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Sex is ridiculous. It's an affront to what little human dignity I have. All that grunting and groaning and sliding and squishing - whose idea was that? Surely God or Darwin, either of them, could have come up with something more sensible.
And once the little bubbles of pleasure have burst and the Kleenex is all used up, it's so damn depressing. I always find myself thinking about death after sex. Maybe because sex is basically about one of two things - living on through a new life, or trying to feel alive in this one.
Fancy a shag?
Once I saw a pigeon that had fallen into a canal. It could barely lift its waterlogged wings from the surface. It was trying to fly, but instead just made these crazed spinning arcs with its wings. It skittered back and forth across the water like a broken toy boat.
I watched it for a while, half thinking that if it got close enough I would lift it out of the water. But when it did, I didn't want to touch it, soiled as it was with the canal's muck.
It bobbed, silent and heaving and exhausted, as I left.
I feel guilty because I know you are going to die soon, and I don't feel very much about it.
I feel guilty because you were wounded in the war, and I don't know how, or when, or how you feel about it.
I feel guilty because when your wife died I didn't mourn, but attended the funeral like a cipher, a waxwork.
I feel guilty because I suspect that I never really loved you, even when I was tiny and played on your lap.
I feel guilty. So I am going to come to see you and say goodbye.
I can still recall how the musical
made me feel when I was fifteen. It was so epic, so glorious, so stirring, so utterly different from my dull suburban Manchester existence.
And you could sing along. I used to take refuge in it as I crept along the murky corridors of my school in my yucky black blazer and straggly tie. I'd duck my head and try to slink unnoticed past the bullies, singing
Do You Hear The People Sing?
in my head.
Now, it seems like so much histrionic bullshit. Things were simpler back then. Even unhappiness.
How do they do it, those people who climb effortlessly to the top of every pile? I've known them, I've drunk and laughed with them, I count some of them as friends. They are, in some respects, my people.
Are they ever full of doubt and self-loathing, convinced that they are destined to be a loser? Are there days when what they have is never enough?
I suspect not, whatever they may say. But then, what do people see when they look at me? I talk, sometimes, about the dark places my soul has been. Does anyone actually believe me?
I need more friends on Facebook.
As a badge of popularity, it's a pretty poor one. Someone added me the other day. We haven't spoken in ten years, and we didn't even exchange messages to find out what the other is up to these days. But nevertheless, there he is, adding to my proud tally. I have 59 so far - I'm new to the whole thing - but I am fast catching up with my peers.
When I have 100, perhaps I will feel validated. If anyone wants to add me, feel free. Previous acquaintance preferred but not essential.
And now a confession: I am descended from incest.
Well, not exactly. A distant ancestor of mine, so it appears, eloped at the age of eighteen with his sixteen year old step-sister. Several generations later, I appeared.
Or this. Another ancestor apparently had her son entirely out of wedlock. Shortly afterwards she was bundled into marriage, but her son - for some reason - never took her married name. So really I should be called Barton.
Oh, alright. My family history is dull; my ancestors are all West Country farmers. But you can't blame me for trying to sound exciting.
Last night I dreamed that Ellen McArthur had died. I dreamed she had been killed in a freak canoeing accident near the Falklands (the details are a little hazy here) and that I had held her in my arms, rocking and bobbing in bright yellow lifejackets, as her face turned white against the black water. I remember thinking how boyish and beautiful she looked, like diCaprio in Titanic (apparently, my movie snobbery does not apply in dreams).
This morning, I had to check the internet to make sure she was still alive. Dreams do funny things to your head sometimes.
There's a painting in Antwerp of the Virgin Mary. She's white as death and her face is Byzantine, long and mournful and oddly hollowed-out. She's cradling the Christ Child, surrounded by red and blue cherubs. When I say red and blue, I mean
blue. It looks like a child's colouring book gone wrong.
I remember thinking, when I saw it, that it looked like a modern artist's take on a fifteenth century icon. Then I discovered that it was, in fact, a fifteenth century icon.
It's an astounding painting. If you're in Antwerp, hunt it out.
First, they invented language.
Then they invented writing.
They invented the wheel, which led the way to more and more complex forms of machinery.
They discovered how to harness electricity, and use it to encode information.
They developed an international web of information more complex than my little brain could possibly fathom. They united people across the globe in virtual reality. They put an end to mankind’s atomised, ignorant existence and gave us the Earth.
They did all this.
So that I could spend a night having cybersex with some bloke in Portland, Oregon, instead of getting some much-needed sleep.
Once, I soared.
From the ash-covered mountains to the green lazy sea, this was my domain. I went where I pleased; I swooped and dived; I played with the hawks and I danced with the lions. Men knew me, though they could not see me. They chanted and wore masks, and burned fires in my name. I was great and glorious and alone.
