One track mind

It’s the end of another date and you’re not sure how it’s all going: if she’s quiet because of something you did, if it’s all fine, if she can just generally be indecipherable like this.  You’re a man.  You don’t have a clue.  Asking her is too frightening, too direct.

If the situation allows, ideally if you’re driving her somewhere, ask her to pick the music from an iPod: an artist or a track.  This might give decent hints about her mood and outlook without needing to have a conversation.  Different track selections can be interpreted in any number of ways.

Aerosmith: you’re not turning straight round after dropping her home, you lucky man.

Blur: No Distance Left To Run – you’re fucked, obviously, but in a sad amicable way.

Blur: Girls and Boys / Parklife – all is well, fresh, fun and fertile.

Cee Lo Green: Fuck You – she suspects about the thing with her sister, or those looks you were giving her friend weren’t that subtle.

Coldplay: could mean anything: she’s generally a bit mopey and has issues, is tired and bored, just likes Coldplay.

Cyndi Lauper: Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – she cheated on you with your better looking, more “fun” friend.  But she’s sorry.

Gloria Gaynor: I Will Survive – if this is on your iPod, she thinks you’re gay.  With solid reason.

Frank Sinatra: Ain’t That A Kick In The Head – she doesn’t like you that much but doesn’t want anyone else to have you either.  She’s about to shoot you dead, unless her brothers get there first.

Hot n Juicy / Mousse T: Horny – she’s horny

JLS – how old IS she?  Look out for police.

U2: she has no taste, which probably doesn’t reflect well on things.  Just throw her out the car.

The XX – you’re doomed, but in a nice way.

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Christmas Eve at the local pub

When I walked past my parents’ bedroom and saw my father donning his purple waistcoat, accompanying his purple pink and blue pinstriped shirts, I knew he was Up For It.  My Dad gets a strange nervous energy in bustly social situations not involving children, ie. in the pub.  It makes his voice go high and shrill at any given moment because he thinks his effeminate camp shtick is reliably hilarious whatever he’s saying (although I’ve no doubt some do find it amusing). 

He willingly watched and subjected me to “My Family” before we went out, doubtless thinking me odd when I expressed how unbelievably shit I thought it was.  I remain unsure how I was produced from his loins.  The feeling is probably mutual.

We were heading up the local village pub for Christmas Eve: my Dad, Mum and I, as is traditional.  It’s usually not so bad.  Busy in the tight space of the main front room where we all normally congregate, younger people back for Christmas mixing with the older stalwarts of the establishment.  Our trio trudged the five minute walk up the moonlit snowy road.  It wouldn’t be terrible, I told myself.  There were a few regulars who weren’t too bad.

Tonight it was the Landlord’s smart idea to try out Christmas Carols in the larger, less well frequented rear function room, using the aid of a synth-strong keyboard and a single trumpet player.

My parents led me into the main room, which was busy and tightly packed.  Dad decided to quickly turn around and head for the function room, sold by the Landlady’s sales pitch which mainly consisted of “CAROLS, COME ON!” and wanton enthusiasm.  We wandered dumbly down the short corridor, lambs to the slaughter, took a right and opened the door: one old grey bloke propping up the bar, a daft drunk smile smeared on his suspect face, watching the spectacled Landlord on the keyboard and a middle-aged bleach blonde lady parping painfully on a trumpet.  Dad bought the first round, as is customary (me second), and we took a seat by the radiator.

I hadn’t watched many episodes of Peter Kay’s “Phoenix Nights,” but  it immediately struck me as a reasonable comparison.  We stayed the only willing spectators in the room, but for the old grey bloke at the bar.  It wasn’t surprising.  Dad started singing along, as did Mum, I imagined out of pity.

Then Dad saw the microphone.

MICROPHONE! he appeared to scream in his head, magnetically attracted like a dog to a stick.

The flittering Landlady re-entered the room, offering support to her husband, and joined Dad at the microphone.  The opening auto demo chords led into “O Come All Ye Faithful.”  I chewed on my scarf some more, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.  Dad, dressed in his idiotic waistcoat and shirt, and the Landlady sang heartily

The speccy Landlord at the keyboard was NOT amused.  Furious, in fact.

11/12ths of the pub’s custom was still camped out in the small front room, steadfastly not wanting to sing, not caring that there was barely any more room to stand.

