vroom gloom

I reached the school early as usual, a bitterly cold Sunday morning, and began to roll myself a cigarette as soon as I’d taken my helmet and gloves off.  We had the playground and a couple of the surrounding buildings from 8am until 1pm, and most of the students arrived at or around 9am.  One of the other boys had got all the bikes lined up and made sure all the kit was ready, and most of the students arrived on time.  First was the one I’d spoken to on the phone a couple of times.  He arrived on foot, approaching me with an outstretched hand, “you Geoff?” he said, like he knew it was me already, although there was no way he could have been sure.  I said yes and he introduced himself.  We chatted for a while about bikes, our business here, the freezing temperature, this and that.

Then a couple of others turned up, he introduced himself to another lad and they got chatting.  We did the paperwork, checking of licences, there was a bit of waiting round for some stragglers to arrive, then a half hour briefing which one of the other boys gave, then we were away.  He didn’t take to it at all.  Took about an hour for him to stop stalling it.  You could see he was getting more frustrated, angry, on a total downer.  So we separated him and another slow learner for me to take, and the rest of them went off with Dan.  We always try to do that nicely, subtle you know?  So they don’t feel too bad.  He was still struggling with odd bits, didn’t look right or natural to tell the truth, and he was swearing quite a lot at himself too.  There was no way him or the other one were ready to be taken on the road quite yet.

We did as much as we could anyway, then explained that was it, as much as we could do.  They could come back next week when they wouldn’t be starting from scratch and we’d give them another go at it.  Of course it’d be much easier then, now they know everything they’d learnt that morning.  He looked defeated and bitter though, not up for trying again.  “Look, I couldn’t learn what you do for a living in a few hours, could I?” I asked him.
“Yeah, you could,” he said.  “It’s a piece of piss.”
“So, Saturday or Sunday?” I pressed, smiling.
“Saturday,” the other one quickly said.
“What about you?  What do you think?”
“I think I’ll just get a car.”
“Oh, come on!  Saturday or Sunday?”
He was having none of it.
“We’ll see,” he said.  “Cars are more comfortable and I’m less shit at driving them.  Dunno.  Cheers anyway.”
He walked carefully back up through the playground, between the other lads who were getting ready to go out on the road, and back through the housing estate.

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s’cos she’s a woman, innit?

“I just fuckin hate her,” the blue number four said matter-of-factly, his studs clacking back into the changing room.  “First yellow card I’ve got in twenty years’ playing.  Fucking joke.”

“I think she overcompensates, you know,” blue number two contributed, kicking off a long sock.  “Feels like she needs to dish out cards to mark her authority.”

“What gets me is she says I swore at her and I totally fucking never, I can assure you.”

The female referee, a burly lady who the blues had been refereed by once or twice before, did distribute cards more than other referees at that level.  But she wasn’t a poor referee for it; had bad games and good games like everyone.  In fact, having a lady referee generally made players less prone to vehemently dispute decisions.  When a decision went against a player whose natural reaction would be to turn round and challenge it, they held themselves back, clamped on the brakes: ooh, it’s a woman, they remembered, better not. 

At least that was the case at first.

Today those brakes weren’t highly obvious, but nor were they non existent.  It certainly wasn’t a game outstanding in its rampant dissent.  Either way, she’d seemed less patient than normal, calling the captains together at one point in the second half, briefing them not to allow their players to give any more stick to the decisions, just play.

Blue number six suspected that she halted the game to give the captains this message because she’d blown her whistle without knowing what her decision was going to be: who to award the free kick to.  Then she couldn’t make her mind up.  It wasn’t clear cut, there was a messy tangle of bodies before red number eight emerged with the ball at his feet.  He swore loudly to the skies in frustration on hearing the whistle.  “Shat iiiit!” she yelled at him. 

