12 Tales From an Alternative Universe

At Nice airport I give a young man the eye, because he looks just like Peter, whom I know from a short shoot a while back and who happened to be in Cannes with his girlfriend about two years ago.

In my multiverse of all possible universes there is one in which I go up to him and say: ‘Hello Peter, how are you?’

He doesn’t know me, but by coincidence his name is actually Peter (he has that Peter glint in his eye), and he too thinks there’s something familiar about me, something he recognises, and so, so as not to seem rude, he gamely says: ‘hey, I’m very well, thanks, and you? – Are you here for the festival?’ I say, ‘yes.’

‘Well, do you want a lift into Cannes, I’m here with my girlfriend?’

Ah, girlfriend here too, I think, but, why not? and I gladly accept. As we talk on the ride while his girlfriend is conversing in fluent French with the driver, we get along swimmingly, and by the time we reach Cannes, we sort of realise that we don’t really know each other, but we both of us don’t mind and if anything feel we should get to know each other better, and we both pretend to of course already have each other’s numbers but let’s exchange them anyway, just in case; and we hook up for dinner and then have drinks and arrange to meet up again the following night.

As it happens, his girlfriend is going to some do or other with some of her friends, so we’ll probably just be the two of us, and after another dinner, a few more drinks and then just one or two more, we realise that we do have a lot more in common than one might at fist glance imagine, and even what we don’t have in common we complement each other on perfectly, and so we probably have a bit of a kiss, maybe a cuddle. Perhaps even a bit of a snog. But then he thinks of his girlfriend and that he’s supposed to be straight, which doesn’t bother me too much (it happens to the best of people), but we go to see a couple of screenings the day after, and then his girlfriend and a few friends have invitations to a really quite excellent party on Monday, and we’re tagging along there as well.

At some point we conspire to lose them or they us, and we suddenly find ourselves alone again and peacefully zonked, on the beach, with the still mild air drifting in softly, and us drifting off equally softly, together, and by Tuesday, my last day, I wake up next to him, and he’s actually there and I realise: no, this wasn’t a dream and the wedding will probably be some time next summer…

I’m reminded of the incident with the handbag. The incident with the handbag happened with a man I could have imagined marrying, could perhaps still imagine, if not marrying then being together with, easily, comfortably, steadily. Uncomplicated. It happened before he married someone else.

We were out drinking, as on occasion we were, and after doing so to quite some extent we took a cab home, as on occasion we did. We got into my bed to curl up with each other, as on occasion we would, to literally just sleep with each other, when he reached down his side of the bed and lifted up a nondescript brown leather bag and said: ‘and here’s the handbag.’

That made no more sense to me then than it does now, but I was categorically drunk, and so was he, and I had my arm around him and I could not expect of myself—nor was I able to think that the world could expect of me—to compute the significance of such a statement and gesture at this particular juncture. He dropped the bag back down on the floor and leant into my chest and fell asleep, as did I, almost immediately.

In the hungover morning I held on to him for as long as I could, which was never quite long enough, but he had to go to work, and I said I would deal with the bag. The bag, it turned out, was an ordinary woman’s handbag with the ordinary things you’d find in a bag: not that I looked through the bag in any detail, that would have felt intrusive. I fished out the mobile and called the number labelled ‘mum’. I told a bemused lady that by circumstances which I couldn’t strictly explain but that involved a friend and too much alcohol, I found myself, somewhat involuntarily, in custody of, most likely, her daughter’s handbag, and was keen to restore it to her forthwith. There must have been a follow-up conversation with the daughter herself (presumably on her home phone?) and it transpired that the daughter in question was an actress currently performing at a West End theatre, and that she had been out with a friend after the show and ended up for a drink at the same bar as we did. She was gracious if a little taken aback, but then who can blame her. We arranged that I would bring her her bag to the stage door. I picked up a bunch of flowers and a bottle of wine and brought her the bag, apologising profusely on behalf of my friend. My friend never mentioned the matter again. Nor did I. The actress may well have thought that my friend was imaginary and that I just hadn’t been brave enough to come clean entirely, but what did it matter.

