Friday, 29 August 2014

(It's A Happy Life)

I know nothing. The sounds of the city. You find yourself in someone else’s house and you live their lives (it’s a happy life). In the evening there’s a mushroom risotto, in the morning you water their orchids, top up the humidifier, open some windows and close them when it rains. In the twilight: an expansive skyline view and a balcony from which to contemplate. A widescreen TV you can’t operate and a machine that produces the smoothest of coffees. Different chairs to sit on. An odd set of keys.
‘What are you up to these days?’ I meet Ben at a pub round the corner with high ceilings and low lighting.
‘I professionally live other people’s lives.’
‘Is that a job?’
‘Yes, and it’s full-time.’ I sup my overpriced beer and he gives me a grin. I do manage to retain an odd existence don’t I?
Around the converted warehouse I tread carefully, purposefully, like a fraud. You see an insight in to another reality – momentarily - I think I could exist like this but it’s just a phase. I am housesitting and in some ways housebound. Quiet. Nice lines. Soft furnishings, smooth surfaces, plumped up cushions, and a crumbless floor with a hardwood polish shine. A fraud? What would a beggar do if placed in a palace; is there a despondent desire to go back to the familiar streets and the contemptuous faces of a thousand ignoring strangers? I feel kept. Cat. House-trained and well-groomed. Plant. Delicately perched on a windowsill turned to the sunlight.
There is a day or two when I go out. Knowing nothing, again. I wear an oversized denim jacket that makes for a good briefcase, in the pockets I carry odd keys some paper and pen. Not even a phone these days. Unconventional offices loom on either side of the cobbled street, restored gas lamps now with bulbs that look like fake flames hang on wrought-iron bars. The pubs are debonair but weighted down by authentic names like The Woolhouse; the people inside them eat salmon. One gentleman has a fork lifted to his mouth but forgets the fork to thumb a screen laid flatly on his tabletop, the cress falls. And a youthful woman swivels round in her chair and takes flight from the scene. I follow.
‘That damn elevator’ she thinks, ‘what happened happened but that fucking elevator.’
Now this woman, let’s call her Jane, once in her life got stuck in an elevator. Her thoughts at the time went like this:
‘This sodding damn elevator. The buttons have all lit up, the emergency alarm’s stopped ringing and I am facing a four-walled metal box in stasis. Urgh! Today is not the day to become physically stuck as well as mentally. I woke up in a haze and walked what felt like miles for an unusual bus. I shouldn’t have slept with Si. I shouldn’t have slept with Si. Mum’s keeping secrets from me and I had a go at her like a teenager throwing a tantrum. Why won’t she tell me? I’m only looking out for her, why doesn’t she get it? She’s vulnerable. I feel unwashed simply because I am. And I left my exposing political diarist draft open on my computer screen when I should have been updating the latest spreadsheets. Fuck it. Wank it.’
You see Jane is an intelligent, articulate, driven woman working in the back rooms of politics when we all know she should be heading the projects and meeting the councils. Instead there is a an abhorrent boarding school mentality that pervades the offices, and a wink and a nudge in the right direction can set you up in the right partnerships. But with her colloquialisms and overtly PR-manner these hounds weren’t taking her seriously, not even as a threat, little did they know every time they quaffed and got drunk and a morsel fell out she would note it down to use as credible backing for her own career progression. She had been waiting for the right time to unleash this document either to the press or the publishers, whichever would get her the highest public profile, enough to enter politics on her own two feet. But now the elevator hampered her quiet rage by making her be still at a time when she wasn’t quite sure of herself.
‘I’ve been staring at this door now for… I don’t know, and placing my forehead on the cooling steel panels I just want to be… hugged and swallowed whole. God I want to escape if only I could be bothered.’
If a career-life crisis for a woman had to look like something this would be it. A desperate high-achiever on her way to something important (but it’s nothing really, some appointment, some dinner, some class) and on the way she gets stuck in a machine.
