Friday, 22 February 2013

The Mysteries of the Pyramids

During my own personal and thankfully brief dark ages, girlfriend number three asked if I would like to come out for a drink with a few of her friends. This was back near the beginning of the relationship, and I was still a little puzzled by why she so rarely referred to these people, so I said yes, of course. When we arrived at the pub, thirty or more of her friends were there. Within a minute of my taking a seat, some woman I didn't even know made puppy dog eyes and asked why I had set myself against attending an ISA workshop. This was a set-up, and apparently I had already caused her to have a great big sad.

ISA stands for the Institute of Self Actualisation, which in itself probably tells you all you need to know. I realised that by friends, Marian actually meant people she didn't really know that well, but with whom she shared a common bond of attendance at self-improvement seminars run by this organisation. I wasn't interested and had already told Marian as much, but being Marian she assumed this meant I hadn't understood. Those people I met in the pub that evening all spoke of success and overcoming an assortment of perceived personal failings, but the testimony sounded scripted with the same key phrases used over and over. Marian's supposed friends seemed broken or lost, and I found most of those with whom I spoke abrasive and faintly unpleasant; but worst of all, I sort of felt sorry for them. These people were true losers. I've known heroin addicts with more character.

Last week my wife Bess mentioned that she had received a text message from her friend Laura, or at least from someone I'm going to call Laura. I have something cool to show you, the message read, bring your guys along this Sunday.

Neither cool nor awesome have much currency with me, and I'm not sure I've yet discovered anything described by either word that actually is. Cool might as well mean front row tickets to see Bon Jovi where I'm concerned, and awesome is the word used by some guy who pours beer over his own head. Bess was similarly sceptical, but decided it would be rude to decline the admittedly ambiguous invitation, not least because it meant Junior and Nick - Laura's son - would get to play together. Nick has autism to some degree or other, although so far as I can tell this amounts to his being somewhat blunt, and perhaps more honest than is strictly necessary. Otherwise he seems like a decent kid, and he always has a blast with Junior when they get together.

Sunday came and we loaded Junior into the car, leaving our scruffy little corner of the hood for an address that turned out to belong to a huge, ostentatious house within a gated community. Laura invited us in so we could meet her other guests, pretty much in keeping with our declining expectations. It was a party, of sorts. The side table was strewn with brochures pertaining to cruise holidays and the like, and a kitchen counter had been given over to bowls of Doritos and the sort of corporate sauce-style dipping putty that makes no sense in a city this close to the Mexican border. Twelve or more other guests milled around, each identified by a sticker of the kind proclaiming hello, my name is Noodles.

His name probably wasn't Noodles, and his introductory line wasn't anything like so casual as I'm sure he imagined it sounded.

'Do you like to travel?'

I think he expected a gurgling response in the voice of Goofy, Disney's dog-style cartoon character of whom I'd been put in mind when Junior took to impersonating Mickey Mouse during the car journey. Well goll-eee! I would hiccup, why as it happens I surely do like to travel, seeing as how you come to be aksing and all.

I really wanted to look him in the eye and tell him that I hated travel, but instead I pretended not to hear, and Bess interjected, pointing out that as I was from England, most of my travel was done with the purpose of visiting friends and family.

'Oh, he's from England?' Initially thrown by the information, Noodles was rolling with it, adjusting to the new data. 'Mind the gap,' he chuckled, explaining that you hear this announcement everywhere  you go in England. 'Mind the gap!'

For one moment, it felt as though I had been magically transported back to the old country*.

Thankfully, Wendy introduced herself and asked what I did, so I told her I was a writer, because I suppose I am in some sense. She told me that her daughter is writing a novel as part of a degree course, then asked about my book, and we got talking. It turned out we both liked Anne McCaffrey and Frank Herbert. She wasn't a fan of Asimov but I suggested she try Ursula Le Guin, and then she began talking about Doctor Who. I smiled and said that I used to enjoy it, and strategically went to look for my wife.