Which is perhaps why I am reminded of this incident in the first place: it just didn’t matter. And I thought: this is what it would be like, would it not, to have a partner, an ‘other half,’ when they did something inexplicable, and it really just didn’t matter. I know him well enough to know he wasn’t stealing a woman’s handbag. There was never any chance of him, or me, taking anything out of it and keeping it. And it obviously fell to me to return the bag to its owner, because I was capable of doing so and I had the time to do so, while he had a job to go to, in Pentonville prison of all places. Plus I had sufficient distance from the incident itself to just handle it factually. It made no sense at all, but it made perfect sense. And so to this day I don’t know why it even happened. But then what do we ever know?

(I once spent about an hour or so, incidentally, on the phone to someone who didn’t know me, nor I him. I’d recently arrived in London, I was living in my first flatshare in Gloucester Terrace and we had a plastic payphone in the hall. It rang. I answered. He said, hello can I speak to George, I said, this is George speaking, and we talked. About all manner of things. For quite a while. A long while. I had no idea who he was, but he sounded nice and I was new to town so I assumed that sooner or later the universe would reveal to me whom I was having a conversation with, probably somebody I recently met and hadn’t quite filed anywhere in my brain yet. Then he asked me how my new job was going and I said, what new job? I’d been in my job for six months now, it was my first permanent job since I moved here. And then we realised we didn’t actually know each other. We laughed and told each other it was nice talking and wished each other a good life and hung up. I wonder does he still tell the story as I do?)

What do we ever really know…

{Displacement}

As I sit watching George sip his mojito, slowly, deliberately, the memories of the past and the memories of the future congeal to form a slush into which my brain slowly dissolves. I feel it already trickling out of my ear. The right one, as my head is somewhat rightward inclined.

I was, I was beautiful. I never once thought so then, and I most certainly don’t think me so now, but looking at myself then I cannot escape this devastating realisation: I was really beautiful.

My best friend in London, Michael, once asked, when looking at a picture of me from my teens, ‘how did this’—he points at the picture—‘turn into this’: he gestures at me. Between me and George lie three decades of the unknown.

Must it, though, must it be so unknown. If I’d known then what I know now would I not have avoided so many mistakes? Would these regrets, three or four only, maybe, but two or three of them profound, not simply have turned into gorgeous memories of ever fulfilling wistfully relivable ecstasy? Unaided?

Soon, I want to say to my young self, you’ll meet, quite by chance, a boy who is so roundly adorable, so sunny, so sweet, so entirely lovely, that you’ll feel in a trance for six days around him. He will call you, on your answerphone, and say: ‘Hello, it’s Stefan here, I’m a friend of Soandso who’s a friend of Beatrice. She said I could give you a call and maybe stay with you for a few days in London?’ Once you live in London, George, you will have friends and friends of friends, and of course family and friends of family come to visit: you will not want for guests!

On this particular occasion though you may not be so keen, you may only just have arrived in your first flatshare and not know the others too well, but in particular also your best friend from school, Peggy, may be staying with you, for six weeks as it happens. How you ever got that past your still new flatmates whom you don’t really know yet will be beyond you once you get to the stage where you are me. But be that as it may, you will think—and Peggy will agree—and you both will be pretty much of a mind, that the last thing you need, or even want for that matter, is some strange boy who happens to be the friend of really in all seriousness an ex-girlfriend of yours to come and spoil your quality time together for you. You’ve never been one to say no, though, so you say yes, but you don’t want to change your plans, and your plans for the night he arrives are to go to the theatre with Peggy, and so you say to him, just ring the buzzer, there’ll be somebody around to let you in while we’re out; you can sleep on the sofa, make yourself at home.