The Landlord returned to the room with a new lead for the amplifier.  The tests worked, a synthy intro kicked in and they resumed.  Dad and the Landlady rejoined on vocals.

After three more carols it stopped being funny and started being quite  depressing.  Still no more people entered the room.  I’d returned the round of drinks and drunk my second quickly.  I’d been there about an hour: most of the minutes excruciatingly backed by that trumpet parping woman.

I asked Mum if she had a key for the house because I needed to go home and stab myself repeatedly in the eyes.  She looked at me and, understanding but disappointed, handed it over.

Division Two: final whistle

Reinstated this post with an addition, after originally retracting through fear the Her might look.  Despite knowing of this special place, I’m not sure she was ever bothered enough to stop by.

You anguished for a long time over selecting and making an appropriate dish for the female you’d seen three times, but not at all for the previous month.  You collected her from the other side of town, took her back to your flat, cooked a passable meal and heard, among other things, about how she was still obsessed with the smartest guy in the world from university.  About how he made her occasionally confused, heartbroken and depressed.  They had never even kissed because of his long-term girlfriend, but still they meet from time to time and he taunts her with touch: hand-holding, light petting and extravagant kisses all over her face.  A hip young indie guy, he writes for achingly cool websites and magazines, aced academia and will inevitably succeed at whatever he chooses to do as a career.  So she says.  Of course he’s young; as is she.  (You’d started to negotiate the age difference fairly well until then, inside your brain, tucking it away out of sight).  He must be aware how he tortures her to please his ego, if he is this exceptionally intelligent.  She goes away from their meetings utterly destroyed that she can’t be with him.  This partly explained why it had taken her a week to get round to seeing you since returning to the city, despite your being in almost daily contact for well over a month.  She’d been newly ground down by seeing him again, and she’d been busy with other things.  You weren’t a priority and you’d strongly suspected she was losing interest.  Like they do.  Usually long before this stage in fact.  You listened to her tale of infatuation sympathetically, not computing his cruelty until later.  After dinner you sat on your sofa, absently watched television and held her companionably.  You still felt Second Division after hearing all that.  Maybe Third.  You, for whom any genuine sense of ambition had been indefinitely on leave for the better part of two years.  Sick of knockbacks, employment, bosses, you’d retreated somewhere your esteem could get battered less.  She was a regular enough young woman, attracted by swagger and ambition and exhibitionism.  They are basic, primal requirements: a man who can provide and support, a man who can Really Achieve.  And preferably achieve in a sexy way from an impressively swanky office while wearing an expensively tailored suit; not from a room in his flat while wearing slippers.  She leaned against you on the sofa, low on energy, not feeling great, pleased enough for what you’d done, for dinner, for your attention. You didn’t know what else she was thinking.  Maybe nothing else except that Royal Variety Show gymnast’s skin-tight white leggings, or Take That’s repetitive dirge, or her back or the temperature or tomorrow.   There could’ve been something else there but you didn’t want to ask.  Stop thinking too much.  You drove her home before turning round and heading straight back to set about the washing up.  He must be a smarmy over-confident twat, you thought, picking rice from the plughole.  He must know what he does to her.  Yet they’d never even kissed?!  You glanced at your mobile and saw no Thank You message but picked it up anyway.  She was in the middle of a chat about music to some guy on Twitter, recommending her favourite artists.  Nothing wrong with that at all.  Not in the slightest, you idiot.  You sighed, drained your beer and went to bed.

*

It was chatting to a seldom seen friend on a long, boozy, one-to-one evening that reminded me.  Shortly before full-time, I explained to him in the otherwise entirely empty Sushi bar how she wasn’t really that interested.  He said, in his usual placid manner: “if she’s not interested, fuck her.”  Put simplistically like that, which this friend has an unerring talent for doing – untangling my crazed, pinballing brain – it sounded brilliantly simple and easy and correct.  Albeit still a little harshly phrased.

Basic self-pride: yeah.  If somebody isn’t interested in you, or they grow tired, however much of a slight it may appear, you can’t afford to ponder over it.  You must be selfish.  Fine.  It’s their loss.  If you empathise with their boredom too much – no actually, you’re right, I’m dull and don’t know what I can do to fix it – well, that path leads to unpleasant places.

