Complicity in the Age of Choice

dream windowI think of my complicity in the age of choice, and my suspicion that there isn’t really any choice. There are usually only two things to choose from, two really big bands, two hefty paperbacks, two women, only one bankrupt ideology (since the others have lost) and yet the illusion persists.  The man who leaves work on a warm summer evening and thinks I can do anything, embark on a wonderful love affair with a lollypop lady, retrain as a sumo wrestler, move to Nuneaton and then he goes home and falls asleep in front of the telly.

Last week I went for a meal, either Italian or Indian, in a little hideaway bistro—my hideaway with about a billion others. A cheap dark wood joint with the cashier in a little Bavarian style hut busy counting money and making change and sighing at his family members digging into bowls of olives. I sat down and had my generic chili pasta.  I noticed a couple on a nearby table. I relish their rows (yes I’m a connoisseur of other people’s arguments—I’ve had them all too—the commitophobes, the lovers who are really nurses-in waiting, biding their time so they can bring on that last illness and finish you off). The guy in black glasses, polo neck and beatnik goatee could have been me. He had better skin, he was younger but it was me.  His girl was dark too, the sort I  might choose, alert, a slight overbite pushing her lips outwards like a flower. She was laughing at his carefully delivered anecdotes, fascinated by his menu choices, amused at his bulky modern classic—a sword and sorcery yarn about a Cimmerian Warrior trapped in a Hall of Mirrors, unable to tell shadow from substance. I’d read it too!  She went to the loo and when she came back, God’s truth!, she sat at the end of my table instead. Sitting with her head bowed while I mumbled a few remarks, she laughed, played with the petals of the plastic flower in an identical carafe of water and I was almost believing it too when her boyfriend shouted at her. She looked up and in that puzzled smile I read it too: what is the difference? We will go home and make love in one or other of the prescribed positions and afterwards wax lyrical about children’s television from the 1970s, Breville sandwich makers, spacehoppers, Buckaroo and imagine we are growing closer by a shared memory of adverts.  Sadly she got up and resumed her flower fiddling on the nearby table.

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The Days of the Housebound

lsd_blotter_full_sheet11I’d spent a year dropping liquid LSD in a tiny remote cottage on the East Suffolk Coast writing a novel variously called Conundrum, The Phoenix Protocol and finally Nipple Fever about a search for the purest form of breast milk known to man, a milk so stupefying that when a Romanian refugee is suckled by a nursing mother he falls into a coma for fifteen years. But man the dreams!The rhythms of lactation and the warm, watery fore milk — like coconut beer– and then the thick creamy hind milk. And there was I keeping it real on semi-skimmed goat milk from the local Budgens. Continue reading

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Everyday acts of Lunacy

kitchen-fire-extinguisher-fire-extinguisherSometimes life is waiting to teach you a lesson, the man selling fire extinguishers door to door might be attuned to the emotional  meltdown in your living room,  waged over jaffa cakes  and dead flowers, or it might just be a coincidence but human beings are superstitious animals. We take the signs ( the threads of meaninglessness) and stitch them into a meaningful reality until we cannot and then we become ill or get a job in a library. And the library too is warning you about the future you can expect if you don’t read the signs. Continue reading

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On the Nod

on the nodThe afternoons in Grey Gables with the sun in your eyes and a couple of pints of Old Badger under your belt are ideal for dreaming of Amanda Wang and the new French mum.  Monique was in again today, telling me how she saw off a brown bear during her Japanese travels. Kept touching my shoulder, said we should do a language exchange. I couldn’t help encouraging her, ‘you’ve got so much vitality,’ I said and then in lumbered my new line manager unwrapping a sausage baguette and told me to weed the non-fic.

After a while the hairs bristle on your forearms when certain borrowers approach the pod. The matey guy in a bit of rush, his Maserati’s on a double yellow and he’s driving to the South of France, just needs some audio books, ‘some really grisly murders… you know old nuns getting bashed about with a copy of Who’s Who.’ Doesn’t want any trouble from a little librarian oik. But his fines and transactions are so complicated that his car will have been towed away long before it’s all resolved. What do you mean  he’s got fines for a book on Croatia? He’s never been there. Oh, apart from the one time he went there ten years ago … oh right… well, can he pay when he comes back.  And you look out the window. There’s no Maserati, no South of France. Just a mobility scooter and an old woman in union jack underpants swearing at pigeons

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Ennui

“There are moments when faced with our lack of success, I wonder whether we are failures, proud but impotent. One thing reassures me as to our value: the boredom that afflicts us.  It is the hall-mark of quality in modern men.” Edmund and Jules De Goncourt

boredomOdd that for the nineteenth century, a period teeming with scientific progress,  great art and literature, that the characteristic tone of  many of the writers is one of exhaustion. The Goncourts  clung to their boredom as a badge of breeding. If ennui were to be commemorated in a coat of arms you’d need a winged absinthe bottle and the sign of a pawn shop. The Goncourt brothers led lives totally opposed to principles of physical and spiritual hygiene.  They smelled rotting meat in the bedroom and realized it was the smell of their own bodies.

