Jealousy

January 27, 2008

Jealousy is a fucker.  It destroys what was good.  Consumed by anger and frustration, I targeted you, hated you for what you were good at, for what you naturally were. 

 

There were grounds for criticism, there always are.  Any private individual is a mass of contradictions, impulses and needs, these do not fit neatly into the rigidity of etiquette.  Targeting goes beyond that.  There is something under it.  It has nothing to do with the petty gripes one uses as justification, it is more to do with a personal vendetta.  That’s what I was carrying out.

 

When you raised that gripe with me, I put on my debating gloves straight on and boxed you.  I had no right to do it.  That didn’t matter.  What mattered was, it was a battle, straight away.  I love the heat of battle, the cut and thrust. 

 

That I scored points damaged you, which was not what I wanted.  I only want to play.  But we are no longer cubs, there is weight behind our paws now and besides, you had a genuine case.  I was inconsiderate then.  That I am lightning quick with an excuse and a dodge, that I fence you off verbally easily enough, does not mean that I am right, or had a right, even, to do it. 

 

I can only offer true apology in the cold light of morning, a morning wherein I realise much about myself and my myriad flaws.  

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Honesty

January 27, 2008

I knew that she wouldn’t stay.

Where would someone like her belong?

 

Not with the bantamweights

and cheap entertainers,

 

The drab holder-on-ers,

smoke-infested muddlers.

 

I can only guess where you’re heading next.

You will be loved wherever you go.

 

You will not have to suffer much.

You will have to decide who is really of use to you

 

and who you will have to leave behind

as you step into a golden future,

 

Gliding down catwalks and clean city streets.

Up in every elevator.

 

You will see money and success.

I cannot go with you.

The Red Pool

January 27, 2008

The Red Pool

 

Emitting from the earth,

but faintly,

Nature pushes forth green shoots,

slender ideas,

until poison smothers them.

 

Incessantly,

nature tries to find a way,

but it is dosed and dosed

with yet more lead.

 

Fumes pumped,

gases sprayed,

development

delayed.

 

I was raised in the hothouse

under strong lights,

in fertile soil,

then sold to a middle man

and transported to town.

 

I was hawked around,

but no-one took the bait.

I ceased to be a priority to my owner,

who sensed profit in others

and so could hardly be blamed

for forgetting about me.

 

Money’s all there is,

it makes the world go round.

Money must be got,

or you can’t survive.

 

No matter what you will to do,

if it can’t pay, then you

will inevitably slip away from it

to take up more profitable concerns.

 

It can’t be helped.

The paucity of our mental condition,

the corpses on the television.

 

I saw a man shot in the head,

I didn’t know how to react.

It didn’t feel real.

 

It looked real.

Still bones, hair

and the red pool.

About a Song

January 27, 2008

 Tramlines

Overhead cables

Electric

Neon lit

City’s unfeeling

Fitting in

Power – passing cars burning oil, fumes, smoke, people encased in metal.  Loose people, ill people, pretty girls, businesspeople, unemployed people, poor people.  Retail.  Commercial radio stations.  Constant noise, constant motion.  Constantly alone in a crowd, it’s just the way I feel. 

 

Any idea is potentially amazing.  It all depends on the work and application you give to it.  The initial spark then the renunciation, moving away from it.

 

Perhaps it’s more valuable to be dogged and determined to see something through than it is to be creative.

 

Miles of wires.

Powerlines

 

City song – about finally questioning it as a final destination.  Wondering  ‘did it work out like I thought it would?’  That I’m doing what I wanted to do when I got here, six years ago.  Even so?’

 

St Peter’s Square

Trying to fit in.

 

Stuck on my own in a hometown I don’t know.

 

Song is about – morning train to Salford Quays, evening 86 bus home, feeling tired, loneliness, drought, beautiful women, frustration, alienation, questioning the future.  To summarise?  Overhead lines, streetlights, concrete, cars, alcohol, cigarettes, basslines, too much information, cul-de-sacs, wrong ways, long way, holding on, watching people, missing people, missing out.  Things not happening whilst other things happen.  Trying all the while.  Modern city power waves, who conducts the flow?  Simultaneously drained and inspired by this place.  It sucks me dry, but it maintains.   It never wants to let me stop, but it allows me to be the person I want to be, if I can just keep going.

It’s a thrilling ride, this information stream that buoys you along, makes you feel connected to something massive and pulsating and real and solid and digital and little shards of information come at you out of this monstrous machine.  You get out what you put into it.

 

Crossing from dreaming to perceiving something as a goal, into acting it out.  Heavy weather, tramlines stretching from St Peter’s Square out, off towards Salford Quays in the grey, unremittingly grey Monday morning, 7:30, waiting for a tram.  The lines stretch away.  

 

In a way, it was fine to be up and around so early, the world is fresher at that time.  The traffic hadn’t really started up, so the air was less dense.  I loved the freshness of the air around me.

Then I headed into the workplace.  Information crunching, just numbers, digits, data.  They were shocked at how fast I was.  They wanted to keep me, but I was suicidal with boredom by the end of the day.  Nobody spoke to me, nobody knew me. 

 

I made instant coffees at the instant coffee machine and wrote a fascinated dissection of this bovine girl who worked opposite me, who had nothing to say, who fingered her mobile so lovingly through her lunch break, waiting for messages.  She was permanent there.  I wrote it on a piece of lined paper at my desk and stuffed it into my back pocket.  

 

This song is called…

 

I digressed.