‘But it’s weird, being stuck doesn’t feel as bad as being not stuck’, Jane silently realises that when life in comparison to being imprisoned in a windowless metal chamber is about the same then you have to let out in a hollow whisper, ‘so what’s the point?’
I left Jane there on the pavement still cursing the elevator inside her own head as she flicked through the endless messages being sent to her i-phone.
People used to live a much more isolated life. That’s what I thought when I was brewing some tea in this other person’s house. I see pictures of her as a child, one in a silver frame, which catches my eye. Dressed in a pinafore and bunches smiling awkwardly and honestly at the camera. Over there is a picture of the couple’s life adventures, skiing. An unmade bed lies behind that closed bedroom door. The cleaner comes on Fridays. Dry washing is hanging on a clothes-horse. Untouchable lives.
There was a boy, a self-made man that I had the displeasure of meeting through a girl friend of mine who introduced me to him as a boyfriend. His name was Joe. I said I had no opinions on the matter of suitability merely that as long as she was happy I didn’t mind whom she chose to take to bed.
      ‘You really don’t have anything to say about him?’ After placing my mug of tea on the tabletop and biding my time to think of what to say I said,
      ‘He seems nice.’
The problem was I knew exactly what type of mid to late twenties male Joe was. He’d filled his life with so much air that he was floating above everyone else afraid of any pin-prick that might burst his balloon. The fall would make a loud thud! though completely recoverable and all he needed was someone to prick him not blow him some more.
      ‘I just think he’s this creative soul but stuck in this high-pressured lifestyle. You know he looks after brands like Adidas and Chanel.’ I already knew my girl friend liked him far too much to convince her otherwise.
Joe worked with bolshie lads trading accounts and girls, stories of their conquests in sport, bedroom or boardroom, laughing so loudly together in groups to mask their receding hairlines and incoming paunches. Nicely built sure, with good teeth and height, which is partly why he got far in the world of supercilious wristwatches. But he relied on his jokes a bit too much, worked late but never thought about it a bit too often, got drunk until he couldn’t remember a few too many weekends until one innocuous afternoon in his office-with-a-view he realises he is bored of life. The constant checking of messages on all his devices, the chasing-up and fobbing-off of clients, the stream of new faces that he never sees again, the numbers of girls he’s forgotten the sight of even though they were naked. Making plans for the weekend on a Tuesday, the girlfriend asking you about parents’ dinner next Saturday, the credit-card bill that hasn’t been paid off on that credit-card. Council tax. It’s not what he wants to be thinking about in his spare time, he knows it, but he doesn't know what to think.
      Well, Joe is taking me to The Secret Garden Party and now that we’re official I want to take him down to meet my parents in Devon.’
      ‘That sounds lovely.’ I say with a nod and no trace of apprehension. Perhaps I should have flagged it - but nobody likes a smart-arse especially in a friend as it can be misconstrued as bitterness or even worse jealousy. I wasn’t about to get involved.
      ‘But I’ll spend Christmas at his this year.’
I’d like to say they called it quits and Joe got braver. But he didn’t. He was a dedicated project to her and in about a year they would be married and later they’d have a son named David. Overlooking his infidelities brought on by nothing less than an early mid-life crisis he failed at ever being himself. The fear of being alone and left to his own thoughts deterred him from leaving, and what’s worse than having to spend for the first time in your life, time by yourself, without the blinking devices and the steel-coated balloon to realise one is boring. Nothing.
And so I think yes people used to live a much more isolated life. What’s admirable is that they had to get on with it. In a moment of loneliness or uncertainty they would have to go for a walk, make a cup of tea, visit a friend’s house. No faithful stream of chatter to dive in to via the digital gods. Less chatter but the serenity of less clutter. Maybe people could make up their own minds and not have to get married or seek another employer or look for anonymous endorsements about their own image. Our lives are no better or worse (it’s a happy life) just different.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Mayfair Firewall


