A repost of one of my favourite photographs that I’ve taken, probably from a few years ago now.
I have been shooting incorrectly for the majority of the time; it took me just one trip with the well-informed to tell me that. I should have known, I shouldn’t have shot from the hip, wasting film and time combined. Honestly, I have learnt my lesson, just hand me that last roll of black and white film and I’ll get your shot, the one that we both dream of on long hazy afternoons – the body laying silently, awaiting a brief exposure with your eyes focused on mine, the twin cradles of hips and shoulders turned towards me and only to me. As if in a dream the thin rivulets of your flesh cascade gently against the cold leather couch.
On developing I can see the flames licking the border of the shot, the deep blacks and greys helping to create shadow against the brilliant white of immovability. The mistaken shot turns into something more, an image captured that I had not originally cared to note.
Blue is the colour of my dreams, the inside and the outside worlds tilting but never quite fully falling over. The flutter of the leaves in the wind and the beauty of the sky’s colours urged me to look up, to embrace the vast emptiness of existence. No comfort was found, history meaning nothing to the future, but no comfort was needed. It wasn’t that life is on a constant knife-edge of imbalance, when is it not?, but the fact that I could embrace the now, the cold comfort of the wind and the cawing of the birds as my own. Distinctly my own, this moment and nothing more. That nothing, or rather no moment, truly mattered or matters in the great cosmic life course of universal matter. We were born and we will die, from whence we began we will return.
I love you and I need you, I wish that I could see you. I’m travelling down this corridor alone, strapped to this trolley with doctors by my side pushing through door after door. I can see the light shining but I’m not sure if it’s for me or if it’s for everyone around me. I cry out, not pain not in horror, I cry out in confusion. I need you and I want you, to be by my side again. Memories flood my frazzled mind, a skeletal hand clasps my own and tells me it will be alright, it will be okay. I can help but feel that this is a denial, that my body is failing even as I flail in the half-light of an under-funded hospital, staffed by sleep walking staff with the warmest of hearts.
I need you and I want you, I can hear voices in the corridor, not my own or those around me but others, crying out in equal pain or in anger at the wait. Where are my sons, where are my daughters? I wanted to say to grow up in peace, to love your family, friends and neighbours as one, to move on or to leave if you need to. We understand, we want you to be happy, we need you to be with us. I love and I need you, and I wish that I could see you.
The final corridor, my body is checked in. Checked once that I am who I say I am, that the arrows painted on my limbs are correct and that my brain is related to my body and my body is related to my name. I say I am who I am and they take it on board, and I’m made to wait at Heaven’s Gate. Two blonde angels guide me, make me comfortable on the slip green sheets which matches their sleek outfits. Only bras and knickers must be under their gowns I think, wondering who they share their bed and younger, supplier bodies with at night. My own is broken, battered and torn. A mess of surgical scars, shortened limbs but above average, well we won’t go into that but it is according to a litany of my previous lovers.
I want you and I need you, I wish that I could see you. I laugh, laugh at the futility of it all. The drugs, I yearn for the warmth of the morphine, of the wicked sleeping potion to crawl up into my veins and up into my arm and to flood the chest cavity and consciousness itself. I yearn to sleep with no dreams, where the minute that passes is not a minute but a moment between awake and awake. My eyes linger on one of the angels, filling in the paperwork in the corner of the room, haloed by broken bodies on stripped back beds.
I need you and I want you, I wish that I could see you. I’m moving, I’m moving, but I’m not moving, there are no words for this. Through the first set of doors I am pushed, name confirmed once more. Am I aware of what is going to happen to me and why it is happening? Yes, yes I scream still dreaming of the green robed angels in the theatre waiting room. Just do it, yes the heart always beats fast. I need you and I want you, but I just can’t seem to see you. I stare at the anaethetist’s eyes as the plunger is gently but firmly pressed down, a milky white liquid seeps into my own bloodstream diluting reality.
