Let me just sing sad songs to right all the wrongs.”
Hope of the States – 66 Sleepers to Summer
I wondered what happens when a driver with an unhinged mind and no reason to continue living gets behind the wheel. Lets assume it's an empty road on a new day.
Cruising in the centre lane with nothing in sight, Anderson swept beneath a monolithic overpass and gave the finger to an overhead speed restriction sign. He nudged the speed up to 90mph and thumbed off the music. Time to concentrate.
Training his eyes on the mid point of the lane he looked out to the middle distance, adjusting his grip on the cool leather wheel. He allowed his eyelids to close momentarily then flicker open, the car maintained an impressively steady course. With a subtle shift a GPS map refreshed itself on the bright LCD display, but Anderson didn’t notice.
Nothing ahead nothing behind now, he pushed the motor to an effortless 120mph, German technology maintaining the smooth ride. Suddenly he reached out and pressed a button on the dash then screwed his eyes tightly shut and listened to the wind sweeping over the car’s smooth lines. Keep going, no need to look yet. Don't open them, keep going. He started reciting the names of his childhood family over and over...
With a start he opened his eyes. The car was still flying ahead, straight as an arrow. He glanced at the statistics display screen and read “time elapsed 8 minutes 31 seconds.” Something told him he should do it today, his 100th birthday, and nobody left to care.
His first finger hovered over the touch-screen words ‘Lane Deviation Compensator - ON/OFF’, poised to press. And the digital clock read: 6:00am Sunday 19 September 2057.
Hands thrust into my jacket pockets against the biting cold as I walked the pier this morning at 8:00 am. My face was stiff and my eyes watering. Pulling out the camera momentarily for this cloudless sky my hands went numb. The Old 97's were on my mp3 player right then crying in my ears, "They're Tearing the Buick City Complex Down..." See you can listen to whatever you want, wherever you want.
On the ferry I made a mental note of a dozen beautifully cryptic blog post titles but by the time I reached work I had forgotten them. During the day I composed another dozen and wrote those down.
Imagine a heavy pendulum swinging to the outer reach of its passage. It hovers fleetingly as gravity pulls, then building speed it swings gracefully back then slows gently to a halt at it’s central point.
This scene unsettles the viewer. It defies our understanding of the world. It breaks the known rules. Instinctively we expect the pendulum to gather pace through the centre of its drop then slow gradually as it nears the opposite end of it’s arc.
I slid into a pit. It took me many years of stumbling in there before I realised what had happened to me. I looked up and saw the steel edged blade of a huge pendulum. I became mesmerised by it.
Beneath each swing I heard the sharp rush of sliced air. The blade began to swing faster as if propelled by an invisible hand. Finally I lay pinned to the ground watching the shining blue steel flash closer to me with each pass.
I passed out. When I awoke I had climbed from the pit and was sitting free, watching that vast pendulum from a distance. I observed it for several years marvelling as it maintained momentum, never slowing.
I was safe but I could not take my eyes from the scene. I was watching the wild swing in my behaviour. A powerful force had hauled me to one side and an equally powerful effort had redressed the balance.
Now I see clearly the extreme pull exerted in the pit. I realise I will always hold the strongest of views about life inside and outside that region. So I have come to understand that the pendulum can never rest in the centre, all apathy and inertia.
The pendulum swings forever and touches the strength of my former addiction on one side and the sweet relief of freedom on the other. I can never be ambivalent to its massive influence, I can never sit calmly in the centre. It is always with me and I am alive.
Title courtesy of Edgar Alan Poe 1842.
Sifting through my London photos from Friday these caught my eye. We took a favourite trip on the DLR from Tower Hill out to Canary Wharf. Standing on the platform at Tower Hill you see the East End sitting next to the City, with the new glass "Gherkin" in the background.
Eldest son M proposed to his girlfriend G on Valentine's day. I think he must be an incurable romantic though I can't imagine where he get's that from! G is grinning from ear to ear and showing off her ring. Tonight six of us are out for a meal to celebrate.
