nervous system

“Speaks English well,” I read my doctor’s notes from his PC screen when he popped out of the office to arrange my blood tests.  I felt mildly buoyed by this, then wondered why that was medically relevant.  If it would become relevant if I suddenly didn’t speak English very well.  If my speaking skills deteriorated, or perhaps if I suddenly lapsed into Arabic.  Everything else reflected what I had reported over the last ten days or so: the head symptoms, the fluctuating but generally unremitting pressure.

The doctor was amiably open in his cluelessness and, after a couple more questions and basic neurological tests, set up the blood test.

While more than one have said I should be less relaxed and more assertive about how I’m treated by healthcare professionals – and they could be right; I still didn’t feel the need to be excessively forthright or abrupt.  He was filling out the forms and doing everything he could.  I asked for tests and he was giving them to me.  Neither of us knew what was going on up there.

Results by Friday.  Something new to worry about.

My name was called over the speaker system for the second time that morning and I found my way between a mix of patient legs and resentful eyelines (HIM, again?  He’s only just come out) to a different examination room.

I’m always surprised to meet people whose outlook appears to be one of default good cheer, apparently pure and untarnished by the faintest cynicism.

“Hello!” I can’t properly convey in any description how much jolly cheer she inserted in that one word.  Suffice to say it was lots.

“You’re perky today,” I observed of the nurse after she beamed at me.  She could have been a Radio 1 DJ.

“Ah, you’ve got to be, haven’t you?” she said, unwrapping a small pack of needles and blood receptacles.

“Have you?  Yes, I suppose.”  Maybe you did if you spent the day vacuuming blood, and with it the first signals of potentially fatal disease.  Of course she must do other things.  I stood between a bed and a seat opposite her.  “Where dyou want me?”

“Just take a seat there.”

I rolled up the sleeve of my arms.

“Ooh, you’ve got lovely big veins.”

“Do I?  That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”  What was that about?  Was I accidentally flirting?  Nerves, nerves.  Calm.

I give blood fairly regularly and needles don’t usually faze me, although I don’t tend to look that closely.  This time I quivered, flinched at the prick, looked away.  Neither of us spoke for a moment.  Nerves.

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Bum day

I like the author of One Day, David Nicholls.  It’s practically impossible not to.  I saw him give a couple of readings from One Day at a trendy Notting Hill book event around the time of its original release, circa March / May 2009.  He was affable, charming, self-effacing, deeply motherable and understated; almost embarrassed to be there, on a stage in front of such a number of people, in such a building.  Yet not nervous and perfectly fluent.

His work is always readable.  Several years before, while travelling around South East Asia in a sulk because I was apparently unable to get any sort of job I wanted at home, I read his earlier book, Starter For Ten.  It was also converted to the screen a few years ago, starring the wholly winning James McAvoy – as well as my pal Benedict Cumberbatch (our meeting and that post remains the sole reason for 95% of this site’s traffic).

I loved that book and almost felt guilty for loving it and being moved by it as much as I did.  Before I set off my brother gave me a paperback of three Graham Greene novels.  It looked classic and worthy and dense and I didn’t get along with any of it.  Backpack battered, the book eventually disintegrated on a short internal flight.  Repairing it seemed futile so I made no effort and left it scattered on the floor under my seat.

Starter For Ten stayed with me, though.  Sure, it was populist, but it was also extremely funny and there was a tremendous voice.

The same voice behind One Day, of course.  Not long after hearing David Nicholls reading from it, I was made redundant and found myself flailing for employment once more – not that I really wanted it.  All it did was shit in my face, by and large.  And I seldom enjoyed it anyway.  Still, rather than sit and stew on my redundancy pay-out, worrying and wondering what to do next, I used some of it to take a few weeks in South Africa and do some volunteering in a remote valley, and take a safari.  It was on this trip, almost exactly two years ago, that I read One Day.

I knew I’d get along with it ok.  It’d be easy to read and witty, ideal lazy holiday fodder.  What surprised and irritated me was the lead male character.  Dexter was everything I hated about a person, throughout his whole journey.  Yet he commanded the affections of the apparently perfect virtuous female lead, Emma.  Clearly this was intended and his character was designed this way, but it irked and confused me throughout.  I never worked out why.  Besides being good looking and well-bred, having a charisma and confidence  – I couldn’t fathom the appeal.  Was this Nicholls’s way of saying girls are shallow and incomprehensible?

