Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Living in the Present

Mums friend is down from Devonport - she's a grey haired woman of concealed emotions, which is my way of saying I have no idea whether she likes me or not without it sounding like I need re-assurance. If you know my country - and this lady is Scottish - adults like other adults, and tolerate kids, so my youthful excesses probably didn't endear me to her, not to mention my militant tendencies, and now I'm grown up and boring and adult she likes me a bit more. Her grandchild is the devil by the way, a spitting hissing indulged and pampered cobra. It's an irrelevance anyway now, both her opinion of me and what I think of the cobra, since her life is defined by loss now. Her husband died after what they always describe as a battle with cancer, although in this case the battle was horrendously one sided and efficiently won, and when she visits her and Mum put some of his favourite songs on the tape recorder and sing and talk about him. It's always tremendously sad, as though some part of her life is forever in the past, and yet life continues to go on, and she has to get jobs and keep living, even if it's just to see the cobra grow up. My Mum has basically four friends, and tolerates everyone else, but she's loyal and if it helps she'll put that tape on and keep on singing along until the tape wears out one day. There's a steady flow of romantic anecdotes and harmless nostalgia to go with the mid priced wine and old episodes of Hamish MacBeth, but there's a sadness in the room that can't be shorn off easily, no matter how easy and comfortable the conversation is. I know from experience a lot of their conversations were nostalgic and theraputic to begin with, a sort of cut adrift migrant support group in terraced houses playing Troggs records until dawn while they pined for Tunnocks Tea Cakes. Now, the nostalgia is a little different, but the support group is the same, and the conversations run into each other until morning. If I shut my eyes really tightly...it hurts...I'm a sook like that...but if I keep them shut, I know exactly how I felt when they had parties when I was a kid, huddled under a green floral blanket listening to Elton John through the other side of the door, while the whole world outside it felt booze soaked and adult and positively dangerous, and when I grew up, I realised all it was was just the sound of easy friendship...

My cousin dying was probably as close as I could get to relating to the feelings of loss - he died on a Friday, and I woke up mentally on the Tuesday, and what I did in between who knows. Sat on a couch I think. His family endlessly talk about him, if you go out to dinner with them you are regaled with a stream of stories where by every single course on the menu, every drink you can order, every waitress with slim hips or arched eyebrows somehow link you all the way back to him and another story - the stories are a little sad, they come with a deceptive guilelessness, a complicated and multi layered life taken down to a series of quips and moments and pick ups for hairdressers. However, it keeps him alive, and I often join in, on the phone, just to participate and ease things for his mother, who walks with the stoop of the terminally heartbroken. Although it's not quite the same, I had a friend at school called James, a fantastic friend who's main flaw was he was prone to psychopathic fits of Hulk smash whenever he was dumped from a relationship. The last time I saw him, people were coming in his window at 9am to buy drugs from him, a completely different person from just six months before. And I choose to assign to him the personality that he had when I was his friend at school, the kid I could speak to on the phone for 8 hours, even though his life is now, obviously, radically different, just as I am not the neurotically unsure around girls bewildered soul who liked Blur and Butter Menthols that he would see me as. If we met now, we'd talk about the past, but we wouldn't be friends - we can't be, we'd have no relationship in the present day. My cousin, he's forever remembered but as a past figure, someones who achievements stay in a particular moment in time, and the people I went to school with are the same, lost people I don't know anymore. Out my window at the moment, two girls of a youthful nervous age are walking past, giggling and skipping and calling some boy a dickhead...down the road they go, until I can't see them anymore, as if God himself had delivered me a cogent metaphor for confused thoughts...what he was trying to tell me when I then stubbed my toe, of course, was not to be a nosey bastard...

Of course, when things aren't going well, and to be honest even though work is giving me RSI of the shits as one particularly precient punter at Isobar said one night, the perspective that I have of when things aren't going well is radically these days to the days when I would berate shopkeeps because they hadn't delivered a video game on time, the comfort of nostaglia is endlessly endearing. It's quite easy for me to send a two syllable e-mail to my friends on something that happened three years ago and know that they know exactly what I'm talking about. However, I think it's really important that our friendships don't just become a past thing, so I try and work at being a good friend. My role model in this was my Girlfriend Dad, who I met, oh, twice in my life - a strange man in braces who drank pints like they were going out of style. He was dismissive of me, and I couldn't blame him, I was hardly the kind of go getter any father in law would seek, although he did have interesting views on race relations which he seemed keen to espouse. One night, and I say one night, there's a fair chance it could be the only night, he took me aside to deliver a strident and passionate discourse on how the Rolling Stones were the only band that mattered. He hated the Beatles, batted away my defence of The Monks (Google them, a treat) and told me that after Let It Bleed there had never been a decent album released. He was a very gassy man from both ends, and after an hour in his company I had the feeling that polite agreement was in order to get me out of the stuck on a loop arguments he was presenting over and over again, and that someone should open a roof. Strangely, he seemed, just for a moment, to be warming to me, until I realised the glint in his eye wasn't mutual respect or a sudden appreciation for my tacksuit, but actually just the rememberance of better days in life when he wasn't so big of gut and opinion and while he no doubt believed he sat through the summer of love and went to Woodstock, he probably had a crappy Hobart teenage years wondering if he should ring a girl called Kay or not - like we all did. He set aside his pint, smiled gently, and said "Well, gotta go home to my shitheap" - I never did see him again, but caught in his regretful web of lament, I now understand where he coming from, when I didn't then...I still maintain The Monks are a lot better, but that would have meant talking to him for an hour longer, and it was already too dangerous to light a match...

