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I’ve been away for a while – no-one noticed I trust? There was no void to fill? No Babaloo-shaped hole? No? Thank goodness. I sigh to myself, inwardly seething of course. What a nice little bunch we have here today, jostling and bobbing for space. I see we’re all represented: all the colours and creeds. A charcoal print for these Technicolor times. Pathos and humour, bathos and guilt. Sadness is just behind joy. But no room for silence – she will feature in parts: in the pause or the breath or the half-thought out thought. Let’s see where she will take us.
A Dayglo-granny stepped onto the train and lit up the carriage completely. Flourescent green hat and headscarf combination charmingly set off with a pair of slush-puppy glasses. Beads and jewels of all shapes and sizes wind their way up to her elbows. Dragons fight flowers for space on her dress but the fabric is never-ending. Her small face is framed with dread-locks and synthetic extensions of blue, green, red, orange and pink. She’s asleep in an instant cradling a faux cow-skin foldaway stool. And that’s fine, and it’s normal ‘cause why the hell not? This is what she has chosen.
Sitting on a small balcony overlooking our square just to one side of las Ramblas. Sipping an Estrella, watching the sun crawl back along the opposite wall. If I crane my head to the left I can see the steady flow of people making their way past street performers, vendors and prostitutes out early. The tourists amble, slowly soaking in the sights. The locals, tattoo-clad in bohemia, weave amidst the rabble, eyes barely addressing the entertainment. The city is slick with style and attitude, conscious of its Catalan history. At once vibrant and laid-back, it speaks of Absinthe and ‘Manana’.
Ducking in and out of ancient cobbled streets in Barri Gotic staring up at a distant sky. No stars above the terraces tonight, only washing on balconies, garlic and the gentle strains of a piano. The city is a mystery: a closely guarded secret. Enough on show to satiate the tourist – tapas, cerveza, Gaudi and sun – but there’s more here we’re not allowed to see. In another life I’d wake up every day to the smell of fresh coffee and fresh bread. I’d read my paper in the morning sun and learn about History, Politics or Art. In another life.
I’ll be an actor soon, officially. I mean I’ve thought it for a while but with my last paycheck I suppose I cease to be a teacher. Not that the two are unconnected – sometimes performance is the perfect tool to engage a student. They keep you on your toes so it’s fun to return the favour. The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art sounds very grand indeed. The reality could be very different. Regardless, I have few preconceptions – hushed rumours from those who trained elsewhere and measured praise from those who go before me. An opportunity? Of course. Into the unknown.
How lovely to meet new people in a situation where we’re all required to interact and silence is not an option. It’s a curiously English affliction: to suffer painful social situations, studiously avoiding eye-contact and speech at all costs. The stilted ‘Good Morning’ must suffice. A genuine pleasure, then, to be thrown together – such a diverse grouping of families and older couples – and to have such an enjoyable evening. Playing cards as an opening: the game relatively incidental (a few sharks in the pool!) to the stories and jokes in between. We’ll never meet and talk outside of this situation.
There’s nothing worse than being in a foreign country and not knowing a single word in the language. You feel so out of place and generally despised. Just another tourist, camera in hand, gentle burn to the face, holding up progress. I firmly believe that language is a currency: a few words can buy you a smile or a beer. A full sentence and you can pass as a native, secure in the knowledge you’ve been accepted. To a certain degree. You’re off the tourist track and ‘home’ at last. Then crashing down to earth again when asked a question.
Stop rushing. Calm yourself and enjoy it. Let’s have fun with Dali’s bendy time. Try to feel contented. Appreciate this silence. Well, first try and find the silence beneath the traffic, the music, the low murmur of voices. Resting peacefully underneath the persistent footsteps on wooden floors. Tranquillity just behind the jarring squeal of coffee cups. Deep down, hidden within the deafening roar of coffee beans meeting their maker, I am assured there’s silence. People moving like windscreen wipers in the rain: one leaves as another enters. Children with fireworks, adults with frowns. Grey, black, white. Different shades of mediocrity.
Ever wanted to be someone else? What about him? The guy with the camo jacket and the low-slung jeans. Two bags of shopping in each hand, music in his mind. What’s there to hide from? He wanders. How about her? Stuffing Doritos into her mouth hoping no-one noticed. Smile on her face – a memory from earlier. Man with bike. Girl with bag. Man in shirt and glasses. Girl with sash. Girl sans sash: no discerning features. Black kid crying. What a rich tapestry to disregard altogether. Chinese couple – two parts of the same puzzle. They looked complete: happy and complete.
‘There is no why’.
Words immaculately spoken by the funambulist Philippe Petit. He wire-walked between the World Trade Centre towers in 1974 chasing his dream. He walked from tower to tower eight times and spent forty-five minutes performing to assembled crowds below. And what a beautiful answer to such an utterly redundant question. Sometimes just to experience living is all the reason you need. We spend so much time fumbling around for answers to questions that cannot be explained away. They inhabit an ethereal plain, obscured in cloud between sunrise and daybreak, evening and dusk. ‘There is no why’.
