Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Brief Lives

On Friday night the streets were swampy as I walked back from a birthday party I probably should never have attended. In the sweat sodden bowels of a bastard child of Luton and Essex west-end bar-club there were, perhaps, too many things that couldn’t be said, too much being obviously ignored, for it to have been a good idea. So in no particular hurry I zigged my way through the relatively cool streets of Soho and felt my shirt dry from black to blue.

Lost in my own memories the hand that grabbed me outside the John Snow made me jump.

‘Hey, sorry dude,’ the young man with the carefully sculpted facial hair beamed, ‘but can you take our picture?’ His smile was desperate to be infectious as he thrust an expensive looking digital slr into my hands before turning back to his mob.

‘Sure,’ I replied and held it up to my eye. There was a lot of them and he was failing to choreograph effectively. One girl seemed to be standing slightly to one side, alone with a far-away, wishful stare to her eyes. ‘What’s the occasion?’ I asked ‘Someone’s birthday?’

‘Nah,’ she smiled with a tiny slur, ‘just, you know, friday night? Another friday night and we’re all out together and it’s all perfect. You know? When you’re with your people and you can’t escape that this is how it will always be?’

It was probably a good thing that the camera hid my expression. She didn’t deserve to see that. It wasn’t her fault.

‘You need to all cram in a bit,’ I shouted, wafting my right hand around like I knew what I was doing.

‘…how it will always be?’

In that moment, all of them clustered together, I could read each and everyone’s future etched into their faces.

The guy in the bottom right still wore his suit jacket and tie, although he’d opened the collar up and wrenched the tie downwards into a taut flapping knot. In a couple of years he’d get bitten by the career bug and lose himself in a mixture of fumbled so-called glory, mid-week late-night nights of debauchery with people who’d pretend to help insure this payments on another Lexus or a Yacht and who would be the best friends as long as it served their purpose. He’ll start to reinvent his past so as it fits the desired image better until eventually he will no longer remember where he came from.

Of the two girls wrapped arm in arm, sisters that never were, the blonde curly-haired one will disappear on a never-ending trek in search of her missing self. She’ll go to Africa, to South America, to Australia and to Asia all the time pretending spiritual enlightenment through shots of vodka and the occasional tab, but really simply hiding from her step father and her mistakes.

Meanwhile, the dark, straighter one will decamp to a small village outside Cambridge with an accountant she met on the first internet date. They’ll raise babies and pretend that everything’s okay and when the two women meet every two and a half years for a glass of wine they will find they have less and less to talk about without generating resentment.

The two guys at the back trying to out do the other’s comedy hand gestures: The lanky one still wearing his shades in the dark will ten years from now wake up in the Austrian Alps and discover that he’s neither as good a snowboarder as he desperately wants to be and nor is there anyway back once you’ve dropped out for so long; nobody will even be totally certain of his name. He’ll go from always feeling as the centre of everything to just another blank face in the background.
The big lad, the one who looks like he dips black pudding in his guinness for breakfast, will, in a few years time, completely over-compensate in the gym. He’ll build biceps fit for breaking iron and a six pack so griddled and thick that you can bounce spears off it, but in sorting his body out he will misplace his mind and fall in with a dubious crowd. He’ll increasingly spout opinions that make everyone else so uncomfortable that they stop taking his calls.

There are two couples amongst the group. In one pair she rests her head on his shoulder because it’s the perfect height. You can see that she’s already planned the wedding and named the first two kids. It’ll all work out fine, she dreams, they’ll have good jobs and a nice semi-detached house out towards Wimbledon where the schools are pretty good, the back garden catches the sun every early afternoon and once a year they feel like they’re a part of something special when the tennis carnival rolls into town. He’ll have years, of nine to five, shuffling in on the District Line to move virtual papers from file to file. Every year they’ll spend two weeks is Tuscany and another in the Dordogne until one tedium flooded Sunday afternoon he drives his BMW 4x4 down to a quiet little spot they used to picnic with the kids were tiny and connects a length of garden hose from the exhaust pipe to the drivers window. He’ll turn the ignition and hope it’s not too quick.

As for the two canoddling, she is constantly planting soft kisses on his lips, his cheek, his chin, his neck on any patch of exposed skin. His hand firmly clutches at her arse cheek, snug as it is in skinny blue jeans. Well, we all know you’ll take it as far as it can go regardless of the mess it causes for everyone else. You’ll both ignore the fact that she wants more and he wants just about anyone who passes by with a cute wink, but it’ll be the protracted on-off again shag-fest with blonde curls that finally kills it all by which time it’ll be too late for anything other than never-ending hate.