Yet by taking a breath, looking onwards and upwards, you’re also smartly returned the knowledge that you can’t just snap your fingers for another go.  Chances with females don’t come round that often for you – for various reasons, and the build-up, the chase and the attempted wooing is so tediously long and drawn out.  It wouldn’t tempt you towards late-night drunken text messages or feeble pleas to meet for coffee, but the knowledge of scarcity unavoidably invokes regret.  Regret which slinks in and weasels its way into your positive thoughts of self-pride.   Regret which asks if you could have done more or done differently?  If you can answer it with No, then regret should be banished.  It should be.

We didn’t linger long on that subject or line of conversation.  My friend viewed it unemotionally, an open and shut case.

wag

Sniff sniff sniff pant.  Thing about this cold white stuff is it kills all the smells, hides the scat and the shit so you have to work harder to – what’s that?  A person!  By the gate.  C’mooon!  He’s coming in.  Look at you, tall bloke, I can jump up just as high as your head.  Look!  You coming in or what?  Yes!  Hello to you too!  I can’t say it out loud because I’m a dog.  Hurry up and lock it after you then, come on come on.  Good, right then, you want to play?  Here, look, here’s a stick.  Come on.  Stop trying to look at my collar, will you?  Ahh, that’s it!  Tug of war with the stick.  Nice growling too, for a human.  Oh, go on then, have a quick look at the collar if you want.  And that thing too.  Hmm, shiny isn’t it?  Yes, that’s my name.  How did you know that?  Now stick again!  Yeh yeh.  Ok I’ll chase, nyeowww.. WOah.  This white stuff’s slippery innit?  Again again.  What you doing with that thing by your ear?  Who you talking to?  Throw it again!  Rrra, ok this is fun tug of war but.. woah!  Think you’re clever swinging me round and round, don’t you?  I’m not letting go!  Ha!  Told you.  This bit of the car park’s boring now; there’s not much left of the stick now too.  It was rubbish to start with now I keep losing it in the white stuff.  Who are you talking to?  I’m off for a sniff sniff sniff.  Ha, following me?  Mug.  What?  Whatcha got then?  Is that cat, I smell?  I’m not gonna come just because you’re clapping and slapping your thighs, numpty.  Hang on, why you running away now?  CHASE!  Ok, I’ll win.  I’m a small young dog, sniff sniff.  See?  I overtook you EASY.  Who’s..?  Oh hello mistress.  Uh oh, that’s a lead.  Pfft.  Fun while it lasted, sniff sniff pant.

next in line

The girl at the coffee shop counter told the man in front of me, a regular, how this was her last day working there and she was leaving to do something else, which I didn’t catch.  He was very positive and enthused for her, wished her the best of luck several times.  I’d already been waiting for five minutes behind him, the only person waiting in the otherwise empty shop.  He was waiting for buttered toast and four rounds of coffee to go.  There was another man with a suspiciously subtle nose-stud scuttling back and forth into the kitchen and back.  I didn’t know what he was doing.  Preparing the butter?  I just wanted a coffee.  She’d said she’d be with me in a sec, five minutes before.  His order wasn’t wildly complex.  There was two of them allegedly serving.  I wanted some of that coffee in that jug over there poured into one of those mugs there.  That was all.  His credit card predictably failed to work the first time.  Seven or eight minutes now.  Starbucks could’ve served about twenty people in this time, I was sure.  Still she spoke about her new job and how good it would be, still he enthused.  As she battled fixing a lid onto one of the coffees I hoped she was a lot fucking better at whatever it was she was going to do than what she was doing here.

In M&S to pick up my Mum’s Christmas present of a pink dressing gown.  Super-fast collection service, it had been advertised as, or some such.  Three people were in front of me, not being super-fast.  Not collecting anything, it appeared.  The first old lady was simply describing an item she thought they had, or should have.  A lumbering young ginger man loomed over his monitor for something matching her description, umming and ahhing.  Before, no, it definitely didn’t exist sorry.  That took about five minutes.  I should have just paid the three pounds extra for delivery.  I regretted that now.  To the side of the queue was a small bench where a well made-up old lady was flirting vaguely with an old man around her age, who was waiting for his wife.  They’d lived close to each other their whole lives, it appeared, and kept finding places in common.  Gwent Avenue?  Now that sounds familiar but where is that?  They’d never met before but she kept touching his arm.  He bashfully turned away, mindful of his wife.  He explained all the different places in the same small area where he’d lived.  Ooh, moved around a bit haven’t you? she said.  Just go where she tells me to tell you the truth.  She earns the money, see.  Another old lady in front of me protractedly ordered an item and was told to come back later.  When finally my turn came, the ginger man returned an item which wasn’t mine and would have let me walk away with it had I not inspected it closely and found it was a brown coat for someone of a similar name, not a pink dressing gown, for me.

