It is silly though, isn’t it. I mean, if it wasn’t so fucking devastatingly sad for so many people it would be hilarious. It’s very silly, but it’s not at all funny, though some would laugh at anything.
On Netflix at the moment there’s a programme that talks for hours about a man who took pleasure filming himself torturing and killing kittens and posting it online. I’m indifferent to kittens in truth but the cruelty is something else. What is worse, though: this individual that clearly is in need of help, or the millions who will watch it and be secretly frustrated at the lack of detail? What is it, this world that we live in, if this is entertainment?
I support my local team and I detest the other local team and all its supporters when they identify as such, even though I am related to some of them and work with a few. It makes me one like all the rest I’ve railed against, I guess and I despair at that idea, though its depth was tested the other week and the results surprised me.
The two local teams of my city were playing against each other. Local derby. Full stadium, lots of banter, lots of cursing, lots of police. On the other team is a player that we all hate. He’s a good player and he supports the team that he plays for and this makes it worse. He’s good at winding up the crowd and the opposition players. He’s an arsehole. So when one of the supporters from my end ran onto the pitch and swung a fist at him, knocking him to the ground, I waited eagerly to see what my reaction would be.
I hate the player and I hate his team and all of the supporters. I hate the combination of colours that they wear and the sound of their name. I was brought up hating it all and I will die hating it. It is one of the rare creeds that I have taken on board. But I hate wankers like that idiot who ran on the pitch more than I hate any of that.
They’re human and I don’t really hate them at all, I just disagree with them and am upset they’re enjoying more success than my team. I don’t hate people who are earnest because what kind of a world would that be if we all lived split like that? The idiot on the pitch crossed the white line and he changed things for me. In a way I thank him for helping me to see things better.
I would rather write stories about all of this because that way I can shape the memory of the bad things; I can mould the ideas and be the god of them as I create worlds. It will probably be shit for a while but I’ll work at it, like any other craft, and I’ll get better.
We’ve got this amazing ability to think and to know that we exist in ways that no other living thing on the planet (that we’re aware of) does. It’s silly to waste it.
See, one of the reasons that I celebrate my own aloofness; why I commit to nothing and stay balanced on the fence between this and that is so that I can try to look at it all objectively without being consumed.
Most of it is silly.
Some of it is desperate.
A lot of it defies belief.
I try to imagine sometimes what a visitor to this planet would think if he came down and took it in for a short while. I would like to think that he would be bewildered with most of it. My assumption is that he’s from a far more advanced society than ours (he made it here, after all) and would probably regard us as closer to the savage beasts in the wild than to his own sort.
I say ‘he’ just for ease. I doubt that there’d be a concept of gender. I’d like to think that the balance would be on the individual above all things. I’d like to think that his is a society or civilisation that has come to terms with its own mortality and, instead of creating random explanations to keep the populous happy has taken a practical approach. Where he comes from life is biological – they’re probably actually distant relations – but technology has enhanced the lifespan by quite an impressive factor, though the mentality is such that merely living for the sake of not being dead is not in anyone’s interest, and certainly not in society’s. So instead of simply seeing how long you can last in a broken body with a mind that follows, each individual at a coming of age ceremony is given a suggested set of achievements to try and accomplish over a lifetime.
He looks at us on this planet and he wonders why fragile people, stooped and stumbling, are standing at the gates of a ruined factory that hasn’t been in operation for more than half a century. You tell him that it’s not a factory and the long lines of sheds did not make, but break, things. That the train line ended there because that was the end of the line. Then you realise that you’re talking in idioms that a creature from a different world can’t possibly understand, though he’s done well this far. You’re talking in code because you don’t want to say the actual words or tell the actual story. You realise that all your life you’ve never actually heard the story told in real words that aren’t code. You’ve been told metaphor and read the books that hide it all behind a metaphor; you’ve seen the photographs and it’s enough for the pieces to come together.