It’s the infuriating buzzer – Loud Terrible Mighty - on a hangover. I work in a listed building with a blue plaque on the outside wall; somebody important lived or worked or died here. The buzzer’s right by the door beneath the blue circle, a dusty plated moon embossed with letters that once shone, wondering every time I find one (Look hey, spotted another!) whether these blue plaques will pop up ad infinitum across the country until every house and every space of wall is covered with a plaque noting someone of worth, maybe someone of birth, but that won’t happen – funding cuts.


Oh furgdsake let the guy in. The guy has been let in.

‘Dick there’s a chap here who’s come to measure the carpets or something, do you know anything about that?’ We wait for the answers that travel down the wire, ‘Right I’ll send him up. Cheerio.’


Receiver goes down; measuring-tape man goes up. The stairs are carpeted with what looks like velvet, ostentatious flooring if you ask me, but you can never tell what’s up with things like this can you? Like 4-ply toilet roll as opposed to the Basics range, the former will outprice the latter but the feeling on the cheeks and the necessity of hygiene should not be forsaken. Thick pile carpets. Perhaps they’re an investment, or taste, like the wood panelling covering those boardroom walls. Hardwood panels look like relics unearthed from a ginormous chocolate box; blocks etched in with grooves and stuck down with saliva. Never melts though, it’s Dickensian cold in there.


And again again, when will there be Peace On Earth? This time the commander-in-chief descends the staircase, lapels of his blazer flap with every bound: down one step two, down another step two. He is plump with a stride and affable. One admires the consistency about him. Right arm outstretched and a friendly grasp, the adversaries shake hands and ascend the fluffy-dustiness rocking bannisters as they go.




‘New. Router. Set-Up.'
That’s his entrance and his introduction. Flummoxes the captain - manning the phones and guarding the locked doors and stirring the cafetiere over there.
‘Is that something to do with the Internet?’
‘Yes. I’m here for the migration. I think that’s what er – Sara? Sally? Sandy?’
‘Sandra is it?’
‘Yeah that’s her.’
‘Well Sandra’s not in today,’ there’s the sigh of the recognition of a problem expelled from the captain’s lungs. In his heyday he wore a sharp suit and hat with a brim, possibly a trilby and an understated watch. Blue cigarette smoke filled the rooms. That was back then and now he’s hesitant about the concept of a router, aren’t we all captain aren’t we all.
‘Let me see if she’s in…’


The man with the purpose of the web rummages over boxes and passes through piles of paper stacked up with no discernible purpose. The captain stacked those, over 40 years he’s been doing it, I watched him place a sheet upon a stack once - it was lyrical and effortlessly unconsidered. Continue we must and the phones will ring, the curtains will hang and the minute details of everyday humdrum will blur into one long life split in two: day and night.

‘They need to reconfigure the firewall.’
‘They need to re-con-fig-ure the fire-wall?’ Looking up from his papers and letting out another sigh tempered by stale coffee, quite flatly put, ‘Who are they and what is that?’

And I live for the mediocre goings-on of another day.

Monday, 11 August 2014

The Seaside

‘Morning Mary.’

Entering the kitchen and it’s much earlier than yesterday when I awoke, thank goodness, I hate sleeping in like a Snorlax. The mum of the house, Mary she’s here shining and being herself; how nice it feels like home. We fell asleep late last night watching a spaghetti western and the BBQ second time round worked well with the skewers. Prawns: a good idea.

‘Do you need anything?’

Shaking my head and humming along we talk talk talk like two old biddies at the bus stop. He’s sound asleep upstairs: good. I get to chat with the girl. Cat has brought something in-mouth, ‘Oh no, he’s caught something!’ Resignation in her voice, he drops it on the concrete slab and mews. She picks it up this little shrew and it’s squirming and wriggling on the palm of her hand, she strokes it the little thing, the cat licks blissful, and it stops to move. Mary cups him with the other, ‘Still warm’. Patter back to the kitchen.

‘That is amazing. Golf.’

He’s up and we’re watching sports news highlights and eating a croissant. Where shall we go today I wonder, ‘Where do you want to go today?’ I ask. Still in sleeping gear and unready to formulate (I understand) but the words come out ‘Dump?’ We drive in his mum’s car to the dump to get rid of sacks of leaves and other things: turned inside-out umbrellas. Mary’s been gardening and he smiles ‘I helped’, meaning he cleared flora from a fence. Screeching to a halt, a gate on the brow of a hill where the seagulls flock above massively.

