I haven’t been writing lately, due to work. I do have a new blog, though, which can be found at http://www.elchedailyphoto.wordpress.com – of which this post is a taster.
Allow me to reminisce briefly about a funny thing that happened to me one early morning thirty years ago. I was born! I climbed out of another human being’s body! Mental, right! Now I’m not going to claim that I remember any details from the day of my birth, because that would be an obvious lie, wouldn’t it? but I do clearly remember this – that when the midwife put me on the scales for the first time in that delivery room, she turned to my knackered looking mum and said, ‘Your son weighs 6 pounds and 2 ounces, which is quite tiny. Also – and I’ve never had to tell a new mother this before – half of that body weight is made up of thick, dark hair.’ To which my mother responded chirpily from just above the rim of her cup of tea, ‘Yea, that’ll be the Indian in him.’ Everyone gathered round was just about to chuckle politely, when a moment of silence descended for them to quickly ask themselves whether my mum’s little quip had been politically correct or not, everyone coming to the same conclusion: that this was the early 80s and we were in South London, so who really gave a shit? Also my mum’s granddad had been an Indian immigrant to Britain, so she was allowed to make comments like that, alright? Also, she never really said it, did she? This whole scenario up until now has been, if I’m truthful, made up as I go along. Why? Who knows? So yea, once everybody in the room had realised all of these things, they each allowed themselves a grin, before stopping what they were doing for a moment to enjoy a biscuit, picked from an assortment atop a plate that a passing ambulance driver had carried in to the room just seconds earlier. ‘I was just on my way home with this tray of biscuits, when I heard the screams of a newborn and followed my instincts (and my ear) to deliver this celebratory selection to the welcoming party! Congratulations!’ the nice man said. A hospital orderly then handed everyone a fresh cup of tea, for biscuits to be dipped in. My dad politely turned down his offering, however, preferring instead to dip a Custard Cream in his beer. Each to their own. And then the hairy newborn baby in the room (the hairy newborn baby that was me, remember) raised his tiny little finger into the air, cleared his tiny little throat, and asked in a voice that shocked people by how deep it was for a baby, ‘What about the welcomee? Doesn’t he get a biscuit, too? I could murder a Bourbon.’ Everyone looked at each other confusedly, saying nothing, before their minds were put to rest by the calming words of one of the doctors in the room, who said, ‘Don’t worry; he’ll grow into that voice one day.’ There was then a period of silence; a silence that was broken by my mum asking, ‘Can the same be said of the hair, doctor?’ The doctor’s words on this occasion were less reassuring: ‘Even if your son grew to the size of André the Giant, which he won’t, he will never grow into all that hair.’ This cultural reference worked better then that it would today because in 1983 everyone on the planet (mostly) knew who André the Giant was. Today, not so much. Today in a similar situation the doctor might say, ‘Even if your son grew to the size of Wikipedia, which he won’t, he will never grow into all that hair.’ Everyone just smiled silently at the doctor’s knowledgeable input; everyone except for the passing ambulance driver, that is, who broke the silence for the second time to say, ‘Hang on a minute! Is that what everyone thought was weird about the baby asking for a Bourbon – that he asked for it in a deep non-baby like voice? Not one of your confused expressions was brought on by the mere fact that the newborn baby just spoke? I thought we were all on the same page back then! Obviously not!’ My dad then uttered his first words of the occasion, saying, ‘Runs in the family, that. I been speaking since about three weeks before birth. Nothing weird about that.’ The ambulance driver was lost for words, literally, and so just shook everybody’s hand and left the scene. ‘I never knew that about you!’ my mum said to my dad, after the ambulance driver had shut the door behind him. ‘That’s because it’s not true!’ he replied, ‘How could I have been talking from before I was born? I can’t believe that worked!’ The midwife then tapped my dad on the shoulder and asked, ‘What was the point of making that up?’ to which my dad uttered his now infamous words, ‘I just said it without thinking first.’ ‘Genius,’ said the hairy newborn baby, ‘Genius.’ The hospital orderly collected up everyone’s empty mugs on a tray – she also took my dad’s empty can and said she’d find a bin for it – and then the midwife picked up the hairy newborn baby (aka Me) and said, ‘Right you, you’re coming with me!’ ‘Where’s he off to, then?’ my mum asked. ‘Remember I said that he weighed 6 pounds and 2 ounces, and that that was quite tiny? Well it’s very tiny; probably down to the fact that he wasn’t meant to be born for another three weeks,’ the midwife explained, whilst giving me a little beanie hat and telling me to put it on; which I did obediently. ‘Is that why he’s a bit blue?’ asked my dad from across the room. ‘It is, yes.’ ‘Ah that’s alright then, for a while I was secretly wrestling with the suspicion that my wife had been having a Smurf round the house while I was at work,’ my dad said. ‘So where’s he going then? You still didn’t tell us.’ ‘Oh yea, sorry, I’m a forgetful thing sometimes,’ said the midwife, giggling, ‘He’s going to live in an incubator for a while.’ ‘Oh. Okay then,’ my mum said, ‘Can you turn the light off on your way out, please, I’m about ready to pass out.’ The midwife picked me up and we headed to the door together. Just before she switched off the light she said to me, ‘Wave goodbye to your mum, if you don’t die then you’ll see her in a little while.’ ‘Wait! What?’ I said.