So you go out with your best friend from your school days, Peggy, and you have a lovely time, and then you get back home, and on the sofa there is this unbearably cute little face, tucked into a sleeping bag, happy as peaches in lala-land, and you know you’re already a little in love. And you both look at him in unabashed wonder and you decide to let him sleep and when you all wake up in the morning you all feel like you’ve always been friends, and from then on you do practically everything together, you go out together, you drink together, you dance together; and at one point, and you don’t quite know how, probably because Peggy happens to be at school, she is, after all, here to learn English, you find yourselves sitting next to each other on your slim single bed and he’s wearing his funky skintight jeans and no top and you are wearing whatever it is you are wearing at the time, probably black, and you will nearly but not quite put your hand on his thigh or his hand and you bask in his presence and you cannot get over how beautiful is his torso, and how charming his smile and how big his blond hair, and you don’t know how you do it but somehow you let the moment pass and nothing happens at all and you won’t ever quite understand how you let that happen, because soon after he leaves and you write to each other once or twice only and he says something along the lines of he liked you and how wonderful a time you had together and that maybe it was better that nothing happened that day, it would only have spoilt things. This you will never be quite able to believe, you will forever know, deep at heart, that kissing him, holding him, caressing him, touching him, being with him would not have spoilt anything, it would simply have made those six days complete.

There’ll be that, I want to tell my young self: don’t let it happen like that, don’t let that moment pass. Live it, grab it, make a fool of yourself, risk him saying you’re overstepping a mark. It may be embarrassing, it may feel painful and cruel if he rejects you, but so is this, so is knowing you didn’t seize that day, that half day even, so is knowing you lived one afternoon less than you could have, as it turns out should have done. One afternoon? An early lifetime. Precious, precious days, while you are young. I want to extend my arm and put my tan and since late slightly freckled hand upon George’s. When do you stop thinking ‘what will he think?’ At what point will you simply not care? But then, should you not care? Is not the other person as far away from you as you are from them? Could not they make the first move, or say the first word; be first to break the glass that divides you?

And then it hits you, out of the blue: they don’t see the glass! They send all the signals, they make all the moves, they simply wonder why you don’t respond, and you wonder how can they not know that you’re surrounded by a bell made of glass: the sounds are muffled, the scent is dead, the gestures distorted, the temperature inside is always too high. The effort it takes you to break through to them is gargantuan. They just smile and think it strange that you barely smile back; the way that you read them would to them be entirely unintelligible. Suddenly it strikes you: you’re under a bell, George, and you don’t even know it.

I reach out to myself, but not to my hand, I put my hand on my shoulder instead. That seems to be more in tune with the overall situation. Oddly, this doesn’t surprise young me. George looks back at me, half-knowing, half expectant; a look that, as a youth, you might give your grandparent who’s about to say something really obvious, like: you’re an intelligent boy.

Being thus indavertently cast in the role of my dad’s father or my mum’s mother startles me and I withdraw my hand, almost too quickly. I need to think of a reason for having put it on my shoulder in the first place and so I say: ‘If you ever come to London, you must get in touch.’ It sounds like a disingenuous offer, saying this to my younger self, but with anyone else in a comparable case it would be perfectly genuine, and pure of intent, too.

He nods gravely. It hasn’t quite done the trick, I’m convinced, but George here seems to be un-further-perturbed. ‘This is nice,’ he says, in the involuntary generic understatement of the youth who hasn’t yet mastered the language, about his mojito. It’s oddly appropriate. This is nice, I agree without saying it, and instead I ask him if he wants another. Knowing now who I’m with, it doesn’t surprise me that he says ‘sure?’ with an upward inflexion that suggests question where there ought to be assertion. The young. If only I could make it lighter for you, thinner, the bell, more penetrable, the fortress of isolation around you. You will find a way. You will find a way: I have found a way, so will you.

Advice time. I’m about to say something along the lines of: just do what you want to do your way, or, it’s not going to be so easy, you know, but you’ll somehow muddle through, or, deep in your heart you know that no matter what the ups and the downs, you’re on a fairly stable track, like a roller coaster. And then it strikes me how ludicrous that is.

