Voyage to Middlesbrough

8.40- I’m on the train to Sheffield, to get another train which will then take me to Darlington, to get another train which will then take me to Middlesbrough for the Playoff semi-final match against Aston Villa. I will be there five hours before kick off. Lord knows what I will do, but I promise to write about whatever wonderful things I happen to experience.

As is often the case the night before a planned and suitably momentous event, I had a dream as precursor-

I was at a mostly empty football ground full of musky smog. I was standing on a small platform with a group of energetic football goons behind the goal. I never looked at them, they were just faceless goons.

It took a long time for us to score but eventually Adama got the ball in the middle of the box and caressed it into the right corner. The goons on the platform got animated. We started jeering an extravagantly dressed ballboy who seemed about the age of 25. He was hating his job, desperately retrieving the ball for his keeper to restart.

The dream ended with the ball-man goading us while Villa scored up the other end with a tap-in in a crowded box for the last kick of the match. The environment was so dead we didn’t even realise an attack was on. That was full time, 1-1. Not a bad prediction from the dream I think.

9.15- I have a very nice limited edition 2015 Boro shirt, worn only twice by the players for kit clashes against Brentford. The only trouble with it is that it’s got Adomah’s name on the back, who coincidentally is now banging in the goals for Villa. We pretty much swapped him for Adama (the fastest and most skillful player on the planet). He is of a mercurial temperament. There were some games where he looked like he’d never played football before, others when he would skip past Premier League players like they were plastic cones. This inconsistency continued through the Monk season, then Tony Pulis came in in January and really fancied him, and he’s been our finest player ever since. He’s a rocket. Apparently Chelsea want him for 30 million. So today could well be the last time I see him play in red.

dav

dav

9.24- I just got a call from an unknown number. I didn’t answer of course but I did check the voicemail about twenty minutes later. It was from a smoggy lady saying it was about my ticket. What the fuck is that about? I wonder. I check the front compartment of my bag and notice that my ticket has gone. I call the nice lady on the Boro helpline and she tells me Loughborough station just called to tell her they’ve found my ticket, but it was fine, she said. They’d duplicate it for me.

The modern world is full of safety nets. In the olden days about forty years ago they probably wouldn’t have been able to do that and I wouldn’t have been able to go to the match at all. That would be all I deserve really. That and no anaesthetics.

9.28- The last time I went to the Riverside was when I was just turning 15, in 2008. We got hammered 5-0 by Chelsea, Juliano Belleti scoring the finest 40 yard strike I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. The first time I went to the Riverside was 2007 vs Aston Villa. We lost 3-0.

10.55- Do you know what? I think I might treat myself to a nice refreshing lager beer soon. Do you know what also? I don’t think I’ve had a weekend without a beer this year. I know this because I last took a mental note of this in January, and since then the pattern hasn’t been broken. Something tends to happen every weekend, and when things happen you just have a beer. That’s just what you do. It’s quite sad in a way.

I bet for most people it’s been like that for forty or fifty years. People complain about not having enough money, but if you can afford a beer most weekends you should be very grateful to be a citizen of your country and not one of North Korea, eating rice and oats for breakfast, lunch and dinner and getting shipped off to the gulags for saying you’re not that much of a fan of Kim Jong’s hairstyle.

Which brings me to what I’m reading. I’m reading We by Zamyatin. This is a largely under-known and underappreciated text that was instrumental in inspiring the two powerhouses of modern literature- Huxley’s Brave New World and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four. I loved both of these other texts, particularly Brave New World which was more humorous and mind-boggling. The text is a satire of communism, and exists at some point in the future when the world is One State. Everybody is named after numbers, all buildings are made of glass so that all behaviour can be observed and everything is dictated by the Supreme Benefactor (some Russian version of Jeremy Corbyn). It’s very prophetic of North Korea today. I do enjoy it. My affinity with Russian Literature grows still greater by the year.

11.40- Today is a thirteen hour solo quest; a chance to get in some quality Jamo time. Sometimes it can be very good to spend a bit of time with yourself. Sitting on a train, reading, listening to electronic music, staring out of the train window like you’re being filmed for a documentary.

I actually enjoy my own company most of the time. It’s just the anticipation of it that fills me with dread. Hanging out with other people is much easier.

We often have a decision in life, to do one of two things. One of these is to go out and meet friends, have a few drinks and a few laughs. Needless to say this is an easy, enjoyable option. But alternatively we can sit glued to our desks battling with King Lear. Which is not something to look forward to, is difficult to persevere with and is enjoyable only in a few fleeting moments. But when we take the latter option, we can enjoy the next day much more, and we lubricate our minds with new ideas that refresh us in ways we couldn’t imagine if we just took the easy way out. The people who spend their lives on their own, reading, meditating, wandering through distant lands. They’re the mad ones and they’re the real ones who vanquish the tedious difficulties of human life.

Today I am simply in the North, completely unshackled, free to roam wherever, whenever I choose. And for this opportunity I owe life a lot of gratitude.

11.32- Just got into Darlington. If there was one thing I would say to summarise the North it would be that there are considerably more red bricks around. And viaducts, the cities are all full of viaducts.

I just bought a can of IPA for £2.50 from M+S. I remember somebody or other in politics- some fucking idiot, saying that us millennials should stop buying coffees from Starbucks if we want to get on the property ladder. He could equally have been talking about beer as well which is more expensive. My only point to add is; what kind of psychopath thinks houses are that important?

dav

dav

13.00- I’m in Boro now. The streets are very wide. It took me a while to find real civilisation. I’m sitting in a courtyard with another pale ale. I found a street where the pubs are all like boutique shops. There was a pub called The Devil’s Advocate, which is probably among the best pub names I’ve ever heard. But for arbitrary reasons I didn’t go there, and settled for the Slater’s Pick, which is a mediocre name in comparison.

There’s nobody in the courtyard except a headless multi-coloured manikin, with a motorbike t-shirt. I’ve had worse company in recent weeks.  

13.57-  I went to the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art. As soon as I got in there some middle-aged smoggy with red hair on both sides of her head like rose petals kept talking to me about a couple of Lowry paintings. I felt mostly ambivalent towards this artist. Apparently he painted his paintings by commission mostly, some of them taking less than an hour each, which was something at least.

In another room there were a few strange Chinese videos, one of a naked woman devouring a variety of cosmetic products. Another of a woman, probably the same one’s feet, in ice skates as she is dragged by a trailer across the ground. There was also a photo of thousands of bikes piled up on a landfill site. Conclusion: China has got some serious problems.

14.48- I’ve still got a lifetime before kick off so I find a nice place on the grass nearby to bask in the sun in. I soon discover I’m not alone- there were lots of gangs of rowdy little smoggy kids waddling around making noises at each other. I was listening to music so was alarmed to find a particularly ugly child, covered in freckles and with two very prominent front teeth like a beaver trying to communicate me. He was with a posse of fellow juveniles but I didn’t look at any of them.

“Why have you got eggs?” he asked in a really high pitched, really northern accent. He was pointing to the boiled egg next to me. It had crushed in my bag, so I was planning on disposing of it.

“Just boiled eggs for a snack.” I explained.

He crushed it up with his hands and threw it down the hill.
“That’s fine, I wasn’t going to eat it anyway. “

“What are you doing here?”

“Oh just relaxing on this hill.”

His faceless minions remained completely silent except for a few giggles. The little brat then turned around as if to go away. They found something better to do than pester an innocent young tourist like myself. 

It went completely quiet, oh for fuck’s sake I thought. I turned round to see in the corner of my vision that the freckled brat had exposed his arse to me. As I turned his cretinous gang then cackled to themselves and scurried off back to a nearby garden with a trampoline.

For about five minutes I reclined on the hill and thought about what I was going to do to entertain myself for the next three hours in this crazy northern place.

Then a small rock landed on my rucksack by my side. I turned round and saw the freckled brat’s head peeping round the garden fence. I wasn’t welcome. It wasn’t safe. I grabbed my sack, got up and left.

16.30-  Is drinking on one’s own permissible? It always seems so in the books. Maybe the literary guys get a free pass in that regard. Maybe I am just one of the ordinary losers.

19.00 –The game was terrible to watch. Villa mugged us off, scoring a header from a corner and then shutting up shop. Boro all over them but never looking like scoring. My seats were wank as well, I was lodged in between some bloke and an absolute meat-sack. I could barely move my knees. Nobody around me was singing. It must be policy for the fans on the horizontal sides of any grounds not to sing. And let’s face it, most home grounds don’t even sing from the vertical ends. That’s why away games are what being a football fan is all about.

I still love the Riverside though. It’s paradise. You can’t beat this for pre-match music. Stolen by many inferior clubs. I hope they paid us for it.