You don't believe me. Why should you? How could you see beyond the sad little man in a dirty raincoat, past the cold chips and the dripping nose?
How could you ever understand what I once was?
We took the wrong boat to the wrong side of the city. It was late; it seemed the best thing to try to walk back to our hotel.
Fifty minutes later, we seemed to have been wandering the dank back streets of Venice for hours. The alleys there are like tiny, dark capillaries. The walls are peeling, rotting, seemingly about to fold in on themselves and subside into the lagoon. The tourists are gone at night. Venice is an abandoned carcass, without even scavengers as a sign of life.
We hugged, unexpectedly and sweetly, under a black and drooping doorway.
You know, I just don’t write comedy. It's not that I don't want to. I desperately want to. I read entries here that make me chuckle, and I feel my day has been brightened. My natural tendency, however, is to focus on bleaker topics. Morbid, even. It's all very adolescent.
If I told a story about a man mistaking his wife for a duck, or some other such amusing premise, it would probably end with him roasting her alive and then committing suicide. It just seems to be how my imagination works.
I bet Terry Pratchett never had this problem.
Have you ever been somewhere and had a sense of momentous events waiting to unfold? A quiet, serene place, holding its breath in anticipation of something enormous and unknown?
For me, it was Rievaulx Abbey, in Yorkshire. I was maybe thirteen. I remember wandering away from my family and standing at the edge of the looming, gutted church, looking across the broken stones to the empty moors beyond. It was a glorious August day, but it seemed the sky darkened and turned purple with apocalyptic clouds.
This place could see the end of the world, I thought. It feels right.
Two weeks until I collect my shirts from the tailors. They are this month's extravagance - oh wait, apart from the camera I just bought, oops - and cost more than I care to think about. But they will be terribly lovely and cotton soft, and fit beautifully snugly. Everyone will see me and think, "what a dapper young man."
Presumably, given the anticipation with which I am awaiting said shirts, a part of me thinks they will transform my life into something infinitely more satisfying. Although, given that last month's new glasses failed to do this, it seems unlikely.
The most beautiful place I ever visited is Tofino, on the west coast of Vancouver Island. We stayed in a little cabin right on the beach. The water was clear and cold. I swam every morning at half past six, five minutes of icy needles and gasping breath followed by forty minutes of bliss. Waves lapping at my ears, green mountains above me and swaying seaweed below. The others thought I was mad. But it made me feel very alive and totally content to be so.
I swam naked there once. It was the purest sensation I have ever experienced.
In a cold, wet basement in a cold, wet city, a man is plotting the end of the world.
Frowning in concentration, he moves a wire fractionally left. With his other hand, he inserts another wire in the resulting gap.
The tension drops off his shoulders. It is complete.
It stands before him, a mess of wires to the untrained eye. He alone knows it represents annihilation. He wipes his brow, drains his cup.
A girl watches. She’s seen all this before. Maybe this time he’ll get it right, she thinks, and I won’t have to go through this again.
I woke this morning on the rack again.
The left side of my head was encased in dull, pulsating, squeezing iron. Every ray of light was like a razor blade in my pupils, every sound a deep vibrating explosion that assaulted my eardrums and my innards. The sheets had turned into clammy, sucking tentacles wrapped around my limbs. I was unable to move, even to roll over, without rolling waves of nausea throbbing through me. My whole body had turned against me, had become an instrument of torture.
They call it migraine.
I call it a little slice of hell.
I just want to say, I can never do enough for you. If you want anything, you only have to ask.
I know you never will.
I know that you feel like a nuisance, a buzzing fly in our lives, and you feel this more and more as the years pass. No matter how loved you are.
I hope you find a beautiful home, and that we will have many years to create fond memories there. I hope you will never come to think that I have forgotten what you did for me, or that I do not love you.
I remember the sea at Bamburgh castle, tingly cool against sun-baked toes as we ran and splashed in the surf.
We were all at bleak places in our lives. We'd come together for this one day when the sun shone kindly on the beach and the hills and on us, and just for an afternoon the rest of the world went away.
We managed to throw and catch a frisbee ten times in succession. Or was it twenty? It doesn't matter. At the time, it was all that mattered. And we laughed and hugged as the water caressed our calves.
In the polders of Holland, the wind turbines stand in proud lines, at regimented intervals along the horizon. Their blades turn lazily above the broad expanses of brown and green. The wind is strong: cyclists toil against it, huddled beneath the dyke and the sky. If you climb the dyke, you can see how easily this whole place would disappear beneath the waves if left to itself.
For now, it's a monument to human engineering, with the turbines its mighty overlords. It should be inspiring. But it reminds me of how fragile and how arrogant this race of ours is.
Not enough sleep again. An internet connection is a dangerous thing. There's always one more click you can squeeze in before bed. I could spend eternity in Wikipedia.