‘I don’t mind.’

Where to go what hill to climb which sea to see. Godrevy is the place and I bring my shorty wetsuit. He has his board that slices through the car - a waxy smell of coconut. Pummelled to death by the sea. Salt water in my ears and up my nose and every orifice but who knows really, too many, wave after wave you lose sight apart from sky and sea and the taste of salt crackling on skin. Out of depth then washed up on to pebbles a STABBING pain shoots up the foot a fucking weaver fish got me ‘Ouch!’ yelled, he says ‘Are you ok?’ ‘No I’m not bloody ok what is that it hurts it hurts!’ R.N.L.I. white hut on top of cliff. Hop over there for me, trooper.

‘What time’s your train?’

Cream tea is a novelty. Hell’s Mouth is a sheer drop and a top suicide spot I’ve gathered. Red and yellow metallic cars glisten parked convivially close awaiting each owner’s return. Walking is a habit and talking is not when the wind rushes through the mouth teeth eye sockets; sun glare bouncing off to refract inside the skull. Enlightening sun spots. Brilliant blinding. Never wanting to return to the city they call home.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Do You Really Want It

The guilt is insane. I’m sorry I don’t call you mum. I’m sorry I never call you grandad; and now that you're dead I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I’m sorry for putting you all through this, me that is. You tell me all you need from me is to exist and put in a light way I don't even know how to do that. I feel like I always need to take a break from life, break-away to re-enter. Stoppard did say that every exit is an entrance somehwere, but in theatre that’s just called off-stage and when you’re off-stage you don’t exist. That’s sort of how I feel. Like when there’s a place I have to be bang (!) I’ll be there on cue and give it my all, like a battle or a performance being played out before an expectant audience. As if anyone would watch this bullshit. I have this fear that I started walking out in to the wilderness to explore but somewhere along the line the exploration became a route and now I’m not sure where I’m heading. No compass. No light. But there is – something - something that stops me from freezing on the spot and crawling in to a foetal position - a something also yearning for me. Maybe I yearn for “it” so I feel like I don’t need to aim I just need to carry on and the things that don’t matter will gradually fall to the wayside and the things that immediately grab my attention (must be possessed) will lodge itself inside my mind’s eye.

Is this what you really want to do?

If this is what you really want to do then you should go for it.

Is this what I really want to do?

Do I just think that this is what I really want to do but not have any conviction as to whether it’s true or not?

Am I just saying that to second-guess an argument for why I should just give up now and go running back from whence I came. Back to the office. Back to the house. Back to the commute and the meaningless flickers. My senses felt numbed then. I also had less hope in humanity. It was a terrible place to be right after uni when you’re trying to stay positive about all this humdrum. I know it’s not. I can fill in a tax return and am better for it. But what do I want? That’s the question you should ask yourself, not solely let others ask of you.

I want

I want

I want

To know that other people feel the way I do. To share in a collective moment that was created by an individual thought. Objective and subjective. I want the world to collapse. I want time to not behave properly, for it to be non-linear and acute. I want life to be less obtuse. Because that’s what we deserve. And when I see a play or am at a live gig where music plays, when I live something else other than my own life I feel like, empowered. I want to pass that spirit on. I want others to revel in it and take my serious pursuits flippantly. I want to amuse and make life better because when I’m really honest about it I know it won’t mean a thing. I know it. I’m not just saying it. I know that there will be people always and I will not always be here. This is the only time I will be here so whilst it lasts I have to try and make it worth the energy it takes to keep me existing. All those molecules that are being sucked up and made in to mine and then flushed out and sucked up by others. Life force. My foot’s unfortunately trodden in the arts and I don’t know if everyone is so aware of all this sucking and flushing that contributes to life. Maybe they are and I’m the idiot willing to waste time contemplating it.

But do I really want it?

How can someone who doesn’t really want life want anything?

I’m happy whatever happens so long as I am conscious of my existence.

Reality collapses when you start thinking in terms of the now.