Some Kind of Strange English

Gah! I made an unfortunate discovery today. Quite a few years ago, 1997 I think, I was introduced to a wonderfully eccentric young lad called Cris Bruce via a girlfriend I had at the time. They both lived in the states, having come from Virginia. They were good friends and decided to do a trip over to this side of the pond. When introduced, I immediately warmed to Cris, he was very bright, engaging and naturally funny.

Cris Bruce

Cris had a great talent for words, he loved writing poetry and keeping an illustrated travelogue of his adventures. I think one of the things that originally made me start to like him was that he told me he came from a town called Mechanicsville, It made me laugh and I really thought that he was pulling my leg. He wasn’t. There really is a place called Mechanicsville, which in itself was brilliant introduction, for a young man like Cris.

I didn’t know him for very long but never forgot him, some people can just make that kind of  lasting impression. My flatmate and I gave him a place to stay during the Bristol leg of his UK travels. He was an excellent guest, never short of conversation about his observations of life and the bits of the world he had explored. Looking back now from an older perspective,I think Cris was one of those people who liked to grab life by the proverbial balls and give them a good squeeze, to see what would happen. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and immerse himself in strange and new locations, even if there was a reasonable degree of risk involved in doing so. After we parted company and he went on his adventuring, he wrote me a letter a few months later, talking about one of his adventures, which had involved being back in the U.S. He’d been invited to an acquaintances house for a social meeting, while their parents were away. The small do, partly involved being offered Morphine and hanging out in a jacuzzi in the back yard. In Cris’s altered state, and in a moment of poetic intensity, he found a kitchen cupboard, crawled partly inside it and wrote something on the slate wall at the back of it, he couldn’t remember exactly what, but it was along the lines of:

“As long as you live in this house  and as long as my words remain undiscovered, this house will never be entirely yours, there will always be a little piece of me, hidden away, occupying your space without being noticed”

Except, I’m certain Cris phrased his hidden words far more eloquently. Cris was a bit of a concern, in that brief time that I knew him, he told me stories about his experimentation with getting high. In the UK, when a kid wants to do that, they just connect with a friend of a friend and buy a bag of weed or some pills, or just buy some alcohol. In Cris’s world at the time, it seemed to be about getting loaded by drinking cough meds in non recommended doses or worse, raiding some poor sod’s stash of legitimate pain killers or other meds. It seemed a bit mad and I advised him against this as a future behaviour, though it struck me at the time, that it wouldn’t be advice he’d heed. He seemed very much a free thinking spirit, if not just a little misguided.

The letter he sent was hand typed, it seems a page has gone missing forever somewhere along my own life path. I guess, he would have liked the thought of that, a page of his words going on its own travels, not content to remain in one place.  Cris kindly enclosed a photocopied reproduction of his self penned poetry book, called ‘Some Kind of Strange English’

Some Kind of Strange English

In the advent of information age, I’d tried looking him up online on a handful of occasions. Usually when prompted by either hearing something by Lou Reed or Risingson by Massive Attack. He’d liked both, he loved the Lou Reed track that appeared on the soundtrack to David Lynch’s ‘Lost Highway’ and I remember a brief call I had with him when he’d travelled to New York, we both gushed enthusiastically about the Massive attack song.

I recall at the time, I was kind of amused that Cris was into Lou Reed, there was something about him that reminded me of Lou. Since then, I’ve seen things about Lou that  reminded me of Cris. Maybe it was how they spoke, they seemed to share a similar energy to each other.

Anyway, looking Cris up always wound up  a fruitless task, part of me thought ‘He’s probably not wired to the net because he’s still out there adventuring’. After a few years though, when he occasionally popped into my mind and I found no reference anywhere to collections of his work like the one mentioned above, I started to imagine that life had perhaps taken a bad turn for him. It seemed it could have gone two ways, he was either going to reappear into the world as a new kind of guitar-free Lou Reed character or he was going to turn up dead.