I didn’t die, and a week later I was taken home to meet the dog.
‘Put your gloves on, it’s cold outside. And hurry up, or you’ll miss Father Christmas!’
‘But what about Dad?’
‘He must’ve missed his train home from work. We’ll have to go without him. He knew what time we were leaving. Now come on, the pair of you!’
Disappointed as we both were that Dad was gonna miss out on a few mince pies and the chance to meet Father Christmas, who, by some incredible feat of persuasion my school had managed to book for a personal meet and greet session, for one evening only, and just a week or so before the busiest night of his year – I heard a rumour many years later that this was down to the school secretary of the time Ms. X, who had had an abortion on the quiet fifteen years earlier at the aggressive insistance of the unwilling father, and had never uttered a word of it to anyone since. Not until the day the Chuckle Brothers had cancelled at short notice the appearance they had been booked to make at my school for what seemed like forever. Everyone had been devastated by the news. Some kids reported that their parents had taken down the Christmas trees they’d only just put up a day or two before. It looked to some like Christmas 1989 was going to be cancelled. Ms. X couldn’t just stand by and watch helplessly. She knew what she had to do. She made the phonecall. Sure, getting the real Father Christmas to turn up at our Christmas fair would never fully fill the collective gap that existed in all of us as a result of missing out on meeting Barry and Paul Chuckle (Some of us kids had had a bet on who would be the first to say ‘To me, to you’ to them), but it would at least go some way to restoring Christmas – my sister and I both knew not to dilly dally. We were out the door with Mum and breathing in the crisp air, under the clear sky, illuminated with bright stars, walking down the hill to where the magic was to take place: our primary school.
*I feel I should point out that since hearing that rumour about Ms. X, I now know it to be false; made up by a couple of urchins that I shared detention with one afternoon. Well, I shared detention with them (and many others) almost every afternoon for four years. But that’s not my point. My point is the rumour was bullshit. While we’re clearing the air like this, I also want to get it off my chest that Ms. X wasn’t her real name.
My school (which seemed massive to 6-year old me, but looks no bigger than a few sunday league changing rooms joined together when observed through my grown-up eyes) was buzzing with energy, excitement and festive cheer as we walked through the main door and were greeted by a few of our teachers, who were dressed as elves. ‘Nice touch,’ I thought to myself. All the grown-ups did the ‘Merry Christmas! Here, you must try one of these mince pies!’ thing, while I entertained myself by sliding around on my knees on the polished floor. ‘Oh look, mine does that as well. Little buggers, ain’t they?’ one of the grown-up ladies said to my mum. My mum ignored her to march over and pick me up off of the floor by my collar. I stayed up.
