The Trey’O’Hearts

June 28, 2009

The letter formally requested the annulment of the marriage of Peter Edward and Rachel Vincent.

Peter Edward Vincent couldn’t bring himself to read it, still. The highballs after lunch were meant to stiffen his resolve, to the point where he could go through the petition, accept its contents and contact his attorney. It hadn’t happened that way.

Vincent sat in his favourite armchair, in the downtown apartment he now called home. A decanter of whiskey and an ashtray stood on the small table beside him. Also, a few sundry bills, a copy of the Los Angeles Morning Sun and Rachel’s letter, which he had stuffed back into its envelope,.

Vincent added his half-full tumbler to the collection of items on the table. He pulled himself to his feet and shuffled into the bathroom. He needed to get ready to meet Brady from Universal Studios.  With nothing better to do that day, Vincent had hit upon the idea of watching one of his old films down at the Universal lot. He’d asked Brady to find him a print of ‘The Trey’O’Hearts’.

Dully, Vincent remembered that he had missed his appointment at the barber’s that afternoon, choosing to take a nap, instead. It didn’t matter – he was perfectly capable of shaving himself.

Carefully, he stripped the light stubble from his face with his cut-throat, thinking about ‘The Trey’O’Hearts’. The book itself had not been great, he knew that. Because of the time pressure they’d heaped upon him. If he’d had longer – but it didn’t matter.

They’d loved the idea at Universal. Just on the strength of the outline plot, they said they could make it into a movie series. After that, the wheels were in motion so quickly. We’ve got a new star in the making, they’d said – Cleo Madison. She would be perfect to play the twin sister heroines.

What a beauty she was, Cleo. What a woman.

Vincent nicked himself and winced. Washing the last lather off his face, he watched a little of his blood disappear down the sink, along with his stubble, soap and water.

He towelled off and opened the bathroom cabinet, picking out a bottle of benzene after-shave. He removed the stopper and was about to apply some when the telephone rang. Cursing, he moved back through to the drawing room and placed the after-shave on the table, reaching the phone on the fifth ring.

“Vincent.”

“Mr Vincent, it’s Brady here.”

“Brady, old man.”

“I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news. It’s the film. I can’t find a print of it anywhere here.”

“You can’t?”

“No, it’s the darnedest thing. We have a storage facility for some of the old silents, but I’ve been down there and we don’t have it catalogued.”

“You have storage – for some of the films?”

Brady coughed.

“Excuse me. Yes, Mr Vincent, that’s right. Unfortunately, the sheer number of films we made – I mean, we’re going back over 20 years, here. We couldn’t keep them all -”

“I understand”, said Vincent, coldly. “That’ll be all, Mr Brady.”

“I’m sorry -”

“Good evening”, snapped Vincent. He banged down the receiver.

His film was lost.

He paced around the room, trying to remember – the premiere of the first instalment. How excited Rachel had been to be there with him, Peter Edward Vincent, a writer for the movies. Meeting Cleo Madison – the party at Henry McRae’s place, when he’d told Cleo that he was going to write the perfect character for her. Together, they could do something much more important than this melodramatic nonsense.  She was too good for that –

He stared at a framed poster for ‘The Trey’O’Hearts’, which adorned his wall.

In the drawer of the desk in his study, he found the signed portrait of Cleo and a miniature packet of playing cards. Universal had made them to promote the series. He sipped his whisky, then opened the pack, carelessly strewing the cards across his desk.

He read the packet.

“A film of exceptional drawing power – ONE LONG THRILL!”

Universal had ditched it, just like the rest of the detritus from the silent age.

Vincent picked out a copy of the ‘Trey’O’Hearts’ novel from the bookshelf and returned to his armchair. He refilled his tumbler, lit a cigarette. He started to read, but through the mists of the whiskey, which was on top of him by now, he found it impossible to concentrate on the words.

By the time he had stuttered through the opening chapter and moved onto the second, he was upset with the language, with the creaky, jerky way he had moved the plot on. He had been young, but not that young. The primary-colour, babyish way in which he introduced the characters of the ‘bad’ twin sister, Judith, and her twisted old father, Pa Trine – he frowned. This was juvenilia, nothing but juvenilia. No better than ‘The Lone Wolf’.

Before long, he had given up on reading. The book lay open in his lap, but he was just drinking. Smoking, he ran through the plot of ‘The Trey’O’Hearts’ in his mind. The way he had raced to Universal with the fresh idea. Fool that he was. If he’d written the damn novel first, it could have been – but no, he had to go and give it to those philistines, for a few stinking dollars.

He pictured the twin sisters – of course, Rose, the ‘good’ twin sister, had been Rachel – or so he’d thought.

