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And just like that, twelve years slip by. I am still alive, although recent events have caused me to wonder for how much longer. I no longer live in New York, and haven’t done since 2008. No more desks, screens, and interminable, pointless meetings; I drive trains for a living. I worked out hard, for a year, last year, and became fitter and leaner than any time since my thirties. Then life happened again and I stopped; the hard edges have become soft once more. I have loved and lost. Again. I am very tired. But not, yet, of life.
The only reason I don't want to die yet is that I want to live to see humanity die. We are a terrible species. A ruination. We are monkeys in clothes. We occasionally get frantic enough to design a minimalist, stylised hourglass logo and call ourselves something smugly cool like "Extinction Rebellion", but we are never cool enough to face the truth: there are too many of us. We need to stop breeding. Stop having children. Stop thinking the purpose of life is to bring more souls to cancer, heartbreak, bereavement and inevitable death. Leave the happy unborn bastards alone.
I bring you flowers, because you like flowers. It gives you pleasure to take truncated stems and arrange them in a pretty vessel containing water. That's fine. I enjoy seeing your pleasure. I am certainly not being snarky about it, even if it sounds that way. Hell, I take pleasure in eating the dead flesh of slaughtered animals. I take pleasure in contemplating the fact that all religious people will die and pass into oblivion, and never know Jesus, Mohammed or 72 virgins. I also like it when fat people fall over. I'm hardly on the moral high ground here.
It is easy to age, but hard to “age gracefully”, yet I still feel - in spite of my natural inclination towards gloomy negativity - that we, or at least I, must try. We did not join the 27 Club. Somehow, we made it past middle age, and now we find ourselves painfully scaling the foothills of senescence and decrepitude, footsore and on ruined knees, absent-mindedly wondering where we left the keys... to coping with life. When we were younger we used to imagine we knew where they were. We did not... or perhaps they don’t exist. Still, life insists: persist.
I am a man much, perhaps overly, given to hatred. I do not share the cosy feel-good view that hatred is necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes it is just
. It was necessary to hate Hitler, and Nazism, and the oppression of Jews. To not hate those things would have been cowardice or indolence at best, and a dereliction of moral duty at worst. And now it is necessary to hate the Tories, Boris in particular, but also every single person who still thinks Brexit is a good idea, and should still happen. And I do. God, how I do.
I try not to fall apart. A black year of profound loss, illness, endless hospital visits and medical tests: results indeterminate and unhelpful. For a year now my nerves have been keening an unquenchable fire song, a beige blind briefly descended over my right eye, and there were predictable repercussions. I thought my job might be over. I thought of death, wills and childlessness. I endured six months of flat refurbishment and was grateful that my poor little cat had died so she did not have to suffer it. I am suffering. And trying hard not to whine about it.
I am thinking about cats. Mine, others’... the feral cats in Greece. Skinny bodies, triangular faces. Beautiful independence. They do not need us, but they recognise us. I am thinking about my old cat Biffa: catness personified. He loved to come and go. The first time we travelled long to Greece we left him with Jenny’s sister, and her kids, and her menagerie... and he ran away. That time, I retrieved him from the nearby allotment. The second time, not. He backed away as I approached. I got it. Who was I to presume to force his paw? Vale, brother.
To everyone who drinks in public: when you start singing, you’ve had too much to drink, you’re an annoying sod, and no one likes you but your own drunken self and, just possibly, your equally drunken friends, especially if they’re singing too. Why the hell do you people do this? Why do you respond to intoxication by deciding that the whole place needs to hear your dreadful corncrakery? Do you truly have no idea how horrid you sound? And why can absolutely none of you hold a fucking tune? You sound like shit. You are shit.
Shut. The. Fuck. Up.
Into every life a little rain must fall, and when the rain is falling upon us we feel chilled and unhappy, we feel put upon and hard done by, we yearn to find our way back to the sun. But it is only when these major seismic events occur and the earthquake brings our house down that we realise how trivial, and even refreshing, the rain is. Rain cleanses, and allows things to grow. It clears the air. Earthquakes just destroy, and leave ruins, and the tears caused by choking on dust. And we do not know how to rebuild.
Childhood diversion nostalgia. The slinky, walking downstairs (so little else it could do), but still cool. The whip and top, and the simple fun of thrashing that wooden plug along the street, seeing how long you could keep it going. Cap guns and cap rockets. And spud guns... what would a modern child make of a potato dotted with tiny core-sample pits? Peashooters, catapults... careful, you’ll have someone’s eye out! So many toy guns and weapons. We ran around, shooting each other, dying dramatically, cowboys and indians... and it didn’t matter. No one cared. It was normal and healthy.