The girl who thinks good people forever will go onto to never quite get anywhere, constantly out looking for the best time and not finding anything other than another night losing her lunch in the gutter. One afternoon she’ll wake up, emancipated and feeling like her bones have been hollowed out. She’ll lie there listening to the rats scuttling in the rafters until she realises that it just isn’t worth it and runs back up north to start all over again in her Gran’s spare room.

The camera’s owner will pride himself on always being the last one standing, finding new eternal crowds to drag around the same haunts again and again trying to recreate the mythic past he never had, looking for ways to make himself feel alive and loved until there’s just him coming back to the John Snow alone, supping pints and wondering where everyone else went.

Some of you will be in the right place at the right time and some in the wrong place at the wrong time and any number of combinations of the same. Some will be cut short and some will, one way or another, last a little longer. You will all cry and love and lose and occasionally you might even win, but unfortunately tonight is tonight, now is now and it will always remain in the past. Everything else will move forward until these people are just dim lights blinking out of the darkness.
Only a few of you will recognise what each other become and most will walk on past without a second thought.

Nothing stays the same.


‘Here you go,’ I handed him the camera back.

‘Cheers, dude,’ he beamed with life and joy and enthusiasm, ‘that means a lot. Thank you.’

‘Yeah well,’ I pushed my hands into my pockets ‘it’s all memories, isn’t it?’ and I walked away feeling old and spiteful and bitter, but that was for me to deal with.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Where’s my god-damned hover-board?

“They lied to us,” a t-shirt I’ve never gotten around to buying once pronounced. “This was supposed to be the future. Where is my jetpack? Where is my robotic companion? Where is my dinner in pill form? Where is hydrogen fuelled automobile? Where is my nuclear powered levitating house? Where is my cure for this disease?”

It’s a good question.

(Although personally I’d drop the last part, which takes it from silly to having some kind of point. On a t-shirt.)

I must confess to a slight affection for the retro-future. Once upon a time we charmingly dreamed of a world that would be dominated by perfect gleaming spires of architecture, giant saucers and globes atop spindly spikes where everyone lived in a perfectly dimensioned, equally sized apartments serviced by robotic staff. Enough space. Not too much. Our needs met, but necessarily over-indulged.

Our food came as pills ingested direct into our blood streams, there was smell-o-vision to keep our senses alert. Disease was almost eradicated. Old was but an inconvenience. We travelled around in steam powered, sleekly glazed monorail systems which went up and down, cheekily defying gravity, as much as across.
Families rocketed off to the charms of Venus for their summer holidays, Father with a ray gun holstered onto the side of his jump suit to keep any possible off-worlders in order.

We were no longer British or French or Iraqi or German, but Earthlings.

There was a naive elegance to tomorrow.

But now we’re here.

The majority of those dreamers saw the early twenty-first century as the destination time. A new world for the new millennium.

But, where those in the past looking to yesterday saw a utopia of mutual convenience and support we have, instead, developed concepts so far away from them for it to be inconceivable. There are giant flat screen high definition television screens that overwhelm the senses. Telephones that bounce a reception off satellites and can carry billions of items of digitalised data enabling us to app pretty much anything. A universal translator not to help us explore brave new worlds, but to help us order dinner in Ethiopia. The very concept of being able to convert audio-visual into binary and then reforming it perfectly represented on a device that will soon be small enough to slot under our finger nails.

Medical devices and drugs that, in certain countries such as this one, save the lives of millions. We might not be able to cure everything just yet, but think for a moment about what we can do. Our DNA has been mapped; stem cell research; cloning; heart transplants (swapping one person’s heart for another – how incredible is that?); inoculations – it’s almost bonkers to think that we protect ourselves by injecting ourselves with lethal diseases.

Second life representation of alternative existences where we can pretend to be that which we most desire. The sum total of human knowledge available to everyone, provided you know what question to ask it. The fact that I can put a London street name into google and not only pull up a map, but drop down into a photographed view of it, inch by inch, zooming in onto the signs to see whether there’s any non-resident permit parking available.