At the close of the book, the protagonist, Alan May, awoke to find Rose standing over him – May had thought that she was dead. Only it wasn’t Rose. It was her twin sister, Judith; turned from bad to good, she had fallen in love with Alan and was ready to atone for all the wrongs she had done to him.

Vincent wished it could happen to him. Let me wake up tomorrow with Rachel standing over me, in love with me again. Only not Rachel. He laughed bitterly. No, not Rachel. Just someone who looks like her. Not that cold-hearted bitch –

In a moment, he had hurled the hardbacked copy of ‘The Trey’O’Hearts’ towards the table. It strck the open bottle of after-shave, which fell to the ground, chugging its contents out onto the carpet in great gulps.

Thank God for that, thought Vincent, laughing.

It could have been the whiskey.

Vincent carefully placed his still-lit cigarette in the ashtray. The heavy bottle was unbroken. He picked it up and returned it to the bathroom cabinet. Then he selected a towel and moved back into the drawing room, to mop up the spillage.

Kept updated via text whilst out in Manchester)

DERBY: Bywater; Connolly (c), Albrechtsen, Addison, Stewart; Barazite (Sterjovski – 74), Savage, Green, Teale (Villa – 64); Commons; Hulse
OTHER SUBS: Carroll, Nyatanga, Barnes

Not a game we’d expected to win, but by God, a draw would have been a good result.

Tommo was in Manchester and we were out at ‘No Point In Not Being Friends’, Chris Killen and Sally Cook’s spoken word night at the Deaf Institute.  It was a special one, because Chris’ debut novel The Bird Room came out last week – more on that later.

bird-room

We were having a drink in the middle bar when the text came in from Joe.  1-0.  Carsley.

As the night wound on, I was sure we would equalise (I always am), but then my dad called me, miserable, to tell me it had finished 1-0 and see how I had got on in London.  He rang just as the author Jenn Ashworth was launching into her reading.  She is incredibly softly spoken and the place was utterly hushed.  My ringtone, even from my pocket, was a huge embarrassment as I hustled outside in triple time.  Fortunately, I was stood very close to the exit.

(It’s only the standard issue tone, by the way – not ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’, or anything like that.)

During breaks between readings, Tommo and I went outside, to moan about the state of the team.  It hit me with brutal certainty that the problem is goals – looking at the stats confirmed this.  We haven’t scored in four league matches now.  The pressure is on Rob Hulse to deliver big-time, because the rest of the strikers – Ellington, Villa and Varney – have six league goals between them.  Hulse has got seven.  That’s just not enough for the top scorer at this point in the season.

I never rated him when he was at Derby, but by God, he's had a good career

Carsley - I never rated him when he was at Derby. I was wrong.

Hulse is going to have to score a lot more league goals and the others are going to have to chip in too.  Varney, Villa, Barnes, Barazite, Commons, Ellington and Green all have what Clough Snr referred to as a ‘moral responsibility’ to score.

Clough Jnr has referred to a lack of willingness to go into the six-yard box.

“That’s where you get your goals, but it’s also where you get hurt”, he said, after the draw with Forest.

“Are you saying your players aren’t brave enough?” Colin Gibson asked him.

“They’ll get brave enough over the next few weeks,” retorted Clough.

Nigel - in for the long haul

Nigel - in for the long haul

They’re going to have to, because last night’s results conspired to dump us into the relegation zone.

The current system is a 4-4-1-1, with either Commons or Barnes in behind Hulse, although Villa was brought on to replace Teale after Carsley’s goal, which meant 4-4-2 again.  But still no goals.

Why no Barnes?

Tommo had to shoot off to get his last train, but I stayed out late at the Deaf Institute.  It was nice to congratulate Chris Killen on his achievement – getting his first novel published by Canongate, no less.  I just finished it and I’ll review it once the hangover has kicked out.  It was a good night – local luminaries Socrates Adams-Florou, Sally Cook, Sian Cummins and Joe Stretch (love him or hate him) read too, amongst others.  I missed Richard Milward, author of Ten Storey Love Song, because I’d been out for a cig with Anne-Laure (whose new shop is opening in Affleck’s Palace on Friday).  We came back in just as he was finishing his reading.  He had a huge orange box on his head.

Once I got home, I sat staring mutely, disbelieving, at the results and the table. The bastards had all won – Doncaster, Watford, Forest, even fucking Charlton.  Southampton had drawn with Norwich, was the only sliver of good news.

We were 22nd in the Championship.

It’s ugly and it’s painful and if there was ever a must win game, it’s our next league fixture – Coventry City, home, Saturday.

Arriving home

December 12, 2008

I opened the gate and Grandad shuffled through it.

