black noise

Terry jerked awake in the middle of the night, it must have been around 3am.  He lived in a small second floor flat in the middle of the city.  His wife always liked to crack a small window “so the air could circulate”.  It did get stale otherwise, he admitted.  But she wanted it open even in midwinter, when it was bloody freezing.  He was sure it had a part to play in his seasonal colds, but he never accused her directly.  Just shivered.  And it was loud too, really loud.

As well as living a short walk from the city centre, they also lived near a small canal.  Terry was never sure if canal was the accurate term for it, because it wasn’t very long.  It was man-made, linked up to a larger dock and was often filthy with rubbish and waste.  Despite this, it homed a strong population of wildfowl.  Mallards, swans and coots mixed with seagulls and other birds he could less readily identify.  Some nights one or two would loudly sing, or aggressively caw, for what seemed like all night.  Mating season was hellish, as if their noise was coordinated with violently pulsating testicles, if they had testicles. They must have testicles.  You never think of mallards having testicles.

Terry felt very awake now.  He actually felt like going out there with a gun.  It could go on and on.  Not that she’d ever stir next to him.

That Saturday night they were properly going at it on the canal, a couple of birds – screeching and yakking back and forth.  Maybe they were in the act.  Who knew?  Terry intermittently heard handfuls of people making their way back from town too, kicking and scuffing and clip-clopping their way home alongside the path.  Somebody stumbled into their poorly soundproofed building, doors slamming in their wake.  A car or building alarm went off in the far distance.  That turned out to be mercifully brief, although they could go on forever too, those alarms.  Even after they actually stopped, that urgent piercing wee-oo wee-oo could keep echoing round in your head so you weren’t even sure if it had stopped or not.

Slowly the competing birdsong and screech and squawk grew less regular.  Half wishing his hearing would start going, or that they could afford somewhere nicer, better, quieter, Terry drifted off again.

*

It was around 4am the next time Terry woke up.  4.04AM the bright LCD clock told him.  This time he was stunned, stunned by the quiet.  He could hear nothing from the outside.  Just the breeze.  Was that possible?  The tail of the window-blind flapped in a light wind, kicking the window-sill.  Fresh air was coming into the room.  That was it though.  Outside there was not a bird or duck noise, no human drunk or alarm, not cats fighting, not even the distant drone of the major arterial road, tyres kissing asphalt away into the distance.  And yet Terry felt very awake.

He decided to go and relieve his bladder, being sure not to turn the bathroom light on, which was inextricably linked to an embarrassingly loud extractor fan.  The hallway light was enough to ensure he directed his stream accurately.

After shaking off and splashing his hands he went into the kitchen to refill his water glass.  As he did so, Terry looked over the residential courtyard and was suddenly he was struck by a panic.  His car wasn’t there!  He’d always lived in fear of this and now finally..  But wait.  Nobody’s car was there.  In fact, there wasn’t a single car in the whole car park, a car park which usually contained a good fifteen to twenty vehicles.  Had someone done an audacious clean sweep of the place?  Looking beyond, out onto the road, Terry couldn’t see any vehicles there either, where cars ordinarily lined the road alongside other houses.  But here, now: nothing.  Like a giant swab had been taken of the whole neighbourhood.  He swallowed a mouthful of water and rubbed his left temple with the palm of his left hand.

Gently, so it didn’t slam loudly and wake the whole building, Terry rested the building’s front door back into place.  His slippers made that scratchy flip-flopping sound on the concrete slabs as he walked out into the courtyard for a closer inspection.  Definitely not a single vehicle in sight.  How had they pulled this off?  In the middle of a city?  It was impressive, he had to admit.  You couldn’t fail to be impressed by it.  He looked down the road.  Nothing.  The whole area looked remarkably clean without them, immaculate.  Absurdly immaculate.  Was there anything else missing?  There were no bin liners left out, several days early or late, no wheelie-bins irritatingly placed where they shouldn’t be, in everyone’s way.  It really was like a giant swab had been..   By what?  And no noise at all.  Compacted silence, like it had snowed.  No litter or cats, or ducks or birds or drunks.

A silent, starry night.

Terry started to feel giddy.  Everything slowed down, although nothing was moving anyway so he wasn’t sure how that could be.  Even so, it did.  All stilled, he felt a strange kind of bliss.

