another example

It’s possible that I’m over inflating this one, but it’s further proof, if any more were needed, of my continued gross ineptitude.

—————-

It’s about 1am and you’re standing at the night bus stop attempting to recall the mesh of conversations from the two distinct halves of the evening.  You’re not closed to the idea of one more.

A fraught looking bottle blonde approaches: dark roots, pale complexion, black leather jacket, similar age, imposing and steely but not unattractive.  You exchange a glance as she nears the shelter to wait.  Another glance, half smile which says tsk, reduced to this whole night bus thing again, eh? You dismiss the idea of saying something out loud. Ludicrous idea.

She digs through a handbag and extracts a packet of cigarettes, lights one and smokes deeply, therapeutically, like she needs it.  A taxing evening shepherding a drunken friend?  An argument with her boyfriend?  ‘Looks therapeutic,’ you could say, and chat from there.  She glances in your direction again and you both look away.

You don’t like smoking generally but sympathise with the manner in which she does, perhaps she half expects you to ask her for one.  You don’t smoke.  She smokes considerately though, not too close, it twines and floats upwards into the mild, neon-lit Piccadilly sky.  Looks therapeutic, you could still say?  Why not?

You don’t.

Your bus arrives when she’s a couple of puffs from the end of her cigarette.  She’s not rushing and could easily be waiting for one of the many other buses which go from here.  You’re an idiot, you think, and shuffle towards the braking double decker with a small throng of revellers.  In you step with the other bleary dregs, none misbehaved, bleeping your Oyster card before selecting the back seat of the lower deck.  A dozen more people enter the vehicle after you, evenly splitting themselves between the upper and lower decks.

Then the fraught blonde.  As she steps aboard your eyes briefly connect before flitting away.  There are still plenty of seats available but she walks down the aisle and takes the backwards-facing seat which directly faces you.  You uncross your legs to allow more space.

You could still say something.  What?  Would it need to be a good line?  Or could it just be anything?  It doesn’t matter that much.  You’ve shared enough space and time for it not to seem too out of the blue now.  You’re thinking about it too much.  Minutes and miles pass as you mull your lines and the bus rolls West.

You dickhead, you tell your reflection.

She scrutinises her iPhone with thick industrious looking hands, dials a number but doesn’t speak, looks at it again.  Short stubby fingernails, partly nibbled?  You notice her phone has a seriously smashed screen and the unconsidered words tumble from your mouth, “What dyou do there?”

“Forgot it was on my lap when I got out of the car,” she says, “skidded along the pavement.”  She says this like you’ve been chatting for some time already, your conversation had merely paused.

You discuss repairs, iPhones and you nosily swipe through the pages of her applications.  She doesn’t appear to mind.  She’s a teacher, (another bloody teacher), had been out with a group of teachers and was obliged to steward a drunk friend.  You ask her about teaching and she tells you, but not with the relentless gushing abandon of many.

She tells you the part of town where she lives, that there was another more direct bus but she was bored waiting.  She’s tired of London too, only moved here for a bloke, is moving back to Kent soon.  It’s better for her dog.  You detect singleness.  There’s nothing explicitly, or even subtly flirtatious about the conversation, as far as you can tell.

You’re aware she’s long missed her stop but you don’t want the easy, free-flowing conversation to end.  Is she..?  Could she be interes-.?  In the back of your mind winks the idea of not telling her at all, not until you reach your stop, so you’d both alight at the same place.  And then.. and then..?  Who knows?

You feel a nagging press of obligation.  Although the best thing would have been to flag her stop to her as you had passed it.  Which you didn’t.  And the most calculated thing would be to say nothing at all.

“You know where we are now, right?”

There are nice to meet yous and smiles when she hurriedly alights in a pleasant inner suburb, although it is the dead of night.  Anyone could be about.  For a moment you feel like getting out with her, making sure she’s ok and gets a cab easily. It’s not THAT far of a walk from here to your flat.  No.  Stupid, and massive potential for awkwardness, which must always be avoided at all costs.  She’s very much a grown woman who looks like she can handle herself.

Instead you smile, nod, wave feebly like a bollockless twat, and watch her go.  The bus coasts on and you wait for the rolling wave of regret to hit.

