Sunday, 21 December 2008

Directionally Challenged

Mid Saturday morning, as I walked through the empty streets of the city, the sun blistered against the chill in the air and my eyes still felt fuzzy from the night before and all those before that. I felt half there and half somewhere else, somewhere horizontal.

As I crossed Moorgate a man stepped out from behind a pillar. We wore a green boiler suit, with a fluorescent yellow jacket and a stained Santa hat. In one hand he held an open bottle of Magners and the other pressed a mobile phone to his ear.

As our paths crossed he whispered something that sounded like “can you help me?”
I carried on, lost in my own thoughts of desperation over what one of my cousins might want for Christmas.

“Oi!” he shouted and I instinctively turned to see him paused and glowering in my direction. “I was talking to you! Don’t ignore me!”

“Sorry, mate.” I replied, turning back on myself. “I thought you were on your phone.”

“What phone?”

“That one,” I half-pointed. “In your hand.”

“I haven’t got a phone.”

“Yes you have.”

“No he hasn’t,” said a voice out of the phone which still hovered close to his ear.

“So, are you going to tell me or not?” he continued.

“What?”

“Where it is?”

“Where what is?”

“Liverpool Street,” he shrugged cider into the air with exasperation.

“Oh,” I was relieved that it was something so simple. “Down the bottom of this road, mate.” I gesticulated in the direction I’d come from.

“No!” he cried (and inside I groaned).

“No!” said the phone, helpfully.

“Not the station. Duh! Liverpool STREET.”

“Well, um, I’m pretty sure it’s to the right of the station. So, if you go down here to the station, turn right onto Bishopsgate and then right again. I think that’s Liverpool Street.”

“Right,” he said nodding firmly. “Thanks a lot, man.” He suddenly seemed swallowed by a sense of serene calmness, as though from here on everything was going to work out.

“Hey,” said the phone, “Merry Christmas, yeah?”

“Yeah, right,” he turned away, “Merry fucking Christmas.”

Quite.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

I must confess that I’d kind of forgotten places like this exist.

You know me. I like a pint. Of real ale. Ideally from the Midlands. And I like it a pub. A proper pub, that has pumps and stools and wood, but not too much. I’m not adverse to a bit of spit and sawdust on the floor, indeed I prefer it to the sheen of blandness like many of the indenti-kit pubs up and down the country.

There was a time, however, when on a Friday night there was a reasonable chance of finding me in a Spanish bar drinking that horrific Estrella stuff that gives you wind, somewhere in the shadows of Canary Wharf (this being a summer’s evening, obviously). Or perhaps I’d be in one of the warehouses converted into a cavernous experience of faceless computerised music and impossibly tall and thin glasses of Guinness.

But I was never that comfortable so far away from the things I understand. It was a relief, in 2004, to discover that the guys I’d gone to work for shared a similar suspicion of organised fun. Far more preferable was putting the world to rights over pint after pint of high-quality ale before inexplicably finding ourselves in the arse-hole Irish pub on the Holloway Road at the time when the trains have long stopped running.

Sigh. Good times.

So, it was something of a surprise when on Friday night I found myself gingerly descending marble steps into a red splattered tapas bar deep underneath Charing Cross Road. Video monitors showing footage of Salvador Dali frolicking with bikini-glad impossibly breasted women masqueraded as pictures; in the centre, a table was set within a gazebo; elsewhere other tables came complete with curtains for diners to seal themselves off. On the furthest wall there was a panel of glass that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Cathedral and in front of it a Japanese ankle height table with what might have been pom-poms scattered across.

Needless to say there wasn’t any bitter on tap, not even Guinness or a half-decent lager. In fact, there weren’t any taps, just bottles of the Newcastle brewed so-called Spanish beer, San Miguel. It was dark except for when it was too bright. It was loud. There was a bloke in the toilet who took up far too much space by insisting on turning the taps for everyone. There was even a god-damned cloakroom.

But, you know, I thought, this is what other people like. It’s probably me that’s more than a little unusual. It was certainly busy enough. The food was okay. There was nothing unpleasant as such. The people I was with seemed to like it and that was why I was there, after all.

Except, after we had eaten, they wanted to dance. Right on cue the volume jumped several notches and the quality nose-dived. The disco ball began to turn and people flocked to strut their stuff.

I hesitated. For about thirty minutes. I quite wanted to be sociable, but wasn’t sure whether I could bring myself to dance to Beyonce, or a succession of other pop songs I vaguely recognised and were probably recorded by failed contestants in television programmes I’ve never watched.

In the end, there was just the four of us left. Two guys and two girls. The girls danced smoothly in time to the music whilst I stumbled along about two beats behind. I gave up and reduced myself to little shuffles with the occasional head-bob and/or raised arm. I was watching the blonde, who kept glancing at the other guy, who was looking at the dark-haired girl I’d never seen before who seemed to be peering closely at me. It was like pass the parcel, but with glances bouncing around in sequence throughout our lopsided rhombus of hopeless gyrating bodies.

Time was getting on and on, arduously shuffling into the night. I remembered, with a groan, that the place stayed open until three and wondered whether I should just make my excuses and leave.

‘No’ a voice in my head ordered, ‘you’re a newly single man. Dancing with girls is what you’re supposed to be doing. Isn’t it?’

So, I battled on until, finally, a particularly trite song came on. So bad, in fact, that I currently have zero recollection of exactly what it was, but for arguments sake, let’s say it was something by Pink. I looked around and all about me people surged joyously. One youngish guy with what looked like a drizzle of puke down his shirt opened his mouth wide, his yellowy teeth reflecting in the neon and his eyes swirling with excitement. I was felt simultaneously sober, yet not.

Nor, indeed, was I enjoying myself.

“I think I’m off,” I said, adding something about last trains.

“Yeah,” the blonde perma-beamed, “I think I’ll call in a night too.”

‘Oh, aye?’ said the voice in my head.

‘Shut up,’ said the rest of my consciousness.

We chatted in the inexplicably long and slow moving coat queue about this and that.

Outside the rain was streaming down and the city shimmered in its damp overcoat. We said goodnight on the street corner as a rickshaw careered past.

As I walked towards Charing Cross the voice said: ‘What was that? Why didn’t you-‘

“That was nothing. Just shut up, you twat,” I growled back and got a funny look from a passing tramp.

I had, thanks to cloakroom inefficiency, missed the last train home. The voice and I argued the whole time on the long route back via Lewisham.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Magical Mystery Tour




You’ll all have seen this, but I couldn’t let it pass without comment.
Lapland Dorset (and by extension Lapland Wolverhampton) have been steadily ripped apart all week by the press and trading standards for promoting themselves as a winter wonderland, a festival of festive joy, when in fact they were just some tents in muddy fields, surrounded by scruffy imitation huskies, bored staff and run by chancers who saw everyone coming.

I mean, let’s be clear here: It was bound to be shit. Even aided by the coldest winter in eight years and several heavy frosts (if not actual real snow) it would have been impossible to live up to the hype of the original website, even if, to me, it was all suspiciously vague. What exactly is a ‘magical tunnel of light’? Surely an ‘absolutely magical scene’, given that magic isn’t real, is open to some interpretation?

Who goes to these places, anyway? Who reads about something that sounds like a nauseating con and thinks it’d be a good trip out for the kids? Who pays £25 a head for this sort of rubbish – plus extra to enter the so-called bustling Christmas market, which was really some trestle tables in a shed display the contents of a couple of old suitcases the organisers found in the attic? One woman splurged £3,000on 132 tickets for a social club’s outing. She has my sympathy, but was it really the right sort of place for them to go?

Okay, so may be it’s just me. Perhaps some people like tat. But my favourite bit of the whole fiasco, is the parents who became so angry at their darling one’s naive vision of Christmas as a happy and jolly time being shattered, then really put the boot in on the whole broken dreams theme by kicking the shit out of Santa. If that’s not going to make the delightful tots burst into tears, then they’re made of sterner stuff than most of the parents.

The thing I find interesting is the sheer number of people who turned up in the first place. People had a terrible experience and the place has been rightly shut down, but the owners did get away with it for a while. In other words, it proves that with a clever website and not a shred of honesty we can all get away with anything.

Here’s an idea: I’m going to turn my flat into a museum highlighting the wonders of the world. A palace where visitors are taken on a mystery tour of the exotic. They’ll ride on temporal time-looping luxury carriages throughout the entirety of human endeavour; from the gleaming spires of Chicago, to the yawning chasm of the Grand Canyon. From seeing the peaks of Scotland to the hearing the roar in the Coliseum as gladiators battle tigers. From the beguiling wonders of Constantinople to the teeming crowds Delhi. Everything from the sweat to the tears will seep into the visitors’ consciousness. At the end of this life changing experience they can feast on some of London finest cuisine.

What I’m really going to is put all my holiday snaps on the wall, make a suitably bad mix CD, bring them into the middle of the flat and spin the around rapidly. Then I’ll give them a cup of tea and piece of flapjack.

No, no, no.

What am I thinking? That’s a ridiculous idea. In fact it’s almost as crazy as if the BBC commissioned a Saturday teatime programme that consisted of an ex-international cricketer and some bloke off that dancing show trying to avoid being plunged into a swimming pool by a giant moving polystyrene wall with shapes cut of it. And if it was hosted by Dale Winton and everyone had to wear skin tight silver catsuits and got so over excited it was embarrassing to watch... I mean that’d be seriously bonkers.

Oh. Wait a second.

Just goes to show: no idea is ever is stupid enough to not appeal to someone, somewhere.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The Price We Pay

At some point during the summer I accidentally mislaid some body mass. To be slightly more accurate I lost a stone and a half very quickly and whilst it’s evened off, my weight still seems to be dropping.

Which would be fine – I think pretty much everyone who knows me would agree that I’m not exactly slender – were it not for two reasons.

