Minor grievances / Galgutted

Scanning the library shelves I kept repeating the names of the three authors in my head: Dunmore, Galgut, Chalkas (?) – if that’s how you say / spell it.  I held little hope for any of them, given their contemporariness and likely popularity.  However, as I reversed through the Gs, then spun around to face the GAs, I saw the Galgut.

The day before I’d taken a long, scenic, glorious walk through rolling countryside and listened to many podcasts along the way, mostly cultural reviews of film, music and books.  One had passingly discussed this booker shortlisted title, In A Strange Room, by Damon Galgut.  I had heard it discussed in podcasts before.  It appealed: a dreamy sounding semi-autobiographical tale of three separate but interconnected journeys, a slim book of the kind I might stupidly aspire to write.

There it was.  I took a sharp intake of breath and pulled it from the shelf – brand new but with that uncomfortable protective seal which all library books wear, like a disagreeable plastic sheet on an infant’s bed.  As if conscious that the book could easily be spotted in my grasp and confiscated from me, I held it low to my thigh and made for one of the large windows across the large open space, then flopped down on a comfortable armchair, already sated by my smug glory.

“Memories come back of other places he has waited in, departure halls of airports, bus-stations, lonely kerbsides in the heat, and in all of them there is an identical strain of melancholy summed up in a few transitory details…  From this particular place he will retain the vision of a cracked brick wall growing hotter and hotter in the sun.”

“…a sort of primal nervousness descends.  But this is also one of the most compelling elements in travel, the feeling of dread underneath everything, it makes sensations heightened and acute, the world is charged with a power it doesn’t have in ordinary life.”

Damon Galgut, In A Strange Room

Shit, I thought, not quite as eloquently as the book.  This was good.  I suddenly felt compelled to devour the whole book in one sitting, however long it took, then I quickly realised I couldn’t.  Guilt, inboxes and paying duties would call.

I read 33 pages, saw another book en route to the automated machine – DBC Pierre’s latest – then tried to take them out.  The machine rejected the books and ordered me to take them to a manned desk.  My gut squirmed with irrationally strong fear that the book would be wrenched from me.  “No, can’t let you have this one,” the bald, blank man told me, indicating the Galgut.  “It’s been reserved by someone else.”

It shouldn’t have been on the bloody shelf in the first place then, SHOULD IT? – I didn’t say.  Because what was the point?  Just take it.  Accept another slap.

These things have been snowballing of late: minor grievances which in and of themselves are just that: small irritations.  Some are marginally larger than others irritations, but all are essentially inconsequential.  The second DVD rental in a short space of time which was faulty, ruining an long-anticipated pleasure; a bicycle too broken to justify the expense of fixing; a temperamental iPod; confusingly unclear directions during the walk; a weak handbrake which made hill parking unwise; slow drying laundry; the biting misery of the lonely which must be concealed for the sake of coolness and self-pride, but which never gets easier.

You have to be realistic and rational in the face of these things, however minor, significant or stupidly allegorical they can appear: this route doesn’t make any bloody sense!  Woah, deep man.  Fuck off, brain.  And there are no direct correlations here.  Finding the freezer door open can invoke preposterous anger.  Be strong, keep going, take on the next week, see if anything different happens.

I sulked out of the library and walked a short distance up the road to purchase the book from the nearest Waterstones book shop.  I wanted to read all of it now I’d bitten a decent chunk off.  I hadn’t wanted to buy or own it, but now I’d started, I would.  Fuck the library bastards.

Taking it from the new shelf I found my deeply programmed frugality offended at paying full price for such a thin book, the small thrill of its newness and the lack of a protective plastic cover almost non-existent.  (Another thing).  I paid a smiley young shop assistant with a grudging smile, instantly regretting paying by card as soon as I’d entered it in the machine.  I had enough cash on me.  (Another thing).

Why was I being such a miserable bitter dick?  I was my father again.  Like the day before when I was mentally composing the letter of complaint to the author of those terrible directions.  I hated it when that happened.

I left the bookshop and walked past a church, a lone woman crying under its arch.  She could’ve lost a loved one or received bad news about her health.  What were my problems compared to these grown up ones; serious ones which could form plot-lines in hospital dramas and Eastenders?  Nothing at all.  Comedic ones which might make Adrian Mole or The Inbetweeners.

Queuing in Starbucks I made a silly face at an infant who was staring at me from a nearby table, then I made that pu-pu sound which tots in their teen months seem to be engaged by.  A toddler equivalent of the kissing noise which alerts cats.  This one smiled even more widely at the noise and his two female guardians laughed along.  Three seconds was enough of that.  I smiled weakly at the adults, didn’t remove my headphones and faced ahead again, remembering I was supposed to be annoyed and embattled and a dick.  I shuffled forwards, looked gravely at a smug plump banana muffin, all full of itself, and waited.


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