‘Did not need this,’ I sighed to myself. ‘Really did not need this.’ My likely-soon-to-prove-fatal torment was accompanied temporarily by a soundtrack, one that brings me out in a cold sweat and the kind of rash that has people around debating the potential need for quarantine, each and every time I hear it, right up to the present day. And you’d be surprised just how often that mocking sound worms its way into my life, even now. Even now….. in my 30s. The taunting repetitive mechanical wheezing audio accompaniment to what I was sure were to be my final moments as a living human was coming from Thomas. Well, I called him Thomas, we were mates; but to those not on familiar terms, he was Mr. Tank Engine. I once heard The Fat Controller call him Tom. Thomas just muttered, ‘Don’t call me Tom, you fat controller.’ ‘What was that?’ ‘Oh nothing, I was just saying ‘choo choo!’’ And then he slid off along the tracks. But that had been then, and this was now. And now, Thomas was staggering around my kitchen floor, like a hairless hamster on ketamine (as a sidenote, once many many years later I found myself in the uncomfortable position on a stranger’s kitchen floor where I believed whole heartedly that I was a hairless hamster, only not one on ketamine. Turned out it was just me on ketamine) bumping occasionally into the skirting board. I couldn’t see him – I am having to trust the information my ears provided me to make this observation – all I could see was the top half of the mirror on the wall above the sink; the gap in the door to my left, on the other side of which Thomas mooched about aimlessly. (He would tire soon, his current burst of energy had been provided him by the turning of the key in his side, which I had taken care of just a couple of seconds before pausing our joyous play session, leaving the room and finding myself fighting for my life); and my knees. I could see my knees. I couldn’t really miss them, they were at eye level, a few inches from my face. I tried to move myself; to wriggle free. My knees were now above eye level. My feet were pointing up at the light in the ceiling. If I had been religious (or a moth) instinct may have driven me to attempt to go into the light. Who knows; for fortunately I was neither. I was also unable to move. Worse than all of this, the bottom of my arse was getting wet. I was sinking! I was going to get flushed away like a turd. A little, hairy turd. Again I sighed to myself, ‘Did not need this,’ (I had quite an understated and dry way of looking at the world as an infant) before shouting, ‘Help! Help!’
I may have blacked out for a moment, such was the traumatic nature of this episode, because I have no recollection of any moments passing between those cries and what I experienced next. I managed to open my eyes (which had both been closed due to fear) and there, standing over me, looking down with love in his eyes and a warm smile across his face, stood my granddad. He had heard my pleas and arrived from the living room to save my life. I would owe him for the rest of it. I was overcome with a feeling of complete love and gratitude towards this 50-year old man. He was clearly overwhelmed himself with the powerful bonding that was taking place, so overwhelmed in fact that it rendered him motionless to free me from my predicament. The realisation then hit that I had misinterpreted my granddad’s warm smile. He was laughing. The silent kind of laughing, induced by looking at something so funny it disables your voice box. I just looked at him. He looked at me. Nobody doing anything that could be considered productive. And then my granddad cleared his throat in an attempt to find his voice. ‘Janny, come and see this! It’s funnier than anything I could’ve imagined!’
‘Well then you are clearly the owner of a very poor imagination, Granddad. Would it not be funnier, for instance, if you had walked in here to find my head stuck in the tap? That’s just one example off the top of my head. I could think of loads,’ I said in my head.
One afternoon I was walking in an empty field, when I came across a parked car right in the middle. There was a girl sitting in the driver’s seat, the door open, rolling a spliff. Playing through her car’s speaker system was a progressive trance mix consisting of tunes that allowed me to immediately pinpoint the year – 2001. Or thereabouts. I walked right up to her and said, ‘Mind if I sit here?’ and then sat down on the grass in front of her door before she’d had time to respond. ‘I was drawn in by the tunes. I do like a woman who appreciates vintage,’ I said, and then immediately wished I hadn’t. What a shit thing to say!
But she said, ‘Are you a member of the tribe, yourself?’
And I said, ‘Nope.’
Her question threw me for a second, not least of all because it was completely irrelevent to all prior dialogue, but also for its personal nature.
About seven seconds later I broke the seven-second silence by saying, ‘Wait, I might be a bit confused here. When you just asked if I was a member of the tribe, you meant am I Jewish, didn’t you?’
She burst out laughing, before saying, ‘No! Why would I interrupt the discussion we were having about trance music, to ask you, in Jewish colloquial speak, if you were Jewish? Your brain’s weird. But I like that! No, I meant are you a member of the trance tribe?’
‘I’ve never heard that expression used before. Not for trance, I mean. I heard it used on Curb Your Enthusiasm a few times to refer to Jewish people. That’s why I assumed what I did.’
‘Really? I always thought it was a thing. I ask people all the time if they’re a member of the tribe, and I always mean the trance tribe. Anyway……’ there was a pause ‘…so what sort of music do you listen to?’
As she asked the question, I played back fondly in my mind the sentence she’d dropped in a little earlier about liking my weird brain. I also noticed a badge on her bag that said Fuck Religion!
I couldn’t help myself. ‘Christian rock, mostly.’