That someone, somewhere for a respectable company is developing a piece of software that gets around Chinese gambling laws preventing the placing of bets on racing involving live animals and running virtual horse/dog/monkey races played out in real time with form guides and “real”-life variables thrown in.*

These are all wonderfully strange and amazing things, but is it not a sad indictment of ourselves that the utopian element that was hoped for has still yet to materialise? Is it our fault that the fastest advances in with the internet (truly the most mind boggling innovation of them all) tend to be made by those seeking to identify our interests in order to sell advertising opportunities and the porn industry? The jet-pack generation thought about societies, increasingly we appear to only think about society in terms of what we’re expected to do, what it will give to us.

This may sound slightly hypocritical coming from someone who was recently compared to a drunken version of the tiger who came to tea (beware, I will materialise at your flat/house/dwelling drink all your wine, eat all your food and be disparaging about all your records before disappearing in the morning leaving nothing but empty cupboards, a mess on the floor and a pounding head) but I’m sure I have a point. Somewhere. (In a blog.)

The future can still be unwritten. It is, surprisingly, easy to postpone. We can still change things for the better. Let’s make next week, if not tomorrow, beautiful for everyone.

So, everyone, pull on your spangly jumpsuit, affix your x-ray goggles to the rim of your slightly imperialistic Germanic helmet, pick your portable matter makers and I’ll see you on the launch pads.

*: This may be woefully inaccurate. I was not entirely sober when it was being explained to me.

Damn it, I’ve also just discovered (whilst doing some half-baked looking around for links to improve my indexing) that someone’s written a book called Where’s My Jet-Pack? I’m sure Daniel H Wilson’s book is far superior to my above mumble (I’ve a sore throat and feel a bit shit and am over-tired and have too much other writing to do to give this my full attention this week and my head’s full of other things that I shouldn’t write about and any other excuse I can conceivably come up in the next ten seconds) and should you wish to purchase a copy please follow the link to Amazon. Hopefully that’ll appease the lawyers else I’ll have see you in the debtors’ prison instead…

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Hotel World

I hate hotels.

By which, I mean that I have a deep sated loathing for every aspect of their prim, artificial suggestion of comfort and service – bile that threatens to boil up into an explosion of a television set through the window.

Although, on this occasion, the glass is probably too thick to be shattered under the weight of something a meagre as a thirty-six inch TV. If it can render an airport mute, it is hardy stuff indeed.

Perhaps I’m being a little harsh.

I have, after all, stayed in some lovely places – low down, beaten-up, nestled away hotels of character. The hotel in Berlin was the former home of a silent movies star, replete with Weimar Republic decadence; the hotel I stayed in for my cousin’s wedding in Positano had a lavish sea view off flower draped balconies; the nineteenth century breath that filtered through the place in San Francisco or the colonial hauntings in New Orleans; the romantic desolation of the place in Paris, nestled underneath the shadows of Notre Dame where it was necessary in the dead of winter to skip across the metal fire escape to find the bathrooms and where the air was enthused with bohemian dampness.

I even have a lingering affection for the motels that hug the side of the USA’s highways. Even though they are, in the main, prefabricated boxes they are unique to their time and place and they serve an affordable purpose – unlike their vile British equivalent, the Travel Lodge.

No, my ire is predominately focused on the soulless behemoths of the Jury’s Inns, the Hiltons, the De Veres. The places where the higher the star rating, the lower the sense of place. Hotels like where I spent much of last week.

First Night:

The room felt devoid of life: consistent uniformity had killed it. The oversoft bed, the feathered pillows, the brown leathered room service menu, the pay-a-fortune-as-you-go broadband connection all suggested existence as a dull fiction. A sort of mid-afternoon ITV soap opera life rather than anything approaching reality. Subdued greys and chocolate browns, inoffensive whites and the occasional stripe of 1940s German military green. No keys just a card to fight with. A single card for the door, to operate the lifts (the stairs sealed off), a card to bring light. Twenty-second century security tinged by the nineteen-eighties without the novelty of firing a card completely through the slit in the door and hoping it obligingly opened, remembering to then pick the damn thing up from under the bed.

Everyone else had turned in early, but I couldn’t sleep. The room was too hot, the air too artificial. I had the air conditioning cranked up and it noisily brrred to itself and still, slowly, inexplicably, overrode its setting, as though I couldn’t possibly want it that cool. Perhaps I didn’t. Perhaps I just wanted to see how cold it would go.

Grumpily, I sat in the single plastic-leather aggressively green upright chair trying to read in insufficient light, only designed for TV watching or illicit screwing with people married to someone else. I sipped cheap Irish bought along in a hip flask and distilled into a glass from the bathroom, mixed with a drizzle of shower water.