The difference here is that, before, you shared your guilt with whoever was with you at the time. You, even as a child, guilty and innocent as the next. Both of you part of the species and destined to play your future role well in screwing it up some more. But this is different because your new friend is outside of that and he wants you to say the words. He needs the explanation. Those, he says bewildered, did this to those. Tell me why, again.
He sees a football match and more hatred between teams from the same town than those at other ends of the country. He sees hatred between neighbours and hared within families. If he has a brow it is furrowed and maybe he’s rubbing his chin meditatively and shaking his head, trying to understand.
So you take him somewhere beautiful. A forest. A Waterfall. A beach. He asks what it is that you think make these things so beautiful and you’re not sure other that they’re nature. He smiles a little bit at this. So you don’t think you’re nature? He asks.
When he leaves he’s still shaking his head and scratching his chin.
This is the thing with writing, as I see it. It lives; it has a life of its own and when the head is in the right place it does whatever the hell it wants to do. It’s almost like the ideas don’t come from my brain but through my brain. Often, if the weather is right, I have no idea what will come out. It’s some sort of channelling, I suppose. That’s the best sort of writing because what happens on the page is exactly what is meant to happen. I can look at 500 words of writing like this and have nothing but love; have no clue whether or not it’s any good because what’s down there is precisely what’s meant to be there and that’s that.
I’m no authority – I’m not even pretending that I’m trying to teach you anything and even if I did have a back catalogue of published stories and could justify knowing a thing or two, I wouldn’t be telling you what to do or how to do it. It’s for you to work out. And also – I’ve never sent anything off for publication.
Bad writing, I think, is when there’s resistance. When the channels get blocked and there’s something in the way of the free movement of the idea from wherever it’s born to the page. This blockage is invariably the writer who has come to the desk too eager or too emotional or too tired or too anything that’s not helping him to clear his head. What I’ve found, and this is my own truth again, is that my really great writing creeps up on me and springs genius when I’m in a place that is uncluttered in my head. When I don’t try too hard.
Even in this shite-stabbing weather I need to get out. The mizzle was enough to put the girls off a day out in the woods – they stayed at home baking – but not enough to keep me in: it was the first Sunday in a long time where I have booked in no trips to the tip or decorating or repairs. I had told myself in the week that I needed a walk and I was going to take a walk.
Just the regular 5k (remember: 5k every day) along the little lanes in a loop back to Book Field and home. 5k = 3 miles = 1 hour = a clearer head. It is simple maths, just the way that I like it. It’s also very important research time for the ideas that are rumbling in the background – like Circle and the thing I’m building up in my mind about how the towns are cities are throbbing cities; plastic and neatly cut to a border: giant bubbles of artificial existence (us) connected by umbilical veins (roads, train lines, etc). The warm lava lamp is the idea speeded up and in 3D. The smaller spheres devoured by the bigger ones on and on relentless.
But circles don’t tesselate and it’s the fringes; the bits around the edges that are left alone that I escape to and it’s often beautiful. Even today in the rain with my wide-brimmed hat and ash staff; with my reserve boots and micro-fleece shirt. It was quite beautiful. The views from the lanes I walked were soft bundles of countryside: naked trees smoothed into a grey paste with fence and telegraph pole; the quite town distant and similarly benign with church steeple poking into the gloom. And when the rain really came it pattered on the brim and I didn’t at all regret that I was out there. Not at all. Just like I’m glad to be dry right now. Right now at my desk.
Late January and it’s still not really winterish. A decent bit of frost at the start of last week teased us with the idea that we might actually have the sort of weather that we’re supposed to this time of year. But now it’s just cold misty drizzle and we’ve skipped from autumn into a slightly darker autumn.
There’s talk of a killer flu in China that could come our way and the girls are in a panic. I tell them that, now Brexit and the election are out of the way and DT isn’t throwing out any freebies, the media has to have something to talk about. It will make all the other stuff seem much more interesting. I told them that tens of thousands of people die from the bog-standard flu every year. They sigh and think of another question.
