alternative reality

My CV exists online in various places and various states, a number of them probably quite outdated.  I don’t mind much; most of the spammy recruitment agency emails go straight to a junk file and the telephone calls are infrequent.  When I do receive a call it’s usually from somebody who wants to be my mate and who offends me with their simplicity to the extent I’m abrupt and not very nice.  I feel it’s better for everyone that way.  Nobody’s time is wasted on empty niceties.

Yesterday though, I received a call from a middle-aged woman and I let her speak.  She sounded a little nervous, the kind who doesn’t expect to be allowed to speak at length without getting interrupted.  So when she does have a free run she gets nervous and speaks herself down blind alleys.  I sort of empathised.  I also let her speak because I wasn’t too busy and, it transpired, what she was talking about actually sounded like it could potentially be of interest.

That was another thing.  They usually didn’t say interesting things.

A full-time permanent role which actually didn’t sound too dull.  An unspectacular salary I’d hope to negotiate up a little.  Suddenly I was flung into an alternative new life of a career; purpose and ambition and people and the egotistical “busyness” I so revile.  Would it be so bad?  Wildly premature thoughts, clearly, but you can’t help them.  Like after a good first date, of which I dimly remember one or two, once upon a time.

Despite investing a lot of time and a small bit of cash in a new venture – a thing I enjoy doing, it’s unsurprisingly not showing any signs of flowering at all.  Meanwhile the main breadwinning activity continues to shrink, my final supplementary client looking like fading out in the coming months, leaving all my eggs firmly in the one basket.

From time to time I engage in idle thoughts of a conventional career: an office, new relationships, colleagues I’d see and be irritated by every day.  Perhaps I wouldn’t really mind it if it was something that would engage me, stuff to get my teeth into, new subjects to learn about in a new industry.  I feel increasingly less towards a technology space which has outgrown me, not that I was ever wildly passionate about it in the first place.  It was better a few years ago when my knowledge was specialised and relevant, but now it feels like there’s too much to know, and everyone has an opinion anyway.  Like your secret favourite cult band had made it mainstream and was now boring.

While being standoffish and acting like I neither needed or was that interested in what the lady on the telephone was talking about, I felt myself getting seduced by the idea.

Just think about it: A Life!  Having a routine.  Not sitting on your flat on your own all day.  Not “medium filter coffee to have in please…   little space for milk…   there you go, thanks a lot” ..being the only thing you say in real life to another person on most days.  The potential to win recognition from people you might even respect.  The ability to completely disconnect for an evening, a weekend, a week.  It would be a more interesting life, wouldn’t it?

But slow down, brain.  Try not to ever hope.  You’ve learned that now.  Hoping is a horribly dangerous business which virtually always ends in disappointment for you.  This lady on the phone might think you’re a prick, your CV might not make the cut, an interview panel might think you’re underqualified or an unmanageable risk.  It’s massively likely that there will be shinier, more assured candidates who smile easily and plainly look better suited.  The same type who you constantly lost out to in your mid-twenties when performing reasonably well throughout countless interviews.   No.  You’ve no chance.

Was it really *you* anyway, anymore?  That imagined new lifestyle; having bosses?  Wouldn’t you flounder and crack under expectations and pressures, quickly grow bitter and resentful?  It would only be more interesting for a brief period before it became habitual, boring, a thing to despise.  Wouldn’t you miss all of that navelgazing time you had and complained about having but sort of liked as well?

If everything just carries on as it is, with the one main client and work which enables you to maintain this generally lazy, undemanding and wholly unsatisfying lifestyle, that’ll be fine too, won’t it?  You’ll just be opening yourself up to another fall otherwise.

kissing and comfort zones

I’m not comprehensively disabled around small people.  On the contrary, I enjoy their company and like playing the goofy uncle who asks silly questions.  It’s the greetings and goodbyes which I tend to fumble, and could do without.  It’s possible my own Dad wasn’t such a great example here, being himself rather disabled around small people and in showing affection towards them.  Yet it feels like an innate disability of my own too, a personal gene of inhibition.