19.43- The train journey back was long and left me much time to ponder my own past, present and future. Swathes of drunken thirty somethings carousing down the carriages drinking pink cans of gin and communicating with extra volume. I found a peaceful carriage to relax in and listen to Valvate by Recondite on repeat until I got to York.


A group of wankers with IPhones sat next to me and turned out to be Villa fans. One of the wankers referred to me as Bamford. Whom I’ve been likened to before. He started attacking me saying every player in Villa’s team except Gibson was better than Boro’s. 

“What you’re saying is just bollocks, just argument without substance. You’re just trying to provoke me, ” I said.

I was glaring at him the whole time. Giving his eyes no peace whatsoever. I think he respected me a bit more because of that. If there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, you can win an argument with those strange balls in the middle of your face.

22.10-  I can now say that I’ve been to Chesterfield, York and Doncaster stations. Now I can add those Leviathan public transport bases to my checklist. The day was extremely deflating over all. By voyaging to the Middlesbrough town I gambled on a result and didn’t get one. But I experienced a few new things, and jotted a few of them down here so it’s not all crushing disappointment.

Until my next venture into uncharted lands, my imaginary readers.

 

No Deal

“Well James I’ve got some great news and some not so great news. Which one would you like first?” asked my beautiful, sexy, amazing girlfriend as she grabbed the lagers from on top of the bar and lead us across the astroturf. There seems to be more and more astroturf in the world every time I look. Astroturf bars, astroturf gardens, astroturf kitchens. Before we know it the whole House of Lords will be turfed up.

I got the feeling she had brought us to the pub to tell me something quite important, because she wanted to go just us two. Usually she would bring a train of equally whacky uni friends along who I’d have to begrudgingly endure. I looked forward to it being just the two of us for a change. We settled on a bench next to a ping pong table and I stared at her with weary eyes.

I’d just got back from the tory party conference in Manchester which had sucked the life right out of me, so I was delighted to go for a nice big pint of beer. Man those guys are in for a tough time if they think they are going to convince the electorate that they can operate as a competent government for the rest of the parliament. The whole thing was fantastic political theatre, the falling letters, the cough, the impostor with the P45. You’d expect to see that kind of imbroglio on The Thick Of It, not in real life. It was truly exhilarating. I really have absolutely no idea of the direction British politics is heading at the moment… Anyway, back to me and the awe-inspiring girlfriend.

“Great news first please,” she handed me a nice big pint with a giant white head on the top like a great big dollop of vanilla ice cream. It was the kind of beer you’d expect to see on a reasonably good TV advert. One of those adverts that conditions you so that you see a cold glass of beer and you just want to do things like watch football with friends.

“Okay. I got the teaching job.”

“No way? Wow. You must be very happy. ”

“I am!”

“Which one?”

“The one in Chalk Farm silly,” I didn’t know where Chalk Farm was, let alone what constituency it was in, so squinted at her slightly. When you are so close to somebody and you really love each other you don’t need words to communicate.  

“It’s in Northwest London,” I got a strong hunch it might be Hornsey and Wood Green. Or possibly Holborn and St Pancras. I’d check on my smartphone when I went to the toilet.

“And that’s the bad news then, the fact it’s in London, I take it Mars?”

Mars is short for Maire. This is pronounced Mar-ee, not Mare, like the horse. Her mouth and eyes moved to the side of her face as her head began to nod. She stared at me like I was a Green Party MP standing in a Labour heartland who’d just been told that unsurprisingly and despite a long and fearsome three months of campaigning I’d only managed to get a meagre 0.9 % of the vote share. I knew something was quite possibly very wrong now. I could feel my hands and feet beginning to sweat.

“Go on then, put me out my misery, what is the bad news? Are you dying or something?”

“No silly.

A long pause. It was purgatory.

“The bad news is that you won’t be seeing me anymore.”

On being told this I wanted to pick up my glass of lovely refreshing beer, relax my oesophagus pour it straight in, then kneel on the astro-turf while pleading and praying to a God I don’t even believe in for this to be a dream.

“Are you going to say anything James?”

I felt like somebody had jammed a coat-hanger in my chest.

“I just can’t comprehend how you’ve came to such a screeching U-turn all of a sudden.”

“A U-turn?”

“Yes a U-turn. Our relationship has been absolutely fine recently, I’d even go as far as to say it was particularly strong. And now you want to throw it all away-.”

“I’m moving one hundred and sixty three miles away James. I haven’t got the energy to have a ‘relationship’ at that distance.”

It looked like I had some convincing to do.

“I’ll level with you, overall I think that the decision to build HS2 is a complete waste of the taxpayer’s money. But my god that’ll get you to and from London fast. Getting to London will be the new equivalent of getting the 144 from Droitwich to Bromsgrove.” 

That didn’t cut ice with Maire. She wasn’t aware of what HS2 was, and I knew based on the mood she was in she wouldn’t listen if I explained. I sighed and then went to grab a massive swig from my pint and realised I’d necked it all already and was fighting with every sinew in my scrawny little body to resist the urge to grab hers and neck that as well. She didn’t seem remotely interested in it either. It was just a convenient prop brought in purely for the purposes of lubricating my heart before ripping it into pieces.

“We can come to some kind of arrangement surely. I’ll still come and see you. We can Skype as often as you need…”

“Are you trying to negotiate with me James?”

Maire often liked to play jokes on me, it’s part of the reason why I was so infatuated with her. I remember when on April Fools she called me up and got me to drive out to Aston Police Station, where she said she had been detained overnight for being caught with four grams of cocaine. Frantic with worry, I jumped into my Peugeot and gunned it down the motorway at seventy miles per hour, minimum speed. I got there and told the police that I was here to see my girlfriend who’d been caught with an illegal substance on her person. When I got there I went all round the station, even checking the women’s toilets cubicles, and subsequently I had to undergo the lengthy and infuriating process of convincing a female officer who saw me coming out that I wasn’t a pervert.

I called Maire and all I could hear coming out of the handset was her satanic laugh like the sound of thousands of hyenas in a hanging sack being burned alive. It took me a very, very long while to realise it but the whole thing was absolutely hilarious.

All my other girlfriends, had been so boring in comparison to my Maire. Both of them would just go on and on and on about things like how the devolvement of power to the Northern Irish and Welsh assemblies was ‘constitutionally inconsistent,’ or they’d be more excited by Luxembourg’s new leadership contest than spending quality down-time together. I loved Maire because she wanted to do things like go to the cinema, listen to really loud, repetitive music, watch horror films and occasionally do a bit of sex together. Everything I thought I had, that perfect partnership that had served me so well for three whole months of the autumn term was melting before my very eyes.

“How do you feel about this?”

“How the mother-fucking fuck do you fucking think that I fucking feel about this?”

“Not good I take it.”

“No not good at all. Listen Maire. I love you.

“You can’t love me. We’ve only been almost together for three months.”

“You’re making a mistake.”

“I don’t think I am actually James. It seems like the obvious thing to do.”

Like an avocado, the world as I knew it had been sliced down the middle, twisted off into two parts, and had the core of it ripped clean out and thrown into the bin. I planted my face onto the slightly wet surface of the table and gave my scalp a massage by gently running my fingers over the curves of my skull. This attempt failed miserably. I raised my head.

“Right, I know this is going to sound a bit like I’m negotiating, but please just for my sake can’t we implement some kind of transitional period? Even if it’s just for a couple of months. This is a massive change for me…”

“How do you mean? Do you think I’m going to fuck you every other week for the next eight weeks or something? You think I’m going to drive down to Bournville during my precious school holidays for a bit of sex with my ex?”

I was puzzled at this, and took a moment to pause.

“You’re not going to screw someone else are you?”

“James…”

“No, sorry forget I said that. Listen, I could make a few amendments to my monthly budget and finance a trip or two every month or so. At least keep things as normal for a short while, so that I can get used to the idea of you leaving me. Please, You have to understand Maire that this is a cataclysmic shift of power.”

“Whose power?”

“Well it was my power, which you’ve taken from me. I feel like I’ve been castrated. You’re breaking my heart here Mars.”

“Being obscenely melodramatic about it won’t help you James.”

I returned my face to the wet wood, the hard wet wood. I tried massaging my head again but then got so frustrated by the impasse that I smashed my fists on the table like a very angry child. People looked over. Maire whispered in her gentle, angelic voice asking if I wanted her to do it for me. I said hell, yes I do. She then gave me the most celestial of massages, so soft and gentle. I wanted to cry, lots, like a very sad child.

“Have you thought about maybe doing a teaching job somewhere a bit closer, like Birmingham for example?”

“No. I want to live and work in London. Is that not obvious to you?”

“It just blows my mind that the reason you’re willing to dissolve our partnership is because you happen to have applied for a job in a different part of the country.”

“James,” she grabbed me by the hair on the back of my head and pulled my head up to look at her, like it wasn’t attached to my body because she’d just cut it off in battle.