All this nostalgic thinking though made me tired - I went for a walk, down to my local swing park. I sat on a swing for a while, not quite lamenting life like my friend who sat on his own drinking at Irish Murphys until 3am on his own on Friday night like some horrible blocked up alcoholic writer, but pretty thoughtful anyway, as thoughtful as you can be when kids are screaming out of a community centre at a million miles an hour and screaming unintelligble thoughts about Beyonce.and Red Bull. My local swing park is a sort of strange place where life moves slowly, and calling it a swing park is a stretch when it has two swings and a vandalised little raised partition for people to sit on, upon which the sexual habits of a girl called Chloe seem to be much discussed. I'd quite like to meet Chloe if the scratched in rumours are true. She seems like someone to know. As I sit swinging back and forth, two kids are buzzing around the swings, a girl and a boy codified by their suitably coloured jackets. They are running mad and having a fantastic time - to them, there is no time like the present, no more magical moment than right now, no more magical place than a bare minimum standard public space with short grass and the spectre of Chloe looming over it, and there's no developed concept in their mind that yesterday, literally yesterday in their case, was a much better day than today. They literally gape in amazement at the spare swing that I'm not sitting on, almost passing out in sheer excitement that, gasp, there's a swing available. I give the swing up to the girl, who rushes out a thanks just to be polite because it's wasting valuable swinging time to be talking to me, and then I leave them, swinging in the present, while I pop a gourmet jellybean in my mouth, smile in their direction, and wish them well, and hope that wherever they go in life, they enjoy what they are doing just as much as they did this day, under the imperfect fading sky that is Kingston...

I dread the day they learn cynicism in school the way I did, somewhere in between Maths and playing on the Monkey bars...

9 comments:

HawaiianPun said...

I hadn't come across your blog before until BlogExplosion directed me thither mere minutes ago. I have to say, I'm glad it did, because despite having read but one of your entries, it's obvious to me that you are a natural and talented writer. I'm not sure if the words flow from your fingertips as effortlessly as they read, but they certainly are a joy to take in. Your prose almost reminds me of a more plangent Bill Bryson, if that means anything to you. Kudos fellow scribe.

squib said...

"there's a sadness in the room that can't be shorn off easily"

my favourite line

Mad Cat Lady said...

You are being sweet and soppy today - nice read.

Doc said...

Thanks for dropping by my place and I'm am definitly going to be revisiting here. Loved the last entry.

Doc

Miles McClagan said...

Thanks mate, I appreciate the kind words - I write exactly what's in my little brain and hope people like it! I do what I can.

Sadly, that's absolutely true - the sadness will never go away. It's pretty upsetting whenever I see her...nothing anyone can do.

Yeah, I was feeling a bit soppy and thoughtful - probably needed more lime spider references!

Thanks for the visit, I really appreciate it - everyone has been really nice today!

Mrs Slocombe said...

That was serious: still lovely and all the rest of your gorgeous qualities, but serious and anchored.

Miles McClagan said...

It was pretty serious, I was having a serious thoughts day...it probably needed more references to old flavoured milks!

Baino said...

You know when people get on your blog and say things like "you brought me to tears" . . .well you didn't but man you are an amazing storyteller and a beautiful writer despite your poor paragraphery and I know exactly what you mean. No stranger to loss myself but I don't want to be like her . . .it's good to remember but not to dwell morosely

Lovely read Miles and I'm not one for false compliments. Very moving little piece right down to giving up your swing!

Miles McClagan said...

Thanks mate, I appreciate the kind words - I was feeling a little serious because they were in the living room again reminisicing - it just never seems to get any better, and I feel really bad for her. There's nothing anyone can do to make her feel better, but I guess she can live for the cobra...