so, as promised:
My dad worked in one of those out of the way industrial estates, tucked in behind a small village in Cornwall, pleasant in the few weeks of summer, but harsh and gray the remainder of the year. He worked a machine which baked rubber sheets around a steel pole to make rollers for conveyor belts. About forty people worked there, receiving the sheet rubber and steel, winding it, baking, then trimming. The finished rollers were stacked in the corner by the overhead doors, then packed into brown crates for dispatch in lorries two or three times a week. Each day passed as the previous had done. Light-hearted banter pitched up along the aisles, newspapers were scanned in the coffee room, cash was counted on a Thursday afternoon. My dad, twenty-three at that time, was never going to move on, not in a million years.
After work on a Friday he would catch a ride home, grab something from the fridge, then head out to meet his friends in Sam’s Bar. They would shoot some pool, swap jokes, and talk about the ‘tits on that barmaid’. It was comfortable. It was warm. And he was never going to move on, not in a million years.
The flat he stayed in was quite large for the rent he paid. It was barely furnished but it would do. There was only one chair, an armchair of soft chord, which sat seven feet away from the television, the perfect distance. As he sat with the light off, the flowing colours flickered around the room, growing inexorably from the corner up onto the ceiling. On an occasional table adjacent to the soft roomy arm of the chair, sat an ashtray. In his left hand he would hold a mug of tea, or two or three times a week, a can of beer. In his right was a cigarette, or the remote control. He was never going to leave, not in a million years.
Sarah, my mother, had no idea what she wanted. She had left university, got a temp job as a receptionist in an office in Birmingham just five minutes from home, and had sat there, fives days a week, ever since. She talked to her parents about possible career moves, what sort of direction she should go in, accountancy, personnel management, retail. But mostly she answered telephones, directed people through heavy double doors with a smile. She stared at her reflection in the marble walls, she read magazines in quiet moments. She would turn down the odd request for a date from passing young men in suits. A gentle shake of the head and down-turned eyes were all it ever took. She wasn’t interested, not in this job, this town, this life, she just wasn’t interested. But she stayed, and each day became a full-colour xerox of the last.
Most of her friends never came back from university. They stayed on, either for a post-graduate course, or because they just preferred it away from home. A few had moved to London, but Sarah was never tempted. She thought about travelling, liked the idea of seeing Chile or Peru, but she never did. It was enough that she could watch some out of the way place on television, or flick through glossy prints of mountain views in the National Geographic. A couple of such pictures she had carefully removed and placed behind plastic frames in her room at home. And each day became a full-colour xerox of the last.
How would these two, separated by two-hundred miles and no obvious prospect of meeting, ever get it together? As my life is at stake here, it is only natural that I should take an interest.
All this time I have watched them, been them, grown with them. I have known what makes Sarah stare at the mirror every morning, what my dad mutters under his breath when he’s alone. I know it so completely that I cannot believe I am not here to experience life. The idea that my possibility is doomed not to crystallize seems unthinkable. The more unthinkable that it becomes the harder I pull on the fine gossamer hairs that must connect me to my parents. I wonder if I have left it too late. Was I so caught in my love for each of them that I grew complacent, forgot that I am a product of a pair and not of two individuals. I am the two of them together, linked in every way. I must remember that, I must pull harder still.
My dad is amongst the workforce, grouped together in the canteen by the works manager. There is disbelief that the unit is to close. I welcome it, change is good. My dad’s comfort turns to concern. This he feels is unjust. The Company is leaving this particular market, the spokesman says, to concentrate on its core business. The works didn’t provide sufficient profits either to continue, or for some other firm to venture a bid for such an out of the way operation. But it made money, it supported him, and the others, and this was unjust.
I am aware of little else in this world. My universe is one of two people only. I speculate from time to time on what other possibilities there may be out there, out in the far reaches that remain mere shadows of potential. Others, surely, exist. Other possibilities, other products of a liaison between my father and another, between my mother and another. I realise, of course, that I am excluded by them, by their potential. Those fine gossamer threads are all that hold me here. I must pull harder.