 

It’s about what it says, the lyric are transparent, uncomplicated.  It’s not about you, it’s absolutely true, it’s about me.  


Can’t call it that, though.

 

Escape, take off

 

Themes – alienation, frozenness, delusions, unreality, love, fear, hope, change, defiance, individuality, resistance, sense of changing, knowing that something is changing and being powerless to stop it.  Looking ahead, wondering how you will deal with change.  

Very hopeful song.

Ambition

January 25, 2008

 

 

 

 

 

 

AMBITION

Ambition is the great joy killer, the great destroyer of happiness, because ambition can never be satisfied. Achieving something gives you a little kick, but it’s very fleeting. The next goal forms in your mind almost instantaneously. So you’ll never be happy if you’re ambitious.

“Morning, Scott! Do you want to just come through a sec?”

Oh great, Scott thought.

Graham Leivers patted Scott encouragingly and strode back towards his office.

Scott picked up his large coffee mug, which was emblazoned with the logo of Blackton United Football Club. He followed Leivers, tucking his shirt in and giving himself a facial massage with his spare hand.

He had realised that nothing had to happen.

There were various ways of taking this realisation. He could either accept his life, carry on without changing, deal with the low-level tedium in the usual ways. Or, he could try to make something else happen – get a new job, maybe even in another town. Go back to uni, even. What else?

The hand he dragged across his face met the resistance of four or five days’ worth of stubble. In the pub last night, Jambo had studied his slightly protruding ears (they weren’t that big, surely?), unkempt scruff of regulation-length hair and unchecked beard growth, describing the overall effect as a “Scott Carson look”. Not one in vogue that season, following Carson’s dramatic howler against Croatia at Wembley. Lost 3-2. Screaming abuse at the television. Drinking more to try to make it go away.

What was in vogue? Scott Chambers didn’t have a clue.

What was vogue, anyway?

As a teen, Scott read men’s lifestyle magazines and aspiring to be a bit of a rascal, a rogue, a geezer. He was not surrounded by any real geezers, only his pimply school friends and his dad. He had looked at the advertisements displaying the tanned, buffed bodies, sometimes wearing a tuxedo, sometimes wearing nothing but a watch, or a fragrance, or a particularly close-shaven profile. He noted the proximity of beautiful, full-lipped, impossible women.

Every now and then, over the years, he had come across women who were beautiful, in the conventional sense of the word, full-lipped and impossible. But not for a couple of years now.

Blackton United were playing at home that evening, but it was cold, wintertime. Scott couldn’t be arsed to go, especially seeing as they were rock bottom of the league, with no real hope of avoiding relegation. Jambo agreed that seeing as it was live on Sky Sports and it was the wrong time of the month pay-wise and it was freezing fucking cold, then they might as well just go to the Royal and watch it there. About twenty or so other faint-hearts had the same idea.

As he stood at the bar, Scott looked through into the snug, where the old men sat. There, as usual, sitting still as a bust, was Friedrich Nietzsche, with his snow-white beard and shock of just-as-white hair. Despite what Scott assumed must have been years of drinking, Nietzsche didn’t look so blotchy, or as bloated, as a lot of the other old wasters. He looked more like a street drifter and yet he always seemed to be in the Royal, in his usual seat, staring epically, guarding an empty pint glass. Perhaps he had somewhere to live, perhaps not. He must have been seventy if he was a day; it was hard for Scott to tell.

Scott wasn’t the most observant of guys. Things seem to pass him by in a blur. Maybe he was so self-obsessed that he simply couldn’t be bothered to formulate concepts, or concentrate on other people long enough to really take them in.

Maybe was just a useless pisshead in a useless Northern town whose useless football team were getting relegated, much like him, into life’s second division.

“I don’t know why I fuckin bother”, said Jambo, as a poor Blackton eleven trudged off at half time, 1-0 down.

“I know.”

”Could be at home now.”

”I know.”

Life seemed a lot more bearable when the Pirates won. You had a couple and you replayed the goals in your mind. Laughed about the chances the opposition had missed.

The promotion party last summer had been amazing. Swaggering around town, shouting and dancing, it had been the first time he’d felt like he owned the Regal again since the glory days of ’97, ’98. The whey-faced emo boys had to stand aside as the football fans bounced, gathered in a huddle, taking over the dancefloor and chanting, singing together, no need for the DJ to play anything – it didn’t matter what he played, it was in the background somewhere, the background to this jubilation that could never end, would never end. Work the next day had been impossible, but it didn’t matter. The Pirates were going up and everything else could fuck off.

You got through the week, you got through another week. There were always timewasting strategies, clock card fiddles and scams, the odd sick day. The time passed, you got through, you always did. They wouldn’t sack you. Sometimes, the boredom really seemed to weigh you down, but it was only temporary. The beer helped it go away. That golden slide into relief was what made it all OK, most nights, apart from the nights when he walked home and started shouting at the sky, because he was so pissed, shouting the stark, raving truth at the sky. About how pathetic he was, about how apathetic he was, about how he was lonely and shite and this town was fucking death and there was nothing and nobody here and everything was absolute fucking bollocks and there was nothing.

Then remembering that in the morning with a shudder and remembering that there had been people on the other side of the street, walking the other way, saying nothing, heads down, looking at the local drunk, the local loser, that local loser drunk was me, he thought. Only I’m not that, I’m not a local loser drunk, except in that moment, in that context, to that observer, I was, wasn’t I.