Kissing children makes me uncomfortable.  Upon meeting and parting I much prefer to pat them on the head, ruffle their hair or, if it seems as if I must, kiss the top of their head.  Kissing their faces just feels a little ‘icky’ somehow, for me, a bloke with little experience of small people before these particular small people came along.  Of course it’s different if they’re yours or if you have parental experience.

But then, I find kissing grown-ups on the cheek to often be a little icky too.  While I naturally affect breezy confidence when kissing cheeks, in truth I’d prefer if the casual convention for males to kiss females upon meeting didn’t exist at all.

There’s far too much jeopardy, too many variables, stuff that can go wrong.  She doesn’t present a cheek or doesn’t expect or want a kiss – stay the hell away you creep, and just accepts a hug instead, leaving you almost head-butting the back of her head and not knowing what to do with your face, or dangling out into thin air, or kissing her ear, or what if you both turn your head in the same direction and accidentally kiss each other’s lips instead?  All of these things have happened and sporadically return to haunt me.  I remember them far too well.

Even as a child I had weird issues with it; one vivid memory of refusing to kiss “Auntie” Pat on the cheek and throwing a huge tantrum because it meant not getting a slice of my favourite chocolate cake and crying the whole car journey home.

Then there was the time when I’d just kissed one female former colleague and went to kiss a second I knew equally well but was so taken aback by her awful skin I just shook her hand instead, “oh hey you, aahh..”   As her limp, dead, hate-filled hand sat in mine I became the most evil person ever.

So in that moment at the weekend when my brother asked me to strip naked and then dress his daughter, 2, I was stung with no little terror.  We’d been happily playing with a Peppa Pig jigsaw I’d bought her for Christmas when he dumped a pile of clothes down next to us.  Was I cool with this?  I asked myself.  Sure, I mean, I suppose..  erm..   I asked her if she wanted to put some clothes on and my brother poked his head back around the door, asked if I was ok with doing that.  I’d never dressed anyone before, never changed a nappy, kept some discretionary uncle distance.  Actually I wasn’t ok doing it.  I was massively awkward.  I was jelly.  “Er not really,” I confessed.  “I am a bit awkward to be honest.  Don’t want her kicking off.”  I felt clumsy, inadequate, failed, relieved.

There was a similar feeling later that day when we visited extended family discovered in the last few years thanks to the internet.  Our families have met several times since and enjoyed a poetic symmetry.  My mother’s new found half-sister had two daughters, whereas she had two sons; the elder daughter had two children, a boy and a girl, roughly the same age as my elder brother’s two children, a boy and a girl; the younger daughter was single.

At dinner I was enclosed in a corner of the table against the wall and subsequently found it difficult to contribute to wider conversation further down the table, contending with children’s squealing playful noises and my brother’s commanding central seat.  After a few faltering attempts I gave up.  Conversation then moved towards the absent younger daughter who, it was casually mentioned, now had a man.  Terrific, I thought.  Well done.  How dare she shatter the hitherto perfect symmetry of our families?  The bitch.

I rose from the table, went into the garden to play football with a six year old and broke his goalposts.

remember when

This was a bit silly, you thought.  What did you hope to achieve exactly?  A brain-jolt of some kind, clarifying the hitherto blurry memory?  You didn’t really believe in the mystical stuff, that there might have been some significance, some message.  No, that was silly.

Nonetheless it was disconcerting, being ejected from that dream – sitting on a train with your good friend of many years, and a stranger, an older suit – and waking with memories of a single day over ten years previously.  Wales versus Ukraine, a World Cup qualifier.  What was it, March sometime, in 2001?  The 17th or 21st: something like that.  You didn’t know why you remembered but your brain often did that, plucked from nowhere with a loose certainty that you were in the right ball park.  You’d been to something in the day, an event?  A training course?  It was at a Halls of Residence, a large one the furthest out of the city, a fair journey across town.  Had you won something?  What was it?  Or made a good impression?

Your mind lurched around for the event or the course or whatever it was, but failed to pin it down.  You’d been in a rush when you returned to the grubby second year student house you shared with two girls and one guy.  You had tickets for the match and were heading into town straight away.