Firstly, this isn’t actually deliberate. It just kind of happened without me noticing. I put it down to working in the pub: my beer quota dropped and I would eat my dinner at about four-thirty before spending seven hours either standing up or, pretty often, running my arse off. This was far healthier than my previous regime of eating between eight and nine, if not later, and then remaining fairly physically inert one way or another before going to bed.

However, I’ve been back in the doldrums of office life for two and a half months (Jesus, there goes the next decade) and whilst I’ve been trying consciously eat healthily I’m not doing significant amounts of exercise. So, shouldn’t I be sort of stabilising by now? If not actually going back up, at least remaining constant?

Anyway, the second problem (and in many ways a more significant one) is that now
none of my trousers fit me. Running for a bus is a no-no; carrying too much change a disaster waiting to happen. Take these jeans I’m wearing now. Okay, so you can’t see them, but they’re fairly standard jeans – a grey-blue, with white stitching down the outsides of the legs and a zipper on the left hand pocket. Got it? Good. Now,
I’ve had these since last Christmas and so they’re practically new. I don’t want to replace them, but they’re going to get me in trouble. As I walked along the road I could feel them snaking their way over my hips, dragged down by the rainwater clinging to the cuffs. To my left a gaggle of teenage girls at the bus stop. To my right two coppers in a patrol car, sitting outside the Chinese takeaway.

It was a close call.

So, I clearly need some new clothes (or at the very least a new belt), but cash flow makes this a challenge – plus I loathe going clothes shopping, but in December? Jesus. Perhaps a prison uniform would be simpler.

This is the thing that no-one ever mentions. We’re told that we’ve an obesity problem, that we’re a nation of fat fucks and that we need to sort ourselves out.
Floppy tongued Jamie Oliver and stool sniffing Gillian McKieth swoop down on unsuspecting Dominos Pizza mopeds, forcing the salivating customers into submission by being more irritating than having to wait for a replacement pizza.

But no-one in these credit-crunching days suggests how we are to re-clothe ourselves.

Presumably we could use the money we’re saving on excess food to buy new clothes, except we do still have to eat something and healthy food is so irritatingly more expensive than shit.

I guess the only solution must be that there will be lots of people with saggy skin never able to leave the house.

I am, of course, presupposing that everyone dislikes going shopping as much as I do. There’s plenty of evidence, however, to the contrary. People love shopping. They love the heat of the buildings, the ching of the cash registers, putting their cards in the little boxes and tapping out their unique numbers and spending money that was never theirs. My God, some love it so much that they’re prepared to kill for it.

Seriously.

In the early hours of last Friday out on Long Island, New York State, crowds were gathering outside a Wal-Mart where a sale was due to commence – the annual Black Friday Sales. Never heard it? No, me neither. The jostling punters were so impatient that they pressed ever closer to the doors, applied greater and greater pressure until the point – not of the door being forced open – but of the glass shattering.

Presumably this made quite a lot of noise, but rather than jump back in shock, or even pause to wonder exactly what was happening the mob surged forward desperate to gather up... Hell, I don’t know. What does a Wal-Mart sell? Cheap burgers? A tasteless festive jumper with fifteen percent off? Half-price Adam Sandler DVDs or Pussycat Dolls CDs? Whatever it was they wanted it badly enough to trample a store worker to death. Even after paramedics tried to clear the scene most shoppers simply refused and responded with a whinge about how long they’d had to wait in line.

So watch yourselves out there in this annoyingly advertising in advance season of so-called goodwill.

Me? I think I’ll simply break out the swiss army knife again and puncture another hole in this here belt.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

No aimless exercise

I wake up on Sunday morning to a dusting of snow across the back garden. Not that it’s my back garden, you understand, so perhaps I should say the expanse of occasionally green space that can be seen out of the kitchen window and belongs to the man who lurks downstairs. But that’s a bit of a mouthful, isn’t it? Snow is pretty rare in the urban heat centre – I don’t think we had any at all last winter – but there is was; just a little sprinkling that clung twee-like to the mock Roman plant pots.

“Hmrph,” I thought, switched the coffee machine on and took the four steps back into bed with the Sunday paper I’d confusingly bought on Saturday night.

It wasn’t supposed to be like that. On Sunday morning I should have been waking up in a sleeping bag on a Swansea floor, feeling twinges in the backs of my knees from climbing a mountain the previous day.

Except I never made it because my car broke down. At least the bastard had the good grace to conk out in Chelsea rather than, say, somewhere in the no-man’s land of the M4 in-between Swindon and Bath. So my rescue by the RAC was comparatively straightforward, but I mean, come on! What else can go wrong for me at the moment?

And, as later on, I rang up various people and moaned I suddenly realised that I was dangerously close to becoming a rather pathetic figure of self pity.

“Oh, woe is me. It just isn’t fair.” Etc, etc.

So, I resolved to stop moaning and try to get something constructive done. After checking the car into a garage for futile attempts at resuscitation, I cracked on with writing – after all I can’t moan about not having enough time to write and then reject opportunities when they arise.

In a single seven hour stretch I managed to rework a twelve thousand word chunk of the novel. I trimmed back reams of stuff that didn’t work and tried to push forward the bits that hopefully did what I intended them to do, but it’s getting tricky.
I’ve now been redrafting for longer than the original first two drafts took (although September and most of October were write-offs) and the damn thing still isn’t working and I’ve spent so much time with these words that they’re becoming like the old friends’ whose failings you forgive all too easily. I think I might have to fall out with my words; get to the point where I hate them and can therefore be more merciless.

But anyway, after four-hundred-and-twenty minutes the tips of my fingers throbbed and the skin under my nails stung. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. “If it hurts,” I thought, “it must be good.”

An odd moment of Hemmingway-lite delusion.

I was determined to still find a way of getting some exercise and never being one for the aimless rigours of sit-ups or jogging, I like my excursions to have purpose. So, I decided to walk the seven or so miles into the centre of London whereupon I would meet a mate for a less healthy beer.

I walk briskly so whilst it didn’t exactly have the grandeur of the walking I’d expected to be doing it did get my blood pumping a little faster. I missed the sweeping valleys, the spring of damp grass beneath my feet, the camaraderie of walking with friends. Instead there was just the relentless trudge across concrete as I marched through some of the less salubrious parts of London. In particular I’d never noticed before quite how dark the quarter of a mile or so between Camberwell and Walworth is, nor how it seems to be solely the preserve of the Wyndham Estate. For a few minutes it was as though the city was abandoned for the dead. There were no cars, no-one on the streets, the lights flickered as though the electricity supply was about to be cut. There was just me and the eerie echo of my own rapid steps.

Then a number twenty-one roared round the corner in a mess of steaming pistons, bedraggled diesel and general bendiness.

By Sunday morning, though, my resolve to be productive was being tested. I was struggling to build up the enthusiasm for yet another day at the computer, but thoughts of doing anything else was nipping me with guilt.

I looked back through the work I’d done the day before and despaired. It still wasn’t working. It still wasn’t as good as it should be. I considered writing this blog, originally about Woolworths but David Mitchell beat me to it.

Pouring yet another cup of coffee I glanced out of the window and saw that the snow had evaporated already. It had hung around for about thirty minutes before realising it had better things to do, a place to go where it might be appreciated more. A little later I walked down the road to get some milk and passed the burnt-out wreckage of an old Escort that had mysteriously appeared earlier the week. It’s blackened and charred husk looked like something from twenty years ago displaced to here and now.

And then I thought that things aren’t always what they appear. Maybe the dark last night had only seemed so invasive because it fitted my mood. Maybe it wasn’t snow in the garden that morning, but ash drifting in the breeze. Maybe I should go home and beat some more words out of my brain.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Twelve

Breathe in.

I’m surprised by its commonality as it criss-crosses its way throughout time and space; between metaphorical and mythological, from psychological to physical - beating in tune to the rhythm of life.

One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten-eleven-TWELVE.

Twa-lif, a Germanic compound meaning, literally, two is left before one takes away the base ten. A composite number, a sublime number, a semi-perfect number. A-one, a-two, just the gap of language between them.

Every year breaks down into twelve months, each with its own heart. December is warm and fuzzy inside yet ultimately frustrating. May is never quite summer, never quite good enough. Every single day consists of two blocks of twelve hours; each hour comprises six minutes and each minute sixty seconds. Each denomination is divisible by twelve. The same number curling inside itself again and again.

The Earthly Branches, the traditional Chinese calendar, is divided into twelve creatures – Rat, Ox, Panther, Rabbit, Goat, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Chicken, Dog, Hog - each but a manifestation of self.

Once upon a time, many, many moons ago the Earthly Branches trudged together across the dusty plains of what is now Eastern China, but then was just the world. The sun beat relentlessly down on their backs, the dust clogged up their throats and when they spat to drink what sparse water they carried, the salvia glowed clay-red.

The Monkey gambolled and chattered with fear. The Panther prowled determined to preserve her strength. They all prayed for rain, for cooling waters to flood the plain and carry them to the lush green hills at the end of sight. They prayed as hard as they could, but nothing came; the only clouds were of red, red dirt filling their imaginations. Eventually, the Horse, who was the largest and strongest of the Earthly Branches, abandoned his friends. He claimed he was going to seek help, but Goat kept muttering that it was purely to save his own mottled skin. The other Earthly Branches tried to ignore Goat, who was going lame and struggling more than most in the heat, but slowly her old bleating tugged at their collective consciousness.

Meanwhile far, far away in another time the twelve signs of the zodiac were blissfully unaware of the fate that had befallen their Eastern cousins. Here the Ram, the Bull, the Twins (two from one), the Crab, the Lion, the Virgin, the Scale, the Scorpion, the Archer, the Horned-Goat, the Water-Bearer and the Fish happily took it in turns to frolic through the twelve stations of the ecliptic, the passage of the sun as it crept across the Heavens.