Even so, there seemed nothing for it but to carry on and banish these indignities out of his mind as much as he could. The main thing was that nobody he knew had seen him do these things and so as far as the world was concerned, it had never happened. It only matters if people know. As far as anybody else knew, he was still working the day job, still considering going travelling and going back to uni next year, still applying for different jobs and was in no way locked into a useless cycle of self-destruction, self-hate and utter apathy, filling his days with the most minute, trivial and unimportant tasks and dissolving his nights in drink.

There was nothing to life. Nothing to it.

There must be something.

People are successful all over this country; there must be hundreds of thousands of successful people, he thought. Entrepreneurs, managers, heads of departments. Executives. I could do a Law Conversion Course, after all, I have a 2:1, he thought. But he’d heard what it entailed, heard stories of people going on massive summer long journeys round the world in their last, wild rose summer before a lifetime of 15-hour days enveloped them. The money was anaesthetic. Why did med-students have such a reputation for being party animals? Because once they were through, it was a lifetime of hard graft, that was why – maybe they’d become high-flying specialist surgeons, with life and death responsibilities, fuck that. Who wanted to look someone in the eye and say that sorry, everything was tried, but we couldn’t save your son and knowing, that there had a been a hope, a little window, but you didn’t make the right incision, that you missed it?

Of course, he had no idea what it was all about. It didn’t matter. He was 27 and he wasn’t gonna be a doctor, so who cared anyway. He couldn’t be arsed with that.

He was drunk, so it was alright.

There was this livid, moving fear in his mind that made him feel very, very anxious and he didn’t quite know exactly what it was. All he knew was that it made his mind cast about for something to focus on, something harmless and neutral. Blackton United would do. He tried to think what the team for Saturday should be. Then remembered that Pemberton was injured and picked it again.

“Sanchez was shit today”, said Jambo.

”I dunno, I thought he did alright, some nice touches.”

”Yeah, he has good technique, you expect that, he’s fuckin’ South American isn’t he. But what about that header he missed in the first half?”

”I know, but that’s not really his game is it. He wants the ball to feet.”

“I know, but he’s a fuckin’ striker, isn’t he? He’s meant to score fucking goals and how many’s he got this season? Four?”

”Five.”

”Yeah, including two pens. And he missed that pen against Stanley last week”

“I know.”

Scott kept in the back of his mind the fact that it helped the world nothing that he was here doing this, knowing this stuff. He knew it was nothing more than a waste of a brain. At least going to the match, you were part of something real, but just watching it on the telly, well, you might as well be watching EastEnders. One of the last pithy remarks he’d made had surrounded the new breed of football fan, as generated by the Sky Sports phenomenon. The ones who could tell you all about their Premier League team, all about the other Premier League teams and their existence in relation thereto, but never actually went to the games.

Against Stanley, there had been 17,000 present – 17,000 for a Premiership game, including 2,000 from Blackton, which had always been a football town and always would be, he hoped. Cos even though it was helping him live this lie, he would always love Blackton United. Blackton til I die, he thought.

The old boys in the snug weren’t Blackton til they die, although they were assuredly die in Blackton; they had washed up here, wherever they might have come from.

The hangover tomorrow would, at least, provide him with a challenge. It would make the day more difficult than it would otherwise have been. If he was as fresh as the morning, then the day could only disappoint him.

Of course, it wasn’t all gloom.

There were some days when he had a chat and a laugh. It really was all down to him. Some days, there did seem to be hope. Sometimes, it seemed possible to have fun and enjoy life – it was just the fear of stasis. Every now and then, he would catch himself having a laugh and realise that this couldn’t be forever. Don’t get comfortable here, he would caution himself, it’s disallowed.

So the fun times were outweighed by the gloomy times, because of the stern watch he kept on himself. You’re not allowed to enjoy yourself. Not here, in this stopgap job. You’re here while you plan the next stage, the next phase, the next move.

Of course, the weekend days were just as much stasis, cos he was rendered inert by the skull-crushing effects of the alcohol. He wondered how his native country ever achieved anything, seeing as everyone was so fuckin’ bibulous. Little wonder there were constant road accidents, road deaths. Everyone was driving around morbid hungover all the time. If not on the limit, then near to it. If not at the limit, then so clouded by tiredness and excess, then they may as well have been.

So actually, it was mostly gloom.

What sickened him most was that the majority of his thinking was just drivel. The cycle went around and around as the brightest and best of his friends disappeared to London, or France, or Japan, or just into the professional ether, whilst he languished, pontificated, drank and sat around. What a rut I find myself in, he thought. Whither and where shall I get to next? What square on the chessboard shall I inhabit? What piece am I? He had never wanted to be the King or Queen, heaven forfend. He had had some pretensions towards at least Bishopdom, though. Maybe Knighthood.

A voice somewhere inside him refused to let him rest.

“You were born in Britain into a bourgeois aspirational family”, That Voice said. “Lucky you. That puts you in the world’s top few percent of fortunate people. You have every opportunity the world can offer. Go do stuff.”

What stuff?

”Anything you want. And remember how lucky you are”

OK. No pressure then?

“No pressure!”

Right. So I just go…

”If you’ve got half a brain in your head, you’ll go to University”

Right. Then what?

“Up to you.”

Up to me?

”Yeah, up to you”

But I don’t…

”Not my problem. Oh and you have absolutely no right to complain, because of how lucky you are.”

Oh.

”And also, remember, if you don’t make the most of your opportunities, you should be ashamed of yourself – but nobody will care and nobody will make you do anything. You can sit in pubs all the time. People will be around to keep you company. People like dossing in pubs.”