“Thanks lad”, he said.

The sun was doing its best to compensate for the heavy silence. We walked at shuffle pace down the hill, towards the remnants of the Roman fort by the river.

Grandad stopped halfway down the hill and touched my arm. “Look”, he said, pointing across the valley. “See that church? That’s where we married. Now, look right from there and back a bit, that’s Abblesden.”

That was the council estate they’d lived on for forty five years, after the war was over and Grandad had demobbed.

“Of course, I was so lucky the war ended when it did, because they were going to post me to Burma.”

“Really?” Of course, I’d heard the story before.

“Oh yes. On the front line. I would have been fighting the Japanese. But then of course, they dropped the bomb and the Japanese surrendered. And I came back home.”

“Thank God for that”, I said.

Ratemydate.com

December 12, 2008

How would you rate his breath, on a scale of 1 (offensive) to 5 (fresh)?

The respondent had answered:

2

James frowned. He still found it hard to believe that it was necessary to include the question in the survey.  But the amount of times men scored 1 or 2 for ‘breath’ made it clear to him that it had to be there. It was such an easy thing, such a simple thing, such a cheap thing to rectify.

This particular guy had taken his date to a city centre pub.  Not a bad first move.  Neutral ground, that was vital.  Nothing too heavy, just a drink, but in a swisher environment than the local.  The Suitability Index for the date was pretty high.  Both parties were humanities graduates, both late twenties.  Both WASPs, so to speak, with similar paths through life to date.

James wanted to help those paths converge.

A natural mathematician, he had followed his subject to uni, but once there, quickly became disillusioned.  Maths simply didn’t assuage his curiosity about people.  It wasn’t exciting.  It wasn’t a conversation starter in bars, unless, of course, he was with other mathematicians.  Still, he stuck it out, found other things to talk about in bars and finally qualified with a 2:1 and an idea.  He would apply his number-crunching ability to dating.

Ratemydate.com was born.

His friends scoffed at the idea, at first.

“You mean to tell me”, said Giles, between convulsive shudder bouts of laughter, “that some poor sod, who’s taken a girl out, then got the old zero back when he texted her the next day, is then going to follow it up with an email?  Dear Lisa – thanks for Friday night.  Please find attached feedback form.  Kind regards, Bellend”.

Everyone had a cheap laugh at James’ expense, but the idea kept growing.

What if you could go onto the website and fill it in anonymously.  You could put the venue, date and the time of your encounter, but you didn’t have to mention the other person’s name.

Nobody would pay for the service, his research persuaded him of that pretty quickly.  But it was an easy pitch to get advertising revenue from dating websites. He told his friends.  Got them to act as online guinea pigs in his ‘sandpit’ development site.  They fed back. They’d enjoyed it.  He went live.

The forms started coming in.  He monitored the traffic on the site.  As the visitor numbers increased, he kept revising his form.  How many were coming back incomplete.  Why.  Were people skipping particular questions.  Why.  Was there any need for comment boxes in particular places.  Trial and error.  He tweaked and honed.  He sought feedback about the site’s visual appeal.  Did it look welcoming and warm.  The golden rule – keep it simple, keep it accessible.

The site appealed to people’s – vanity, he decided.  The date hadn’t gone well.  He hadn’t treated her as she’d expect.  He kept looking in every other direction.  She didn’t know what to talk about.   He laughed at his own jokes.  He was tight about money.  His jokes, which he laughed at, too loudly, weren’t very funny.  She didn’t seem very mature.  Her eyes were funny.  His hair was a mess.  Too neat.  Too polite.  Too formal.  He seemed nervous.  She answered a text when I was in the middle of talking to her.  The list was never-ending.

He found that the majority of respondents – 56 – 44 per cent – were women.  14% of forms had been filled in by gay men and lesbians.  The process was not as attractive to straight guys.  OK. The data was passed onto the advertisers, so that they could target their ads.

The buzz on Facebook was great.  People loved to gossip; it brightened up their lives.  Not everyone was happy with the results, of course, but James figured that if a guy had BO, or was limited in conversational breadth, or couldn’t wrestle his eyes from a woman’s breasts, then it was probably better, long term, that someone had the hard word about it with them.

If you’d never heard back from your date, you could check the site to see if they’d given you the reason why. All you had to do was tap in the venue, the date and the time.

Emails started to arrive from forlorn men. That report card that came in about 16th July, Zizzi’s Bar in Ashford, 9pm.  Can you tell me who it was who sent it?  I need to know if it was about me.