But goodness can never last. The sparkle of pleasure will always fade and what had once been magical becomes mundane; there is always something else, something more desirable. The Zodiac, however, couldn’t even agree what the alternative was. And so the Horned-Goat and the Ram squabbled over who had the most majestic antlers; the Crab testily pinched at the Lion’s claws (before scuttling under a rock); the Fish taunted the Water-Bearer; the Scales shook her old tired head which the Virgin mysteriously took personally. In amongst all this pettiness only the Bull and the Archer remained entwined, riding out together into the woods to hunt bears, badgers and beetles. The Archers thighs clung close to the Bull’s sweating flanks as once again she pulled her bow, taunt raised and arrow to the line of her eye and held her breath.

In Shi’a Islam the descendents of the prophet Mohammed are the twelve Imams, the direct and legitimate heirs to the word of God.

Jacob had twelve sons, twelve boys whom did not necessarily love each over as well as their Father would have liked, but never-the-less each became a founder of the twelve tribes of Israel.

After the betrayal and suicide of Judas Iscariot the remaining Apostles elected Matthias to take his place, so as he could share their grief and keep the number as should be.

At twelve a Jewish girl comes of age with her Bat-mitzvah.

King Arthur fought twelve battles against twelve rebellious princes and repelled twelve Saxon invasions.

Not quite so long ago, up amongst the clouds that linger like tired souls in the warm Grecian sky the twelve Olympians of the Pantheon lazed, occasionally munching on grapes or olives or simply fornicated with one another. Zeus stroked his beard with amusement as Aphrodite lived up to her reputation and leaned in close to the sleeping Dionysus.

Aphrodite’s sweet sweat slithered through the wine fog that polluted Dionysus’ brain so as when he awoke and looked into her eyes they shimmered with the freshness of dew heavy spring mornings. Aphrodite opened her mouth a fraction and breath that tasted of honey and rosemary brushed against the weary Dionysus’ lips.

“This area was once known as Illyria,” the man says now as they sit on the rocky outcrop above the crashing waves.

“What?” the woman replies not moving her sleepy head of his shoulder.

He passes her the half-drunk, half-warm bottle of beer. The final droplets of condensation cling to their fingertips like tears.

“That’s what they called this bit of the Adriatic coast. All the way down from Croatia to Albania.” He looks down at her and wonders whether she is even listening. “Sebastian and Viola get shipwrecked here.”

In silence they look up at the Croatian stars that flood the sudden night sky.

The twelfth moon of Jupiter is called Lysithea.

A series of solar eclipses between 2680BC and 1129BC contained twelve separate yet connected arcs. One after another, like generations passing in the wind.

Edgar Mitchell took two lolloping, clumsy steps forward. His breath was hot and damp against the glass as he flung himself up into the air. The ground disappeared far beneath his feet, his back arched with the momentum and as the stars reflected in his visor he felt as though he might never stop.

Everyone has twelve ribs.

Edgar Mitchell turned himself upside down and inside out with the ease of waving, but the grace of an elk. As he finally started to float back down the ground, he stretched himself out into a star and glided like a petal on a morning stream and just for a second his breath stopped. When he silently touched down a flutter of grey, lifeless dust billowed up, sprinkling across his bulky suit and he knew how incredibly unique he was. Edgar Mitchell: one of twelve men to walk the surface of the moon.

“If music be the food of love, play on.” The man helps the woman to her feet, their fingers snake around each other, binding them forever in the moment.

“What are you going on about tonight?” She passes the dregs in the bottle into his free hand. His shirt collar flutters in the breeze; sand stings his cheek.

“So Viola and Sebastian get separated after being shipwrecked. Viola disguises herself as a man for no apparent reason and everyone falls in love with everyone else.”

“Oh, Twelfth Night.”

“And there’s an odd subplot about yellow stockings.”

“It’s set here is it? Illyria?”

Except it isn’t, because it’s a story. It’s all made it all up.

But sometimes stories come true anyway.

Dionysus’ and Aphrodite’s lust affair continued long enough for her to be with child. But these Olympians were Gods and nothing ever ran smooth. There always had to be a thunderbolt or a mysterious creature inside a complex puzzle on an isolated island to mess things up. And sometimes it was as simple as the lithe, sublime, temptress that was the Goddess of Love realising she would never stay forever in the arms of the drunken, rowdy God of Wine.

It was messy. Dionysus threw bottles and got so roaringly drunk that he said hateful, spiteful things that he never meant. Although, Aphrodite did seduce a shepherd just for the sake of it.

The Archer ran through the undergrowth, sweat settled on her brow like the weight of responsibility. The wildcat wasn’t going to escape her. It would fill the growing ache in her belly, or so she thought not knowing that really it was the pain of childlessness. She stumbled, but at the same moment saw something dart just outside of her vision. As she tumbled, she turned and let loose an arrow into the air.
There was a whish as it swooped through the forest, then the satisfying thunk of it striking hard into its target and then, rather than the meowl of a stricken wildcat, the deep mourning howl of the Bull.

The Archer ran across to her friend the Bull and was aghast at what she had done.
She leant in to hold him, but her forearms were instantly soaked in thick, muscular blood. Tears welled as she realised there was no way she could rectify her mistake, no way she could turn back time. The Bull knew he was dying, but there was no anger in his eyes, just the realisation of bitter despair that his murderer would be the one who he had trusted with his life.

Eventually even the Panther could walk no further, but the beast was proud and refused to yield. It kept hauling itself along by its claws through the muck, burning his tar black fur with the red of the sun’s heart. When the Panther finally howled his frustrated rage at the Heavens the response was the first cooling drops of rain beginning to fall.

Most of the animals sedately rejoiced, but the rabbit rolled onto her side, stretched across and gently kissed the dog on the nose. They looked into each others eyes and both thought the same thing: Be careful what you wish for. The rain was coming, but by now it would be a curse rather than a blessing.
In the distance, was that the canter of a dozen horses’ hooves or the thunderous torrent of floodwaters coming to sweep them away?

And breathe out.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Too much awe is a bad thing

So, Obama won. Anyone surprised?

I was a bit.

(Or perhaps relieved would be a better word.

Being black wasn’t the point, rather that American’s are always particularly anti-anyone with a vaguely socially liberal outlook and ever since I heard one batch of rednecks describing him as a Marxist (which he isn’t, that just people’s understanding in a country where there’s no left in the mainstream politics- oh, bugger, I just realised that’s us too now, thanks New Labour) I thought he might struggle.

Thankfully, I was wrong.

What wasn’t so surprising, though, is the pathetic squabbling of our own politicians in the scramble to align themselves next to Obama. Okay, so this is a man who in certain parts of the media hasn’t so much won an election, but been born of the almighty – no wonder both Gordon Brown and “Dave” Cameron are desperate to be his sidekick. The really funny thing is the almost childish strops over who is right.

“No! He’s MY friend! Not yours! When he was in the UK he came to see ME!” Feet have been stomped, hands curled into fists and lips pouted sulkily.

Come on, guys. Nobody is ever going to suggest that either of you two can walk on water and you shouldn’t want them to. That sort of adoration doesn’t last. Just ask Tony. And anyway, can we please concentrate on sorting out more pressing problems rather than bicker over who’s going to get to walk half a pace behind Obama at Camp David soon.

(Oh, and just as an aside. Can ITN, which I’ve started watching over my dinner because I’m getting home surprisingly early at the moment, stop saying things like “the Tories unveiled their plans for new tax cuts today, but will you be better off?” No. The answer is ‘no’, okay? It’s a pointless question because THEY’RE NOT THE GOVERNMENT! Yet.)

Then again, we all do it, don’t we? We all try to get along with the most popular guy in the office, we all go out and listen to the coolest band, we all have an opinion on Gary Glitter. We all want to be a part of any zeitgeist that happens to passing.

Saturday night in the Amersham Arms and my mate passes me a pint of Spitfire before nodding towards the corner:

“She is VERY pretty.”

And indeed she was. So, we strutted, alpha-male-esque, trying to manoeuvre as close as possible to her and her not so pretty friend.

Why?

It seemed like a good idea at the time, like the most natural thing in the world, but in hindsight it’s not as though either of us were interested in trying to pull her. He has a girlfriend, I’m, well, let’s not go there at the moment. Besides, by ten-thirty (or whatever time it was) the Amersham was the sixth pub we’d visited and we were well lubricated to say the least.

So we just hovered nearby and sat down next to them and then hovered a bit more, chattering along about stuff and, in probably too loud voices, her pleasant assets. But whilst in our heads we were probably funny and cool and good-looking all we really looked like was two almost middle-aged, fairly drunk, slightly lecherous berks.

And all around us were others doing more or less the same thing. Drifting into position, to be next to the great and the beautiful. We gravitate towards those we most want to be associated with; to those whom we think are most like ourselves and in moments of despicable arrogance we all think we’re Obama-like. We are all wonderful orators, we are all handsome and successful, we all crusade for what’s right and we all want to be in charge of our own destiny.

So we sidle up to others in imagined positions of authority, or those well-placed to help us, or sometimes just those who are wealthy. Even today, in these times where we are constantly told you can be anything it’s more about where you are from and who you know than what you can do. (Look at the shadow cabinet for a case in point!)

I do it sometimes without realising, or I worry that I’ve done it. Was I dismissive of one girl in particular on my course because we had nothing in common, or because I didn’t think her writing was good enough, or simply because I was being a twat?
It’s quite pathetic, really. We should be able to create our own identities instead of trying to position ourselves amongst others a similar ilk.

But it’s hard. I worry that working in a non-creative atmosphere is going to dampen my fledging creativity. A tutor once told Beck that she shouldn’t be bothering going out with a non-artist.

Is this the truth? No. Are they just silly paranoias? Yes. Can we help but think them? Probably not. Can we be someone who we think we might want to be just by basking in their shadow?

No, I’m afraid, we can’t.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

No room for a hobby horse

The Arts Council is a strange organisation. It manages to appear progressive and vibrant whilst simultaneously falling over its own red tape. A bit like the building it lives in which, in a not-quite funky bit of Clerkenwell, is a labyrinth of narrow barebrick corridors and ineffective automatic doors that resulted in a friend and I recently becoming trapped in a stairwell.