Right.

”Yeah”

Just one other thing

”What?”

Who are you?

”None of yours.”

Oh.

”You’re on your own, pal.”

Free free free.

Free to fuck up to your heart’s content.

There was something comforting in labelling oneself a failure. It meant that others couldn’t do it first.

Failing, he followed Graham Leivers into his office and sat down.

*

Graham Leivers was excited.

“It’s good news, or at least I hope it’s good news. We’re offering you an opportunity.”

Scott didn’t say anything. He’d feared this ever since his line manager had been transferred to a higher-paid post in a different part of the Company.

“We’d like you to take on Colin’s old position. You know the ropes here and we all know you’re more than capable of filling the role. You’ve been with us how long now, three years?”

”Just under”, Scott said, mechanically.

“That’s right,” Graham said, affably “and it will not do to have someone of your ability wasting away in a job he could do with his eyes closed.”

Graham looked for Scott’s eyes.

Scott looked back. In spite of himself, he was flattered. It wasn’t often anybody said anything like that to him these days. He didn’t feel particularly valued for his ability, because he didn’t feel that he was exercising his ability during the stuffy working day, or at night, when he prowled the pubs, looking for something he must have dropped on the floor in one of these bars some years ago.

”Scott, I know and you know this isn’t your dream job”, Graham continued. “Funnily enough, we’re not daft here. I see you as someone who is going to go on to bigger and better things one day – hopefully here with us at the Company, but maybe somewhere else.”

Yeah, thought Scott. Yeah. You tell him, Graham.

“The world really is your oyster.”

Yeah! Oyster!

”But let’s face it, a promotion would look far better on your CV, not to mention the attendant pay rise…”

Yeah! Pay rise!

Pay rise? Well, hold on a second.

What would I spend the money on? Scott thought. Booze, doubtless. Maybe some new clothes. Some records. Some books. DVDs. Could rent in a trendier part of Blackton.

Scott sniggered to himself at the thought of a trendy part of Blackton.

”It is your oyster, Scott!” Graham said. He seemed hurt by Scott’s evident lack of belief in his own abilities, at the snigger flickering across his employee’s face. “You’re an educated and personable young man. You really should have more faith in yourself.”

Being patronised to within a whisker of my whelp-like life at the moment, Scott thought.

Fuck off, Graham, he thought.

”Well, this is a lot to take in”, Scott said. “Obviously, it’s very flattering and the extra money would come in handy. Can I have a couple of days to consider it?”

”Of course.”

Getting up to leave, Scott thanked Graham Leivers.

“You’re welcome. It’s a good opportunity. Ah, if you could let me know by the end of the week, as there will be a formal advertisement to prepare in the event that you choose not to take the post.”

Scott assured Graham that he would indeed let him know by the end of the week and thanked him once again.

***

So here’s the deal, he thought, lying on his back on his bed on Thursday night, smoking, with Friday and the decision lying before him and narrow defeat in that night’s pub quiz still rankling. I think my life is totally fucking empty. I go through the motions of social activity each night and the motions of pushing the buttons and the paper around my desk each day. The upshot is, every month, an amount of money crops up in my bank, which I get excited about for a millisecond, until it becomes obvious to me that it is already spent on credit cards, rent, bills, beer, takeaways and fags.

If I take this new job, which is just more of the same, then I’ll have more money to spend on all of the above.

Or, another part of him said, the part he hated, you could curb your excesses and start to save money.

With what object, countered Audacious, Cool Scott.

You don’t have to have an object, said Hated Scott.

What’s the point then, jeered Delirious, Mad Scott of the Bars.

The point is, some day, something might come up and you’ll have the money in the bank to act on it, said Cowed, Sensible Scott.

YAAAA BBOOOOOO SUCKS to you, ya boring fart, said the Scott that Scott found it easiest to listen to.

Scott could hear all this stuff going on in his mind, this constant battle between economic and theoretical imperatives and momentary illusory gladness. All the time. There were different Scotts.

There were other, potential Scotts that he could call into being, he knew that he could do it. It’s just that a particular Scott was kind of in charge at the moment and popular. Change was difficult. The Scott in charge wasn’t really looking after Scott, because he couldn’t see the point.

It was OK to drift; one was allowed to do it. Let other people do the running around, the hard work. At least in my job, he thought, I don’t have to do very much, really.

Half the time, he just looked busy – it was always like this, even at school. Half the time, he was in his own world, doodling, or writing little stories, or daydreaming out of the window. Mechanically doing the work, passing the tests, going on and on without resistance, flowing and eddying along, without too much worry or hassle and as much liberty as he could possible find for himself.

It was just that now, liberty was getting harder to find. It was nice to be on his own and resting for once, but the calls and the texts and the pub would soon follow again. He was young and he should be sociable whilst he still could. God knows there’d be long enough to be some tofu-eating jogger when he was in his thirties – his thirties, his thirties – the phrase echoed round and around and around his skull. His thirties were coming up fast and nothing could stop them.

Thirty! The age when people turned into pumpkins, or so they said.

Take the job, said Economic Scott.

Bollocks, said Rebel Yell Scott.

What else is happening at the moment, riposted Capitalist Scott.

Doesn’t matter, this ain’t what I want, said Soul Fire Scott

Yeah, well, you’ve been festering for three years, so what exactly is it that you want? Capitalist Scott again, starting to sound extremely pleased with himself.