Of course, confidentiality applied.  The anonymity of the reviewer was sacrosanct.  The reviewed had to make their own mind up.
And maybe it wasn’t about them.  Maybe it was the sad story of the couple at the next table, the ones who’d seemed to be having such a good time.  Or the ones over by the bar, who’d looked a little drunk.  Or the two who sat by the window, quiet.  The ones who left with their arms around each other, heading for the nearest taxi rank.

Or maybe it was about the guy with nothing better to do than to email ratemydate.com.

I feel absolutely ecstatic, wired, that ecstasy that is too much – I’m moving too fast to enjoy the moment, know that I must crash at some point.  This is why alcohol happens.

I was thinking, would anyone read this if it didn’t say MIRANDA JULY – No One Belongs Here More Than You at the top?  Is this why I review?

Many thoughts are leaping into my mind at once – I think part of it is the sheer exuberance generated by not having touched alcohol for over a week.  But another part of it is that I have been chewing over Miranda July’s stories of late.

She writes about people I don’t usually come across in first person narrative – strippers, losers, fat secretaries, lonely old factory workers, lonely people generally.  Throughout, there’s this yearning for connection, for meaning.  Relationships are usually disastrous and destructive, weird and restricting, non-sexual, or sexually unsatisfactory for at least one party.  Psychologically abusive, at times.  People do not live happily ever after, but they do live on, like it or not.  Have to.

I’ve always been fascinated by life’s failures – the red-faced dissolute standing outside the Royal Oak smoking at half one in the afternoon; inside the pub, you can see the racing on the TV and a few heads, not moving, not speaking.  I sometimes pathetically wish I could be there, just dissolving myself, pickling myself gradually to death.  But I know that if I tried to do it, it wouldn’t work.  I would end up getting other people involved and it would fuck up.

Those people in that pub don’t look like they have any private pain.  They don’t look capable of much thought, or much else.  They’re not, anymore.  But they did, once.  They could, once.  They don’t want to anymore.  They just want to die.

Miranda July doesn’t write a story about an alcoholic in this collection, but I can’t help feeling there’s a connection, somewhere.  Maybe I’m wrong.  What I’m driving at is that some of the people she writes about, I walk past on the street daily, without giving them a second thought.  Maybe I think, oh, she’s ugly, or, god, what a mess that guy is, or I just don’t even register them.  She writes about them.  Not much happens, externally – they drift around a very limited, circumscribed universe – but inside, they still have ambitions, dreams, fantasies, drives.  Coping mechanisms.

A secretary obsesses about little things, because there isn’t anything big in her life.  A woman daydreams about everybody she’s ever met holding a party for her, because they love her.  An older guy, who regularly fantasises about teenage girls, takes ecstasy and has a sexual experience with a male work colleague.  A lesbian couple scour the classified ads in the paper, looking for something for them.

Short story writing should be the art of turning a moment into infinity.  Some people start writing and it seems as though they can do anything with anything, never stop producing.  Use the mundane as their clay.

Once I had finished this book, my instinct was to go back to the start straight away.  That doesn’t happen very often.

I haven’t done the book justice with this review – one read wasn’t enough to really take it in, somehow.  I just want to urge anybody who reads this post to check out the book.

At Manchester Piccadilly, there’s an upstairs retail court, with a sports bar, an M&S food shop and various other outlets.

Queuing for food, a woman barged past me – “Can I go in front of you. My train goes in five minutes. I’d do the same.”

I say nothing, the guy stood in front of me in the line says nothing. The woman takes her bag of products up to the kid who is serving at till number 8.

I am served soon enough at till number 9. Walking out of the shop, I see two white men sitting on a bench. I hear a foreign language being spoken, maybe Polish. Something isn’t right about them. One is talking quietly into the other’s ear. The listener suddenly crumples, doubling up. He tries to cover his face with his jacket. I look over the balcony beyond them and see two policemen below, wearing fluorescent jackets and leading Alsatians.

The guy is obviously terrified of something. Maybe the mob have finally caught up to him. Maybe he owes someone money. Maybe he killed someone. Maybe he knew something.
Whatever, pain and panic had arrived upon him, in the shape of the other man, or the information he was calmly delivering.

The next time I passed that way, I looked at the same bench. This time, a girl was sat there, alone, staring into the corporately-owned space in front of her, an empty page of a notebook in front of her.

This is a public space, of sorts. Anyone can sit there for free and play out whatever needs to be played out in their lives. Next time, I might sit there for five minutes, see what I can see.

Gadgets

July 9, 2008

My iPhone rang and I answered.  I was glad Ed had called me, because I was still getting to grips with the keypad and finding sending text messages to be a bit of a pain.  Still, the iPhone was a sleek and beautiful object that felt right in my hands and I was sure I’d get used to it.

 

“Eddie baby.”

”Yes, Morgan”.

