{Afterthought}

Every so often—ever so rarely—that feeling of a cold clean blade sliding under my skin and lifting the tissue off my bones: I can’t help but stare; not stare, but gaze upon in wonder.

I pretend to play Jass on my phone; I do play Jass on my phone, but my concentration is shot, I don’t remember what’s gone; I can see what is trump but I no longer care what it means: the boy sitting opposite on the tube, he’s not a boy, he’s a man; in his salmon coloured trousers with his caramel shoes over dark navy socks; his deep sea green jumper (or is that navy too?) his light glacier lake coloured shorts, showing a bit only between shirt and belt, a soft plain material, not briefs and not boxers; his finesculpted lips, his long dark chestnut hair and the ever-a-tad-absent expression. His tallness. The strength of his thighs by comparison.

He alights at Victoria.

I pull myself together. I have to pull myself together. I’ve written a book about him. About him and about all the others: there are only two or three or three or four, they are so so rare and so precious and so, so incomprehensibly beautiful. Let not it be said that I did not draw from that beauty the vernating breath of a melancholy yen.

Oh to be nineteen and a poet. Was I ever nineteen? I was once a poet; albeit briefly. Perhaps I can be so again…

5 Youth

Talking to the man who doesn’t need to shave fills in me a well of melancholy, sudden and post conversation. The conversation features the most delightful frog in short film history (yet to be made), among many other things that give me mirth and pleasure, not least looking into his silvery eyes. Unlike most other young men of an age at which they don’t have to shave, he holds my gaze, steady as a hypnotist. His eyes are memorably shaped, as if they were placed in his face upside down, just a little. Silvery grey.

The sadness sets in after I’ve left the party at which we spend a couple of hours or so talking as the sun goes down over the back garden. It’s more of a backyard than an actual garden, with wild grass growing all over and a neighbour’s dog actually digging up his there hidden bones. I’d never seen that before, other than in comics (and I’m not an avid fan or consumer of comics, haven’t been since I was about twelve). It’s not his youth that brings on my deep sorrow verging on despair, nor anything he said nor the fact that he is bright and well spoken, nor let alone that he doesn’t seem to need to shave. I reckon I must be close to twice his age but luckily not as old as his dad. His dad sounds ancient and excellent, formidable in one field or another. By age though, I could be his dad. This casts a pall of umbra over my otherwise sanguine disposition.

I know! I’m having my midlife crisis. It’s plain and perhaps just tadwise banal. I am projecting my discomfiture with the impending calamity of fifty onto the part of my mind that clings on to diversion for dear life. I make believe. The irksomeness of my situation begins to creep up on me, like a nebulous mist. (Tautology.) I have made it to midpoint completely unnoticed: I am invisible to the naked eye. And the next few days will have been cataclysmic, so small wonder I’m having an existential wobble. But the good thing is that this time I did not fall in love: not with my friend on the South Bank (though that would have been easy), not with the young man who doesn’t need to shave. (Easier still.) Most certainly not with Poshvoiced Hoodie and, no, not with the man in a blue shirt at Clapham Junction, should you wonder. (Have you ever noticed how many sprucely scrubbed men, tender in years and wearing ironed blue shirts, stand at any given station on any commutable morning… – It’s a rhetorical question?)

As well as being unfamous, I am also perennially poor. My chosen path of professional endeavour has so far yielded no hint of a fortune. This has the advantage that I remain unencumbered, I suppose, by wealth’s weight: what I don’t have I can’t lose, and I know more than I care to cerebrate that the things I own own me quite as much. Take my laptop for instance: without it I am nought. I have dislodged myself to the continent’s end, but my Mac is still here: I find that reassuring.

I will the straw in my drink to suck up one more residual sip of tomato juice laced with vodka, and it complies with a gurgling sound, which attracts the attention of a boy sitting two tables removed. He gives me a look of aloof disdain, and in his eyes, which are the colour of mine, I detect a familiar glint that I cannot put name nor nature to, no. He seems to consider disapproving of me but stops short of a sneer, and his very fine lips instead curl into almost a smile. I’m so surprised at this, I put down my glass and smile back at him, which changes his demeanour to a tinge of distaste.

He, much like the young man who does not need to shave and whom I am yet to meet, has no facial growth, and his lightly tan skin looks fluffdown soft. He appears as out of place here as I do, and quite as at home. Wherein lies a paradox that tickles me and I catch myself grinning just to myself.

The boy lets a few moments pass in contemplation of his plate on which there appears to have been a kebab or salad, as if to decide whether or not he should scrape the remnants of whatever it was with his fork or knife or even fingers (though he doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who, given the choice, would use his fingers to scrape up anything, let alone food); or maybe he’s versed in the mystical art of reading the scraps. As far as I can tell from where I’m sitting (and without ungainlily craning my neck) it looks unlikely that the plate is going to yield up much insight. He appears to come to that same conclusion himself and now looks up, but not at me or at anyone in particular, but into the generality of the world straight ahead, a little bemused and distracted.

I feel like I know him already but clearly I don’t. I have no idea. I have a looming sense of foreboding.