“NNOOOOOOO”, moaned the Scott you could see and touch, his hands over his eyes.

He thought of his little brother Hollis, that talented little bastard, with a band and a soul and ambition and fire.

If you took the band away from him, what would you have?

Me, he thought.

Scott had never been a big one for music. He was one of those who said ‘oh, a bit of everything’ when asked what he liked to listen to. Anybody for whom music was a big thing would know straight away it probably wasn’t worth talking to him anymore, unless they were in a band, in which case, they would instantly proffer a flyer.

Nah, if you took the band away from Hollis, he’d probably work something else out anyway. Better looking than me, more talented, cooler, all those things. Little bastard, Scott thought. He has no idea how lucky he is.

You make your own luck, said Football Manager Scott.

Will you fuck off? Scott thought.

It’s true…

Very probably, but not helpful at the moment.

*

A lot of Scott’s philosophy stemmed from the post-match analysis of a series of Blackton United managers. And just as they made excuses for the drivel on the pitch and the constant second-tier status, with occasional false dawns and the hopes of the ever-present fans dashed as soon as they were raised, so Scott nursed himself through the days and weeks, licking his wounds after another mauling, another failed date, unreturned phone call, hangover, mind-searingly tedious meeting, scratch out your own eyes day.

PIRATES TO SIGN ITALY MIDFIELDER

He stared at the screen, which continued to boldly proclaim the glad tidings.

“Marco Carezi is flying in this week to sign for struggling Blackton United in a £3million move. The 31 year old was out of contract with Serie A club Piacentina in the summer, but is now set to ink a 3_-year deal.

Blackton manager Chris Walsh said “It’s a coup for us, we’re delighted to have him. Obviously we’re in a difficult situation at the moment, but we don’t feel that the team is too far short. Marco will bring great leadership and is proven as an international quality midfielder.”

Central midfielder Carezi has 12 Italy caps to his name.

Mental. Cor. Finally, somebody who could put their foot on the ball and treat it like they loved it.

He emailed Jambo, who was straight back on with a Youtube link.

This was good, as he was at a loss as to what to search for on the internet. He’d already checked his Facebook and Myspace.

Myspace was starting to piss him off. All you got was fake profiles purporting to be from American girls who’d just love to chat, but were in fact simply false fronts for porno sites. You couldn’t check those in the office.

He had managed to find himself a corner, however. When Jade left, he requested to move to her old desk, which was by the window of their third floor office. Once he had positioned himself so that he had a view of the door, the computer screen, facing him, was invisible to any of the other drones, or management, who should come in, meaning that he was free to use the internet as much as he liked.

For all that, apart from his Facebook and the Blackton United chat forums, he couldn’t find much that held his interest. There was the news and all that, but there was always such a lot going on, it was difficult to focus or be that bothered about it, really. People were always getting shot, or marching, or rioting, or starving, or getting flooded, or killed in a bus crash, or by a hurricane. It was enough to make a man feel grateful for the sheer uneventfulness of his bachelor Northern town office drone life.

Nothing happened here!

Bill Hicks had done a skit about it. The crickets chirped. Nothing happened. He went home, nobody shouted at him, because he lived in a one-bed studio flat, which was the modern way to describe a bedsit.

The trouble he found with the news was, who the fuck were you supposed to believe. Take the Bhutto assassination. The Pakistani government said she was killed by a suicide bomber and blamed it on Al Qaeda, which may or may not exist. But somebody had filmed it on a camera phone and you could quite clearly see that someone shot her from close range a second before the bomb went off. Somebody certainly committed suicide for the cause, but they committed murder at the same time.

Everything and everybody gets filmed these days. Nothing is particularly interesting anymore, Scott thought. Everything’s been done, there’s nothing much left to be done. I don’t really have to do anything, just live, without anything. They disproved the likelihood of God, cheers for that. As long as he had lived, he had heard it, from all sides. Those who did believe were scorned, sneered at as credulous weirdos with no idea of how to have fun. .

He’d been sent to Sunday School, literally to get him out of the house for the afternoon, to give his folks a rest. He never went to church otherwise. He would come home talking about the things that were going on in the church and be met with deaf ears. His parents simply used the church as a cheap weekly playgroup. That was the extent of his spiritual guidance.

So you filled the void by believing that you were worth it. You were worth the money you earned, worth enjoying the trappings of a luxurious lifestyle. Everywhere he looked, model faces pouted breathlessly, or frowned masterfully at him, flogging watches and scents and hairstyles and clothing to make him desirable to the opposite sex.

As far as he knew, the adverts were right, because he didn’t buy any of the products and he didn’t get any sex.

There would be no office affair, he knew that much. God, could you imagine? How awkward it would become?

The only way to do that, he thought, would be at some huge Company-wide bash, some alcoholic roller disco where all the different departments came together in one orgiastic debauch. Then, you could merrily shag a girl from Payroll, knowing that if she turned out to be a complete nightmare, you could neatly dump her – no, recycle her, allow her to move on to pastures new.

That was the modern way, wasn’t it? Rendezvous somewhere cheap and easy and see if you can do a deal. If not, no danger.

Even a short-term loan would be beneficial to me at the moment, ruminated Scott. Not sure I want to bring someone in on a five-year contract, but I could do with freshening things up a little. Something for the supporters to get excited about.

Perhaps a trip to the indie discos this weekend was in order, he thought. Either to celebrate my new job, or celebrate my resolve in turning it down. Either way, he thought, I can afford it.