Anyway, it was two o'clock before I was in bed. I'd be much healthier if I had no computer. But then I'd miss out on the zeitgeist, wouldn't I? It would be like having no walkman in the 80s, or being young in the 60s and not knowing who the Beatles were.
Today's technology is what we'll reminisce about when we are old. We'll forget about feeling crap through lack of sleep.
He stopped by an iron statue of a boy, pointing forlornly across the lake. Someone had smeared a lurid pink substance over the outstretched hand. Alex tried to remove it, but it was stuck fast: a stringy, sticky mess that left his fingers grubby and stained. The boy’s arm clanked hollowly as he touched it. It seemed sad that he should be alone here, defiled by some unknown person.
Sitting on the plinth, Alex rested his head against the boy's chilly metal leg. He looked up at the time-weary, empty eyes. You and me, mate, he thought.
You and me.
Jin seemed to own every other gay bar in Seoul. Every night he would trip from one to the next, waving his hips with a broad, plastic smile. He never seemed to do any work, or to have any real friends, but everyone knew he was not someone you messed with.
Sometimes he would come up against a lost, homophobic GI or drunk customer, and he would transform into a snarling terrier - the kind of dog that should be ridiculous, but is really quite scary. Then it would blow over, and he'd sashay off again on his social roundabout.
I had this one all prepared. A hundred words full of resentment and bitterness, all for you. Secret, petulant grievances I have long cherished, a little litany of blame.
But today, we sat together by the bedside of a dying man. You leaned close to hear his rasping death-voice; I was too afraid. When I left you, you hugged me and told me how much it meant that I had come. And I wondered if I had any right at all to judge you.
I have no heart to submit my original entry. For now, at least, I forgive you.
After coming through security, standing in endless queues amid wailing babies and fake suntans, struggling with belts and shoelaces, hastily searching pockets for coins and keys, braving the barks of the attendants with barely concealed resentment, trying to rearrange myself without getting in everyone’s way, I slipped on some anonymous substance and nearly went arse over tit. For a second the atmosphere of fear and suspicion dissolved in strangled mirth. Then the zombie queues resumed their mind-numbing progress.
If Dante were alive today, he would surely be jealous that the makers of Heathrow Airport have so far surpassed his imagination.
Today, I stood in gleaming, sterile white
Looking down on silent figures in the escalator web
Gliding alone and blind, across, above, below each other
Through the glittering emblems and colours of temptation
The sirens of the store. Unseen speakers oozed
Bleached-out versions of the Beatles and Elton John
Into the cavernous sparkling stairwell,
The cathedral’s hidden choir. An assistant approached,
Meticulous, anonymous, unstoppable.
I declined her heartless offer of assistance.
Far below I saw the make-up lady pause,
Then quickly dart and peck more blusher on her customer’s dim cheek
Like a bird
Feeding its young
I wish, sometimes, that I were not a pansy city boy obsessed with suits and shoes.
I wish my hands were rough and gnarled, my hair unkempt, my skin burned and toughened by wind and hardship. I wish I knew how to handle a boat in rough seas, to snap the necks of livestock, to tame the land and face the oceans.
I wish - foolishly, yes - that I knew nothing of theatres, department stores or parties, nothing of the world's endless promises. I wish my world were small and bleak and wild.
Mingulay. Rona. St Kilda. Unknowable names.
I just don’t want to write today, frankly. Even a hundred words feels like I’m being asked to pen another War and Peace. I’m sick of having to
things. Having to plan rehearsal schedules for eighteen actors who all – damn them! – have lives. Having to fill in job application forms. Having to accept that staying in a city I’ve grown to love will mean taking a hefty pay cut. Having to live in this imperfect,
world when I’m sure God had something much better in mind.
You see? A good moan always does the trick. 100 words. Voila.
Your lips are not like wine. They are less potent and less sweet.
Your teeth are not like pearls. True, they are always well-brushed - no halitosis here. But their lustre is more coffee-stained than pristine.
Your breath does not make me think of a summer wind. I only notice it when you snore.
Your mouth, all in all, is not the stuff of poetry. But the words you speak from it are sweeter and more tender than the greatest verse. Your words make me feel that I can be better than God made me.
I love you for your words.
Poppy was a part-time life model. As far as I could tell, she had chosen to pursue this occupation out of sheer bloody mindedness, just to see how the achingly cool art students would respond to a naked model rather less than four feet tall. She would gleefully describe, usually over vodka martinis at 3 a.m., how they would try to look unruffled as the gown dropped over her stumpy limbs and disproportionately large, impressive breasts.
“What they really can’t handle,” she said once, “is my pussy. Finding out that dwarves have sex too. Like learning that Dopey did cocaine.”
The Tip Jar