The age of boredom surely is today when things really are in decline. There aren’t even any men of quality to bemoan the passing of  time, they’re too busy on the internet or, perhaps like me, they type in google, watch the flashing cursor and realize they have nothing left to look up. In a world of knowledge there is nothing we want to know, surely a sign of ennui and information overkill. A little boy in the library told me he preferred to do his homework online because the books  at Grey Gables are unreliable, the information is untrustworthy and who are these authors anyway.

Here at Grey Gables the boredom collects under windows by the glossy face-on displays of cookery books. The tatty carousel loaded with books about mental breakdown forces a yawn, even from the over-caffeinated. Each day I have to rouse the sleeping  men and women, slumped  in their vinyl chairs, heads thrown back, mouths hanging open, blasting out a furnace of snores. They come too with a jolt, a kick of the leg and a whispered obscenity. Usually indignant, ‘ I wasn’t sleeping… how dare you… I was having a think… I will take my sleeping elsewhere…’ I  actually enjoy waking the sleepers. Part of the sadism and heart-hardening of working with the general public and their predictable and (yawn) boring excuses. But one woman didn’t fit. Attractive, well-dressed with shiny black boots she was thrown diagonally across her chair by the notice board, deep in one of those heavy annihilating sleeps.   I didn’t want to wake her. Was it because her boredom and dress denoted a different pedigree,  a natural ruler?  A descendant of illustrious ennui sufferers from the nineteenth century to the present day? When I did she smiled.  ‘Young man, I think it’s time the library rethought its policy on sleeping. At home, one always sleeps in the library after lunch.’

I was put in my place. She waltzed out and I had a vision of a panelled room , a fire flickering and the gilt lettering tingling on spines of books bound in green Morocco. There were three generations asleep in armchairs next to each other, books open in their laps. It was only when I popped out for lunch in the public garden that I spotted those shiny boots,  she had been felled by sleep suddenly and was snoring in the flower bed.

 

 

 

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CIRCE

new management system

The council unveil the new Circe Information System, cobbled together from Atari 400’s salvaged from junk shops on the Goldbourne Road

Another staff training session with a bunch of short-sighted librarians squashing their noses up against the monitors to get to grips with the new Circe system. ‘With this you can right-click your way to insanity,’ said Stanislav Popovic the humorless Polish techie. Why, I wondered, do we name our computer programmes after a  deadly enchantress? Perhaps we’ve been in the libraries for years under a reverse spell of boredom while we secretly frolic on a magical island.

rubaiyat‘How exciting,’ said Chris the reference librarian from Sidcup, ‘the catalogue will be going live on Wednesday…’  This guy was really excited. His talk was all about ‘populating the borrower tables…’   He had those beige slacks that crumple up when you sit down making it look like you’ve got a great big stiffy for the borrower sitting next to you. Maybe it was a stiffy for the wonderful Iranian beauty, Zarida,  who was putting in a final bid for some curling tongs on eBay.  She looks like she’s  stepped out of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, even in the unlikely surroundings of Nandos where her suitors congregate  in the evening, queuing up to buy her spicy chicken breasts and demonstrating their ability to think  inside her box.

I took a look at who I was and what I’d become. Men in stained pullovers with dandruff and eczema whose idea of being naughty is bingeing on blue smarties. Does your job define you? Is there enough of an inner life to differentiate you from Chris, over by the whiteboard, gobbling a blueberry muffin. Or perhaps Chris is doing a better job than you of achieving the right work/life balance? He was lapping it all up… ‘Circe  is architected to be open, scalable and robust, offering a complete out-of-the-box solution, and unparalleled flexibility. Complemented by the most unfriendly training, consulting and support staff in the industry.’ He smiled  across at Zarida assesssing her robust scalability and then tucked into a ginger nut.

circe-keeper-of-the-golden-fleecePopovic droned on about the new Circe system and its prototypes. There was Mage 2000, The Great Beast and now Circe a system designed to enchant borrowers, keep them in the library as long as possible. ‘They simply  follow trails for non-existent books. Books that have vanished from the special collection years ago.’  Classics like Growing Flowers by Candlelight

‘The beauty,’ continued Popovic, ‘is that the multi-tiered search system is highly addictive and… inconclusive. Great for beefing up our stats… the greatest work of fiction in the entire library!’

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Planet of the Knob Heads

Planet of the Knob Heads

I thought this was science fiction but I realise this is actual science fact. We have been living among the  Knob-Heads for years now, especially if we look at the idiots sabotaging our libraries and the accidental pockets of excellence still flourishing due to managerial neglect.  Soon we’ll all be Knob-Heads, a few bumps like the surface of a grape hyacinth on our forehead, next a shiny grey suit,  a non-directional shuffle and a terror of engaging with the general public– the only option:  promotion!

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March 4, 2014 · 10:36 pm