She just looked at me, not saying anything, as if she didn’t know whether she was meant to laugh politely or if I was being serious. Eventually she said, ‘Okay. That’s, um, different. To be honest I didn’t have you down as a Christian rock guy. Each to their own, I guess. Which artists do you like?’
I hadn’t planned this far ahead. I hadn’t expected my little throwaway joke to take on a persona all of its own. But that’s exactly what had happened, for the simple reason that I was now engaged in stimulating conversation with this girl that I thought was cool. And interesting. And hot. I wanted to keep it going. Thing was, I didn’t know the names of any Christian rock artists. I’d never listened to a Christian rock song in all my life. I was like a Jehovah’s Witness who had just heard the words, ‘Would you like to come in for a cup of tea? I’d love to read more of Watchtower Magazine’ – I had had no on-the-job training for this scenario. Luckily my brain was around to help me out. ‘Cliff Richard’ it said, and then so did I.
She shrugged, ‘Never heard of him.’
I was just imagining a parallel universe in which there was a me walking around who hadn’t heard of Cliff Richard. Utopia. And then she said, ‘Who else?’
I have smoked weed every day for the past four months, apart from the odd day when I’ve run out of one stash before the next has arrived, and I gotta tell you, I feel pretty good. Have done consistently for, um, at least the last four months. I haven’t done any drugs since the end of October. I’ve only had one drinking session this year. I don’t smoke cigarettes any more, the thought of one makes me feel grim, and I don’t even ever want a rollie. Until a few months ago I was a 20-30 a day man. Now no cigarettes. ‘But Kris, you still get through a load of tobacco that you put in your spliffs. You’re being a bit misleading there,’ ‘Yes, I know I still smoke tobacco in my spliffs, thanks for pointing that out anyway,’ ‘Was that sarcastic?’ ‘Nooooo,’ ‘Now that definitely was, wasn’t it?’ Anyway, my point is, I smoke weed and I feel pretty good.
I have a little ritual. Every night before I go to bed, I roll three spliffs and place them next to the bed, then I put clothes for the next day onto a pile on the floor next to my shoes, then I throw a satsuma (and sometimes an apple) on top of the pile, and then I read in bed for a bit. Just smoking and reading. Currently The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Verdict so far: good book. I’m pretty sure you’ve already read it. And then when I’ve smoked about half of the first of the three spliffs I turn off the light and go to sleep. I haven’t got a telly or access to a computer, so am keeping my evenings Dickensian. Except I’ve got an electric light instead of a candle. I wake at 6:30 to the gentle sound of this music, which I have set as my alarm tone. You might want to play it as the backing track to this piece of writing. You might not. I roll over and grab the half spliff. I light it. I get up and open the shutters to let the early morning light in. I put on the clothes that are piled up under the window. Then I get back onto the bed and smoke the rest of the spliff, listening to the music and waking up. And then at about ten to seven I put my shoes on, put one spliff behind my ear and one between my lips, stick the earphones into the phone to carry on listening to the music, and I quietly slip out into the morning for what I call ‘My Walk.’ It’s really just a standard walk. And I’ve got my satsuma with me. I just walk off into the Spanish countryside to enjoy the world for a couple of hours.
Today started like any other. I had been out for about fifteen minutes, was walking along this path, fields all around me, rabbits chasing each other around playfully, birds flying in majestic formation over head, the sun rising like a giant over my left shoulder, warming me. I checked to see if the phone that I was listening to music on had a camera. It did. Not a very good one. But it did have one. So I took this picture. Which I am sure you will agree is as beautiful as it is shit.
By the way, if you are one of the people who did decide to play the backing track to my story, you should now switch to this set. This is what I was by this point listening to myself. I feel it sets the mood a bit better.
It’s while I’m out on these early morning stoned rambles (the walking kind of ramble. The other kind of ramble, you are now an audience to) that my mind flows with geniusly witty observations, clever thoughts, amazing ideas, often amazing ideas for things to write on this blog. The downside is that there is never anyone there to hear any of these witty observations, clever thoughts or amazing ideas. No witnesses. But I definitely do have them, and they definitely are genius. The annoying thing is that I forget these brilliant ideas as instantaneously as my brain conjures them up, and by the time I get home from my walk and am able to write anything down, all that is left is the dregs. Good stuff – forgotten; boring nonsensical stuff – got loads. For an example of this, look no further than this post.