doing something

It was a concert I’d been aware was coming up for a while but hadn’t got a ticket.  Only upon returning to the city after a day’s work in another city did I remember.  I called a friend who’d promised to keep an eye out.

He said he’d scored one through a mate at work, but just one, sorry.  I asked him to keep an eye out for people selling spares once he reached the venue and he agreed.  Meantime I made an ill-fated attempt to score a spare through Twitter and message boards, to no avail.

Being fairly tired after a long day, before remembering the gig I’d planned a sluggish but healthy evening: go for a swim, come back and have a late dinner before bed, perhaps a wee tot of Scotch to see me off before another earlyish start the next day.

My friend called.  He said there wasn’t anyone outside but a doorman said he’d sort me out if I came and asked for Jamie.  Really?! I asked.  This was a long sold out gig by Warpaint, a popular, and excellent all-girl band from LA.  Was it really legitimate or was I about to get scammed?

Having found a nearby parking space I approached the venue, its front door shut and a burly doorman standing sentinel outside, watching pavement smokers who’d just stepped out.  It felt awkward but hey, just front it out.

“Hello mate, I was told to a guy called Jamie could sort me out with a ticket?”

“Yep, that’s me.”

He really didn’t look like a Jamie to me.  Face value for a ticket was twelve fifty.

“Great, so..”

“Got a tenner?” he asked.

“Yep,” I proffered a ten pound note.  He swiftly pocketed it, glanced over his shoulder and stamped my right hand with an admission mark.

“In you go then.”

I entered, quietly chuckling to myself.  What admirable entrepreneurial spirit.

The gig itself was exceptional.  Rarely have I witnessed a display which both looked AND sounded quite so good.  Usually it’s sweaty white men with greasy long hair, or perhaps vaguely nerdy.  Here were hot, shlubby females creating a brilliant haunting, subtle noise.

But it was blighted by a persistent conversation between two guys nearby.  Their heads kept coming together to shout over the delicate music, the artists trying to hush the crowd.  It was moderately annoying to me, but I guessed more annoying to the young, meek looking couple standing directly behind them, whose view they were directly obstructing each time their heads came together.

Standing behind the pair of men, I placed my left hand on the main chatty man’s left shoulder.  This perhaps wasn’t the most subtle approach and was always likely to be greeted defensively.  All I said was, “mate,” with a questioning, tired look.

First he shrugged, ignoring me.  The next time they came together he became conscious of my disgusted glare burning into the side of his head.

“What?!” he replied, aggressively.  “Am I annoying you?!  My talking is annoying you?!  Look, you CAN just move..”

“I’m not too bad but it’s probably more annoying that couple right behind you,” I said, gesturing the couple behind him.”

Then he saw them, registered that perhaps that my complaint was legitimate, and ushered the couple in front of him and his friend, before disappearing to the back of the room.

The couple, now standing just in front of me, displayed not even the faintest hint of gratitude.  I just got you a significantly better view by nearly getting in a fight with a dickhead but, y know, no biggie..

Why bother, eh?  You do such things out of a blind sense of duty and righteousness, and sort of expect recognition, if not reciprocation, a payoff at some point – you reap what you sow, do as you would be done by – all that shit, maybe a good turn of luck.

It never seemed to work out though.  But then, perhaps I’d received that luck early through the dodgy doorman.  My helpless sense of injustice only lasted one or two tracks.

A few yards further to my left was a guy I’d initially stumbled across on Twitter while doing some competitor analysis before Christmas; during a time I was seeing an unsuitable girl.  Not that I was a possessive weirdo or anything.  He was working with her at the time.  A handful of shared interests between us, he was professionally mobile, a few years younger and considerably better looking.  I’d seen him around town too, in a few bars – pissed right next to him once, I think.  Didn’t check his asset.  But we’d never met.  God, he was a handsome bastard, I considered, glancing across the crammed floor at him with his great hair and cute girlfriend.  One of those people I simultaneously hated and wanted to be.  She was only working with him temporarily but I had every right to be cautious at the time, although I still look back and cringe at how idiotic the whole thing was.

The gig ended without an encore and we shuffled slowly out of the venue.

