Friday, 12 February 2016

Everything is Now

Texas is like heaven so far as I'm concerned, or at least an afterlife. This strikes even me as a peculiar claim, but it's the best, most succinct way I have of describing my daily existence since I moved here in relation to the previous years. Everything has worked out. Everything is different and still seems fresh in comparison to what I have been used to, and this impression is reinforced even by details so small as the weeds in my garden being plants I would not have recognised before 2011. I'm no longer moving forward with the certainty of a dark future which will inevitably become more difficult than the present, as was once the case. Additionally - present company excepted - everyone I have known with any degree of intimacy over the course of my first five decades now lives in a different country - all simplified to telephone numbers, facebook accounts or email addresses - communications across a great divide; and thanks to the advent of the internet, it almost is everyone I have known because these days they're all out there somewhere - people from school or work, remote family members, those I haven't seen in thirty years, persons with whom I never had any real reason to keep in touch, much as I would have liked.

Whilst I haven't always kept a diary, I've tried from time to time, and even when there's been no regular nightly scribbling to give account of the day, I've been in the habit of documentation, keeping notes of dates which seemed significant, holding onto letters and so on, because I like to see where I've been and because it helps me to better understand the present. Once I had learned to write well enough to compose a paragraph without wincing at it the next morning, I began to maintain a weekly blog, part of which incorporated my setting down events of previous years, childhood and so on, partially for the sake of preserving what memories I have retained before my brain deteriorates, partially for chuckles, and partially because I am unusually fascinating by my own progress from birth to the present day. The great majority of these memoirs - as I'm reluctant to term them - now seem like things which happened to someone else, so I'm not sure whether that makes me particularly vain or simply ordinary. Since 2011, I've been composing my autobiography right here, albeit in no particular order and without quite having set out to do so.

Further to this endeavour, in 2013 I dug out the diaries written between 1977 and 1986 and began transcribing the material into a single document on my word processor, initially for the sake of clarifying a few ambiguous dates but also in order to excavate further material upon which to expand in one of these essays. The diaries are patchy and only a few of them keep going right to the end of the year, but I've supplemented this material with more recent autobiographical notes and general whining recorded in sketchbooks or as part of emails, and with transcriptions of tape letters spoken onto cassette and sent to my friend Tim Griffiths throughout the nineties; because, suspecting I might one day wish to hear my droning twenty-five-year old self going on about fave bands and how depressed I've been, I of course made copies of these tape letters for my own archive. So I now have a year by year electronic document amounting to my life story since the age of eleven - albeit with a few gaps - which has taken me two years to compile and which concludes in postmodern fashion with emails describing my intent to compile said document - like a life flashing before my eyes, albeit slowly.

At this juncture I should probably point out that none of the above constitutes satire, although I won't be offended if you can't be arsed to read on.

Anyway, I'm now approaching the end of what I've termed my diary project, which is something of a relief. It's been a mammoth undertaking in certain respects, and undoubtedly a vain one, but I've found it interesting, and surprising and depressing, and comforting in so much as it allows me to state with some confidence that I'm no longer an arsehole, or no longer quite such an arsehole, or at the very least I am a different kind of arsehole to the person whose over-extended obituary I appear to have been writing. Whilst it's nice to have accessed my own past, I'm happy that I no longer live there as protracted exposure gets a bit much after a while. This undertaking has additionally reinforced the notion that I am in heaven, because everything is now and the past has been reduced to a different region of the present.

Over the course of transcribing diary material, I've inevitably come across the names of many people I had forgotten, and in most cases I've had a look on the internet to see if they can still be found, where they are and what they're doing now. It's not exactly nostalgia, but sometimes it's just nice to know that a certain person is still alive or even that they haven't turned into a complete wanker. Inevitably I've shared facebook gigabytes - or whatever the thing is made of - with almost everyone I knew at school as well as some I didn't know thanks to Friends Reunited; and most of them have turned out pretty decent, and there are a good few with whom I'm very glad to be back in touch after all this time.

Then there are the more intriguing names from the diaries - Penny White for one. I have no memory of her, nor even what she looked like, and yet I fancied her something rotten for at least six months of my school days according to what I wrote at the time. When finally I located a blurred photograph of her on a friend's facebook page, a photograph taken back when I knew her, the face rang not a solitary bell. This amnesia struck me as slightly alarming and strengthened my resolve to complete the diary project in as much detail as could be mustered.

