Friday, December 31, 2004

Day Six: "Maybe it was just one long sulk."

Day Six.

I told you about a mechanical insect that had invaded my head and that was draining all the colour out of my life.

It was a metaphor, of course, although metaphors do have an uncanny knack of becoming true.

If I was to be less poetic I might describe it as "depression", although that word is entirely inadequate in describing its effects.

The word covers a multitude of states, from just being down in the dumps, to full-scale clinical depression, the kind my friend John came down with, which meant that he thought about suicide all the time, and couldn't even be bothered to get out of his chair to go to the toilet. That's some depression. He had to wear nappies.

My depression was not like either of these. A palm reader once told me that I have been losing heart. That's a good expression, and I will adopt it, even though everything else he told me was entirely untrue. But it really was as if some outside force had entered my head and was sucking the life out of me. So that mechanical insect with bug-claws will suffice as a description..

Maybe I'd been losing heart ever since I'd left home, some five years before.

Not quite.

I was still a child really.

Maybe it was just one long sulk.

The way I came to live in that obscure, windy city on the North East coast: well that too was an accident, just like everything else in my life.

I just ended up there.

I had a friend who was living there. I came to visit him for a few days, and ended up staying in the area for the next five years. Both of us were working on that archeological site. At lunchtime we would go across to the pub for a drink. It made the afternoons go faster. Often we would go for a drink in the evenings too. I did a lot of drinking in those days.

Some things never change.


Thursday, December 30, 2004

Day Five: "Try counting to two thousand."

Day Five.

One, two, three, four, five, six...

I started counting in earnest when I was seven or eight.

Nine, ten, eleven...

I was in the back of my dad's car.

Twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen...

We were on our way home from somewhere, and there was a programme I wanted to watch on the telly.

Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen...

I guess I thought it would make the time go quicker if I counted. I guess I thought we would make it home sooner.

I was wrong. But I got to two thousand.

Try it. Try counting to two thousand. It takes about thirty minutes.

I still count to this day. Every time I cook I count. I can time an egg by counting. I can time most things.

I'm counting even as I write this.

Thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven, thirty-eight...

So what happened to twenty to thirty-four?

I was counting while I was writing, hence the discrepancy. I can even count while I am doing other things.

Once I tried to count to a million, just to see if it could be done.

I forget where I got to. I fell asleep.

Later I worked out how long it would take. About six hundred and ninety four days (give or take a few). That's nearly two years.

It takes a particular kind of obsessive mind to want to count to a million, and to then work out how long it would take.

But there is something deeply reassuring about numbers. They measure out our world for us. They give us a sense of scale. They move across the universe in an orderly manner, like a line of pensioners in the post-office queue.

One hundred and eight, one hundred and nine, one hundred and ten...

They are succinct. They are precise. Each number has a meaning. Each number is a relationship.

You are never alone with a number.

I have five fingers on each hand and five toes on each foot. Two eyes. Two ears. One nose with two nostrils. Two sides to my brain. Two sides to my body. One belly-button, one soul. One body made up of countless parts.

I am counting the words as I write.

There are one thousand nine hundred and sixty eight words in this text so far, if you don't count the words I have just written.

That's the trouble with numbers. They are always moving on.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven...

I must have lost count somewhere.


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Day Three: "He was in the Forces."

Day Three.

That’s nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety seven days left, according to my current approximations.

I’ve already been on this planet for the last nineteen thousand, one hundred and sixty two days.

This too is an approximation, as I’ve left out the leap years.

You can add another thirteen days to account for those.

I've also left out the days I spent languishing contentedly in my mother's womb, as I have no recollection of those. I don't have much recollection of the days immediately after, either, or for quite a while, although, according to my calculations the memories start quite early for me.

I can remember being in a pushchair as my father waved to me from a train.

I was still a tiny baby, no more then a few months old. My father was leaving, having seen me for the first time, to go back to his station.

He was in the Forces.

Later I decided that he must have been the train driver as he was wearing a uniform.

The reason I know that I was barely a few months old is that my mother told me about it. She was very surprised when I told her that I remembered it. In fact, she didn't believe me.

But it's true. I do remember it. Not directly, but indirectly, through a recurring dream I kept having in my childhood years. There was my father, waving to me from the open window of a train. And I thought he was the train driver as he had on a uniform and a cap.

That was a long time a go. Many, many days have passed since then.

I’d like to give you the benefit of my wisdom now, having acquired all this knowledge over all this time.

But I won’t.

I’ll leave it up to you to work it out.

Suffice it to say, that it’s not a bad thing to have learned to walk and talk in this time. All the rest is fairly superficial. Once you have learned to walk and talk, the rest follows on naturally.

These days I have added to my basic store of knowledge in a number of ways. I can cook. I can write. I can drive a car and ride a bike. I can read. I can do long-division and multiplication. I can roll a cigarette and go into a bar and order a pint. Or I can go into a bar and order a pint and then roll a cigarette. I can gaze into the mysterious heavens and puzzle about the origins of the Universe.

I cannot, however, do brain-surgery. Nor can I fly an aeroplane, or captain a ship, or climb freestyle up a rock face.

There’s so much that I can’t do.

Once, many years ago, I learned to use a pneumatic drill. That took no brains at all, only brawn, and the ability to put up with the awful, head-banging noise. Fortunately I had on ear-protectors. Nevertheless I’m glad now that I didn’t consider it as a career option at the time. I had better things to be getting on with.


Day Four: "A melancholly brown glass lamp."

Day Four.