Where did all that time go? It seems like only yesterday he was learning to walk and now he's ready to fly. Heck I'm getting all misty eyed but it is nice to have good news for a change.
Several years ago I wrote a history of my life. I already hear detractors shouting, "What a pointless navel-gazing exercise!" Maybe they have a point but I found the experience quite calming. My initial lofty motivation was to leave a document for a future generation but during the process I realised I was subjecting myself to therapy and attempting to lay some demons to rest. I've recently been editing loads of those recollections and today I had time to work on the following one as I'm on hols. The theme is relevant to the thoughts currently occupying me.
In 1976 I joined The Corporation* where I met the hugely influential character MM. I quickly grew to admire his forthright views and staggering general knowledge. By all accounts M had been an athletic young cricketer and was a member of the MCC. Now in early middle age his ample midriff bore testimony to his drinking habits. He and JS often shared a bottle of Cyprus sherry, decanting it into their coffee mugs. M sent me out of The Office to the local Safeway most days with a five-pound note and instructions to buy Carlsberg Special Brew. I was already fully familiar with this savage golden liquid and applauded his choice. By way of reward, or maybe to avoid drinking alone, he insisted I join him in the dignified French-polished surroundings of the Department over which he presided.
These bright interludes brought welcome relief from the day’s tedium. As time passed I would develop an unquenchable thirst for Special Brew. Three times the strength of ordinary lagers meant the desired numbing effect was achieved without consuming gallons. M often stood up to look out over the high wooden panelling surrounding his domain, caught my young eye and held up an innocent-looking coffee cup in salute with a knowing wink. The Office manager RD, curiously chose to ignore M’s habits.
Working in finance inevitably focused my attention on money. One day I composed a still life of bank statements, cash box, chequebooks notes and coins. I arranged the objects on a sheet spread on the lawn, with coins arranged in the shape of dollar and pound signs. I took a photograph to record this meagre financial situation! The same day I also took pictures of Special Brew bottles carefully arrayed to display the labels. The first example of recording my drinking and it was 1976.
* I still work for The Corporation 28 years on and have slaved in about 20 Offices and geographical locations.
Excerpts from Memoirs Chapter 5 - 1976-1981, “My lips are moving so I must be speaking”
When life gets too complicated and the walls close in I just play with one of my toys from the list above. Play the music loud and there isn't room to accommodate any encroachments from outside. Just as well we don't adjoin our neighbours! Even loud is never loud enough, you have to feel the sound and let it take over your whole mind. Every other thought gets squeezed out. That's the point.
The River Test apparently used to lap up against the old City walls 500 years ago. Today I ate my Marmite sandwiches near here and listened to The Libertines on my mp3 player. What you can't see is the glass and stone edifice of a modern De Vere hotel. Old and new in grudging proximity.
The Wedgewood Rooms in Southsea is a 300 capacity rock venue on the up and coming circuit. My younger son Mike and I caught Hope of the States there just before Christmas and re-reading my review made me wonder if it might interest anyone.
“Who do you think those guys might be?” I asked Mike. "Dunno." He volunteerd rather helpfully. They looked out of place in grubby Southsea with their happening haircuts, brown leather jackets and black jeans. We tracked them for half a mile and followed them into the Wedgewood Rooms. They showed backstage passes and breezed through, they were The Open. Well three members of the band anyway. Surprising what you see if you keep ‘em peeled.
Mike made straight for the bar and got the drinks in. We took up position about seven feet from the small stage, just to right of centre. A big crowd was swelling by Wedge standards at 20:00. Young teens, twenty something art students and middle-aged aficionados of the Indie and Britpop scene. A spot of pre show surfing had elicited three acoustic downloads so we knew what to expect from Brighton's The Upper Room and they didn’t disappoint. Their short set was politely received and I guess there’s enough room for another band who can produce great sweeping guitar tracks and who wear their Morrissey influences with pride. The young lad on bass was surely no more than 19.