I realise that no-one believes me, and some may suspect I just say this sort of thing so as to cultivate some sense of superiority, but I like very little television, and I like a great many books. Most television shows I can watch for about five minutes before I start thinking about whatever I'm reading at the time. When I talk about science-fiction I'm talking about novels, and something like Doctor Who is now so far outside of the Venn diagram that it might as well be The Jetsons or The Clangers, but for the fact that The Jetsons and The Clangers at least retain some of their charm.

Bess had been cornered by some face-lifty woman of ambiguous vintage who'd Peperamied herself into a sort of mummified Eva Peron. 'Has he got that accent?' Face Lift asked all agog upon learning of my nationality, then sidled over so as to listen in on me saying things like cheerio, Mr. Darcy and I suppose long live Her Royal Highness.

Bess and I grabbed handfuls of the crisps we had brought with us - potato chips to US readers - and retreated outside to watch Nick and Junior playing together. Junior had devised a new game by combining elements of baseball and football - as in the American version which entails play with an object that isn't shaped like a ball by agency of something other than a foot. Once they were done with this, they took it in turns to shelter within Nick's wooden playhouse whilst the other bombarded the exterior with whatever large, heavy objects they could find. Unfortunately Laura, having noticed our absence, called us inside as the presentation was about to begin.

'We'll stay to be polite and so that the boys can play,' Bess whispered to me through gritted teeth, 'and then we're out of here.'

Everyone found a seat, and our hostess played a DVD, a presentation by some guy who
had apparently been homeless, alcoholic, and born without arms, legs, or head, but was now a millionaire. We too could be millionaires, he suggested.

'Well, all right!' A fellow guest in a blue jacket punched the air and hollered, and he really did holler - a word that was absent from my vocabulary up until now - and he pronounced all right as alraaahhht! like the singer of a 1980s hair-metal band. I looked around the room and realised that drinking a Budweiser and listening to Kiss was probably dangerous and Bohemian for these people.

The DVD explained how we could sell cruises and holidays in luxurious resorts to our friends and associates for a massive profit; and it wasn't a pyramid scheme, it was stratified product transference or something. Following the DVD - emphasis provided by short bursts of applause, whoops, and exclamations of sweet! and well alraaahhht! from Blue Jacket - four of the group explained how they themselves had become millionaires thanks to this opportunity that was absolutely nothing like a pyramid scheme. All of them mentioned that they now drove BMWs, which was a little wasted on me as south-east London taught me to associate that particular automotive brand with crack dealers. 'You could be driving one of those babies in just under sixty days,' promised one of the newly made millionaires, rather redundantly in my case seeing as I've never learned how to drive.

The presentation concluded with the identification of three kinds of people. Myself and Bess found ourselves categorised in Group C because we weren't interested in this amazing opportunity and we don't enjoy saving money, according to Face Lift or Blue Jacket or one of the other morons. We gathered Junior, managed to squeeze a brief and thankfully normal conversation out of Laura - who turns out to be quite pleasant when not trying to rope you in on some dodgy scam - and got out of there.

The experience reminded me of that meeting with Marian's thirty or more friends. In both cases, the talk was of success and empowerment as almost abstract ideals, like success was some mystical force that might be invoked by use of certain words and gestures just as a voodoo practitioner summons his loa by strangling a chicken; but there was about these people an inherent sense of desperation. They lacked either the character or imagination to be anything other than what they were, and that was what they wanted more than anything in the world - to be something other than what they were; but then who could really blame them?

During her post-DVD testimony, Face Lift qualified her success by telling us she had gone on vacation thirty-six times, which seemed such a specific number as to suggest that the score had been more important than the experience; and of course it was more important, because all those BMWs, resorts and cruise ships meant she wasn't just a lonely old woman with no real interests slowly turning herself into beef jerky.

