This still makes me laugh! I don’t think it will ever get old. Thank you Emma Paterson, wherever you are.
It’s not like there isn’t plenty to do; there is plenty to do. Making lists is as much as pleasure as a chore. But it is the gaps in between, and it always has been. Clean and clinical, synaptic, the urge and the pulse — beyond all that you can taste, and touch, and put your hands on — there it exists, distant and unmoving, fixed in a tractor beam of light, turning around slowly, an inscrutable marble egg of disdain and boredom that is opening its gasping mouth in its very anticipation.
I see a Syrian Hamster at Pets At Home, my bike lock rusting so that I get iron oxide water on my grey jeans. They like to live alone, they are happy with small cages for living in. This little thing shivering in the corner of a glass menagerie. My kind of pet. I bounce the bike through the gears down CS3 and the storm clouds gather but although it’s been cock teasing for rain for hours, none has come. There was nothing worthwhile in the Next Clearance store and the sad pseudo-Bonsai in B & Q speaks nothing to me but alienation and jaded living, wrapped around an oriental rock chipping and slapped with a £12.99 price tag. Someone quits on me while 2-0 ahead on FIFA online and I realise the world is full of quitters, fragments and pieces of debris left in their wake. This many splinter’d thing is this way because they’ve hacked it to pieces.
The leaves are falling from the trees again, I want to tell you. And I realise I can’t. It’s the first time I’ve taken proper notice. To assuage the patterns, to feel that the breath is in, and the breath is out. From the snow and the sleet in my Adidas Lantos, jogging around a frozen, dark Central Park to ward off the black dog on my shoulder, to the blazing summer sun that shocked me with its brilliance, a sun-blasted expanse of brilliant green empty apart from a few people on the swings and I lay down flat on the hot earth. I lay down and my keys fell out of my pocket. The bark is crumbling off the trees, lying on the pavements, too, and it is new to new to me, and I am starting to understand, and I want to tell you, and I realise I can’t.
My brother and I walk up the avenue to the Barking Road, head to Nathan’s Pie and Mash. I’m dressed down, I’m working from home, it is late for a lunch, but we do it anyway. As I enter, the shop is unbelievably clean and smells of what you’d expect it to smell of. “What pies do you have?” I ask, and the kindly London lady behind the counter eyes me and explains that they only do one type of pie. She is kind, because I probably should have known. Minced beef. I look around at Rick and let him know that I’ll get something else, that he should get what he wants. I’m back out on Barking Road and the Blockbuster that’s been open forever is shutting down. In Ercan there’s a woman who decides she can’t have the chips that have just been served because the man behind the counter has put salt on them. “But I cyan’t, I have high blood pressure,” she says, a West Indian lilt. She tries to talk to me, later, a half mutter that I try to ignore. I think – why on earth are you here at lunch, then? It’s not the salt that’s the problem. He stacks the chips in a holding pattern and I know already that he’ll double fry them and give them to me instead. I even tell him not to. He does anyway. £5 for a haddock and chips, with the chips that lurid double fried greasy orange, a sheen of grease inside and out. Far too many of them, too. I’d have been happier with half that amount, done fresh. I sigh. This is how it is, and how it will always be, here, where quality is subsidiary to quantity. Last night they’d been looting Argos, just 15 minutes up the road. I want my chips one way. I get them another way. Meanwhile, people riot. I notice the breeze that’s making the sunny day colder than it should be. It’s Autumn, again. The leaves are falling from the trees, again, and I want to tell you, but I realise I can’t.
As we watch the post-riot coverage on BBC News sharing an Oranjeboom the same themes are recycled. The news reports suggest, provoke, debate. The Met defend their actions. The massive criminality of the phone hacking scandal is old news. The ludicrous politicians appear and shovel forth empty soundbites in the avarcious ears of a phatic-statement hungry populace, eager to be sated with talk of ‘action’, ‘firmness’ and a ‘robust response’. Ed Miliband grows ever more ridiculous. Ken Livingstone advocates water cannon on the streets of Hackney.
But the fabric of the City that we dream about and that electrifies my soul has been irrevocably changed. You can tell, it is in the air — there is a consensus now that we know how thin the thin blue line really is, and it’s not very reassuring. And we – who is ‘we’ – the very noun has become fragmented. I think of ‘us’ and ‘them’ as another shaky binary opposition. The news coverage rolls on, and the leaves are falling from the trees, and I’ll have to switch from the Onitsukas to the Lantos when the rain starts to fall, and the evenings darken, and I want to tell you, but I realise: I won’t.
Picture if you will a life without regret. Maybe it would be a life approaching freedom? Exit velocity is the speed needed to break free of the Earth’s gravitational pull. Beyond that, it is a journey into the vacuum of outer space. The blue tint of of a fragile planet the only visual sign that there was a planet you actually left, at all. But you don’t regret, you forget. And onwards, only experiencing more of the same. You keep travelling – until you run out of air.
I shouldn’t have played FIFA online and been whipped by someone born in 1993. I should have carried on reading Julian Barnes. That’s what I should have done. And I shouldn’t have looked in the chest of drawers. Memories live in those places. Memories and FIFA defeat and and utter soulsickness and a bad back and aching quads from not jogging. I should have carried on reading Julian Barnes. I should have carried on. I should have carried on.
Listening to the way the words on the page sound in my head as I read them to myself, I hear the cadences and dramatic pauses. I laugh out loud at a story set in Russia in the 1880s and then translated into American English and bought by me in a bookshop in a Public Library in Chicago and read on the District line in modern day East London and I think to myself – yes, here, there is genius. Here, we’re flying close to the essence of things.