“I’m not breaking up with you just because of that.”

“Well why the mother-fucking fuckedy fuck fuck fuck are you breaking up with me then.”

“I don’t know I just don’t feel like it’s working.“

“What do you mean don’t feel like it’s working?”

“We want different things.”

“I thought we wanted each other and that’s why we mutually agreed to enter into a relationship.” I thought I’d dismantled her with that one, but she came back with a bazooka.

“Things change James. I mean we want to do different things. I’m a Chemical Brothers kind of girl, you’re more… The Miliband Brothers.”

“Maire I thought we’d been through this together, so many times. I was completely ambivalent towards the Milibands, despite the fact that I thought Ed deserved a bit more credit from fellow party members, having contributed some seriously reasonable manifesto pledges in the 2015 election, such as the energy price cap for example…”

At this point, Maire started to groan, which I noticed she only really tended to do when I was talking about politics. Which was reasonably often.

“Arrrrghhhhh! Shut up James. You are driving me crazy.”

I told her I was going to get another drink. Maybe two. I even thought about going full-Farage and pinching a cigarette off the rabble rousing proletariat in tracksuits standing by the outdoor heaters. In the end I thought no Nigel, not today.  

 

Fucking Miliband brothers. Does she even know me at all? I bet she doesn’t know I voted for the Liberal Democrats at the general election. She just doesn’t care. Sometimes, sometimes I even consider that she may have lied to me and she has never even voted before in her life. And that’s so sad, because people really should realise how lucky they are to live in the longest lasting democracy on the planet and take advantage of that luxury. I’ve always thought that the U.K should take notice of the Australian voting system where voting is compulsory by law. About 5% of enrolled voters fail to vote at most elections and they get punished for it. And so they damn well should. In a very magnanimous way, the Australian government asks the voter if they have a credible reason for why they failed to turn up to the ballot box. If no satisfactory reason is provided (for example, illness or religious prohibition), a fine of up to $170 is imposed,and failure to pay the fine may result in a court hearing and additional costs. How would you like to be fined $170, endure a court hearing and the possibility of additional costs Maire? Not very much I don’t think. But that would be exactly what you deserve. Serves you right for not honouring, parliamentary democracy, you beautiful, evil bitch.

As I’m waiting for the bar man to come to the rescue, I look back over my shoulder at Maire. She’s wearing these silver crescent moon earrings. Light bounces off them and they sway as her head slowly moves. She is entranced by her mobile phone, and laughs hysterically at something on screen, probably a video on Facebook. Only a few days ago I had to perform CPR on her after she could barely breathe laughing at some videos of goats climbing up mountains. It’s not even funny I told her. But this made her laugh even more, so hard that I ended up laughing myself. The way they get down a near vertical cliff face in such massive, reckless leaps. It is quite funny really, in a way. I took in the full splendour of her smile. Such a sight to behold. My friend Abdul from P.P.A (public policy and administration) told me that she was the spit of Heidi Allen, the Conservative MP for South Cambridgeshire. And she is quite frankly what they might call ‘a sight for sore eyes’ if ever I saw one. How the hell have you pulled a girl like her? Abdul would always ask. No idea I’d tell him. Absolutely no idea.

“You waiting to be served mate?”

“Yeah, rum and coke please. Make it a triple. “

“We don’t do triples. I can do you a double and single if you want?”

“You know what mate. Fuck it, just give me three singles.”

“Coming up,”

I necked them all one by one with terrifying voracity as he laid them out on the table. The barman took a long look at me, with his hands crossed together and eyebrow raised.

“You had bad news or something pal?”

“You could say that yeah. She’s broken up with me.”

The bar man looked out through the window at the girl entranced by her phone.

“Are you saying that was your girlfriend?”

“Yes.”

“Jesus. I would have betted my life on her being your sister.”

“I’ll pay by card please.”

 

Right I need to play this really cool. Don’t even mention the break up. Make it look like I don’t even care all that much. Mustn’t look needy. She’ll be well into that. I notice there’s a song being played and it sounds like it might be her kind of thing. I searched Google for an app that identifies music (there’s bound to be one) and downloaded Shazam and found that it’s a song called Love Don’t Let Me Go by an electronic music artist called David Guetta. I go back to the table, grinning to myself. It wasn’t over yet.

“Such a good track this is. I love David Guetta, such a clever DJ.”

“Really?”

“Oh yeah definitely. Guetta, he’s up there with the best of them for me. Faithless. Moby…” I start to bop my head slightly, “makes me want to go to a rave this does. I’ll check online if you want, maybe we can go to one of his gigs together if he’s touring?”

“I hate David Guetta.”

“Oh really? Yeah I’m not a big fan of his new stuff to be honest. It’s all a bit heavy and fast isn’t it?”

“No it’s just shit.”

“Oh yeah absolutely.”

Now Maire was eating a satsuma with confidence.

“We both know you don’t listen to music James. You have two albums in your flat, and they’re both by Keane.”

Why can’t people just accept that Keane are an exceptionally talented artist? That soft but dominating singing voice, the melancholic lyric bites, catchy tunes, the gentle piano. What more could anybody ever want from a piece of music?

Maire laughed again. I laughed back but really I wanted to cry again.

“You see James. You’ll be fine. You’re fine.”

“I won’t Maire. I still can’t believe you’re actually breaking up with me.”

“It’ll get easier. “

It wouldn’t get easier, in fact the exact opposite. I’d one day wake up and realise that none of this was a dream and then it would get much, much harder as it slowly sank in like the proverbial badger in the quicksand. I can’t even find a political analogy to suit such abject suffering. I can only think of something I saw on a nature documentary while I was waiting for Question Time to come on last month. I’m a tarantula and she one of those tarantula hawks, the insects that are neither tarantula nor hawk but are in fact parasitic wasps and she’s gone and stung me so I’m paralysed and she’s dragged me over to her nest so that she can penetrate me and lay her eggs inside me so a baby wasp larva grows and feasts on my insides but carefully avoids my vital organs so I’m on death’s door all the time but still alive and now the baby wasp larva is pupating and it’s grown into a wasp that’s basically another version of her that’s much more evil than I could possibly have imagined and she’s burst out of my abdomen and she’s doing that awful laugh and it’s all preposterous and I can’t bear it any longer …

I drew my smart phone from my pocket and checked the BBC headlines- 

Jacob Rees Mogg the bookies favourite to become next prime minister.

A conservative backbencher, never held a cabinet position….

Maire turned to me, twizzling a lock of her perfect brown hair around her blue varnished fingernails.

“James, has it ever crossed your mind that you might have an unhealthy obsession with politics?”

 

Your reasonable job application

Dear insignificant candidate,

We were desperately sorry to receive your application for the position of Reasonably Successful Career in London with Reasonable Salary and Benefits. Unfortunately,  after extremely careless consideration and due to the record low volume of applications and the exceptionally poor quality of these applications, we are sorry to say that you have been successful on this occasion.

Here at R.S.C.L.R.S.B we were deeply amused and impressed that a person of your qualifications, skills and professional stature could ever dream of becoming like us, living and working in London, with reasonably impressive bank balances and reasonably exciting recreational and sex lives.

We sincerely hope that you didn’t spend much time on your application, time if you had better management skills you could surely have spent doing more productive things with, such as drinking to excess and humiliating yourself in public, wasting what little money you have on things that make your life categorically worse, injecting heroin with friends,  and vigorously wanking in your bedroom (which is technically your mother’s because she pays the mortgage, and incidentally the house you will live in until your mid-late thirties).

We were so shocked by how poor and unprofessional your CV was, that we photocopied it and distributed it through all company departments. Everybody laughed, from the boss (to whom we are all abominable sycophants) through to Marta, the Slovakian cleaner with barely a basic grasp of the English language.

Please never apply with us again, and we wish you the worst of luck for your miserable future, when you will eventually inevitably have to settle for a much less reasonable job than this one, probably not even in London. We literally, could not care less about you.

Do let us know when you will be available for interview and congratulations again.

Worst wishes,

Mark ‘reasonable bloke’ Smith.

 Reasonably senior company executive departmental resources coordinator at R.S.C.L.R.S.B

BA utility subject at reasonable UK university.

 

 

 

Tim Clare DOTQ Couch to 80k Boot Camp: Review

I have been a fan of Tim Clare’s Death of a Thousand cuts for quite a long time, having had a piece of my own work gnawed to a pulp, spat out and incinerated on one episode. A bare-faced, unapologetic revelation about how sloppy a writer I was. This is the kind of revelation we all urgently need, the sooner the better, and one which we perhaps don’t get enough of in the safe space of creative writing seminars.

This happened when Tim was taking submissions from opening pages of novels (which I believe he is still doing, submit on his website if you dare) and analysing them section by section, taking no prisoners and crucifying them if necessary. Here he encourages a fierce and often careful critical voice when editing work.