I could slap my own face now, I’d been looking online for Chris Bruce, not the correctly spelt Cris Bruce. I keep his book of poems in my little work space, today I pulled it out and noticed my grammatical error, I was listening to Risingson at the time. I Googled Cris Bruce for the first time, got nothing. Refined the search to Cris Bruce+Mechanicsville. I got a result, but not the one I’d hoped for. Cris died on May 17th 2008, age 30, of a heart problem. Although he’d been taken to hospital, the nurses were unable to revive him. His blood toxicology was clean, its just that his ticker had decided to pack up on him.

Cris Bruce 2

My discovery was a bit of a blow, having considered the fate of Cris for so many years and hoping for only the best outcome, to think that his wonderful quirky character is no more is  a final answer to that lingering question. The full stop on the last page of his poetry book. For that, I am truly sad.

Apparently there was a gathering somewhere in Mechanicsville, to remember and celebrate his ‘Vibrant’ thirty years on Earth. Had time, knowledge and more convenient  geography been more favourable, I would have gladly attended. Now I just consider the strange kind of irony on page one of his 1996 poetry journal, a picture of  anatomical hearts.

hearts2

These song’s are for you Cris.

[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=klPGfv9Swbw’]

“…starving in his own sentence, the poet crosses himself,

there were words etched where he rested, and only those

who laid paper birds on his chest could read those words, none but those.

Sudden, is the life

and death, of the few who strive.

Under covers, in the dark, feeling around for whatever’s gone out.

There must be a light switch”

Cris Bruce 1996

RADIO HIAB-X 2013: Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality 2013 from hiabex303 on 8tracks Radio.

Two thousand and thirteen had its own musical flavour, I seemed to gravitate towards electronic grooves and music that, in my mind, would be the perfect soundtrack for floating around in Virtual Reality to. My enthusiasm for the Oculus Rift VR headset was constantly in the back of my mind, perhaps because I’ve been keen as a gamer to see a true paradigm shift away from monitors and screens into a realm of infinite creative possibilities, something totally immersive. The music from that I discovered in this year stoked my imagination. Enjoy this mix.

HIAB-X Headquarters.

I’ve tried a couple of times to write about how I spent the majority of my free time during the last six months of last year. It was the reason blogging and much of my other digital activity fell into a deep and procrastination-free coma.  Rather than post out of date info that was sketchy at best, I’ve just decided to write a new post and start over.

As a little bit of background, here’s how the project began. In 2007 when my career path took a U-turn and ventured into the world of stone masonry, my wife and I had also just been through a year  of minor upheaval as we’d decided that rather than moving house, we would refurbish our existing abode and extend it. Our original plan was to add some extra room onto our kitchen by buying a small plot of our neighbour’s garden that was immediately adjacent to it. When this didn’t go through, we decided instead to buy two wooden cabins to use as extended spaces away from the main property. A ‘his’n hers’ kind of arrangement of outbuildings, If you like.

Time passed and the buildings became functional, I used mine as a workshop for man jobs, and because the cabin was a respectable size with two small annex rooms, we put in a sofa bed, should we need to put up guests. It was an ok setup, damp and cold in the winter. I never felt satisfied that as a usable space, that it worked as well as I wanted it to.

In the meanwhile, my career in stone masonry fully blossomed and the cabin became a place I infrequently visited. Sometime earlier last year, It occurred to me that both cabins would benefit from some retrofitted internal insulation. The materials were ordered, arranged to be delivered at a future date after I’d had time to prepare the spaces, then promptly delivered on the non agreed date one week after ordering. A large palette of styrene backed plaster board, probably twenty large sheets of the stuff arrived one rainy Friday afternoon. Plasterboard doesn’t do rain very well, so I was forced to throw my plans out of the proverbial window and fill my cabin as quickly as possible with the sheets of board, I hadn’t been in a position to clear the place out and now I was filling it up, and taking up half of the available floor space in the process.

What do you do? Well, due to the unpredictable British climate and the desire to not have to keep shifting twenty sheets of giant plasterboard back and forth between cabin and garden, I decided to start work by working around it. “It’ll take a couple of weekends” I told myself, and the gods of D.I.Y had a good laugh.

A couple of months later both cabins were insulated.

