05 November, 2006

Remember, remember

It looks like we might have made it...

I wrote the first entry on this blog precisely 12 months ago. It was always conceived as a project as opposed to a way of life, and one with a limited existence. Treating the blog as a finite undertaking was crucial to me starting it at all, and even more of a reason for me to stick with it for so long.

Initially I didn't set a fixed end point, preferring to trust my instinct to know when the moment was right. Over the last few months, however, an ideal moment to bow out presented itself, and that moment is now.

Increasingly I've found it difficult to write here out of love rather than simply duty. The blog has also become far too introspective of late, as well as mutating into a generally gloomy, unhelpful read.

So it's time to pull the plug.

Looking back I'm amazed at the variety of thunderously ordinary topics I've held forth on, from bus etiquette and toilet etiquette to my favourite sounds and smells. I've talked about tea and trains and crisps and lost loves and Tesco and George Orwell and getting locked in and crying at films and Prime Ministers and time itself.

I've walked all the way around London and assembled an A-Z of Liverpool. I've turned 30. The clocks have gone forward then back. I've written about some of my favourite poems and also a few books.

I've seen David Cameron arrive and Charles Kennedy leave. My one great enduring prediction, that Tony Blair would be out of office within the year, has amounted to bugger all (though at least we know by what point he intends to stand down. Allegedly).

There have been some topics, though, to which I appear to have returned time and again. I seem to have exercised, though assuredly not exorcised, an unhealthy obsession with my neighbours, and a similar fondness for droning on about the London Underground, none of which can have made for particularly illuminating reading. Other than to illuminate some of my petty prejudices.

I've clearly got a hang-up about the 1990s, which depending on your age is either totally understandable or thoroughly reprehensible. I'm sick of jargon and bad English. Sleep is something I'm alternately in defiant awe of and in desperate need of, most often the latter. I miss my hometown.

I'm quite a stickler for anniversaries, marking the 100th, 200th and 300th posts with relish. Above all, though, I'm clearly fanatical about the weather, be it beautifully cold, appropriately damp or, most pertinently, too damn hot.

The most traumatic posts, though, have undoubtedly been all to do with my leaving one job and starting another, in the process moving 200 miles south from Liverpool to London.

This blog began when I was at my wits end, looking for change. When it arrived I found I was far too distracted by the emotional wrench required in leaving somewhere I had lived for 12 years than to recognise and celebrate the fact I was getting out of a job I hated. I remain profoundly at odds with the city in which I now have to call home. I also continue to miss certain aspects of Liverpool with a passion that is almost too much to bear.

Part of which is why I have decided to lay down my virtual pen. You can only take so much linguistic confession before it becomes too much of a burden - and too much of a bore - for both audience and author.

With that in mind you may consider this more of a threat than a promise, but I'm leaving the whole blog online with a view (and hope) that someday I'll feel inclined to resume entries once more. That won't happen, though, until I feel I have something more to say. It won't be important - none of this blog is important - but it will be new. And will hopefully mean something. To me if nobody else.

One whole year of my life is recorded here. To those who did, thanks for reading.

...Yes, it looks like we've made it to the end.

04 November, 2006

Loose leaves

Paul Morley once wrote a magazine piece which, as much as for expediency as anything else, was entirely given over to the processes which he went through to complete the said article, down to the state of the used teabag he had placed on the side of a saucer when he typed the first word and which now, on completion of the text, was as useless and as barren as the gist of this incredibly long sentence.

For me, writing has always been as much a means as it is an end. Whatever I write is a struggle, because I always see it as more than simply the business of committing words to a particular medium. The way those words are assembled, for even the shortest of phrases, is I believe something that and should be imbued with the utmost care and attention.

You can evoke such rhythmical pleasures, such linguistic delights, such unexpected poetry and unforeseen music out of simply the arrangement of words upon a page. And once you know that this is possible, you can never not set out to try and do it again.

It's a lifelong commitment. You can't opt out of the practice of trying to achieve good writing, because your conscience won't allow it. The evidence will always be there, even if you throw the page away or delete the document, at the back of your mind. Moreover, it will come charging to the front of your mind as soon as you sit down and try to write again.

So whatever and whenever I write, regardless of the context, while entertaining as trivial a subject as the deterioration of a teabag, always ends up requiring an injection of substance and sincerity that comes through intelligent, sometimes over-clever, composition. And it is a blessing and a curse.

