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The Scrivener: Head In The Clouds

…An elderly woman with unwilling legs and feet struggled along with her rather resistant trolley of shopping. Two young men in dark suits walked past, noisily talking for all the world to hear. Not talking to each other but separately into their mobile phones…

Brian Barratt observes the fleeting street scene, the passing clouds in the sky, and distils from his observations memorable and delicious prose.

It was about ten minutes past one. A young mother was attempting to persuade her children to climb into the back seat of the car while at the same time loading her plastic bags of groceries into the boot. An elderly woman with unwilling legs and feet struggled along with her rather resistant trolley of shopping. Two young men in dark suits walked past, noisily talking for all the world to hear. Not talking to each other but separately into their mobile phones. Four girls from an office in the building across the way were at a table near me, chattily enjoying their lunch break with pies and fizzy drinks from the bakery.

In a tree on the far side of the car parking area, two or three crows squabbled raucously about territory or food or perhaps conjugal rights. It's Spring, after all. A solitary house sparrow was sitting and twitching impatiently on a ledge below the awning over the footpath, waiting for the crowd to disperse so that he could come down and clean up a few bread crumbs. He was silhouetted against the bright, clean, cloud-flecked sky.

The clouds were somehow too regular. They weren't flecked in the sense that they formed a regular pattern of dots. It was just that they each had a clearly defined form and shape, with little or no fuzziness round the edges. Twenty or thirty of them seemed to have been carefully painted too carefully in shades of grey and white on a light blue canvas.

I continued working on the crosswords puzzles in the newspaper. The aim is to do as much as possible with the Quick, the Cryptic and the Target puzzle while having a sandwich and a good cup of black coffee. As much as possible inevitably implies that I have to finish them during the afternoon. Perhaps.

By about twenty past one, the clouds had moved along, changed shape, stretched out, and acquired more fuzzy edges. Some had bundled themselves together and had more distinctly grey undercarriages. I checked the weather forecast in the newspaper.

As skies and clouds go, I suppose it was all very ordinary. But when I got home I went to the old (ancient, in terms of the development of technology) computer to look for something I wrote 15 years ago. Searching for a document named 'Clouds' did not help but I espied one named 'Sunset'. Aha, that's it! An extract from a personal letter to a friend, who probably thought that I had experienced synaesthesia, produced a slab of purple prose, or gone bonkers, or all three. (If you don't know what synaesthesia is, look it up. It is truly fascinating.)

This is what I wrote in 1997.


I was trying to find words to describe it, but words failed. Even if I could still wield a brush, and paint what I saw, I would not be able to collect the colours. A camera might have done it justice, but only in small sections. Even then, people would say that the colours were not true. The whole was simply unrecordable. The nearest description I can manage is that it was a Mahler symphony, in the form of a Turner painting, with colours and forms from Monet and Dali, and it had all the infinite beauty and mystery of the Mandelbrot fractal.

There seemed to be clouds at different levels, though I forget the names of the different types. At the upper edges, some were opalescent grey, white and silver, slowly merging to creamy yellows as they moved. There were drifting streaks of white against a luminous blue background. The greater masses were everything from salmon to dark grey, with purple black dripping bases, heavy with storm. There were greens, too, of many opalescent shades, above and over to the side, shining within there own light grey formations of cloud. Behind me, the colours were even more elusive. Only Dali could find the immense, ethereally luminous mid-blues in a palette, lightly but widely splashed with white-grey ocean sprays of cloud. If you saw such it, for instance, an over-colourised TV ad., you would say it's artificial. It was, in fact, like a stage backdrop that came down to earth just behind the trees and houses, with nothing and everything beyond.

The pinks and ochre-golds turned deeper as the sun went down, for it was already past sunset, and the whole turned into a fairly normal, but still symphonic, rainy day sky, but there was no rain.

When I first looked, my eyes heard the sounds. Trebles and boy sopranos were singing. The altos and tenors came in, and then the baritones, contraltos and women sopranos. By the time I dragged myself (for my arthritic leg was hurting) back indoors, basso profundo voices were echoing a crescendo in violet and black, with the distant golden plain-chant Kyrie from the boys.


The self-important young men shouting into their mobile phones would probably define 'cloud' for you, applying the first entry to appear when you type the word into your search engine: cloud computing. To quote Wikipedia, it is something to do with information and services 'that do not require end-user knowledge of the physical location and configuration of the system that delivers the services'.

That's fine, and no doubt it means something, but wouldn't we have a happier world if more of us spent just a little time pondering our end-user knowledge of the physical location and configuration, and the colours, and the beauty, and the poetry, of the sky above us?

© Copyright Brian Barratt 2011


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