REPORT A PROBLEM
So, how does it start?
Health: took a battering last year, restabilising (maybe), bloodied but unbowed (more or less).
Love: strong, steady, hope springs eternal (I hope).
Family: a mess, a bloody pain in the arse. Who are these people? Why do I waste energy giving a damn?
Job: a disappointment, limbo, reaping the blighted crop of the wrong seeds sown in the wrong ground. I think I used the wrong fertiliser, too.
Wealth: Not. Hanging in there.
Today: Perfect. She's here, the bed is warm, there is good food and wine. So for now at least...happy new year.
Sometimes the foxes scream in the night and it is all the more shocking because of the contrast with the usual silence. These chilling howls are like those of an abused infant. They are mating cries. Their love sounds like an ordeal, like birth before conception.
More rarely now I hear the clubfooted blunderings of hedgehogs rooting around in the unkempt grass. Have the foxes scared them off? Mostly it is silent; far quieter than a London flat has any right to be. The soothing purr of your breathing drowns the wails of strangled children.
These warm, dark, silent nights.
I am not a real man. I am entirely unmoved by sport and gadgets. I find cars and motor vehicles to be of absolutely no interest beyond their functional usefulness in moving me to where I need to be. I loathe DIY and I am embarrassingly incompetent at it. The very thought of gardening disturbs me profoundly. I find "men's magazines" to be either absurd (Playboy) or repulsive (FHM, Esquire, GQ, Maxim and on and on). The crude, leering chat and behaviour of groups of males in bars, offices and locker rooms leaves me vaguely nauseated.
I need a beer.
Look at them. Their irksome tweeting mobiles (oh my, it plays a wikkle tchewn. That's so fucking cool.) Identi-sportswear and
haircuts. Look at the bars they frequent. Horrible, sterile, barren, unwelcoming places with rounded corners and studiedly 'cool' lighting. Look at their lack of taste when it comes to drink. Vodka and Red Bull. Bottles of cold Budweiser in preference to a pint of hand-drawn real ale. That's not being fashionable, that's being shit-ignorant. That's preferring a Big Mac to a Filet Mignon. That's just rank gormlessness.
OK, it's offical. I am now an old fart.
Pearls before swine. The thing is, I experience a certain malicious glee casting them. She is such a gobsmackingly dumb excuse for a human being and I can't deny that it tickles the hell out of me to beam a light into her gloriously empty head; to throw her ineffable dimness into harsh relief. I'm such a snob. I hate stupid people so very much and I really don't care whether or not it's their fault. So I love to make jokes and references she can't understand, I love to watch irony and witticism in flight above her vacant skull.
Tangled sheets still carry your fading scent. Scattered items which should be tidied away but which I know I will allow to remain undisturbed for days yet. That book. That unfinished glass of wine. Even those cigarette butts in the ashtray. See how badly I've got it? Now the silence is complete again; no soothing susurration to lull me tonight. You said this will be the year. I hope you're right. Sometimes it seems as though I simply can't tolerate this inability to bring about what we have both wanted for so long. But we go on. We go on.
There were childhood friendships which at the time seemed special but which now, at my age, seem trivial. I used to become wildly excited and moved by inconsequential things in those early years, as most children do. Cheap plastic toys made in Hong Kong; swimming in the icy brown sewer of the Humber estuary; holidays at a bungalow in Humberston Fitties; fireworks carefully arranged in an old shoebox in readiness for the night; a bulging pillowcase dimly seen in the early light of a Christmas morning. Those friendships seem like that to me now. I can't even remember the names.
I have always hated Tolkien's ridiculously over-praised trilogy. Now there's no escaping it, again. No avoiding that dreadful, po-faced humourlessness; that embarrassingly adolescent cod-portentousness; all those silly, cardboard cut-out would-be archtypes fannying about in a heaving morass of the sort of trowelled-on symbolism guaranteed to appeal to adolescents of mediocre intellect and sad, stunted adults who never really sloughed off that pitiable mindset. A curse on that dreary old Catholic for inflicting such pernicious tosh on a world of immature imaginations. A hex on all the ovine, spoon-fed ninnies who lap it up.
The usual post-New Year conversation, I thought.
"Hi Kelvin, how was Christmas?"
"Oh? Lousy presents this year?
"You might put it like that."
My antennae twitched. I dropped the levity. He continued
"Let's see...Christmas day. That was OK. Boxing Day. That was OK. New year's Eve...not bad either, that. Then New Year's Day... that was Tuesday, right?"
"That was OK. Then Wednesday, she asked me for a divorce."
And then I saw that look. The tired skin, the empty, faraway eyes. The verge of collapse. Like I was looking in a mirror, four years ago.
Something odd has occurred to me. Every serious friend I've had since reaching adulthood who has had a major break-up in their lives has been the one to get dumped in that break-up. This includes males and females and it also applies to me. I have absolutely no idea what - if any - significance might be attached to this fact. I only know that it involves a significant number of people so it seems somewhat unlikely to be mere coincidence. Are we all sad losers? Do sad losers tend to congregate? Or are we just people whose wonderful qualities go unappreciated?