He texted Jambo – ‘a little something for the weekend is in order, my son’.

**

Sunday lunch with his mum, dad and granma. Hollis conspicuous by his absence, of course.

“Scott’s been promoted at work, mum,” his dad said.

“Really?” Granma said.

“Yes, he’ll be a Section Supervisor.”

”That’s wonderful.”

”Yes,” Scott said. “I’ve been there a while, so it seemed like the right thing to do. They’ve looked after me and the extra money will come in handy.”

”Have you any plans for this summer?”

”You need to look into buying a house, son”

”Are you courting?”

All of these questions, fired in from mum, dad and granma, made him flinch. The answers were ‘no’, ‘I don’t want to’ and ‘no’. But he tried to find positives to talk about, as he needed to stave off the inevitable Hollis-related conversation.

The little shit wasn’t here, of course. Too busy out fucking girls, smoking pot and talking to people about how great he was, who then wrote about how great he was in their shitsheets, or online – along with pouting pictures of him, with his perfectly askew hair and perfect bone structure and skinny, brooding bandmates. Hollis was becoming ever more glamorous and glorious to his family, by dint of his absence. He had swaggered off to Manchester Uni to study Fine Art, ponced around the galleries to find bandmates with the right aesthetic, got his group together and got signed, within no time.

“Of course, Hollis’ group are off to America this summer. Why don’t you go along? You could go on holiday.” His mum said.

”Yeah, I could do, but I’m not too interested in visiting America and you only get chance for one real holiday a year, don’t you. I’d like to travel around Europe.”

”But Europe’s just like here, really. America’s so different.” His mum said.

I know, but I’m not spending my annual leave watching that little tart parading his arse around, Scott thought.

Back at his flat later, Scott presumed this was a bit like that book Steppenwolf. That was the vibe, wasn’t it? Some garret room somewhere, a single man, records and empty wine bottles strewn around. Nothing to do, no direction, nowhere to go.

Only it wasn’t glamorous, that was the thing.

Some people liked to live that sort of life as an illusion. The happy and well adjusted should just be that, he thought, happy and well adjusted. Hollis was that way. He wasn’t meant to suffer. His life was light. It was a confidence thing, a buoyancy thing. Some people seemed to have this underlying resolve, not that they thought about it; they just were equipped to survive.

Some people bond well with other people. Some people give a lot. Give their time and energy to others, to help them, to make them feel happy. They get back, reciprocally. He felt the churning in his mind and his belly. He wanted to help other people, or just at least one person. Fuck it, he could have a family, kids. It wouldn’t be like the last generation, like he was and always had been with his parents. There would be no emotional constipation. It would be different. He had ideas, concepts, ideals, even, about how you’d do it.

It’s funny, he thought. Maybe it’s because I feel like it might never happen, but it suddenly feels so appealing. It was the last thing he had ever consciously wanted, or thought about, for all these years. To start something new, to do something positive. I never created anything, he thought. Christ, do I just shuffle off the planet on my own, forty, fifty years from now? In some hospital bed on a drip, with good little nurses, professional carers helping me to slide noiselessly through the out-door?

Nothing has to happen, he thought, I’ve proved that. I could simply drift on and on, live here in Blackton, never leave. Watch granma, mum and dad pass on, watch Hollis whizz around the world being glamorous on TV, watch the Pirates win and lose, watch the managers come and go. Watch Jambo get fat and who knows, probably get married.

God, he thought, I might end up being one of those toothless flat caps they interview on the BBC at FA Cup games.

The BBC man would ask him, “and you are how old, Mr Chambers?”

”I am 89 years old.”

”And when was your first game?”

It was against Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1986, at the old Duke’s Ground. We lost by two goals to nil. I remember well that Wolves scored and then straight from the kick off, we conceded possession and they went straight up the pitch and scored again…. From then on, I was hooked.

The journalist would laugh. And that would be Scott’s moment.

He wondered why he seemed to only think of himself all of the time. He felt so tired of life in his bubble, but he knew no other way. And all in all, wasn’t it wholly natural to care about himself first and foremost, to do what he wanted first and foremost?

When he was at uni, there were a lot of stoned conversations with other idealistic kids, everyone trying to express themselves, develop ideas about the world. They were probably only listening to the sound of their own, spangled consciousnesses really, never listening to him. He swore he listened to them. But he found the more you listened to people, the more they talked at you.

He wasn’t sure what it was they hoped to achieve by all this talking. Getting stuff off their chest, so they could go on and be happy. Leaving all these problems with him. He wasn’t supposed to care either! He was supposed to listen and forget about it, that’s all anybody else did.

Maybe it was smoking all that blow and gazing at the stars too much, but it did seem like everything was infinite and how did one minuscule dot, like him, in an unfathomable universe motivate himself to do anything, when he could be wiped out in seconds by some simple twist of fate? Every day was a miraculous gift and yet, at the same time, an unanswerable question.

Just one look at you

And the world’s alright with me

Woman,

Take me in your arms,

Rock me baby.

Beatific lyrics, backed with beatific mellifluous melodies, these were some of Scott’s favourite songs. They weren’t cool and trend hunters wouldn’t write galloping prose about them, but that didn’t matter a bit to him. If he heard them on the commercial radio stations while he was at work, he felt his soul stir. For a couple of minutes, he was elevated above the mundane. This was the real meaning of nightclubs, he thought; not just to entertain, but also to uplift you, spiritually, a beautiful illusion.

