bombs from World War Two.

It reminded me of being a child again, when I used to play with my friends down on the shore, discovering and investigating wrecked boats and winding gutters.  We made The Hidey Hole out of a huge concrete pipe that had been discarded in the woods and launched regular water pistol assaults on another gang from there.  There were rope-swings, rope-bridges, fox-holes, tunnels, BMX ramps and a potentially lethal zipline.

Unauthorised use of our facilities was the most common cause for confrontations, which often escalated to the point of parents getting involved, displeased at their beloved little angels coming home covered in mud and soaking wet, having lost the territory battle.  No-one ever got really hurt.  An older brother threw a brick at me once, hitting me in the leg, but it didn’t do much damage.  I just pretended it did, so that his mum would ground him, taking him out of the equation for a week and leaving his brother fair game for another water-bombing.

More often than not, we all ended up playing together and becoming friends after the initial tribal stand-offs, building yet more jumps, slides and ramps, after which we would go to one another’s houses for the ubiquitous dinner of fish fingers, chips and peas.  We would be careful to mind our manners and remove our shoes if it was “that kind of house” for the benefit of our pals more than anything, so that they would be able to continue to come out to play.

Things changed when one of our gang discovered fire.  He proceeded to blow up The Hidey Hole (literally cracked it in two) with a load of deodorant cans, changed up his Super Soaker water pistol for a can of WD40 and a lighter and set fire to another gang’s BMX tyres.  The police got involved when neighbours from half a mile away heard The Hidey Hole go up.  It was with immediate effect that all of us were banned by our parents from playing down on the marsh anymore.  Sometimes, I would ride my bike down there to see if anyone was around, but no-one dared since our mate was being threatened with juvenile detention.  Everyone was asking each other who had grassed when we could get each other on the phone, but no-one knew, or so they claimed.

Lying on the deck of that historic warship and watching the meteor shower, I realised that I’d left a little piece of my heart in The Hidey Hole when it was blown up.  I never really saw those friends again since that was our last year at primary school and I ended up going to a different secondary from them.  I hated my new school and most of the kids therein, it being largely populated by entitled bullies, many (but not all) teachers included.  There were times when I felt so alone and worthless that I would stay awake all night in tears, dreading the next day.  Summer would never be the same again.

As another spectacular Perseid meteor blazed across the sky, I thought about all the close friends who have come and gone from my life.  Nothing lasts forever.  Not even the mighty Sarinda, whose copper nails and fixings will eventually disintegrate.  Not even the captain, who seems invulnerable to the stormy seas of life.  Not even the first mate, whose fixings are only 21 years old.  And definitely not me, whose sails just can’t catch the wind at the moment, it seems.

Having not seen another meteor for ten minutes, I picked up my rucksack and checked that the tide had gone out before climbing down into the lethal mud and its unseen gullets that swallow wellies, sometimes people.  As I slopped through the blackness, one last Perseid, bright and green, appeared to fall into Moel Famau across the river, right into the nipple on its peak.

I made my wish before the vapour trail faded out of sight.  That’s the rule, you know.

As I walked along the water’s edge, I could hear a boat engine following behind me in the darkness all the way up to the slipway at the boatyard.

A voice from the darkness.  One of the local fishermen.  ‘See that shooting star fly into Moel Famau?’

‘Yup.  What did you wish for?’

‘Can’t tell you that,’ he said, dragging his dinghy up the slip.  ‘Wouldn’t come true, would it?’Facebooktwitterredditpinterest

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