In his latest podcast series (a whopping 53 episodes) Couch to 80k Writing Boot Camp, Tim encourages writers to tell this voice to shut the fuck up and get the hell out of town. At the beginning of the series he starts soft and eases you into regular writing, encouraging listeners to write lists of names, objects or scenarios. Later it develops to free writes. Tim says just turn up, and for ten minutes don’t stop writing. The words you produce might be sappy, incomprehensible, meaningless or preposterous.

You might produce something like this-

Stabbing scythosaurs with scientists in Seattle. Umbrellas with undulating udders. Swimming again, why am I always swimming? James, wherefore dost thou swimeth so? That ladies and gentlemen is the question in question. Or, no, no, no that is not true. That would be unspeakable. We must not go there and together we must move somewhere else….

Or worse-

The dagger of life or the dagger of death? The dagger of the east or the dagger of the west? The dagger of the unborn, and the dagger of the unworthy, certainly. Swimming in the swamp, arms flapping about like newspapers in a London breeze, floating down into the underground. A sack inside a sack, inside a sack, lumpy lumps of lumpy lump and lump, which lumpeth forth into the lumpworld, where all are the lumpiest of lumps. Creatures feathered and friends also now with feathers. All armoured and conniving for the death and the destruction. Wanderers, (Bolton) will win the title and wanderers will wander, in this world forever.
But the actual production of words is paramount. You might not like what you’ve written afterwards, but stare at the page after a ten minute free write and you will see paragraphs and paragraphs of your own signature creation. Some of which might even have potential to be used in later projects, or even better, just turning up to write might even create ideas for projects in themselves. It’s actually quite a crazy thing to do, to create in such a way, experimenting in the laboratory of your brain. Looking at the words, you realise that was in your mind at the time. You might have things like that in your mind all the time, but you let them die like mindless lemmings, queuing up in their thousands to leap off the cliffs of doom. But if you wish you can freeze them, record them and look at them, clear, shameless, naked and inviting you to inspect and play with them. After all, the human creative capacity is the most exciting and mysterious thing in the universe for us, it’s why we get out of bed in the morning. So why not prod it, squeeze it and push it to it’s limits and see what happens?

Tim’s exercises are like an obstacle course, encouraging writers to flex their creative muscles in entirely new ways and approach their craft from exciting new angles. This can be anything from writing a scene with monosyllabic words, to writing from the perspective of an assassin hiding in a nearby tree. The possibilities are endless. But also, Tim encourages a change of setting when writing, having recorded one podcast in the woods, another driving around in his car at night. He argues that toying with your environment, routine and writing apparatus is essential for keeping ideas fresh, and the process fun.  I don’t think anybody could possibly disagree. 

Aside from listing a multitude of fun exercises that conquer the boredom, mental lethargy and pure dread that writing often brings with it, Tim is a truly warm, empathetic and hilarious guide. Listening to him speak is simply a pleasure. He says he doesn’t script the podcasts but if this is true he has an almost unbelievable, superhuman ability to conjure up hilarious and outrageously detailed metaphors (‘popping up everywhere like mushrooms full of hallucinogenic word juice’) and analogies to suit what he is trying to explain. He doesn’t even edit, it’s just one take and there it is, bang on the money every time.

cof

Dali himself gave me the heads up for my marking structure. I’m sure Tim’s is very different. Red for exercise, green meditation, blue reading, purple writing, with a load of letters on top to indicate less healthy things. This method is so effective because you can actually see your progress, right in front of you, in your bedroom, on the wall. Your mind loves that kind of clarity.

Doing the exercises I grew to enjoy Tim’s insights about life as much as his ones about writing. He speaks about the benefits of having a calendar, and marking it with colours for achievements e.g exercise, writing, meditating. The idea never really crossed my mind before, but I am doing it now and I’ve never been anywhere near this productive in my life (I have probably NEVER meditated, written, and exercised in the same day. As you can see from my calendar I did this loads last month). He talks a lot about cold showers as well, which is a step I’ve not yet had the drive (or bollocks) to implement, but I will take his word and will definitely be open to blasting myself with a torrent of nipple-sharpening water in future.

If you are like me, you know that writing is the only thing you’re half decent at, but find writing, the thought of writing, actually writing and anything associated with writing tends to freeze your spine and make you want to run away as far as you possibly can and hide up a tree somewhere, then you couldn’t ask for a better course. This will make you realise, slowly that you can do what you want to do, and it doesn’t have to be agonising. Or boring. It can actually be rather fun.

Who knows? one day you might even publish a novel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

man with gun

*

 

Man with gun enters room. Fully grown, mature, adult, man with beard, known to friends simply as ‘that man with the gun.’ Everyone immediately acknowledges man and gun, exchanging formalities such as – Good to see you man, it’s been too long, and nice gun bro, where did you get it? Man with gun stands by television, picks up remote in one hand whilst still carrying gun in the other. Points remote at television. ‘Whatever you do, don’t get them mixed up!’ I joked in an attempt to make him approve of me slightly more, so as to lessen the hopefully very slim chance that he might use his gun on me for whatever reason.

He flicks through TV Guide and finds show about monster trucks. Really big, massive, nasty TRUCKS like MONSTERS with really big, massive wheels crushing things forever, on camera. I start to wonder why man thinks it is necessary to carry large, metal gun, possibly loaded and with bullets. Maybe man thinks of gun as fashion accessory, like bracelet or watch. Maybe man feels like 007 with gun. Maybe the ladies are into the whole gun-thing…

 

**

 

Man with gun wears leather jacket inside and likes to talk about politics and football, sometimes momentarily making people forget the incontrovertible fact that he is still definitely, 100% in possession of deadly weapon, more specifically; gun. Everyone agrees strongly with man’s opinions, no matter how extreme or uninteresting, partly because man with gun is perceived as edgy and likeable, partly through fear of being shot with gun. Friend Steve asks man when he got gun and man says that he has had it ever since man was child. Man changes subject and mentions that he enjoys ice skating. Friend Steve asks if he skates with gun in hand and he says yes, obviously. It can’t be easy, on ice with big heavy, metal gun in hand, friend Steve says. Man comes out with, it’s actually a lot easier than you might think, holding a gun at the rink. Haahaa very lyrical. I carry on thinking about why man feels urge to be constantly armed with gun and think maybe gun is an anxiety-thing. Life can be very stressful for most people and maybe carrying gun just takes edge off. Friend Steve then says (quite sycophantically) “I can’t get over how cool that gun looks on you man. It really suits you. Damn I wish I could pull that one off.”

“Thanks dude” the man replies. A very long silence, then-

“So… shot anyone good lately?”

 

***

 

Man with gun’s wife comes into the room and sits on man’s lap then asks, “how are you both?”

“Fine thanks.”

Man puts arms round wife’s waist and holds gun with both hands pointing forwards, forefinger relaxing on trigger. He says they’ve been together for six years now, and got married the year before. He opens up wedding album on mobile phone and shows us endless series of photos taken somewhere in France of man, wife and gun together in state of perfect contentment. Man sheds tear whilst showing photo of man kissing bride at altar with left hand on wife’s cheek and right hand holding gun by side. Emotional Friend Steve also sheds tear.

I’ve had many rum and cokes at this point and can’t really hold it in any longer so I ask man, “this might seem like a personal question, and you don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to. But when you both…you know… in the bedroom…together,” I point at gun “does the gun stay or…?”

“Yes that is very personal and actually quite rude,” wife nods head as answer, “and I’d also like to add that I may have a gun, but other than that I’m just a normal human being like everybody else. A human being with a job who likes to do things like watch television programmes about cars, spend time with my wife and children and have a beer at the weekends with friends. Why does the conversation always have to be about the fricking gun? This does NOT define me!” Man with gun is now red-faced and angry.

“You’re not going to shoot us are you?”

 

****

 

Man with gun has hair played with by wife whilst man gulps large mouthful of whiskey with grimace. “They aren’t trying to upset you honey. Don’t make a big deal out of it. The whole gun thing is just a bit unusual for most people at first, that’s all.”

“It’s fine. We can just draw a line under it now. Honestly.”

Friend Steve leaves room.

Big, massive MONSTER TRUCKS jumping off bales of hay and smashing into each other to loud AMERICAN ROCK MUSIC nobody knows. Friend Steve casually comes back into room in with large carving knife in hand, pointing downwards like dagger, sits down and scrolls through social media on mobile phone whilst humming. Everybody looks over and sighs. Man with gun scowls.

“Put the knife away Steve you loser.”

 

Cats and Death

Last Tuesday I witnessed the death of one of my cats at a veterinary hospital in Sileby. After a series of tests, results were inconclusive, but all the vets agreed that the cat was ‘not himself’, was suffering and should therefore be executed. This I found to be a surprisingly sorrowful experience, however, cat-mourning is far from a new phenomenon for me.

