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My upstairs neighbour is not long for the world. If he’s not about to die physically then his mind is clearly on its last legs, as it were. He looks dreadful: sunken, sallow cheeks covered in a threadbare three-day thatch of can’t-be-bothered beard; a severe stoop that would make his tall, skinny frame look like a battered bishop’s crook were it not for his pot belly. Misted eyes that always seem to be lost in that mist... and he will not do what he promised, and complete paperwork to extend my lease. We will both die here.
It’s just beautiful out there today. A crisp, frosty morning and a sky of such clarity that the distant outlines of buildings are so razor-edged they almost hurt your eyes. And just now, speeding into a sunset in which the wash of red and orange is spread so widely that a whole semicircle of horizon glows like a brazier, the rails ahead blazing with it, like they are fresh out of the furnace; the first stars scattered overhead like cold sparks. I love winter days like this. I love them more fiercely and achingly as they become ever rarer.
I am a “city boy” by nature. The thought of relocating somewhere “more peaceful” or, heaven forbid, to the soulless bland nullity of “the suburbs” fills me with a sort of nauseous horror. It seems odd, given what a loner and misanthrope I am, but I think it has to do with the way the bustle of the city allows people like me to disappear, to be ignored, to glide through the traffic and the endless anonymous faces like an unseen ghost. The city buries you, enfolds you like a blanket. It suits introverts and oddballs in a unique way.
I used to say that when death comes for me, I don’t want to know about it. I had an uncle who died in his sleep at the age of fifty; a great-uncle who died instantly whilst chatting on a bus. I used to want a death like that. You always said you’d rather know about it; be aware that you were going. About fifteen years ago I decided I agreed with you. Almost two years of health worries and medical tests have, perhaps strangely, only made me feel that way more strongly. I want to know it’s coming.
My head buzzes with thoughts of violent revolution, but then the angry bees escape, as I remember once again that the majority of the lumpen numpties and knee-jerk nitwits in this shabby little nation of mine do not want it. They want to be ruled by the lying tousle-headed toff and his rich boy cohort. Because he’s a “character”. He “says what he means”, and who cares if its the truth or not? And Corbyn is a commie anti-semite because rich media barons say so. No revolution, then. Maybe a suicidal killing spree is the only option.
Champagne is overrated, whereas caviar is overpriced. Obviously I understand that the more expensive caviars are highly priced because of the relative rarity of the product, and in that sense a high price is justified. What I mean by “overpriced” is that the undoubted pleasure of the taste seems insufficient to justify the price, just as gemstones will always seem to be overpriced pretty stones. But champagne seems to me to be judged as inherently better than it is. I’ve had some of the best, most famous and expensive champagnes, and they have all basically tasted of slightly sophisticated cider.
I’m not thinking much about my upcoming skiing holiday. I find I do this now that I’m verging on being an old man. When I was younger I eagerly anticipated the annual mountain thrills with all the excitement I used to await Christmas, as a child. I used to dream about skiing. I did my exercises assiduously, starting in October, or November at the latest. Now, I still do some training but I seem to enjoy the actual trip more if I don’t give it much attention until it happens. Then it’s like the joy of that surprise Christmas present.
I have been revisited by the night mare disturbingly frequently lately. I had thought the worst of this was in my past, but I suspect a combination of bad insomnia (exacerbated by the accursed and worsening neuropathy) and what one might, with some understatement, call a difficult couple of years, has summoned the beast once more. So, back to the struggles to wake, the breathless yelling from within a failed iron lung, the bursting awake, the pounding heart. I used to joke that this would be how I die. It seems much less like of a joke at my age.
There are so many indications that winters here in England are nowhere near as cold as they used to be. Another one occurred to me today, perhaps because there was actually a bit of a frost, for maybe only the third or fourth time this winter. What occurred to me was this: I haven’t had chapped lips and knuckles for years. I always used to get chapped lips and knuckles from very early in winter and it must be at least ten years since that happened. I have not had to reach for the Vaseline in that long. Oh, behave.
There are no words to describe how much I loathe, despise and abhor you. You and your fucking backpack, which you refuse, like the monstrous subhuman pond life you are, to take off and stand on the floor, like a civilised, decent, humane person would. Don’t fucking touch me, you bastard. Not even a little bit. You brush me and I can feel it, so I know damned well you can feel it too. But you don’t give a shit, do you? If you only knew how close you were to getting your teeth kicked out, I suspect you would.
I have been too timid in life. This might seem a strange thing to say, coming from someone who broke family norms and went to university, got a degree, moved to London, had some success in the early IT industry, relocated to New York for almost seven years, travelled widely (giving up a secure job twice to do so), got heavily into a moderately dangerous sport, and so on. Yet I was too scared to do the things I really should have done, and really wanted. I shall always see myself the way they saw me at school: a pussy.