It similarly irritated throughout the film too.  In fact in the film I probably identified and empathised more with Rafe Spall’s buffoonish character, Ian.  (I fear Rafe Spall is getting typecast as loveable buffoon).  I could well understand his character’s frustration and hatred of Dexter.  Perhaps I am Ian, the quirky but unfunny, charmless clod.

This incomprehension of females and what is and isn’t attractive to them was underlined a couple of weeks ago.  A female had been with a guy for ten years.  Perfectly fit and healthy, he had never worked and was happy playing the benefits system.  They had a child together before splitting up and thanks to 50/50 custody she also paid him child support.  But she endured ten years of him.  Ten years.  The tolerance levels and fear of being alone is bewildering.

Being steadfastly independent blinkers you to the addiction of dependency many people have: a dependency on comfort and company, if nothing else, and even if the quality of that comfort and company is lacking, and even if in some ways they’re horrendously alone.  Because it’s better than actually being alone.

Not that this was quite the case for Emma, because it is illustrated that she sincerely loved Dexter.  Fuck knows why though.  He starts out a dick, becomes more of a dick, then slightly less of a dick but still a really very much self-regarding dick, (be pleased that she found someone, fuckwit!) then a wallowing dick, and by the end he’s.. well, still a dick.

Added to this is the ‘London for Americans’ cinematography and Anne Hathaway’s hysterical Yorkshire accent, which is as changeably disorientating as an English summer.  As in the book, The Thing that happens towards the end felt like a fairly desperate plot device to conclude the novel.  Although I think I did leak a little at that part in the book – not too much as I was sitting in the front of a safari Jeep with our guide – at the film I felt nothing, and would bet that someone who hadn’t read the book could see it coming some distance off.  I didn’t even smirk at the amusing one-liners which were lifted from the book.  Not that there were many.

**An addendum to this.  I just read a review which says Nicholls wrote the screenplay for the film, which puts me at even more of a loss regarding its anaemia.  One which sadly didn’t translate at all.

Warble defence

I felt a little silly after posting that last blog.  I’d hoped and thought I might.  Despite hesitating over clicking the Publish button, thinking: you sound like an angsty dickhead, I still did it anyway.  There’s been a few of those posts.  In a way it was a defence mechanism.  If I feared the worst and prepared, then it wouldn’t happen, or it would be less likely to, y know, if I prepared for all eventualities.

Utter bollocks, of course.  It would have no bearing.  Like when you fear the worst if a loved one isn’t home yet, or hasn’t called.  If I imagine it, just for a moment, then..   Then what?

But I also wanted an outlet and somewhere to vent and pathetically cyber dribble on the shoulder of the internet.  It’s what I use this blog for, from time to time.  I doubt it makes for very comfortable reading, but it gives some semblance of release which is relatively harmless.

I probably won’t die imminently.  I might do, of course.  There’s nothing saying it can’t happen.  But for the moment I feel marginally more secure that it won’t.

The last 24 hours or so have brought, with the relief on my head, a quite foolish seeming exhilaration, an oddly construed pride in my resilience, like I’ve made a comeback of sorts.  Listening to uplifting music on my iPod while walking down the street, I’ve wanted to do a goal celebration and high-five strangers.  Get me!  Not dead yet!

Dick.

exit music

A peculiar thing is happening in your head.  You hope you’re being all dramatic about it for nothing, as one tends to do about many things when trapped inside one’s head for more time than is probably healthy.  You over-think things when you can’t voice or discuss them, and they can spiral out of control.  By the same token you’re loathe to voice and discuss them with anyone because you feel like a theatrical, self-absorbed ponce.