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solo

My life isn’t awash with an endless torrent of people, there’s no day-to-day blur of professional acquaintances, family or social circle.  I have only a small handful of friends and we come together increasingly rarely: once or twice a year at best.  I work alone and live alone from a fairly pleasant inner London suburb.  Occasionally there might be a run of days where I’m relatively active, but it’s more often the case that I’m not.

Whackloads of largely business emails, Skypes, Messenger sessions, Tweets and teleconference calls, but it’s not uncommon for a whole week to pass without an in-person, two-way conversation with another human.

I struggle with this – have done so for over a year and will likely continue to, for how long I’m not sure.

To fend off boredom, insanity or depression, I do things alone, seeking difference and experience outside my four walls, and feeling like I’m an oddity for it.

Sitting squarely in your own head for so long, you end up grossly over analysing.  People probably don’t give as much of a shit as you think they do.  A passing glance, a second then gone.

It’s not uncommon for me to move: walk, run, cycle drive – without having a specific target.  Or to begin doing something with a half baked idea, not fully committed, although I do often see it through.  A gig listing that looked interesting, a football match with affordable tickets not too far away.

Any movement is better than sitting on a sofa in the lounge of a poky flat, at a desk, or pacing ditheringly, anxious about work.

On Wednesday this week I was bored out of my skull and went to a gig in North London for the difference of experience which cannot be gained by sitting alone in a building all day.  Walking along the street or sitting on a tube crammed with other life forms can give that difference.  Plopped back into the ocean.

Today, Friday, despite not being unbusy with work, the first glorious summer weather was irresistible.  The coast promised less clawing of pollen at the back of my throat.  I had a vehicle (whose worrying rattles and shakes I try to ignore) , so why not?

Flicking through a road atlas it’s easy to find places easily reachable from London where I’ve never visited.  A ropey B&B somewhere, £30 at best, maybe £40-45 if you’re unlucky.  Still doable.  Right there you have a reasonable break from your four walls.  Even if it’s only for 24 or 36 hours.

That’s what I’ve done.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, nobody need ever know I’m not at my “office.”.  A mobile phone, a laptop and a mobile dongle: I can respond to emails and fulfill promises of documents to be delivered.

A car has served perfectly adequately as an office for one afternoon; nobody knows or cares.

Company would be preferable and I’m never entirely without self consciousness, because it’s not in any conceivable way ‘cool’ to be like this.  You’ll go a long way to find somebody who claims to LOVE having few mates and doing things on their own all the time.  But you learn to deal with it, attracting suspicious glances and beating them away, trying not to care.

I try not to care.  I still do these things, which could suggest that I succeed in not caring.

Experience is better shared: a basic, often unspoken human maxim.  YES, I would have ticked when presented with the mythical form: I WILL have a magnificently solid network of amazingly loyal friends and a gorgeous partner who I unequivocally adore.  Tick box, job done.  Sadly there is no such form, or I wasn’t offered one.

So I sit here in on this saggy bed in this distinctly dodgy B&B room in a small and very English south coast town: many George crosses out readied for the World Cup, a wealth of tattoos, zillions of small dogs, kiss-me-quick hats, children’s amusement parks, boarded up sea front stores and tweens on BMXs.

Paper peels from the bedroom walls and ceilings, the bed linen has holes, lumps of plaster has been knocked out of the walls and Leopardskin used as a trimming throughout; the hallway paper is headspinning.  The bass of a karaoke Dancing Queen thuds beneath me and a drunk drones.  I won’t be complaining about any of this because I paid thirty pounds and don’t care that much.

This is difference, it’s an experience, it’s discovery of a new place I’ve never been to before and will never visit again.  I’ll see a couple more of those tomorrow then return to London.  Maybe I’ll get up in time to see a beautiful dawn stretch across the English channel, maybe I won’t.  It’s not being in the flat.