The front line stage equipment was swiftly dismantled and on came the boys from Liverpool. The Open showed plenty of energy and aggressive attitude as they strutted the stage and delivered a breathtaking set that would almost overshadow the main act. They previewed half their debut album with all the assurance of veterans. This is a class act which has built its following through last minute guerrilla gigs. They didn’t introduce themselves, they didn’t say goodbye, they just played. Played hard loud and with passion. After their set I spied the unassuming figure of Sam Herlihy sidle in the main door and head discreetly for the stage door.
Hope of the States finally appeared at 22:25. Worth the wait though. These are truly accomplished musicians and they play their repertoire to studio standard. But were they just a bit jaded after three months on the road? I think so when you compare their stage presence with the earlier acts. It was a pretty brave move to bring along such strong support.
“Sing a happy song Sam!” pleaded someone. Sam debated with the band whether they knew any happy songs or indeed any happy people! It was decided with great irony that George Bush was about the happiest person they could imagine fight now. The music was set to a constant backdrop of video footage showing the band's familiar images of American patriotism and military might. My highlight was The Red the White the Black the Blue. I took some video footage during this one.
The band was using Orange gear. In the centre of one speaker cabinet the Orange name plaque had been scribbled out rather scornfully in black felt tip. Pinned to the amp head was a dollar bill. Hanging from the amp was a hand written note which read, “Modern Life is Fucking Terrifying.” The last number was dedicated to the late great John Peel.
The Upper Room:
All Over This Town
Black and White
Once for Me
Bring Me Down
Close My Eyes
Just Want to Live
Can You Hear
Hope of the States:
A Crack Up at the Race Riots
Black Dollar Bills
Black Stars Red Stars
Farewell to Pripyat
The Red the White the Black the Blue
Drinkers on the Dry
Static in the Cities
The retiring assistant manager penned his last initial, put down his weary biro with an air of finality and pondered. His “in tray” was empty, his “out tray” full and yet there were loose ends…things remained undone and must forever now remain so. There was no more time. The sand lay flat in the lower chamber of life’s hourglass. Intentions, objectives, ambitions; these were the loose ends which could not be neatly knotted and cut.
He drew comfort from the tangible and considered the forest of paper that had traversed his desk these four decades, hungrily sucking the ink of a thousand pens; gorging the graphite of a towering pencil. His mark lay on reams of records stowed safely in the banking bowels below. Tasks completed, returns returned, ledgers ruled and checked. There lay the rich seams of evidence indelibly stamped in banking history.
A million signatures had authorised, confirmed, advised, certified, applied, declared, reported and claimed. With this unique monogram a mountain of responsibility had been safely shouldered. Our man reached for a cigarette and wreathed himself in its haze. The mood of reflection continued and he seemed almost to disappear within the plumes of blue and grey, his mind a raft drifting on the sea of memory. An endless tide of faces, names, places, conversations ebbed and flowed out of time and context. When reality returned he would try to remember these details in ordered fashion, but not yet. Enough for now to indulge at random.
A column of white ash dropped unnoticed. Imagination slipped its leash and began to pad softly down the corridors of wistful thought. So much to do, yet so little time. Off these corridors lay unopened rooms containing untested talents, unexpressed emotions, abandoned projects, forgotten thoughts, lapsed aspirations. With frightening suddenness, conscious thought returned. His empty desk stared gravely back at him. An old and trusted friend, he must remember to bid his faithful wooden companion farewell. But how to say “goodbye”? How to say “I won’t be back”? Its drawers would fill with foreign clutter and this it would accept with either brave resignation or bland indifference – he did not like to contemplate which.
Sadness came over him. ‘End of an era’, how woefully inadequate. What an empty phrase. Sadness turned to frustration as he glanced at the relentless clock. He willed it to stop and encapsulate the moment. On it went into the future. If only it would just mark time or pass the time of day! He laughed aloud. With that the spell was broken and the fleeting moment of regret was past. It was the future that held the key. The key to all those unopened rooms of opportunity, potential and above all time. With spirits rising he left the Bank.