Okay, so we weren’t there for any significant period of time - just long enough to feel slightly idiotic and for me to peer through the door’s glass pane at the exact same moment that she found the button to open it.

My nose still throbs a little.

I then ended up not quite doing what I thought I was going there to do – to be precise giving some feedback on my MA in terms of what wannabe professional writers should be doing once they’ve acquired those ultimately relatively useless letters after their name and how the Arts Council can help. Aside from simply showering giving us in money, that is.

I neglected to mention the sheer annoyance of life getting in the way that’s meant I’ve written next to nothing in the past two months and instead talked about having to get a crappy temp job that just about keeps my head above the water (provided the old landlord returns my deposit soon!) but does leave the head, once out of the water, in clean oxygen and with plenty of energy to think about other stuff.
It just so happens that the stuff I’ve been wasting time thinking about recently has more to do with broken hearts than unfinished pages.

Anyway, as usual, I digress.

We discussed, amongst other things, the differences between those who want to write professionally and those who just want a creative hobby and whether the MA genuinely attracted the former rather than the latter – I think in the main it did but at least one woman in the room was doing her utmost to persuade me otherwise.

“I used to think I wanted to be published,” she whined in a way that I found particularly grating, “but now it just doesn’t matter. It doesn’t seem important.” I’m going to be generous and pretend that she added “compared to just creating something”, but (whisper) she didn’t really.

If we take the invented version of her comments then there’s a half valid point somewhere. In many ways it’s quite a nice ideal to just have the urge to create something and for that to be sufficient. It doesn’t matter if no-one else ever reads/sees/listens/experiences it. It is enough for it to just exist, isolated from everything else, in a shoebox under the bed.

I’d disagree, though.

Something arrived in the post the other day. It was a little bit heavy, the ink smelt like freshly felled moss and it gave me a tiny shiver at the base of my spine. It was a book, a collection of short stories available to buy and everything and within its pages was my name. I held its dust-jacket up to my lips and inhaled before brushing it tenderly against my cheek.*

M’mmmm.

Because there is a point in being published/recorded/displayed/experienced. The only real purpose behind writing something down is to have someone else, anyone else, read it. The words are always more beautifully formed, more harmonious with each other, more hardworking, in our heads. When they’ve been burnt across the page even the greatest have lost some the potency they had when they first burst into life in our minds. So, the only reason for tainting them in such a way is for other people to read them. Virtually everyone who writes gets intense pleasure from reading and we live in hope that one day our own paltry efforts can give a little of that pleasure back to someone else, to people we know and those we never will.

But still...

I finger the book again.

Properly printed. On good quality paper.

I could get addicted to this.





*: Now seems as good an opportunity as ever to remind readers that not everything written on davidmarstonwrites should be taken literally. Not every weird-shit thing I describe myself doing really takes place. A lot of it does, granted, but not all of it.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Where You End

I feel like I’ve moved into a hotel, albeit one that is weirdly furnished with my own possessions.

I think it’s the fact that I can sit in the armchair and put my feet on the pillow at the head of the bed; or how everything smells of chilli in the evening and tastes moist after my shower in the morning.

I’ve been compressed.

And despite the appearance of mementos on the wall, of my favourite records, of books I’ve yet to read and those I want to read again it doesn’t feel like home.
Instead it almost feels as though I’ve been jettisoned into here and left in a heap as reality sped off on its way down to Sussex.

Sunday was the first day when I didn’t have to be running around moving heavy boxes or sweeping or cleaning; it was the first day in about two months when there hasn’t been some utterly unpleasant task to undertake and the heaven’s open. Unimpressed I decided to stay in and try and get some writing done, try to grapple with my silent muse.

It’s difficult. There’s a theory (or I could just be inventing this as I go along) that writing is predominately about asking questions. The writer asks questions of himself, of his characters, of his understanding of the human condition and of his readers’ empathy and they in turn ask questions of the writer and of themselves. If it’s working well, that is. But there is just one question that keep pounding away in my mind.

Why?

I’ve asked time and again, but she won’t tell me. Or rather, she says that it’s something relatively trivial which causes me to protest and she’ll sigh, shake her head and whisper:

“Yeah, well. It isn’t really that anyway.”

Like blood from corn the truth won’t yield.

Perhaps I should try and forget her, move on, but it doesn’t seem that easy. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’ve moved onto Harefield Road where, almost to the day, ten years ago we would have walked, hand in hand, on my first visit to her in London from Brockley station to the student halls of residence on Wickham Road.

As someone more than a bit interested in history my own past lingers a bit too close to the surface sometimes. It keeps defining me even when I need to reinvent.

By Sunday afternoon the claustrophobia was starting to bite. Six hours in a space smaller than my old lounge and I wanted out. I stepped out into the rain, jacketless, and let the streams of water cascade down. They plastered my hair to my brow as my t-shirt become instantly heavier. I took off my glasses and looked up into the maelstrom; the cold thumlp of droplets hit me in the face and felt cleansing. I meandered aimlessly in tight circles around the drive, the fresh air inflating my lungs, the rain flushing through my eyes, down my face and lingering on my lips. Feelings can be misleading, though, and this wasn’t the final scene, but perhaps it was a start.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Here and there.

I’m halfway between two lives at the moment. Pre and post breakup. Half of me exists in a time and space where I’m alone in a tiny studio flat in Brockley with the half of my possessions that I’ve already moved. The other half still exists here, with Beck, in a space where as I type a version of this she can sit on the floor and make giant insect wings out of aluminium wire and tissue paper and we can chat perfectly happier.

In some ways it might be easier if we were throwing things at each other, in other ways it wouldn’t. I can’t read her anymore, which is odd. I can’t tell how well she’s acting, if indeed she is. I wonder how long it’s been since I could see into her. I didn’t notice when it happened, obviously.

This split existence, though, means there’s no stability inside my brain. Instead, it teeters on the edge of absolution for nothing. In the process of dividing and then packing up my life I find my attention span shattered. I can’t focus on anything for more than half an hour at a time. Writing has to be done in quick-fire bursts. I read a few chapters or half an article here and there. I get bored with cooking or cleaning or packing. I even half-drifted off driving the other day, and I think it’s because everything seems so futile. There is, for at least a part of me, no future. This is the end, so why bother?

If life was a work of fiction, a movie or a novel, I’d be slipping into the epilogue. Coming out the night would either be the poignant moment of reflection, of possibility, or the beautifully balanced final line that encapsulates all of life in six syllables.

Except it isn’t. Life is real and it just keep limping along.

I need to hurry up and start again properly so I can get back to all of me existing in the same point of reality.

And more pertinently, I need to find where I’ve accidently packed the fucking power cable for the laptop. This post might make it; it’ll a race of me versus the battery – both pretty much fading now...

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Once Upon A Time

There’s an expression and I think it might be a bit of a Midlands thing, but I’m not entirely sure: To be on your tod. As in: “My ex-girlfriend spent the weekend in what was once our house gathering up her possessions and now she’s gone away again, leaving me sitting, amongst half-empty shelves and cupboards on my tod.”

I.E: alone.

Anyway, I’m going to tell you a little story:

“Once upon a time there was a young couple who loved each other very much. In public they were rarely all over each other, never seeming to just have eyes for each other, but in private they occasionally bordered on the nauseating. They had cutesy names for each other (albeit with a hint of the surreal – ‘My little sweet potato,’ ‘angel-toast’ etc, etc.) The man would often make inanimate objects, like vacuum cleaners, talk to the woman. He’d spin elaborate tales about endearing trees marooned on mountainsides. In short, he’d be very silly to make her laugh and then he’d laugh too and they’d look at each other and think about how much they were in love.

Despite how happy they were together occasionally one would have to go and leave the other behind. One of them would have to go away for work, or to see family or friends when the other had to stay at home for some reason and they were both a bit silly and overly melodramatic about being abandoned, but really they didn’t mind because they knew the other would be coming back.

Plus, they’d be on their tod.

Don’t you know what a tod is?

Well: A tod is a creature about the size of a Shetland pony. They are very furry (and a little smelly to be honest, but in an oddly enchanting way) with a big bushy tail, long droopy ears (like a donkey) and a bit trunk (like an elephant) and they have kind eyes and a wry grin.

Oh and they can fly, which makes solo international travel quite cheap, if a little chilly at eight thousand feet.

Whenever the man and the woman were forced to separate for prolonged periods of time then their tod would be there. Often they’d sit on the tod, but that was for convenience because the lounge in their flat wasn’t very big and the tod would inadvertently obscure the TV screen.

And the tods would be very considerate to their owners who missed their beloved enormously. The tods would comfort them with cups of tea (sometimes with a chocolate digestive or a custard cream) and smiles of encouragement.

When the couple were together the tods lived in the cupboard under the stairs, but they were quite happy. They had bales of straw to sleep upon and plenty of sausages and mash (their favourite) to eat. And every so often the tods would be able to help their owners even when they weren’t alone. The tods weren’t supposed to do this. Tod law was very strict about it, but these two particular tods were exceptionally fond of their owners and keen to please.

“What shall we have for tea tonight?” the couple would ask. (Invariably the answer to this would be sausages and mash, but then the couple liked that too.)

“Which dress shall I wear?” the woman would wonder. (Often the tods would recommend the purple one which flared out at the bottom because that was their favourite.)

“Where are my car keys?” the man would question. (Usually where he’d left them and the tods would dutifully pick them up with the long trunks).

The couple thought that they had a tod each, but since they were identical, only identified by the colour of their hats (one lime-green, the other lilac) they’d often play a joke on the couple and swap hats for both the tods loved the man and woman equally.

