How are you? It's been a while. Nearly thirteen years. It's nearly mother's day, and while it's just a load of old crap invented by greetings card manufacturers to try and guilt-trip people into buying stuff, it always makes me think of you. You know, there was a time when I couldn't even see the word 'mother' or 'mum' without tearing up inside. But then I have grown a lot since then. I know you'd be glad about that. I know you'd prefer it if I didn't feel sad when I thought about you, but I'm afraid that's often how it is. It's not really sad; it's fondness and love, and a remembrance of things past - the sadness comes from knowing I'll never see you again.
Why am I writing to you, then? I think it's because I always think about you at this time of year. I remember that spring of 2000. It was just at the time when the chemo was starting to make you feel terrible. You tried to hide most of the pain from us, but we knew. We knew deep down that there was not going to be any happy ending; we knew what was going to happen, even though we forced ourselves to 'stay positive' and banish all talk of the thing we feared the most.
I remember that day when I was walking home from work - you always said you were proud I had become a journalist, even if it was for the local paper - and I saw the ambulance draw up. I didn't know then that you would never be coming back; that you would spend your last few days in a hospital. But that was that. I remember the yellow flowers we put in your window so we could see your room from outside. I remember the people you shared your room with, at first. One was called Betty. I listened to Nick Drake in the afternoon, that day you went into hospital... Betty came by, on her way... said she had a word to say, went the song. It was high spring, nearly midsummer.
Oh, that hospital. I remember the corridors. The shine on the floor and the smell of disinfectant. But there was something else. Something else that was approaching, although I couldn't see it. Even when you know something's going to happen, you don't realise it's going to happen. You think that maybe this won't happen, not to someone you love, because the world is fair, or at least it should be. But it isn't, and it won't be. Bad things happen to good people. People suffer who shouldn't suffer. People don't, who should.
The whirr of the morphine. The long early summer days. Sun through a window, on flowers.
It seems so long ago, a lifetime ago, but then it's just there sometimes, when I close my eyes.
I wish you could see me now. Not that I'm a better person than I was then. I'm not a better person at all. In fact I've done so many things since then that I wish I hadn't done. I've hurt myself and I've hurt other people. I never meant to, but I did. Turns out you were right all along, though. I remember when you tried to get the doctor to believe, when I was a teenager, that I was depressed, but they fobbed me - and you - off. But you were right. You were right because you knew me and because you loved me. Finally, I got someone to believe me, a few years ago. Since when, it's been easier. Not easy, but easier.
I got more depressed after you died. I wish I hadn't done, but I did. Then I felt guilty about it, because I knew you wouldn't have wanted me to feel depressed that you had died. I remember you telling me, the day before you died, that I should never feel guilty about anything. I knew all that, but I couldn't help it. I was broken. Maybe I still am broken, even today... as I always say, learning to live with grief is like learning to accept that part of you is broken and can never be fixed. Part of me still is broken, and won't ever be fixed. That part is you. You are the void in my heart, the missing star in the sky.
I wish you could have seen everything I did. None of it was particularly good or special, but it would have made you proud. I won an award or two, and I got a couple of promotions and new jobs. I'm trying to be a teacher now. I'm getting there, slowly, and I think that I am going to be a really good teacher - or at least, as good as I can be. I think you'd find it funny that I would end up doing that, but then again you probably knew all along what I would end up doing. "Just as long as you're happy," you would always say. Well, I am. Not always happy, but as happy as I can be, I think.
I live in Bristol now, because I found it hard to stay around home where I grew up. It's still hard going home today. Everything I see seems to be through the eyes of a child - me - and it's full of memories. Some memories are hard to take, even though you don't ever want to lose them. There are good memories, mainly, but it still hurts to have them and hold them. Sometimes it seems easier not to face them. So I left, and ended up in Bristol, and there I found more work, and I met someone.
You never got to meet Sam and that's one of the biggest sadnesses that I have. She's great. She looks after me, but she doesn't let me get away with the silly things I say and do. You know the kind of things. She won't let me sulk, or be down for too long. She is my constant, my everything. I wish that you could have met her and it's always going to be a shame that you didn't, but I know you wanted me to find someone who would click with me, and I'm lucky, because I did.