I couldn't drive a BMW even if I had one, and when I visit other countries, I generally go with aims other than being surrounded by the sort of people I would ordinarily avoid at home. Like Marian's friends, forever crippled by some imaginary failing that is never quite their own responsibility, there's something faintly obscene about people who already live in gated communities trying to Gollum themselves into becoming Donald Trump. Bess and I live in a slightly crappy neighbourhood with our weird kid and four cats, but we already have everything we need. It might be nice to travel some more, and hopefully some day I'll be able to afford to visit the United Kingdom with greater frequency, but in the meantime if I ever get homesick, all I have to do is close my eyes and say to myself, mind the gap, mind the gap...

*: In the event of it not being obvious, this statement contains traces of sarcasm.

Friday, 15 February 2013

The Valentine's Day Potlatch

Potlatch, as Wikipedia will tell you, is a gift-giving festival and primary economic system practiced by indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada and United States. This includes Heiltsuk Nation, Haida, Nuxalk, Tlingit, Makah, Tsimshian, Nuu-chah-nulth, Kwakwaka'wakw, and Coast Salish cultures. The word comes from the Chinook Jargon, meaning to give away. In essence, potlatch is war waged with gifts, a means of destroying one's enemy with obligation through the display of such generosity as to place them forever in your debt. It's the offer that cannot be refused, the thermonuclear strike of passive-aggressive behaviour.

The first Valentine's Day card I ever received had cartoon mobsters on the front in keeping with its promising that I was about to be made an offer I could not refuse. Opening the card, the subject of this offer was identified as the person of an anonymous sender simply referring to herself as me. For about an hour I was delirious, believing this to have been sent by Anne-Marie Polley, a red-haired girl sat in the front row of the biology class. I had idolised Anne-Marie for a long time, writing truly shitty poetry which I never showed anyone, imagining improbable and slightly lurid scenarios in which my bicycle succumbed to a flat tire directly as I passed her house, with this one thing inevitably leading to another. Now that it's no longer 1979, I find it impossible to guess at whatever drive singled out Anne-Marie for my distant attention. She was tall and a little skinny with freckles and Deirdre Barlow glasses. I'm not sure if she had a particularly interesting personality because I never summoned up the courage to speak to her. I have a feeling her appeal may have been that she was conspicuously available, and I had decided on some subconscious level that she wasn't really in a position to be picky.

It turned out that she was at least a little picky. The furtive glances and chortling from the front row were not shy, girlish excitement, but probable discomfort deriving from her having been stitched up by the cartel of girls who sent the card. She was apparently flattered by my interest, but still, she unfortunately had some standards. The same could not be said of myself judging by the quality of the unusually shitty poetry I wrote that evening in response - the grey, heartless universe that had murdered me to death until I was a bit like a zombie or a Frankenstein, and so on...

The next Valentine's Day greeting I received came a few years later, a preposterous and over the top gushfest with hearts and puppies on a card large enough to temporarily shelter two homeless people. Both ridiculous and appreciated, it had been sent by girlfriend number one in a fit of irony. The initial irony was that we both wore black clothes and liked industrial music and so, as part of some ill-defined cultural elite, were therefore above sending such hilariously tacky cards. The second level of irony was that we separated soon after on the grounds of her having met some boy who wore even darker clothes and that I now lived 150 miles away. This was because I'd moved to Maidstone, Kent in order to pursue a degree in really, really expressing my inner self.

I had a couple more Valentine's Day cards whilst at Maidstone, received as part of a pact drawn up between myself and two girls from the illustration course. Ain't no-one gon' send us shit, we agreed, so let's cleverly send cards to each other and pretend we don't know who they're from. It worked, but didn't feel that great seeing as I fancied one of these girls to a quite sickening degree, and had therefore sent a genuine Valentine's Day card with the pretext of it pretending to be genuine, just like in a Philip K. Dick novel.

The tenth anniversary of my first Valentine's Day card came and went, and I met girlfriend number two. She was a friend of a friend who caught my attention with what might be argued as having been the first true Valentine's Day card I received - true here defined as a card anonymously sent by someone you don't know very well and who is interested in the contents of your pants. A relationship ensued, perhaps not the greatest relationship in the world, but not without its merits, and it took us both where we needed to go, if that doesn't make it sound too much like a management training exercise.