 

“Are we playing squash later then, or what?”

”I did fancy watching the Chelsea game, though”, Ed said.  “I mean, I want to give Sky HD a whirl.”

”Hmm, but you’re not a Chelsea fan, are you?”

”No.”

Ed was from Cheshire, so he supported Manchester United, in the sense that he watched their games on television.   To this end, he had recently purchased a Pioneer Kuro PDP-LX508D, with a 50’ plasma screen.  He had chosen this over the smaller, but heavily recommended Sony Bravia KDL-52X3500 (with 40’ LCD screen), because he felt that the plasma screen made a real difference to the quality of the visual experience. 

 

“You can really tell when you shut the curtains”, he told me. 

 

I told him that it was really just because he liked the idea of having ten extra inches.

 

I myself owned a Philips Aurea 42-inch HD TV, which I was thinking of getting rid of.  I just couldn’t get used to the ambilights that it projected onto the wall behind the screen.  During dinner at Antibo’s one night, Jared told Estelle and I that he felt it made the TV experience ‘more immersive’, so we bought one too, but I didn’t like it very much. 

 

“Listen”, I said.  “I’ll come round for the Arsenal – Milan game tomorrow.  Send the little lady off out somewhere.  In fact, she can get together with Estelle.  Get her to ring her.”

”Go on then.”

 

We then arranged to meet at the health suite at 6:30 that evening. 

 

I was on time, but Ed was late, so once I was changed, I sat in the bar, waiting for Ed and sipping a mineral water.  Ed finally arrived, ten minutes late, riding a small bicycle. 

 

I watched through the window in amusement as he attempted to fold the bike into a small metal parcel.  I was at the point of getting up to go out and help him by the time he finally worked it out and, looking relieved, packed it into its attaché case. 

 

He huffed and puffed his way into the bar, racquet in one hand, attaché case in the other.

 

“Sorry I’m late, this fucking thing just doesn’t go very fast.” 

”Really?  What is it?”

”It’s a Ridgeback Attaché folding bike.  I thought it would be good for nipping around on, maybe even sprinting into town with it, but it just dawdles.  I set off in perfectly good time, I assure you.”

I laughed. 

 

“It doesn’t matter.  So long as you’re good and tired now, so I can smash you all over the court.”

 

After the beating was administered, we ordered up a mineral water each at the bar.  The Chelsea game was playing on the normal-sized, normal television set in the corner of the bar.  We looked at each other, had the same thought at the same time and laughed. 


”I’ll get these.”  Ed said.

 

“Are you sure you want to cycle back on that thing after a couple?”

”Well, it doesn’t go very fast anyway.  Besides, it folds away, so I can walk home if I want.”

”True.”

Ed ordered the drinks, two pints of German lager.


”So, how’s Estelle?”

I paused to take a sip of lager before answering.

 

“She’s fine.  Still fawning over that fucking dog I had to buy her for her birthday.”

”Oh yes.  What is it, a Yorkshire Terrier?”

”Bedlington.  Looks like a stuffed toy.  I couldn’t be doing with one of those fucking Yorkies yapping around the place, with a bloody bow in its hair.  Christ.  I didn’t marry Paris Hilton for a reason.”

Ed laughed, then winced.  “Fucking shoulder”, he grimaced, rubbing it ruefully.

 

“The amount that sodding dog costs to run, I’m starting to think it would have been cheaper to have had a kid”, I moaned.  “You know she went and bought one of those bloody Zoombaks the other day?” I told him.

”What’s a Zoombak?”  Ed asked, raising an eyebrow. 

”A Zoombak, get this”, I laughed bitterly, “a Zoombak is a device flogged to doting pet owners to ensures that they’ll never lose the bloody thing.  That dog now has a fucking GPS chip on its collar…”

Ed roared with laughter

 

“So if it runs off in the park, she can track it online, with her iPhone.”

 

“That’s insane.”

 

“I know.  Cost her £100.  Still, it’s her money, she can do what she wants with it.”

”True.”  Ed took another sip of his pint.

 

“I don’t know.  I swear it would be cheaper to have a kid.”  I stared out of the window.

 

“Do you think she wants one yet?”

”No, not yet, she says, at least she says that.  She says she doesn’t want to take a career break yet.  But I don’t know.  The dog’s a substitute, there’s no doubt about that.”


”Uh-huh.  Well, I mean, she must be, what,”

”Nearly thirty.”

”Yeah and I suppose there’s the old biological clock to think about.”

”Absolutely.”

”How do you feel about it?”  Ed asked.

 

I shrugged.  “It’s inevitable.”  I said.

 

Ed nodded.

 

“I mean, I still love her”, I said. 

 

Ed nodded again, a little quicker this time.

