Saturday, December 09, 2017


After leaving messages for friends – voice recordings and text messages in a dozen different directions – I've come back to the solo version of thinking, the bit where it's just you and you're not trying to extend a bridge out of your mind to someone else's. I've a patchy memory –it's the drinking– but I'm trying to piece together when I started to lose the ability to read. I sat in a pub with a diary entry and took a whole quick pint of sugary beer to get through it, start-to-finish with only a hundred breaks on the way. I walked back in the dark where I wasn't distracted by words sitting uselessly in front of my eyes. It isn't even the writing; I've stopped being able to soak in spaces unless there's a podcast on in my ears – I'm not sitting down, I'm not just cooking, I'm not listening to music, I'm certainly not reading; I'm killing time, doing activities which are displacement, which excuse and explain the fact that I can't and won't think. Unless I'm flying (although airports excuse so much unhygienic activity) I don't let myself do anything like thinking, and when I'm flying I'm not displacing the act of thinking with other things, I'm just doing what everyone else in airports are doing – we are shuttering, recoiling. We are shocked from these places where everything is exposed, the biggest lie of glamorous capitalism is uncovered: you can go anywhere but there is no space that will not eventually resemble this airport, all spaces will become airports, where we need to be ticketed and classified and lonely and importantly on our way and invaded and anxious and public and tired and faced with the captive choice of retail outlets or other people's breath, but no-one has a body, in airports we are mannequin.

When did I stop being able to read? I started to give up on thinking when I was turning over the compost heap in the garden in France. If you don't invert your compost from time to time it doesn't work as well – you aerate it, and stop it becoming too compacted or too slimy. What was on the bottom, which should be the hottest, oldest, most rotten stuff, ends up mixed up as a top layer, and instead of the nutrients and nitrogen washing out of it into the soil by rainfall, they get stirred up and soak into the rest of the matter. Turning the compost helps to activate it; so does pissing on it. I was forking it over in summer sunlight, listening to On The Media's Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield, who had started to realise that the presidential election in the USA wasn't going to wash out the way that they'd expected, the the republicans might actually endorse the person who seemed to be unendorsable. But I'd stopped being able to read before that. I think that there, digging and listening, was just when I started to be unable to think.

With one hand out, waving traffic around me, and the other reaching inside to turn the steering wheel, I leaned into the car door frame and pushed it out of the carriageway and into the forecourt of a shuttered electrical goods store. Inside the car which had just had its clutch entirely disintegrate – it disengaged terminally – were boxes that I'd been taking to store in my office as I gradually emptied my flat of any possessions and prepared to leave the country. Now they were stranded in a broken-down car on a damp winter day on a forecourt of an empty electrical store. I'd wanted to sell the car, but now I'd have to fix it before it could be sold, and I'd planned to leave within a week and, if all went well, to never come back except to collect the personal items I was going to store in the office. I got in the car and tried to look at the list inside my head of all the things that needed me to have a car for a few more days, and I crumpled up the list when I realised I couldn't read it.

I get messages – voice messages and text messages – and I can hear them as they speak to each other, and there are real people with minds on the other end of them, and I save up nutrients and nitrogen to reply. The winter is helping me to rot, and I get pissed on enough, and sometimes the sun activates helps activate something, but I haven't been able to turn myself over, to turn myself over and engage, for a long time. Friends have died and I've felt real grief and a horror at a bunch of other reactions I've had to their deaths. The news, to which I now turn and creep and grow like a Russian vine, has stored up all the nutrients and nitrogen and I've rooted my thoughts in it and just absorb all day and all night the deadening details of other deadened deaths.

When I was 12 and 13 and 14 and 15 and perhaps a bit before and perhaps for a while after I used the evenings and weekends to do things in the garden. I can clearly remember the water butt that collected rainwater from the garage roof that would become solid in winter, a boy-sized icecube, but in summer would spontaneously generate swimming creatures that would become flies. I'd prune the damson tree, and cut trailer-loads of growth from the Russian vine on the garage roof – green shoots could turn into woody barked cables in a season and started to invade the interior, cracking the structure apart at the joints. I'd creosote the wooden shed and the fences and my arms and hands, it made a stain on skin that stank of cancer. I'm not sure I thought then, or read much, but I think I didn't go about with unthought and I think I could read without effort.

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

there wasn't another one

We’re halfway between Manchester and Liverpool and I remember to take down the notes on the things that I’m seeing on the way in here. There was a man in the front seats as I got on who was wiping his eyes gently as he watched a small tablet with the screen light on low, a video of a young twenty-something couple’s mouths kissing up close and passionately, he might have just picked up watching some porn or a tragic romance, but I was bustled forwards before I could see something that would decide it. Further back, a man with a soft dark navy hooded top poured a miniature of jack daniels into a plastic cup and topped it up with coca-cola from a proper red can, and then stared intently at his white ovaloid headphones nestled in the palm of his hand while he was waiting for the bubbles to go down, trying to figure out which ear each one goes in. A tall man, broad and bulky for his height, grey faced, somewhere deepening into his sixties in a local government blue suit, holds the complementary sun newspaper open close to his face, the all caps headline simply shouts posh spite. The man across the aisle finds that the middle pages of his daily mail keep falling on the floor each time he turns a page, it’s happened twice and now, the third time, he doesn’t bother to retrieve them, they’re already read, yesterday’s news, he’s going to leave the tabloid on the front seats as he disembarks anyway. There’s a party of 7 women, mostly middle-aged, from the democratic republic of congo who are all sitting together, Belfast is the final airport in what must have been a long day in a series of airports and planes. I stood behind them in the queue for domestic transfers at the last airport, when the first of them reached the front and was called forward to the border guard to have her passport inspected, the whole group moved as one, and the single agent cheerfully processed them turn by turn. I was navigated past them and saw the agent’s terminal as I joined the next queue to have my face photographed for the internal security checks, on it I could see that each member of the group had submitted several pieces of paperwork, not just a passport, and that their fingerprints were being checked or registered. A bored border guard sat at a terminal which was closed, the lengthy queue ignored, and was reading a daily mail article in her facebook feed in a browser on the computer that checks your identity, and flicked a couple of times to an amazon page but I couldn't see what she was shopping for, although it didn't look like it was books or other culture or content carrying objects. A young man with an american accent had been patiently answering a long series of slightly-hard-to-answer questions at another terminal, yes, he’d been a student for over two years, he was returning for his final semester, he left the country on that date and so yes, he’d been out of the country for that many days. The border security guard unfolded a letter on headed paper from the university explaining the student’s entitlement to attend the course he had been attending, written in long paragraphs in small text, and started to attempt to skim read it. The party of 7 congolese women moved to the next queue, having overtaken the american student en masse.