Now returning to the theme of potlatch, in September 2005 I became involved with girlfriend number three. For the sake of anonymity I'll call her Marian - although as that's actually her name I ask the reader to pretend I mean a different person called Marian.

Marian had issues - self-esteem, motivation and the usual bullshit - which she dealt with by attending a series of dubious self-help courses and learning how to accept that almost anything could be blamed upon someone else through application of the right sort of tortured logic.

'You have just shot me in the foot using a handgun,' I might point out as I bled onto her expensive carpet.

'Oh! So now I'm not allowed to shoot you in the foot using a handgun?! That's the law now is it?!' Marian would screech, eyes popping out of her head as a precursor to that thing which Karen Gillan equates with acting when playing Amy McBoggle in The Doctor Who Show. 'It always has to be about you, doesn't it!'

Being something of a knob, I always imagined she might improve over time. She might notice how I didn't spend every waking minute being angry at something or other, how I actually had a job and seemed relatively happy. I hoped she would ask herself how can I learn to be more like that? Do unto others as you would have done unto yourself always seemed like a nice idea, and hopefully one that could be spread without too much of a headache.

Valentine's Day approached, and Marian informed me how she had certain expectations regarding the quality of my offering, and she was not looking to be disappointed. By this time I'd grown accustomed to brushing off such low level emotional blackmail, rationalising it as simply a part of Marian's unusual and potentially delightful personality. Within weeks of the formation of our relationship she had explained to me how easily she grows bored with people, so I would therefore need to ensure that she had cause to remain interested. I imagine she thought she was helping me out.

I'd already been planning a fairly distinctive Valentine's Card, regardless of the ultimatum. I had recently got back into woodworking, having made myself a load of shelving, and so I made a card from two squares of thick pine the size of LP record sleeves. These I joined with hinges, cutting a heart-shaped hole in the one I had chosen for the cover, then painting the whole thing. It was laborious and absurdly extravagant, but the point was here, I made this. I love you, and although you just keep on giving me bullshit, I put all this effort into something to show you that I care regardless, and that you will always be able to rely on me, and you might therefore like to think about cutting out some of the crap. Look at this and tell me again how I only ever think of myself.

The evening of February thirteenth, Marian pointed out that tomorrow would be Valentine's Day, and began to explain to me when and where she expected delivery of her card, and how she did not want to see my name written within so as to preserve the tradition of Valentine's Day card anonymity and avoid spoiling the magic. I said that I had not signed the card with my name, but that as it was rather large I would be unable to post it through her letterbox as per her instruction.

'I'll leave it on the table,' I said.

'But then I'll know who it's from.'

I could see a spark of anger in her eye, the fires ignited by always having to do everything herself and so on and so forth.

'Well, yes,' I sighed, 'but I'd really rather not just leave it on the doorstep, and you already know who it's from.'

'You don't understand,' she raged, this being her standard reaction to anything other than compliance. You have failed to obey, went the logic, therefore you cannot have understood what I said. The argument ran around in a circle for maybe an hour. In the morning I left my stupid wooden card on her living room table, because that was the only practical option. When I returned later that day, no comment was made, although it was still there on the table.

'Did you get my card?' she asked with a slightly superior tone, speaking with the authority of one who had correctly observed tradition and thus preserved the magic, unlike some...

'Yes,' I said. 'Thank you.'

Having developed an unusually healthy sense of that which she saw to be her due, I believed she might question the sincerity of my gratitude, something she did often. Instead she asked if I had liked it.

The card had appeared through my letter box that morning and it had not been signed. It had been purchased in a local card shop, and I'm pretty sure I'd been present when she bought it. It was one of a typically twee series by greetings card artist Giles Andreae, The Interesting Thoughts of Edward Monkton which Google describes as quirky and philosophical musings on life. She had given me Edward Monkton cards at Christmas and on my birthday, and I still didn't know how to tell her I found Andreae's wearying brand of self-conscious surrealism profoundly depressing. The thoughts were neither interesting nor even particularly funny, the sort of thing that happens when people who run holistic healing workshops try to prove that they too have a sense of humour:

These drawings would like to be your friends. Use them for inspiration. There is no corner of life into which they cannot shine the bright torch of insight.