Insomnia [3]

Several weeks pass, during which I do my utmost to get at the Rumantschness of it all. This involves me using a long planned trip to Switzerland to traipse up into the Rumantsch-speaking part of the mountains and listen to their glorious choirs singing in small but packed churches, talking to native Rumantsch speakers (in Swiss German) about Rumantsch as a language, about their roughly half dozen dialects or ‘idioms’ (some of which don’t even understand each other), and about Rumantsch culture.

I find out that there is really not so much of a Rumantsch tradition as there are small local traditions that fall under the Rumantsch umbrella, but much as with Swiss German, which has many more dialects, some of which also find it difficult to understand each other, many people identify much more with their regional dialect than with the language overall.

The Rumantsch dialects take their names from the valleys where they are spoken, or from the nicknames their speakers were given by their neighbouring valley dwellers, and to me they sound like poetry, like characters in a mythical story about great heroes, fabulous creatures, and the eternal melancholy of the mountains: Sursilvan, Vallader, Putèr: the people who live above the forest, the people from the valley, the porridge eaters; Surmiran, Jauer, Tuatschin…

Everything about the life of the people I thus encounter is so different to my life, everything about their history so remote from my history, that I might as well have landed myself in a different world, on a different planet, but I am fascinated, intrigued. Humbled, fairly, too, to think what harshness, what overpowering awe they have, over generations, had, and learnt, to contend with, from these alps, from this seclusion, from this climate: they can be extreme.

I don’t speak to or otherwise communicate with Edgar for much of this time, seeing that he is generally busy, at least as busy as I am; and going by the convenient adage that ‘no news is good news,’ I assume him to be well; and I feel content, immersed in my new ‘project’. It isn’t so much a project as the pursuit of a trail that I happened upon (was really pointed towards, by Edgar), following it now out of sheer curiosity and that ever persistent Lure of the Alien. That which is different. The other, the new. It is not new to any of these people that I meet with and ask for accounts of their families’ histories, and they look at me with a mixture of indulgence and bemusement, but I mind it not. They are wondrous to me, even exotic. They are not exotic to themselves.

Enriched with audio recordings, video clips, and a raft of pictures of possible locations and all manner of Rumantsch paraphernalia, I return to London to start drafting my treatment, and I forget, for another several weeks, completely Edgar’s condition.

At the same time, I fall back into my own nocturnal pattern, staying up usually until three, four in the morning, or until my eyelids droop and I fall asleep, either having made it to bed around then, or occasionally also on the sofa, having watched Newsnight and intended to hang about quite a bit longer, or—this is quite rare—actually hunched over my laptop and realising I really have to get some sleep now. The worry about worrying about Edgar thus dispersed, I also don’t worry about insomnia, and so, quite naturally, my own brief flirtation with what to me had always seemed at worst a relatively minor inconvenience appears to have ended. I remind myself that to people with insomnia it is anything but a minor inconvenience, and I wonder have I been selfish, so I decide to check on Edgar:

‘How are you doing?’

‘I’m doing fine, thanks, and you? Making progress?

‘Of sorts. I should have a first draft in a couple of months or so.’

‘I look forward to reading it.’

‘What are you reading right now?’

‘I’ve been reading Chaucer and rereading Pico della Mirandola.’

‘Amazing.’

‘They are.’

‘You should read Shakespeare’s sonnets.’

‘I have.’

‘You could read them again. – Are you sleeping?’

‘Not much. Are you?’

‘Back to normal.’

‘Were you not sleeping normally before?’

‘I’d been worried.’

‘About what?’

‘You, mostly.’

‘Aw. That’s sweet, but unnecessary.’

‘I know.’

‘And why did you stop worrying?’

‘I got absorbed in the Rumantsch thing.’

‘That’s good.’

‘I know.’

‘Are you getting at the Rumantschness of it all?’

‘I think so: I’ve been talking to dozens of people, including the descendants of the man who wrote the story about the brothers. They’ve been helpful.’

‘Do they mind you plundering their family annals?’

‘No, they seem a bit puzzled by my fascination with them. But they’re forthcoming, of sorts.’

‘That’s good.’

‘I know.’

I’m about to hang up, when it strikes me:

‘Have you ever considered doing some research into why it is that people cannot sleep?’

‘Not really, no.’

‘Perhaps you should.’

‘Why?’

‘Well, perhaps if you understood the reasons why people have insomnia, then you could mitigate against suffering from it yourself.’

‘I don’t suffer that much, I’m taking melatonin.’

‘Melatonin?’

‘The sleep hormone.’

‘You’re taking hormones.’

‘Temporarily.’

‘I hope temporarily. – You shouldn’t be taking them regularly over the long term.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because they might do damage. Most drugs do.’

‘It’s not a drug, it’s a hormone.’

‘Well quite: it might unbalance your hormone household.’

‘It might?’

‘I’m no expert.’

‘Neither am I.’

‘You could read up on it: you’re an expert on most things.’

‘I have recently become an expert at Go.

‘Go?’

‘Yes, the game.’

‘That’s quite difficult to get expert at, isn’t it.’