My family home has housed many cats over the years. At least ten since the millennium. Some of their tenures were much longer and their deaths/disappearances more tragic than others. I have never really had a connection with the cats themselves. I generally see them as passive, furry household ornaments. They aren’t intelligent, all they want from you is to give them food then they just do their own thing, whilst all the while looking like cats. I will give an account here of my family’s history of this pet, which I hope you will find at least mildly amusing.

When I was very young, and living at a previous house by the Soar with a massive garden, we lost our first feline. Ziggy, a kitten I seem to remember with white brown and black fur, disappeared one day and never returned. Speculation was that he/she may have been devoured by a fox.

I think there were more or less ten years of happy living for my cats following this omen. In this time we downsized to a three-storey on the new David Wilson estate. A shaggy black cat called Rowley, and nicknamed by my school friends as Dead-Cat (because he looked dead) was the next to go. He managed to survive until he was eighteen years old, two years my senior at the time. My father had a very intimate relationship with this cat, but as it approached senility and inevitable death, he lost interest, indifferently declaring ‘he is not the cat he once was.’ Rowley’s highlight for me was when at my sixteenth birthday party a friend of mine saw it lying on the sofa, went “awww a cat,” then went to stroke it and then famously recoiled in horror as his hand came into contact with its thick, dirty, matted fur.

Soon was a beautiful little cat called Maisie introduced to the family. She was black with a lovely little white patch on her chest. I was walked into the village one day, and I saw a congregation in the middle of the estate, they looked at me, then focused on something else on the grass by the roadside. I ignored them and walked on, and when I got home I soon discovered that she had been hit by a car. I remember her body on the sofa. I touched it, and it was here that I first understood what rigor mortis was, gaining hands on experience.

Next to disappear I believe was Daisy. She had an extremely thick black coat, with lots of brown hairs in and amongst it. Her disappearance is perhaps the most comic. The last time my family saw her was when she was on top of a neighbour’s car as it drove off. I can only hope it stopped at the destination she wanted to go to.

Another cat we once had was Dylan, who after pregnancy truly let herself go and became very overweight. She disappeared all of a sudden, and it was later discovered that she had moved to pastures new. A woman living at a house a few streets down had welcomed her in and satisfied her voracious appetite for food. She had no interest in coming back to visit her old home, or her son Barnaby, who is still with us today.

We had a cat named Cally for a very long time. She had a truly beautiful white and grey coat, and in her early days was named ‘the uncatchable cat’ for her lightning speed capabilities. I found her to be a particularly aloof and anti-social cat most of her life, but have an extremely fond memory of her. I got in after going to DBE whilst it was a good event in 2012, and couldn’t sleep, feeling pretty worn and torn. Cally came in to me and paid me a lot of affection, hugging me etc. It was very nice to have a reciprocated bond with such a soft and cuddly beast. She died about the age most cats should naturally expire.

Then we decided to pick a cat not based on aesthetic qualities, but perhaps a cat from a deprived background who nobody else would bother adopting, so as to give an undesirable, troubled cat a better life. The cat was originally found near the B+Q in Loughborough, which we were told is a particularly rough stomping ground for delinquent cats. Opinion on this cat was divided. It used to tear lumps out of an old and decrepit Cally. The screams were painful to hear. But I do remember once sitting in the lounge watching the television when a towering spider with terrifying goggly eyes thought it could casually dash across the lounge. Sydney cut it up with his claws and then devoured it piece by piece. He tragically died of AIDS, or some kind of cat equivalent that he’d has his whole life. Street life aint easy.

Then there was the cat in question- Dexy, an adorable cat, pictured looking into the camera above on the featured image, whilst spooning with a morbidly obese relatively recent acquisition called Marcy. She was seven years old when last week she stopped moving. We took her in to the hospital and in a couple of days it was declared that the best option would be to terminate her existence.

My mother, the archetypal ‘crazy cat lady’, had visited the cat every day since she was in the hospital, and said that she didn’t wish to go and see her final minutes. Myself and her husband John then resolved to go together. The evening was growing dark, and as we drove I was stuck by the gravity of the fact that these minutes now were to be her last ever experience of life on this Earth. We got in and he was in a cage, with a drip attached to his leg. He seemed quite fidgety when he saw us, but not altogether that bad. The vet asked us if we wanted her to leave us so we could ‘say goodbyes’.

We did and alternated at stroking her belly and neck.

“You’ve not had any of your water Dexy,” said John.

“I don’t think he’ll be needing that John,” I replied.

Strangely he started to eat his food at this point, which the nurse said was the first time since his stay began. There was a worry in the back of my mind that he might actually have been fine, but I soon extinguished this fear with the knowledge that the person with the degree in veterinary whatever will most likely know best.

Watching the cat eating had a powerful effect- here was a creature that had absolutely no idea that it was about to die, just going by the script, trying to protect its life, doing what life does best according to natural selection- soldiering on until the jaws of death come crushing down and leave it with no other option but to throw the cards away and let nature take its course.

The ten minutes or so was soon up, and the nurse came through. She asked if we would like to hold it during the process, we immediately dismissed this as excessive. I hoped that the cat might look at us both one last time, and as the lady came closer he looked at both me and John in turn, then sadly looked at the ground, defeated. It was like he knew it was the end. But I’m anthopomorphising…

Then it was absolutely, irrevocably, conclusively time to go. The vet got her syringe, plugged it into the tube, and pressed the plunger. The cat made no sound, and in an instant was reclining forward, paws stretched out, eyes stopping at half-closed. Then before we knew it, the vet said he’s gone.

By this point I was crying and I think John was too. It was the first time I had ever witnessed the death of a mammal. I never thought I would cry, its only a cat man, but it seemed so tragic. I barely knew the cat, it just happened to dine and sleep in the same house as me, but it was a real tragedy to watch it die. When I got home and was left on my own, I got very upset about it. I searched through the photos on my phone and set one as my wallpaper. This was perhaps most uncharacteristic of me, but the whole thing took on a deeper meaning and purpose.

I had just had the experience of a microcosm of death. A miniature, taster experience of death. The unavoidable truth that came bearing down was this- If I felt so sad about the death of this cat I barely ever associated myself with, and with whom I had very few experiences, how would I feel when I am confronted with the imminent deaths of my family members and later, friends? Everything will be amplified tenfold, the crying, the memories, the regrets. The intensity will be unprecedented and inescapable.

We have to benefit from these experiences, by contemplation and unfaltering engagement with the reality of it. What should naturally follow is that we prepare for it every day, by showing love and appreciation as much as possible, and undergoing new, unique and valuable experiences together with all those whom we love. With the inevitable distractions of our personal lives, this will oftentimes be highly elusive and impossible to achieve, but if we are aware of it, and we think about it, we can at least do as best as we can.

Death can not be overturned, it is coming and it’s final. To come face to face with death and endure the sadness that inevitably follows, is to realise the value of life is itself. Something we as humans struggle to appreciate, whilst tacitly believing that the time we are spending now is a rehearsal for some future main event, when all of our pressing desires are met and as a logical result of this will subsequently be in a state of complete and utter content.

You and I both know its all a load of bollocks. If we dare to peer beneath the surface.

Time is running out. Appreciate your family, friends and even your cats now, because one day they will disappear for all eternity and you alone will be left to ruminate on just how thoughtful, and charitable and brave you might have been.

There is no room for cowardice. Cowards will be due to pay a hefty price in later life. We must ask ourselves, is this a price we can afford to pay? And act accordingly.

Tamarite VI

The Spanish are no strangers to a party, or ‘fiesta’ rather. They do things very differently to us in the UK, where people either go to Revs on a saturday night, spend £40 on alcohol and ironically dance to Flo Rida, or the ‘cool cats’ who go to some sort of rave and dance until the early hours on a bag of cheap class As. In Spain, fiestas are part of the fabric of society, a way of life that everybody subscribes to. I’ll take you to one and show you what they’re all about..

It’s Saturday and this week the fiesta is in a place called Azanuay, which sounds very Welsh when pronounced, like it’s the kind of village Daffyd Thomas would live in. You find a bus that goes to the fiesta, whack your plastic bag full of booze in a plastic crate in the bottom compartment of the coach, then join the kids on board. You wanna leave this relatively late, about one o’clock would be ideal. In Spain, it starts late and ends late. We’re talking about 8-10 o’clock AM late. Because what kind of crazy party ends at a perfectly reasonable four, say o’clock?