While she spoke to the captains, blue number six approached a team-mate and two opposition players milling around the centre circle.  “It’s not really much worse than any normal game though, is it?”  They all shrugged at each other, agreeing, united in not quite understanding her excessive sensitivity.

———

It’s reflected in a pricked buzz, then growing roar of crowds: that precious momentary realisation that your team has the measure of the opposition.  Shit.  We can actually do this.  At lower leagues where there is little to no crowd, there’s still an almost palpable excitement which sits in the pit of the belly and should be ignored.  Shit, we can actually do this.  The opposition isn’t all that good for once.  We could take these.  Stop it!  Concentrate.

So it was yesterday afternoon, from blue number six’s centre back position, he watched his team-mates suddenly begin to play, undaunted, free, quick and snappy, for the first time in months.  Even though they were already one-nil down by virtue of a typically slow start, they began to string it together.  Six vaguely remembered this feeling: peripheral and isolated by his defensive position, jealous, outside looking in.  Blue’s youngsters had the legs on them, the angles and the confidence, the passes neat and progressive.  It wasn’t recognisable at all.  They went into half-time 3-1 up and ambled over to the touchline, shellshocked by their success.  Nobody really knew what to say.

Despite inevitably contriving to almost throw it away at the end, the blues ran out slender 4-3 victors, the temper of number four still marred by the referee’s alarming whim of flourishing cards.

proof

I’ve been fiddling with one large body of words for a long time.  Hacking back, plopping on, lopping off, squeezing in and scratching out.  Occasionally even writing from fresh.  They recently amassed a decent collective number and loose cohesion which I didn’t altogether hate.  While I’m confident that it’s not that good, for all its silly, disjointed, fragmented, clunky and unconvincing meanderings, I don’t think it’s totally without merit either.

Without decimating it completely, I wanted to make alterations and notes that you can only do by editing holistically on paper.  These, I told myself, make you feel like you’re making bold linear progress; you’re not going round and round in scraggy unstructured circles like you do on screen.

This afternoon I took a walk up the high street to my local printers, a small hive of warm burring and whizzing boxy white machines, white paper, white folders, white boxes and walls; that faint punky scent of ink lingering in the air.  Two men, one older heading for retirement, one young middle age.  I handed the latter my little blue USB key and felt bare and vulnerable, like I’d just given away my child. 

How often do they see this?  Pretenders, wannabes, dreamers, or even imminent successes?  Standing over the right shoulder of the younger man, I steered the cursor through my folders to the relevant file, then double clicked.  Seeing the page there on screen there in front of a real person for the first time made me feel more naked. 

Don’t-look-at-it, don’t-look-at-it, don’t-look-at-it.  I almost wanted to whine atonally like a disturbed child.  But didn’t. 

He professionally took my instructions, made a few clicks, closed the windows and gave me back the USB key.

It cost more to print than I would pay for any book.  Which again made me wonder why I was doing this.  Just for fun?  Because I really do have way too much time on my hands?  I forked out a note to the older man, then shuffled towards the door to wait.  Nobody tried to make any sort of small talk throughout our transaction, it was all quite male.

The act of printing itself took little under five minutes and seemed both incidental and significant: the micro-realisation of something which had been worked on for so long.  A labour of sorts, following a prolonged period of electronic gestation, (although if a human foetus were subjected to a gestation like that, it’d probably be born some sort of freakish mutant).  Equally, a big printer noisily spitting lots of words onto lots of sheets of paper. 

I looked alternately at nothing on my phone and nothing out of the window for a couple of minutes.  Then the older chap gently alerted me, proferring a white box in my direction.

Pushing the door closed behind me, the shopkeepers may have laughed.  Another one!  Did you see any of the words?  Just the title; that was enough.  It was even worse than that one last week, the mug.