I needed you and I wanted you, but I just can’t seem to have seen you. I wake as if I have been asleep for years. I crave water, yearn to drink a thousand litres of the freshest water available. I want to drown in crystalline lakes and to never wake. A tube has been down my throat, a mainline into the neck is still present. I wish that I could have seen you, I’m sorry to have left you. I close my eyes again.
How could I possibly tell her that I had thought we had a future together when these thoughts alone were just the remanent of fragmented dreams, and that those dreams were recalled by the half light ecstasy of sexual mores that only I could gain personal satisfaction in? No, these feelings and lust-filled thoughts were just that. They were simply a morning temptation before the creeping light of dawn awoke me fully to the realities of the day ahead. I held the phone in my right hand, her number displayed on the screen with a text half-finished underneath. I reread the message and cringed in shame, the liquid warm against my belly whilst I drew deep breaths. Deleted. For the betterment of us both.
Besides I had double English to attend and I still needed to scrub the sleep from my eyes, shower and dress. The walk to the college alone would take twenty minutes and I had an hour at the most to get ready, prepare for the class and to arrive on time. Timekeeping was never a strong point for me, the lack of punctuality ran in the family and infuriated my mother continually throughout her children’s adolescence. My eldest brother, for I was one of four and the second youngest of our parent’s brood, would drive my mother crazy by getting up late, sometimes comically late and especially so if we had to be somewhere on time. This would then cascade a chain of fury from my mother to my father, who got annoyed on her behalf before the fury finally found us, his younger brothers. Once we were out of the house however we were fine and I think Dad sensed this when he saw the frustration spreading and urged us out as fast as was humanely possible.
The house was empty this morning though so I could blast the music, keep the bedroom door open and move about freely as naked as the day my poor mother had pushed me out. I loved it – the feeling of an empty house where my favourite music reverberated from wall to wall; where I could eat quickly before I jumped into the shower, laughing as I did so as the water followed and flowed over the contours of my limbs and ran down my thighs. They were where the thick surgical scars outlined the orthopaedic surgeon’s fixation. I was proud of these scars, they were my personal tattoos of a specific time and place, my memories of pain and pleasure entwined to produce a better me (or so the hope went).
The first lesson passed without incidence, we learnt of the black ram tupping the white ewe and the lecturer expounded on what this meant for the play, for the deft characterisation and turn of phrase the author was so well-known for. I wondered of his contemporaries, of his hopes and dreams. I wondered what became of his loves and hungers, what his reaction would be if he knew that his plays would be enacted out four centuries hence whilst his fellow playwrights would lie largely forgotten in the lands that birthed them. But still, I had the break to look forward to where I would see her and think ashamedly back to my morning scene. I wanted to hold her hair in my hands and look deep into the blues of her eyes. This was a fantasy, the girl who I would later call my partner had brown eyes and curly hair, she wasn’t the person who I had dreamt of whilst I had lain in bed, regretting the passing of the minutes that I was powerless to stop.
This was the contract, signed by us both. Remaining friends but no more, the blushes of a late teenage crush hidden by a mop of hair. Instead I put aside my fantasy of my cheek against hers, my lips kissing hers, my body entwined with hers, and put our friendship on a higher plane. There was no underlying hidden moral heroism driving this, it was purely the shame of not trying and never asking for her hand. The joy of seeing her and sharing stories over drinks replaced this erotic dream of mine, one that I had subconsciously harboured since school and let blossom fully at college. Instead I focused on the give and take of friendship. The unsaid declaration of the fact that she and I were always willing to be there for one another, at the end of a text, a phone call or in person, that it remained hanging in the air never needing to be vocalised.
Taken by the author with a Pentax S1a camera using Lomography Lady Grey film. If reproduced elsewhere please credit as appropriate.