Sometimes the retrieval operation has bitten me in the ass. Hampton Cockwomble* didn't remember me at all but accepted my friend request on facebook regardless. I remembered him fairly well as a funny kid from college in Stratford specialising in an hilarious impersonation of the crap robot from Buck Rogers culminating with Bedeep bedeep bedeep! Get your kecks off, Wilma. You probably had to be there, and I was. Sadly in 2015 his facebook page proved less amusing, being concerned mostly with Lads vs. Dads golf tournaments, whatever the hell those might be, and lazy memes promoting casual racism - Oi, Cameron! Give money to our starving OAPS not illegal Muzzies and related toss. I did my best to ignore it until he shared a scan of an official government document showing how your average illegal immigrant receives ₤32,000 per annum in free benefits from the English government whilst your average English pensioner can expect less than half that figure even if they fought in three world wars. The fact that it had official British government document written across the top failed to convince me that it hadn't just been knocked up by some wanker who'd recently learned how to make tables on his word processor. Additionally, I suspected that these statistics had probably been made up because they presented such a stark contrast to the actual direct experience I'd had of the immigrant community when I was a postman delivering mail to a refugee centre in Dulwich. I pointed this out and received a fairly predictable response from one of Hampton's buddies about how I must be an unusually well informed postman - which I expect was sarcasm of a sort - and how she'd prefer to trust the evidence of her own eyes, eyes which were looking directly at an official British government document posted on the facebook page of a man who competes in  Lads vs. Dads golf tournaments, thank you very much.

It was a waste of time, I realised. I defriended Hampton, preferring to remember him as an amusing impersonation of the crap robot from Buck Rogers. Sometimes there are good reasons why you lose touch with people.

Naturally I failed to learn anything from this encounter, and found myself similarly bewildered and intrigued by my own lost past when transcribing passages of an audio letter dated to Sunday the 28th of April, 1991 on which I told Tim Griffiths:

Things on the women front haven't really changed a lot in, well - the last seven years if I'm to be honest. I don't know. I feel like I should make an effort, but I'm beginning to not care about it really. Sometimes I feel a bit sad. I find I can't make a great deal of effort. I get too embarrassed. I tell you what, there's a really nice woman on my walk in Catford at the moment. Her name is Hillsborough Oxycodone*. She's tiny and possibly Indian, and it's terrible because I just keep running into her all over the place, and she says oooh you only bring me nice letters, you're my favourite postman and so on.  As soon as I see her at the other end of the road I get this uncontrollable grin on my face. I'm going to have to have lead weights sewn into the corners of my mouth or something, which would probably be very dangerous now that I think about it; but it's this uncontrollable grin and it's dead embarrassing.

At the time I was a generally lonely individual. It was my first disorientating year living in London, and anyone who said so much as hello to me made a significant impression. I had signed for the postal route around Lushington Road in Catford, so I became a familiar face to many of the people to whom I delivered mail, and I would speak to anyone who stopped to talk because it made the job less miserable. On Sunday the 10th of November, I told Tim:

Hillsborough Oxycodone who lives on my walk kissed me recently, which was quite exciting. It wasn't that recent, come to think of it. It was some time ago. I saw her walking along so I told her that her giro had come, and asked if she wanted it because I knew where it was in the bundle of mail I was carrying.

She said, 'Oooh all right then.'

I looked through my bundles and found her giro and got it out, and she kissed me. I thought yes!!! I went bright red as well, naturally.

'Oooh, you really enjoyed that, didn't you?'

I said 'yes, I did!'

I saw her again a couple of days later and I said, 'Do you want me to have a look for your post?'

'She said, 'Oooh you're only doing it so I'll kiss you.'

I said, 'You're right there!'