Truth is: I want to enter into the world of Worst Case Scenario. Really, I do. I want to imagine a world where catastrophe pulls apart the fragile strands that keep us all bundled warm together. The few survivors (us included, of course) would find themselves plonked in a world of very different rules and there’s something rather appealing in that. But as dad I need to say the right thing and I need to kill these ideas swiftly.
When I was ten I heard on the news that an earthquake had hit Japan. That hundreds had dies. That turned into thousands and when I saw the grainy pictures I saw a world turned upside down. Where benign streams had sauntered through villages there only the red-tiled tops of houses; where office blocks had risen above church spires there were only piles of broken buildings merged together. I asked, can we get earthquakes here, mum? And she sighed. I remember it now, or at least I think I do. She has a basket of washing and there’s the Sunday night smell of warm ironing in the air – the harbinger of Monday morning. Dad’s out somewhere and she looks at me at says, son, with Maggie Thatcher as prime minister, anything can happen.
So that’s why I’m careful. I didn’t sleep properly until the Iron Lady stepped down, and even then I was unsure. I know what it’s like to be sad at night. I know what it’s like to have no reason to feel it, but to feel anyway the strings pulling at the gut and the churning of dread at the simple advent of another day; at the breaking of the sacred weekend and the scattering of the family about its different duties and obligations. It’s a game. A show. But it has to be played right. You have to sense the mood. At the moment it’s hard enough so I kill the doubt. We’ll invent fairies and think of unicorns instead.
When he first sees Lolly he thinks she’s a ghost and he’s already on edge because the snow is think under the tyres of the van and he can hear it grating on the chassis underneath. It is preposterous noise for something so soft and insubstantial: like he’s driving over piles of gravel or something. But the van is empty now and hollow as a tin can. Also the day has slipped away and the unfamiliar lanes with their sudden twists and wanderings are doing their best to trick him into a ditch or tree. Now that he’s left the little town and is climbing the side of the valley the mist has turned to a deeper fog that throw the headlights back at him.
All of his senses are primed and his mind is twitchy with the things that dart across his path and the reflection of tiny eyes that stare unmoved as he passes. On the seat next to him there is a scrap of paper with directions and a scribbled map but both are useless unless he stops and he dare not do that. He might lose momentum in the snow and also, there’s nowhere to stop. His mind sees the map and remembers the instructions but none of what he pictured when he jotted them down is laid out before him.
Fog and snow. Thick snow and heavy fog. He didn’t know that the two could pair up. Seeing is believing; he just wishes he could see a little more. Past the post box on the left. Has he passed it already? He didn’t see it. Ignore the fork through the arches to the left – private land. Was that was he just saw looming in the shadows a minute back? The driveway is on the left; a gap in the dry stone wall with a white letter box. Go too fast and you miss it. Trees close in on all sides though curious branches that hang in the roadway are the only giveaway of the darness and depth that lies beyond.
He’s going ludicrously slow. Back home on the main roads he’d get blared off the road at this speed but right now it’s just enough to keep the wheels from slipping and he’s so alert. So alert that he only sees it at the last minute.
She’s in the middle of the lane and floating a foot off the ground. She’s shrouded in the fog and swathed in a black cloak, one arm is raised and pointing into the darkness of the woods. A hood covers her face but the slightness of the figure tells him it’s a girl. The best ghosts are always girls, he thinks to himself, and then taps on the brakes, which is a mistake because the front wheels lock and slide and the back spins out so that he’s sideways on the lane that is only just about wide enough to allow it.
He’s closed his eye through a lot of this and when he opens them, having heard no crunch or scrape of metal or torso, the figure is gone and the headlights are doing their best to cut a path through a gap in the wall. A rusty white letter box leans precariously on a wooden stake and ahead is the opening that weaves through the woods.
The first thing he does is look round to make sure that nobody (except the little phantom) was witness to his erratic manoeuvre. He’s still too rattled to consider the figure floating in the middle of the lane, but a sense of self-consciousness dies hard in the teenage brain.
