of love and death and dogs

You feel a frighteningly alien type of happiness as you walk through the airport, the passport check and out to the bus stop.

This in spite of the unsettling dispute between passengers which occurs around you. A man sitting at the end of your row had snapped at a timid looking middle-aged lady for committing a clumsy faux pas in trying to move ahead of him as he removed his luggage from the overhead locker. She looked upset, told her husband when they finally reunited, and he confronted the man while he waited for his family outside the toilets. Voices were raised as you moved away, torn, peering back over your shoulder.

You see him now on the car park bus, looking mildly ruffled but not sporting any bloodied nose. You hadn’t missed seeing a fight.

The bus deposits you by the glorified key collection portakabin and you move towards the main door in advance, ready to jump out first, ahead of everyone else. Glory! The sun shines. You get into the car and begin to drive, touching hands across the handbrake.

Bright blue British summertime skies on crossing the Severn Bridge back into Wales. It heralds a sense of hope and optimism and gentle careful maybe. Although in the background lingers an unspoken mild fear of lurking menace, a dark corrective, a toll to pay because you don’t, you can’t, deserve this. Can you?

She stays at yours that night and leaves to drive home the next day. The strong warmth and sunshine and good feeling persists. Your client’s idiocy is easier to brush off, you don’t bother calling him. He’s typically grasped the wrong end of the stick by email. Or the wrong stick entirely. Fuck him.

You go out for a short walk, listening to two new albums – one of which by Passion Pit, the irresistibly euphoric band who just make you smile, who have been known to make you dance in supermarket aisles after your team wins a big match. Then the new one by The Gaslight Anthem, which also seems good. Town is full of Olympics branding, people in tracksuits and official purple polo shirts, trading standards brand protector jobsworths. It feels different: hyped and ready for something big, which you also sense may be nothing at all.

You go home soon after and continue trawling through your photographs.

Your mobile rings while you’re on the landline phone to your Mum. It’s her. You answer, ready to say you’ll call back. But she’s.. she’s crying, in tears, beside herself. Your Mum had asked one question about your holiday before talking about her back garden. You say you’ll call her back.

The boyfriend of one of her best friends, who she speaks about all the time but who you have still yet to meet, was killed in a car accident at the weekend. She visited the couple’s house the previous week. Her friend didn’t want to spoil her holiday and had waited until now to tell her.

Not wanting to sleep alone tonight, she asks you to come over. You pack a few bags and drive an hour down the motorway through a beautiful sunset, past the spot he was killed. You listen to The Gaslight Anthem album again, because Passion Pit now seems deeply inappropriate. The frontman gurns a heartfelt ballad after a string of bombastic Springsteen-esque anthems. Over-earnest? Slightly samey? Still listenable. The industrial chimney chuffing coastal town you pass through looks especially serene beneath the pink hue and arrowing low diagonal light.

You arrive and an emotional, tear-filled evening ensues. It unavoidably reawakens a sense of loss for her parents – neither of whom died too long ago; her mother around five years and her father just over one. Dark thoughts emerge about her life being all about loss and you try to assure her it absolutely isn’t. You go out for a walk around her neighbourhood and breathe, before circling back home and attacking her father’s excellent collection of whisky, which nobody else ever drinks. Tonight it feels deserved.

You tell her how you see it.

You say there is hardly ever reason, logic or fairness in death; to seek it is pointless and damaging. Anyone can die suddenly, tragically, pointlessly. We could all contract some horrid disease which simply sees us off within a month. It happens. But most people tend to die much more slowly.

You try to speak of loss and pain, trying to counter her hurt feelings of futility. With emotional investment of any kind comes risk. Your thankfully underdeveloped perspective of grief still felt relevant. Say you get a dog. You love the dopey mutt for ten to fifteen years and then it goes and dies and you hurt like hell. Does the pain mean you wish away those ten to fifteen years? You avidly follow a football team and care deeply but are put in bad moods more often than good.

It’s also possible that either one of you might eventually end up badly hurting the other, but you appear, gradually, tiny step by tiny step, to be accepting that risk. It’s simply a part of life that at some points we have to either be brave and either accept the chance of pain, or never feel anything.

She nods, sniffs, you wipe off a stray tear. They’ve stopped rolling down her cheeks quite so rapidly. She curls into you and you stroke her hair, scratch her behind the ear: the running joke that your affection for her is too much like that for a dog.


generation z zzzz

They presented themselves as I pounded the keypad of my BlackBerry in a coffee shop, trying to achieve at least a feeble type of catharsis through a rant which formed the skeleton of my last blog post.

“Hello mate.”

I’d known they were in the country.  He’d sent an email a couple of days earlier warning of their flying visit from Sweden, mentioning they’d be in town today.  It was still a shock to see him suddenly there in front of me, one of my oldest friends, together with his long-term Swedish girlfriend.  I quietly pride myself on being fairly sharp-eyed, spotting people from a distance.  To be found out like this, crept up upon myself, was rare.  I felt dozy and foolish and hugged the pair of them, then we headed out and went for lunch.