There are other things I could do too – rather than this self congratulatory solo foraging for difference; social groups I could join.  They are out there and I have looked momentarily before clicking away.  But they’d be populated by fucking weirdo loner freaks, wouldn’t they?  And who wants to mix with them?

endings

Summers illuminate endings more than winters.  Perhaps due to how much the British cherish a fine season, maybe it’s those drawn out dusks which encourage reflection, or how the clearly divided school holiday period always seems marked in the calendar – however far you pull away from schooldays and regardless of whether or not you have children.  Early to mid September: Back To School, the killer ending, Sunday nights cranked up to Ten.

Summers are also more liable to the punctuation of momentous public events: those of a government change or a major sporting competition.  While being public, communal events, they’re personal journeys too.  They rubberstamp memory however far away you are from the precise happenings: you remember where you were when..

In sport, these events inevitably end in disappointment, mournful reflection and navelgazing as you sit back bitterly watching a compilation of the tournament’s glossy highlights: the exciting opening match that feels like years ago, the foul that NEVER fucking was.

Over the course of a winter, during Christmases and New Years, there’s a willful persistence to push on and get through with the parade, the veil of good cheer.  Sure there’s reflection too, but it’s media forced, less romantic.  Fuck off with your Top 100s and 2007/8/9/10’s Bests.

This summer has the makings of the above.  As well as the whole government thing, a number of personal endings.  If I haven’t moved some miles back West by the end of August, rather than bleating on about it, I will have disappointed myself.  Again.  Honest, God.  I will.  I’ll get my arse out and do something about it soon.  Unless I don’t, or if..   No, I will.

A big football competition which I’ll promise myself I won’t get too emotionally involved with, and fail because there’s embarrassingly little which matters to me.

And there’s this thing I’ve been idiotically writing, pouring hour upon hour into for the last eighteen months or so.  The box.  Finally I’ve reached the end of it, interpreted my own shoddy handwritten notes, deleted and added, scrapped and changed.  I’m reaching a point where I don’t hate its totality.  Reaching the final page feels as endingy as anything, the physical end of a long and arduous road you’ve constructed and laid yourself.

It’s a fractious, erratic relationship.  One section you think is an ok road, smooth tarmac anyone could travel down with a modicum of amusement, it could have merit.  The next you think it’s potholed to fuck.  In fact it’s all utter bollocks which should be destroyed immediately and you’re a complete mug for wasting your life like this.

You read Ian McEwan’s latest.  Even just a paragraph and your brain is elevated to a different untouchable level.  There is no comparison and you feel, by pressing a single finger to the keyboard with such an intention, it’s like you’re trying to chat up Scarlett Johansson.

You read a niche industry blog by a trade magazine editor you like and respect.  It’s brilliant: extremely funny, informed, well written.  If you can’t aspire to that level what the hell are you doing..?  He probably had similar pretensions at such an age.  You know of other trade magazine editors and reporters who did.  Every other young journalist, marketing, advertising or publicity exec wants to write in this way.

You have neither the discipline or the talent.  (No fishing line cast).  You struggle with forms of address, (don’t I?) and tense, (or you did), as well as plot, structure, pace and characterisation.  You have only one voice and maddeningly overuse certain words.

But still you persist and you have now built, created.  Isn’t that worth something?

You might send it off to a few publishers’ slush piles, embarrassed and coy, never telling a soul and trying to forget all about it. Or you might not.  It’s a lot of printing and a lot of effort.  You might let it rest on a hard drive, a USB stick, in an inauspicious cardboard box.  Recover it in a few years when you browse, flick, scroll or swipe through it, smiling weakly at your younger self, bless him.

Bless him and his hours of squinting and writing and rewriting, the reams of shit he wrote.  Shit he eventually put a lid on, last clicked Save As back in that memorable Summer of 2010.

wants and kneads

The engine of my mother’s old banger moaned as a narrow winding country lane pulled me up the steep green hillside.  Brief glimpses of an expansive English landscape were offered through holes in the hedge to my right.  A deep blue upper frame of sky made it astonishingly pretty, as my leisurely morning dog-walk had been.  I always forget its capacity to oxygenate, fill the heart: the width, scale, greenness and blue.  You deeply suck it up to remember, but always forget.

Now I was looking for a specific residential house scattered along the hillside, one without name which apparently sat at the end and base of one of these tight, sloping roads.  It could have been any of them.