I tried to read, but my attention was continually snagged by activity behind the sound proofed glass. Four floors up, opposite the multi-storied concrete grilled car park, I watched the silver head lights and sun-red brake lights whiz through the dark passages like cyborg bees searching for synthetic pollen. The cars danced as the owners fruitlessly searched for a space or the exit; equally desperate to both arrive and leave simultaneously. And in the background was the occasional eerily silent roar of the jumbos sneaking out into the early morning clouds bound for another life.

Suddenly, I remembered watching on the news an investigation into hotel cleaning staff pressurised to clean too many rooms in too short a time using the same cloth to clean the toilet as the little bathroom glasses.

I grimaced and swallowed the dregs of my drink.

“Great, complimentary dysentery with every room.”

Second Morning:

I awoke to the rapid-fire clatter of too many stilettos down the corridor and the pitiful warbling of my phone’s peppermint themed alarm tone. The curtains were still wide open, I was naked, the clammy duvet had been roughly discarded and all around was chaos.

“Whlul-a-blurm-a-bub,” I just about managed.

I forced myself off the bed, if only to find my damn phone and shut its pathetic bland tones up. As I moved I noticed my limbs leaving blurred previous lives, impressions of themselves in their wake.

My phone was on the floor, underneath the turned inside out suit trousers apparently dropped with unnecessary rapidity, plugged into the charger which was plugged into the wall with the switch turned off. At the moment I found it, it blooped its last and the screen went black. The air was forcibly silent except for a vague scratching of bone on mangy fur. Close to the bed lay my jacket in a similar inverted state to my trousers suggesting a rather ungraceful undressing sequence and in the far corner, screwed into sweat damp ball, was my blue shirt. I was unclear as to where my underwear had gone. Presumably, it was in amongst all my other clothes which I seemed to have emptied across the floor.

What had I been looking for?

Up in the top corner of the room the wine monkey stopped plucking lice from itself and laughed its evil cackle at another successful mugging.


I gave it the finger and headed into the bathroom.

Standing under the shower the rapid fire bursts of scalding hot, then freezing cold and then round again did their job and I at least felt upright. I drip dried whilst pissing long and hard into the toilet trying not to look at what I may have left floating there the night before.

I was relieved to find that my rummagings of the previous night had not extended to the open wardrobe where my suits and shirts hung. The monkey threatened to throw its shit at me until I snarled and it scurried for safety inside the inactive mini-bar. Slowly, I started to take on the shape of what I am not.

Back into the bathroom, conscious of time disappearing, I shaved, waxed my fair and cleaned my teeth all the while studying my face in the magnified mirror. Black eyes, pallid flushed skin, a fifteen yard gaze. Still, I had to cope. There was no other option.

I stood up straight, slipped my jacket on, spat into the sink and gave a final sneer to the mirror, when, over my shoulder, I noticed: “Why is there a telephone built into the wall next to the toilet?” I scratched my head in bemusement. “Who orders room service whilst taking a dump?”

Monday, 8 June 2009

Exit Music

A partial dramatisation.


“My project will be complete,” quipped the beaming young Tony, for in those days he smiled whenever possible, “when the party learns to love Peter.”


Peter held his palms together and smiled in a way that made the room uncomfortable. “We are,” he began the grin warping around his face, “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.” He unclasped his hands, leant back in his chair and waited for the flashbulb dust to settle.


With no doubt of the men he had in mind, Gordon continued: “I want to lead a government humble enough to know its place – where I will always strive to be – and that is on the people’s side.” He smiled, because he felt he ought to.

1997, April 30th:

I crunched the gears of my bright red Fiat Panda and accelerated around the milk float. The morning sun curved through the stains of the windscreen casting light inside like a disco gone on far too long.

“I don’t know,” I said hesitantly, “there’s something just not quite right. I’m not sure I trust him.”

But there was tangible inevitability and we felt as though we would be ones to crown the new king. Us, who had never known anything other than the Iron Lady and her Grey Man, would break down the barriers of the past and announce the dawn of the future. Ah, for we were young and the young are filled with anger and optimism in equal doses.

“Well, who are you going to vote for Dave?” asked my passenger.
I turned and raised an eyebrow: “No-one. I’m four days too young. As you well know.”

And he cackled hysterically because he knew how disappointed I was to be missing out on the beginning of tomorrow.