The office I worked in dealt with applications from students and our daily targets were monitored and recorded for prosperity, and to check against what was and what wasn’t correctly documented in our individual tally sheets. Of course these sheets were digital spreadsheets that were specially formatted for each different piece of work that was allocated to the worker. The spreadsheets highlighted how much allotted time was given dependent on the category that the piece of work fell into, whether we’d have five minutes to complete it or ten minutes. Simple pieces of work could be given only a few minutes whilst more complicated pieces, such as responding to emails with extensive trails or queries, were given a timing of a quarter of an hour or more. We felt that luck was on our side when one such piece of work fell out of the electronic basket and into our caseload, we had time to breath, to relax, to look into the faces of the person sat beside ourselves and to realize that we each went through the same, day in and day out.
Many kept to this electronic tally, toting it up at the end of the night by memory or by scrolling through the master sheet. I, unlike many of my work colleagues, kept a ink tally in Roman numerals of each type of piece of work that I had completed that day. Towards the end of the evening, when we each heaved a sigh of relief and gladness that the working day was over, I looked down with fondness upon my scrap of paper to find an ever changing squiggle of lines, crossed and solitary, segmented by type and time.
It was the last action of the working shift that so pleased me, that I could scrupple up the piece of paper with my jottings on, tear it in two if needs be and thrice more into smaller pieces so that no readable piece remained, and declare that I was the master of myself once again. No greater feeling of satisfaction came with the job then that final action of labour destruction, or rather rapprochement that my work towards the whole could be so simply and so justifiably torn up. That my value as a worker was counted as so little that I needed to be constantly monitored for each and every movement within the workplace, each piece of work accounted for and judged against the character of my soul. The residual of feeling of loyalty, that thinning pool of employee liquid that had somehow lingered through the various turbulent governmental changes and process improvements, now felt at a very low ebb indeed. It could evaporate at any moment.
My action was, in its way, a minor everyday rebellion at the absurdity of employment itself. That each man and woman shall spend a third of their life strapped to the face of labour so that the other third can be slept through and the final third can be lived in a state of fretful suspense. It is perhaps not fair to categorize in this way what so many want, what so many need, but for me it is not enough nor is it a rightful use of the labour market. To rebel, in whatever fashion is feasible or at least in which way is not detrimental to your standards, is to acknowledge that you recognize that this is so. Such is life.
‘They had plenty of talent and some success, but this was England after all, where no one – least of all a good painter – was really rewarded or punished; in England, whatever your profession, you made your own life.’
Paul Theroux in The Kingdom by the Sea (1983).
I’m currently reading one of Theroux’s travel books that I have not read before, a now rare occurrence. I’m a big fan of travel literature, especially of Theroux’s (why yes, I have read his latest on the American South). Partly I think because it means I can travel in my mind when my body cannot. Reading does this to a person though, regardless of circumstance. It lifts you above what you know and what you think you know, it forces you to don someone else’s view point to discover the world, and the people in it, anew.
I haven’t swam in the sea this year and I haven’t swam in fresh water either. This saddens me as long term readers of this site may remember that I love swimming; I love the feel of the body gliding through the blue, the grey, the swirling torrents of frothing waves. I miss the sun above my head, the all too often grey clouds amassing in the distance as my arms brush against seaweed, a mini chloroform power station floating in the middle of the brine. I miss the shouts and the giggles as the bracing waves slap against puckered skin in early autumn, of two brave and lost souls powering through content in a cold embrace.
The sea, the sea, my soul cries for its limitless horizons and its unknowable depths.
I am having trouble conveying the feelings that I am having, the fact that I want to write, to keep writing, but cannot quite formulate exactly what I want to say. At the moment I am finding a deep release through music, either through live gigs or listening to albums as I drive across the northern landscape of the country I inhabit. Often, on a morning when I wake, I play the album in the CD player and wash myself in the tones of whoever is playing. It is a sweet relief. There is an immediate sense of feeling, of a placement on a particular chord or orchestral swell, that rush of recognition that can only come with time when reading the words of others. Yet I feel there is a deep kindred between these two methods of communication, two of the most important for me. Yes, of course we talk, we can express our desires, worries, love and anger through talking, we gesture too, we can laugh or howl with derision, but there is something in the beauty of the written word, in the musical note, that is lacking from the babble that vocalizes forth from the mouths of both myself and of others. What does this say about me? I am not quite sure I want to know, that maybe I value the thoughts and beliefs of others, but worry about giving a voice to my own? Perhaps.