 

I realised that I needed to change the subject.

 

“Good ball”, I said, nodding at the screen.  Michael Ballack had just played a routine square pass to Shaun Wright-Phillips.  Ed and I watched as Wright-Philips ran at the full back, his acceleration enough to force the defender to backtrack, before executing a sliding tackle at the expense of a corner.  From Lampard’s corner, Carvalho got up highest and the ball nestled in the corner of the Lille net.

 

I found myself idly wondering how many of the Chelsea players cuddling up to the lanky Portuguese defender agreed with me, that the Philips Aurea TV set with ambilights was a pain in the arse.  Then again, considering the amount they were on a week, they probably had 60’ screen HD plasma / LCD hybrid screens, which automatically selected the best configuration of contrast and brightness for whatever they were watching.  I couldn’t imagine how you could ever worry about anything if you earned  £100,000 per week or more.  Then I saw Ashley Cole’s ratty little face on screen and grinned.

 

Estelle must be ready to have a kid by now, I thought.  We’ve got everything we could possibly want.  She was ploughing on at work and didn’t want to stop, but the dog was an obvious sign that something was amiss, that something unnatural was happening to her.  She lavished so much attention on it that I wanted nothing to do with it, except for to kick it up in the air every time I thought about how much money was spent on its grooming products, its kennels, its gourmet foods and its Zoombaks. 

 

Driving home, I flicked on my new TomTom Go 720 Europe satellite navigation system, just to check that it was working smoothly.  A stray thought suddenly amused me, involving us chasing the puppy around the city, using the sat nav to track it down as it chased after a fox or a cat. 

 

When I got home, I was surprised to find Estelle vacuuming the lounge whilst watching music videos on the Aurea.  She turned the machine off when she saw me walk in and waved hiya.

 

“Why are you vacuuming?  I thought Julia came in this morning?”

Julia was the cleaner.

 

“She did, but I just fancied a go on this new Dyson we bought.  It’s a Dyson Baby DC22 Animal”, she said, gravely.

 

I laughed.  “Well, we could save ourselves a nice sum a month if you ‘just fancied’ having a run around with it every other day?”

”Don’t push your luck,” she said, smiling.  “How was the gym?”

”Oh, fine.  We were playing squash, actually.”  

 

“Ah-hah,” she sang, with that light, rising intonation that I loved to hear.

 

“You are a delight to behold.”  I said, admiring her curves.  She was wearing a long tight-fitting skirt and I was gripped by a sudden need to remove it.  She switched on the vacuum cleaner again. 

 

“The turbine head on this Dyson really does get Obama’s hair out of this carpet, you know”, she shouted.  “Money well spent.”

 

“Where is the little bastard?”  I said.

 

“What?”  Estelle shouted, over the noise of the Dyson.

 

“Where is Obama?”

”He’s in his bed upstairs, bless his little cotton socks.”  At least I think that’s what she said.  She turned away from me and continued to go at the skirting boards with the Baby Dyson.

 

“Turn that bloody thing off, would you, darling?”  I shouted.  “Let Julia do it tomorrow.” 

 

She didn’t hear me, so I slipped my arm around her waist.  She turned, involuntarily, smiling.  Those wicked brown eyes flashed at me.  I kissed her and gently removed the nozzle from her grasp.  I looked for the power switch, which wasn’t immediately obvious, so I bent down and pulled the power cord out of the mains. 

 

“For God’s sake”, I laughed, as the machine’s whirr receded.  “I come home after a hard day’s work to this racket?”

 

She laughed, wriggling girlishly in my semi-embrace, her full figure reacting to the pressure.  I wanted her now.  I encircled her fully.

 

“Why don’t we – “

”RRROFFF!  RRROFFFF! RROFFF RRROFFFF!”

I looked down to see the beady, stuffed-bear eyes of Obama locked rigidly onto mine.

 

“grrrrrrrr… RROFFF!”

 

“Oh, my angel”, cooed Estelle.  “What’s wrong?” 

 

My arms lost all power.  She stepped out of my suddenly neutralised aura and

bent down in front of the terrier, who wagged his tail furiously.  Delighted with his victory, Obama jumped up to put his paws on his mistress’ thighs and lick her giggling face.  I put my hands against the wall and closed my eyes momentarily, feeling my erection subside.


As she fussed over Obama, working out how best to indulge him – would it be walkies?  Would it be Bonios?  Would it be playing ball in the garden? – a thought suddenly installed itself irremovably, like a virus, in the forefront of my consciousness. 