In my life so far I have written millions and millions of words. I hope that I will be able to continue to do so. Ultimately, though, words alone, just like ideals, won't pay the rent. Obsessing over a simile or a neat piece of symbolism won't fix that grouting around the bath or appease an empty stomach.

That most cruel of choices, between self-expression and self-sufficiency, plagues and persists from dawn to dusk. Maybe one day the ideal compromise will present itself. Maybe one day I will find myself in such circumstances where I live to work rather than work to live. Maybe one day I will go to bed happier than when I woke up.

Just not today.

03 November, 2006

Buttoning up

All the cliches are true. Southerners are wusses.

At the first sign that the weather was turning cold this week, everybody wrapped up as if destined for a trek to the Arctic. It was incredible. Gloves, scarves, hats, multiple layers: what was with these people? The daytime temperature can't have been much lower than 9 or 10 degrees these past few days, yet folk have been carrying on as if it were below freezing.

Wait till its gets really cold. Wait till it gets as cold as it does in Liverpool, where the wind can numb you to the point that you can't even move. Or maybe that won't happen down here. Maybe this is winter for these people. Me, I'm still wearing T-shirts.

Anyway, here's how beautiful it looked in my local park first thing this morning.

02 November, 2006

...and retire

Fireworks have been going off round here for weeks. They've also been going off after well past 11pm, which I thought was now an official curfew. Or at least it was last year, in the wake of government legislation.

Living where I do, however, and being sufficiently far away from ground level to avoid the danger of having a live rocket posted through my letterbox, the fusilage of bangs and crashes doesn't bother me that much. It happens in far away places of which I know little.

It was a different story in Liverpool, though; so much so that one year I went to the trouble of taping up my letterbox so as to avoid any unwelcome deliveries.

Admittedly that was when I was living in a rough area where gangs of what used to be called townies, later chavs, and latterly hoodies, would roam and glare at you with impunity. But even when I moved to a more refined neighbourhood I wasn't entirely free from gunpowder-related chicanery. One year a firework display being held by a nearby local company was so loud it cracked one of my living room windows. Worse, the local company was the one I worked for.

Earlier in my time as a resident of Liverpool I used to attend the grand municipal fireworks display down at the Albert Dock. I went with an old school friend who'd recently moved to the city and her boyfriend, both of whom worked selflessly to get me out and about the place (it was just after I'd left university and was living alone for the first time).

Yet though epic and suitably emotional, these occasions always left me feeling rather at a loss at how to respond. Should I whoop and yell and scream along with certain members of the crowd - or coo and ahhhh with others? What, in other words, was the correct way to respond at such a mass participatory event?

Things were much easier when I was younger, as is true of most things. Then you had no self-awareness or reticence about shouting and shrieking like a demented boiling kettle when exposed to the impact of some colourful sights and sounds.

Our family used to shell out on a few measly fireworks to let off in the back garden. I was always fascinated by the tortuous and arcane instructions ("light the blue touch paper and retire"), and equally terrified by the likelihood of a dud suddenly coming back to life the morning after.

We lived near a university who used to put on a free display every year, and these were exciting events as well, especially as all I had to do was stand by our upstairs landing window and see the results just as clearly as were I out in the cold and the crowd.

Later the university started charging you to attend, and then connived to move the entire display to a point where residents could no longer watch it for free. This all happened once I'd gone to Liverpool, but I still resented the way such changes were introduced almost for the sake of it. And to appease the local paper, of course, who had long railed against the supposed "lack of order" embodied by the cavalcade.

I miss the thrill of getting to watch such events, but I miss the memory of them even more. The older I get, the more the recollection of such occasions grows blurred and bleary, and the accompany sensory echoes fade and die.

01 November, 2006

Cool it

It's turned cold. Really cold. I've been working from home today, and though I haven't needed to put the heating on (thanks to the sun streaming through the windows), I know I will later on.

I've been out a couple of times and felt that wonderful sensation of the chill eating through your skin and into your bones. There's something almost purging about being out in cold weather; it's like your insides are being excavated and cleansed of all remaining detritus still loitering there from the ordeal of summer.