You don't have to worry because I am looked after. Sam makes sure that I don't slip into bad habits, and of course there's dad. He's been great these past few years. I know it hasn't been easy for him and I felt bad when I left home because I knew he would be on his own. But I had to go, and he didn't stop me - and that meant a lot; it still does. He misses you more than anyone, I think. I know if you could write back, you would tell me to see him more often, and you're right; I should.
I get jealous of people when it's mother's day, or when it's the day that would have been your birthday, and I'm not able to spend it with you. But you were here and I will never forget you. I know you never really left me, and you're still around, because in many ways you made me who I am now. You live on, whenever I do something good, whenever I try hard, whenever I do well.
There's so much to say. We said everything we had to say back then, I suppose, but it seems so unfair, so unjust, that I was allowed to carry on and you weren't. Every time things get hard, I remember how hard you fought. You gave me that strength, and I will use it when I have to fight. For now, there is so much to do and I just wish you were here to see it.
All my love, as always.
Applying again: wanking at half-past three. Oh, hang on, that was love, wasn't it?
Look, I'm back. Don't expect me to be any good or anything. I think I've run out of things to write about. And yet I find myself tormented by reading piles of indescribable shit by people who can't write. And I think, fuck me, is this really what it's come to? Surely I should be writing something - anything - to try and make a dent in the vast wall of shite? Shouldn't I? But then that would be to suppose that I had something worth saying, and even that if it were worth saying, that I could do it justice. Which I'm not sure I can at the moment.
Still, I read the odd thing that hits home. This post by a friend of mine really made me sit up and think, because it reminded me about those empty months I spent when I was unemployed/unemployable sometime ago, when I started drifting off into a stinking netherworld of antiques programmes on the TV and general misanthropy, all to a charming soundtrack of the theme tune to Doctors.
And I wanted to think: that's behind me now. But it isn't. I find myself applying for jobs again now. This time they're different jobs, doing different things than what I used to do, but they're still jobs, and I'm still applying for them. Now there's a great deal more at stake: if I can't find a job doing what I want to do now, the whole past six months will have been an expensive waste of time. Every little application flaps off with its little fledgling wings shining in the sun... before being shot down half a foot outside the front garden.
God, is this happening again? Am I doomed, again? Doomed to mediocrity in a world of 'outstanding'? One of the reasons I failed as a writer was because I never really managed to go for it, wholeheartedly, to throw everything and the kitchen sink at it, because when I did, or on those times I did, it hadn't worked out for me. And so there's that seem feeling again. Is this really going to work out? It has to work out. But what if it doesn't? It has to. And so on, and so on.
And there are other things, too, that weigh a little heavily. I feel slightly old at times. Not old-old, but older. Just a little beyond what some people would consider acceptable, you know. And that makes me wonder: am I just going to be written off all the time again, like I was before? Or can I really turn things around this time, and make it work? Age brings experience, and all of that. But I know some people look at it negatively. Who can blame them?
Then you think to yourself: well, with an attitude like that, no wonder things don't work out. But this isn't some kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. This is just how it feels when you've been kicked up the arse enough times to remember what it feels like without the need for a boot to be there 24 hours a day.
Fucking hell, just let it all work out.
Last year at around this time of year I wrote a Round Robin to explain what had been going on.
Looking back at that, it's quite amazing how much has changed. I didn't have a job then, and was about to start a job that I quickly abandoned due to one thing and another - largely, my inability to hunker down and do something I really don't want to do. Lucky me that I had that option, I think, on reflection. So many people just have to get on with it.
Anyway, soon after then I was accepted onto a primary PGCE course and I've been doing that since September. I love it. I think I'm getting better all the time, although I have still so much to learn. My only regret is that I didn't start doing it about 10 years ago, when I'd first realised that working in local newspapers was going to be a disappointing slide into oblivion. But I remember the first time I ever drove on snow; before you know what you're doing, you're moving, and it doesn't matter how hard you steer, you're going to go where gravity wants you to go.