See what I mean? I hadn't liked the card, but I said that I did because it was easier. If I had said no she would have explained that her card had been carefully chosen whilst mine showed neither thought nor effort, contrary to what I might cheekily describe as evidence. For Marian, social interaction was a form of potlatch. It was all about the value of what you could give being by definition less than the value of what she could give, and because she wasn't really in the habit of giving anything, she became an expert in promoting and inflating the worth of her own stock. She eventually addressed my handmade wooden card in terms of suggesting that I should think about making more and selling them to people, thus I suppose finally acknowledging that it hadn't been a complete waste of time.

I've never been a huge fan of Valentine's Day. There's just too much that can go horribly wrong, not least because if you can only really express your feelings to someone by sending them a card on the same day every other bozo in the universe is sending a variation on the same card for the same reasons, then frankly you're screwed; and no-one likes being reminded of that. I often wondered why Marian was always so angry, and in the specific case of Valentinesgate, I'm in two minds. Perhaps the incident served as a painful illustration of the utter futility of our relationship; or perhaps it was simply that she just needed to be angry about something, that thirst for feeling wronged because it's easier than accepting that maybe you were the one who messed up; but actually I hope it's because just for once during those three crappy years, I beat her at potlatch.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Zygon, Go Home!

Symond Lawes' vivid portrayal of Skinhead Troublemaker Number Two first graced our television screens back in 1988 when the BBC broadcast Silver Nemesis, the Doctor Who adventure featuring the adventures of that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor. Symond's troubled and violent character left a great impression for all that he appeared on our screens for less than a minute, but it was crucially a minute during which the shaven-headed white supremacist was taught a hard lesson by that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor; and now - thanks to Big Finish productions - his saga continues in a brand new series of full cast audio plays sure to delight both fans of that mysterious traveller in time and space known only as the Doctor and those who quake with terror at the prospect of ever having to endure any cultural experience which doesn't have a Doctor Who logo printed on the cover.

Older and if not wiser, then at least not quite so racist as before - or at least racist but in a slightly different way - Martin Foster wages a one man war against the forces of evil, and those who would take the piss out of the planet of his birth. Having defeated the Machiavellian designs of a Zionist Silurian lesbian wholefood workshop intent on securing government grants for paedophiles, Martin's crusade continues as a family of Zygons move into his street, playing their loud Zygon music at all hours, stinking the place up with that horrible shit they laughingly call food, and generally refusing to assimilate on the grounds that they haven't got time because they're too busy taking orders from Karl Marx - at least that's what it sounded like they said, although Martin can't be sure, never having learned to speak Zygon monkey language. It's not that he minds them coming down here and taking our jobs - having renounced his BNP membership for that of the altogether more reasonable and not even remotely racist Common Sense Party founded by bright orange daytime talk show host Horst Wei├čermann - but anyway, it's not even about race, it's about preserving our culture innit. If that makes him a racist, well maybe it does, or maybe you could try thinking for yourself instead of just believing what your homosexual communist paymasters in the European Union want you to believe, you mug!

Friday, 1 February 2013

My Struggle

I'm sceptical as to whether anyone genuinely has much of an idea of what they want to do with their lives at the age of eighteen or thereabouts. I vaguely hoped to achieve renown for weird, unlistenable music, so I signed up for a fine art degree at Maidstone College of Art specialising in Time Based Media, the institution's recently rebranded film, video and sound department. I reasoned that this was a place where I'd be able to continue churning out a shambolic noise, cleverly passing it off as film soundtrack, inevitably become famous and thus not have to worry about getting a day job once the three years were up. It didn't quite work out that way, and with hindsight I realise neither my music nor my efforts in the fields of film and video were particularly remarkable. Significantly though, I met Carl Glover and Charlie Adlard whilst at Maidstone College of Art, and also Glenn Wallis of the groups Whitehouse and Konstruktivists and who wasn't at art college but lived a few miles away in Gillingham. Celebrity watchers might like to know that I also met Mark Hodder and was regularly subjected to cruel but nevertheless accurate observations made by Traci Emin with regard to my hair, at the time modelled on that of Alan Moore, but anyway...