You’re not on a track at all, you’re in free flow. You have no way of knowing what’s right or wrong for you, you have to find out step by perilous step. Sometimes it will feel ridiculously easy and other times it will feel impossible. They will not understand you. Seriously. They will smile, but they will think: what the fuck? You have the right to be whoever, whatever you want to be, everybody else has the right to think what the fuck. At times you will feel: nobody gets me. At all. You will be so alone in the world that you will want to sit in a corner and cry, and you will sit in the corner and cry. You will need to be stronger than you ever thought you could be, because sometimes they will not just think what the fuck, they will hate you and say so. And you will wonder what have I ever done to you that you hate me, I have written some words. I have thought some thoughts. I have put them out there. Ah, I have trodden on your reality by putting them out there. And then you have to say to yourself: I have the right to write words and think thoughts and to put them out there, they have the right to hate me for it. It is not wise nor generous, nor really humane, but sadly it’s only human of them if they do so. Forgive them for being human.

Angular waitress is still nowhere to be seen, so once again I hold my hand up to Ahmed who takes my order for two more mojitos. ‘These are nice,’ I say to Ahmed, unnecessarily, ‘could we have two more, please.’ I wonder should I ask him at the same time if he knows a good place for me to stay, like a hotel he can recommend somewhere nearby, but then I realise what this might sound like to him, so instead I wait until Ahmed has gone, and I ask George here where he is staying. ‘Round the corner, at a hostel.’ To my utter relief George doesn’t ask me where I’m staying: I just realise what a potential trap I’ve set myself, when it occurs to me that I have a discontinuity here. At the time when I’m George, this place most likely doesn’t exist. It’s too now. So, past me is in my world, not I in the world of past me. But my world at this point ought to be Kingston-upon-fucking-Thames. Practical considerations and logic have both been rendered imponderable, by what I know not.

What do you want to be when you grow up? I ask myself and I notice I’m not saying this out loud and so I can’t tell whether this is Now Me asking Young Me or Young Me asking Now Me or Now Me asking Now Me or Young Me asking Young Me or all of Me at the same time.

Sundown. I shall wait until sundown. I shall hold out as long as George here holds out. I will I will just stay with me until sundown.

11 The Wood Pixie

We called her The Wood Pixie. None of us knew her. Still, it pleased us to make mild fun of her, not in an evil, vicious, or ill-tempered way, more in an abstract helplessness: there was this woman who had the man we all loved, and he was beholden to her.

We imagined her as sharp and fierce and incredibly demanding. There is no telling whether we were right to do so; it was just an impression we got. Not only did we not know her, we also didn’t ever really hear anything about her, other than that she existed. And so The Wood Pixie acquired mythical status, and whenever we found that he couldn’t make it to a party or said no to a dinner or did not invite us to his wedding, we relished imagining her stamping angry little feet on the ground, conjuring demons and casting terrible spells.

Once in a while though, he managed to escape. He knew it would not be forever—we knew he wouldn’t want it to be forever, because we knew, we imagined, he was already too lost to her—but just for an evening, now and then, or even, as on one occasion, for a weekend, to the country, somewhere nobody would find us, he would be able to get away and join us.

Another of our good friends had borrowed a house. It was a very large house, a converted barn, with dark wooden beams, an incredibly high ceiling, deep leather sofas, and the kind of beds where you dream you have gone to heaven, even before you’ve fallen asleep.

We were there for only one night, I believe, and really absolutely nothing much happened: we arrived. We must at some point have eaten some food, we drank wine or more likely champagne, because that’s what we tended to drink in those days, and we did a few lines. Maybe we played some games. Where the food or the wine or champagne or the lines had come from, I don’t remember: they simply materialised. Much like the house.

Even precisely who was there now is a blur. Four of us, maybe six? Certainly no large group and certainly nobody we didn’t know. I only remember him though, really, and obviously our host. I wished, I so longed, I hoped, I so willed the evening to get to the point where he would simply not care enough about who or what he normally was and forget about The Wood Pixie and allow me to snuggle up to him in his bed, and very possibly he would have done had I had the courage to sneak into it in the first place. But I didn’t. Non, je ne regrette rien, sauf… Sauf les temps quand je suis été lâche. Sauf les temps quand un amour ou une trame du hazard semblait possible, mais je n’avais pas le courage de tenter ma chance.

There have been two, maybe three, possibly, at a stretch, four. Two, three or four times when I didn’t have the courage to take the chance that was obviously there. (Or was it only ever there in my—wishful—imagination?) The weakness of being vulnerable. The weakness of not being able to show yourself vulnerable. The need, at all cost, not to be needy.