Once you get back a bit of control you have to take it with both hands. And that's what I've been able to do. Journalism was the thing I had thought I would always do. It turns out it was just a way of making me a better literacy teacher. I don't believe in epiphanies or 'things happen for a reason' because horrible things happen to good people, and it's completely unfair; but I do think that I've ended up somewhere I was probably meant to be. It took a while to get here, but I'm here now, and I'm not looking back.
Another thing I did recently was quit Twitter. I did this as a self-confessed self-important bore, but also because I want to be a teacher and it's not a risk worth taking; also, looking back, I feel that Twitter had somehow been blunting everything else I was doing. You know how Peter Cook ended up ringing up LBC pretending to be a Swedish fisherman, it felt like a less talented version of that. Not being overly blessed with talent, people like me have to really work at things to make them any good. That's what I've always had to do with writing. It hasn't come easily, and it takes a lot of work to make it halfway decent. I wonder if one of the reasons why I couldn't get Book 2 off the ground was because I spent too much time entertaining myself on Twitter and elsewhere. Probably.
Which reminds me. Book 2 will probably be Book 3. There's another book I need to do in the meantime, before I do that one. That's kind of halfway finished, or maybe two-thirds finished. But I have something else to work on, when I get the time. Maybe I will have the time now. It needs to be done before I (all things permitting) head into my new career. I'll be saying more about that soonish, I hope. But it's something I really need to write, and I think it's going to be good. So, fingers crossed, and all of that.
In the meantime, thanks again for reading. Sorry I won't be around on Twitter but that's that, I'm afraid. You can always email me - firstname.lastname@example.org - or just leave comments and stuff. It's been a good year, on the whole. A better year. Here's hoping for another one.
There seemed to be someone else sitting there, as David Cameron blundered his way through the awkwardness of having been caught out by David Letterman. Squint a little and you could see another figure in the chair, slightly more oafish, in an ill-fitting suit, with a splatter of Worzel Gummidge hair muckily arranged atop his cheerily well-fed face.
Ah yes, the prince of wiff-waff. No matter how hard David tries to escape his former school chum, Boris continues to lurk. So much so that you end up wondering if Cameron is trying to be a bit less like himself and a bit more like Boris. Or rather, I don't wonder.
It’s an odd thing to think of, the man in power trying to ape his underling, the lardybus maker of Old London Town. But the whiff of a blustering, silly, “oh gosh what a daft brush I am” Cameron, rather than the public figure we know, could be a sign that poor David is taking the ridiculous Boris more seriously than ever. The Borisification of British politics, you could call it. Time was when we liked bright people, or charismatic people, or (if we were lucky) charismatic, bright people to lead us. Now we make do with a flag-waving tit.
David can try. He can try bleaching his hair, or wearing clothes that were made for Oliver Hardy, but he'll still be him, and that's the problem. Whatever blustering nincompoopiness he attempts to effect, we know he's not really like that deep down.
Reading two or three paragraphs of Johnson's writings (and it's often worth doing) reveals a rather rigorous intellect; it's almost as if there's two characters at work - Boris the Berk and Johnson the writer. Probably the real man beneath the bluster is a combination of the two, but the important thing is this: we accept the public, chaotic, “hoho I’m a bit of a tit”, face as being Boris. He’s used it well down the years to detoxify his Toryness.
It won't be the case with Cameron. We've grown to know him these past few years, as a slightly stern, irascible cove, someone who spits out little barbs at his enemies, tells people to calm down and sneers at his own side. Calm down dear! Nick Clegg's the best joke he knows! BBC cuts are delicious! His jokes fall flat, probably because we don't see him as a jester like Johnson; we see him, or want to see him, as a statesman. That's what he's supposed to be.
More to the point, do we really want David to be Boris? There's something to be said for sincerity over artifice, reality over pretence, integrity over fakery. There's a suspicion that the Cameron of Letterman is just playing a character, whereas Boris really is Boris.
And there's something else, too. Johnson may have won two elections in London, but the most recent victory was not an entirely conclusive one against a highly divisive opponent, Ken Livingstone. With London’s flagship paper backing him all the way and no serious alternative, Boris seems an alternative worth considering. It doesn’t necessarily follow that he can convert that success into gunning for the top job.