At midnight I was feasting on not very nice kebab, feeling grease bloom within me and an unhealthy fat mutation settle in the pit of my stomach.  It wouldn’t leave until around lunchtime the next day.  Quite a reverse on the planned easy evening, gentle swim and early night.  Great work.

doing nothing

It was with no little glumness that I took a table in a crowded Saturday afternoon coffee shop.  I was bored and irritable and had no plans for the whole of the weekend, just as I hadn’t for the few days preceding and following it.  My last in-person conversation occurred sometime around midweek.  This was the best I could do for entertainment.  I selected a new album on my iPod, opened Madame Bovary and lifted a mug of coffee to my lips.  Half hour or so here then I’d duck into the cinema.

I knew some people would kill for this level of quality alone-time but I wasn’t one of them.  This was regular for me.  To the point of extremely dull.  In fact, none of this was especially noteworthy up until this point.

A dark-skinned girl in her early to mid-twenties took the recently vacated window bar seat a couple of steps in front of me and started crying.  At first I wondered if it wasn’t itchy-eyed hayfever as I’d seen a few others suffering with, but this was too persistent.  Her shoulders shook, she was properly bawling.  Facing directly onto a busy street I could see the occasional passer-by double-taking her and looking back; a middle-aged lady with concern, a young attractive woman with distaste.

I took out an earphone, considering saying something.  “Do you want to talk about it?”?  Maybe?  Suddenly aware of myself, I wished I’d been in a group, part of a couple, even with my mother: some company who’d give me more credibility than I had being some lone guy.  I hate that about often being a lone guy, the immediate untrustworthiness, the potential threat, the caution quite reasonably exercised.  I probably wouldn’t trust me to look at.

Her hands kept wiping the tears away.  Facing the large expanse of window pane it seemed a literal cry for help, almost a sideshow for shoppers.  Men might at the most face a wall in a public place; not the street.

Could I just toss a portable pack of hayfever emergency tissues onto the window bar in front of her?  Would that gesture be enough?  I wasn’t reading my book at all.  I still had one earphone in, one out, dangling on the table in front of me, prepared to listen to a reply, if I felt brave enough to ask a question.  But she had her back squarely to me.  I had no chance of just catching her eye.  It could only be a bold extension of support, not a subtle ‘here if you need me’ glance.

This limbo went on for some time.  She managed to drink some of her drink and intermittently stem the flow of her tears, but never completely.

I felt crap.  I was crap.  I shouldn’t worry about such potential perceptions.  Of course she would most likely ignore my offer, shrug it off.  And the majority probably wouldn’t extend an offer of help.  Most people would sit and watch and do nothing, as I was doing.  I don’t consider myself a do-goody Christian, and I’m not religious in any way, but these were not valid reasons not to offer at all.

After a few more minutes she collected her handbag, turned around in her chair and left, never appearing to register me.  Her face was washed pale, her eyes empty and shattered.  She turned right out of the doorway and for a moment I considered following her down the street, still wrestling with my guilt at sitting and watching her and doing nothing for so long.  Chasing her down the street would have been more strange than saying something inside the coffee shop, offering a tissue.

No.  I replaced my spare, dangling headphone into my ear and tried to concentrate on the book.

I felt considerably more glum than when I’d sat down.

Ten minutes later I left for the cinema, where I watched Swinging With The Finkels, a knuckle-chewingly terrible Americanised comedy set in London and starring Martin Freeman – a good albeit slightly typecast comic actor.  It made me even more miserable.

the perfect angle

You think you can make compromises for potential short-term gain.  It’ll be easy.  So what if there’s an age-gap of some kind or there’s another obvious cosmetic defect?

You think it’s true.  But your friend, or one good friend, he laughs, says ‘no you can’t,’ shakes his head like he knows you better than you know yourself.  All evidence points to him being right and you being wrong, which is annoying.

You thought you might be right this time.  She had years on you, a good decade in fact.  But so what?  This wasn’t marriage.  Just.. whatever it was.  She seemed smart and had other strong features, notwithstanding the baggage.  You can’t get to her age, be single and not have baggage though.  It’s to be expected and is extremely rare if that’s not the case.

So you met.  She entered the coffee shop and you saw her and immediately shrunk.  You wanted to recoil back into your shell and not come out until she’d gone.  This was all wrong..  just, no.  Would you have had this reaction if she was more attractive?  Because you are that shallow, without doubt.  How about if she didn’t have such a dominating brace stapled to her teeth?  Still, you had to be polite and nice and charming and play along for a good hour or more, asking questions, lightly filling in the edges of yourself without giving too much information away in case she was a lunatic.  You liked that she knew next to nothing about you, not even any of your many tragic internet identities.