Brexit is a national embarrassment, as are the shits who support it. England is the mouldy dregs of a bad pint. We're rubbish. We've had our time and we can't accept it. We can dance around that plain fact if you like, but to do so would be dishonest. England is simply a has-been country that is now permeated by disappointment, regret, and vague, amorphous hankerings after largely illusory glories. We're a bloodless, thin-spunked breed; occasionally furious in our embarrassingly protracted senescent decline; raving against an interminable dying of the light. The mouldy dregs of a bad pint.
I wish I could dance.
I have never had dance confidence. Never. And I never will. On the rare occasions I have imbibed enough alcohol and been sufficiently seduced by a favourite record to allow myself to be bullied onto the floor, the result has invariably been three minutes of tooth-grinding, lock-jawed, stiff-limbed, flat-footed, profoundly embarrassed shuffling coupled with desperate attempts to lose myself amidst taller dancers, and my internal commentator positively screaming "You utter prat, why did you do this?" in my mind's ear until I can shamefacedly slink back to my chair and drink.
The optician told me that my eyesight was excellent. Then why, I said, am I seeing these… dark areas? Why are vague veils appearing in my peripheral vision? Why is it that sometimes I see these… shadows, where I know there are no shadows? She shone light into each eye and peered closely. She said I had a couple of “floaters”; little bits of inner eye debris which break off from the vitreous body as we age, and which drift around our field of vision with varying degrees of intrusiveness and irksomeness.
I wish they didn't seem to have faces.
A sixty-year-old man, travelling alone, perhaps hoping the softly searing Greek sun will warm him through, and soothe without burning, and that the unique, immutable purity of this island light will infuse me with its clarity as generously as it bestows it on this beautiful place. There is nostalgia; not least for a visit made here ten years ago, almost to the day, but this time the nostalgia seems laced with hope rather than grief. Greece, for all my years of neglecting her, seems like a constant in my life. I leave her; she will never leave me.
Twenty-nine years ago, and again twenty-three years ago, my ex-wife and I backpacked our way around the Greek islands; the first time for three months, the second, ten weeks. There was no internet. No mobile phones. We were “off-grid” for the entire time. Of course we were - there was no grid. No one could communicate with us, and all they knew of our condition was via an occasional postcard, sent three days previously. We could have been dead before they were read. It was like letters home from the trenches, only wonderful. What we have lost.
Being alone focuses the mind, once one is over all the grieving, breast-beating, loss, and all that “me me me” stuff. I am irrelevant. I have no “identity”, and if that is my privilege, I am glad of it. To cease to care about one’s “identity” is freedom; it is release, and that is true no matter how much you have suffered because of it. Let it go, man. Let it go, woman. Let it go, trans person. Whatever you think matters about
... it doesn’t. Be alone. Take yourself out of yourself. Think. Be. And let it go.
I have read newspaper articles about loneliness, and people who live alone, and how it is a problem. I have spent many years of my life living alone, and am doing so again. I am an old hand. I have old hands. And here, alone, on this small, warm balcony in Amorgos, feeling the warmth of wine and stillness in me, I know this: loneliness is what we solitary people feel when we wallow in and pine about the past, rather than bathe and swim in it. Swim in the now. Swim towards the future. I wish you were here.
I catch a glimpse of the beach as I turn the tight hairpin; by sheer good fortune just happening to permit myself a brief glance away from the road. I stop in the next available place and hike down along no obvious path, occasionally having to retrace my steps when faced with impossible descents. I make it, and find the magic. Just me; the crystalline, barely-moving blueness, swimming through swaying weeds, light and shade, and shifting shoals of iridescent life. I hang there, allowing the tiny ripples to gently rock my old body. I feel weightless and young again.
And here they are, those skinny, delta-faced cats. Like so much else on Astypalea, they’re a bit more traditional here, meaning not in good shape. A pretty black one with a front leg missing, taken off right up to her chest. Watching her struggle to walk makes my heart ache. And there’s the little fighter with half his nose gone, probably to some untreated infection. He’s insistent about sharing my fish. I give generously, but when I reach for my iPad he sinks his claws into my hand, hoping there’s another tasty morsel in it. Naturally, I forgive him.
Swimming in solitude; literally and figuratively. When I came here alone in 2009 I struggled, and found the weight of my emotions a burden. There was a ghost to be laid, and there was a new way of being to come to terms with. On only the second day I nearly cracked, and seriously planned to leave the next day. But then something wonderful happened and I stayed, and was so glad I did. I suppose this time I am, again, looking to come to terms with things, and perhaps I am doing, but not in any way I hoped.