1978. The strings look like frayed thread because of all the dead skin. The fretboard is slimy with sweat and gob and your fingers tense with the struggle for control. Some control would do; forget complete control, ain't gonna happen. And that's good. You like that. So do they. Something smashes behind your head. The bass player careens into you and you nearly go over the edge. Spiky heads are thrashing up and down at your feet. You put your lips to the reeking, crumpled head of the mic. Bang. Burning smell. Ears ring. Why is the wall the ceiling?
Playing a piece of music on an instrument affects one's perception of it. There's an effect which non-musicians will never get - the physical sensation of the music. Some pieces
better to play than others. The actions required in order to produce certain sequences of notes and chords might be more pleasing to the body than those needed to make other sounds. A violently discordant riff might soothe the fingers and relax the wrist. A mellow, flowing melody might make the knuckles ache and the muscles strain. Ugly people might be far more relaxing and convivial companions than beautiful ones.
We went to see the old Victorian beam engine which used to pump sewage in Leicester. Four twenty-one ton flywheels, steam-driven via the sturdy beam and massive rods. A museum has been built around this old (and still workable) machine. The thing is, you can
how these great iron beasts worked. You can actually see how energy was transferred from tank to valve to pipe to cylinder to piston to wheel to shaft. It's strangely satisfying.
Inside my PC I see wires and boxes. On some fundamental level I'll never be able to connect with this technology.
The driver in the pickup cut up the driver in the family saloon. Snap. Saloon gave chase and caught the pickup at the level crossing. Steaming, saloon got out and strode towards pickup for a remonstration. Pickup showed a gun. Saloon barely broke his stride, pulled out his gun and plugged pickup through the liver. Fifty years of tears, smiles, candy, mother's love, girlfriend's kisses, children's smiles, bar brawls, cosy nights in blissful bed with the wife, fear, grief, relief, parties, weddings, christenings and funerals spilled out into the dirt. Lights out. Saloon had been angry there, for a moment.
Kelvin hasn't been at work for three days.
About now it'll all be crumbling. About now the shock will be giving way to grief like he never thought possible. About now the stubborn remnant of the old strength will be dust and ashes. About now the tears will be out of control, he'll know that the term "heartache" is not poetic licence, realisation will be breaking through that numb wall of disbelief and the demolition will be in full swing. About now he'll be going down as if gutpunched.
Broken bones heal stronger. I'm not sure hearts do.
He worries and agonises about how attractive he is to women. This, of course, is terribly unattractive to women. He thinks about the relativity of attraction. Is he sufficiently attractive to pull that woman? Is he not attractive enough for her or is she too attractive for him? It's all very stressful. Perhaps he can bluff her somehow? Can he appear more attractive than he really is? Or is attraction, when all's said and done, fundamentally about appearances? Does it matter? Will she care either way? Does he care either way? He gets drunk a lot and snarls at strangers.
The last eight months at work have taught me the following:
- how to perform basic manipulations of Excel workbooks without screwing up.
- how to do that thing in Word where the contents page automatically updates as you change the document (although I couldn't remember how if you asked me to do it right
- that business people never become less greedy or less stupid
- that when it comes I.T., I either don't understand or else I forget within days
- that my old brain is tired. That I don't think it can hack this stuff anymore
The future is a mirage.
He was obsessed with the rides at Wonderland, especially the Ghost Train. It was an old-style ghost train. Two-seater cars lined up in front of a garish façade of Bosch-like nightmares painted in cartoon zombie graveyard colours. He was particularly fascinated and repelled by a disembodied and apparently airborne monster head. Two limp but shapely female legs dangled from between the curled and cadaverous lips. Her torso and head were entirely enclosed within the grotesque mouth. He was too young to understand it but the trembling feeling this image caused in his belly was not simply fear.
We sat opposite each other across a white-topped table. The lighting was naff, very late seventies. Above our heads and to my right a small red spotlight beamed down. To my left, a green one. My bitter looked sickly; his Guinness a polluted well. The candlestick seemed to be casting a red shadow to my right and a green one to my left. We couldn't understand how shadows could have colours and why they would be coloured in opposition to the lights which cast them. We were drunken physics students. It took us ten minutes to work it out.
I nearly smashed into them; their car at a crazy angle across the junction. She was half into the driver's seat. His hand gripped her arm.
"Fuck OFF, you fucking....dirty...fucking BASTARD! LEAVE ME ALONE!"
Cold fury in his eyes. She squirmed impotently. Stalemate.
I hit the brake.
"Hey...HEY! Need any help, love?"
He released her arm, raised his own as if surrendering, backed across the road. The door slammed. Ignition. She burned rubber, slalomed away through invisible obstacles.
The smartly-dressed little boy in the back seat sat as still and silent as a dummy.
1975. We had to kill many mice for our genetics project. I hated it, but accepted it. Back then I was too tolerant of things I hated. Jez didn't hate it at all. He reached into the cage and dangled a hugely pregnant mouse by its tail. I had a bad feeling about this. He cracked the mouse's head against the table, slit it open with a scalpel and pulled out the glistening tube of tiny embryos. He grinned as he stabbed each little bump in the still-moving uterine pod. At school I learnt that evil isn't necessarily learnt.