Who did you go with?  Anyone?  Couldn’t remember.  Did you go out in town afterwards?  What was the score?  0-0 or 1-1, something like that.

Why were you remembering this day, you puzzled, now wide-awake in bed, eyes opened in the grey 4am light.  What significance did it have?  What had prompted it?  How was it related to the dream?

Perhaps something to do with the memories jerked by that old picture a friend had posted to Facebook, a group of you.  Your starey creepy piggy eyes looking on from the background; pale complexion, uncertainty and youth.  They weren’t great pictures of anyone.  You never felt you enjoyed university as much as you should have, didn’t have enough fun or success with girls.  Just staring at them and hoping never seemed to do the trick.

You reached for a device on your bedside table and Googled “Wales Ukraine qualifier”, which quickly yielded a Youtube video.  March 28th 2001.  A little later on in the month.  1-1, John Hartson and Andriy Shevchenko the goalscorers.  A supporting cast of average forgotten footballers from recent history: Oleg Luzhny, Darren Barnard.  Ten years can only ever be recent history but it’s a timespan with almost magical powers too.  It can feel both like yesterday and 25 years ago, especially when looking back to such a supposedly formative time.

The next afternoon you went for a walk to areas of studentsville you hadn’t visited for a number of years.  It was silly.  What were you hoping for?  Or was it just a pique of curiosity, just to see if any other memories would be prodded out.  You’re never exactly slow to navelgaze.

You stopped in a small coffee-shop you used to frequent, possibly less as a student and more when you worked for the University.  There were young, fresh-faced, posh-voiced students everywhere.  You were never this fresh-faced, were you?  Those Facebook images suggest otherwise.  Although some had inflated and aged since then, while others had shedded a youthful puppy-fat and looked better now.

The second year street looked the same: anonymous, ordinary, a dowdy net curtain in the front bedroom window, a letting agent sign stuck to the outside.  You remembered your two girl housemates falling out, due in no small part to the thin wall between lounge and bedroom.  One had come back ranting, thinking her friend had been out.  It shouldn’t have been funny but it was.  You remembered walking back drunk with your housemate one freezing cold winter’s night to find his lovely but quite insane girlfriend curled up asleep on the pavement.

Nothing much of any note returned or jogged a memory as you aimlessly paced the dirty, waste-strewn streets replete with skips, half-eaten polystyrene boxes of fast food and discarded mattresses nestled in the front yard.  Shops had turned into other shops, a hypervalue had become a Sainsbury’s; your third year flat had a new front door; intimidatingly beautiful females wafted past, leaving you reeling, as frozen in your admiration now as you were then.

business studies

Walking through the small business park which lies between my residential area and the city centre, I pass ground floor office windows.  Inside are reception areas where middle aged women with good posture look prepared and unproductive, the card game solitaire sometimes active on their monitors.

The truth is unspeakable, that much of office work and business isn’t always busy because the majority of people don’t have very important jobs.  What makes important jobs important and coveted is that not many people can do them, or even want to do them at all.  Not that I’m wishing to disrespect all and sundry.  I’m just saying lots of people probably could do most jobs that exist, therefore they’re unlikely to be all that critical in the grand scheme of things – however it may seem at the time.   (You could also legitimately claim that this is line is encouraged by the fact that I’m pretty sure I’ve never done much in my work that I think really matters, and others might think quite differently.  I’ll take the hit there).

But whether busy or (one might suspect) not, plenty of people feel the press of having to affect and even broadcast their busyness.  It’s a bugbear of mine, the amount of Tweets about nothing other than being bloody busy: “not enough hours in the day” / “where does the time go?” / “how is it that time already?”  The subtext of which is “gosh, I’ve been busy, ergo I am an important and wholly valid human, aren’t I?  AREN’T I?!  HEY, WORLD! KNOW THIS THING!

It makes me wither at the futility of it all or, if I’m in a different mood, want to commit wanton acts of vandalism.