Yet it still felt wrong and you weren’t at all proud of yourself.  You were embarrassed by yourself, tired and irritated.

You took an early day, went for a wander into town, into a grimy pub, and bought a beer which slid down incredibly well.  Then you texted a friend who was just leaving work and open to the idea of a beer in a sunny beer garden.  You met and went to a better bar where eventually you told him how you’d spent your day and he laughed.  ‘You’re pickier than you think!’  You shrugged, and laughed too.  It was ok now beer and a mate were here to rationalise.

After a couple of beers he was harried home for dinner and you parted.  On returning to your flat with beer you grazed social networks to see a female fancy had gone on a successful first date.  It made you sad because you liked her a lot, although you knew you couldn’t put your lives on hold for the memory of one night, when now a few thousand miles separated you.

You drunkenly pondered other opportunities in the last week or two, times when you could have gambled and risked embarrassment, but who knows?

Champagne-at-dawn girl who was surely too posh for you?  Or not.  Was she expecting a move you didn’t make because you were slightly intimidated and rather drunk?

The Italian postgraduate student in the gym jacuzzi who talked your ears off.  Boyfriend in New York but so what?  (As a terminal singleton, it’s possible to respect the relationships of others too much, particularly if signs point in the other direction.  You have responsibilities to yourself too).  You couldn’t help feeling that one of her own kind, an Italian or Frenchman would have made more of a smooth, cocksure play: coffee or something.

The blonde you mocked in a bar for being so cross that there were only three files in the S Drive.  It was irresistible after overhearing her conversation.  She burst into embarrassed giggles.  As much as you played with it in your head, you only had the nerve to use the line as they were leaving the pub; not while they were still sitting opposite you, firmly ensconced in girly conversation and a bottle of wine.

In real-world situations you should be more daring, not in the safe-haven of the multi-layered and often duplicitous sodding internet.  If you really are clinically unable to compromise on the short-term, learn to take a risk or two.  But that’s easier said than done.  Like watching a football team which plays a neat passing game but never takes a shot because they can’t find the perfect angle.

under my skin / in my blood

My brother has aced everything: education, career and domestic life.  I have, comparatively achieved in a decidedly more average fashion.  He is an insufferable snob and we would be unlikely to have anything to do with each other if we weren’t related and just happened to bump into each other at a party.  He wouldn’t consider me anywhere near important or interesting enough to engage him.  I would likely consider him a jumped-up tosser.

Growing up he seemed keen to disassociate from our family, electing to spend long evenings in his bedroom, working on one of his first novels – of which he’s written several, all as yet unpublished.  He would rarely join us in the lounge in front of the television until later in the evening.  That is, if he wasn’t out doing extracurricular activities.

It was almost like he wanted to prove that he wasn’t of us, that he was different.  And that still holds now.  But he still respects family ties as much as you’d expect, visits and stays as close as is comfortable.

Yet also still takes every available opportunity to patronise, judge and sneer.  Probably at all of us: my mother, my father and I.  He was a boisterous, confident and imposing child – as his first born is now.  I was the opposite.  His confidence grew with education, teachers and grades agreeing he was exceptional; with Oxford University; with a steady first girlfriend who stuck and became his wife, the mother to his children; with a well aligned career trajectory and an impressive television job.

Today he still judges and sneers and desperately wants to be one step ahead of the world.  Perhaps my parents and I were just the first, we merely happened to be there: the first people he wanted to rise effortlessly above.  He reads ravenously, large historical tomes, is excellent at his job and a good, if nauseatingly smarmy, tiringly over-protective father.

This weekend he wanted me to visit and help with childcare.  Mainly though, to bring my car so he could have wheels and freedom, his wife having taken their car on a girls’ weekend.  I have played chauffeur and playmate to the children, which hasn’t been without pleasure.

After dinner and the children were packed off to bed it was clear there were no evening plans.  We pored over images of the day.  I was disappointed with and mildly sulky about my efforts.  He attempted to sneer and reprimand me for my sulkiness, how silly and pointless it seemed to be like that.  I asked him to give me a break.  His angsty dramas such as forgetting to buy pasta or losing things – of which there are many, are all justified; my grouchy complaints are all ridiculous overexaggerated nonsense.

We put on a DVD I’d brought with me.  He expressed no great interest, positive or negative, but it was better than Scrabble or the console games he’d half alluded to.  Games don’t often tend to end well between us.  I start losing, sulk and spoil them, sometimes intentionally.