The delay meant I was late back at the flat and had missed the unpredictably timed post.  This meant a trip down the post depot to collect the expected parcel.  In front of me here was a man who sounded like a colleague of the older man over the counter.  The younger postal worker was apparently also moving on, for better pay mate see.  You gotta take the opportunity while it’s there like see, if you wanna get on.  The two men had a cyclical sort of conversation in which neither was paying much attention while the older man completed paperwork to do with his colleague’s first class delivery.  When handed a ten pound note for the one pound thirty fee, the older man waived the charge as he didn’t have any change.  He’d come back and pay him later when he had it, all right?  Yeah.  I finally reached the counter and handed over my form.  The older man returned and said that the postman hadn’t arrived back to the depot with my package yet, so I’d have to come back later on.

washed out (dangerous tides 2)

Keith opened the backseat passenger door and poked a thermometer in Barry’s ear.  Although he was swaddled in three blankets and clasping a fourth mug of tea, the cold blast of air combined with the peculiar ear sensation to set Barry’s core juddering again.  His temperature was rising but not all that quickly, according to Keith.  He wanted to take him in to get checked out, just as a precaution.  Barry had wanted to leave the scene immediately before realising he couldn’t.  All the services were on their way.   But he was recovering fine and definitely didn’t want to stay overnight anywhere.  A quick check-up sounded sensible enough.

Twenty minutes earlier the Paramedic had first appeared in front of him, a dark green-uniformed bald bloke in his early-forties of just below average height with a dark goatie.  Like everyone in a uniform, he’d spoken clearly about the situation and EXACTLY what was happening, like Barry was still under water.  Keith had been the latest in a reel of quick-changing people that started with the three figures who’d steered him away from the sea.  One was a dog-walker who hadn’t been either of the men directly propping him up as he staggered inland.  He had relieved Barry of his sodden camera, still slung round his neck, and carried it for several yards – perhaps so it felt as if he contributed in some way.  Then he gave it back to Barry and left the scene.

Another, a hard-faced middle-aged man, had stayed awhile and led him to a quiet corner behind the pub, away from the crowd of onlookers.  He’d seemed unsympathetically dutiful, as if he thought Barry another idiot but would serve him well.  He helped Barry out of his wet clothes, draped him with one of those foil capes marathon runners wear at the end of the race, told him to keep moving and ordered a mediterranean looking barman to make tea.  What was he doing in Wales?

The third man immediately on the scene, he couldn’t remember who the third man was at all.  Nothing about him came to mind.

A siren had grown louder outside before stopping altogether.  A siren for me, Barry thought, that in itself was deeply unsettling.  They’d moved into the pub’s empty conservatory extension, a dining room, and sat down, Barry still trembling, disgusted and humiliated at all of this.  Another uniformed man entered with Keith, a boxy machine, and blankets.  Barry was swaddled further and hooked up to the bleeping machine via several antennas suckered to his body.  The line-graph looked regular enough and the medics appeared content.  The ungraceful man who thought Barry an idiot excused himself at this point and Barry thanked him profusely for everything.

Barry kept thanking everyone around him profusely for everything, and apologising, keen not to miss anybody, not even the mediterranean looking barman for his excellent neverending supply of tea.

Unsuckered from the machine, Barry went to a toilet to take off his jeans and swaddle himself in more blankets.  Keith had shouted in after him to check he hadn’t collapsed.  Barry was trying not to think too hard about the secondary drowning thing Keith explained where swallowed sea water retrospectively swamps the lungs.  He hadn’t swallowed any, had he?  Another mug of tea was forced into his hands as he exited the gents and was shepherded to the car park and into the van of the Sea Rescue people.

There were three, or four of them?  Did they need that many?  One had an aggressive style of care: you do NOT worry about wasting all our time!  This is what we’re here for.