I met you once, Maroula. I recognised you instantly from the photo on the website. A big lady with a big, beaming smile. One of those people clearly filled with passion: for what you do, for life, and for other people. One of those people so not like me. You enthused about your food, and your enthusiasm made me enthuse about things too. You seemed to like me. But then, you seemed to like everyone. I met you twice, Maroula, at your restaurant again, the next evening, and you hugged me and double-kissed me.
You made me feel English.
Seventy quid for a new mask and snorkel. I wanted good ones. So what if I was only going to be there two weeks? I would snorkel every day, my old gear was perishing, and the snorkel was attached to the mask with an old hair tie, from the long hair days.
The new gear was not as good as the old. The mask misted like a bastard. But I made it work. Spit and polish. And I saw the octopus, and its chameleon beauty. Those eyes. Watching me, watching it. As black and beautiful as mine used to be.
They're dancing in this bar, in Athens. Singing, too. Singing well. Not like the corncrake karaoke cretins of the drunken English pub; the pissed-up proles feeling the need to impose, demonstrate and annoy. No, they are singing like a choir; harmonies and rhythm. And people are spontaneously dancing, arms around shoulders, doing that precise, measured side-stepping dance the Greeks do. With no front, no attitude, and absolutely no self-consciousness or embarrassment. I watch them with joy and envy. And the joy seems like the part that matters. This holiday has done me good. I hope it lasts.
Astypalea airport is just a small no-storey building with a single luggage scanner, a couple of desks, departure and arrivals “lounges” about the size of my living room, a few seats, a couple of toilets and a short, questionably-surfaced airstrip. The plane is a tiny twin prop which gets aloft in about the time it takes a big jet to start rolling after the engines first roar. Ten hours to Athens by ferry; less than an hour like this. A 45-minute metro ride and I am in the teeming madness of it. The shock of the contrast.
And out, away, over. Hours to kill until an evening flight, and all I want to do is wander these blisteringly hot, dirty streets until the last minute, and drink it all in, dry as dust as it is. The sleepy cats in the shade, the graffiti which makes the beautiful ugly, like tattoos for buildings. Perspiration running freely on my forehead and neck, the contrast of a cold beer in a quiet square, droplets of cool sweat condensation on the glass. I rub it over my head and neck, drink, close my eyes, abstract sun dapples, memories of memories.
And here I am, back to the bullshit, the Borises, the Brexit and the limitless, casual smug bastardliness of Britain.
I despise this country. I mean I despise the majority of the people who live in it. The country is fine, at least in the parts where we haven't built a fucking Milton Keynes or a dreadful piece of posturing, self-congratulatory sculpture. But British people make me want to hurl endless angry yards of stinking black venom. Over them all. The fucking Mail readers. The Sun readers. BBC reporters. Guardian writers. And I will celebrate their Brexit-induced pain.
I will drink too much. I will smoke expensive cigars. I will eat meat. I will not be cruel to animals but I am willing to have them die so that I can eat them. I will masturbate to things you may find unpleasant and troubling, and I will do so until that compulsion leaves me. I will say exactly what I feel moved to say, and if it triggers you I will suggest you send me your tears so that I might bathe in them. I will die alone. And you and your absurd politics will not stop me.
They say it has to come down to love. You know who they are: a motley conglomeration of self-important priests, poseurs and pontificators. They say hate is not the answer, as if there even is an answer. As if there even is a question. They write self-help books, and help themselves to the profits. They are shit-boring worms in this stinking midden of a world, and if you buy what they are selling, you are no better than them, and you deserve to be taken. But listen. Listen to me. It has to come down to love.
I am back into magic again. The first time was as a child. I was given a magic set for my birthday, and I was entranced. That I could make seeming miracles occur; the way God could not. The second time was in the nineties, and I was entranced all over again. That I could exercise some control over things, make good things happen, at my bidding to counter the bad things I could not control. And now? I don't know. It has been a very difficult year. But a coin disappears, a card transforms into a different one. Abracadabra.
It has been good to be back. I am a nostalgia addict. I always want to go back. To this site, to all the places and people I have loved, to my past; even the bad parts. I dream of the past, every night. I think about the past. Because the past is what we have lost, and that stuff matters, precisely because it is lost. We still have what we have, but the past is lost forever. This month I did things again. And in doing things again, I created more past. It has been good to be back.
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