Will I manage to read it all without wanting to burn it?

eastern block

Maybe, you think.  This one, this time, and you offer yourself hope.  Your luck is bound to change if you keep the faith and maintain some effort.  Isn’t it?  They wrote so well you thought they must be a native speaker.  A telephone accent suggested overseas somewhere.  but Macedonia, you still wouldn’t have guessed.  Not unattractive, if alternatively dressed and decorated.  Easily distracted, self-conscious, head overflowing with words, but not the assertion and command to deliver them.  Then faltering and smearing the end of sentences before unnecessarily berating and apologising.  Damaged.  And, more than likely: a bit mad.  You’d feel nervous about entering into anything casual in fear of finding her threatening to jump off a bridge of something.  Not necessarily because of you; because of anything.  You’re here now, you tell yourself, don’t be too hasty or dismissive.  Conversation ebbs and flows with varying degrees of fluency: sometimes reasonable, other times not.  You express your fear of silences, particularly in scenarios like this – there should easily be enough things to say, right? – and your need to fill them.  You usually do this with possibly excessively rapid questions, in a style that might appear interregatory or intimidating to the timid.  You’re simply trying to elicit animation of some kind, vivacity perhaps, or at least a passionate belief or interest.  There’s a cultural divide to how this is expressed, you come to realise.  You expect or hope for some explosive expression of physical and facial interest, recognition, identification.  Something which can mutually infect and encourage a commonality.  It doesn’t arrive, is always demonstrated in a rather more flat and controlled way; everything feels like hard work.  Not many hints to emotion or understanding.  You uncertainly deploy attempted humour, not knowing if it’s understood because the reception is always the same: a meekly turned cheek.  So you qualify that it’s a joke, you were teasing, and you ask if they do understand this.  Yes, they do understand, they say, looking left and right while trying to squeeze out their words.  But there’s no western indication: a smile, a raised eyebrow, a riposte of any sort, which suggests in the moment that they really do.  And it’s not helped by the fact that you don’t understand everything they say when they eventually speak fast about their interests.  They’re clearly smart, well-read, and when they focus and engage you, it feels like they’re properly listening.  Because it’s often you doing the talking.  You become self conscious about asking quickfire questions, which are met with little more than one, two, or three word answers.  When finally you leave, you still doggedly try to evoke animation of some kind, “banter,” “chemistry,” perhaps.  “HAVE A PERSONALITY!” you almost want to scream.  You’re not a gazillion miles away from there some days yourself, but at least you can pretend to be a reasonably balanced, confident individual.  Give it a go?  No?  Sure?  Nada.  Kiss-kiss.  Bye then, nice to meet you.

why my father scares me

It was at a rare away game a couple of years ago that we first spoke about it properly.  In a pub beforehand, roughly equidistant between Birmingham New Street station and Birmingham City’s St Andrew’s ground.  A rough and ready sort of venue with no furnishings that would take more than a few minutes to clean.

“It’s a chemical imbalance in the brain,” Dad vehemently explained mental health, depression.  He’s taken medication for years, but is still prone to slumps like today.  Days where his face looks like it might spontaneously fold in on itself.  Days when he’s paralysed by it and Mum bitches about him more than usual.  “He’s done absolutely nothing today, sat there and dozed most of the afternoon.  Then he’ll moan about not sleeping tonight. Could be because he hasn’t been able to exercise, but, you know…?”  I never know.

It could also be because we have an extended family gathering tomorrow.  Not only is Dad crap with children, he also struggles in groups like this.  Which I find strange.  He says he can’t do professional networking, yet he affects an extrovert’s cloak of sociability each Friday night at the small local pub amongst fellow villagers.  He can take the attention then, enjoys it, bathes in it even; he’s done auctioneering and revels in any kind of public speaking.

I cannot fathom why the family scenarios challenge him – still because of his own tricky upbringing, which he left aged fifteen?  Is that still a viable excuse?

So, he could well be nervous, despite the veneer.

During Match Of The Day this evening, Gary Lineker mentioned the mental anguish of a player – Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar screaming at his goalkeeper for unnecessarily kicking a ball long and conceding possession.