From about midnight onwards, the streets will be adorned with gangs of teenagers sitting on the pavements, drinking a concoction of alcohol and pop from a giant plastic bottle they prepared earlier. They’re all wearing silly bright T-Shirts with skyscrapers on them and American City names in massive letters. They’re either very skinny or very fat. Many of them park up their cars, pop the boot open and play some of the most repulsive music you could possibly imagine, slowly bopping and laughing hysterically at something. Go a bit further through the winding streets, towards louder music, and you will find a stage where the real entertainment is. A band will play all of the Spanish school disco classics, which nobody seems to be getting tired of. If they don’t actually play Cotton Eyed Joe, they’ll play some Spanish equivalent to get the crowd moving. You don’t need to pay to go in, there’s no gate, no staff. You will, however need to buy some bingo tickets, and grab hold of the nearest translator you can find.

Now any accomplished Dionysian like you and I will understand that the essentials of proper party- alcohol, sex, drugs, rock and roll, and bingo. The lead singer of the band, a quirky young girl in a cowboy hat and vest, calls the numbers while the crowd are silent.

Unlucky. Someone gets a line almost immediately, and the house takes a while longer, too long. It’s like when the rickety old rope bridge you needed to get across the chasm and escape the monster is about to break, the rope fibres are slowly snapping. You have two numbers left to go. It’s only a matter of time before some crazed yob at the front makes the call and subsequently gets lifted up by his friends like a manager whose team have just won the Champions league. It finally happens, you sigh with disappointment, dream of what could have been. Then it’s back to business as usual.

At about two o’clock, the fourteen year olds’ mums turn up to pick up their disgraced little kids, who are still absolutely bingo’d off their faces. So what remains are a bunch of hardened party goers, the regs. The ‘DJs’ turn up, the family band goes home, and the music transitions into something a bit more adult. Near the stage area, there is a ring reserved for young bulls. There is seating all round, and professionals wind up the bulls, provoking them into a charge, then backing away at the last minute. The crowd is well into this of course, and occasionally pissed up people go into the ring and play around with the young toros themselves. The real mavericks get the baby bulls pissed first, pouring beer into their mouths. I heard from a lady that there has been a person who has ended up in a wheelchair from this in every town. This kind of stuff could only be normalised at a party in Spain. Have a go if you want, Jose says it’s definitely a good idea.

So the next few hours, until about five o’clock involve more drinking, and are therefore difficult to recall. For us it will involve asking a lot of people if they speak English, and being asked a lot about Brexit if they do, agreeing to go separate ways, receiving a grimace if they don’t. The music never really changes, it’s all just cheap Spanish crap like that Pitbull freak. One of the only songs I remember was that ‘Gasolina’ song. I remember listening to that on Now 62, when I was eleven years old along side ‘You Raise Me Up’ by Westlife, and thinking it was okay, in a jokey way. It’s not like they’re playing it at these fiestas as a one off either, I’d bet my left arse that it gets played every single week. Besides from being bad taste, to play the same old track week in, week out is nothing less than a sign of insanity.

When the sun starts to come out above the dancefloor, you begin to notice what you’re walking on, which resembles the garbage shoot in A New Hope. You are treading on all manner of rubbish and filth. Everyone is smoking, you, The DJs, your parents, your kids, the bulls. The personal space, which has slowly atrophied throughout the night, becomes almost non-existent. The environment is a bit like a rave, only the people there are one big family, there’s no drugs, and there was no DJ available so they went ahead and booked DJ Spanner, the forty year old with the baseball cap from down the pub, who ‘does the odd party’ when he’s not doing his normal job, which is plastering.

Before you know it it’s eight o’clock in the morning and you’re getting bored of it all. Everyone’s done with the bars now, and it’s onto the hot dog counters. They don’t have brown sauce in Spain, so you have to settle for loads of Mustard, or worse- ketchup. The bread is stale. There are some dodgy looking people around. You want to avoid Bethan as well. The night is over- it’s time to wait for that ten o’clock bus to take you home, get to bed, and then wake up at three o’clock on the day of rest, ready to eat paella, snails and rabbit.

So overall they’ve got the idea right with these fiestas. If I went when I was 16 I would have considered it to be paradise. It was what I was desperately looking for for most of my teenage years but rarely captured, a solid form of community with other kids. The kind that you achieve in holiday resorts, playing on the pool tables with new friends, drinking by the swimming pool together at night. The fiestas provided that. But you realise as you grow up, there are very few communities that one can truly belong to at all.

**

In Spain breakfast isn’t the norm. You might have a little something, like a peach or a coffee, but that’s it for the morning. What you’re waiting for is three o’clock, when it’s lunch time. Now I’ve stated before, it’s all about the meat with these guys. If it’s got flesh, eat it. They’d eat the stray cats off the streets if they had any meat on them.

As you might guess, rabbit tastes exactly like chicken, and is therefore nothing to write home about. Snails on the other hand, are the most pointless food on the planet. They come sizzling on a tray, and look exactly like the snails you’d find in your garden, not the giant ones from foreign lands. You get one, and find that it’s body has shrank almost entirely into its shell, then with your cocktail stick you are faced with a further challenge. That of scooping out the correct part of the snail, ignoring it’s digestive organs, which take up about fifty per cent of the pathetic little lump of mollusc flesh that remains. It’s then completely necessary to smother this all over in aleoli to mask the taste of it (which you should probably avoid at all costs) then shove it in your mouth and eat it, for some apparent reason. I had one and soon ruled out the possibility of tackling another.

The best thing about Spanish food is the watermelon, or ‘sandía’ en espanol. The family I lived with were provided with fresh sandías every week, the massive ones, with dark green skin, and perfect vermilion insides. You eat sandía for breakfast, after breakfast, before lunch, after lunch, before dinner, for dinner, after dinner, before bedtime. It’s so hydrating it’s crazy, and as someone who immediately after eating a meal– in spite of how full I am– has an insuperable craving for a dessert, it provided a very reliable, healthy, and delicious alternative to whatever shit I’d normally eat. I’ve taken my love for this fruit back home with me, and now try and ensure that my fridge is always stocked up with a nice big juicy sandía. It’s made my life all the better for it.

Why did I come to Tamarite? Something to do, mostly. But there are other underlying motives. I want to go to the quiet places, I want to go to my own places. A couple of years ago I went to Rome for a day. I walked on the streets that Julius Caesar once walked upon. I looked at the mighty Colosseum, and felt absolutely nothing.

Armies of tourists have murdered these cities, they are everywhere, inescapable, unavoidable, stealing it all for themselves and their camera phones. I’d sooner go to somewhere else nobody else is interested in, and see that culture, naked, free to be whatever it is natural for it to be, and blend in or stand out as much as I choose. Then the experience is my own, and what’s more I am not a mere cog in the tourist machine, but for a short while, a part of the system itself. Tamarite wasn’t Barcelona, or Madrid, Paris, Berlin or Rome, but you can’t say it wasn’t completely unique. For better or worse.

Tamarite V

I came to Spain thinking I wouldn’t mind learning a bit of the second most spoken language on the planet. In theory the combination of three weeks exposure to a Spanish population that speaks next to no English and an open mind, would be enough for me to happily pick up at least a conversational level of Español.

This theory did not translate well into practice. I will offer my reservations as best I can.

First of all, there are far, far too many syllables. What I love about English is that so much of it consists of short, sharp one syllable words that bite, punch or kiss. Words like run, jump, punch, live, die, hot, cold, sky, fire, ice, fly, eat, drink, love, hate, boy, girl, day, night, cat, dog. The list of words like this in our language is practically never ending. In Spanish, none of these words have one syllable. I’ve only encountered two actual words which do have one syllable, these are sol meaning sun and sal meaning salt. I have found that the increased amount of syllables needed naturally causes speakers to rush their sentences, sliding all of their words into one dragged blur of a sentence, like one of Picasso’s brush strokes, very fast and very incomprehensible.

Too many vowels as well. Almost every word in Spanish ends in a vowel which must be pronounced. Spanish is a language that is completely dominated by vowels, mostly a, e or o which are their personal favourites. To put so many vowels in a word willy-nilly constitutes word-abuse in my opinion, because there is so little diversity, many words almost identical, like ano and año, which mean very, very different things.

Words rarely end in consonants, and most consonants in words are merely there just to gloss over. There are no hard consonants like the k at the end of quack, or the t at the end of cut. In very simple terms, it seems like we use the vowels to get us to the consonants, and they use the consonants to get to their oh so precious vowels (if you like vowels so much, why don’t you have sex with them?). It’s a shame really, because it’s a very restrictive way to use language. There are twenty one consonants in the alphabet, and only five vowels. English exploits this difference, Spanish seems to ignore it.

Almost every word will end in a vowel, most likely a as in Luna, or o as in Bastardo. So why the need for the extra syllable, you ask? Oh, because the entire language is enslaved by a masculine and feminine word rule, of course. Almost every noun has a gender, which determines not only how the word is spelt, but which word (of which there are a plethora of gender dependent variants) will precede it.