We sat watching his television screen while he played with laptops and his iPhone.  He asked what it was called again, in order to check reviews and synopses, see how it ended and prematurely sneer about it, although we weren’t even halfway in.  What he read empowered his prejudgements, and defended against being surprised one way or the other.  It also prevented his precious time being stolen.

We’d shared three quarters of a bottle of wine, though I suspected he didn’t want to continue it after dinner.  I offered to share out the final splash and he declined.  He was so much better than me in every way.  But he didn’t say ‘you go ahead.’  I had to ask if I could finish it.

Reaching the film’s climax, my brother announced he was going to have a bath, “before the sick bit.”  It was then I realised he’d only asked for a reminder of the film’s title so he could get ahead of the game, find out what happened, if it was any good or not.  The “sick bit” happened; it was slightly sick (although from the way my squeamish brother said it, you might have thought it would be utterly revolting), but sad, convincing and enjoyable.  I liked the film.

My brother is genuinely offended by all farts, even from his children – who get told off for doing them.  He was the same as a child at home.  Farting seems tantamount to a suggested act of paedophilia.

The final flares of a near midsummer sunset still streaming, I decided to go for a walk in the nearby park.  I tapped at the bathroom door, which opened to present his sunken Lord Of The Manor face, half lathered in shaving foam.  When I said I was going for a walk, he cast me his patronisingly questioning look, as if it were midnight, pitch black and pissing down with rain.  I paused and tossed my eyebrows, exhausted and aggravated by his unwavering need to judge me, then went on to ask if it was quicker and quieter going out the back way.

He could never accept anything I did straightaway, be positive and accommodating.  Sometimes I’m surprised he doesn’t closely scrutinise the way I inhale.

I went for a walk and took a few pictures of the pink sunset, angry he could upset me like this in a look.  How his way was the correct and only way, ever.  I walked fast and ranted inside my head.  The rant of a man who’d had a few glasses of wine and been riled by his superior older brother, but it still felt entirely justified.

The other thing which struck me this weekend was how utterly bereft he seems of basic human sympathy.  While he’s caring and tender to a stomach-churning fault with his wife and offspring, he almost appears to go out of his way to be patronising, and almost callous in the face of basic grievances.  My face exploded with hayfever after returning from playing on a hill.  I scrambled around the car for tissues as he settled the infants in the back seat.  His reaction on seeing and hearing me was like I’d gone out of my way to offend him.  We called our mother for a chat.  She was suffering from some cold-type bug and sounded ill as much as she spoke about it.  It’s true that she might exaggerate a little from time to time, but there was no disputing she was unwell.

After the call my brother’s reaction suggested she was entirely putting it on and worthy of no sympathy whatsoever.  “Ah, you know what she’s like..”

THE WOMAN WAS CLEARLY ILL!  And she’s not so young anymore!  Have a fucking heart, you wanker.

Exasperated, I sighed, shook my head and appealed “oh, come on…” in halfhearted fashion before walking away.

I’ve written at length about him here and elsewhere, yet it still holds that his attitude and behaviour towards us suggest we are as much his own personal character constructs or figurines, rather than other fully independent human beings with fully developed consciousnesses.  We exist to be patronised and mocked.

When he’s raised in conversation by people I don’t know brilliantly, and they cue me up to talk about him and what he does, I have mixed feelings.  “Oh yes, I saw your brother the other night!  He’s doing very well, isn’t he?  Do you know what his brother does, Mavis?”

On the one hand I’m proud, because he is my brother and he is doing very well, as he knows.  But on the other hand, if ever I was asked, is he a nice bloke?  I think I’d struggle to say yes.  This is why it makes me a little uncomfortable.  He’s very admirable in one way, and also a good, loving husband and father: yes, without doubt.  But a nice bloke?  I really don’t know.

He was asleep on the sofa when I returned from my twilight walk.  I didn’t know why he’d seen fit to wait up for me.  We had a stunted, faintly awkward conversation, both remembering our supressed exchange in the bathroom doorway, where we both opted for loaded looks over words – did I know where everything was?  Bedding, towels and such?  Yes, I did.  Ok, good night then.  He went to bed.

Library updating…

When you add loads of content to your iPod / favourite portable electronic device: music, podcasts, photos, whatever; it can take a while for the library to update as it works out how to allocate all the new data.