I don’t want David Cameron to be like Boris. I don’t like Cameron, but he’s the Prime Minister. I don’t want a Prime Minister to be chortling about on chatshows while the country continues to crumble and Britain continues to be - in the words of David Cameron - Broken. Let Boris be Boris: he’s an occasionally amusing, relatively intelligent man who seems palatable in comparison to awful alternatives. Let Cameron be Cameron: lose the bumbling and look like you’re getting things done. Or better still, actually get things done. There's a thought.
I always like the onset of autumn: "tea and a toasted buttered currant bun can't compensate for lack of sun," Ray Davies said, but I think he was being a little unkind. I think there's plenty to compensate, particularly this year for me. Autumn isn't a season of decay and death, but a season of new beginnings: with autumn comes the autumn term, and return to school. For me, return to both school and university, and I can't wait to get stuck in as a student teacher.
I said once before, when I was unemployed, that being in that awful state of neither-one-thing-nor-the-other made you a stranger to the seasons, someone who was detached from time, and absent from real life. Life is just something that goes on without you, sometimes. Sometimes you have to put your hand up and want to be a part of it. It's not always that easy, I know, but sometimes it is, or it can be. At other times, you just have to wait, and wait, and wait, for things to return, and go your way.
So, here it is. Since June 28, 2011, I have been without a permanent job, scratching around for work to keep me busy. There were rejections, disappointments and failures, and very little hope. I took one full-time job, but hated it so much that I had to leave after just a month. In the meantime I've been kept going by my good fortune at being able to work for the New Statesman and occasional bits and bobs of work that good people have been kind enough to send my way. There have been a couple of part-time jobs which have kept me busy, and which I enjoyed: I worked at Waterstone's over Christmas, which was hard work, but fun; and I had a long-term temping position on 20 hours a week for the past four months, which just about kept everything afloat.
You don't forget the people who take a chance on you when you're down. You forget the ones who don't.
So, tomorrow there begins a new life. A world of Comic Sans and crayons, and chairs that are too short to sit on. Who knows whether I can do it or not? I don't for sure. But sometimes you just have a sense in you: wait a minute, I can do this, I can be good at this. It's something I never felt with journalism, where I always felt like a bit of a fraud. With teaching I feel like I can actually do something, sincerely and well, and to a high standard, and actually end up doing something good at the end of it. I wish I'd found it earlier. But at least I found it at all.
I only really realised this morning, when I woke up. I'm not unemployed anymore. That feeling of anxiety and helplessness has gone. Something else is beginning.
There are some implications about blogging. There might be less blogging here for one thing, and I won't be blogging about what happens in the classroom, obviously. I'll still be writing for NS as often as I can, which will hopefully be as often as now. Maybe less, but maybe better. And yes, as I keep banging on to anyone who'll listen, there will be a second book, which is coming together right now, and which will - real work permitting - be finished around October time, all being well.
But, there it is. For the first time since halfway through 2011, I can say I am something, and someone. I feel like I've managed to slot back in to the real world, to step on the travelator that was moving past me all this time, to hop back on the bus and get back with the rest of you. I am a student teacher. I am.
Yes, this is back. For now, anyway, and for the mostly forseeable future. It's been slightly odd, not having some scrappy piece of notepad upon which to scribble the ever-irksome brainfarts that prevent me from living an otherwise untroubled existence. But here it is, back again. In fact, I'm working on a post so convoluted and rambling (you love the rambling ones, don't you?) that it's taken about three hours longer than I'd expected to even get it started.
In the meantime, I want to tell you a little bit more about my second book. Book 2, which is tentatively titled but not firmly titled enough for me to tell you what the title is, is going to be out in probably October, or sometime around then. I had hoped to get it out for the end of the summer, but that didn't quite happen.
What's it going to be about? Well, it's non-fiction. I can tell you that much. Where would it sit, were any bookshop foolish enough to stock it? I would love to think of it as living in that strange hinterland where Simon Garfield's wonderful, wonderful books go to be roundly ignored in favour of crappy fiction.
It's kind of an instructional manual, cum potted biography, cum self-help book, cum book about nothing. It's all over the place at the moment, to be honest. But I've got an editor/proofreader to have a look at it this time, so it might read quite well once we're finished. I'm about three-quarters of the way through it at the moment, maybe 70 per cent, or two-thirds, just over halfway, and quite a lot of it has been pretty easy going.