When he was a kid, bouncing and dancing, he could forget the outside world and all its difficulties, its pressures, its questions. That’s what he had forgotten. It had become so staid, that he no longer let go of the outside world when he went out. The conversation would revolve around football and that was about it. Trivia.

In the Spires of Academe, people wrote treatises on every conceivable nook and cranny of every conceivable happening. For every action committed, Scott wondered to himself how many words had been written, how many comments uttered. Britain was a nation made up of watchers and pundits, not active people, it seemed. Or, it didn’t seem that anything was worth anything in this country, unless it attracted media attention.

There were times when he really loved his job. The times when he could somehow forget himself – regress – into an oasis of statistics and emails and stone-cold figures, which he manipulated, turned into graphs and submitted to his line manager. The routine, the coldness, the way other people became reliable and used to his commands, issued in laconic email form, on a weekly basis. The great iceberg of facts inputted into forms and processed.

Then he would remember that he wasn’t allowed to enjoy it, that it was beneath him and drudgery and sham and tedious and never changing. The iceberg simply drifted around the great, barren Antarctic Circle.

He had to be depressed here. Them were the rules, he didn’t make the rules. There was no possibility that actually, this could be OK for him, that his bachelor life might be quite enjoyable, that this easy option might lead him out of that Antarctic and into more temperate waters some day, that life could blossom.

No, no, this was a stagnant pool and guilt attended his every revel, laced his every hangover with an extra dose of strychnine and dogged his every waking thought. Guilt.

*

21 years old and peachy, they came and they went away again, the temps. They’d just finished uni and were working out what happened next. They were applying for graduate traineeships, or going onto do a Masters, or going off to do a TEFL and teach in some far-flung place. Or they were in bands and they had interest from labels, or they were artists, or they were dancers. They were much younger than him and they had specific goals.

He had fun with them. He would tease the girls, who tended to be pretty flirty and vivacious, being so young. The lads would tend to be quieter at first, but they opened up like a concertina as soon as you found out what made them tick. If they liked football, he could yarn with them all day and then it would stretch out into other topics. Occasionally, they would even go for post-work drinks, which he loved to do.

It was nice to still feel young. Being around the young ones made him feel that way. They had other things to talk about, not the Company – plans, ambitions, members of the opposite sex, other cities, other countries, other jobs.

The promotion meant he had his own little office now. Sweet freedom! He d had a little radio in the corner, a little digital one. He could pick up 6music, or 5 Live, or XFM North for the indie. It was just a little corner of the main office where he used to sit, with the temps and the old dears, but it was partitioned off.

The stuff he had to do, he did. There didn’t tend to be too much pressure. Generally, he reckoned, his 37.5-hour week of work would be done in about 24 hours, giving him at least a couple of hours per day to doss, idle and prevaricate. He could take these in the morning, if the night before had been heavy, or in the afternoon, if he suddenly hit a wall and couldn’t be arsed any more.

The Company was an archaic, bureaucratically inflexible, outdated and outmoded institution, risibly behind the technological advances of the times. They banned the use of internet in their offices, fearing that it would render the office staff less efficient, yet they had no answer to the Blackberry. They replaced the old PCs with Workstations, so that nobody had their own hard drive to store personal data on, but these Workstations still had USB ports – so Scott simply brought in a pen drive, full of little games, funny stuff off the internet and whatever else his mind might desire to view, on screen, during the course of his day.

So Scott cheerfully dialled up http://www.thepirates.com on his Blackberry, which was always a buzz, especially now, when the transfer window was open. He and Jambo were aflame for every rumour going.

Sweet indolence! It was incredible. They told you that donning a shirt and tie and reporting to an office, like everyone else, was cultural death, was conformism, was limiting. Not a bit of it! He’d never felt so free. He hardly had to lift a finger. The coffee was instant. The bus conveyed him from work to home. The internet met his every need. Nobody particularly bothered him. He could do anything he wanted, most of the time, as long as it didn’t attract attention, or bother anybody else.

He made the young temps glad of him as a supervisor, cos he wouldn’t get on their case. He didn’t care, see? They could do what the fuck they wanted, so long as they managed to do their bit of work, which they were all more than capable of doing. They came from the Agency and the Agency only sent kids who were competent, they generally had A-Levels at the very least. He always asked them what they were planning to do when he was on the same level as them and there was no need for that to change now that he had stepped on to the next level. The worst thing in the world would be for them to feel uncomfortable around him. He’d suffered under the old-school manager types, on his case all the time and Jesus, he’d hated them. OK, you did what they needed you to do, but you didn’t do a single bit more. It was all about how you treated people, he thought.

If people were your friends, he found, they’d run through brick walls for you. As long as they felt like you’d do the same for them.

He thought it was going to be the hardest decision of his life, taking the promotion, but it had been easy. He had done it sober, or at least mostly sober, too. It had only been a pub quiz the night before, just a couple really.

And he got into work, feeling alright. And went into Leivers’ office and said, yes, thank you, I will take the pay rise. I will take the promotion. I’m very grateful for the opportunity. Thank you.

All the time, somewhere else in his mind! Totally free! A part of him was not there, it was running wild. He was divorced from himself, mentally detached. These motions they put him through were so gentle, it was the easiest thing in the world.