"You were called today at 13:16. The caller withheld their number"
He slowly replaced the handset. Same story for almost two weeks now. It was getting to him and he didn't know why. Probably just telesales. Probably double glazing. Right? Right.
He sat down on the single chair with the taped leg and stared at the dark rectangle on the wall where the framed photograph used to hang. Damn, look at all the dust. The windows hadn't been cleaned since… since… well, since
So much that hadn't been, since
Even his tears felt like dust, these days.
We clattered along the corridor, giggling. I'd just stolen John's pen for the hundredth time and dropped it down the stairwell.
"You childish fucker!", he'd screamed after me. "Why don't you grow the fuck up?"
"Because I'm not ready to!", I'd gleefully replied. "It isn't time!"
We pulled up short at the double door. A sign hung on one of the handles.
"Door Out of Order"
I looked at Ernie.
out of order
'? What does that mean?"
He shrugged. I opened the door and stepped through. When I closed it behind me I was still on the same side.
Before Jacko went down for GBH his antisocial activities were confined to incendiary foolishness (a blazing waste bin hurled blindly from his window) and surreal abuse of passers-by (random animal names hurled blindly from his window). We found this latter practice strangely hilarious, but today it didn't seem to be working.
No reaction from the nerdy-looking guy below.
"ELK! BANDICOOT! THOMPSON'S GAZELLE!"
Nerdy guy strolled on without a flinch.
"Try 'squid'", suggested Ernie.
"Trust me. Just try it."
Jacko filled his lungs.
Nerdy guy wheeled around as if a bomb had gone off.
I never sleep, alone
A brain back on the chain gang
And time enough for acquiescence
Working through my sentence
I lie awake and listen
Persistent blood stream pushing
Through silted, sore capillaries
A sound of life alone
A heart's insistent calling
That longs to hear an echo
The unconscious response
The answer in your breath
So count the soft pulsation
The measurements of loss
Degrees of separation
I mark the time in blood
Cell marks on the cell wall
To punctuate this sentence
A corporeal punishment
A capital offence.
When are we ready to die? As an atheist, death holds no fears for me but I'm not ready, yet. Accidents, near-misses, health scares....these are like rehearsals for death. They bring it closer to us, they make us feel the cold breath of it, but they don't make us ready. We need something else for that. We need to stop caring, or to have had enough, for there to be nothing left that matters to us. Sometimes in the last four years I've almost believed I'm ready. Last year made me understand I'm not. Last year and you.
When we used to play marbles we sometimes called them "glass alleys". Don't ask me why. You know the type I mean? Little spheres of clear glass with a twist of bright colour set inside them like a scrap of burst balloon. Sometimes I'd gloat over my vast collection of these childish gems and wonder about the strange design. Glass alleys.
Alleys were the passages which separated the dull terraced houses. They led to back yards, to secrets and darkness and discarded things. The little snowy cat who sits on my windowsill is staring at me with glass alley eyes.
Wild mushrooms. Squat portobello parasols. Ceps and chanterelles and shiitake. The sheer wanton sex of the things! The firm flesh of them, fibrillose and sinuate; their musty odour of lust and rot, like sylvan semen. Shameless tumescent ink cap and phallic morel with scabrous glans. But then also feminine folds and pink undersides; belladonna indeed! A homosexual orgy of puffballs, perhaps? The labial contours of lepista nuda; lactarius deliciosus suggests the breast. Psilocybin in small, pointed wet heads; mycomancy in a decaying trunk. Gills and gasteromycetes and gleba. Veined stalks and vaned heads waiting to burst forth in concupiscent sporenography.
Fighting with underwater punches, floppy-fisted and ineffectual, I just can't win.
Guns that jam, or fire ridiculous projectiles - peas, feathers, little lightweight things which never penetrate.
Unstable lifts. They stop between floors, they plummet, they fail, they leave me stranded and afraid.
The planes. Ah God, the planes. Unexplained delays. Sometimes they never get airborne at all. Sometimes they fail to gain altitude; they ascend laboriously but the landscape ascends with them, as if we are flying up a mountainside. Usually there are pylons and cables and I sweat with the terror of constant near-misses.
Dreams of impotence.
I am 42. Douglas Adams told us that the meaning of life is 42. If 42 is the meaning of life then the meaning of life is being able to live alone contentedly. It is managing to love wholeheartedly after heartbreak. It is having a real awareness of (and acceptance of) mortality. It is the knowledge that nothing is safe, nothing is certain, nothing is absolute, nothing is forever. It is the ability to identify bullshit but not necessarily the wisdom to remain calm in the face of it. It is the loss of any desire to be young again.
The common holds a strange fascination for me. It has been with me for almost half my life. It has been with me through thick and thin. The ducks and geese still thrive. The dead trunks from the 1987 hurricane are still there, sliced up and used to border the paths. The tennis courts I have been promising myself I'll use through all these years (and never have). Magic mushroom pickers in the early mist. The Lido. Picnics in squirrel grove. A bleak, sleepless night staring at the stars.
I don't go there so much these days. Not physically, anyway.
The Tip Jar