Then one day, quite unexpectedly, the woman announced that she no longer loved the man and was running away to the seaside. The man was surprised and upset and they exchanged cross words until the woman went around to a friend’s house for a cup of tea. The man clambered into the cupboard under the stairs and sat down on the warm straw and said:

“Well, old tod, it looks like it’ll be you and me a bit more than usual now.”

The tods looked very sad and nuzzled the man affectionately, breathing their warm sweaty breath into his ear as they knew he liked.

After a while the man went off to find some whisky to drink and the tods looked at each other and made distressed little whinnying noises.

For not only did the tods love both the man and the woman equally, and had both long ago forgotten which they originally belonged to, but the tods also loved each other. Whilst they didn’t want to abandon either the man or the woman in their hour of need they couldn’t bear the idea of being separated from each other.

Ever.

The tods spent all night thinking hard, trying to come up with a solution, a way to get the woman to love the man again.

But they couldn’t.

So, in the morning when the man and woman sat down to an awkward breakfast the tods shuffled towards the table in unison and spoke up.

They explained how they’d fallen in love and now they wanted to elope to Gretna Green on a tandem and get married.

First the man and the woman were surprised and then they were upset. They hadn’t expected to lose their tods as well as each other. Now they really would be alone. But after a while they decided that it would be unfair to split the tods up after so
long together.

So the woman made the tods some tuna sandwiches for the journey and the man checked that the tyres were properly inflated on the tods’ tandem and then they waved the tods off as they cycled away, bound for Scotland.

“Maybe they’ll find another couple to help,” said the man.

“I hope so,” said the woman. “That’d be nice.”

And they looked at each other, both wondering how it had come to this. Neither broke their gaze until eventually the man smiled ever so slightly and then the woman turned away and went back inside the house.

The end.”

Trail run for possible alternative career as deranged children’s writer. Normal service, of a sort, resumes shortly.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Looking the wrong way

The sun makes me squint, unseasonable glare furrows my brow into tight knots as I watch the waves tumble gently against a discarded coke can. Three swans dip their heads down into the water in unison, feeding in a delicate balance of choreography. Out in the harbour the boat pointlessly christened Offshore Rebel lolls lazily. Out the corner of my eye kids play and dogs run, a couple with a his and hers set of canines walk briskly past. His is daftly enthusiastic, lolloping along, tongue out to one side gormlessly pursuing flung fragments of wood, hers is frantically trying to scramble its two inch long legs in pursuit, whilst keeping its head at a perfectly, competition winning angle.

Dogs and kids.

We nearly got a dog a few years ago.

“It’ll be company for you whilst I working late on my MA,” she’d said. I’d quite liked the idea. My folks have had dogs for as long as I can remember. I like the whole routine of walks and I love the unadulterated adoration they give you.

I can’t remember why we didn’t in the end.

Possibly we decided the landlord would never agree to it.

Possibly we decided that if I had to be out on the road for fourteen hours it’d be unfair on the dog, especially if she was also out.

Possibly we decided the ten foot by eight garden wasn’t big enough.

I suspect it might have been because we couldn’t agree on what sort.

“Something daft and friendly. We’ll go to the local dogs’ home and see who likes us,” I might have said.

“We could get a Chihuahua,” she possibly replied. And yes her friend’s Chihuahua is lovely, but I couldn’t quite see myself owning one.

None of which is really the point.

The two Steve’s come back from the toilet and sit down next to me in the Dorset sand. They’ve decided to drag me out of my moping and out camping for the weekend which I appreciate, frankly, to a pathetic extent. We sit in near-silence for a while choosing only to comment on the austere senior navy pose or salty-sea-urchin beard of the various amateur captains sailing past. We mock the name Sheer Calm for being one of worst, and most absurd, puns I’ve ever heard.

“If you had a boat, what would you call it?” asks Google Steve.

“H’mm,” I mull for a moment. “Dave’s boat?”

Jesus, I think to myself. I really need to start thinking about words again if that’s the best I can manage.

Walking back along the coast we spend a little time on a concrete path. Two little boys overtake us in a race. The younger propels himself along on a silver scooter, the elder whips his hips from side to side on some sort of flexi-board. It looks fun, although my complete natural lack of balance would probably make it impossible. The older kid wins, just, but I suspect he deliberately made it a tight race. Too kind to just leave his brother in his wake, too competitive to actually lose on purpose.

Dogs and kids.

The book I’m struggling with is, amongst other things, about a man in his early thirties trying to come to terms with the responsibilities of fatherhood when his girlfriend, stuck on the other side of the world, discovers she is “a little bit pregnant.” It’s also about what happens when you lie so much you can’t even tell yourself the truth. Amongst other things. There might be comic and narrative reasons for these plot devices, but still...

It’s a lot of time to be thinking about something.

Someone, I forget who, said something along the lines of whenever we put pen to paper we a little bit of ourselves remains in the marks.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Three Weeks.

Twenty-one days ago:

“I know we’ve been having troubles, I know we’ve been fighting too much, but we’ve both been under a lot of pressure,” I implored from the kitchen doorway. Two steps down and three across she makes coffee and refuses to meet my gaze. “Can’t we give it another go? Make an actual effort to make it work? Twelve years is too long to throw away this quickly.”

Her spoon spun the hot water into a tiny whirlpool. A little blackness slopped over the rim of the mug.

“I mean, we’ve hardly been spending any time together. We’ve both been too busy. And then when we have it’s been too pressurised, so much so that it was inevitable it’d snap. Things will be calmer in the autumn. It’d work again. We just need to-“
She threw the spoon down across the work surface, splattering a trail in its wake. Strangely it was silent when it hit the floor.

“But I don’t want to spend any time with you.”

And with that the foundations upon which I’d built my entire adult life crumbled away like they were but dust.

Eighteen days ago:

Everything felt heavy as I stumbled onto the bus on the Old Kent Road. The party celebrating the end of our course had seemed to be occurring just outside of my reality. The few people who knew had tried to distract me, but in the end all I could do was pour innumerable cans of beer down my gullet and in the early hours stagger off.

Sitting upstairs the ambulance’s blue lights turned my skin opaque. I read the text message she’d sent the night before, from out of her sister’s spare room, visiting the nephew we once shared and now I’m not allowed to see.

She called me sweetheart and ended with a kiss.

Knowing it was wrong, knowing it was a mistake I rang her.

“Hi,” she said, and we mumbled through our conversation, conscious of listening ears at both ends, until I said:

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

“Really?”

“Yes. Really.”

I got off the bus and walked down Sevenoaks Road to our house; the trees felt cool in the rain’s afterthought and my heart swelled hard against my ribs.

Sixteen days ago:

I pulled the pump out of the airbed and frantically tried to screw the cap back on. A gush of air whistled across my knuckles.

“Did you sleep in the bed whilst I was away?” she asked from the bottom of the stairs.

“Uh-huh,” I hate the airbed. It’s uncomfortable and the lounge is always too hot when I go to bed and during the night a chill slips down the chimney and pinches my neck.

“Why won’t you sleep in the bed?”

“It doesn’t feel right.” I closed my eyes for a moment.

“It’s your bed too. Come on,” her fingers had snuck up on me whilst I wasn’t looking and they brushed the back of my palm.

Fifteen days ago:

“I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong impression.”

“I thought you’d had a change of heart. Come to your senses. You sounded so emphatic.”

“It was just a reflex.”

Thirteen days ago:

“You know what?” she asked with that sad-tired smile that told a million fairy tales. “I’d really like to climb a mountain with you. Just one more time.”

Eleven days ago:

“People keep offering me places to stay.”

“Don’t go anywhere. Please.” We both sat silently, neither of us exactly sure why she shouldn’t. “You don’t just disappear into the night after this length of time.”

“No. No, you don’t.”

Eight days ago:

It probably wasn’t what she'd had in mind, I thought to myself, as grass sprung under my boot, but I couldn’t help myself. The words were uncontrolable.

“You can’t accuse me of not supporting you as an artist and at the same time claim that I’ve no ambition of my own, that I’m too wrapped up in you. It’s either or, surely?”

There was no anger which surprised me. The slopes of Pen Y Fan seemed to pull all the aggression out of me. There was, instead, just the words tumbling across the still mountain air.

“Are you breaking up with me because I’m not an artist?” She didn’t answer, but instead looked down at her boots taping out a beat to the rhythm of the hill. The mud and water clung to leather like memories.

“Help me out here, because I just don’t know.”

It’s hard to be more impetuous when all the other wants to do is sleep and work, I thought but didn’t say. Then I wished I had said, and then I was glad I hadn’t, because in the end what would have been the point? How would it help?
And a few hours later she clasped my shoulder in the dark of a pub car-park and cried tears of the bereaved.

Another couple of hours later she slumbered in the passenger seat and I whispered the words to the song going round for the umpteenth time, unable to change the CD without disturbing her.

“As ah walk through this land of broooken dree-aams, ah have visions of maaannnyyy things, love’s happiness is just an illuuusssion, filled with sadness an’ coooonnnfussion.”

Five days ago:

I was driving along the south-circular to supermarket, Front Row was bubbling in the background and a novelist I never caught the name of said:

“Of course all great literature is about love. It might pretend to be about something else occasionally, but deep down it’s always about love. After all, what else is there worth writing about?”

I sat in the car-park, the strip neon lighting reflecting back in the windscreen and pinched the bridge of my nose till I thought I might pass out.

A few hours later and something stupid had been said and:

“Shall I move out now? Shall I just leave in the morning?”

“Please. No. Stay.”

“Why? How exactly does this help, Dave?”

I didn’t know, except that I couldn’t bear the thought of her running away.

Four days ago:

I looked around the studio flat and simply thought: “Oh fuck.” It’s horrible. The staircase up to the attic featured holes into the abyss, the walls were smeared yellow from cigarettes, in the kitchen panes of glass was missing from the windows. If I’d lain down, had I dared, in the living/bed space and stretched out like a star I would have been able to touch all four corners.

“Are you sure it’s six-hundred and ninety a month?” I asked the estate agent who shruged unapologetically. “And that’s not including any bills?”