He was seated down in the heat-blasted van behind Miriam, another of the sea rescue team.  Hi, I’m Miriam, said Miriam, a kind-faced, early middle-aged lady.  Hi Miriam, said Barry.  Lovely sunset isn’t it?  And it was, still blazing down over the sea, firing embers into the last whispy clouds.  Her sympathy was more traditional and they spoke amiably of London, having lived in similar areas.

Barry glanced at himself in the rear view mirror above Miriam’s head.  Pale, washed-out, stupid prick.

That was when Keith opened the door and shoved a thermometer in Barry’s ear.  Warming slowly, Barry agreed to climb into Keith’s Paramedic van and be taken to a local hospital for a once over.  They spoke of Keith’s career and his football-playing aspirations, his new hobby of Squash, which he’d become good at too.

After an initial check requiring more suckers and machines, the main two-minute check, courtesy of a young affable Doctor, took about three hours to arrive.  Wear armbands next time, was his reassuring advice.  By this time Barry was tired and hungry and really wanting to be home.  He vaguely wondered if he was being missed at all, it being unusual for him to be unreachable for such a long period of time.

Keith returned to ferry Barry back to his car on the pitch-black, ice-cold seafront.  The sky was densely starlit but the sea, mere yards away, skulked silent, black and invisible.

His car was frozen over by the subzero temperatures and seawater had killed the remote locking of his key, meaning the vehicle was only accessible through the passenger door.  Having shuffled over the handbrake and experienced a freezing blast under the hospital dress chilling to his undercarriage, he sat in the driver’s seat.

He really hoped the engine would start.

He turned the key in the ignition and, except lights on the dashboard, nothing happened.  He slowly headbutted the steering wheel.

It wasn’t the best of days.  But obviously it could have been much worse.  That could be used as a caveat for every bad stroke of luck forever now, he supposed.  At least he didn’t die that one Sunday afternoon…  How long would that last?

Barry plucked the breakdown rescue card from the windscreen holder and, still swaddled in two blankets and a loose hospital garment of the kind women give birth in, he gingerly padded back over to Keith’s warm van.  After summoning the rescue service using the Paramedic’s mobile phone, Keith asked if he’d told anyone, if anyone should know.  It made Barry consider his parents, the one phone number he did know off the top of his head.  If they had tried calling, it was possible his Mum could be nervous.

Hello Mum, sorry to call so late.

Oh hello – she said cheerily – how are you?

Oh, fine – he bunched the blankets around his shoulders and wriggled his chilly bare feet – you?

Yes, all well here.

Good good.  Um, just a really quick one, Mum, I’m browsing online looking for Christmas presents for Amy.  Any ideas?

No, it’s hard buying for a one-year-old isn’t it?  Well I’m going up to see them all next week and I was planning on talking to them about it then because we’ll…

Barry’s attention drifted off at this point but a sixth sense enabled him to inject interested sounds which suggested he was listening, before clicking back in when his mother eventually paused.

– Oh, ok, that’s fine.  I just wondered, Barry said, importing finality and closure into his tone.  Sure I’ll think of something.

He ended the call with a cheery promise to speak soon and placed the mobile on the driver’s arm-rest.  Thanks Keith.

Wouldn’t wanna play you at poker, said Keith.

The rescue van only took twenty minutes to arrive.  A burly thick-set man named Darren.  Barry told him they suspected a flat battery, but after hearing the long story Darren figured that the key’s waterlogged electronics were responsible.  After surgery involving dismantling, air-conditioning powered drying, scraping, tweaking – all of which Barry thought took considerable dexterity for someone who looked like a bull, like Peter Crouch having a good touch for a tall man – the engine woke.

From the backseat of the Paramedic van, Barry saw the lights of his car ignite and the silhouetted chunky outline of Darren raise two jubilant arms aloft like he’d scored a winning goal.  Keith made a small, impressed whooping sound, Barry nearly cried with relief.

He could go home.

depth

Dumbstruck by the play of dipping golden winter sun, clouds and waves

You crept in behind my back

Several captured images later I turned to leave the island

and saw what you’d done

what you’d begun to do.
Your current already slopped across the causeway, rising steadily

meaning my return would be wet

A short drive home in soggy pants would be all.