Morning came and I woke up in a bedscape of white softness, on my own. It so happened that he gave me a lift home in his red MX5. And then the killer line, as we sat next to each other, in worn leather seats, shades on, burning down the M4:

I: ‘That was a really excellent weekend.’

He: ‘Yes, and the best thing about it is getting away with it.’

I saw The Wood Pixie looming suddenly large, puffed up to overbearing proportions, but even she, with her frightening powers, would never know about this weekend, because he’d make it home before her, all obedient innocence. And he was pleased as punch about this, beaming like a boy, his eyes on the fast lane, the one that would get him back just in time, under the radar.

Later on I then once or twice saw a picture of her: she looked lovely. There is no reason at all to assume, to presume, that he ended up with the wrong woman, the wrong person. In fact I imagine the opposite. For him, all things considered, if not quite all told, The Wood Pixie was probably exactly what he needed, for him, she probably to this day is pretty much perfect…

{Seasons}

twinklings to

meanderings

fountains into streams

we shimmer 

then we die

though these be energies that linger:

my early autumn, your late spring 

our seasons out of synch, we could

if we were so inclined

nudge each a little, cheat 

ourselves into a 

summer 

of untold delights —

say we were otherwise 

compatible, we’d make

each other 

perfect

10 Secrets, No Lies

Everything can be true, to a greater or lesser extent.

Is what I imagine any less real than what I say before I do it, and when I do it is it then real or could I forget it and make it undone, or could I apologise for my faults, of which there are many, to myself, even, and having done so be forgiven, even by myself, or could I be better or worse than I am and still be the same, or is what’s in my mind any different to what’s on the screen black on white, and should I edit. And prune. And emend.

The bit of me that thinks I have no chance of survival outwith the trappings of civilisation knows that even this is as much true and as much false as I want it to be. Must everything be known, and to whom? Even my deepest inadequacies?

I stood in his bathroom, for no reason other than that I was round his house because he was helping me out by doing a piece of work for me that I couldn’t then do myself. The first time I saw him I was sitting at a desk in a large open room where maybe a dozen or so other people sat at or by desks, and we were all working on a project that was very exciting. It was exciting not because it had any meaning, but because the task was formidable, the challenge demanding, the technology thrilling; and the people assembled were good: they had crest-of-the-wave, or, as one of them liked to put it, ‘bleeding edge’ competencies. (I’m not sure I like the word ‘competencies’, but still; that’s the kind of context we are talking about…) There was no more of a point to any of it than there ever was to any of these corporate projects, beyond making a big brand look like what its executives could be coaxed into thinking was ‘cool’, and apart from one product that this particular project now helped this particular brand launch that was pretty crap on the inside but won hands down on design, the world would not have been any worse a place without any of what we were doing being done, but as I was sitting at my desk, making up inane scenarios of attractive young people using handsets, in walked the most attractive young person I thought I had ever seen. (If you imagine this as a film, here is where the music swells and—depending on genre and era—we may just go into slow motion.)

Since then, and several years of sporadically working together later, we had settled into a comfortable arrangement whereby I adored him and he let me do so. I once drunkenly at a party told him that I would never do anything to jeopardise our friendship, and he, similarly drunkenly, had shrugged his shoulders and said something along the lines of ‘that’s good to know,’ I can’t quite remember. Whenever we went out as a group, which we did now and then before he got married, I completely failed to disguise being smitten, which, after a while, became something of a running gag in said group: I adored him, he let me. There was nothing more to it. Now I’d asked him for a favour and he’d graciously said yes. I went round his house to help him do the work he was helping me out with and I went to the bathroom and there hung two of his shirts.

Maybe not everything needs to be told. Maybe some things are best left unsaid. Imaginations run wild. I stood close to his shirts that hung from a hook or a line on two hangers and guided one to my face and inhaled. Or did I think I would like to but couldn’t? It was as if he were in the room: for a moment I felt, this is you. Two seconds, three seconds, four seconds, five. That’s enough. You don’t cling on to that which undoes you. Or maybe you do, in your mind.