A broad grin spread across his face as he detected a spring in his step, which had not been there yesterday. Was that last step more of a skip? The years rolled back and he remembered that glorious July afternoon when a small boy of twelve had pedalled furiously home from school, eyes ablaze with anticipation at the summer holiday stretching endlessly ahead.
He hadn’t felt like this in years! Cares, worries and responsibilities lay strewn in his wake as he hurried towards his tired old car. His mind whirled with expectation on the journey home. He concentrated on nothing in particular, allowing himself to bask in expectation – summer holiday, cricket, garden, Vivaldi, sun, solitude, deck-chair, reading, writing... He nearly drowned in euphoria! Full of unabashed excitement he hurried home to the future and with a sigh of relief he closed the door on a most eventful day.
7:45am first decision...
Ferry is 3 miles as the crow flies and involves a 1.5 mile drive to the village car park, 1200 paces up a windswept and crumbling Victorian pier (or a dangerous rattly pier train ride), 15 minutes pitching and rolling across Southampton Water on a glorified tug and a further 1000 paces to The Office. Cost £4.00
Car is 11 miles of first gear, stop/start queuing and frustration, parking at Leisure World Cinema and Club Complex then 1400 paces to The Office. Cost £6.00 (petrol £3.00/parking £3.00).
Car wins today, but only just. Cost is not a factor in the decision. The real choice comes down to comfort, personal space and traffic jams versus today's weather, hassle and unpredictable ferry delays. See, its a fine judgement each day.
CD player in the car versus MP3 player on the ferry. Oh, I won't go on...
Wrong choice today though. Transco had dug a giant pit in the A35 at Regents Park resulting in lane closures and gridlock. Managed to cross 3 lanes and hop off at Millbrook to skirt the roundabout as the flyover was at a standstill. Must have leap-frogged a few hundred places but the damage was already done. Journey of 11 miles took 65 minutes. Nice relaxing start to the day!
Hit the ‘next blog’ button for 15 minutes and you find the world is full of people ranting about: Knitting, Flower arranging, Church, Politics, College diaries and Shopping trips. Look closer and yes, there are comments littered across these postings from avid readers.
Just occasionally a real gem turns up. An author writes about coping with their daily trials and tribulations and omits the mundane. These frank accounts are fascinating, even inspirational.
A middle-aged housewife discloses she is terminally ill. A divorced mum sprinkles her site with proud photographs of her offspring amid well-penned tales of heroic struggles with single life. A bored office worker recounts a tale of erotic adventures.
The Blogger is compelled to share intimate emotions with a readership that will remain largely anonymous. Life changing events and decisions are described and analysed at length, giving the casual reader a candid account. But for every concerned soul who posts a supportive comment there must be a thousand who lurk, read and move on.
Maybe Bloggers write for personal consolation, yet unselfishly they provide therapy to their readers. “Look into my soul. This is how bad things are for me. I can't even tell my best friend this.” The comfort of telling your secrets to a host of strangers who you will never ever meet is matched by the reader’s relief that there are others out there who feel just like you.
Imagine posting a list of ‘100 Things About Me’ on your works notice board. The reactions are likely to be extreme. Yet you will read the same revealing list on any blog you hit at random. I guess you feel invincible writing for an audience who has never met you. How about these people who get twenty comments a day on their writing. They have been elevated to the dubious status of lifestyle gurus with their witty observations and endless lists of hilarious weblinks.
I have seen sidebars that include a ’’List of Bloggers I have met.” Reading a wry column for two minutes a day is one thing but would you actually want to meet that girl or guy with the artistic layout and the clever buttons? Surely the illusion would be shattered. The sophisticated, successful author only uses adjectives when the right noun doesn’t exist. But what if they were stuck for a well-turned phrase and revealed themselves to be just like you and me after all.