On Sunday evening you disembarked from a two-hour flight after spending an enjoyable weekend visiting friends.  You drove another two hours home.  On arriving home your head started feeling strange and pressurised.  Not massively painful, but like it was in some kind of strong grip.  Pulsing ripples flowed around certain areas of the skull, then faded away, though you didn’t know if one of them would suddenly summon an altogether worse sensation.  When you stood up and moved around, you felt temporarily dizzy.  Your stomach gurgled and a mild nausea came and went.  It was frightening, and carried on being frightening, to fluctuating degrees, throughout yesterday: the day and the evening.

Last night you zapped the television off, leaned forward on the sofa, sat still and rubbed your temples.  You wondered what the hell it was and hoped you weren’t dying.  Don’t be dying.  Don’t die.  You’re not dying.  Are you?  Don’t speak too much about it.  You’ll look even more of a fool.

You went to bed, trying to reconcile yourself to the idea of dying.  Because you could be.  You could always be.  There are no promises.  But when it feels like rapids gushing or hurricanes swirling around inside your head, you might have more concern than usual.

You’d only recently finished what was, at the time it was written, a seminal book: On Death And Dying.  But you didn’t feel that its contents were colouring your thoughts, as you lay in the dark room, worried, frightened for yourself, trying not to think too much about each different wave ebbing through your skull.

You had lived a life: been to extraordinary places and done things, experienced emotions, met people.  Other people have had more time and other people have had less.  There are no rules about how much or how little time you’re allowed.  No meritocracy.  No guidelines about how sudden or how protracted death can be.  The honeymooner eaten by a shark while snorkelling off the Seychelles, about to begin a new, prospectively lifelong adventure with his new wife; those adolescent victims of the Norwegian massacre; that widely respected Red Arrows pilot.

You wouldn’t be leaving as much as them either.  It’s not as if you’re doing all that much with your life anyway.  You’re making attempts to address that, to do more which you feel matters, but maybe it’s too late.  Would death be a punishment for your lack of ambition?  You don’t deserve anything.  You reap what you sow and you haven’t sowed shit.  Nobody depends on you; not really.  Being a loner means you wouldn’t be missed to the extent that others are.  You’re not a solid, day-to-day presence in any lives.  Just a peripheral thought, an idea, a memory.

If there were a rational entity responsible for allocating terminal illnesses, brain tumours or death to otherwise fit and healthy people, you could understand why you might be selected.  Brutally put, you’re a human of limited promise and your loss would be nominal, could barely register at all.

Having said that, you like life and want to live.  You’d definitely choose it over the alternative.  Perhaps not if you were totally incapacitated or brain-dead, but otherwise yes: thumbs up to living please.  You’ve adapted to the idea of never finding a suitable female partner.  You had it once, too, for a brief period.  Then you allowed it to splutter and choke, and let go.  Although you wouldn’t relinquish all hope or effort, you understand that it’s quite possible it could never happen again.  What more could you do that you haven’t been doing?  And particularly not now, not if you’re on the way out.  But there are other things to live for beyond that, other things which make it amazing and rewarding and joyful.  Loads of them.

If death is ultimately like going to sleep – something you enjoy and do a lot of – perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad.  With this thought and an acknowledgement of tiredness and stress, you finally allowed full relaxation and eventually drift off to sleep.

This morning you phoned the doctors’ surgery.  They were all booked up for today and told you to try ringing back tomorrow, from 8am.  “Keep your finger on the redial button, we’re very busy around that time.”

want to dance

“Do you want to dance?” she asked.

When asked this question by a female I’m not that attracted to, my usual reaction is an uncomfortable paralysis combined with a shake of the head.  It’s a reaction I know to be stupid.  It’s just a dance.  It’s not marriage.  Perhaps it’s the thought of family, or new vague acquaintances observing the dance from the fringes and making readings.  “Isn’t he single?  And she is too..?  Oooh.”

Fuck off.  Leave me alone.  Don’t make me the subject of your reality television show.  It’s just a dance, ok?  I would burn crimson under the glare and hope it wasn’t obvious under the dark lighting.  Wouldn’t I?  Or would I ease into it, gradually not care?  Just be cool?  Learn to have fun?

Better not risk looking like a colossal dickhead anyway.  Because then… If that happens, then..  Oh shut up, brain!  Just, no!  Ok?