 

It was my cousin Scott who had introduced me to it.  The first game we got deeply into was Monkey Island 2, which he completed, in the end, or so he claimed.  After that, he was always looking for the most immersive games he could get his hands on.  Championship Manager was the one that did it for us.  At first, we tried to play together, but it soon became obvious that it wouldn’t work.  We had too many conflicting ideas about who we should sign, who we should pick, what substitutions we should make.  Then there was the problem of who had control of the mouse.  This was a one-player game.

 

Soon, homework was something to be derisorily, hastily disposed of as rapidly as possible, so that the Commodore Amiga could be switched on and, for a precious couple of hours until dad came in and yawped at me to get to bed, the school day, the lessons, the bullies and the incomprehensible girls were dissolved in a fug of formations, bids for midfielders, scrambled last minute equalisers and offside flags. 

 

As technology advanced, Championship Manager became Football Manager and its database grew exponentially.  As foreign players and money flooded into the English league, so they appeared in the game.  As hard drive space and computer speed increased, so the list of tasks for Connor Morgan, manager of Blackton United FC, to carry out became ever more labyrinthine.  In addition to the first team, there were now reserve and youth teams to worry about and a backroom staff to assemble.  There were pre-season friendlies to organise.  There was a training regime to design and implement.  There were scouting reports to consider.  There were free kick and throw in takers to nominate, fines for players who were sent off.  There was so much information to assimilate that suddenly, hours could pass at the computer before a virtual ball was even kicked. 

 

As my twenties dwindled, the demands of career and my relationship, all logic, all reason, demanded that the game, along with many other beloved vices, had to go.  I finally snapped the disk in two and threw it into the wheelie bin on the front drive when Estelle and I decided to move in together.  Estelle and I would be doing things together in the evenings and it would be impossible, not to say undesirable, to squirrel myself away in a corner and devote my valuable time to the pursuit of Marek Anchowsky, a virtual Czech international midfielder with stats that could make him a real scoop for the Pirates.  My job demanded ever more and more of me and had started to send me around the UK, even over to mainland Europe.  It would not do to be sketching 4-4-2 formations on the back of the compliments slip that came with the slick Glass-Anderson dossier forwarded to me by Jared, when I was supposed to be analysing the graphs inside. 

 

But now, I knew everything I could stomach about Glass-Anderson.  The days swam by in a lugubrious breaststroke and Estelle had left me for a Bedlington Terrier. 

 

Upstairs was my old Apple iMac (G4), which I was supposed to be selling, because I had recently treated myself to the new Macbook Air, but I didn’t need to sell it.  I could keep it for a while, I thought.  I could nip to Game in Blackton tomorrow.

 

“I’m just trying to fill a hole”, I said, suddenly realising, to my horror, that I had said it out loud.  I turned round and, to my relief, became aware of the fact that Estelle and Obama had left the room. 

 

Looking out of the living room window, I saw them, frolicking in the garden, Obama leaping to try to snatch a stick out of Estelle’s hand.  They were so happy.

 

*

Whilst they were outside, I formed a plan.  The plan involved retiring to the master bedroom, plugging the iPod Nano into its Tivoli iYiYi dock and playing some of my funk compilations on the stereo.  I would remain in manly repose, on the bed, until Estelle came in.   If Estelle did not come in, I would use one of the myriad communication devices she surrounded herself with to summon her.  Once summoned, she would be in my power, the door would be firmly closed and the funk would drown out any complaints that her puppy hound might choose to make about the matter.   I liked my plan.  Like all good plans, it had a certain elegant simplicity. 

 

Before I could carry this plan out, however, I was detained by a call to our landline from Ed.  I filled him in on my Football Manager idea, wandering around the room restlessly as I did so.  The handset was cordless, of course, a Philips VOIP841.  Estelle insisted that we bought it, because apparently, it could be used to make calls via Skype, whatever Skype was.

 

Ed wondered aloud whether we might ever see each other again, once I had entered into The Game.

 

“The Beautiful Game”, I crowed, feeling drunk with the impending indulgence.  “It’s perfect.  I’ve got to go to Brussels next Thursday and I can run it on the Macbook on the train.  Ba-da-bing.”

 

“You sad bastard”, Ed said.  “Anyway, back in the real world, you’ve got clearance from Caroline to come over tomorrow for the Real Thing.  Arsenal against Milan.”

 

“Ah, smashing.”

 

“Yes, she’s just on the phone to Estelle now, actually.  I think they’re going to Tiger for the evening.”

 

“Good.”

”It’s gonna look amazing on my new plasma screen”, Ed chuckled.  “I’ll get us in a pizza from Marco’s and”, he lowered his voice, “oh … I should think, potentially… some Charles?”  This last word was whispered, from which, I gathered that Caroline was in the room with him.