That was when he heard the creak and clank directly above him, the looming exhaust of what appeared to be a white van hurtling to the ground at a startling rate of knots.  At a handful of feet away, its alarm began screeching: wee-oo! wee-oo! wee-oo!

on your side

It often seems that there’s a need to get the right people on your side in order to succeed in life. You can’t NOT be picked by anyone and just play your own game instead. You can’t stay stuck in a box, producing and shouting and hoping to be asked onto a team.

However constant and consistent your stream of stuff, you need bias, blind favouritism, a little bit of nepotism; you need to brown-nose, kiss arse, suck dick. It feels like that really *really* helps to get on. If you’re not great at doing that, things can get difficult.

In the same way you knew bludgeoning away trying to make a living would be easier if you had a girlfriend to whom you could moan and rant and use as an outlet, now you feel more keenly than ever before the need for similar professional and financial solace.

With the single client you were so comfortably dependent on for so long – because you brown-nosed an idiot, you had that. By letting them go, you suddenly didn’t. Now 6 months on, nothing has come along to replace them and you’re struggling. Small dribbles here and there, a couple of disappointments when you weren’t paid, nothing of substance.

Similarly, in trying to get proper jobs, or even interviews, you need an ‘in’, someone to hold the door ajar for you, tip you a nod. Especially today when there are so many decent calibre people seeking new jobs. Just getting a job is not easy. You have to know your value, know when to compromise and when not to compromise.  As time goes on you might have to though. That’s a scary thing.

Pure, unadulterated meritocracies may exist, but after a while it becomes hard to believe in them. Hard not to grow bitter, for the victim complex not to scale. You must continue to have faith in yourself. You look around you at the produce of others and you do by and large have that faith, but it’s bewilderingly frustrating.

You can only go it alone for so long before spluttering, stalling, crashing to earth in an undignified heap.

Your online stats reflect the ambivalent majority. But even if your numbers were higher it may not matter. What matters is finding one person with influence who wants you on their side. Then word-of-mouth can take over.

You begin to think that it doesn’t matter how good or regular your produce, how hard you work, how committed you are or how much you care. You need more people and you need at least one ‘important’ person with deep pockets and strong influence. You need to get the right people on your side. How you do that and how that happens must depend a lot on luck.

burning rubbish

“Take it you never met their Dad?” I asked as flames spat from the old metal bin.
“No, unfortunately.”
Unfortunately?” I asked, a hint of challenge in my voice.  “Or maybe fortunately?”
“Yeah, well..  He sounds like a complicated man,” he diplomatically responded.
“Complicated is one word.”
The fire crackled some more, smoke plumed above, twining and weaving its way between branches, up and away.

Wood and various other tools, pots, tubs and things had been strewn across the garden for many months, planks lying forgotten, chipboard from the old man’s weird ideas and plans, which died with him two years earlier.  As well as wood, we fed the fire polluting artefacts of his existence: floppy discs, CDs, a hidden photograph album which did nothing to improve his reputation – I struggled to suppress strong feelings; bank statements, letters, a postcard from a far flung brother.  This was what had remained.  This and debt and an unroadworthy car and a number of strange, unidentifiable chemicals, oils, petrols, building material, scaffolding, paint pots, tools: an overwhelming mountain of mess.

The smaller flammable items tentatively took, as if the flame first needed to get to know the alien material, before curling, enveloping, incinerating and disintegrating.

We were both with the deceased man’s daughters; my fire partner with the elder one, me with the younger.  Between the two was a tricky, aspergersy son, also indoors, belatedly pouring through the effects.  All three of them had been paralysed in the wake of their father’s death, only a few years after the sudden passing of their mother.  As I saw it, his monstrous control over them and his steely conviction about everything meant that newly faced with authority, responsibility, decision-making power, the need to discuss things – his children were all stunned and awkward.  The older sister was physically removed, a few hours across the country, and rarely returned.  It was a significant event that this weekend she had visited, perhaps spurred on by learning that pressures were taking their toll on her younger sister.   The son didn’t drive, was socially stunted.  Much fell to the youngest, a driver and a worker and the most proactive of them all – as it had with the palliative care of a father who barely deserved it; the one I was proud to call mine.

Here we were, eventually, two years later, the old man’s desk finally in the process of being cleared.  Boxes, files, pens, paperwork, photographs.  It was the first time I had been upstairs, perhaps reluctantly permitted to help move boxes.  Only now had his reading spectacles been lifted from their final resting place near a monitor.  Both urns of the parents still sat in the corner of the living room.  Something which had unnerved me at first now felt acceptable, normal.  There were plans of a kind.  Scattering would happen once agreement from another stakeholder, a half-sibling in Scotland, had been made.