And yet knowledge of the conspiracy also helps me to cope when I myself am not busy.  There will always be peaks and troughs.  I like to think that Barack Obama occasionally turns to Michelle at the end of the day and says, “you know, I did fuck all today.”  I think I’m gradually learning to cope with them a little better than I have done, notwithstanding the occasional panic attack at having nothing at all like any plan or vision of my future five years hence.  It’s an occupational hazard.

Looking wider at business I’m also growing more confident about the recipe for success, how its primary ingredients are confidence (also known as belief, bravado, bluster, the rigid unwillingness to consider any other viewpoints, and bollocks); together with basic luck (having that one key customer who comes along at just the right time, and who you can grow with).  Skill, ability, expertise, a clever idea: they’re important too, but smaller helpings are needed.  Also important is doing whatever you do a lot and working hard and not being lazy; that’s useful.

Belief is king though.  Without the belief, confidence, super ego and free-running bullshit, you’ll struggle to achieve much.  If you don’t believe yourself, if you think you’re a fraud and a chancer, that’s likely to come through.  Added to which, if you’re dealt a blow or two of bad luck that will impact confidence.  But if you carry on having just enough belief to get by, teamed with maybe a little over the average quotient of ability (arrogant bastard), everything should be fine.

Should.

cruel dream

There she was, sitting down on the floor, her back to the tiled swimming pool wall.  You said hello and began chatting, clumsily half crouching / half leaning to her level.  Why didn’t you just sit down?  She was doing well in her work, it seemed, doing impressive things.  You remembered you still had those shared interests, she’d been to different places you yourself would like to visit, often hiked the mountains nearby, like you’d like to.  You didn’t speak about this and weren’t sure how things were between her and her boyfriend / husband.  She was down here in the hotel swimming pool on her own, looking a little sad?  Had something happened between them?  Not that you’d ever dare try to elbow in or anything, being generally averse to the indignity of competition, as well as always suspecting that better candidates than you exist for everything.  Where had that Scottish twang in her accent come from?  She was from Cornwall.

Speaking to her brought it back:  the warmth of feeling, the painful sense that she might have been it; you shared so much, she was still damned cute, you had hurt so much and for so long when you parted, nobody has even come close since.  ‘Since’ has been a long time.

On Facebook she initially sent a friend request a few years back, which you falteringly accepted.  After a while quietly unfriended her because you didn’t like seeing and feeling those things.  Then a few months ago you sent another request to re-friend.  Odd behaviour.  An idea that any new friend is an audience expanded if you’re trying to subtly pimp business interests, combined with new unsubscribe settings that mean you can immediately opt out of someone’s inanities if they prove too idiotic, combined with curiosity and nostalgia, combined with whisky; all shaken into a nervous cocktail that made you tap the Add As Friend button.  You were still interested to know where she was up to – married yet, kids?  Just moved in, in turned out.  The photo albums hadn’t changed much.  Perhaps a few more looking beamingly happy and couply on mountaintops.  No messages were exchanged upon re-friending, as they had been upon initial friending.  Not a frequent user, you presumed by her activity, possibly wrongly.  She merely accepted the request.

You’ve heard tale, or maybe fable, of weak old men who once upon a time missed a boat, who didn’t struggle as much as they should have to stay afloat, and subsequently paddled off elsewhere, living out their lives on an island of dim regret.

Water came trickling in around the poolside and began to rise, over the edges of your slippers and socks.  Why were you wearing slippers and socks?  You couldn’t detect its source, the pool didn’t appear to be overflowing.  She was apparently unfussed, sitting in her bathing suit.  But it unsettled you and you sought higher ground, pleased at the meeting, heartened almost, yet also knowing it had meant nothing.  You wondered where your friends were and what you’d be getting up to that day, cycling the cobbled roads and coastlines of that island.  Later on you’d have a spat with a friend whose behaviour you deeply question, all the while faintly knowing that this is all just another nonsensical, cruel dream.  One which will leave remnant fug when you eventually wake up.

*

Wistful residue which results from dreaming about females is easier when the female subject is entirely fictional.