I can not learn to respect, or begin to understand this. Where does it come from? Why does every object, from a solid object like a table, to an abstract noun like anger have to be treated as if it has genitals? It sounds like a joke, to give a table a gender. It’s preposterous. It sounds like the people who developed the language were doing it as a prank on their own people, some kind of hoax. Or that they had a deeply strong desire to deter people from other languages bothering to learn it.

The combination of more syllables, more vowels and therefore less consonants, and arbitrary masculine and feminine words, was enough to put me off learning this language. If one was omniscient and one was to create a language from fresh, the ultimate language, one would create nothing that resembles this nonsense. Spanish, you might be the best of a bad bunch, but I’m sorry, you are quite frankly, naff (which is obviously a word you could never have in your language).

Tamarite IV

Tamarite IV marks the penultimate episode of the Tamarite saga, and similarly to the second it and the final one it will consist of a series of notes about random events and thoughts.

*

After three weeks I knew almost all of the children of Tamarite. I was effectively a celebrity. I was watching How Not To Live Your Life as an activity with one of the kids, and the mantra ‘always think with your balls’ seems to have rubbed off on him. He has told his friends about the phrase and they all seem to say it now. I’m happy I taught him something of value.

The older kids are at that age where they haven’t smoked weed yet, aren’t entirely sure what it is and are therefore absolutely obsessed by the idea of it. Presumably they think ‘getting high’ is among one of the coolest things one can do. When I walked through Tamarite the kids would surround me and demand that I say ‘Smoke Weed Every Day’ in the voice of Dr Dre, which I did reasonably well once and they found absolutely hilarious. Most of the time I would decline to do it, and they would follow me round, saying ‘oh please Jim, say smoke weed every day, please!’ I would perform for them the odd time, of course just to make the happy. Which reminds me…

**

One of the highlights of my time in Tamarite was when I was invited to a meal with the other Au Pairs at a farm in the neighbouring town of Esplus. It was a pittoresque farm, surrounded with apple orchards in which white horses were grazing and rooster gangs roamed free. There were telephone masts in each corner of the property, each one with a nest on top, and a stalk stood completely still on one leg, watching over, feathery sentinels.

In the early evening we bathed, and then played badminton in the swimming pool before it was time for dinner. We opened a bottle of Rioja, and made a real mess out of the cork, half of it crumbled its way into the wine itself. There were flies everywhere, in your hair, on your lip, on your plate. One of them landed right in my glass of red and entered a pitiful cycle of treading water/drowning among the powdery islands of cork. It took me several attempts to fish it out with my finger, and I ended up having to press its wet, filthy body up against the side of the glass. If it survived the drowning, and the crushing against the glass, it had surely drank itself to death, not a bad way to go. I drank the wine anyway so as not to be discourteous.

The food was all right. Now if there’s two things the Spanish love other than fags and beer, it’s bread and flesh. The meal consisted of Sausage, Salami, and Serrano Ham. The bulk of it however, was tortilla -known as Spanish Omlette in the UK. With a load of salt on them these things are bang on the money. After a bit more wine, the party began to take a change of direction. We were told we could put our own music on, so I stuck on that Sing It Back remix and we all sat at the table with the rest of the corky wine. A girl says to me, ‘I didn’t think you’d like this music?’

‘Oh yeah, what music did you think I would like.’

‘I don’t know, rock music?’

All of a sudden, the host- Suzy comes out of the house holding a tray full of paraphernalia, and asks ‘would anyone like to roll a joint?’ She then takes the tray closer and reveals that it’s got a box on it full of all the necessary utensils, and piles of tobacco and dried cannabis sitting there, harvested and waiting to be turned into a spliff.  Suzy tells us it’s homegrown, none of this super genetically modified, will make your kids grow two heads, skunk stuff that they smoke in the UK. The weed was really smooth – the way God intended, and needless to say it complimented the music wonderfully. We had arranged a lift back pretty early, and it soon came. We all went our separate ways, wishing the evening could last longer, but delighted with the time we had spent. Dr Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg would have been proud.

***

I soon grew to appreciate the Spanish custom of going to the swimming pool every day. I grew to love a glass of lemon iced tea in a plastic cup with ice in it. By the pool you can lie on your towel, read, sleep, reflect, listen to music, drink, play cards- which are five of the best. I would even jump in the pool occasionally, and try my arm at swimming.

I really don’t much care for swimming. I struggle to think of an activity quite so tedious and boring. Now I don’t like jogging either, but at least it offers a wide variety of scenery to look at. Swimming is just intelligent splashing, up and down and up and down the swimming pool. The only thing it’s got going for it is the whole wetness thing, which admittedly does make a change from our mostly dry lifestyles. I now completely understand why as a species we have no fins, -our primate ancestors clearly wishing to avoid the activity of swimming wherever possible, not through fear of being eaten by a crocodile, but through fear of being bored to death.

I can’t swim very well at all, which I accept might constitute part of the reason for my antipathy. I do quite a lot of flapping around, but don’t seem to go anywhere, my body threatening to sink at any moment. It’s very frustrating to thrash around like a shark and get no rewards for it. I usually jump in the swimming pool intent on swimming lengths, swim halfway across the pool to where it is shallow enough to stand, then get bored, forget what I’m doing and stand there daydreaming until I feel like getting out again.

I do mildly enjoy diving in though. It’s not often you get to leap off something face first. It’s not like in England where diving is presumably seen as offensive and not ‘politically correct’, in Spain you can dive to your heart’s content. After a dive you can swim underwater for a bit, and see how far you can travel before having to surface for oxygen in order to avoid death. I was doing a variation of this once, very slowly and casually, swimming towards an empty space by the side of the slow lane. Almost as soon as I got under the surface I hit something. I turned out to be a very bald, very serious man in goggles and weird swimming flippers on his hands. He looked like an overgrown, dilapidated seal with legs. The collision set him off and he proceeded to launch a tirade at me in Spanish. I nodded along occasionally, saying ‘si’ occasionally, despite having no idea what he was saying. I remember thinking after five minutes had passed, what on earth is he finding to talk about for this long? I’m dreadfully sorry- can we please just get on with our lives now?

 

****

 

You  will have noticed that the featured image is of a mountain. We walked for eight kilometres through the Pyrenees mountains, mostly on the sides, among the pine trees that cling to the mountain side like a dark green rug. I saw some very beautiful things there. We followed the path of a stream. It travelled down giant stone steps that look as if they were created for a community of giants, by giants. The water would collect at the bottom of each step, and would take a mesmerising azure colour, and rest momentarily in a miniature lagoon before trickling down through towards the sea. Some people would bathe in these pools, but I forgot my swimming trunks, which was a tragedy.

Once you’ve walked most of the way, you reach a mountain valley, which is all but obscured by the preponderance of green leaves, their colours gilded green-gold as they bask in the showers of sunlight that pour down into the valley from above. In arbitrary places, many all-but-dead trees would poke out of the vegetation, standing there like silver skeletons. Relics of the all-but-dead past, contrasting the impregnable, vibrant life of the present.

 

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As we walked the valley dug deeper into the ground, until two rocky mountain walls were towering on either side. I had never seen something so enormous. To be among nature so incomprehensible. To be in the middle of a natural phenomenon of mountainous proportions, something that took millions and millions of years of wind and water and erosion to form, to see the crumbling old patterns of the rocks half way up the mountain was get a glimpse of the truly ancient Earth and it’s lifelong flesh, to see nature’s tyranny upon all matter, to view nature’s perpetual work of art. To walk in the valley was nothing less than to taste a morsel of eternity. To walk in the valley was to come face to face with what will murder us and recast our bodies into new life. To come face to face with the valley that swallows all life and spits it out into trees, water and earth. To walk here was to walk in the valley of all life and all death.

 

cof

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tamarite III

Last Friday I got a call just as I was getting out of the shower. I picked up and heard a depressing voice asking me if I wanted to go to a ‘party’, I asked “who’s this?” and then when I got the answer I hung up at the first opportunity. The next day I went to the beach with my family in Tarragona and at about eight o’clock I checked my phone and found I had received seven missed calls from a blacklisted number. But being unsatisfied with the seven failed attempts to make a connection, the caller came up with a master plan. They decided to withhold their number and proceeded to phone me another ten times, ending with a Whatsapp video call, thrown in there just for luck. It just shows you have to be careful with these things. You never know what might be lurking behind the other mobile phone.

A few days later something new came up on my UAV scanner. My madre has got the number of an English girl called Emily for me, also an Au Pair in Tamarite. Again I had no idea what she was going to be like, but I thought it was unlikely from the way she spoke that she wanted to capture me, lock me in her bedroom, tie me to the bed and when I try to escape- stick a large piece of wood between my feet and break off each foot one by one with a giant metal hammer so I have to stay there for the rest of my life as her property.