The protestors marched along the Sheffield tram lines from the University into the centre of town. A rhythmic thumping of drums kept the marching tune, ramshackle tattered banners of unions’ power only recently castrated fluttered at the head and all through the chant repeated: “David Blunket, can’t you see? Education should be free.”

An older guy, an ex-boxer with a mangled upper lip, a permanent lost stare and an interest in renaissance history muttered: “Same old shit. Eighteen years out and then less than a year back in and already they’re as bad as the rest of them.”

“We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”

“Bit too fucking relaxed if you ask me.”

2006, July:

I lay on a steel and wire hammock contraption; a firm mesh net slung between two rigid metal frames embedded into the ground. The sun felt good on my cheeks. I was tired. Exhausted. I’d been working so hard that for a couple of weeks that summer, after every evening meal, I would traipse upstairs, throw up and then crawl into bed for half an hour before spending most of the night allocating white spaces on a building plan to companies and ticking off thousands of pounds.

That afternoon, in my then in-law’s back garden, was more than welcomed. I lazed quietly in the sunshine with just the chatter of birds and somewhere on the edge of my awareness my now ex was talking with her family about this and that. One of her sisters turned to me and said: “You should take her away, Dave. To the tropics. Or the Caribbean.”

And how would I do that? I thought. How far does a twenty-six grand basic go unless
I actually hit the target this year?

But I didn’t say anything. I think I pretended to be asleep.

“We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”

“Aren’t we all chum?”


“Ooo, I’ve just bought my first place – you must come up for the house-warming party,” she cooed excitedly down the phone.

“How’d you manage that?” I jealously asked.

“Well, I had a bit of help…”


“Well, you’ve just got to get yourself onto the ladder else your missing out, haven’t you?”


“Karen’s moving out,” one of us said over dinner.

“What?” the other replied pointing downwards. “Basement flat Karen?”

“Yup. Sold up and moving on.” Tubes of pasta, slithers of tuna, a shred of tomato and half an olive all pulped onto the fork. “She told me what she got for it.” The mouth opened and the food disappeared into the maw.

“Did she now?”

“Do you,” chew, chew, “want to guess?”

“Not particularly.”



“Almost twenty grand more than what she paid for it two years ago.”

2007, January:

I leaned into the window of the estate agent’s and wiped the drizzle off the glass. Still I couldn’t quite see, so I flipped back the off angled hood of my old duffel coat.

“Jesus. Two-hundred-and-sixty-four for a two bed flat.”

The bequiffed and greased, incredibly young and smug head popped out of the half open door.

“Now, you,” it said smarmily, “look like the kind of chap who doesn’t bother looking for a home.” I pulled my hood back up. “You’re looking for an investment, right?”

“Actually,” I turned to leave, “I’m trying to remember which one of these places I left my pet tortoise in.”

It was the best I could come up with.


“If you can’t afford a place in London, why not buy somewhere in Birmingham and rent it out.” My friend shrugged like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Get yourself on the ladder. Make some money.”

Make some money.

Make some money.

Make some money.

“We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”


We sat at the wooden table outside the pub on the very outskirts of London. It was, as is so often the case, the afternoon after a night before and someone said, for whatever reason: “But the thing is: Food is getting ridiculously expensive in this country.”

“No it’s not,” I countered possibly because I’m such an argumentative bugger at times and possibly because, having discovered an organic greengrocer, I’d been surprised to find myself thinking differently.

“I went into Sainsbury’s and the aubergines were ninety-nine pee.”

“It’s a fucking aubergine.” I sipped my too-sweet bitter shandy and felt a sugary film form on my tongue. “It’s come a long way.”

2004: November:

I gunned the engine and the Ford Focus positively snarled its way down the Redditch bypass. My eyes flashed across the wing mirrors, I flipped the indicator and nipped through two too tight spaces. The man in the suit and tie in the passenger seat didn’t look nervous. Which was disappointing.

Back in the showroom he thrust brochures in my hand and we walked in circles around a car I’d seen thousands of times before. I looked at my reflection in the gleaming black paint. He was talking about percentages and interest rates and, perhaps noticing I wasn’t listening, simply said: “It’s cheap, isn’t it? Money’s really cheap.”

And then he smiled like a particularly perverted trout.

2004: March:

“Dave Marston,” I said in those days whenever the phone rang.

“Miiiiisssssttttteeer Marston,” the voice on the other end announced its identity – no-one else I knew ever spoke like that.