This is probably entirely coincidental, but I glanced over to my father and saw him wiping an eye.  He’d looked fragile and on the verge of tears all evening, which isn’t uncommon when he’s like this.  The gesture of hand to eye, whether meaningful or not, added to mopey face: some might want to slap (my mother, brother), but to me it twanged something.  Perhaps because I sense his genes more closely than I’d like.

This physically reflected sagginess of his is never as explicit when there’s company outside us immediate three: my parents and I.  When my brother and his family are here, the carte blanche to wallow is rescinded and he tries harder to banish these external signs.  He looks like the saddest person in the world.  “Just feeling a bit run down,” is all I get on asking him directly if he’s ok.  Mum’s sympathy has long run out, and I can’t blame her.  She just perceives the laziness.

It terrifies me from a selfish point of view too, because I can feel or sense the instability sometimes, the crushing disappointment in self.  Perhaps not to the extent he does.  Hopefully not.  Though perhaps more; I struggle to envisage myself achieving what he’s achieved personally or professionally.

I never want to take medication to regulate emotion – though I’m also aware that this isn’t as uncommon as you might think: I know of several young girls who have; my ex did (pre-me, I might add).

But at not infrequent low, self absorbed ebbs when dark thoughts rise to the top, I feel those infected genes of his fizzing around my neurons like predators, just waiting.  We’ll come, they tease.  Just you wait.

“I get it too sometimes,” I admitted to Dad in that dodgy Brummy pub.  He kept claiming that it’s a chemical imbalance, scientifically proven, like he was almost proud, or at pains to state that he wasn’t some totally freakish fuckup.  We then discussed my brother’s typically effortless scepticism, his shrugging outlook: life is easy, just get on with it.  Which he has and does infuriatingly well.

It’s like a neverending, clawing rugby challenge which tries to haul you down.  Sometimes you feel its gravity harder than others and it takes more effort to carry on, keep going. Other times you’re barely aware that it’s there and breeze through.  But always you live in the nervous fear that it might one day manifest itself in a new and extreme way, succeed in dragging you to the floor and pinning you there.

January sustenance

Reading:

Doris Lessing – The Golden Notebook
Its density makes it pretty hard work. but potentially rewarding if stuck with.  Which I don’t know if I will.

 Tom Perrotta – Bad Haircut
Book of coming-of-age short stories by one of my author finds of last year.  All vividly told and set around middle-american suburbs.  All crackle with first-person authenticity.

Douglas Kennedy – Leaving The World
Latest of increasingly generic Kennedy novels, always annoyingly readable.  A bizarre twist of plot at the end appeared from nowhere like an unnecessary, possibly forced extension. 

David Vann – Legend Of A Suicide
Alerted to this through a Daily Mayo Book Review podcast a few months ago, taken by claims it was like nothing you’ve ever read before and the general plaudits which most books reviewed on the show obligatorily earn.  This short book gives several perspectives on the suicide of the narrator’s father.  Part fact based, as the writer’s father did commit suicide, it has disappointed me to now.  Strangely impenetrable to read in places, possibly through bad writing.  Hoping for it to spark up in the mid-section.

It did, remarkably so, and was fully, vividly engaging for a long period.  But for such a slim book to only spark into life in the mid-section; is that enough?

Nick Hornby – Double A-Side
My books had run out when I took a walk along the high street and popped into several charity shops, scanning the bookshelves with nothing in mind.  The library had yielded nothing that I was after and I was even considering buying books full price from a proper bookstore.  Eventually I bought a handful from Amazon. 

But not before I bought this.  Last read well over half my lifetime ago, I must have been around 12 or 13 when I first read Fever Pitch, and not much more when I read High Fidelity.  Both of these are in contained in the one paperback, bought for a quite brilliant £1.49  So although I’ve read the majority of Hornby’s canon since then, his earliest name-making work is largely distant to me.