An hour later and I walked through another door, only this time it felt different. It was light, clean. Not enormous, but not miniscule. Affordable, even.

“I think I’ve found a flat,” I told her later over dinner.

Over the evening she cried and frowned and screwed her face up like someone’d spat in her soul. It made me feel terrible.

“I love this house,” she said. So do I, I thought. “We could be housemates?” She wasn’t entirely joking. For a second it was tempting, but then the thought of her with someone else in the next room made me feel sick.

Three days ago:

We spent the night with different groups of people for the first time in what felt like forever. The bus back from Dalston seemed to be endless and it was a quarter to one when I finally slipped through the door. The clunk of the locks woke her from the slumber on the sofa.

We sat amicably for a while and then she hugged me so tight that I think I may burst. She kissed me tenderly on the cheek.

“You can still kiss me on the lips, you know?” I said.

“But I shouldn’t.”

“Why not? If it feels nice?”

She did so.

“It does feel nice. It’s lovely,” she said with that tired-sad smile back again.

Two days ago:

I reached across and held her tight, the Sunday morning air held in place by the duvet. Her back pressed against my chest and I nuzzled, then I kissed her shoulder.

Then I remembered and everything ended once again.

Later I was forced to ask: “What’s wrong? You seem really cross about something.”

“I’m angry about the cuddling and the kissing this morning.”

I could have protested, but the words were running dry and I felt I had to save what was left, to hold them precious until the final gasp. Instead, I poured myself another cup of coffee and wondered if this would be day I woke up.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Something Changed

I wrote this two weeks ago, but haven’t been able to find the strength to post it:

“These aren’t the words I intended to write today. In fact, these aren’t words I ever imagined that I would have to write.

I wanted to follow up last week’s piece with something called Worst Case Scenario whereby I’d take slightly-fictionalised possible outcomes of global warming, environmental collapse, energy shortage and economic meltdown and project possible outcomes. All very depressing, but all in tune with what I’ve been reading and thinking about.

However, it’s easy to forget, when looking at this sort of thing, about everyday life. Yes, I am concerned about climate change and would like to do more to try and affect it, but it’s not a subject that consumes me. Maybe it should, but it doesn’t.

Because I’ve just had a far worse scenario presented to me and that is life without Beck.

I know I shouldn’t be putting this in the public domain, and I’m sorry to her and to everyone else, but I’m going to have to tell a lot of people about this, most of whom are on the mailing list for this blog, and I don’t think I can face having to have the same conversation again and again. So I’m taking the easy way out and writing it down.

Beck has broken up with me. I have absolutely no desire to end the relationship. Even after twelve years I was excited about what the future holds, I was looking forward to how upcoming changes in our lives would affect the relationship dynamic. I felt it would make it stronger. I guess I was wrong.

I won’t pretend to understand why she has broken up with me. I don’t. I can’t. Nothing seems to make sense this morning. I feel as though I’ve been turned inside out, as though my very essence has been extinguished. I feel cold and empty and alone.”

I sat down the morning after she told me and wrote the above piece. Two weeks later it still holds true. Despite my best efforts, and a little wavering on her part, she remains resolute. I still don’t understand. Possibly, I understand even less. Two weeks of talking and I have yet to hear an actual reason for splitting. Yes, there have been difficulties in our relationship, but nothing exceptional, nothing that I did not feel could be overcome with a little effort. If we wanted. It’s like a vacuum has sucked my nerves away. I am hollow.

To make matters even worse I can’t write. There’s only one story I want to tell at the moment and that seems to have little chance of coming true.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Listen

Can you hear it?

The soft thlump of iron shoes on damp turf, the gentle ear splitting crinkle of chain mail ringlets jostling, the high-pitched twang of twine slung between the tips of a beech bow. There’s the rasping, nervous breath of the men next to you, the shouts and jeers, mingling with the dawn’s dew, a dozen tongues, accents and dialects like alien languages all fumbling into one with fear.

This is 1346 and we are waist deep in farmland mud just outside the small French town of Crecy. We’re English and we’ve just developed a system that enables men armed with longbows firing in tandem to be the most destructive force on the planet.

Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe this isn’t Crecy, maybe it’s Poitiers in 1356 or Agincourt in 1415 – that was particularly successful for the English. Henry V’s army so decimated the French that they happily surrendered and agreed for him to be crowned King. Unfortunately, he managed to die a few weeks later from dysentery and it all began over again. So maybe it’s not a battle that the English win. Maybe it’s Orleans in 1429 or Castillion in 1456.

It doesn’t matter. What’s important is the dry smell of shit at the back of your mouth, the burning sweat on the back of your hands. It doesn’t matter when or where you are if you’re going to die.

This is the One Hundred Years War, the war between England and France which actually lasted one-hundred-and-nineteen-years. On and off. Over a century of near-continuous warfare between what are today peaceful neighbours, except we still laugh about hating the French and they, I am sure, do the same about us. So keen were the English, though, on fighting in the fourteenth century that we also managed the fifty-year long War of the Roses, the first major English civil war.

How did we get here?

We got here because of land and because of trade. Like most wars, really. Edward III of England had a claim to the French throne through his Mother. She would have been Queen had not the medieval inheritance laws been decidedly male biased leaving her cousin, Phillip VI, to succeed her brother instead. But what Edward really wanted was to regain Normandy and Anjou, the lands he claimed through Kings William the Conqueror and Stephen, the lands that had been lost to the French by Edward’s Great-great grandfather, John. The lands that had formed a natural bridge between England and the southern France English ruled territory of Gascony. The Angevian Empire once spread from Hadrian’s Wall to the Pyrenees and Edward wanted it back.

That’s the unfunny thing about Empires. They never end. Rome might have appeared to be all over in the fourth century when the Ostrogoths sacked the city for the umpteenth time, but the Emperors of Constantinople, of Byzantium, of the Eastern Empire never gave up trying to regain Western Europe until the Turks crushed them in 1453. And still Rome remained the hypothetical justification behind the medieval Germanic Emperors use of the term Holy Roman Empire.

The British fought, killed and died in America, in Malaysia and in Palestine, so desperate were we to hold onto our lands. The French did the same in Vietnam until the Americans took over in defence of an ideological capitalist-democratic empire.

Once you have it, you don’t want to relinquish it.

But all things must die.

As I write this a cat has killed a bird and left its corpse on the lawn. The recent combination of guilty heat and torrential showers means the decomposition process is occurring at an unexpected rate. I’ve yet to clear the body away. It’s just left rotting away amongst the tall blades of grass, merging back into the soils of life.
Everything happens in cycles. Nothing is new. What has been will be so again.

The 1789 French Revolution was a decade long foray into pre-socialism, but Europe’s oldest sovereign nation couldn’t exist without a single dominant character at the helm and so Napoleon, came to the fore. Revolted by the upstart’s appointment the rest of monarchist Europe formed a coalition against the French. Old against new.

In 1932 a former Lance-Corporal and frustrated painter from Austria became the Chancellor of Germany. Initially the world saw Hitler’s rhetoric and hard-line stances were seen as essential to drag the country back to its feet after the economic meltdown post-world war one.

History is like a mirror reflecting the past so it happens simultaneously. It’s like an onion, underneath the skin it’s just layers of the same stuff over and over again down to the core.

In 1797/1938 Napoleon/Hitler smile tightly and make their promises to Archduke Charles of Austria/ Chamberlain. No more, they promise. The Netherlands, Milan and Venice/The Rhineland, Austria and the Sudetenland are sufficient. Lands which had once been French/German will be so again. It is enough.

They are lying. They were lying then and they do so again now and every minute for ever more.

By 1802 Napoleon’s Empire stretches from the Spanish coast and into western Russia, from the Netherlands down to Sardinia. By 1941 Hitler’s territories run from Norway to North Africa and Greece, from Belarus to the Pyrenees.

Still, on they march.

Once it starts it will never be enough.

Listen.

In the distance there is the thump-thump of shells being fired and detonating in the soft earth, there is the metallic shriek of tank tracks crushing brick. A President speaks beleaguered rhetoric in a language that is not yours. There is no innovation in destruction today. Today, there are just people dying. This is Georgia. Today is tomorrow or next week or in the spring. Or in 1968 and Prague or in 1955 and Budapest.

Georgia has been Russia territory twice before. Once part of the Russian Empire, it briefly declared independence after the 1917 revolution before being absorbed back into the USSR.

No-one escapes an Empire easily.

History repeats ad infinitum.

In 1962 US spy planes identify nuclear warhead silos in Cuba. Kennedy and Khrushchev get itchy palms and the world holds its breath.

In 2008 Poland agrees to the installation of US sponsored ICBM defence systems within its borders.

Russian General Anatoly Nogovitsyn declares Poland a legitimate target.

Robert Hunter, the former US Ambassador to NATO, antagonises Russia by telling the BBC that it’s just “Saudi Arabia with trees”, not a world power.

In the 1930s The League of Nations declared that Germany’s rearmament posed no threat to Europe.

I blink in the unexpected sunshine and wrap a plastic bag around my hand. I bend down and try to pick up the bird’s corpse, but it breaks apart between my fingers. Its innards have turned to mush at my touch. There’s the faint smell of stale mustard.

I look up and see a cat sitting on the utility room roof. It cocks its head to one side, as though to ask ‘why bother’, as I tie the bag in a knot.

Its tail flips from side to side thudding rhythmically like distant mortar.

In the fourteenth century France was a pivotal part of the trade routes, it was the linchpin between the kingdoms of Spain and the rest of Europe. Marseilles was the only Mediterranean port to threaten the dominance of the Italian city states. In 2008 Georgia plays an equally pivotal role in the transportation of oil and gas, thousands of miles of pipes cut through its mountains, arteries pumping black gold to the world.

We never change.