I had a poor, printed map which Dad had given me.  Why did he still use crappy blotchy Multimap?  This was useless.

“Do you have that sheet with their address on?” Dad asked when I called up, still manfully working away at my car.

“Erm, no,” I said, now chastened by my own stupidity, sitting stationary, near the entrance to a farm.  “Forgot it.  Sorry.”

“Fucksake..” he replied, reasonably enough.

A few minutes later I stopped the car at the bottom of a track, as described.  But it still wasn’t with 100% confidence that I strode up the long garden path, noting giant children’s trampolines and that incredible panorama.  Was I about to intrude on the wrong person, the wrong house, ask for a sports massage from an unsuspecting, confused person?

A shiny bald, stocky, middle-aged man in a sporty polo neck sat alone in the large kitchen flicking through a newspaper, an old dog at his feet.  I knocked tentatively at the already ajar door.  Let this be the right house, please don’t kick my head in..

Stripping to almost nothing and allowing a hands-on massage from another male is uncomfortable.  But so is my back.  It was a professional looking medical room with all the kit and reassuring shelves of reference books.  And that view.  Under his spell those oiled fingers danced along glutes and muscles whose names instantly entered and left my head.  He squeezed and kneaded points spinal points which pranged, made me flinch and tighten, unlock and relax, explaining as he went.

I shot back to our village, collected my now roadworthy but still far from flawless vehicle, and headed out to betweeny City 2 for a meeting with old employers and current client.

A start-up company which I had entered as employee number five and left at roughly a dozen strong three years ago.  It had expanded, was now, finally in reasonable regular profit.  Hugh inspired mixed emotions: the initial engagement wasn’t without caution, although he had come good, paid promptly, been sound.

Approaching the doorway and pressing the intercom felt curious: déjà vu, a recurring dream.  I’d never expected to return here again.  Those qualms about moving backwards arose once more and I wondered if there isn’t a point when everything stops becoming linear and progressive.  If we travel in increasingly chaotic orbits that are impossible to discern.  Circumstance forces us to move back and shuffle sideways as much as to reach ahead and grasp newness.

“The Ghost Of Christmas Past,” I announced myself to a former colleague on the intercom.  He chuckled, the door buzzed and I walked up the familiar ragged steps.

After a board meeting with his team, Hugh and I lunched out in the town at an upmarket steakhouse.  We walked a good distance trying to find somewhere open and nice.  During this time he regaled long, tricky to follow professional biographies of high flyers in the industry, excited by his narrative and forgetting how it linked into his original point.  His haphazard conversational style mimicked inherently atrocious organisational skills that had made him maddening to work with.

We finally entered a swish new restaurant I remembered being a distinctly dodgy looking pub during my time here.  Thick curtains, a large glitterball, loud disco music pumping out, the feeling that nobody had been let in or out since about 1988.

Hugh confessed that he was desperately seeking an exit, a buyer for the company as he was keen to begin his new venture.  He’s been this way for a while.  We discussed overseas opportunities, the company’s new office, longshot dreams for me.  If he did open it tomorrow and needed a man on the ground I would gently drop all my clients and grab such an opportunity.  I strongly insinuated this leaning and he encouraged: “Hey mate, if this works, you never know.  I could help you out.  We could do something.”

He always was excellent at this: feeding hope, inspiring, talking a big game.  Spend enough time in his company and employment and you hear the same promises being repeated ad infinitum.  The company has now developed though, albeit not at a staggering rate of knots, and a few of these promises are finally being realised.  It’s anyone’s guess how many more will.

Our lunch ran on so it was later than planned that I knocked at my brother’s door, the other end of another quilted countryside drive.  He and his wife looked tired and saggy, but their three and a half year old son’s excitement always knocks me out.  Only dogs are this excited to see me.  He had a new bedroom he wanted to show off and it was little under two minutes before I was holding him upside down and burying him under soft toys.  Across the room, the permanently passive eight month old sat cross legged on the floor, silently bemused at our excitable play and my silly globbing goldfish faces.

We raced downstairs to watch Wallace and Gromit, learning en route of Gordon Brown’s resignation from a radio in the kitchen.