Fever Pitch is first and foremost an illuminating memoir of an obsessive football fan, which you may or may not empathise with.  Most striking to me on this reading is how it has aged already, from publication.  It was first published around 1992/93 – a time when I attended my first professional game, paying £4 at the turnstile to stand on Liverpool’s Kop: a cost and experience which now feels as distant and alien to me as those which Hornby writes about. 

In the early nineties Arsenal’s old ground, Highbury, still stood and many top flight football stands across England were in the midst of being converted to all seater stadia for the new Premier League.  Back then, Arsenal were in the very early stages of a huge change which has changed the club almost beyond recognition.  Hard as this is for a Spurs fan to say, you could make a strong argument for today’s Arsenal embodying a spirit of class, style and total football like no other team in the league.  Gone is the proudly stolid dullness through which George Graham ground out a title, evaporated is the raw and proud working men’s atmosphere.  I visited the Emirates recently for a conference in one of the plush corporate areas in a main stand.  How far removed was this from Hornby’s Highbury?  And how does he feel about that?  Such a massive transition, led by the apparent prudence of Dein and Wenger, which appears to have transformed everything about the football club.  Yes there are photos, decorations and banners in and around the ground which give a nod to their history, but it’s easy to forget and easy to miss.  When you’re standing there in that gallingly (for a Spurs fan) advanced stadium, looking around at the rich facilities, absorbing the new urbane red London verve and swagger, it could be an altogether different club from the one Hornby evokes.  Surely the time is nigh for some sort of follow up?

———–

Listening:

Ellie Goulding
(promising pretty-voiced guitarry lady, though am total sheep in being told who’s hot and new by the obligatory and long ago exhausting new year lists.)

Delphic
(Electro indie-dance in the vein of the often overlooked The Music, but for now. Full album out soon, liking what’s on Spotify after initially sneering.)

Cold War Kids – Behave Yourself EP
(Good whiney melodies.  I personally added to the EP playlist a previously unknown, brilliantly dark, mournful Placebo B-side, Running Up That Hill – cover of Kate Bush track.  Alerted to by its current use on a film trailer).

Manchester Orchestra
Recently put onto these by a friend.  A staggeringly good tip.  From Atlanta, Georgia and yet to make much of an impression this side of the pond (always makes you feel like an intrepid Columbus-like explorer), the young indie, guitar driven band can do both spittingly venomous angry punk, and softer balladry with equally good effect.  Two albums so far, still young, both well worth a listen.

My Latest Novel
Half aware of these already, Last.FM application reintroduced me and I poked around in Spotify to gather their latest album.  Woozily slow-paced acoustic melodies I still haven’t yet properly explored, but which bode well for bedtime music.

————

Watching

Nowhere Boy
(John Lennon’s early years; dysfunctional bi-polar Mum excellently played by Ann-Marie Duff.  Actor who plays Lennon himself is ok but doesn’t even attempt to emulate Lennon’s distinctive nasal whine vocals when he sings, and instead honks rather blandly.  Irked a little.)

Gigantic
Part creation / production of Paul Dano, of There Will Be Blood fame.  Kooky whimsical oddness, but always watchable, in no small part thanks to always airily compelling Zooey Deschanel.  Yes she does often play the same character in everything she does, but it’s quite an adorable one. 

Away Days
Football hooliganism film.  Had already watched at the cinema.  Good in what it does, emotionally trying to tackle wooar, men, fighting, booze, birds in a “deep” way.  Didn’t warrant a second watch.

The Road
Slow burned and eventually lured you into believing and caring about the epic father/son relationship.  Wasn’t moved until the final scene.  Probably would warrant a second watch.  Felt ignorant for not having read the book.

Mesrine (Part 1)
Gloriously brutal and quite silly, though based on true story.  Vincent Cassell a quite excellent bastard.  Scene where he holds pistol in his new wife’s mouth while their son watches from the landing is particularly harrowing.  Descends into A-Team like shootouts, but never less than decent fun.