‘It is. Oh and Peruvian llamas. They’re really quite whack. Did you know people use llamas to guard other animals, like sheep, for example?’

‘I did not.’

‘It’s fascinating: though it’s best to use a female llama or one single gelded male, apparently. If you use two or several gelded males they tend to hang out with each other and ignore their charges.’

‘Haha, that makes sense.’

‘And I know an awful lot about bamboo too, just in case you wondered.’

I hadn’t really wondered about anything near as specific as that, but I’m glad to hear that Edgar’s palette of expertise keeps growing, randomly, it appears.

Another two months or so go by quickly, and I hammer away at my treatment of the two mercenary brothers until I have got it in some sort of shape that I feel surprisingly happy with, and I give it another couple of days and read it through once or twice more and tweak it, and I reckon that’s it, that’s my Draft One Point Two (you never send out a Draft One Point One, to anybody; most people would advise you never to send out a Draft One at all), and I pick up the phone and call Edgar. He doesn’t answer, it goes to voicemail. He must be in the shower, I reckon, or be talking to someone in China, or cooking (though he’s not a late eater, and it’s just gone midnight here, so it will be just gone one in the morning there), or working out a problem that interests him; he’ll call me back shortly, I reckon.

He doesn’t. I wonder what might have happened to him, but before I can really worry—and having rather resolved not to worry about Edgar again, because it’s so patently unnecessary—I go back to work and do some more fiddling, until I doze off and briefly wake up again and decide it’s time to go to bed; and I go to bed and fall asleep. Edgar calls me at ten in the morning, bright and breezy:

‘Edgar! How are you?’

‘Magnificent. How are you?

‘I’m well. You had me worried last night.’

‘Why?’

‘I thought you had fallen asleep or something.’

It’s my feeble attempt at a joke. It fails:

‘I had.’

‘You had?’

‘Yes! Thanks to you!’

‘You’re welcome. What happened?’

‘Well I thought I should probably wean myself off the melatonin and allow my body to produce it itself in the required quantities at the appropriate times…’

‘Quite.’

‘…and so I stopped taking it.’

‘And that solved your insomnia.’

‘Of course not. It made it worse.’

‘Oh dear.’

‘Then I thought maybe you’re right, maybe I need to become an expert on this, so I can treat myself more effectively in the long term.’

‘Oh amazing: you’re now an expert on insomnia!’

‘I am nothing of the sort.’

‘Ah.’

‘I started doing some research, at a basic, you know, Wikipedia level, and it sets out really quite interesting.’

‘I imagine.’

‘But then you realise that there are a million possible reasons and as many possible interventions, and so there’s zero scientific consensus except some pretty obvious observations about common sense behaviours and unending lists of things that may or may not be the case; and before I knew it I got so bored reading about it, I fell asleep.’

‘Result.’

‘Well yes. And the best thing about it: it’s repeatable. Like you with your Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It works every time, it’s amazing. In fact, it works better now and faster, than it did three weeks ago, when I first discovered it: I now practically just have to google ‘insomnia’ and I start to feel drowsy, it’s almost Pavlovian.’

‘Congratulations.’

‘Thanks! – So, what’s new?’

‘Oh: the treatment.’

‘Ah yes?’

‘I think I’ve cracked it.’

‘You have?’

‘Well I think I’m close: I’ve got a draft.’

‘Cool. Send it over.’

‘I will.’

And I do. And I’m wondering what he’ll make of it, what will come of it, what to do with it, where to send it next, who to pitch it to, how to proceed, with what chance of success, if any; what’s ‘success’ in this context, anyway; perhaps I went about it all the wrong way, this may have to be much more dramatic. Or funnier. Or tighter, I tend to lose myself in tangents, sometimes, but I didn’t really in this case; maybe it needs to be looser; perhaps it needs to be more broadly relevant; more culturally representative, more authentic, surely; surely that: way more authentic, wittier, warmer, dryer and softer. Sharper, more humane—is it really the brothers’ story that matters? Could it not much more be the mother’s?—more diverse, more character-driven, with a more female perspective, more up-to-date, more historically accurate, and altogether much more Rumantsch.

And so yes, here I am, lying awake through the night, wondering about the Rumantschness of it all, with a picture in my mind of a posse of guardian llamas, chilling in the grass, chewing the cud, an air of sophistication about their general nonchalance, and the flock or the herd or the peep they’re supposed to look after just nowhere to be seen…


< Insomnia [2]

 

{Afterthought}

This post has moved. You can now find it here.

 

EDEN was originally published in random order. Starting 1st August 2018 it is being reposted in sequence. To follow it, choose from the subscribe options in the lefthand panel (from a laptop) or in the drop-down menu (from a mobile device).

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5 Youth

This post has moved. You can now find it here.

 

EDEN was originally published in random order. Starting 1st August 2018 it is being reposted in sequence. To follow it, choose from the subscribe options in the lefthand panel (from a laptop) or in the drop-down menu (from a mobile device).

If you are the owner of the link that brought you here, please update it; or if you know them, then please do let them know.

 

Thanks & enjoy.