“Morning. You coming in today?” This was before we all worked in the same office, when only two of us would fit in the booth in the converted bus factory, where the tips of my gelled hair brushed against the ceiling, and the others would dial in for, generally speaking, a natter.

We were in construction, the value of houses was intensely relevant. He talked about percentage increases, tracked land banks and geographical indexes until eventually he said: “So, I’m going to predict that the bubble will get spiked and burst before the end of next year.”

I didn’t argue, after all he was the economics expert. Besides, I was more than a little distracted by the odd sloshing noises in the background so instead I asked: “Are you in the bath again?”

2009: Last Friday in fact.

“Shall we go on for another drink somewhere else?”

“Ah, you know what,” I uncharacteristically said, “I think I better call it a night. Bit skint.”

How, I wondered on the way home, am I earning the same as my basic salary two years ago and still struggling? And there’s not even going to be commission bonuses. I have to think twice before paying for anything. I have to measure the value of everything.

How much money have I wasted thinking it was going to last forever?

2009: January:

The last train tilted gently homewards and I watched the skeletons of the East London Line springing out of the dirt, illuminated in the black by neon, electric fuzz.

“I was going to go over to Woolworths with the boy and get some cheap colouring pens and bits to make a collage with – you know the sort of stuff - when I remembered: Woolworths doesn’t exist anymore. Try explaining the credit crunch to a four year old! I gave it a go, but it’s tough. Then my friend was round the other day and she suggested going up to Moonbow Jakes for a coffee. I had to tell her it had closed down. This little voice piped up: ‘It’s because of the credit crunch.’”

2008, March:

“You see,” a friend stabbed a gin and tonic towards me, “I think it’s a male-female thing. My boyfriend will always argue totally logically. God, he’d draw a graph demonstrating fiscal policy to prove you wrong if there’s a pen and paper handy.
Sometimes I just want to scream ‘what about the people.’ Shouldn’t the most important thing be keeping people safe and well?”

2001, April:

The bear of an old man bristled his moustache and fumed: “Not the bloody labour party I joined.” Then he drank deeply from his pint of mild.

2007, July:

My boss squealed his sports car into the bus stop and I clambered out into the rain. I pulled my case out of the boot and as I tapped the roof to signal that he was clear to leave, water soaked up my sleeve. The Masartti growled away into the floods and I walked through the torrential storm, the flaps of the trousers getting sodden with every puddle I bounced through. Baker Street station was only a hundred metres or so away, but it felt out of reach.

Dehydrated, despite the weather, I stepped into the newsagents and wiped my streaming glasses on my tie. I took a bottle of water out the fridge and, with a slight distaste, picked up a copy of the Evening Standard.

I darted across the road in one final flurry of sprayed water and into the station. I rode the escalators down and sat on the bench for the Jubilee line. It was almost nine o’clock. I felt utterly shattered, but strangely content. It was the first day of Gordon’s premiership and I enthusiastically read the details of his cabinet announcements. A new, I hoped more left-leaning, leader for the country to pull us back from the precipice that seemed to be approaching rather to fast for comfort -and in a couple of weeks I’d be leaving work to go back to University.
It felt a new beginning, but little did I realise it was simply the beginning of the end.


"Not only have we saved the world, um,"


Peter smiled that sinister smile all across the evening news once again. Back from beyond, recalled from Europe installed in the House of Lords and given power and influence by a man whom he’d betrayed thirteen years before and who had in turn systematically tried to end his career ever since.

“It’s not what I was seeking; it’s certainly not what I was expecting.”

“My project will be complete when the party learns to love Peter.”

“Third time lucky.”

2009: June:

“Peter Mandelson,” said the newsreader as I sat in the traffic queue into the supersava supermarket “will become First Secretary of State and deputy prime minister in all but name.”

“This is crucial,” interjected the alleged expert, “because Mandelson is a big hitter, a man capable of helping Brown steer himself out of this mess and the Labour party recognises that. They need him.”

“My project will be complete when the party learns to love Peter.”

“We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”

“You know,” I slurred a little pointlessly recently, “I used to feel like I had a proper job?”

“We are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.”

“My project will be complete when the party learns to love Peter.”

“Intensely relaxed.”

“My project.”

2009: February:

“Do I really have to fill one of these out?” I moaned brandishing the wodge of papers as we walked along the corridor.

“It’s a project. It needs a project plan,” replied the manager with the open shirt collar.