So, close to tears, sitting in the chaotic midden of quadruple handled personal belongings plonked over to one side of my cabin, I began thinking. It had been my intention to return to business as usual, I had a work bench area in the main room and a designated guest area in one of the smaller rooms. At the time, I was considering how to decorate over the plasterboard to give the spaces a more welcoming finish for both myself and a wouldbe guest. In addition to that, I’d spent much of last year feeling frustrated that my artistic creativity had been the victim of ‘too much going on’ and no appropriate space to occupy, where my creative juices could flourish. You see, on any given week day evening or weekend, when not working down the cabin, I’d fallen into a trap of sitting at my kitchen table and zoning out in front of my computer. We live in a small terraced cottage, each room is functional but there isn’t a suitable room to bang on a stereo and get out the creative arsenal without encroaching on someone else’s plans for vegging out at the end of the day. I’d long accepted this, but felt creative inertia chewing away at my soul like an angry malnourished rat.

Sitting in my personal midden, an idea popped up rather innocently…”What if, I shifted my work bench over to the small guest area, and what if I turned the main room into a more comfortable recreational area?” followed by “What if, that area was decorated to look a little ‘Bohemian’?”  At the time, I’d recently seen an image on Tumblr that I’d felt a wistful bit of affection for:

boho

Although not entirely to my tastes, it seemed like the person whose room this was, had made themselves a little nest of comforts and stimulations that harkened back to another era. I liked that, and the seeds were sewn in my own imagination. I set to work moving my work bench, then cursing the fact that, having built plasterboard insulation around it, I now had a bloody great gap to sort out, which I did.

The following months saw a flurry of intense activity during my evenings and weekends, sometimes that activity just involved going down the cabin and taking a perch then staring intently into the contents of my own skull. I was working out problems, imagining things that hadn’t materialised yet, just basically building the space in my own mind. I’d come to the conclusion that I’d borrow from earlier ideas I’d tried out in my early twenties, where I’d cheered up dismal bedsits with strategically placed Indian bed sheets to hide flaking, lumpen ceilings and cracked plaster walls.

My wife had been banned from entering the cabin since about June, I’d sold her the idea of there now being a second living room, come reading room, and I wanted her to see the final product without worrying about the gigantic mess leading up to it. During my working days on a large construction site, I’d noted that a fair amount of useable timber was being skipped; off cuts from roof joists and the like, so began rescuing bits and pieces to recycle and repurpose them. My original idea had been to make storage using old scaffold boards, but with my bohemian direction starting to take shape, the idea upgraded to using joist offcuts to fashion shelves that would start in one room, turn corners and continue into another room. Silly ideas began floating up.

  • It needed flocked, damask wallpaper.
  • It needed skirting board
  • It needed to have a bank of shelving areas to store various house cluttering artefacts, like ornaments, movies and books.
  • It needed to look fucking cool with some alternative lighting methods…just in case the need to dance around should occur.
  • It needed a much comfier and welcoming sofa bed than the shitty Ikea one I’d kept down there.
  • OK, the cabin needed to be multi functional because of the above and more.

These aims and ambitions kept me busy all the way through until December the 31st, by which point, if it hadn’t been the Christmas break, I’d have seriously burnt myself out. It’s pretty hard being a stonemason by day and an interior mover and shaker at any other given moment of free time.

Finishing touches and a grand scale tidy up took place and completed around five p.m on New Years Eve 2013, later that evening I escorted my wife down the garden to see the fruits of my labours over the last six months. I must admit, I felt very uneasy about the prospect as her former banishment from entering the cabin had potentially conjured up ideas of some kind of palatial den, that may or may not have lived up to expectation.

She was thoroughly delighted with her visit, so much so, we spent the rest of the evening celebrating in there. You know you’ve done a good job when your wife is happy to spend her evening in the shed!

Slideshow of the cabin so far: Hover over an image to skip back and forth.

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As it stands, the cabin will remain a work in progress, it needs to be lived in and added to, I may well add images of its development here as I go along. Needless to say, it’s now a great little place to be creative, or just read and listen to music.