But we kept out of it, me and this mild-mannered chatty Glaswegian man, at least ten years my senior.  At the end of their long sloping garden we stood with the fire’s heatwaves bathing our faces, and volleyed back and forth stories of our own families – his wheeler-dealer father, my Dad’s retirement from running; his awkward sibling relationships; life in my brother’s shadow.  This was our place for now; we’d go for a pint in the dodgy local when the sun sank.  I wouldn’t have to try too hard to tease out more of his war stories.  Much sounded attractive about being in the forces, all the different environments and travel and challenges.  Shame about that whole ‘putting your life on the line’ thing.  Didn’t fancy that much.

After the pub we’d return to check on progress and sibling harmony.

not pulling

Between the largely repressed ages of 18 to 30 I now realise that I did not believe girls really danced on public dancefloors with their girl friends for fun.  Fun?! Really?  Yeah, right.  Who would put themselves through that ordeal for fun, with no ulterior motive?  Dancing, blinding lights, sticky dancefloors, gurning DJ wankers, mostly shit, deafening music, having to shout exhaustingly loudly to have conversations.

No way.  Women were there for men.  To pull men.  Probably.  Not for me, of course, not ninety-nine times out of a hundred.

In the unlikely case this wasn’t true, then they probably either had a boyfriend and were playing wing-woman for their single friend, or they had a big crush on someone else to whom their naïve heart was utterly devoted.  Or, and I often thought this was the most reasonable explanation; they had been placed there by God with the sole purpose of taunting my pallid undersexed miserable self.

But my girlfriend apparently did not go out with her girl friends to pull men.  Apparently not even when she was 18, with 18-year old boobs not requiring support, tanned, trim, single and on holiday with mates in Ibiza.  She went out to have a good time and a dance with her friends.  She was dumbly oblivious and uncaring about the hungry gaze of desperate men (like me).  This happened throughout her early 20s.  Finding men was simply not a priority.

It’s a truth I’m embarrassed to find hard to comprehend.  I now realise I did not sincerely believe in such a mentality.

She even balked accusingly at me when I casually used the word the other week, as if pulling was a crass, distasteful notion.  I did not think she was this posh.

(She is not this posh).

the hard stuff

This place has been neglected a little of late because.  I’ve been trying to build and developing an online presence for new business services, blending with my existing business services of the last four years.  It’s hard.

At 32 I am still massively uncertain about pretty much everything in a general life sense, where my efforts will take me, if they will take me anywhere at all other than back home to my Mum and Dad.  While I’m trying to be as aggressive and productive and proactive as possible without seeming like a needy prick, I’m also considering spectacular failure and what my options are in that case.

Although I don’t feel especially employable, I wonder about trying again with London.  A big city where there are more and better opportunities for regular jobs; where I might be able to compromise less than if I were to re-enter a regular workplace in these parts.  Most decent looking jobs in the provinces have a ridiculous number of over-qualified applicants and I rarely get a look in – and I imagine nepotism and internal favouritism may occasionally be instrumental.

My girlfriend is trying to hire an assistant on a low, entry-level 13 or 14k salary.  She’s getting applicants with Masters degrees and Doctorates.  But she doesn’t like the idea of London.

She is melting down regularly under pressures of her work and home-life, which is in turn having an effect on me.  I had to manage a number of extremely distressed and distressing telephone calls from her yesterday. Things are hard.  She has lots of ‘stuff’.  I have some stuff, but none of it on paper looks as serious and weighty as her stuff.  I try to be super patient, understanding and attentive and she is grateful; but at the weekend I couldn’t help a little childish, resentful “what about me and my stuff?” sulk.  We did recover from it soon enough.

It feels from various sources like right now is quite a fever-pitch time for general anxiety and nervousness, money worries and instability.  Broadly and anecdotally speaking, depression seems rife, suicide and suicidal thoughts aren’t uncommon.  In fact I can barely remember sensing worse than at any time since the recession started.  I wonder if the older and more comfortable groups of people just consider our generation over-angsting, oversensitive or going through something all generations go through.  But it feels like more than that.

In an email exchange, a civil servant friend proffered:

“maybe our generation will implode slightly from raised expectations / less money / fewer jobs / working until we’re 75?”

Maybe he has a point.  He also suggested middle of the road boringness is the way forward.  The jammy bastard could have a case there too.

Still.  Smile eh?  Chin up.  Post an inspirational quote on Twitter or something.  Everything will be fine.