“But it’s scheduled to finish at the end of March. What’s the point?”

“It’s a project. That’s a project plan. You need to identify risks and issues, outline the scope, the stakeholders, the delivery strategy, the communications plan, the objectives, the outcomes and the key performance indicators.”

“By the time I’ve done we’ll have finished.”

“That’s not the point. One should have been done earlier.” We buzzed ourselves through the rather gratuitously high security doors. “This isn’t optional, David.”

“Okay, okay.” I sighed. “So, once I’ve done all this then what do we do with it?”

“Well, in theory, we use it to measure progress and if anything goes wrong we should be able to identify where and how. Maybe even learn from our mistakes.” He smiled, but only fleetingly, as he prepared the close the office door behind him. “But to be honest, at this stage, we’ll probably file it in the archive and never look at it again.”

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

A slight ache

This was all a few weeks back...

It kind of snuck up on me sometime near mid-weekend-morning, more or less around the time I was finishing the paper and just starting to chastise myself for being such a lazy bastard as to have not started work yet.

At first it didn’t hurt.

Well, not exactly.

It was more like a complete absence of feeling, of sensation. It was a numbness born in the tips of my fingers that inched its life across the back of my hand.
Without realising it, I’d started giving my hand a shake, every-so-often, to try and jump-start it. After a few weeks it began to spread further up my arm and then, on occasions, it would be a fragmentary burst of white pain from nail to shoulder.

Usually, though, it was simply like my arm was grumbling for a divorce from the rest of my body and I tried not to grant it much attention.

It always seemed to feel a bit worse, a little more urgent, when I’d had a lot to drink the night before. Perhaps, it was just my sharpened nerve ends buzzing.

Or perhaps it wasn’t.

‘Probably ought to cut down,’ I muttered one Sunday swallowing two dry aspirins.

Sometimes it would help if I carried my arm across my chest in a imaginary sling, resting whatever had muscles were complaining so vigorously. Yet, there was something about it that just didn’t feel physical. I couldn’t identify a pattern that would explain it away like dust. So I wondered if it was a ghost pain, something from somewhere else.

Finally, one Saturday afternoon, it seemed to reach out beyond my shoulder and poured like superheated oil into my chest cavity.

‘What in the hell is wrong with me?’ I asked the yucca plant as there was no-one else to talk to.

It wouldn’t shake off. It was like an alien sprain that needed stretching out, but if I strained it too hard then there was the nagging suspicion that something else would instantly snap. Through my hung-over eyes it all seemed worse. It was the impending lightning strike that would leave me writhing on the floor.

A tiny, tiny voice in the back of my head wondered if I was having a heart attack.

I began to worry about keeling over in the flat. Alone. Isolated. Unable to call for help. No-one to know what had happened.

So, I took myself out and wandered the streets of Brockley, down into New Cross, onto Deptford and all the way round again. Walking myself into a self-replicating circle, my thoughts empty for once as I kidded myself that if I did collapse in the street then anyone would even offer a glance.

The exercise seemed to help, but there was still an unending stiffness.

On the Monday morning a contraption had been installed at someone’s desk. A keyboard seemingly broken in half, standing upright on its tips like at arching bridge across a watery steel square. Clipped into the rim of the desk were two curved spring brackets like I imagine the controls of a starfighter wired to your central cortex would be.

‘What’s all this malarkey?’ I asked.

‘Oh, it’s because I get RSI. It’s to support and adapt my posture.’

Repetitive Strain Injury.


So, I hadn’t been nearly dying of some alcohol induced nerve system collapse. Now, that my self-diagnosis took a calmer, more reflective approach I was able to identify when it was straining, at what angle the twinges were worse. I’ve never had a job before where I spend ninety-nine percent of my time at the computer, twiddling a mouse around. Even before I was out selling space on the road my computer work was essentially punctuations for telephone calls. Plus, I’ve been spending three or four hours every evening and most weekends writing - of course it’s bloody RSI.


Since then I’ve been adjusting my mouse usage, being certain of how I sit in the chair, dropping my fingers down onto the keys rather than reaching up and, thanks to a last week my flat being a technology-free zone due to the motherboard imploding, it’s started to feel a lot better.

My arm loves me again.

Now, if I can just work out whether I’m suffering from occasional bouts of IBS, a possible tape-worm, dodgy cooking or the first trappings of bowel cancer then I’ll be on my way back to normality.

Some of this blog may have been exaggerated.