An arrowhead momentarily glints in the French sunshine and then thousands block out the light like a plague cloud. They soar through the air in a beautiful arc and you raise your shield over your head, praying that the taut leather will be sufficient to protect you. In the glimpse of centuries the beech stick, steel head and goose feathers metamorphose into a hard, metallic cylinder with a burning tail. There’s a gasp as the air is pulled into a vacuum and you are gone.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Even pent-up, stressed-out, paranoid, wannabe writers need to take an evening off occasionally.

“So, I’m in this thing, tonight,” Beck says looking up from the watching a middle-aged German man covering a Johnny Cash song.

“Thing?” My fingers type extremely slowly, forcing the words out. Writing is like getting blood from stone today*. “What thing?”

“This performance thing? Responding to the play?”

“You never mentioned that before.” I sa, but I don’t believe myself.

“You can’t have been listening.” Or perhaps I have just temporarily forgotten?

“Oh, the thing with what’s-his-name?”

In my defence you can substitute what’s-his-name with the name of a performance artist/curator whom Beck’s worked with before. Nice guy, interesting artist, shameless self-publicist through email, facebook, myspace – every conceivable form of electronic communication. If he gets your details you’ll be bombarded with a constant stream of updates. He just can’t help it, especially in the run up to an event.

The ‘thing’ in question is a series of performances delivered off the cuff by artists responding to a play they’ve just watched. Live art feeding direct back into the audience, enhancing the theatre experience.

Or something like that, at any rate.

“What’s the play again?” I ask a little later.

“I told you.” She’s talking to me, but her eyes following the flickers of the computer screen, images of Canadian front rooms reflecting outwards.

“I know, but-?”

“Moll Flanders.”

“Oh! I bet it’s the same performance as at my pub recently.”

By which I don’t, obviously, mean the pub that I own. The brewery owns it. I just pump pints, but it does have a moderately successful fringe theatre tacked on the side. Embarrassingly, despite describing myself as a theatre fan, I’ve never been to see a play there. I’ve always meant to, but never quite found the time. The things I wanted to see were always on when I had to be elsewhere. I even carried the box office number around in my phone for a year or so with the best intentions. Then the phone died and I started working nights.

“Do the flyers have a red background with a blonde woman staring up to the camera?” I’m suddenly enthusiastic.

“Eh? Probably.”

“Hey, why don’t I come along too?”

“You don’t have to. Aren’t you busy?”

“No, no. Well, yes I am, but I’d like to come.”

The play’s not quite what I was expecting, but okay, even though the stupid girl I end up chatting to afterwards thinks differently. She sounds like she was breast-fed foie gras when she says “Of course, I couldn’t possibly be involved in any theatre like that. It offends my socialist principles.”

Darlin’, I think but politely restrain myself, economics can be socialist. Justice and morals can be socialist. Plays and fiction and art with a deliberate political aim can be socialist. This was just a bit of fun. Now piss off back to your country estate.

Anyway.

The point is that if you constantly force yourself down everyone’s throat then at some point it’ll come back and bite you.

For example: How easy is it to misread ‘invitation to a performance,’ as ‘invitation to perform’?

After the play I lurk around, trying not to talk to the lady of the manor and sucking on a bottle of Budvar, when a guy dressed as a pink rabbit marches out of the toilets and up to the bar. He hands the staff a CD and harangues them to play it. A thumping dance beat fills the tiny room and he begins some sort of interpretative dance in which he appears to worship a funnel.

Beck wanders over chucking quietly. I raise an eyebrow and wonder how rude I can be. Does she know this guy? Is she laughing because it’s funny or ridiculous?

“Who the fuck is he?” grumbles the curator storming past, his face a mix indignation and pure bafflement.

“I’ve come all the way from Bristol,” the rabbit protests, looking crestfallen. “I’ve got to catch the train home in a few minutes.”

You start off from an incorrect presumption and see what happens? Everything can fall apart. It wasn’t even the same version of Moll Flanders. The fringe version is, I suspect, sillier and involving less flouncing around to harpsichords, but then who’d have thought there’d be two stage adaptations of Defoe’s novel in the same city at the same time? Who’d have thought it a good idea to travel across the country, bunny suit under arm, for a thirty-second dance slot?

*: See? I’m even resorting to tired clich├ęs.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Beer, how do I love thee?

It’s August in an even year and so I’ve been to CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival at Earl’s Court. Not that it only runs alternate years, just that I seem to go in 2004, 2006 and now 2008. So, I spent Tuesday evening with my old boss, a real Scotsman and a pretend Scotsman supping pints of real ale from around the country, snacking on strips of deep-fried pig skin, in somewhere which by resembling a sixties brutalist car-park has absolutely none of the ingredients which make a good pub.

Except for five days a year where it has the best selection of beer anywhere in the country.

Good old concrete hell Earl’s Court. Even it can’t spoil the joy of discovering a different micro-brewery or the fun to be had watching the bemused expressions of foreigners wandering through the hall. The GBBF, as it’s pointlessly known, has no entertainment other than to drink beer. Even the Germans like an oompah band whilst getting intoxicated.

It’s not all wrong side of middle-age men with pot bellies and beards, although there’s an unusually high quota of them, there’s also a surprising number of young women, city types and people wearing hats made from balloons. One of whom I ended up talking to, or rather listening to, was a public defender and despite having to be in court for nine o-clock the following morning was hitting the cider and perry stand pretty hard.

“But, you know, he’s probably guilty, so fuck him, yeah?” she cackled.

(Perry, incidentally, what’s that all about? Twelve months ago nobody drank perry. Re-brand it as pear cider, give it an advertising campaign with an Oirish voice-over and some cock and bull story about how the old cider makers used to save the pears to make their own special drink to keep, and every bugger’s drinking the stuff.)

Anyway. Beer. Pubs. Love them.

I talked recently about my romantic devotion to the perfect pub, or indeed the imperfect local, but it’s the beer as much as anything that gets me excited.

“Ah, come on, man,” says the Greek guy who works behind the bar with me. “I don’t know how you can drink that stuff.” But then when someone offers to buy him a drink he takes a bottle of Bud - and I mean crappy imitation American Bud not the real Czech stuff.

“It’s all in the water,” I try to explain. “The great thing about British beer is it tastes of the land it comes from. Regional brewing is dictated by the hops and the water where the brewery is based.”

“Like Stella is Belgian?”

“Well, no, because that’s brewed in Cardiff.”

I guess you can’t explain it, and even going to a festival, isn’t the same as actually travelling around the country and trying them in their homesteads.

I could go on about all the wonderful beers I’ve tried and loved. About how the Midlands is the spiritual home of brewing, but the best beers probably come from Yorkshire. About how I’m becoming a little obsessed by beers from Cornwell and Norfolk, but don’t worry.

I won’t.

Instead, I think we’re back to romanticism.

It’s the same with my ideas about pubs. The history, the flavour, the sense of tradition that comes from good beer. You never get that with Carling. But it’s also partially a romantic invention of the drinker. It is, at the end of the day, just water hops, sometimes malt, sometimes barely, occasionally other bits and bobs. The context is imposed by the drinker and the brewer alike.

Certain men find the idea of sitting alone in the pub, reading the paper or just thinking somehow a noble past-time. Just stopping off for a quick pint and to set the world to rights and perhaps bump into an like-minded soul and with whom to pass the time of day in suitably manly fashion.

This is, alas, romanticising drinking and I, like many, am guilty.

Usually when I’ve already had a couple.

A few times recently when I’ve been out in town, everyone’s disappeared into the public transport network, and I’ve missed the 2305 and so rather than hang-around Charing Cross until the 2345 I think I’ll have one more and read my book for twenty minutes. Fortunately, contrary to the Daily Mail’s opinion that city centres are no-go areas because of marauding twenty-four hour drinkers swirling aluminium chairs above their heads, it’s surprisingly difficult to get a pint after traditional opening hours in central London.

So, I think it, but don’t necessarily do it.

Tuesday, on my way home from the beer festival and I miss the 2323 at London Bridge by seconds which means a thirty-five minute wait. I go for a bit of a wander around and come across a pub, The Bunch Of Grapes, still very much open. Despite whole weeks of my life (probably) spent hanging around London Bridge I’ve never spotted this pub before and I’ve got that ‘a-bit-tipsy-but-feeling-really-sober’ feeling going on and think that I could happily handle one more.

I glance at my watch, it’s now 2336. To be sure I’m on the next train I’d really need to leave no later than 2350.

I stand in the doorway for a moment. It looks an okay pub. So-so, but not great. Young’s on tap, which despite relocating the brewery to Bedford and selling the Wandsworth land for housing is still quite a good pint.

(You see? Context.)

2337.

No. This’d be drinking for the sake of drinking. There’s nothing noble or dignified or romantic in it; it’s just being a bit pissed.

I head back to the station.

The irony in all of this comes Saturday night. I do an evening shift during which some Australians come in and ask for ‘proper English beer.’ I do the whole waxing lyrical thing about the Greene King IPA and Abbot Ale, which whilst not bad beer, are hardly amazing. They opt for one of each and for the second round switch to Fosters and a Guinness respectively. It’s seriously hot in the pub, though, so when I get home I have a cold lager simply to cool down. After all my adoration for the merits of ale, I have a bottle of Carlsberg.

“God, you drank that quick,” says Beck as we head for bed.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The Distractions of Blackjack

Wednesday night and the humid stickiness drains every. Every limb feels weighed down by excessive moisture when we call a relatively early end to our workshopping session at the Royal Festival Hall.

Ruby and I amble down the platform at Waterloo East chatting about nothing in particular, aware that there’s two whole minutes until the train is due. So engrossed are we, that we barely notice there’s been nine minutes delay when the train arrives. It gathers more passengers at London Bridge and we keep talking.

Ruby’s explaining how to cheat at internet gambling when I glance out of the window and think: “Don’t we usually pass that block of flats on the left, not the right?”

“So there’s this website you can go to-”

“Hold on,” I interrupt. “That displays says the next station is Orpington.”