This isn’t the piece or the time to give voice to such ill thought out ideas or half formed theories. I want to keep writing, I want you to keep reading, I want us both to keep being creative, to tap into that font of magic that cannot be commercialized, crunched down to size for productivity measures or customer service satisfaction. I feel in limbo, between the world of what is expected of us all as individuals, in a market where we have to pull our weight to feed our commercial gain, compared to a more utopian paradise where the value of a person is not placed on their output, or their labor. It is ridiculous to think of such thoughts, ridiculous to think that I am free to think such thoughts, to moan about a life well lived. But I do, we all do, no matter our position, social standing or inherent bias built into us. We are all individuals and we are all a collective. Together we love, destroy and displace.
I am having trouble writing. I am staring at the computer screen each and every day. It is, I realize with a disgusted shudder, a proxy for human interaction, for skin on skin. Yet still I come back for more, in the vain and vapid belief that this is a life well lived, that this is life itself. Humans need the company of the animals and plants, of the soil itself, to know that we do not share this planet alone amongst our kind. We are but one of many and I feel that this is forgotten more and more. Ignorance is bliss until the world collapses around ourselves, and we are left choking on the markers of productivity.
Death has become a familiar friend as of late, in this last year of my life. This may be the last year of my life, I hope it is not but we never quite know what is around the corner. Surely we should grab it, if we believe it is so? Yet still, I lie in bed an extra hour, to soak in the sonic variations and textural tones of the current album spinning in my CD player. Content to know that, for the time being, this is where I belong. My limbs relax, my eyes flutter and close, finally my breathing shallows. It is a mere shadow of true sexual ecstasy, but it is close.
The water lapped over my feet as I sat in the shallow surf, the sand acting as a welcoming cold blanket to hold the heavy weight of my sodden body. I was focused on watching the summer sun shimmer over the watery horizon, ascending to spend a day in the big blue eternal.
I happened to be only a stone’s throw from the rest of the gang back behind me, who were content rummaging in the post-apocalyptic coliseum-like landscape of an old concrete water tank. It was half demolished, half drained and half open to the elements but it still contained a small pool of still water, resting peacefully in the centre. It provided ample dry space to camp in overnight as we burnt wooden flotsam and jetsam to keep warm. We would watch entranced as the flames licked dry the wood, as they curled high into the air, as pieces of free floating ember drifted out over the water. Occasionally the concrete couldn’t handle the heat and a bit of rock or ‘crete would crack and shoot off like an errant lost firework. It was peaceful and it was beautiful.
We were cut off from the rest of the town by a train hill, had to enter this ruined landscape by a long concrete tunnel bored right through. It was a visual rite of passage as we lugged our crates of beer through it and pocketed the bags of mary for later use, all the while watching out for puddles or malformed bricks to trip us up.
Only by sitting in the shell of the constructed past could we engage with our present, stars twinkling in their heavenly domain above, resplendent in their peaceful beauty. I am pretty sure that anyone who saw us would not think the same, of our matted hair and corduroy. Throwbacks to the 90’s. We completed the scene with empty cans and deep laughs, of guitars and harmonicas played deep into the night.
They say now that the ground is leveled, cleaned and scraped back. Houses to be built by their dozen, a luxurious bolt hole for the wealthy. The landscape of a decomposing industrial wasteland has been deconstructed and reconfigured to fit the needs of an expanding people. Water tanks turned inside out and re-shod with wood and tiles, distorted bricks re-cast for the foundations. The sofas we used to burn now litter the beach in their full splendor.
But still, when the wind blows right, the scent of mary and the sea can still be smelt, a reminder of a time long past.