Up In The Air
The opening half is almost unbearably smug, or that may just be acclimatising to the horribly flawless George Clooney.  Didn’t agree with a Kermode review that said the gnarly challenging opening and perspective of Clooney’s character was a strength.  I found it tedious.  Retrieved and redeemed itself from so-so clutches through a sporadically sharp script, and a necessarily unsatisfying end, which pleased me. 

17 Again
Silly, feather-lite, could probably consume in a coma. But for all that, not unenjoyable.

Mesrine (Part 2)
Largely as the first part, the he bounces around Europe a little more, taking in women with slightly unconvincing effortlessness.  Its charms slowly wained as I willed the Police to close in and shoot him.  That the whole film opened with the scene of his death was a strange call which drastically reduced the tension at its close.

Brothers
Natalie Portman was the only thing I knew of this film, going in.  It was enough, frankly.  She’s beautiful and talented and her work rarely disappoints, as this didn’t.  Not flawless, a remake of a Swedish film of the same equivalent name, it tells the tale of Portman’s husband, Tobey Maguire, who gets all screwed up by nasty war experiences in Afghanistan, and accuses his brother, Jake Gyllenhall of poking his lady.  Overwraught towards the end, and with a squeltchyness of emotion which is becoming all too typical in all-star cast Hollywood flicks, it did still have a handful of excellently played domestic scenes.  The two young daughters of Portman/Maguire were great, and mealtime awkwardness felt crisply authentic. 

The Killer
DVD forced upon me by a friend.  A Hong Kong shoot-em up thriller which I tried but failed to take seriously.  It was like watching a playground of infants playing an army game, the acting just as good.  Managed about half hour.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs
This was warmly received on its cinematic release, a children’s cartoon film with less serious aspirations than ‘Up’, but equally effective, if not moreso.  Imaginative in creation, you could see why it would appeal to gluttonous children and America, its humour was also right up there, a couple of killer bad/good joke lines causing involuntary blurts.  Not entirely devoid of emotion either, regularly dysfunctional and inarticulate father/son relationships well painted through a repeated, but never laboured gag, with the creators’ hallmark dash.

A DVD extra even included a simple, pleasing up/down/left/right game, controlled using the remote: certain to keep an infant amused for a further five or ten minutes.  Heartily recommended.

London – a city that sleeps quite sensibly really

Walking through the centre of a very cold, very quiet London in the very wee hours of this morning, it struck me again as a city which really does sleep. And it even puts the lights out at quite a sensible hour.  There are some cities which pride themselves on never sleeping – Las Vegas (which barely merits a time zone), New York.  But a couple of times now I’ve screwed up transport, as last night, endangered my homeward route for the sake of another one last pint and made a couple of drink-clouded tube-line decisions only to find myself at Waterloo after my last train has gone.

It means a growl, a withering shake of the head at being an idiot and the realisation that there’s nothing and nobody else to blame except me.  Never for a moment considering anything so lavish as a cab, it also means an eerily quiet half hour walk back over Hungerford Bridge, up the Strand, left through Covent Garden, weaving on through Soho – which you might expect to be the part which doesn’t sleep, but large parts of it really do seem to – then up to Tottenham Court Road.

Of course last night was an especially bitter, freezing one which may have dissuaded any potential partygoers, but even so it wasn’t unaligned with previous experience.  Well-insulated chefs and doormen smoked cigarettes at side doors and chatted with cabbies, but by and large it was deathly quiet.  You might expect something more of Soho, London, England, UK, baby.  As I zigzagged the blocks up through Soho with my music playing, covered by lifesaving woolly hat, gently lulled by the anomalous stillness, I pondered my chances of being mugged.  I couldn’t hear much outside my music, I didn’t feel as lightheaded as I had an hour previous, the chill wind serving some sobering function – particularly slicing on the deserted commuter bridge over the river.  But it was still very much in my system.  I should’ve probably turned down my music anyway, tried to be more alert.