Unlike in my kitchen, here I would dance like the whole world was indeed watching and closely scrutinising, which I understand to be preposterous.  But I cannot not care when I do care.  This means there can be issues when it comes to letting go.  In some respects, yes, I am uptight.  You never would have believed it.

I’ve only ever been comfortable dancing with good friends in public venues when I’m drunk.  These are my unwavering criteria.  At weddings I never achieve such a level of comfort.  Either at a wedding where I know many people, or at a wedding where I know only a few, the more stagey nature of the dancefloor repels me.

With this offer to dance, my instinct had been firmly saying No, right from the outset.  Honking great Drunken-Lunatic sirens screamed in my head as she introduced herself, and didn’t dim as we spoke.  She wasn’t at all unattractive, a few years younger, red-faced, an easy grin, high intensity, over-animated, trying hard, undeniably drunk.  Having said this, she was entertaining to chat to and responded well to my own, not unlubricated banter.

I grew steadily aware that this was probably her, the girl my cousin had mentioned trying to set me up with twelve months or more before.  And there she was now in her striking bride’s dress, just over the girl’s shoulder, sneaking illicit glances at us.

Was the wedding, the belated consummation of a 20 year relationship which had already borne two children, merely an excuse to bring us together?

No, you fool.  Ludicrous.

My brother had mentioned it earlier in the week, voiced the possibility that our cousin was in charge of the dinner seating so that girl she’d tried to set me up with..  I’d shrugged and chuckled; the thought had occurred to me too but I’d been on enough crap dates to be able to cope.  As it turned out she only attended the evening party and wasn’t there during the meal, or indeed the service.

She found me again after she’d given up trying to cajole me onto the dancefloor.  I was pathetically nursing a whisky and reading a children’s football magazine, evidently not caring about looking a prick in that sad loner man way, my natural climate.  The magazine clearly only had a fraction of my attention and I was as much indulging in drunken self-analysis, as I was reading about Frank Lampard’s favourite film.  I was there to have fun, to party.  Why wasn’t I?  What was stopping me?  What was this annoying enjoyment paralysis thing and how could I rid myself from it?  More alcohol?  I didn’t really want more alcohol.  Why not?  Why couldn’t I have an addictive personality?  I’d be more interesting and magnetic if I could do things to excess and not care.  But I boringly know my limits, I like to have control, some semblance of dignity, and strongly dislike vomiting.

She smiled forgivingly as she approached me, alone at a dinner table.  She didn’t sit, leaned down and spoke loudly into my ear over the noise of the live band: “I think you’re gorgeous, and you should flirt more,” then she moved away again.

It was a pleasant thing to hear, of course, but I disagreed with both of her points.  I’m perfectly capable of flirting when I want to, I think.  I didn’t want to.  She was a little too much for my taste.  And she was increasingly drunk, which downgraded her first assertion, complimentary as it was.

I returned to reading banal trivia about vastly overpaid young men, finished my whisky and left.

*

At a family and friends garden party the next day, the bride pulled me to one corner and surreptitiously yet excitedly said: “so, dare I ask?”  She had a knowing twinkle in her eye.  I had no idea what she was talking about.

“Ask what?”

“Did you speak to my friend..?”

“Ohhh.  Yes.”

“And what did you think?”

“Um.  She was nice.”

“Is there anything I should or shouldn’t say to her when I see her again in a couple of weeks?”

“I wouldn’t want to tell you there’s anything you can or can’t say.”

“..”

“Look, um.., she was nice but I don’t think.. not like that..”

“She had had a lot to drink.”

“Yes, I noticed that.  But no, it’s fine.  She was nice, but y know..  Dyou want some more cake?”

steaming envy

Steam Room.  Steely, takes-no-shit looking Welsh mother, late 30s enters with blank but friendly young daughter, mid-teens.Daughter: gaw, it smells in yur doesnit?

Mum: yeh, they put summink on the thing down there.

They settle and breathe, enjoying the fumes, although Mum retains a general look of hard disapproval at the world.

Daughter: This is making a mess of my fake tan.

Pause.

Daughter:  Stef Jones just got back from Jamaica, she has.  Lovely tan.

Mum: What’s er Mum’s name?

Daughter: Can’t remember.  Young mum.  Works in the bank, I think.

