I’m Back In 1995

15 Dec

Lately, when I lie in the darkness at night smoking a couple of spliffs in bed and switching off from the day spent traipsing all over teaching my students English, I’ve been having vivid flashbacks to my childhood. Random stuff. Never anything particularly significant. But one memory always leads on to another, and I am there, back on the school field or sat in detention or on Western Road in Brighton doing Christmas shopping with my sister, my nan and my aunt. I can smell it. Hear it. Feel it. Tonight is no different, but for the fact that I don’t have to get up for work tomorrow morning on account of a chest infection, meaning I can sit up in front of my laptop and write some stuff down. I am aware that smoking with a chest infection makes me an idiot.

For some reason tonight my brain took me back to an eventful day in the early months of 1995, when I was 11, playing out like a film in my mind’s eye, with 3D glasses provided free of charge, scenes that had been absent from my memory for well over a decade. Bizaare scenes.

It’s about half past one in the afternoon and, unlike most of my mates, I’m not in class but rather the school hall. I’ve been excused from lessons because I’m in the school production and an emergency rehearsal has been called because the performance date is approaching and we’re shit, basically. Nowhere near ready. My role in the play is a small one so most of the time it’s other people rehearsing their bits while I’m sat on the floor with the other D-Listers. I keep getting told off for talking and pissing about and the teacher’s really starting to get on my tits. I’m not interested in the production, I only signed up for a part in it because I knew it would get me out of class occasionally. Also I’ve got something more important on my mind. In a few hours I’m going to be making my debut for the school’s Year 5 football team and, even more exciting than that, it’s against Manor Hall, our biggest enemy, the school from just up the road, the kids of which we fight in the park, the same kids that we went to first school with and were best friends with until we separated and went to different middle schools at the end of Year 3 and became sworn foes. This is a proper derby. And my nan’s coming to watch. And even better than all of that, we get to leave school early to get over to their school in time for the game. At 2 o’clock I’m sent to go and get changed with the rest of the team. I’m given shirt number 11. I wanted 8, because it’s Gazza’s number, but 11 is the next best thing, I’m not complaining.

There aren’t enough seats in the mini-bus for the whole team so those of us with bikes take them instead. Down Church Lane, cut through the graveyard, across the green, through the square, along Manor Hall Road. Say hello to my nan. Jog up and down. Start the game. And then a moment that will haunt me for the rest of my life, of this I am sure, almost 20 years after it happened. A cross is put in from the left wing. I don’t know by who, but it isn’t by the player that should be out there, our left winger, because that player is me, and I’m hovering about just outside Manor Hall’s box. The ball goes over my head towards our star player Ross and as it approaches him it plays out in front of me in slow motion, as I know that Ross is more than capable of taking the sting out of this with his chest and then laying it off to me, and the one thing that I pride myself on is my technique when it comes to volleying. I position myself and Ross plays it perfectly, it bounces just in front of me and sits up nicely and I take it on the half volley and connect with it more sweetly than I will ever connect with another ball in my life. I watch it fly from my boot and I know already that it’s going in the top corner. Everybody knows it. There is silence as the ball spins away deliciously to its target. The goalkeeper doesn’t even bother moving. I’m about to write my name into school folklore by scoring a wonder goal from outside the box against Them. Them from up the road. Them whose school jumpers are bright blue as opposed to our navy blue ones. And my nan’s watching. And she’ll tell everyone what she saw. She’ll tell my dad. What goal celebration am I going to do?

The ball smacks against the angle of the crossbar and the post and ricochets behind for a goal-kick.

I go into shock.

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Just A Book Sitting On A Chair Under An Umbrella

7 Dec

Back in the spring time I spent a couple of months staying at my mum’s house in the Valencian countryside. The experience taught me a lot. Such as how I enjoy the sensation of exchanging pleasantries with complete strangers. Who knew? I certainly didn’t before arriving in Spain. Allow me to take you there now, to a sparsely populated stretch of land, not far from the town of La Hoya, between the city of Elche and the Mediterranean coast, by way of a journal entry written on the day that it happened:

Out here I don’t see many other people and can sometimes walk for a couple of hours at least without coming across another human, not when I’m wandering about in the fields anyway, but occasionally I slip away from the fields to cut across the only road for miles around, that connects the city of Elche with the coast, and although the road is more often than not dead, it is still the place of work for prostitutes, who sit by the side of the road on a little chair under an umbrella, reading a book, and when they’re ‘busy’ their book awaits their return on top of their empty seat. There is one of these girls approximately every mile. Eastern European or South American. And these girls know not to take me for a potential customer as I approach them – I haven’t got a car, for a start. Plus I like to think they recognise me as someone who wouldn’t have to pay for sex. Ha! he says modestly! More likely they take a quick look at me and come to the conclusion that I couldn’t afford it – I’m just a scruffy and stoned thinking man, wandering about in his mind. And I have to squeeze by these girls at the side of the road, and I always do so in silence and with my eyes averted to the ground. And just the same, these girls completely ignore me. It is as if we don’t acknowledge each other’s existence. But obviously we do, or at least I do, or I wouldn’t be writing about it.

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Enter Here. Exit Here. Thanks For Coming.

1 Dec

‘It’s like the film Being John Malkovich, innit?’ he said to the man standing over him. And then he remembered that the man didn’t speak his language. So he asked it again, this time in the man’s national tongue. The man’s response was ‘What?’ except it wasn’t exactly ‘What?’ because it wasn’t said in English. But it meant ‘What?’