Judging by my having no memory of anything else, and barely being able to remember
Hillsborough herself - it having been twenty-five years ago - I assume our vague association went no further. Naturally I just had to look on facebook, and I found a woman of that name although the profile picture rang no bells. I sent a friend request and heard nothing back. Then after six months I discovered that the facebook messaging system has a spam folder into which certain messages vanish without explanation or notification as to the fact of someone having attempted to communicate with you. Hillsborough had replied way back in August:

Who are you???? You sent me a friend request yesterday you didnt reply when i asked you who you were

It was now December, so I tried to explain:

Just found your reply went into my spam folder - didn't even know there was such a thing, hence no reply. The quickest answer is that I was your postman twenty-five years ago, back when you lived in Catford. I've always kept diaries, and recently I've been going through them, and whenever I come across a name I've forgotten or someone I lost touch with, I look them up on Google or facebook just out of curiosity, so really I'm just saying hi. I don't actually remember you well, but it seems you made an impression on me at the time. You almost certainly don't remember me, but for what it's worth I'm no longer a postman, now happily married and living in Texas. Don't worry about accepting the friend request as I know it seems a bit weird, really just wanted to say hi!

She responded:

I aint never lived in catford so really dont know what your talking about

Why would you keep a diary?? Weird...... and scarey at ths same time

I should have read the warning signs but didn't:

Well then I guess I have the wrong person so just ignore me. It's not a problem. Keeping a diary really isn't that weird. Loads of people do it. Sheesh. Sorry to have bothered you.

...and so it continued in increasingly pointless circles:

You said youve always kept a diary and recently youve been going throug it if my name was in the diary then you would of rembered more about me thats what i meant

Which was followed by a friend request, which I accepted and then recognised as almost certainly having been a mistake when I found her posting rants about all you fucken white girls need to get yor won ting n fukk off you aint got no batty bitches LOOOOOOOL and a string of crying with laughter at having delivered such a crushing testimonial emoticons. There was also a photograph of an actual crucifixion in Africa supported by an incoherent denouncement of someone or other; and regardless of how worthwhile the cause may be, I dislike the gratuitous posting of anything or anyone being maimed, tortured or killed as inducement to why the rest of us should care. On a more positive note, she at least seemed to spend some time railing against the demonisation of the immigrant population in the United Kingdom, and Muslims in particular; although this was counterbalanced by remarks regarding Winston McKenzie, a black former UKIP politician making homophobic remarks on Celebrity Big Brother on the telly. They was all just picking on him,
Hillsborough posited, because hes black but he got a right to say what he believes in and it says in the bibel that a man shall not lie with an other man coz that is just SICK SICK SICK and aint no1 can silence me form speakign trooth LLLLLLLOOOOOLLLL and shitloads more of those gleeful emoticons.

Oh fuck, I said to myself.

A few days later I shared a photograph of baby snakes taken in our garden. I like snakes, I like reptiles, and I like animals in general. I don't generally understand anyone who would regard an animal as disgusting. I'm not a big fan of maggots, but neither do I think my opinion of them means anything useful or interesting in the great scheme of things.
Hillsborough on the other hand took a quite different view:

I hate those slimey nasty things Yuck I duno how ANY1 could like them or keep them as pets

The comment annoyed me for a couple of reasons. Firstly it seems poor form to respond to a facebook status message amounting to I think this is great with well, I think it's shit or equivalent, at least in cases like this where its hardly a political issue and anyone with the emotional development of at least a twelve-year old should be able to accept it as a matter of personal taste. My own facebook friends list includes a great many fans of Doctor Who in its present incarnation, and yet somehow I manage to keep myself from butting in to point out Dr Who is 4 kids and is shit LOL, because there really would be no point. Secondly, snakes aren't even remotely slimy so the observation struck me as akin to something an unusually stupid five-year old might say, the sort of thing which could only be expressed by a person with no actual experience of serpents nor any real justification for assuming their own opinion to be worth even the slightest fraction of an airborn fuck. I said as much, without the more obviously insulting details, which then prompted:

When god cast out satan he cast IT into a snake to "slither on its belly all his days" how could Any1 have them in there house fkn awful did u read on here about the woman pet snake who used to sleep in her bed ? (Probley fucking her too lol) she took it to the vet cos it didnt eat for 3 weeks and do u wana no wot the vet told her.....? He told her the snake was "starving itself" getting ready to eat her... GOOD!! it should of yam her up stupid bitch how can u lye with a snake in yr bed?? Jokers