Your eyebrow arched with every consonant, leaping like a Catherine-wheel set loose. The punchlines to your jokes illustrated like a musical score. A general aspect of lion-like civility: announcing each syllable with carnal care. Always asking and probing. Circling your prey with laughter in the voice and big glass eyes. Impossible to read. Maybe nothing to say? Perhaps it’s just an act – a carefully constructed guise to mask what’s absent beneath? If you remain entertaining enough they’ll pass you by and ask no awkward questions. A laugh, of course, a smile and a nod and they’ll leave you with yourself.
How much darker everything seems now. Blistering sun and I’m lost in the shadows, rippling in the breeze. Flicking across the landscape like the tongue of a snake. Deceit and betrayal. Nothing will be the same from this point onwards. We can never go back. It’s so hard to be strong and support the others. So hard to plan for a future. Unthinking, unfeeling and perhaps unloving. We’ll see. How futile it seems to have faith in others, to always expect the best from those you love. They are human and weak and they make mistakes. How to forgive that?
Tough day. Hours spent chewing my lip trying not to cry. How did it ever come to this? And where will it end? I took a long walk on the beach this morning, sat and stared at the waves breaking. Such a beautiful day for sad news. As a kid, it was always my biggest fear and I swore I’d run away if it ever happened. But I’m older now and it’s not that simple. I feel that everyone’s pulling in different directions and I’m the only one trying to hold it all together. I’m not strong enough for that.
When I was twelve or thirteen years old I ran away from home. I can’t remember why now – probably after a stupid argument with Dad. I snuck out of the house and ran to the end of the road with tears stinging my eyes. I remember stopping in the alley by the last house in our street and not being able to step any further. I had no idea where to go so I turned and ran back home. I ran away for ten minutes. That was my stand and no-one saw it. I’m here to see you leaving now.
I’m a little lost tonight. I’m not sure what it is I should be feeling. A break should be good: get away from the epicentre. I think I’ve done all I can for now. I feel older – not in a negative way necessarily but my shoulders feel broader today. I’ve ridden something significant and survived to this point. I’m beginning to recognise what I hope to be the other side. Not the end. We are capable of creating so much beauty and causing so much pain and we are in control of both. Find the path and stick to it.
In transit once more, rushing back to something like normality.
A human scarecrow with mud on her hands, stands in a field dressed in red. Her toes take root in the dusty soil and pigeons circle her head. She reclines her skull to look at the stars but all she can see is the sky. Rolling with thunder and heavy with rain, still her field stays dry.
I’m out of time and have to leave them to decide. It will be different now that I’m gone – they will have a clearer picture. The fact remains though: all change. All change.
I’m trying to write this undetected, keeping up my end of a conversation. Masking it as important work to be completed before bedtime. A little white lie but it prevents any further questioning. I remember, all too clearly, the trouble I invited in a previous 100 words. Awkward conversations, the invisible ‘why?’, ‘what do you mean?’ and, ‘is that about me?’ There is no why: see above. The meaning is yours to translate. And, yes, this is about you. I see you’re getting suspicious, there’s not long left now – a handful of consonants, all of the vowels and to sleep.
Holiday Rep always sounded like a dream job. Spending a season in the mountains or somewhere by the coast. Rising early to catch the first lift for a morning of fresh powder snow with a bunch of mates. Then back to the village to meet and greet the new arrivals. Without exception I’ve come to learn that this Utopian existence is not reality. The day to day life of a resort Rep is one complaint after another. Your hands are tied, there’s nothing you can do. Especially when your company have lied to your guests and told you absolutely nothing.
Sitting on a balcony, deemed unfit for use, in a ski resort during the summer. Staring out at a school group playing football at the bottom of what would probably be a blue run back down to the village. I’d always wondered what such a place would look like out of season. Lush green fields of pines and timber without their winter frosting. Cows amble over rolling hills with bells to keep them servile. The whole scene resembles something from a ‘Milka’ chocolate advert. Mt Blanc stands firm and resolute, a brilliant white in contrast to all that lies beneath.
Between fifteen and eighteen miles walked today. An estimate as the local trail maps appear to have been drawn in crayon. Plenty of hills and gullies, slipping and falling, then a steady climb. Some beautiful views over distant valleys but Mount Blanc was hidden in cloud. Another four days holiday but the spectre of home is creeping back into my head. My responsibilities in all manner of issues, jobs I must get done. My laptop sits patiently in its bag – brought explicitly for this purpose. I can feel it casting greedy stares toward me. I turn my head guiltily away.
When I was sixteen, my school organised a geography trip for those embarking upon a GCSE. We trundled up to Grisdale, north of somewhere north of here, and began measuring all of God’s creations. Scree slopes, oxbow lakes, meandering rivers and wet weather rills. We learnt to put a name to everything we saw. Years later and much of this has stayed with me. I don’t know why. White-water rafting today and I was struck with the same love for my surroundings. Driving through rapids and soaring over rocks. I know no greater feeling than being so close to nature.