Still hurry now, you demanded

Casting your line for a confused urgent impulse

hooking it with aplomb

You weren’t that deep, you wouldn’t rise that far or fast, but get a move on

Wet shoes

Shins

Quickly now

Knees

Thighs

Just get across

Waist

So panicked I barely felt your temperature

Chest

What the fuck

Neck

Head

Incredulous, I swam

How had this happened?

Was this It?

So you were Death’s courier?

Please not yet, please not yet

I had more to offer, just wasn’t sure what it was

Still

Winter-dressed legs and arms challenged your current

A hard long loud yell for help

You pressed and pushed me down:

splash

glob

deep breath

salt spat

“..on their way!” called from the shore

Adrenalin fought back: I dug and pushed and slapped

Small progress, toes flailing for a small edge of rock

Slipped by, gone again.

Land was close, I could beat you

Three specs growing larger, running down the beach

Again pointed tip-toes reached for rock

This time toes held, a stubbly slippery gradient met to the full surface of feet

Reintroduced me

affair ground

A long five months ago our Hammersmith pub conversation opened up with “How do you KNOW?”  or “can you ever know, that somebody is The One?”  Doesn’t it always degenerate, get tired and dull, don’t you always end up boring one another?

After which he’d crumbled.  He told me how he was having an affair with a girl in the office, who he was crazy about.  He explained how he was cheating on his wife of a year, which was horrible and hateful but he couldn’t help it, and how the other girl herself was also married.

Now, a long five months later he told how he’d allowed the affair to turn his life upside down.  A divorce was proceeding, although he said he wasn’t really reading the letters, and he’d not only moved in with the new woman, they also were moving back to her native America after a month travelling in Thailand over Christmas.

His ex-wife was heartbroken and had wanted reconciliation even after everything became known.  Her father had visited him at his workplace and tried to persuade him to try again, even speaking of sex and how such things can dwindle but men have ways of coping, other outlets.

My friend rejected this.  He liked the other girl.  He loved her in fact, and no longer loved the woman he’d married.  This was difficult for them to accept and he received hate email, both from her and from her sisters.

In a separate, dark twist his new partner’s husband died suddenly, overnight.  A verdict is still pending.

The original concealment of the affair from his wife was less forgivable, but the manner with which he followed his heart (I can find no less trite way of saying it), grasped a very painful nettle and dared to change his life; I found it peculiarly admirable.

We spoke briefly in the South Kensington pub, before his new partner arrived to join us, about fear and self-doubt, our shared concern of boring people eventually.

If you’re seeing someone younger with plenty of those exciting 20-something years ahead of them – years when they’ll do exciting new things, go to novel or exotic places and meet interesting cool people – how can you not worry that you won’t stand up?  You will appear jaded, lazy and uninteresting, old.  You will eventually bore.  It’s a risk, like everything is.  Like “How Do You Know?”  You don’t, you can’t.

She arrived in the South Kensington pub after about half an hour: pretty, blonde and slightly nervous of me (as he’d admitted to me beforehand that she was – not having met any of his friends before).  He’d been attracted by her quirky creative bent, her desire to make her own clothes and her practicality, the fact she wasn’t a girly girl.  None of that came across.

We spoke of the Interpol concert they were heading to from here, how I’d heard good reports and there was a favourable review in the newspaper.  From the half hour spent, my impression was positive.  She appeared like someone who’d over-lived for 25, had many things happen including the possibly premature first marriage.

I left the couple to head south of the river to my work function, pleased for them and their convictions – more his than hers? – perversely envious of their dramatic, romantic year, sad I might never see them again.

dangerous tides

Barry was stung with new waves of emotion as he carefully negotiated the car back into its space outside his flat.  Stunned relief, mainly; as well as gratitude and a lingering incomprehension.  He sat in the newly silent car for several seconds, air freezing around him.  He contemplated the past few hours and called himself lucky stupid, lucky fucking idiot, out loud.  And he breathed.

He’d had plenty of time to ponder alone in the single ward, waiting three hours for a two minute chat with the Doctor.  Yes he was fine now, yes he wanted to go home.  He had enough time to almost forget the afternoon completely, pawing through niche interest magazines and old newspaper supplements, hearing the raucous applause from the television in the waiting room next door as game show followed game show.  He had time to grow bored and tetchy at the long wait.  It’s best, for your own peace of mind as much as anything else, the Paramedic had told him.  His mind was tetchy when it should have been immensely grateful – which it was, but it still became tetchy again.