After three years I had a degree but none of the anticipated fame, and I moved to Chatham, it being near to Maidstone and home to a thriving live music scene. During the last year of art college I had played guitar in a band called Total Big with Carl singing and our friend Chris New playing drums. As I moved to the Medway Towns - a Kentish sprawl encompassing Chatham, Rochester, Gillingham and others - Chris moved to Dover so we bought a drum machine and named our duo The Dovers in his honour. We played numerous gigs all over, probably nothing too outrageously musical but fun to watch according to those who turned up.

I was still dabbling in my own noisy music, perhaps with reduced enthusiasm, but was also considering becoming a cartoonist having been faced with the possibility that I might not end up quite so famous as hoped. Inspired by the likes of Robert Crumb and Bill Griffith I began drawing my own strips, some of which showed up in local small press efforts, and one of which got me low paid but regular work drawing a strip for Brian Moore's Head football fanzine - a continuing story which ended up running for maybe seven or eight years. At the same time I began writing strips, or at least attempting to write vaguely mainstream efforts in collaboration with Charlie Adlard who would draw them in somewhat more accomplished form than anything of which I was then capable. Charlie hadn't quite fitted in back at Maidstone. He dressed well, had manners, wore jackets with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, liked Simple Minds, and was above all a conspicuously nice guy. We had hit it off immediately through a mutual interest in comic books and possession of a sense of humour. As a brief creative partnership, we had a few collaborative false starts, but completed a few things which we hawked around the comic conventions hoping to get noticed; but ultimately I lacked the patience and returned to my underground roots, leaving Charlie free to become sickeningly successful with The Walking Dead and others.

After two faintly miserable post-degree years on the dole, the formerly generous English taxpayer began to look at me askance and suggest I find work seeing as I had conspicuously failed to become famous as projected. This was how I ended up as a postman. As a school kid giving up my paper round about five years earlier, I'd vowed that never again would I wake at an ungodly hour in order to tramp the streets shoving stuff through letter boxes, so the irony was difficult to miss, not least because I stayed with Royal Mail for the next twenty-one years. Oddly enough, at the time it turned out to be exactly what I needed. It was money, and it obliged me to hang around with people who neither knew nor cared about Genesis P. Orridge, Carl Andre, or that miserable hat-wearing fucker out of The Mission; people who - much to my surprise - turned out to be one hell of a lot funnier and more interesting than those who did care about Genesis P. Orridge, Carl Andre, and that miserable hat-wearing fucker out of The Mission - even if they did like football and Coronation Street and that. Who would have thought...

After two years living in Chatham, and still lacking fame either as underground cartoonist or guitarist with The Dovers, I'd grown restless, and so transferred my job to Coventry. In Coventry I lived with my dad who had recently moved there from the market town of Shipston-on-Stour where I grew up. Almost immediately I realised this move had been a mistake, so I transferred again to London on the grounds that at least I knew some people living there to whom I wasn't related, notably Carl.

We picked up where we'd left off with The Dovers, and I started working for Royal Mail in Catford, drawing more and more cartoons, self-publishing some of them, and also joining Konstruktivists, the group formed by Glenn Wallis. Perhaps conscious of having fingers in too many pies, I later strategically withdrew from Konstruktivists. It was nice that we had released a few CDs through World Serpent Distribution, but it was difficult being in a group with a guy who lived two or three counties away. Despite intending to concentrate on my own dubiously musical efforts, I somehow got recruited to play guitar and keyboard for Academy 23, the group formed by Andy Martin and Dave Fanning of The Apostles with whom I'd been in correspondence since the early 1980s. Gigs were played, music was recorded and put out on CD and vinyl, until in roughly 1995 I became somehow tired of being me, and of almost everything I'd been trying to do up to that point.