Pause.

Mum (having thought hard): Claire.

Daughter: That’s it!

Mum: ay noes her.  Natwest.  On the counter.

Mum’s disapproving face stronger than ever.

Mum: who’d she go to Jamaica with then?

Daughter: boyfriend and his family.

Mum: Ah right.

Mum smoulders, steams.

August pace

Having engaged in this solo work pursuit for a while now, I’m confident that the holiday months of August and December usually turn out to be the hardest going: a complete reverse on childhood, when they’re the months which fly by.  In adult December you at least have distractions of seeing family and re-living every other largely tepid Christmas in living memory.  From the middle to latter third of December it’s more of a blanket holiday, less guilt is forthcoming about not doing very much.

August is different though.  In August if you don’t go away anywhere – or even if you do, you tend to try to work, or feel obliged to work, to sit at a desk in front of a screen, anticipating.  It’s where, as a lone worker, it’s probably healthier to just cut yourself some slack, sensibly reduce the hours and not beat yourself up too badly about it.  Take those long languid lunches with books and coffee, idle around town, go for a run, visit the gym or cinema, take photographs, occupy yourself any which way.

Yet still there remains the aggravating force-field of routine, which must be obeyed at all times.  Still you will be at your desk by at least 9am, probably until at least 11, then from at least 3 until at least 6.  Even if you’re not doing anything even vaguely productive: just pin-balling around the internet, making sour judgements about how interesting or funny people are on Twitter.  (It’s a bit iffy to say such things – because they are tantamount to racism I suppose, but I remain disappointed by the blank magnolia plainness of the Welsh.  Not unlikable, just charmless.  Could just be me.  Probably is).

People working in real offices for big organisations likely think less of frittering away hours, possibly by chatting in real life – I know I didn’t; and being able to squander ‘core hours’ in such a way might even be considered attractive.  But day after day, particularly in the months of August and December – times when you might also be looking for something, *ANYTHING* different and new to occupy yourself – this gets substantially tougher.

“I don’t think I could do that,” people often say to me when I explain what I do and allude to my general day-to-day working environment.  Occasionally there’s an edge of respect or admiration in their tone, occasionally there’s disapproval or disbelief.

“Why?  What would happen if you did?” I want to ask in reply, but never do.

Of course some people might be better equipped to do it than others; there are people who clearly do need to be around other people for major portions of the day and you fear for them if they’re not, like they might hyperactively spin out of control and shatter against a wall.  I’d already achieved a level of independence and confidence in my independence by the time I’d started this work two years ago.  I’d lived alone for a while, and even when I technically hadn’t it felt like I was.  Equally, my pursuit within the organisations I worked was mine and mine alone.  Playing football gave my only sense of teams, camaraderie, banter; which was perhaps why I enjoyed and was so committed to it.

Humans are social creatures who, by and large, need other humans.  Otherwise strange things can happen and they’re considered strangely, or with caution, even if they don’t.  And I’m no different.  This is why, added to general cruddy Augustness, being let down by sporadically disappointing friends, has irked.

I tried the running club thing last week.  It was different.  I don’t know if I’ll go back.  But it seems years ago, last Thursday.  It’s not enough and will likely just irritate me.

As the weather is too.  While most of the country seems to be basking in bright sunshine to complement the soaring temperatures, in Wales we’ve been largely cowed under the same dense sheets of grey cloud which hang there most of the year.  This irks me.

Still, things should happen soon.  August isn’t a total void.  There’s a family wedding, a brief foreign sojourn for a friend’s party, work might pick-up; the football season is finally (FINALLY!) upon us; and I might decide to do a spontaneous road-trip somewhere if I can find decently priced accommodation.

I was reminded of that sense of peace, the almost spiritual soul-food given when driving up through Welsh mountains on Sunday, listening to perfectly appropriate folk music – then climbing a mountain, listening to podcasts and seeing for miles, despite the dogged grey overhead.  Welsh landscapes are certainly not charmless and the other ramblers on them appeared more human and friendly too, perhaps as a result: the vast majority giving a cheerful nod or a greeting as we passed.  I could handle more of that; it’s sustenance of a kind.