*

I could really die here, Barry had thought to himself as he thrashed around in the freezing sea, fully clothed, a large coat on and his camera still around his neck.  This could be it.  Time up.

His head went under for a moment as he prepared a heaving diagonal stroke towards land.  He recalled that handsome lead actor from the film he watched the evening before.  He’d played a wayward character whose life was belatedly showing signs of coming together when it was snuffed out.  Life does that, Barry supposed.  It’s uncaring about human self-regard or interruption.  It can end whenever.

Drowning though? he argued, pushing more water behind him and gasping for air, feeling with his toes for rock, land, anything beneath his feet.  Nothing.  Drowning: really?  That was a horrible way to go, traumatic and slow.

Barry stopped paddling for a moment and treaded water, took a deep breath and yelled for help as loudly as he could.  Hearing his own foghorn blare out tightened the terrifying grip of reality and he began swimming again.

Seconds passed, or minutes.  Who knew?

Faintly aware of a podcast still chirruping in his right ear, he heard a shout returned from land: “..on its way!”  That should give some cause for hope.  He unpopped the earplug and instantly came to terms with the probable death of his new iPod, BlackBerry and camera: beloved gadgets.  He’d trade them.

Was it payback for the disproportionate glee he took from that part of Rich Hall’s comedy set a few days earlier?  He had satirised Irish news coverage, and particularly the headline “Cork Man Drowns”.  Barry hadn’t considered the plight of the man (apparently named Bob), or even wondered if it was comic fiction or not.  It hadn’t mattered.

Barry switched from his favoured front crawl to a breast-stroke.  Parting the waves seemed more effective that way.  Should he take his coat off?  No time.  The current still swept across him, demanding.

So he worked.

Was he making any ground?

He must have been.

Anything beneath his feet?

Nothing.

He spat out cold salty water and wished he’d wake up.  This could NOT be happening.  Not to him.  Wake up, wake the fuck up.  It was all too real.

At no point had Barry considered turning around and going back, or even waiting on the island and calling a rescue boat for help.  It simply never occurred to him as an option.  He had imagined that he might have to wade a short distance across the rocky causeway which connected to the mainland, but the water would be no higher than his waist at most – and it wasn’t THAT long a stretch to land, then he’d make the ten minute drive home in wet pants.  No massive deal.  He had been impelled forward by his nervous misguided momentum, blind panic and the lunatic strength of his conviction.

Until he was swimming against a reverse current.  Holy fucking cow, he was swimming, in all his clothes, a large coat, a camera round his neck, his iPod still playing.  How the hell had this happened?

This could really be how he was to die.

The light had been sharp and bright all afternoon, the sun dazzling off the ocean to give a not inconsiderable glowing warmth for the time of year.  A peculiar zen-like state had blanketed him as he sat on a rock an hour before on a different stretch of the bay, a gentle hangover from the night before slowly subsiding.  It had been an enjoyable evening with football team-mates he didn’t know that well.  The echoing din of a nightclub often left him with an unusual acoustic clarity the next day.

Now in the sea, beating against waves, that blissful calm and peace appeared foreboding, a punctuation mark.

Was he making any ground?  Perhaps, and people, distant dots were racing down the rocky beach towards him now.  One with something, a leash of some kind.  But, hang on… there, there it was.  Like a high-rise suicide in reverse, he found rock beneath his toes.  Beautiful rock, and a more of it, toes to feet, more of it still.  The surface dipped suddenly and a rock thudded into his knee but he felt nothing, numbed to the pain.  He might not die!  Back to wading, wading.  The men were upon him, the leash thing now unnecessary.  Barry staggered bambi-like, up and out of the water.  Ocean slopped off the shoulders of his thick coat, his knees buckling under the weight.  He fell back down and wanted to stay lying, spent on the rock like a beached whale but a voice told him to get up, keep moving, he wasn’t safe yet.  The voice was right.  He rose again, accepting the props of two men either side of him, one of them the owner of the voice, and carried walking up and away, freezing and soaking head to toe.

A small crowd of thirty or so had gathered in the main pub for the nearby caravan park.  Mostly young, pale faces gawked at him and he half covered his own, humiliated by the attention, trembling and exhausted.  But breathing out, breathing out.  A siren grew louder.