After a breath he nudges forward. It is unlikely that any fool will be on this road but if a car did come round the corner…it is darker in the woods and the fog is thicker; tangible. It clings wetly to the branches – here even more intrusive and tapping the windscreen; sliding along the side of the van – and the noise at the undercarriage is painful. He has never been to the house and knows that he will not be welcomed with open arms, but he is desperate to reach it none the less.
When he does finally pull up at the gate the phantom is there again; she’s opening the gate and beckoning him in; rolling her eyes as he passes and he sees a young face. He sees the oversized hoody and white wellies and then she is gone again.
He doesn’t know it but this is Lolly.
I don’t want to rock the boat but when the water’s up and the sea is high there’s really no option. Unless I’m not meant to move; as if it’s better if I sit here crouched beneath the bench, sheltering from the rain when the real threat is being thrown in by the gallon from beneath me.
I’m riding (is that the word? It doesn’t feel as though sailing would fit. I don’t envisage a sail on my boat at all. Not at the moment. I feel like I’m riding something out. Not quite a storm. It has not been dramatic these past few weeks, though something has definitely gone on. I would say that it’s just the usual rain clouds and they won’t threaten the boat. They’ll get me wet but it’s what lies beneath that I need to worry about) on a churning sea of impatient ideas and in the wake of the storm (but was it a storm? I’m really not so sure. I think maybe that it was a few bigger vessels passing by a little too closely) or in the wake of whatever it was that has churned up these waters and I’m being thrown about a bit.
I could sit here as the spoiling sea throws itself maniacally at the side of the boat and watch as the level of the water around my feet and knees rises. I recognise most of it to the droplet and remember whence it came. What was my benign child now pulls me down. I could pretend that I’ll see the storm out; that it’ll pass again. But the waters will rise enough one day to sink this little sailless boat of mine. Sink this boat, heavy with ideas just enough that the waters inside can rejoin the waters that surround us.
I must bail. I must take what I can to bail the water, even if it’s my hands; even if it hurts to do so. If I had some I would bottle up each last dreg and find a shelf because it’s all valid. If I could bottle them all up I would make something of it all and nothing would be wasted. I could tame it; charm it, even calm it. It’s all from me, after all. And everyone else.
The tips of the waves are ripped away by another force into white foam that suggests some sense of an ending, but not at all; not in the slightest. It energises as the water is pulled apart then thrown into the air. It will fall back again and it will catch a little of what’s up there.
It will fall back again then join the throng to get into my boat. My boat doesn’t have a lot more room and the water’s up to my waist. It would be a waste if it all when down now. Would be a shame when I have so many empty shelves.
The fog changes.
The clouds descend and all the world changes. It becomes an insular world where people creep and truths are hidden; where little misdemeanours can evolve into problems and bad life choices. A cold place where layers force away close contact and thoughts are of getting away, finding somewhere warm. Or just somewhere else.
An individual can spend decades thinking he knows the fog; thinking he understands how he needs to act when the poor visibility descends and the world changes. He makes the assumption that the cloud will clear and that the sun will shine again. And usually it does so he decides not to notice the lengthening periods of fog superseding the shortening of the sunshine hours until it hits him like a physical thing.
The fog changes. It evolves and gets to know, like a germ, the vulnerabilities and strategies set up to guard against it. It finds the slightest gaps in the gates and the cracks in the windows. It finds a way in and catches you when you’re not expecting it. It’s intelligent and it’s a bitch.
My fog is orange at the moment. A dirty, yellowy orange that smells of old stale ideas and regrets that won’t be shed. It lingers in the corners of my vision and when I close my eyes it floods in. It floods in like an actual tide driven by some force that I don’t know how to control or plead with. It’s a physical thing with a weight and when I wake some days it is on my chest pushing down. When I stand it is on my shoulders pushing down, when I walk it is at my heels dragging back. It knows. It is intelligent. It knows where to hit and like death it is patient.
The fog knows.
And then the fog goes.