We parted and met up again in the evening, this time with half a dozen more friends who all live in the town but increasingly rarely get together.  Their visit provided an ideal excuse.

Everybody had known each other for a minimum of around ten years and clicked comfortably back into our relationships.  I wondered how we looked as a group to the adjacent table of comparatively stiff new graduates and parents.  The town had been awash with gowns, mortar boards, posh frocks and suits during the day.  The table looked upbeat but jaded, cast glances at our larger group, buoyed by a rare spontaneous reunion, ten years down the line from them.

Our table discussed future plans, the two solid couples mentioning children, buying houses, settling down, perhaps doing a final bit of long distance travel before settling down.  It was loosely assumed that children were inevitable and would happen easily.  We collectively appeared to be pootling along fairly well from our own graduation days, life coming together conventionally well for some and stumbling along more uncertainly for others.

Pootling and stumbling seem appropriate verbs for us as a group.  There’s often felt like an over-casual nature to our set, a sense of a very narrow sub-generation to those born two or three years before us.

Clearly this is coloured predominantly by my brother’s freakish focus and successes, but in his year group and amongst his peers there seemed a greater sense of urgency about life, getting a good job, finding a partner, buying a house and having children, preferably before they were out of their 20s. Was it possible that babes of the mid to late 1970s were somehow instilled with more drive and purpose than those of the 1980/81? Was our upbringing more warped by the grey 1980s recession than our older peers?

Probably bollocks.

As a year group we disappointed, though I escaped to a different college for A Levels, achieving better results than those who stayed at the sixth form.  We weren’t on drugs or anything.  We were just largely dopey and ambitionless.  We didn’t know what we wanted from life, so we played football, worked moderately hard and let stuff happen to us.  And stuff had happened to us, and coming from decent middle class bases which steered us through the education system, most of it was acceptable enough – albeit not in any way remarkable.

Heading into our 30s not a massive amount seemed to have changed.  Buying a house and having children were the main things to get excited about.  I found it faintly depressing.  We all dissipated by 8pm.

working dumb

Your buffoon of a main client has grated more than ever in recent months, despite a pleasant supplementary contract which deflected the attention for a while.

For over three years you’ve largely had him and his northern software company to thank for your solvency.  Over three years.  Part of you feels and knows that you should be grateful, it’s part of a trade-off which allows you to live like this, with such relative freedom, no shackles of having to get up at a certain time every day, travel to an office and tolerate colleagues, the ability to take three-hour lunchbreaks encompassing gyms, saunas, jacuzzis and coffee shops.  These are hardly dire straits.

You still have to tolerate him though, which is no easy feat.

The man is capable of staggeringly majestic idiocy, a blundering immature insensitivity both in-person and more excruciatingly online, a casual bigotry, the professional focus of a young vole.  You imagine the business partners, who he genuinely believes hold him in such high esteem, cringe as he enters a room and wither as he sits at a boardroom table, confidently rambling inanities.

Yet you act, several times a day on telephone calls, conference calls, through emails and when you visit him.  You see the pallid drained faces of his colleagues who endure him every single day.  There’s a reasonable churn in semi senior staff.  You idly daydream about snapping, about having an argument, coming clean that you have very little respect for him, or about his business suddenly dropping you – which of course they could do at any time.  This would force you to act, to try again, to hit the jobs market with urgency.  Would that be a bad thing?

It’s not all awful.  The ghosting of social media for a young athlete who will shortly compete at a big upcoming sporting event has been interesting.  But that will end soon.  And even that has been hiding, helping a handsome young man with a strong following to appear more interesting than he probably is.

Not unlike how you help the buffoon.  His unfiltered drone is widely and confidently broadcast for people to know that he is a somehow reasonably successful idiot, but occasionally he shows uncharacteristic glimpses of insight and style.  Glimpses which are down to you.

Over three years, and now you are wilting.  You have occasional supplementary clients and contracts but supplementary is all they are; nothing you could live on.

These past few months you have experienced a person you like and value, liking and valuing you. You feel a bubbling up of dormant, well-rested ego.  You feel you want to be recognised, to try to be recognised.  You feel vaguely happier and more positive, as much as you’d like not to because it doesn’t feel very cool, British or comfortable.  This all does things to the fascinating world of the ego, to esteem; it makes you feel differently about yourself.  Ego is needed to get up in the morning and it’s critical to practically all types of success.  First you have to believe, which is a sacrifice of sorts itself.

Do you believe?  Will you believe?  What does that mean anyway?  What more can you do to be happier in your work?  Following any “dream” in this oversaturated little island seems increasingly futile, as much down to luck and who you know as any real ability or personality.   It’s much easier to dumbly sit tight, indefinitely accepting this absurd man and the spirit-crushing work he offers you.

You suspect that’s precisely what you’ll do.