What I want to do is write something that will interest people who are interested in the thing I'm writing about, but also won't be interested in the thing I'm writing about. That's the plan. It's mainly going to be about blogging, blogs and COME BACK, I HAVEN'T FINISHED. There will be blogging, and there will be other stuff. There will be funny bits, and not so many unfunny bits - that's the idea. And there might be useful and interesting and helpful bits as well.
No, I don't have a publisher. I came perilously close to having a literary agent, but I made the mistake of sending him a copy of my first book, and he (very politely) told me that it was a pile of shite. Look, I'm not exactly dismayed. So I will be self-publishing again, in papery book AND nice ebook versions - this time the ebook will have a lot more attention given to it, and will work a lot more nicely. I promise.
If you'd like to be part of my exciting mailing list, which should offer lovely discounts and bits and bobs when the book's nearly done, then feel free to send me an email at email@example.com - otherwise keep checking back here and you'll find out soon enough.
And that's it for now.
Here's something that didn't at first seem to be a problem: I wrote a blogpost yesterday. Have a look if you like. It's just one of those throwaway ones that I do from time to time.
There's nothing particularly wrong with it, in fact I quite like it. But it has created a kind of problem in my mind. Because I wrote it feeling a bit hyper, agitated, and so on, and then I realised that I accidentally hadn't taken my medication for a couple of days.
(Now people will tell you that this won't, in fact, make any difference, as these things take weeks to change your brain chemistry and so on, and they may well be right. I can respect that point of view if they can respect me respectfully saying that, in my experience, it seems different to me. All I can tell you is that, for me, it does appear to make a difference, and I can tell by a change in behaviour and feelings usually whether I have or haven't taken it. I might be completely deluded about this, but I'm prepared to argue the case about what I feel in my own mind. I don't discount the possibility that things might take upswings and downswings regardless of what medication is or isn't there. People who are quite used to experiencing depression become quite attuned to these things. I'm just saying that medication is possibly a factor.)
And then I thought: Ah, shit. This reminds me of how I used to write blogs all the time. Those of you who are regular readers will recall the times when I'd write about two or three posts a day. I'd hardly have time to do anything for all the time I'd be spending at the computer. I'm pleased to not be doing that anymore, for many reasons, largely reasons about needing a life, and the space to think and do other things. On the other hand, though, there was some great rushing joy that came flying back about just sitting down and watching the sparks come flying off the keyboard. It felt like old times.
So I wondered: Maybe this is some part of me I've suppressed through medication for a while now. And maybe it's a good, creative part of me. Regardless of what you think of yesterday's post (and it took only about five minutes to cobble together, so don't regard it as a work of high art, not that you did anyway) it did arrive almost instinctively quickly and was a hell of a lot of fun to write.
I've always liked to think of me as not being a 'talented' individual but someone who works hard to achieve results, such that there are results. But then I wonder. I wonder if the 'talent' I thought I didn't have was actually there in the first place, due to a lucky accident or some kind of mixed-up brain chemistry mumbo-jumbo. I don't know how to express it really, other than to say I'd probably have a better chance of expressing it, I think, if I were feeling a little more depressed or hadn't taken my medication properly - if that makes any sense whatsoever.
So I'm kind of torn: on the one hand there appears to be that agitated, confused, aggressive, slightly unpleasant state of being, which is nonetheless apparently boon for my creative output; on the other there is the more anchored-down, slow, turning-circle-of-a-battleship person who is a lot happier but also a lot less able to get things started and finished. And I'm wondering whether there isn't some way of getting the best of both worlds.
I don't know what the answer is, by the way. There is no way of knowing, I suppose. I guess I am just expressing the thought that I'd like to have the creative bursts without the feeling a bit weird at the same time. But I don't know if you can uncouple one from the other. And that annoys and disappoints and delights and frustrates me all in one go.
I've had a bit of a eureka moment. I don't know why it took me so long, but I've finally realised it. I've realised exactly why I hate the thing I hate more than anything else in the world ever.