‘You wouldn’t get it,’ he said, reaching down into the side pocket of his bag that sat between his feet and pulling out his ticket, which he handed to the man. The man took it, crossed it with a biro, handed it back, and carried on down the carriage. He turned his head to the left to stare out of the window, to lose himself on the distant horizon, to be taken there by the current and left to float over the edge, peacefully on his back, he imagined a bottomless waterfall, perpetual motion, the eternal drop. Would it be noisy, he wondered. What did it matter? He’d get used to it. That’s what you do; you get used to stuff. He had forgotten that it was past ten at night, that the sun had long since set, that the window at his side now only served as a mirror, revealing his surroundings, bright under the train’s lightbulbs, as it rolled along the tracks that hugged the shore line. He fought the temptation to check his reflection, he knew what he looked like; tired. And empty. But mostly tired. He didn’t need reminding. His eyes looked older than they were. As luck would have it, the rest of him didn’t. Not that it mattered. There were people, about eight in total, sharing the carriage with him. Eight other humans, possibly nine, and not a sound to be heard. Not a voice. Not a laugh. Not a sniff. Not a shuffling of papers. Not an itchy arse being scratched on a seat. Just faces looking at mobile screens. Or in the case of one lady, looking at the backs of eyelids. She was asleep. But she wasn’t resting her head on anything. She sat upright. And she dozed peacefully. He thought this must have taken training.

The woman sat opposite him was also surveying the scene via the reflection in the window. Their eyes met in the glass. She had nice hair, he thought, and pretty eyes, hooded, deep. No make-up. None needed. She didn’t smile, she wasn’t a smiler. He used to be. She just looked into his reflected eyes. The glass a bulldozer to the social No No wall that existed in the physical. Without the glass to act as a filter, this kind of behavior would not be acceptable. You do not stare at strangers on public transport. It’s bad form. She had started it, though.

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Goat Problems

22 Nov

‘If you have a goat, you have goat problems.’

George was jolted back to the here and now by the words as they pulled aside the invisible screen door that separated his inner from his outer and entered uninvited through his left ear. He hadn’t noticed anyone taking a seat next to him on the bench. He thought he was alone in the park. But now, as he lifted his eyes from the ground to take in his surroundings, he realised that he had been wrong. He wasn’t in a park. He was in a city square. The only thing that didn’t come as a surprise was the bench. He didn’t have time to search his memory for any clues as to how and why he’d arrived in this position; a stranger had just invaded his space. He turned his head to the left and met the eye of a man that looked noticably similar to him. This in itself was strange because people don’t usually tend to notice when someone else looks like them. How many times has someone said to you, ‘Cor, you dun’alf look like so and so,’ or ‘look at that girl over there, she’s your spit!’ and how many times have you agreed with the observation? It is rare. But this guy, although visibly a few years older, perhaps late 30s, definitely bore a close resemblance. George noted that even this man’s stubble grew in the same way as his. The man didn’t say anything, although he did have a knowing smile on his face, like he knew that George was thinking, ‘This bloke looks like me.’

‘I’m sorry, man, I didn’t hear what you said. I was in my world,’ George said.

Despite being an introvert, spending his free hours actively seeking out solitude, he always had time for a stranger on a bench.

‘No worries, I just said if you have a goat, you have goat problems.’

‘Okay. Then I did hear what you said the first time. I just didn’t believe my ear.’

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Attention to Detail

9 Nov

‘Don’t you eat?’ she meant nothing by it, but it cut. Of all the times he didn’t want to hear it, now, her wrapped round him, fingertips pulsating down his back, clothes discarded carelessly across the floor, humans glowing, sweat, saliva, now was definitely one of those times. Normally the next words to leave the offending female’s lips were, ‘I’ll have to cook for you.’ And he always clammed up. And he didn’t see that woman again. But tonight she didn’t say, ‘I’ll have to cook for you,’ in fact she made no unfounded assumptions about his future, she invited herself to no parties. Instead, as she felt the backward shift in his comfort, she said, ‘It’s just that you’re so thin!’

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Different Perspectives

4 Nov

‘Tomorrow is always better than yesterday because tomorrow has something that yesterday hasn’t got,’ he said, leaning forward to pick the lighter up from the table. He sat back and looking pleased with himself let the unlit spliff hang from the side of his mouth as he said slowly, ‘Potential.’

‘I prefer yesterday,’ she said without emotion, ‘tomorrow I might die, yesterday I didn’t.’

He was lost. So was she.

‘I Can’t see you again.’

‘I know. Take care.’

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The Hippie Hugger

7 Oct

This is a topic that I never really expected to come up. I have met a man who gives the perfect hug. A hug that feels as though it is filled with the love of the whole planet and leaves you feeling the same kind of blissed out that you get from nice shrooms.

Juan is a long-time friend of my flatmate and a short-time friend of mine since I moved in here four months ago. He is in his mid 20s, has long shiny brown hair, a Californian smile, olive skin, is about 6ft tall, wears beads, smokes weed, works as a masseur and is always smiling and positive. He is a true hippie. Make love not war. And he’s nice to everyone. And no, despite the tone of my description, I don’t fancy him. I know that’s what you were thinking.

My circle of friends in this city consists almost exclusively of hippies, so hugs on greeting are not unusual. It did take some time for my English sensibilities to allow me to feel comfortable with this level of human touch with everyone, but after a month or so I had come to embrace it. But with one rule. I would always keep the hug just manly enough. A pat or two on the back. A tensed up torso at times.

And then I met Juan in the park one afternoon and was introduced. We shook hands. He held my hand for a few seconds longer than is protocol. I didn’t feel awkward. Well, obviously I did a little bit. But not much.

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