My father, having at first reacted badly to his change in circumstances, is fired up by his rage against the injustice he has been served. I, pulling all the time, blindly seizing only hope, fleetingly see a chance that he may move, relocate to find work. Possibilities are all I can work with, and there must remain a possibility that my parents can meet. But my father’s rage takes an entrepreneurial turn. He formulates a plan and over a fortnight agrees to buy some of the old machinery he has worked since leaving school. With a friend he leases a smaller unit on the same estate. They take on another worker on a promise of future earnings. The machines roll, the rubber rolls, on a much reduced scale at first, but it rolls nevertheless. At once I feel pride, pride at one half of the essence of me, but also horror. This pride must surely serve to keep him away from Sarah, and myself from birth.
Sarah taps another telephone extension number into the exchange. She revolves her chair around to face a visitor that has emerged through the double doors. She takes out a clear plastic wallet in which she slots a purple card announcing the fact that there is a visitor to the Company. She takes his name. His accent is strange. In fact he is not at all the typical visitor. She notes that he is not wearing the uniform, the dark suit, the colourful tie, the polished shoes. He stands before her dressed in trousers and a jacket that do not match, and she notes, as he signs his name in the visitors book, that his hand shakes. He drops the pen, he cannot remember the registration number of his car. He apologises. He tells her that he has driven this morning from Cornwall, that he is to see the purchasing manager, that he has just taken over production of some component that her firm used to buy. He tells her that he is probably wasting his time, that he should not have come all this way. She smiles. She hands him a glass of water. She feels . . . something. An emotion as rare in her life as excitement. In a curious way she wants to take him home. He looks into her eyes, she does not look down.
I am taken aback. Their eyes meet and I am charged. This new life, my life, is kindled, is announced. I can feel their longing for an actual union, a fusion which is my being. I pull on the gossamer threads that tighten and thicken into ropes. I pull and watch as, at the end of the day, they walk out of the building together. My father has a business, my mother a distraction for a day. They drink, they laugh, they love. My father drives away in the early hours of the morning eager to spread the euphoria he mistakenly believes came from the signature on the contract that is rolled up in his pocket. He means to call Sarah the next day, but he does not, not then, not ever.
As I tunnel through the darkness, losing all sight in the crystallization of my being, I am filled with wonder at the embryonic human form I hold, the material which has accrued from my belief, my hope, my love. All that I had dissipates, is left behind. I am propelled into the physical. My love remains, actuates, no longer calling me to life but reinforcing it. It says to me ‘divide’, and I divide.
on the very night that one of my stories was performed down under, towit the sms exchange:
person in australia: Russ can you send me a couple of stories please? The one about a late train cos someone through himself under it, and the one about the unconceived child floating around looking for the right couple? Ta. Thought i had them but don’t. Need them in a few hours - can you let me know? Thanks muchly
person in australia: Please please wake up and text me back!
me: Yo. K, I’ll get up!
person in australia: So would you mind sending those stories? How does it feel to be in demand? Annoying?
person in australia: Yes. Thanks dude. I’ll let you know how one of them goes down. Cheers.
person in australia: Fuck me that was hard. I didn’t even write it., and that was hard. One person asked to read it afterward, held all 15 of them for the first couple of pages, most till the end. Chose acension (sic). Thanks, But never again!
As it happens i always liked the idea of the unconceived child thing, but not how i wrote it. i should post it for completeness.
here’s a proper short storey whose punchline is the very reason for its existence.
i love the fact that more things are recorded.
we have the holy trinity : storage, search, preferences.
storage: speaks for itself, it’s got to be available
search: you’ve got to be able to find it
preferences: it’s got to be able to find you, even if you don’t know it exists.
following on from daniel dennett and richard dawkins, the hitch has also jumped into the pool with the splendidly titled, “God is not Great“.
There are four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded on wish-thinking.
and he does mention profs dawkins and dennett,
My own annoyance at Professor Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, for their cringe-making proposal that atheists should conceitedly nominate themselves to be called “brights,” is a part of a continuous argument.
well, this is on my ‘to-buy’ list for sure. hitchens could write a book on bathroom air fresheners and i would read it. i had hoped to get my hitch-fix at hay-on-wye this year, but so far he’s not on the programme (despite having this book out). only thing i can think of (since he goes every year) is that they no longer allow smoking on stage.
hitchens on the jon stewart show talking about the book
a british ministry of defence think-tank has pondered long and hard, coming up with a view of the world in 2037(pdf). i assumed that to mean the year but perhaps it’s rather 23 minutes to 9. although i didn’t read it closely it appeared to be more about today than tomorrow. one possible exception is the suggestion that there may be the return of marxism.