I'd heard this story before, an urban legend which tends to get repeated because it appeals to idiots who assume that because some bloke said it, then it's probably true, just like that official British government document. Typing with gritted teeth, I pointed this out in the politest terms I could muster and provided a link to an article debunking the myth.
Hillsborough still wasn't buying it:

im refering to a woman who posted her story herself about taking the snake to the vet, she posttd it herself as it was HER own story not "made up" and if any 1 makes up stories like that then they are sick in the head.... why would she of made up a story like that???? Snakes are DEMONIC+ UGLY i hate them

This was immediately followed by the bewildering the link you just posted claiming it was "made up" is of a snake and lion not a snake and human followed by a string of crying with laughter emoticons, the implication being u dont no nuffink LOL. The link I'd posted was to an article illustrated with a photograph of a lion engaging with a huge python, a photograph which showed up on my facebook page as part of the link. I couldn't tell if she disagreed with the article, or just didn't understand how a hyperlink works. Perhaps she believed I had simply posted a picture of a lion and told her the story was made up, because that's how it happens: somebody tells you something, and if you like what they say then it's probably true. I began a reply, but realised what I actually wanted to say was go fuck yourself, you thick cunt. Instead I defriended and then blocked her.

Whilst I'm happy to entertain a circle of virtual acquaintances who might not necessarily hold the same views as myself on every last subject, persons who regard homosexuality as evil in capital letters fall on the wrong side of the perimeter fence for me. Serpentgate therefore seemed as good an opportunity as any to correct the historical wrong of my buddying up to someone with whom I clearly lost touch for good reasons. It was depressing because I like to think the best of people, even thick cunts. I might have attempted to change her mind, but while there may be some moral credit to be gained in attempts to enlighten the bigoted or otherwise terminally ignorant, sometimes it's just pissing into the wind and a waste of everyone's time. This seemed like it would have been one of those cases.

Whilst the advent of the internet potentially brings us back into the orbit of everyone we've ever known, it equally serves to reduce much of its social interaction to angry sludge. Those with unpleasantly retarded views who might once have considered themselves isolated voices of reason are united as great virtual nations of foulness and horseshit spouting dangerous, hateful crap grounded only in it being what some bloke said which just happened to reinforce their existing prejudices because it's easier than thinking, and because it's more comforting than accepting that maybe you don't know everything after all. This, it seems to me, accounts for at least some of the popularity of Donald Trump in America and UKIP in England.

Living as I do at something of a remove from my own previous life, accessing it only through the narrow focus of a telephone line, I find it necessary to constantly remind myself that the image is distorted and that the general mass of humanity living just beyond the range of my experience really can't be quite so vile as they so often appear. Whilst the internet may well be reducing us all to angry sludge, I remind myself that I can now access books which once required that I schlep along to the British Library and fill in an application form; and I remind myself of all the people out there who I actually like, whom I never would have known were it not for the internet, whose online presence I find a daily source of delight; and it seems I'm not alone in this respect. I know of at least three other Englishmen who married American women in conclusion to transatlantic relationships which couldn't really have happened prior to the advent of the internet. One of them is my own cousin. With the other two, the three of us might almost be versions of the same individual from some alternate universe, such is the apparent concordance of our tastes and personalities, at least as they are expressed online. Against all odds, we are now a demographic, with the biggest difference between us being that I've moved to America whereas the other three couples have ended up in England.

So life is generally quiet, and not without trivial inconveniences and irritations, but there is no Damoclean grand piano hung over my head, suspended by a fraying length of twine as it would be in a Tom & Jerry cartoon. I get to write and paint and to just about get paid for it. I gave up smoking with no trouble worth mentioning. I get to keep my teeth. I don't yet have cancer, so far as I'm aware. I no longer fear being turfed out onto the street by a slum landlord who takes two thirds of my wages in rent. I no longer suffer loneliness or, generally speaking, the presence of idiots. The night sky in Texas is huge and full of many more stars than I was ever able to see in England, and the sun is so bright by day that the grass in my garden is the colour of the grass of childhood. If this isn't heaven, it's close enough for my purposes; and if the noise generated by idiots is occasionally annoying, I can at least tell by the hoarse clamour of their stupidity that they are far, far away.

*: Not actual names.

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