Winter had unleashed some weird viruses—viruses that modified behaviour and hung in the air like microscopic snow crystals. First up the vomiting bug and then the one that made you feel immune to danger causing men and women to buy stuff they didn’t need and dangle from scaffolding in their lunch hour. I saw a young woman scaling a lamppost in broad daylight; shout at the community support officer below, before emptying her bladder over his head. Continue reading
Category Archives: Dream Archive
I arrive before work, walk past the bandaged faces, the consulting room where crisps and cartons of grapes are laid out on the examination bed – presumably a team building exercise— and rap twice on the door. Long gone are the moments of discomfort when I sat next to a fellow skin sufferer and slyly stole a look at their face and tried to work out how bad their condition was. Girls in headscarves, macho East European builders, nervy young men all stared hard at the Thank you cards. A young lady amazingly made up picks at her bag. She will soon learn the first rule of light therapy. No creams, no moisturizers, no perfumed products. No cover ups. It is hard to be exposed to this level of absolute reality without making some adjustments.
I have reached the age where everything I know is mostly uncorroborated fragments overheard in pubs and parties and occasionally picked up from voices on the radio. I talk with great authority until I realise I have no authority. Pub banter is often a game of bluff. If you pepper your conversation with words and phrases like ‘blindsided, VAT tariff, micro breweries, fixed penalty notice,’ you can remain unchallenged for years. There are things I will never understand. Now I know I will never look up the word hermeneutics again or ask a barman. Or visit the reference library.
Pubs are a place for outlandish views that seem quite reasonable after five pints of Dark Star. Do we really share 95 % of our DNA with spinach? Did the old baldie driving the Harley in a moment of menopausal madness really bed Madonna and her twin sister when she popped into the rock disco in Acton? Is there even a rock disco in Acton? Here is a list of those ideas that haunt the snug of The Old Fart’s Head in Hammersmith, my very own glossary of drunken ideas.
- The barmaid really fancies you. She’s clocked the Penguin Classic under your arm and lights up when you buy a round. She even comes over to your table to see if you want another whisky with your Boondoggle. You’ve got it going on. So what if she’s twenty years younger and you’re unhappily married– that’s what the great unrequited love stories are all about. She’s Australian with a pierced navel, her accent and hesitation is charming. You wonder when it’s her night off. Will that coincide with your wife working nights to help pay off your credit card debts. You might take her for a drink. One of those nice pubs on the river, not like this place — dying on its arse.
‘The real life is led in silence —all the things that lead you away from the silence are not so lovely. But those things from outside led you here. That is the gift of balance. What follows and, perhaps, hardest of all, is an acceptance of that silence. This comes later. After you’ve banged your brains about with strong ales and abused the bishop in your sleep.’ Abbot Terence Legrange (1565- 1603)
I was admitted to hospital last Wednesday with a serious viral infection that needs intravenous treatment five times a day. The spare bed is in the isolation unit on the HIV ward, as the nurse said: ‘there’s a lot of money in HIV.’ The ward is pristine, a conservatory filled with aloes and a piano where a man jabs with one arm at a Chopin score (the other is attached by the cannula in his arm to a drip). The chef is paid for by Elton John. I want to rush out and buy his CDs to boost his royalties. The staff are intelligent, inquisitive and compassionate. They have become good friends in the quick way that illness allows. I’ll be sorry to say goodbye. Continue reading
I knew something was wrong when I spent ages staring at poultry in Waitrose. I kept rereading the advert: ‘a chicken that shares our values,’ and thinking does that chicken really believe in a free market, democracy, in being organically grown and then butchered? Butchered, what’s more, without the benefit of private health insurance.
No one else was bothered. The guy behind the meat counter went on wrapping steaks, a woman with dyed orange hair glided past with screwed up lips as if she’d been chewing wasps. A chicken that shares our values was clearly unremarkable but I was still transfixed.
When I woke up on the Avondale Ward a fortnight later, I thought the symbols might have come to an end. They shook their quicksilver chains and I followed. They drove me up scaffolding at night to puzzle over obscure blue plaques. I didn’t dare miss a single bulletin from any one of these dead artists. In all the confusion, they might offer a clue. Whether I should become a collector, a watercolourist, a diarist or failing all that just a lover of the arts like the plaque outside the old Kensington Spa with its list of artistic types in order of decreasing importance. Continue reading
And with this… came a firm belief that the whole fabric of life in which he moved was sunken, past all thinking, in the grossest absurdity; that he and his friends and acquaintances and fellow-workers were interested in matters in which men were never meant to be interested, were pursuing aims which they were never meant to pursue, were, indeed much like fair stones on an altar serving as a pigsty wall. Arthur Machen, A Fragment of Life
The effect of the weird tale is subtle and insidious, it is designed to get under your skin. Arthur Machen manages to turn a humdrum existence of buying Australian mutton with his wife from The Worldwide stores in Shepherds Bush and chewing resolutely on his mince in the cramped summer evenings (note the heaviness of meat and digestion as the anti-enlightening agent– the opposite of self-raising dough)with a narrative of self discovery catalyzed by a dream of fountains and silvery vapour, a silvery mist he sees occasionally in his wife’s eyes.
Machen shows us that the reality we preoccupy ourselves with only scratches the surface of things, human life is necessarily a process of reduction. We look but we cannot afford to actually see because that would require a level of absorption which is anti-temporal. Machen wants us all to be stone-breakers, to attack with pick axes and sledge hammers that self-limiting pigsty wall which we erect in our self-defence. Do we really dare to throw in the towel and engage in a lively mystic dance, turn the water of reality into intoxicating wine when instead we can eavesdrop conversations on the bus about whether ‘rhubarb is a fruit or vegetable?’ Continue reading