While material conditions for most people are likely to improve over the next 30 years, the
gap between rich and poor will probably increase and absolute poverty will remain a
global challenge. Despite their rapid growth, significant per capita disparities will exist in
countries such as China and India and smaller, but traditionally more affluent Western
economies. In some regions - notably areas of Sub-Saharan Africa – a fall in poverty may
be reversed. Differentials in material well-being will be more explicit through globalization
and increased access to more readily and cheaply available telecommunications.
Disparities in wealth and advantage will therefore become more obvious, with their
associated grievances and resentments, even among the growing numbers of people who
are likely to be materially more prosperous than their parents and grandparents.
Absolute poverty and comparative disadvantage will fuel perceptions of injustice among
those whose expectations are not met, increasing tension and instability, both within and
between societies and resulting in expressions of violence such as disorder, criminality,
terrorism and insurgency. They may also lead to the resurgence of not only anti-capitalist
ideologies, possibly linked to religious, anarchist or nihilist movements, but also to
populism and the revival of Marxism.
this image comes from a series produced circa 1900 by a german chocolate company, predicting what the year 2000 might look like.
I blog this as it’s the second view of the year 2000 from 1900 that i’ve seen this week. This is a list of how things would look in 2000, published in a women’s magazine, entitled “What may happen in the next hundred years”. Amongst the predictions:
The American will be taller by from one to two inches. His increase of stature will result from better health, due to vast reforms in medicine, sanitation, food and athletics. He will live fifty years instead of thirty-five as at present – for he will reside in the suburbs. The city house will practically be no more. Building in blocks will be illegal. The trip from suburban home to office will require a few minutes only. A penny will pay the fare.
Automobiles will have been substituted for every horse vehicle now known. There will be, as already exist today, automobile hearses, automobile police patrols, automobile ambulances, automobile street sweepers. The horse in harness will be as scarce, if, indeed, not even scarcer, then as the yoked ox is today.
There will be air-ships, but they will not successfully compete with surface cars and water vessels for passenger or freight traffic.
Mosquitoes, house-flies and roaches will have been practically exterminated.
There will be No C, X or Q in our every-day alphabet. They will be abandoned because unnecessary. Spelling by sound will have been adopted, first by the newspapers. English will be a language of condensed words expressing condensed ideas, and will be more extensively spoken than any other. Russian will rank second.
Grand Opera will be telephoned to private homes, and will sound as harmonious as though enjoyed from a theatre box.
Store Purchases by Tube. Pneumatic tubes, instead of store wagons, will deliver packages and bundles. These tubes will collect, deliver and transport mail over certain distances, perhaps for hundreds of miles. They will at first connect with the private houses of the wealthy; then with all homes. Great business establishments will extend them to stations, similar to our branch post-offices of today, whence fast automobile vehicles will distribute purchases from house to house.
There will be no wild animals except in menageries. Rats and mice will have been exterminated.
my guess is that banksy is not too bothered about this. in covent garden today a guy was selling pictures of banksy graffitti printed on canvass. £20 for the small ones, £30 for the large. as i stood there he sold two. i asked him whether banksy made anything out of this, he said “my friend takes the pictures, i print them and sell them.”
top right is probably his most famous large work, travolta and samuel jackson from pulp fiction with guns replaced by bananas. for a long time this occupied a massive space on the first story of a building near old street station. however, a council workman painted over it. the work is thought to have been worth £300,000. the council have since claimed it was painted over in error.
when someone dies a family member has to go through their things. some are kept, some sold or discarded. there are always documents, usually letters, often journals, sometimes odd writings that someone has to sort through and do something with.
ita brought this up when i got back from barcelona tonight. i think it’s pretty interesting. she mentioned my writing. i don’t know how many things i’ve written, many many stories, a novel, some incomplete novels, many ideas, papers of all kinds. a lot.
in the “old days” after a time documents tended to become lost or hidden. the opportunity now is for these items to exist in perpetuity.
it made me think about geni. i remember several times when my genealogy has been talked about by several members of my family, some of them now dead. it was even researched a bit and written down, although who knows where. this is not going to be the case with my kids. what i know, they’ll know, probably a lot more.
the key to this, of course, is openness. the more information that is in the public domain, the easier it is for the people that matter to find it. there should be a really good reason for restricting access. and however good you think your reason is, it probably isn’t reason enough.