That’s what my head’s been doing lately, using the slow, lethargic hardware of my brain, which isn’t used to that much new memory being crammed in in one go.

From the generally static lifestyle of living and working alone, speaking in person to roughly half a dozen people a week – a couple of those probably on the other side of counters; I figured I might have feasibly spoken with over two hundred people last week.

The wedding was beautiful.  My feelings were simple ones of pleasure for them.   They’d done it.  Found each other, sealed the deal, gone for it.  Sifting through my photos the next day brought it back again: the sincere delight on their faces.

(Is it emotional wanking to be moved by your own images?)

A day and a half back in the temporary office, where I was warming to one member of staff and tolerating another who was rather dotty, then I set off to do a thing at a place over a weekend.  It was wholly enjoyable, memorable, hard work and tiring, and it required me to meet many shining, successful people not too much younger than me.

One of the evenings was particularly fuelled by alcohol and partying.  I watched Sunday’s dawn seep in over the ocean while sharing a bottle of champagne with one pretty female.  You’d think that sort of scenario might develop somewhere, wouldn’t you..?  But, as I find is often the case, one thing didn’t lead to another.  She might have even considered me gay rather than simply feeble.  In fact I was drunk and had over-shared and felt mildly embarrassed.  She was a midwife and spoke a lot about being a midwife, which I said was fine despite being bored.  She was also quintessentially English and gave no signs or signals I could detect of being interested.  I wasn’t going to risk embarrassing myself further.  We walked away from the seafront to a midpoint between our rooms, hugged and parted, never to see each other again.

Emotions at the event were high and the positive spirit of celebration was strong, as it had been at the wedding.  Even though I was peripheral from it here, even witnessing it was stirring.  The place was a mini-Oxbridge where belief is instilled into young people to the point of arrogance.  Several mentioned how different they would have been without that experience.  I didn’t doubt it.  I wondered how I’d be today if I had spent two years there, what it was like to have that belief and practically harness it.
In the days afterwards I felt emotionally dreary and listened to sad songs too much – particularly the new Death Cab For Cutie and Thea Gilmore albums.  Around me was progress, people moving on, going through stages, being at the centre of their own stories.  I was still the angst-ridden, wronged teenager.  My story was that I had no story: no plan, no structure, not much interesting past.  I hadn’t emigrated to America to have a child and failed marriage only to return.  I hadn’t lived anywhere else of any real interest.  I didn’t have a humbling, worthy job as a UN peacekeeper in Africa.  I wasn’t earning shitloads of cash as an investment banker.  I wasn’t even frittering loads of cash I didn’t have away on a glamorous, damaging but enjoyable addiction which would “develop me as a person.”

Perhaps that was what I should do.

When I spoke to them on the phone, I wanted my immediate family to be interested in my week: the things I’d spoken of beforehand and suggested I was excited about, looking forward to.  Nobody was.  The groom, as mentioned here, has been one of my best friends since adolescence.  I don’t think my Mum could name him.  However, I was naturally obliged to reflect her excitement about a doll’s house she’d bought her granddaughter.

My brother at least exercised polite but distant-seeming interest.  I returned more detail than he was interested in hearing, which still wasn’t much.  He had more interest in ensuring I was still prepared to drive a few hours across the country this weekend and help him with childcare in the absence of his wife.  I could do without the miles and the petrol – which have been totting up of late, but will probably enjoy his kids’ company when I get there.


Tuesday brought a close to my brief stint in a real office.  The one colleague who I had warmed to was a female around my own age, (firmly attached, naturally).  When I came to leave the office we discovered a common interest which surprised us both and perhaps forced a small correction; a reassessment and one which could never be detrimental.  The absence of our dotty colleague in the office that day had meant more open conversation, almost banter.   A few more days like that and we’d have been more relaxed again.

It reminded me how working with people you like can offer so much more opportunity for strategy, showing someone what you’re like on a day-to-day basis.  No wonder so many bosses screw their secretaries.  It’s not like just meeting a person once, having one crap date, or getting drunk and messing it up then never seeing them again.  There’s a chance for redemption and gradually exposing different sides of yourself.   I don’t really believe in ‘types’ but if I did she’d probably be it.  She was slightly ‘hooray’ perhaps, overly inclined to the odd big guffing laugh to appease a colleague who wanted to hear that, but near as dammit.

Now I’ve returned to my flat and modest office, the clot of experience, people and memory already soaking in.

Music library updated.  Select track, press play..