Today is election day and it feels like being on death row and knowing you will he executed tomorrow. It’s clear the fucking bastards will win, because the stupid bastards who vote have failed to see through the bullshit propaganda of the wealthy bastards who tell them how to vote. So thanks to these bastards (and the bastards who are just plain nasty, xenophobic, and selfish), we will have to bear the pain of continuing to be ruled, ravaged and ruined by bastards. I will try not to make tomorrow’s entry “I told you so” stretched to one hundred words.
What can we say on days like this, we leftists and liberals? I will probably, at some point, deliver some tedious variant on my usual rant against both the forces of the rich and powerful, and the seemingly incorrigible self-harming stupidity of those who believe them, and vote for their representatives. But not today. Not today. Today is a day for numbness and silence, and letting this pervasive sense of cold fury sit there and ferment. And to consider that at the age of sixty I am, for the first time in my life, thinking thoughts of bloody revolution.
I am stalled, and it feels like returning to my natural condition. Last year, in spite - or perhaps because of - my myriad personal problems, I got shit done. Flat: renovated except for one room. Lease extension: wheels put in motion. And now? That one room is still a dumping space for all the junk I moved during the renovation. My neighbour will not move on the lease extension. My garden has also returned to its natural condition: unkempt jungle. I try to maintain composure, but I feel the undercurrent. I am not out of the woods, and never will be.
I am not naive, I have always known this, but the horrific extent to which the media - primarily the mainstream media - actually
social and political attitudes has really become clear in the post-Brexit, post-Corbyn era. In particular, the shameless smearing, misrepresentation of, and outright lying about Corbyn, has shown that when the media really flex their manipulative muscles the effect can be devastating. And they get away with it. There is no accountability. Mistrust the media, always. Get your information from diverse sources. Look for hard data and verifiable evidence wherever possible. Also, fuck the bastard BBC.
I have never felt such a sense of political hopelessness in my life. Not even during the Thatcher era, because throughout those mean, dark years there was always, bubbling underneath, optimism, hope, and righteous anger; a sense that it was very much us against them, that eventually we would overcome. Not now. Not least because the “them” now includes so many people who should be “us”. If they prefer Johnson’s lies and bluster to the humanity of Labour’s manifesto, then I see no hope, no cause for optimism. The bastards really did for us this time. They divided and conquered.
Part of the problem is that we are so mentally lazy, as a species. Look around. Look at all those joggers, doggedly pounding through the streets and parks in all weathers. Look at the number of thriving gyms. Look at us, working our bodies, pushing the reps to breaking point, then instantly checking texts or Snapchat or Instagram while we rest. I’ve never before seen so many six packs and tight arses. Yet to read serious, factual, political and philosophical material? Ain’t nobody got time for that. We are willing to work for ripped bodies, but we need ripped minds.
“Your relentless negativity is useless and exhausting, Jack!”, they say. “Be more positive! Pessimism and defeatism gets you nowhere!”, they say. Do they imagine I don’t know that? I also know that their idiotic and largely mindless positivity will have precisely the same effect, in the long run. “Positive” people are just a royal pain in the arse. Their coping mechanism is essentially to blinker themselves against reality. I used to deal with them by repeatedly whacking them over their sunny little skulls with a hardback copy of “Candide”, but now... eh, life’s too short, and so is my patience.
Most of the UK is fine with a proven serial liar and self-serving swine like Johnson. Trump’s impeachment means nothing. The Senate will save him, and the whole thing will simply rally his rabid base. We live in a world where most people don’t care about truth, logic and reason. Mindless support for the tribe is the order of the day. We saw it over Brexit, we saw it in the election and they’re seeing it in the States right now. Fiddling while Rome burns. Planet Earth is in the process of cleaning house. We’re going down.
I don’t get much abuse in my job, but I do get some. I get a lot more online, perhaps because I do like to troll a little, on occasion, not to mention not being averse to delivering a bit of abuse myself. What I do know is that I’m immune to it. Call me what you want. Whatever it is, I’ve been called worse. Just try to keep it consistent. Am I a commie or a fascist? A pussy-whipped feminist or a misogynist bastard? Liberal wimp or bullying thug? I do wish people would make their minds up.
I just cannot abide Johnny Cash. After whining Bob Dylan his popularity baffles me the most. He always sounds like your embarrassing drunk uncle fucking around on the guitar he’s just found in your house. Plonking from C to G to C to G like he thinks that’s “fingerpicking”; grunting tunelessly over the top, his voice sounding about as strong as a terminal lung cancer case, droning out these truly shitty by-the-numbers songs that all sound more-or-less the same... absolutely fucking atrocious, he was. Baffling that he was so loved. The man in black emperor’s clothes.