This is and remains my unending flaw (I want to say ‘tragic’ but ‘farcical’ would be more accurate): the realities of my heart are unhinged. I meet somebody, I fall for them, I imagine the world adjusted and changed, and project onto them my idea of perfection and see a settled ideal that requires no more explanation. The other person, more likely than not, is oblivious to any of this, and if I make the mistake to draw their attention to it and make them aware, they annihilate me with bewildered indifference, not unkind but bemused, not intentional, but lethal.

George has been looking at me as if he were studying me, and I still wonder does he know who I am. Not ‘know’ as in possess factual evidence, of which none can exist, but know as in sense, as in experience that profound certainty—inaccurate though it may be—that you have when you are in a reality that compels.

Ahmed arrives with our second mojito, and I think there would be something tremendously entertaining about getting drunk with myself. That would undoubtedly loosen things up, I fancy, if we both simply got plastered. Then again, it’s still only about two, two thirty in the afternoon, I still don’t know why I’m here at the Limonlu Bahçe in Istanbul and I can’t begin to think where I’ll be spending the night, but then there is really no hurry about any of this, and it occurs to me: we could go for a walk, but that would entail leaving this delectable oasis, it would mean dodging traffic and weaving through throngs of people, and it would mean being reminded that there is a world out there that is simply there and cannot, in essence, be argued with, whereas here, in the speckled shade of the trees, and with Ahmed and his angular colleague our waiters, and with the mojitos softening the edges of perception, and with George in clearly no more of a hurry than I am, I feel safe and, more than comfortable, content. Content just to be, and to be for a little while longer.

I look at him and think: you’re going to be just fine. Just don’t make all the mistakes I’ve made and keep making, right to this day. I can be so very inept, sometimes. He looks back at me, and I think he knows what I mean. And I say: ‘I do not understand my heart at all.’ And I don’t.

9 Dust

Maxl has left and I go over the flat with the Dyson and some degree of resentment, directed not at Maxl, though clearly over the six months or so that he’s been here he never once did the same, and neither did I over the six months or so that he’s been here, because let’s face it: he’s the houseguest, does he expect me to go around and clean up after him? Then again, he’s the houseguest, so do I expect him to go round and clean up after me? Clearly not. And since neither of us found it necessary to go round the flat with the Dyson for the six months or so that we’ve been here together, to clean up after each other or let alone after ourselves, there is now a considerable amount of dust about the place.

I end up cleaning up after him because he leaves with a hug and a, ‘so this I suppose is goodbye,’ which it is only in as much as he’s not staying here any longer, he’s moving across town to North London and we’ll be seeing each other by the end of the week.

And so, no, my resentment is not of Maxl, whom I love and continue to love even though I’m seriously glad he’s moved out now, my resentment is of the dust. Dust in itself to me is objectionable to the point of being offensive. Why make people dusty? Isn’t that just adding insult to injury? I pause and reflect: what injury? The dust twirls around in the Dyson and I look at it this way instead: the good thing about leaving a little dust to accumulate in the flat is that when then you go round it with a Dyson you really notice the difference. Both in the flat, which suddenly seems altogether less, erm, dusty, but also in the little Dyson which visibly fills up, and you think most of this is just dead skin cells: I litter my space with this; how many Dysons have I filled since, well, ever?…

I look at George and I notice we haven’t said anything for a while now and that has not felt strange, it has felt comfortable. As comfortable as it should when you are sitting opposite yourself—even your much younger self—and you are actually quite happy to be there: with you, but not you. That was now, and this is then. I opt not to ask him any more questions for at least another such moment, and he looks at me and seems content. The moment is so comfortable that I try to remember it from his perspective, and it feels like I can, though it’s much more likely that I can’t and that I’m just constructing that memory in my mind even as I reflect on it, like a seven-dimensional puzzle. We’re coming to the end of our mojitos and I catch Ahmed’s eye.

{Detour}

The incident with the van was unnecessary.