I met up with her in a lovely little bar in Tamarite next to the road. Now Emily was very attractive and quite normal. Always smiling. Small, but perfectly proportioned, with smooth auburn hair like in the old L’Oreal adverts, always clad in swanky, confident garms, decorated in flowers and revealing plenty but not too much. She was from Derbyshire so she had one of those unaccountably northern accents.

One of the first things I asked her was if she went out at university and she says Oh my God yeah I love going out! Eyes alight, like it was her thing. I asked where she went, dreaming that she might say Stealth or the Brickworks or somewhere. She said she went to a place called Cheesy Joe’s every week and it was her favourite place to go, ever. She then said “when it comes to music I like everything really.” I’ve come to realise that in life hundreds will say something like this to you. But what you should interpret from it every time is that they don’t like any music at all.

She was talking about this Cheesy Joe’s rave again now- ‘The music is really cheesy, but I don’t care about the music when I go out.’ Now if I’d have had any sense I’d have shot her there and then.

But nowadays a voice tells me to have a bit more empathy for other people. Don’t return to your eighteen year old self again, ready to launch nuclear warfare on people who listen to Kanye West and explode at the thought of reality T.V. You have to play these hands though, it’s in the genes to. I mean, the situation was bad but it wasn’t quite 7/2 off. I thought, maybe I’ll shark a two pair on the river.

At some point she asks me if I’m watching Love Island. I say no, I’m not. A revolutionary thought dawns upon me- why can’t I just pretend to be a different person? Everybody’s doing it. Surely the Casanovas of the world, the ladies men, the Byrons, the Ben Frylls are all simply masters of shape-shifting. To become truly popular in this way is to sacrifice one’s true personality. It is to be a specialist in obscuring it, moulding it and expressing it in only the right and suitable ways. I mean the only other alternative is that they’re as soulless and unspectacular as the people they’re seducing, which isn’t the case. They’re all very handsome men, which surely helps, I think looks are somehow directly connected to personality. Over the years one heavily influences the other until there is some kind of sexy/ugly equilibrium going on. When talking about Socrates, Nietzsche said in Twilight Of the Idols, ‘Monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo,’ meaning – monster in face, monster in soul. The inverse is quite possibly true also, but It’s a very complicated idea and it doesn’t really stand up to rigid scrutiny. There a lot of good looking morons around. I was speaking to one now.

All this reminds me of a conversation I had with the kid yesterday, walking through a beautiful little town in the Pyrenees. I said, “I hate it when I see beautiful women.”

“Why?”
“Because I know I’ll never speak to (or was it have sex with?) them.”

“Oh Jim, do not worry. You will speak to them, one day. You have to be confident. You need to be strong, handsome, intelligent, funny,” then he paused, and turned at me, crossing his hands over, “you have none of these things but it is OK! Because you can be confident. All you need is confidence and you will get the woman.”

Back to the hot date- ‘But I did used to watch Geordie Shore and think it was really good.’

‘Oh really? I never watched that,’ damn.

After taking a life time to choose what to eat– being so captivated by one another– we eventually order a pizza each. The lady brings it in no time. As soon as the Pizza is in front of her the phone comes straight out and that Pizza is on Instagram. This is a modern phenomena that I couldn’t disagree with more. What even is that? Hey, look at what I’ve got, look at my life, look at the average quality pizza I’ve spent a small amount of money on.

Who looks at that photo online and thinks, ‘oh that pizza looks good, I’m glad I saw that’? I mean, why does it merit broadcasting it, you didn’t even make it yourself. If you were to make something truly interesting, colourful and creative, like a piece of brown toast with hummus, beetroot, black eyed beans, spring onions and tomatoes, dusted in black pepper, I might be impressed. But nobody cares about your stupid fucking pizza. Probably not even you, either. There couldn’t be a more obvious display of how the internet and technology is completely stopping people from thinking for themselves and how simple people can get sucked in to completely meaningless, dehumanising trends.

Emily says to the waitress before she can wheel back off into the bar ‘puedo tomar un poco de salsa de tomate por favor.’ She speaks pretty good Spanish, It’s obviously a turn on. Probably not as much as French, but still. Regarding my thoughts on the Spanish language, I will have a lot to say about that in another blog, probably Tamarite DCXXXVI. Keep your eyes peeled.

We’ve soon had those pizzas and we’re onto some super strong Fanta and vodkas. In Spain they serve it in a really wide, tall glass. They chuck in a few massive rocks then fill it up to about halfway full of the desired spirit, filling the rest with the mixer, but not Lemonade because they don’t sell that so if you ever feel like a nice refreshing glass of vodka lemonade or a shandy when you’re in Spain you’re fucked.

Emily says she fancies some sweets after the meal so we pay the cuenta then we go off to the candy shop. We pick up a massive bag of all the right sweets, she got loads of weird shit, I just got all the red liquorice I could find. Her family are drinking in a nearby bar, she asks me if I want to join, maybe just to avoid being rude. I say yes anyway- the genes at it again.

She tells me how to offer the hijos some sweets in Spanish and says she’ll be really impressed if I can offer them to them, and the hijos even more so. We turn up and they’re a really loud, chirpy Spanish family on the bevs. I introduce myself and sit next to Emily and the kids. I’ve already forgotten how to offer the sweets.

The family are all tremendously warm and welcoming, or at least I think they are. The trouble is, they don’t speak a word of the Queen’s. Emily does a bit of translating, but not very well. The conversation is at Ent speed. I go over to the other side of the table to chat to the others, see if I can get anything interesting out of them. I soon discovered that they too speak next to no English and we’ve got absolutely nothing to talk about.

The father, Qique was his name, is offering me a taste of all kinds of drinks. Red wine, some kind of coffee liqueur. It’s all nice. I feel like a cigarette so I get out my gear, a couple of the men of the family pass it around and look at it in disgust, before lighting up their straights. Qique from across the other side of the table says something I can only guess is, you don’t wanna smoke that, then pulls me out a cigar and says ‘Puros para hombres!’ He seems very passionate so I accept one wholeheartedly. It doesn’t taste great but it’s probably all right for a cigar.

A deck of cards is on the table. It’s like a normal deck with four suits only the numbers go up to twelve or something ridiculous, no royals or aces. Oh yeah and also the suits are absolutely farcical, one is a fancy jar with red and blue stripes, one is a yellow star, one is swords/daggers, and another appears to be some kind of vegetable. Who ever came up with these was clearly on some serious micrograms. I look at a card in my hand, and it’s a number ten with a picture of a squire in a bright blue courtier’s outfit complete with red tights and a silly green and red hat. In his right hand he is casually gripping a hideous green vegetable the length of his entire upper body.

Emily reveals that Qique is half-Catalan so I ask her to ask him what he thinks about the forthcoming independence referendum. It fascinates me that the regions in Spain are so divisive, some of them with enough hubris to desire to sever themselves entirely from the Spanish state and presumably conquer Europe singlehandedly. The Catalans speak their own language and presumably would rather drown in a vat of Estrella or allow their cities to sink into the Mediterranean than call them Spanish. Anyway, it turns out he isn’t really Catalan, he is from Aragon, which is where Tamarite is and he doesn’t much care for the idea of independence. He gets onto Brexit and he starts talking quite passionately about something. The translator is struggling to keep up with it all, and then all of a sudden I feel a swift palm to the side of my face. Then she says to Qique ‘you asked me to hit him right?’ It turns out he didn’t ask her to do that at all. She apologised.

Without any sincerity whatsoever, every now and then she blurts out ‘you’re so funny’. She says it when I’m not being funny as well, which is of course only on very rare occasions. Two mojitos appear on the table and Emily picks the mint leaves out of hers using straws as chop sticks, and puts them into mine. The phone soon comes out again and before I know it I can see myself on her phone screen with a pair of dog ears and I’m listening to my voice in chipmunk-mode. Of course she finds this hilarious and sends it to all of her friends. I take a glance at her Snapchat news feed and recoil in terror. There must have been about one hundred stories on there, all of them appearing to depict the same insufferably dull moments of the same insufferably dull night out. What’s worse is, she clicks through them all without even bothering to watch beyond a second of each. As LordoftheSnapchat this disgusts me, as a platform that has so much creative potential is being so blatantly misused and indeed abused.

Anyway the night had to draw to a close at some point. I’d behaved remarkably well throughout, so I was quite satisfied. Feeling tolerant like a new age Christ, all tolerant, all loving, all understanding, I walked Emily to her apartment and I left her with a hug and a nice pair of kisses, one on each of her cheeks.

When I got home I noticed streams of blood pouring from two gaping holes in each wrist. I had sacrificed myself for the greater good of humanity. I went back to my tomb, to be resurrected the following day and be loved and remembered by all of humanity for all of time.