Canyoning today. A forty-five metre rappel from an alpine bridge into the tumbling gorge below. Nerve-wracking but quite an experience. What followed was freezing cold, difficult in places but ultimately exhilarating. Stepping outside of your comfort zone is such a healthy thing to do. Often risky: there is much to lose if you fail, but also a great deal to learn. The same activity in England would require safety talks, disclaimers and a forest of paperwork. Here, we are content with ‘Parry x2’ and ‘Allez! Away we go!’ In our increasingly litigious society, what a blessedly welcome relief. We live.
My muscles are aching, bruises on hands and scratches on legs. The results of a four hour cross-country bike tour in Chamonix. Bouncing through downhill sections over rocks and roots. Slick with rain for one long descent through the trees then the glowering sun on my neck for the uphill. Mt Blanc, ever present, swathed in a crown of cloud. Glacier formations dappled with boulders and earth. Sunlight flaring on the camera lens creating half-formed halos that scythe the mountain in two. A steady stream of activity winding through open fields and twisting paths. London seems so very far away.
Maybe it would have better if he’d died. I shouldn’t say it but it’s true. There would have been a beautiful funeral (my first of course) and everyone would have come. Dressed smartly with resolute faces remembering all the good things he’d achieved. Perhaps smiling from time to time at a memory recaptured. Something funny he’d said or done: ‘he was such a fun-loving man’ they’d say. He really lived each day fully. His laugh was infectious. He had such love for his family - an empire built from nothing – and guarded them so fiercely. They can’t say that now.
Stop looking over my shoulder. If you can read this then you’re sitting far too close! Get your own source of entertainment. The carriage is littered with copies of ‘The Metro’: pick one up and go wild! There’re plenty of pictures and punchy paragraphs; sport and celebrity news. I shouldn’t complain, I’m often guilty of the same crime. Perhaps it’s the inner voyeur, tempted by the forbidden fruits of someone else’s life – even if it is just a different newspaper. I suppose we all have to find a way to make out journeys less tedious. I shouldn’t begrudge her that.
Quite the little exercise in justifying your own existence. Four hours work that could have easily been halved had we not spent so much time discussing the fictional back-story to what is a very simple ten minute play. It’s a comedy: just enough laughs to warrant the title and it doesn’t get any funnier of we insist on knowing which architectural firm Character A works for. But I suppose when faced with such a straightforward premise the director finds great joy in diving right into the text to find some hidden meaning. Perhaps a political subtext? A comment on China?
I’m falling behind. I’m falling way behind really. Having to pre-empt the phone calls and make my excuses already. That recognisable irritation is gnawing at my stomach, never far from the surface. No time to relax and enjoy this silence. Time guiltily shuffles on, hoarding my precious seconds and minutes. Certainly, it’s been a difficult time but it doesn’t stay bad forever and other people’s sympathy is not without its limits. There are only so many times they will nod their heads and tell you they understand. I have to step back in line and carry on with the present.
It’s difficult. I can’t keep playing it round in my head. How can I not find the answer? Why can’t I fix this problem? I’m older now – even in the last three weeks, I feel like I’ve aged a little and seen something I was never meant to see. There’s great pleasure in obtaining knowledge, remembering facts; anecdotes and applying them in conversation. But some experiences leave you physically and mentally drained. This new knowledge is nothing that can be used positively. It hurts. It supports everything I feared but was always afraid to ask. We recover from most things.
It’s such a struggle to meet up now. We each lead such frantic lives and London is a hot-bed of activity: hastily made plans and missed appointments, glimpses on the tube and passing handshakes. It’s lovely to get a text or an email but how much more enjoyable to put aside an hour and meet face to face. We met last, perhaps six months ago and how much has changed already. You’ve moved house, settled down with Johnny and work seems to be treating you well. We share news of a death and separation. You have to laugh don’t you?
A gloriously sunny day – possibly the best we’ve had all month. I’m trying to stay focused on celebrating Chris’s birthday but the phone-call last night is playing on my mind. Everyone’s sat in the garden drinking in the sun, laughing at shared memories – the collective history. All I can picture is the two of you sat in different chairs, not talking. No more laughter and there was always so much laughter. Each wondering what happened, determined to move on. People ask how it’s going, I say, “up and down.” The longer time goes by the deeper we descend. Blue skies.
You said I should start writing again as I was about to embark on a new adventure. That still stands but has been overshadowed by another change. One that has consumed all my waking hours for weeks now. Everything I have ever known has been broken. The reason I could always shrug off failure and disappointment and put it down to experience has been erased. I have never felt so alone. And more than this, I know there are others who feel worse: who stay up watching late-night television or listening to music because they are too afraid to sleep.
The Tip Jar