It never really happened, of course, but that, considering how unnecessary it was, may be just as well. I had found myself on the edge of a village called Checkendon, waiting for someone to pick me up from the Cherry Tree Inn where I had spent part of the night. The other, earlier part, I had spent in a converted barn making up words to no end. These words were then taken by four or five individuals of varying degrees of expertise, importance and relevance to the task in hand, and essentially messed around with, much in the way I don’t like. Since it was a job I was being paid to do and that I had no emotional investment in, I kept a half-pained smile on my lips and retained some other words within, unspoken.

By 1:30 in the morning it had been decided, by one person or another who was in some way or other involved with the project, that it was now time to call it a night. So Timmah swung on his motorbike, and I was given a lift by someone else to a B&B somewhere in the countryside, where, having had only three hours sleep the previous night, I immediately went to bed but did not immediately fall asleep.

Instead, I lay awake for a few minutes pondering what my life had come to and wondering whether Timmah felt, as I did, that it would be comforting and reassuring now to hold on to each other, to curl up in one bed instead of the two and to rest in each other’s arms for a while. The option existed of knocking on his door and asking him outright, but I was too tired, and also—as so very often before—I felt that doing so might just jeopardise our easy and uncomplicated friendship.

I woke up amazingly refreshed. I am not good in the morning. I do not get up and trill a summery tune. I do not sing in the shower. I don’t (at this point in my life) yoga and I don’t jog. The only time I get to see dawn is when I’m still up from the night before. But the job in the barn appeared to demand that having left there barely six hours before, we return and continue the dance of irrelevance. Timmah and I had a hearty breakfast which—it later turned out—I enjoyed more than he did, and he then swung himself back on his bike, while I waited for the shortish man with the blonde eyelashes to drop by and pick me up in his car, as he’d promised he’d do the night before.

This took a little longer than I expected because apparently he forgot, and so after breakfast I checked out and sat myself at a wooden garden table outside the pub, enjoying the early sunshine and continuing to ponder the stark insignificance of my own existence.

I was just getting to the point where I thought there’s only so much pondering you can do without anything actually happening, when a rather large man in a larger still van appeared, not quite out of nowhere, but still unannounced. He drove up to nearly as far as he could across the gravelled parking lot—otherwise empty—and purposely decabbed, opened the back, took from it what looked like a plastic tray of something or other and carried it to what one imagines must be the tradesmen entrance or the kitchen, his protruding belly leading the way.

What happened next is, of course, pure fantasy, but what do you do when you’re in the middle of nowhere, called upon to go back to the outskirts of somewhere to pursue the pointless depletion of your brain at the hands of a bunch of people you have nothing in common or store with (except, most certainly, Timmah) and who drain your soul, talking and thinking and living in terms of things that are ‘key’, when in front of you is a getaway van. Stuff in the back, probably food to last for a week, or at any rate something that has at least some sort of value, intrinsic or not. Engine running. Cab door open. Driver at least twenty, maybe thirty seconds off guard. Possibly more. He’d never dream of somebody doing what I did next. A few seconds passed. Tic. Toc. Toc. Tic. No sign of him yet. Cab door open. Engine running. I would be caught within minutes. Or would I?…

I peel off the pub bench on which I had perched and pick up my backpack, not very large. I take two paces towards the van, maybe three. No sign of the driver. What is he doing? Probably having a chat with chef. Or with the girl at reception, more likely. Twenty paces, twenty-four. Thirty. I’m not really counting. I step up to the door nearest me, passenger side, on the left. The slide across to the driver’s seat will be awkward. I unsling my backpack, when: ‘Oi!’

Large man looms even larger as he strides towards me red-faced with rage. For once, my brain cells don’t desert me. Cool as a cucumber I reach across the wheel and turn off the engine. Slide back down, re-slinging the backpack, and look at him frankly, as he approaches. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, I thought you might be a while…’

Fucking this bloody that and the usual, but my boldness, I believe, stunned him, into submission. He slammed the back shut, heaved himself into his driver’s position and, revving loudly, took off. He could have crushed me. Decked me or punched me. Nothing of the sort. He just made his departure loud.

I felt a little prouder that morning than I had done before. Not for infuriating a simple bloke, but for daring myself. Perhaps, I then thought, that’s my lesson today: perhaps I should simply adopt a more adventurous lifestyle and push myself further, a little, now and then, to the edge…