Spewed out of Soho I hit the larger shopping streets again, other wobbly straggling drinkers now presenting themselves.  A red LCD display at the bus stop mercifully told me I only had five minutes to wait.

feeling like (a) charity

My cranky old landlady is lovely, mad as a box of frogs, but lovely.  Profoundly deaf to the extent that conversations are rarely two-way, you try to enunciate clearly so she can lipread, but still suspect she’s more interested in what she’s saying than what you, or indeed anyone else has to say.

Like my own mother, and they’re similar ages, she’s an old school twitterer who has to verbalise everything.  The sort you couldn’t imagine sitting still long enough to watch a feature film, at least not without some serious fidgeting.

Given her effervescent eccentricities it’s curious that she manages a considerably sized ward for the mentally ill.  It supported my hunch that those professionally inclined towards basic sympathetic care aren’t always the best equipped with empathy.  I was always bewildered by my mother’s long and apparently rewarding term as a Samaritan.

My landlady likes me, a lot, but it’s easy charming most women over 40.  I keep my flat clean, pay my rent, am polite, helpful (“What’s Amazon?…  ‘Down Loading, you say?’ – Don’t go speaking a different language on me now,”) occasionally cheeky but never push it.

She’d made quite a thing about my Christmas present, asked me my parents’ address and had it sent there.  “You must open it last now, on Christmas Day, you promise?”  She often asks me to promise her things which are actually favours she’s doing me.  “You will let me clean your kitchen while you’re gone?  You promise?”

I hadn’t thought THAT much about the gift – decent bottle of Scotch perhaps?  Nice Thai bride like a few doors down?  Feeling the urge to reciprocate on some level, I’d left a small bottle of bubbly and chocolates inside the oven, where I knew she’d be cleaning as she has an absurd attachment to the oven in my flat.

Dad handed me a modest looking envelope from under the tree on Christmas Day.

An ordinary Christmas card… then.. my face fell as, one by one, twenty pound notes came dripping out.  Twenty of them.  Two hundred stupid pounds, which she’d brazenly just send through the post.  The lunatic.  I felt saddened and grossed out.  Did she consider how I might feel to get this, or just think about the act of donating?  Or did she just automatically presume I’d be delighted for two hundred quid?

I freelance, mostly from home, and don’t think she quite appreciates how much work you can get done online today.  Not sure how much she believes me when I say I’m doing ok, getting by.

I didn’t know what to do with it, this oddly vulgar seeming wad of cash.  Didn’t feel comfortable accepting it.  If she’d just said she’d only charge me half rent over Christmas instead, I’d have gratefully accepted and just tweaked my standing order details online.  Having it physically in front of me like that was altogether different.

She keeps some grand gestures like this from her husband, so I resolved to check with him that he knew, make clear that I would return if he wanted, or donate to a charity.  Though it’s in twenty pound notes, it still doesn’t feel right keeping some and giving the rest away.

A couple of hours ago I mentioned it to him and he waved me away with a “that’s what she’s like,” or words to that effect.  It still feels weirdly sordid and unearned, so I shan’t tell her, will act grateful and overwhelmed, but think I’ll donate to the Alzheimers charity my Dad’s running the marathon for.  Mental health seems fitting.