 

I looked out of the window again and saw Estelle, chatting on the phone.  She was waving away Obama’s frantic attentions, becoming increasingly irritated as the puppy bounced furiously and insistently against her legs.  Through the double-glazed window, I heard his muffled, indefatigable “RRROFFF” and smirked.

”Oh, for God’s sake, man”, I said to Ed.  “You know I can’t do that stuff any more.  Certainly not on a Wednesday evening, anyway.”

”Oh, come on…”

”No, No and No and that’s final, Ed, you fucknut.  A couple of bottles of beer is my limit.  Some of us have work to do…”  I actually had to meet with Jared and David Preece from Glass-Anderson on Thursday morning.

”Oh, alright.”  Ed grumbled.  “This weekend, then.”


”We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

Once the phone call to Ed had been concluded, I spent five minutes fruitlessly scouring the room for my iPod Nano, before remembering that it was still in my leather case, from my trip to London the previous Thursday.

 

Just as this dawned on me, they came back in, Estelle laughing, Obama panting as he trotted cockily into the front room.  I glowered at him, with his stuffed toy, wiry good looks.  I was more of a man than he’d ever be.

 

 

Oldham Street

January 27, 2008

The first gig poster I saw was for a band called Desolation Angels.  I felt at home straight away. 

 

 *

 

At the Piccadilly end, walking past Fred Done’s bookmakers as a man strides across the road, dragging a tiny Yorkshire Terrier in his wake.  The dog is shitting as it is dragged, leaving little clumps of poo and disgusted women in its wake.  “It shouldn’t be allowed”, one of them says. 

 

 

*

Back room of The Castle, a duo on the stage, older fellas, middle-thirties if a day.  I remember hearing the little mistakes in the songs, especially from the bald electric guitarist. 

 

“This one’s from our album”, said the singer, with pride.  Our little group were six of the nine people in the audience and we weren’t there to see them.  Just to have a drink.

 

I wondered what his songs were about, what stories he wanted to tell. 

 

There was something very right about the scene.  The irrelevance of the group, the faded old room, the wrong end of Oldham Street.  I tried to imagine being that old and playing gigs to no one.  What passion kept him going? 

 

She suddenly asked me, “is there any chance that it could happen again, do you think?””No.” I said, meaning it. “No.  We need to go back to being friends.”   

 

 

*

 

Sitting on the street next to a kid a little younger than me, two or three years younger, giving him a cigarette. 

 

“I feel like a tramp”, he said.

 

“You’re not a tramp.  You’re better than that.” I said.

 

“I sell The Big Issue”, he said.

 

“Exactly.  You try to earn money, you don’t beg”.  

 

Of course he begged. 

 

He was a good-looking young lad who could have been anything he wanted.   He wanted to take drugs and sit around in parks with people who packed up and went home at the end of the day and left him there.  He was lost, he would squat, he would stay alive day to day.  Days and days and days stumbling by.

 

Acres of time.  Decisions that consign months, years, to waste.  How to recover when you’re older?

*

 

Singing at the Night and Day, singing to 20 people, if that, then getting home and being told by a friend that my singing was absolutely terrible. 

 

That night, I sat, I drank, I smoked, I couldn’t believe what I’d heard.  I was terrible.

 

I knew I was struggling, but to be actually told I was bad, for the first time.

 

I remembered the heat of the stage, the lights.

 

 

*

 

The Night & Day, again.  Talking to a friend and realising that it was all she would ever be, a friend.  As much as I wanted it to, nothing would ever happen between us, the moment was gone.

 

I Am Kloot started to soundcheck behind the screen.  The music expressed everything, the static, the emptiness.  Another Oldham Street bard sang of loneliness.  Another-not-quite couple drank and couldn’t bridge the space between them.  Another day ticked by.

 

 

*

 

Wandering into Oxfam Original and talking to the fashionista behind the counter, in my blue workman’s jacket, with my dull grey spectacles and lank hair.  Talking to him about my band. 

 

What the fuck did he care?  We were never going to be the next Libertines.  We had absolutely not clue one about what it took.  We were the wrong side of 24 and had no style, we had no look.  It didn’t matter if we could play our instruments well, because that’s not rock’n’roll.

 

*

 

People wash up from all over the country and play their guitars, sell second hand CDs, buy cheap jackets from Affleck’s and look at the teeny Goths, wondering why.  Go home and write poems, sit uselessly alone and dream.  Complain to well-meaning, well-adjusted people who ply them with alcohol, because it seems to help.  Keep booking gigs, keep writing, keep drawing, keep being told that practise can’t be until next week now, it’s Sharon’s birthday / I’m working late. 

 

To them, it is not futile.  Driven, alone, they go on and on and on.

 

 

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.  

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.