Do this, do that, do the other – you could be doing this, you should be doing that – that was family and school, but these office people, they didn’t put hardly any demands on him at all. Not like the rest of society. Being in the office was like a breather from all that – from the ubiquitous television, with its loud advertisements and blunt suggestions linking product with sexual success; the parents who constantly asked questions, the friends who didn’t, who just told you all about their family, their friends, their problems, themselves. Here, he was mostly left alone and picked up a pay cheque at the end of the month. What he did mattered, in some obscure, invisible way. He was appreciated, mildly – not lionised, not showered in gratitude, but he didn’t crave that. His humble desires were humbly met.

The promotion was like a salve to his aching mind. His hangovers took on a less metallic glint. The nagging, painful thoughts at the back of his mind, about the outside world and its imperatives, were soothed. If he so desired, he could now insulate himself utterly from the thrusting imperatives of the young temps around the office. The partition meant that he could seek out their energy and laughter and sense of fun if he felt the need for it, or, if he preferred, shut himself away with his Blackberry and luxuriate in his rigid, narrow framework of day-to-day loose thinking, without being made to feel inferior, without being upset.

It was important now, more than ever, not to give a toss about anything.

If he was bullied by the organically-fuelled harridan Gemma, who strode around the office demanding that people cared about Issues, then he might chip in a fiver towards African kids, or whatever, but that was to be avoided, if at all possible. After all, it was his money, he earned it and there was no need to give it to anybody else.

The trouble with Issues, he thought to himself, is that there are so many.

There is nothing I can do about any of them, he thought. That’s just the way it is. The powers that be are in charge, mine is not to reason why, mine is but to lounge around this office doing as little as I can without getting sacked and then go to my rented lodgings and play Nintendo Wii.

Wii Boxing helped keep him fit.

The best thing to do was to insulate oneself, wherever possible, from the outside world and its harmful effects. There was a beautiful bubble – in an ideal world, he would have his own car, so he wouldn’t have to listen to the kids playing R&B on their mobile phones on the bus, or deal with the cold and the damp in the winter. The car would take him from front door to office and back. He laughed to himself. Weather wouldn’t be a problem at all. He would buy a car.

Life’s little luxuries.

He wished he could turn around to Hippy Gemma and deliver a damning summation of his political position, that of total detachment, of utter apathy.

Listen,” he would say, as she stared, bug-eyed with rage, after upbraiding him for not showing sufficient sympathy with the plight of some sub-continental children, orphaned by another natural disaster (caused, of course, by the West’s negligence in curbing emissions). “I don’t care. I couldn’t give a toss. I’m not donating, because that would only give you the wrong idea. You’d be back next week, demanding more money for some other Issue. I only signed that fucking petition you brought round because it got you out of my face for a few minutes and it didn’t cost me anything. I’ve forgotten what it was about already.

”I don’t care if the icecaps are melting, I don’t care if that means no more polar bears. A polar bear would eat me, if I gave it half a chance. So that’s one more thing I don’t care about. I’ve never eaten any whales, I’ve never killed any whales, I’ve never seen a whale and I probably never will. They are not prevalent in Blackton.” He liked this ironical flourish.

“I need my money. I need the money for me. We all need more money, don’t we? Everyone’s always skint for two weeks a month while they wait for payday to come round, everyone’s living on tick. Noone runs round screaming about my plight. Save the debt-ridden office creatures! They’re wallowing in debt they can’t pay back. Britain is an armpit and it’s owned by banks. Why doesn’t somebody campaign about that?”

It would be interesting to see what Gemma said to that, he thought, smugly.

Sharon knocked and briskly strode into his little office, without waiting for any response to the knock. Oh God, he thought. If it’s not bleeding hearts, it’s admin who actually give a toss.

“Hello there, Mr Chambers”, Sharon said, waggling her pencilled eyebrows meaningfully.

“Ah, Sharon, there you are”, Scott laughed, carelessly. “I was meaning to email you those – “

”Stats.”

There was finality about the word. Slab-like, it brooked no argument.

“Yes, sorry Sharon, I’ll have them with you later this morning.”

”You better had do, Mr Chambers, ‘cos Kim needs them by this afternoon.”

”Yeah, yeah, it’s not a problem, they’re done, I just need to format the stuff. Give me five minutes.” Scott looked longingly at his large Blackton United coffee mug. There was no help there.

“OK then, Scotty. Just don’t make me come back up here! Ha ha ha ha ha!”

“Ah-ha ha ha ha ha, yes. Haha.”

Scott joined in the laughter, a practiced actor relaxing into a role he’d played many times before.

A quote from “Withnail & I” popped, unbidden, into his mind.

I will never play the Dane.

He could see Uncle Monty, mounds of flesh rippling, whispering his dread truth into the petrified I’s ear.

He stared at his monitor as Sharon left the office. He could hear her mithering a temp through the partition. The statistics were lined up in front of him, same as ever. They were ready to send. He made a mental note to remember to send them by 10am the next Thursday, as he’d simply rather that Sharon didn’t come in to disturb him. Better still, he thought, I’ll make a note in my calendar. I can set it to send me an email next Thursday morning at 9am and then I’ll definitely remember.

THE END

SOUNDTRACK

EastEnders theme

“All Along The Watchtower” – Jimi Hendrix

“A Simple Twist of Fate” – Bob Dylan

“Born To Be Wild” – Steppenwolf

“A New Career in a New Town”– David Bowie

”Jawbone and the Air-Rifle” – The Fall

“Rebel Yell” – Billy Idol

“Once In A Lifetime” – Talking Heads

“Soul Fire” – Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry

“Rock Me Baby” –

“Where’s All This Shit Happening?” – Bill Hicks

“Lovely Day” –