Academy 23 had become UNIT, with added progressive rock time signatures requiring more patience and ability than I could muster; I'd just split with girlfriend number two; the world of small press cartooning had taught me that I actively hated the work of all but a handful of other cartoonists; and the relative success I was beginning to enjoy as a cartoonist for football fanzines was serving only to bring in requests for stuff I had no interest in drawing.

Somehow this coincided with a newly developed fascination with Prehispanic Mexico, specifically the culture generally but wrongly remembered as Aztec. I dropped everything and started reading whatever I could find. I knew myself well, and that I had a history of dabbling, of getting bored and leaving things unfinished; and whilst I wouldn't exactly have called myself a moron, Richard Dawkins' lecture Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder and conversations with Andy Martin had impressed on me that I didn't really know much beyond trivia - Doctor Who, comic books, art history, industrial music, flying saucer lore and so on. I was dissatisfied with myself, realising I had spent many years as the sort of gurgling clueless berk I would have crossed the road to avoid. From this point on, I vowed whilst holding a flaming sword aloft to the blood-drenched heavens, if I do something, I'm going to do it properly or not at all. This is my brag.

With hindsight, it felt as though I'd spent many years in search of something of poorly defined qualities, never really coming close - not exactly purpose, but something of that nature. Mexico, or at least my interest in Mexico seemed of more inherent value than a pile of tatty unexplained mysteries of the mysterious paperbacks or Throbbing Gristle bootleg tapes. Possibly my brain just needed something to work with besides novelty.

Anyway, I got deeper and deeper into Mexica culture - Mexica being what the Aztecs called themselves at the time - to the point of requiring specialist literature because I'd read everything else; and I resumed painting - having dabbled some years earlier but packed it in when I hit a dead end - more or less painting as a point of focus for the whole Mexican thing; I started writing unjustifiably pompous essays on the subject, really just thinking aloud and working out ideas; until it got to the point where it would have been ridiculous to continue without actually having been to Mexico. I'd never before left England, but it had to be done, so in September 1999, I went to stay in Mexico City for a couple of weeks, and I think it sort of changed my life, even if I can't quite say why.

As the twenty-first century got under way, I found myself with all this obscure knowledge of Tlatilco and Zacatenco pottery phases, obscure Goddesses with names like Chiconahui Izcuintli Chantico, and a burning need to do something with it all, to vent the ideas with which the subject had inspired me. The paintings became a hypothetical book, an aspirationally definitive bestiary of the entire pantheon of central Mexican Deities - something which to the best of my knowledge remains yet to be compiled with the level of detail I envision. A decade later I'm still working on this, slowly due to having become sidetracked into writing fiction.

Never before having considered this point, I recently realised that I've been writing fiction for some time, at least so far back as  collaborative efforts with Charlie Adlard and strip cartoons written and drawn for Brian Moore's Head. Excepting Philip K. Dick, D.H. Lawrence, William Burroughs, and - I suppose - comic books, I had never been a particularly avid reader of fiction - at least not up until about 2008 - but I had read the odd Doctor Who novel; and so ended up trying to write my version, set in fourteenth century Mexico because I was pretty sure that sooner or later someone else would use the same setting and they would most likely get it horribly wrong, so it was an attempt to stake out territory in some sense. Smoking Mirror - as it was called - was rejected, although by this point I had become increasingly disillusioned with the somewhat insular Doctor Who microcosm, much preferring the distantly related Faction Paradox mythos created by Lawrence Miles, and so I forged ahead, doing it all again as a Faction Paradox novel with the benefit of lessons learned. This I finished just as Mad Norwegian press announced they were to discontinue the line of novels instigated by Lawrence Miles, and just as my landlord died.