I noticed another thing when I was out, and that was how the drop in temperature had brought a similar drop in noise. Indeed, the streets have been blissfully quiet all day, as if a thermostat has turned down both the heat and noise levels simultaneously.

Now it's just gone 5pm and already it's pitch black. The sun sets earlier in London than it did in Liverpool, an unexpected treat and one that helps becalm the city at its most frantic and frenetic period. I'm looking forward to seeing my first frost of the season, and feeling something - no matter how small - of those blistering icy days of long ago.

31 October, 2006

Schlock factor

Halloween doesn't seem to be such as big a deal now as it was when I was younger. Back then you'd get wall-to-wall scaremongering on the TV and radio, in magazines and papers, and in shops big and small up and down the high street. Of late, and especially this year, it feels like it's almost an incidental event or peculiar pastime with limited appeal and a niche following.

Not that this is an especially bad thing. Given the entire occasion is an American export and trades in the hugely contentious and downright deceitful dichotomy of trick or treat, maybe it's just as well it's losing currency over here.

The whole thing's just asking for trouble anyway. Kids going round houses demanding residents hand over some delicacies or face the consequences? That's par for the course nowadays, mutter the middle class tabloids, regardless of whether it's 31st October or not. Plus isn't it rather dangerous for children to be knocking on the doors of complete strangers and asking if they can give them something?

Well it is and it isn't. It's always been dangerous for a child to knock on a stranger's door just as it's always been dangerous to walk out into a road without checking for cars or it's always been dangerous to smoke cigarettes.

It's just that society's quantification of danger has changed, and its view of people doing what other people have done in previous generations back through time immemorial gets subject to bouts of hysteria brought on by a need to create enemies. It's the power of nightmares. It's one of the few remaining ways the great and the good can keep their citizens in check.

Nobody has come round here trick or treating and nobody will. I can tell. It's that sort of neighbourhood.

Unfortunately it's also the kind of neighbourhood where nobody knocks on each other's door ever, regardless of what day of the year it is. It's also the kind of neighbourhood where children probably last played in the streets in 1955. I haven't seen one Halloween decoration or present in any of the local shops or houses.

Admittedly it did always seem to be more of a big deal in Liverpool. But even then, during the 12 years I lived there, not once did some kids come round on 31st October. Which was just as well, as I never had anything ready to give them by way of a treat. But still, it was eerie to go from a stage in life where Halloween was ostensibly a big deal (school) to it being nothing at all (after school) and not pass through any kind of in-between.

Anyway, in truth isn't it just a load of old hokum? When you think of it, what has Halloween given us? Apart from some classic Simpsons episodes, Sarah Greene being taken over by a poltergeist on BBC1's Ghostwatch, and an outlet for Britain's uncannily burgeoning pumpkin harvest, that is.


30 October, 2006

Rest awhile

I had one of those dreams last night where you wake up and actually begin to go about your business as if it were a normal day, albeit all the time remaining fast asleep.

Things were complicated further, however, by the fact I "woke up" 12 years ago in my first year at university. I was in what could loosely be described as a bedroom, except instead of a door there was simply a hole in the wall, and my bed was a dirty mattress thrown on top of a ragged metal frame.

Through the hole I could see other people I remembered from my first year going about their business with a studied nonchalence. Everywhere was grey and grim. Some sort of coach party was assembling off in the distance, headed out for goodness knows where, and I was beset with a feeling that I too should be with them.

I was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of tardiness and disorganisation. It seemed that I was missing out on something, but couldn't find out what it was, partly because I was too tired, but partly because the hole in the wall wasn't big enough for me to get out even if I tried.

Twice in my life I have kept a dream diary. The first time was in the sixth form at school, then I tried again during my second year at university. To be honest I'm surprised I persisted with both for as long as I did (a few weeks in each case) given how their maintenance involved writing copious and exhausting notes as soon as I woke up every single morning, before even getting out of bed.

I'm also somewhat wary of the motive behind such a pastime. Was I trying to plunder my subconscious for "material" for songs and stories? Was I conducting some kind of hopelessly rudimentary form of self-analysis? Or was I simply looking for yet another outlet to document my innermost thoughts and woefully introspective feelings?

There are as many answers to that riddle as there are possible thoughts in your head. I do enjoy dreaming; I just wish I didn't have the urge to always search for meaning in them.

Dreams, they complicate my life;
Dreams, they complement my life