Just alcohol

I remember little of the end of the New Year’s Eve house party I attended, but images posted on Facebook suggest I was as drunk as my physiology told me the next morning.  I’d dashed from the lounge, which was occupied by other dormant party remnants, across the hallway to a bathroom where I clung to porcelain for dear life.  First heave saw red gloopy port, mixed with takeaway chips.  Maybe a splash of liquified pizza from earlier.  This accounted for the first two or three hop and skips from sleeping bag and makeshift cushion bed.  One of my temporary room-mates kindly made me a cup of tea.  The handful of sips I took promptly came back up.  Then thick dark yellow syrupy gunk, the origins of which I couldn’t accurately account for.  I decided to try being vertical for a while, showered and changed.  Returning to the lounge, I found that the other souls had stirred.  They dealt me the usual sympathy-cum-mirth often afforded to hungover zombies.  The nearby smell of frying eggs turned my stomach, magnetically pulled at my stomach-lining.  I couldn’t stay there, although I still felt dreadful: stomach grinding, head as if pincered between crocodile jaws.  I don’t think you should drive right away, someone told me.  Go for a walk.  I agreed, having had similar thoughts, and walked the short distance to the town’s high street, perusing newspapers in Smith’s.  Standing there disinterestedly scanning front page headlines, it came again.  Possibly provoked by the confusing mix of warm store heating with bracing cold air outside.  Tongue began sweating, palpitating, mouth warm and expectant, stomach churned.  A wind-up toy being wound up, I panicked, jogged for a sidestreet a few yards away, racing my body acids, turned the corner, planted a hand against a wall, heaved.  First nothing: dry, then the yellow stuff again.  Blinded with tears, I turned away, shamed by the presence of a couple of respectable looking passers-by, who looked oblivious to me – as you would.  Catching a reflection in a shop window, I felt dirty, disgusted and tramp-like, albeit momentarily improved. 

On ignition, the engine instantly began chugging, the metal shell rattling around me, my guts following suit.  They moaned further with prolonged movement and groaned on leaning through roundabouts.  I was as nervous of braking and only minimally sending my stomach lurching forward, as I was of stealthy burps and the ongoing havoc they could reek.  Through controlled slow breathing I successfully reeled it in.  For at least three quarters of my 40 minute journey anyway.  Thanks to a passenger window lowered to allow a funnel of raking cold air, and the enforced rare absence of music for the sake of my arrow-spiked head, most of the journey was manageable.  Ten minutes from home it came again.  Tongue sweat (if that’s possible), mouth warm, slow grinding stomach, the eerie premonition of tightening volcanic body heat.  I found a lay-by, pulled in, leapt out, stepped towards some bushes.  Nothing.  Tears, spit and bile.  Nothing else.  Calm breathing.  Ok, we’re good.  I moved away again.  No more than several hundred yards before it was back again; more threatening this time.  I panicked, unsure where the next safe lay-by was, then it quickly presented itself.  Take Two saw tangible product: the yellow bile again, the icy cold hand of death on the back of my neck as I bent double at the side of the rural A-road, a failed and broken man.  Again I felt marginally better. 

The afternoon was spent dozing and shivering alcohol out of my system. But slowly recovering and realising no, it wasn’t impending death.  Just alcohol.  Nothing more.

Mum: incessant verbalising of an original twitterer

Mum incessantly verbalises what sounds like absolutely EVERYTHING that occupies in her brain.  It’s beginning to wear. “Ooh, dishcloths, forgot them…. Have to de-ice the car because it’s frosty, I’ll just start the engine now and keep it running…wonder how busy Tesco’s will be.”  I think she goes shopping every other day simply for something to do.  “Now, I’m off, sure you don’t want anything?  Ooh, purse, library books, I’ll get new ones now you see..”  I smile and nod, possibly failing to entirely disguise my faint withering.  You hear properly old people doing this: “ooh spinach, can’t remember the last time I had spinach!” but I reckon Mum’s stolen a march early.  It’s also possible I feel her twittering more keenly because I’m the polar opposite: living alone, seldom actually speaking any of the fetid nonsense which swirls round my head, whether that’s my generally joyless existence, or that I need to buy new dishcloths.  Keeping it snugly locked inside, eating away. 

But Mum, oh Mum, bless her.  It wouldn’t surprise me if she soon began announcing, “Ooh I think I’ll breathe in.  Now I’ll breathe out.  Now in again..”