I learned to use a pneumatic drill on an archeological site. Well I know. Pneumatic drills are not the usual tools for use on archeological sites. It was a medieval site, but spotted with nineteenth century concrete footings. So that was what I was doing. I was banging away at the hard Victorian footings to expose the medieval archeology underneath.

There were two of us working on this task. I was standing on top of the footings with my pneumatic drill, cleaving off great concrete clumps with my heavy machine while the other guy - several years older than me, stripped to the waist, with sinuous muscles and a flecked, brown back - would deliver a wheel barrow in time to receive a heaving chunk of grainy concrete, before barrowing it away to the spoil heap, leaning hard into the run as he did so.

He was counting the weight as he moved it.

"That must be a tonne now," he would announce. Then: "another tonne." Then: "another."

And on.

He was counting each tonne as we removed it.

It was a matter of pride for him to have moved all of this weight.

I was in my early twenties at the time. About eight thousand four hundred days, give or take a few. He must have been in his thirties or even older. But he was lithe and strong and dedicated to this simple task. He made me feel proud too, that we were achieving this thing: moving great weights of concrete from one place to another. Neither of us was concerned about the archeology beneath. It was the sheer weight that mattered.

So I would heave the weight of this clunking great machine into position, dropping its point onto the edge, and wrench the grips to start it up. And it would judder and roar angrily, banging through the concrete to make a dusty hole, then a crack, and then I would watch as a portion of it sheered and fell. And my friend was always there to receive the lump in his trusty wheel barrow, edging against the concrete where I was working. And this was the day. The rattling of the machine through my joints. The grinding whine and judder. The crash and the roar. And counting down the weight as it fell away from my feet.

"That must be ten tonnes now. Eleven tonnes. Twelve."

And on. As if we were counting away the weight of the Earth as we moved it.

All of this was taking place in a windy city on the North East coast of that country we talked about earlier, and which, for the sake of argument, we decided to call England. The city was situated near a flat brown river, snagged by treacherous currents, with heaving flats and silky mud banks along its tidal shore. The mud banks were threaded with whispy lines, where tiny streams had left their mark.

Sometimes, after work, we would go down to the river to gaze across it to the other bank, far away across that great, sliding, shifting mass of complicated water. There was nothing there: just a few trees, and the occasional ramshackle farm buildings dotting the low-slung hills like notes in a musical score.

Brown and green beneath a wide, blue sky.

Something very strange was happening to me at the time. It was like I was infected by something. Some strange, mechanical gilded creature, half insect and half machine, about the size of my thumbnail, had crawled its way through the caverns of my body, and had made its way into my head. I have no idea where it came from, or when, or how I had picked it up in the first place. It was a kind of defeatedness, an emptiness, as if the insect had latched itself onto my emotional wiring with its bug-claws and was draining all the colour out of my life.

Someone had put the sun out and replaced it with a melancholy brown glass lamp.


Thursday, December 23, 2004

Day Two: "Ghengis Khan died of a nosebleed."

Day Two.

Ten thousand days.

That’s twenty seven point three nine seven two six zero years recurring, or about twenty seven years and four months (approximately).

It’s how long I have left to live.


If I’m lucky.

That takes me to the grand old age of eighty.

That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Really it’s a totally arbitrary figure. I might live till I’m a hundred. Then again, I might be dead next week. Who knows?

I could be hit by a bus or a car. I could fall off a ladder. I could trip over a misplaced man-hole cover and hurtle headlong down the exposed hole. I could be struck by lightning. I could be fried in an industrial accident while unintentionally passing by the factory, having got lost in some city somewhere, and taking a wrong turning.

This would be a particularly ironic death, as I have managed to avoid working in factories these last thirty years.

Once upon a time it would have been considered my destiny to end up working in a factory, thus lessening the odds of me dying in this particular way.

Shall I go on?

Genghis Khan died of a nosebleed.

Aristotle died when a passing eagle mistook his bald head for a rock, and dropped a turtle on it to break its shell.

Those last two facts are as approximate as everything else in this text as I can’t say for certain whether either of them are actually true.

It only goes to show how bizarre are the possibilities of death.

Myself, I am most likely to die of the cumulative effects of alcohol and tobacco, these being my particular weaknesses.

I would like to invent a romantic death for myself, but I can’t.

Let’s just say I will die, at some point, and in some way.

I only hope it will be relatively painless.


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

"We'll call it England."


My clock says it is three forty-five, Wednesday the 22nd December 2004.

Actually, the clock doesn’t mention the date. I just added that for clarity.

Also, although my clock says it is three forty-five, it is, in fact, two forty-five.

This is because, when the clocks went back the last time (some time in late October, as I recall), I never bothered to change the one in my office.

This was done on purpose. It’s so I can keep a check on what time it would have been had the clocks not gone back.

I’m finicky that way.

Also, while it may be two forty-five Greenwich Mean Time - three forty-five British Summer Time - it is all sorts of different times around the world.

Where my brother lives (several thousand miles due West of here) it is around five hours earlier. He’s probably drinking his first cup of coffee at work right now, still puzzling out the day’s requirements. Meanwhile where my sister lives (several thousand miles due South) it is exactly the same time as here, though a hell of a lot warmer.

My sister lives in Tenerife. My brother lives in New York State.

Such is the extraordinary mobility of the human race in this, the early part of the twenty-first century, that families can live this far apart, and still keep in touch.

Who knows how we will live in the future?

Who knows if we have a future?

Only time will tell.

I live in a small seaside town on the South Eastern coast of a small country off the European mainland, which, for historically dubious reasons, gets called by a variety of names. I won’t go into all the names just now. Let’s just settle on a name and be done with it for the time being. We’ll call it England.

It’s as good a name as any.