It's Country House by Blur, obviously - of course it is, what else would it be? - but we'll get to that. Have you ever just sat around wondering why you hate something so much, feeling that perhaps it's an irrational loathing that can't be explained? Well, that's how I'd always felt about it. But then I decided to look at all the reasons. Firstly, were there reasons? Yes. Yes, there were.
It's not that I hate this tedious, cynical piece of shit because it annoys me musically. It's not because it, and the miserably dreadful 'Roll With It' by the Monobrow Brothers vied for the number one slot in the apotheosis of Britfuckingpop. It's worse than everything else. And here are the reasons why.
1. Worst guitar solo ever
It's a strange one to start with, I'll grant you. But it is. What the fuck are they? Notes plucked at random? Widdly widdly weeeeee weeee TINKLY TINKLY WAHHHH FUCK OFF, YOU'RE A PROFESSIONAL MUSICIAN.
2. Cod Kinks cockwipery
"Hey, Well Respected Man was a good song, wasn't it? I wonder if we could do something similar, but really fucking awful, but try and make it the Well Respected Man de nos jours. You know, not because we're any good, or it would be any good, but because it would be a bit like the Kinks. Because we're always being compared to the Kinks. By people who don't understand music, or life, or things, or comparisons."
Oh fuck. Off. He's reading Balzac, knocking back Prozac. What the fuck for? Just because it rhymes. Oh, fuck off. Balzac, Prozac, though, isn't it whimsical? NO, NO IT'S NOT. IT'S NOT EVEN THE SLIGHTEST BIT WHIMSICAL. KICKING ME IN THE FACE WITH A FUCKING BUILDER'S BOOT WOULD BE WHIMSICAL, IN COMPARISON.
4. The video
Hey look, it's Brit actor Keith Allen, he's a card! And some ladies from Loaded magazine! Haw haw haw!
5. Shove in some fucking brass
Hmm, this doesn't sound wanky enough yet. I know, let's add some shit brass to churn it right up! Like the Benny Hill Show theme tune but without all those troublesome nuances.
When Chas & Dave did the Crackerjack theme tune in the 1980s, they stuck in an "Ooohhhh". As in "Oohhhh, such a luvlee word, it's Crackerjack." But Chas and Dave had (and have) class. The "Ooohhhhh" made sense. It wasn't just a "ho ho, cockernay knees up" load of cockchafing art school pissery. Chas and Dave are cockneys, but they are cockneys with skill, and graft. Look at the Great Soprendo dancing! Look at him! Tell me that's not better than Country House. With a straight face. Go on. (NB I'm not saying Albarn & chums aren't cockneys. I seem to remember they are. All I'm saying is they're shit. Which they also are. Whereas Chas and Dave aren't.)
7. "OOOoooohhhh, lives in a house, a very big house..."
What sort of house does he live in, Damon? A very big one? Oh, I see!
I can't recall if it's oops or whoops. I am not going to find out. That would mean listening to the entire four cunting minutes of Satan's farts that is Country House and I don't have the will to do it. "Thought to himself, whoops, I've got a lot of money." Who thinks that? "Whoops, I've got a lot of money." Whoops? Oops? Why? Why would you think of saying oops? Oops is what people say when they drop a gravy-soaked knife off the dinnerplate. That's all. Not 'having a lot of money all of a sudden'.
9. I am so sad, I don't know why
I do. I do NOW. NOW WE KNOW WHY HE WAS SO SAD.
10. Breathlessly whining 'mortaliteeeeeeeeee'
Oh, if you can't even be bothered to sing it properly, give up. Go home. Think to yourself, whoops, you've got a lot of money, and fuck off into the country, where you can take HERBAL BATHS and not DRINK SMOKE LAUGH.
11. That one of you will take this seriously
and try and say "Aha, but actually, it was a parody of something or other written about someone or other who's slightly famous if you give a shit about these things, and you see, it's actually quite clever, and something." I don't care! It's not good. It's never been good. It never will be good. It's the worst thing ever, worse than death, worse than Hitler and murder and everything. It's lazy, wishy-washy, can't-be-arsed shove-it-up-your-arse-anyway showing off, and it smells of cancer.