I had lived in the same place since 1995, just over a decade, a slightly damp but otherwise wonderful basement flat with a garden in East Dulwich, with Bill, my amiable landlord, occupying the upper floors of the house and none too bothered about charging a fortune providing he had a tenant who wasn't an arsehole, which apparently I wasn't, so it all worked out well. This was 2006 and the beginning of a couple of rough years made all the less bearable by my having become romantically involved with a girl who was basically insane. She was related to both Charles Darwin and Francis Galton, and back in about 1985 she had an affair with a member of a well-known weirdy music outfit, a guy I'd been writing to at the time, and still know to this day. The sheer coincidence seemed too big to ignore, and I'd been alone for so long that my cherry had grown back. Also, I'd been living in a bubble of reasonable rent and relative security for ten years, and I now found that I could barely afford to live in London. Initially I moved to a smaller flat costing half of my weekly wage, then when the rent increased, I moved into the smallest room of my girlfriend's house - or rather the house her mother had bought for her.

She didn't work, or at least no more than a few days a week conducting door to door surveys. Everything was the fault of someone else. She had two shelves groaning with self-help books and had been a regular attendee at self-improvement workshops run by an extremely dubious therapy cult, and had thus learned to argue like some bizarre conflation of rottweiler and lawyer. She spent three years telling me where I was going wrong, how I should be running my life, explaining how my reluctance to join her creepy therapy cult constituted a direct assault upon her self-esteem, and for the final ten months taking rent off me. She made it clear that I would soon be asking for her hand in marriage, and that it had better be a decent ring - not some old shit from Peckham market. She was horrible, and I knew I had to escape by whatever method presented itself before the situation became so bad as to redefine suicide as a reasonable option. I did this by finding a place to live - tiny and costing almost two thirds of my weekly wage but better than the alternative - and hiring a bloke with a massive van to get me and all my crap out of there in double-quick time.

Life immediately became better than it had been at any point since 2005 when I returned from my most recent trip to Mexico. My Faction Paradox novel had drawn the interest of a publisher who took up the line in the wake of its initial cancellation, and I began to consider writing more seriously. Also at this point I met Bess, an American woman whom I immediately recognised as the person with whom I was supposed to be all along - not believing in destiny or any of that crap, this is unfortunately the only way I can put it; and years later, now married and settled, my views have not changed in this respect. Anyway, as I met Bess, I had been tiring of London for a long time, and had in addition spent a good few years with one eye cocked in the general direction of Mexico as somewhere I might consider living had things turned out different. Bess being from Texas, one-hundred miles north of the Mexican border, just seemed too good to be true, one of those ridiculous points of synchronicity which seemingly drew us together, or at least had us boggling with disbelief - both having the same birthday being another good one.

It was meant to be, we decided, and so it was.

Twenty-one years with Royal Mail and nineteen in London had been enough for me, so I packed it all in and moved to my mother's place in Coventry, there to write my novel, get some short stories under my belt, and flog one half of all my accumulated crap on eBay so as to pay to ship the other half of it to Texas. Bess and I jumped through all the required legal hoops and after eighteen months I had my green card. I moved to San Antonio and we got married.

It's now eighteen months later. I'm writing daily, even getting paid for it on occasion with more work to come, looking after a house and garden bigger than any in which I've lived before, and married to the woman who really did turn out to be the girl of my dreams - and I'm aware how that sounds but that's just how it is.

All this time, I suspect I've been looking for something, and although I'm still not sure exactly what it is or how to describe it, I believe I've found it. It might be easy to beat myself up with all the if I knew then what I know now, but there really doesn't seem like a whole lot of point. I suppose it's a bit vexing that I'm a fat, old man approaching fifty, but I guess that's just how it goes; and had I not made the journey - to briefly wax Waltonsy - I probably would have ended up in the wrong place. There's a popular line around these parts - not quite a joke, something between a zinger and a bumper sticker: I wasn't born in Texas, but I got here just as soon as I could, and that's probably as good a summary as any for these last 2,792 words.