I am still holding to the idea that for many people, including myself, one’s forties are the best time of life. My fifties were... difficult. A real mixed bag. Wonderful moments, terrible moments. They felt weirdly like my twenties in that they were years of confusion, disappointment, a sense of illusions falling away and fears for what stark realities might replace them. And here I am at sixty, trying to recover from a time of distressing emotional turmoil, and failing to recover from a chronic and deteriorating physical problem. I am not hopeful, but that is hardly a new development.
He’s losing it. I am too, but he’s worse than me. I let things slide; I don’t bother with cleaning or tidying. Clothes, mail and other items fall on the floor until I need them again. Why bother putting things away when there’s just me here? But he shows all the signs of the solitary man really losing the balance. He saves everything. The coloured foil tops to wine bottles. Whisky boxes. Corks. Even the cardboard ad “necklaces” from his wine: in a neat stack, on the table. The solitary older male becomes peculiar. We become “that weird old guy”.
3:45 AM, Christmas Eve. I am on the top deck of the N155 along with the rest of the Night Gang, all on our way to work. It’s different, for us. While the normal people sleep amongst the Christmas lights and trimmings, we are out in the wet darkness, about to do what we do. Wrapped against the not-really-all-that-cold, some still half-sleeping. Not me. I now live in the mental state of the permanent insomniac: the lights are on, somebody’s home, but the wires are frayed and sparking. I’m running, but on fumes, and scared.
It happened; I spent my first Christmas day alone. It felt a little bit lonely but mostly it was fine. Relaxed. Yesterday, after work, I let fate decide the matter. I told myself I’d walk into the first supermarket I passed and, if they had any chickens left, I’d go for it. They did, so I did. Fate decreed I should make myself the Full Monty. Roast chicken, stuffing, parsnips, carrots, potatoes, pigs in blankets, gravy, cranberry. I lit candles and pulled a cracker with myself. Wore the hat, snorked at the bad joke. Drank less than I normally would.
Same again. I went nowhere, saw no one. A relatively decent night’s sleep (at least by my abysmal insomniac standards) and I didn’t get out of bed until around nine thirty. A simple cooked breakfast, coffee, and a day of idle surfing until dinner, which was my family’s traditional leftovers with chips. Even less to drink than yesterday - just two glasses of wine. Virtually teetotal, for me. Like yesterday I also had a slightly ironic individual Christmas pudding with brandy cream. No music. I listened to no music. It is so strange how music has almost gone from my life.
Things I do not understand about people on London buses.
I do not understand why they crowd downstairs when the top deck is almost empty. I do not understand why they stand by the exit, getting in the way of folks trying to alight. I do not understand why they keep pressing the bell when they can hear it has already been pressed, and the sign at the front clearly says “Bus Stopping”. I do not understand why they leave it until the bus has stopped before moving to the exit. I do not understand why they thank the driver.
In my ideal society population will be strictly controlled. Childlessness will be encouraged socially, and in the media. If you have more than two children you will be taxed, increasingly heavily the more you have. Over four and you will be excommunicated. IVF will be illegal. Can’t have children?
. Be proud. There will be huge investment in efficient public transport. Plastic packaging will be banned. Religion will be tolerated but scorned, and have no say in social policy. There will be minimum and maximum wages. I will call this society Brutopia, but ironically. Because it could actually save us.
Adventures in incipient dementia.
Morning ablutions. I wash my face, shave, and clean my teeth. I turn off the tap and at that exact instant I hear an unfamiliar and loud buzzing. What could it be? I remember that during my bathroom refit the plumber fitted a pump to increase my previously pathetic water pressure. Had to be that. I turn off various power supplies to verify my hypothesis. Buzzing continues. Impossible. I am in the twilight zone. But no; I have failed to turn off my toothbrush before standing it down, where it now vibrates merrily against the wall.
Lord, what it is to be loved. Someone does something for you that they didn’t need to do, and they take some time and care about it. They do it because they want to make you happy, and because that makes them happy too. They knit you a pair of socks, or a hat, or a jumper. They cook you a wonderful meal and they know the meal will please you. They listen to you, even when you talk nonsense. They hold you in the night, and stroke you when the nightmares come. Lord, what it is to be loved.
“New Year” is the most arbitrary of annual celebrations and I take no part in it. It has always struck me as vacuous and silly, and I certainly need no extra excuse to get drunk. But of course I am stuck with the calendar, as regulated by it as anyone else, each day a chalk line on the cell wall, the weeks and months oblique strikings-out of those daily bars. This year has, like last year, dragged me along with an undercurrent of sadness, worry and regret. But there were bright, glittering sunflashes on the waves. One in particular.
The Tip Jar