“It might be wrong. Ask someone.”

I turn to the bald gentlemen, diagonally opposite, hiding behind a paper.

“Er, where’s this train going?” But by now I already know the answer, because even the colours are wrong. This is not a Brockley service. It has a toilet, for god’s sake.

“Sorry,” he says with a slight jerk. “I was hoping to find out how to cheat at blackjack.”

Which kind of sums things up, really.

I haven’t written anything of worth for nearly two weeks. Well, the odd sentence perhaps, but nothing consistent. Despite a positive final tutorial I’m having a slight crisis of confidence. There’s the nagging doubt that what I’ve written, this great big wodge of paper neatly clipped into a green ring-binder, might actually be a little bit… well, shit.

Not funny enough.

Poorly executed.

Shallow, unsympathetic characters.

Just. Not. Good. Enough.

This is far from the ideal time to be suffering what I guess is ‘writer’s block’ (or just general panic, depending on your point of view). It means that I’m going to kind of limp, battered and bleeding over the course finish line rather than charge triumphantly, confidently through it and onto better things.

But, as my tutor helpfully pointed out “it’s too late to change your mind, now.”

True, but possibly not that useful or reassuring.

Back on the train I text Beck to see if she fancies a sojourn out to Kent to rescue us, but irritatingly she’s on the train we were supposed to be on and any mission of mercy is going to be significantly delayed.

“I don’t want to worry you further,” says the bald man with the newspaper, clearly enjoying himself, “but there’s a conductor coming.”

You never see a conductors on London trains there isn’t the space to check tickets, but of course this is a Kent train and the rules are different. The prospect of a fine looms as not only are we on the wrong the train but, as I suddenly realise, I arrived at the Royal Festival Hall via Camberwell and that tutorial. Which means I came on the bus and don’t have any sort of ticket let alone a valid one.

(sigh).

It works out okay in the end. I hide behind Ruby’s Brockley tickets and we claim stupidity. Having already met a dozen or so people further back on the train who’ve done exactly the same thing, he lets us off.

At Orpington the last train back into town is due in two minutes and it’s a fast one, first stop at London Bridge. Back in town we have to wait just four minutes on a cramped Brockley service before it departs. When I eventually walk through the door, to the sound of Beck’s giggles, I’m only an hour later than I would have been. Only problem now I’m wide awake and my intended early night impossible.

Still. Hardly a disaster, but I just hope that I’m not on the wrong track generally.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Where's the line?

I suspect that the 6.30 comedy slot on Radio 4 is unknown territory for a lot of you, those who actually have more important things to do for instance, but on Tuesdays there’s a programme called Safety Catch about Simon McGrath a man who “likes to think of himself as a good person. He donates blood (although not bone marrow because he’s heard that hurts), he recycles and he's adopted two tigers. But he has to pay his mortgage just like everyone else and that's why he currently works as an arms dealer.”

So far, so situational-comedy.

In the car on Friday afternoon I found myself listening to the writer and the producer having to defend the content of the show essentially because Outraged of Tunbridge Wells (probably) has reached for the Basildon Bond notepaper and written in demanding that it be taken off the air. Not because it isn’t very good (although it isn’t great), but because people are offended at the idea of turning a gun-runner into a likable buffoon.

There’s probably plenty scope for a hard-hitting, biting satire about the arms industry, legal or otherwise, but this isn’t it. Nor did the writers intend it to be. And Radio 4, probably, wouldn’t be the place to broadcast it, either. Safety Catch is more like 2.4 Children or My Family. Replace the “hilarious” plot routines of the husband’s burning his child GCSE project because he wants to have sex with his wife with someone mislaying a cache of Kalashnikovs because they’ve forgotten their Mum’s birthday and you get towards the right kind of thing. It’s gentle, mildly amusing and a little surreal in places.

It’s not offensive.

Or rather, it is if you refuse comedy the opportunity to handle subjects such as gender, religion, sexuality, race, violence, politics, oppression, natural disasters, in fact anything other than someone being mistaken for a doctor when they are, in fact (ha-ha!), a builder.

(Which isn’t, obviously, to say that it’s funny to be bigoted or ill-informed, but that virtually every facet of human existence has some scope for humour. There is absolutely nothing funny about child-abuse, but Brass Eye proved that there was a satirical point worth making about people’s paranoid, mob-mentality to it.)

Rather than just being outraged at Outraged, I’d already been thinking about this sort of thing.

A few years ago there was an article in one of the weekend supplements about how the wide-spread availability of porn, primarily through the internet, is affecting men’s, mainly young men’s, attitude towards sex. The article interviewed couples where the women felt obliged to shave their vaginas, to gasp enthusiastically with every thrust, to have sex in public places, to have anal sex every time, to engage in three-or-more-somes, to have their boyfriend ejaculate into their face every single time. All of these (I guess) are fun, occasionally, as part of a varied, healthy sex life, but it was the expectation of the men that making love to their girlfriend would be like starring in a porn film every time that seemed very odd.

All of this is leading to a character who’s lurking around in the dark corners of my brain. A sexist, porn obsessed dirty old man. I want to write his story as a first person narrator, because I think it’ll make him nastier. He wouldn’t be a sympathetic character, but someone deeply unpleasant. I want the reader to finish thinking “what a shit.” However, because it’s the central character and because it’d be first person narrator quite a lot of people would dislike the story because he’s so horrible. They might even think that his opinions were mine. I can think of at least one person I know who would definitely be deeply offended by it.

Outraged of Tunbridge Wells would be, well, outraged.

Okay, so all of this is purely hypothetical because I haven’t even written it yet much less placed it in the public domain, but it’s a reaction I’m worried about, one that’s stopping me writing the story.

If it’s done well enough should we be allowed to say anything? If my character says “all women are sluttish inferior beings to men” but is clearly a horrible imbecile whom bad things happen to, is that okay? Or by trying to discuss sexist perverts, without overtly saying “and he was an evil man” in an ominous voice-over style, am I in some way encouraging such people?

Where’s the line?

I listened to Safety Catch again. I fail to see how it could possible be offensive, unless you’re a nice-but-dim arms dealer who feels he’s being stereotyped, which means that Outraged of Tunbridge Wells just didn’t like it.

And that’s not a good enough reason to ask for it to be withdrawn.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

T-Shirts, Pee and Tennis

A quick blog this week. Alas, time and eyesight is short.

Time is limited because I’ve left writing this until Tuesday and I’ve spent most of the morning delivering a large box load of DVDs to a primary school in Essex (don’t ask) and my eyesight is failing because I think I might have burnt out my retinas.

Before I went to Essex, before the parcel force man tried to deliver the large box of DVDs to next door, before I played avoid the policeman as I attempted to pass my car off as a double-decker bus whilst dropping Beck off at Lewisham station I did some proper work.

When we rejigged the upstairs, switching the bedroom and the office-studio around, we realised that (of course) the old office-studio, now the bedroom, didn’t have any curtains. Fortunately the window was the same size as one of the two windows in the old BEDroom, the new office-studio, so we just took the blind down and moved it across.

“I’ll make some nice curtains for the bedroom,” Beck said as I attempted to shoulder-barge the bed through the, frankly, too small doorway.

Now, the window we removed the blind from is the window my desk is positioned in front of. What I hadn’t realised, mainly because of the perpetual greyness of the past six weeks, and partly because, well I’m a berk, is that the sun rises around the front of the house.

Pretty much directly opposite the window I’m now facing.

So, as the temperature soars and the sunlight strength increases in some appropriate metaphorical fashion that I’m too short of time to actually think of, I sit staring straight at the big, burning ball of flame that keeps us all alive.

Now, because I’m stubborn, or possibly just stupid, I didn’t moved. I didn’t go downstairs to work at the table. No, I stuck it out. We made the BEDroom the office-studio so as we could have permanent workspace and not spill pasta sauce on final proofs of work and, by God, I’m was going to use it.

Of course I’ve spent the afternoon feeling slightly nauseous and with a throbbing headache that feels like someone’s picking at the nerve-ends of my eyeballs with a toothpick.

It probably would have been easier to go downstairs.

Anyway, below are three moments from the past week that I intended to weave into some sort of narrative, but as looking at the computer screen hurts this is all you’re going to get:

1) Walking through the streets of Brockley the other day I saw, coming out of the post-office, a youngish Mum leading a junior-school age boy by the hand.

“Ah, shit!” the boy said for no apparent reason.

“No!” Mum shouted, scuffing him not-too-hard around the back of the head. “You do not use language like that! It’s wrong! God will punish you for swearing!”

She turned in my direction, dragging the boy roughly by the arm. Across the front of her shirt a message read: “See You Next Tuesday.”

2) I was distracted at the Flaming Lips gig in Victoria Park on Sunday night by what at first I thought was a hose pipe, but quickly realised was in fact the bloke next to me pissing into a cup.

Impressively, in his right hand he held a full beer, whilst in his left he held the rapidly filling cup of piss. Presumably his nob was just hanging into the cup, but I didn’t investigate further.

3) A couple of weeks ago, back when there was tennis on the TV in the afternoons, I chatted to one of the regulars in the pub. I was surprised when he ordered a diet coke. Over the course of a rather confused conversation he told me about the best places in Catford to get a drink at seven in the morning, “in case you ever want one on the way to work.”

Unsurprisingly he’d been told to cut down his drinking by the doctors, hence the diet coke.

On Saturday he came into the pub and ordered a pint of Stella. That’s okay, I thought. He’d told me he was allowed the odd drink, at the weekend and so on. Only when I got back to him did I realise that he’s so shit-balled he couldn’t focus on his change and was desperately clinging to the bar to stay upright.

Cutting back. Easier said than done.

What is the point of these? Nothing, really. Just little moments when I feel completely alien to the world. Flashes in my brain that can’t quite believe what people do to themselves or others; seconds where I question the sanity of everyone else in the world.

And then I spend two hours trying to make myself blind just to prove a point.