Still nervous of my vehicle’s robustness and sensing the shock absorbers might be next to pop, I drove back towards town.  Admiring romantic whispy evening clouds but saddened by the steady roadside transition from lurid bright yellows to lusty greens to darker greens to grey, I sunk.  A pressing desire to rejig living arrangements overwhelmed.  I wanted someone else to do it for me: point me in the right direction and push.

men and motors

“Oh no! We dunt ave one a them!” the neighbour yelled over to Dad’s request for a special tool.

We needed it to try and fix a worrying new problem which Dad had uncovered on my car.

Rather than simply kick tyres and suggest more air, he insisted on checking under the bonnet and taking each wheel off in turn, almost as if desperate to find something to tut at, which would justify the thorough investigation and his superior engineering knowledge.  Not that this was even arguable.  Of course he knew more.  But if he was this bothered, he could’ve got off his arse and helped me find a better motor, rather than literally picking holes in the one I’d plumped for, which up to then I’d believed was reasonable enough.

Don’t be an idiot and inflate this, there’s no banal father-son power struggle here.  He’s just trying to help you out.

“Let’s ave a look though,” the neighbour said and hitched his short frame up and over the garden fence, planting one food unsteadily on a pile of logs our side.  The dumpy fellow cantered over the grass and sank down onto his knees for a closer look under the vehicle.

I stood behind them, bewitched by the three tones of this man’s hair.  Dark brown, grey, then blonde tinted highlights.  Hrmm, I nodded at whatever it was they were talking about.

A couple more passing villagers arrived to breathe through their teeth at my dodgy wheelnuts, a parochial version of the A-Team.  Except nobody had a welding kit, chainsaw or brutal sense of purpose.   Instead, men more wisened than me in the ways of cars inspected wheelnut threads, grimaced and shook their heads.

All agreed that this was indeed rare, someone in a garage somewhere had at some point forced it back in: a consensus that was neither reassuring or helpful.

It really did appear to be fucked then, would be a serious operation, would cost me lots of money and could leave me stranded in the village for a few days.  To be grateful for fatherly mechanical fastidiousness which may have saved lives, or to be bleakly sulky that he’d cost me as yet untold expense?

Despite the grave faces, all wasn’t lost.  Dad loves a mission and set off for a seemingly random walk around the village to houses of likely candidates who might own said obscure tool which may solve our problem.

An elderly gentleman came to the rescue.  The unexpected source had leaned out of his car window to say hello while Dad was in conversation with another neighbour.  Yes, he had one, he’d drop it by in half hour or so.

This man was a gem, a sharp-minded old gent with whom I’d enjoyed a couple of fascinating discussions at the local pub – always memorable, fascinating discussions at the local pub.  They’re not common.  Now I had new reason to love him.

More peering over men’s shoulders, nodding sagely and feeling impotent was on the cards, but for now at least, significant expenditure was postponed.

for leaving London

The election result: I sense London won’t get a cheaper, or nicer city to live in anytime soon.

“That’s four pounds fifteen please,” a barmaid in a nice enough but generally unremarkable Central London pub asked.  For one pint of beer.  One pint of beer.

Fuck this shit, I thought, articulately and handed over a note, morbidly depressed.

Today I wanted to buy some wrapping paper.  I hate buying wrapping paper: paper for putting round a gift which gets torn and thrown away without a thought.  Shops in London don’t appear to be selling rolls for under £2.99

£3! for paper which will be ripped and thrown away inside seconds.  You could get, ooh, half a pint of beer for that.  Surely those cheapy pound shops will do better deals, where are they?  Where are they?  This is symptomatic of living in a nice, affluent area of South West London, granted, but they don’t appear to exist here.

There are reasons other than expense, but it’s not an inconsiderable one in the For Leaving London column.  If you don’t need to live here and don’t massively enjoy it, day-to-day, don’t.

For staying

I’d quite miss my football team, the one  I play for.  There’s a sense of community, albeit one which is entirely masculine and often full of total bullshit, that I get there and nowhere else.

It takes time to establish and get to know people in a club, feel comfortable and confident taking the piss, especially if you move around different teams within a club.  I’m just about there now, not unpopular, but I feel set to vanish.