Six weeks done, another six to go. We’re constantly counting down. It’s been a swift six weeks, and there was much to discuss. Me too. Times up. Conversations on Whatsapp about articles linked on Twitter. Transatlantic chats with my old friend Mike cheered me up no end. Meanwhile, life goes on. I didn’t make resolutions, but I did set myself some goals. Run more, write more. More or less, yes. Make more submissions. Subscribe to at least three magazines. The New Yorker now arrives every week—not that I have time to read it.
I often wonder: do those people who post online about their fantastic day, their wonderful partner, their sheer joy at being alive—do they read what others write? Or rather, perhaps, what others don’t write? Do they see the empty spaces? Or do they just check in to self-congratulate? To thank their partner publicly? To let the world know: I am in love! I am happy! Everything in my world is great!
I love a good dive bar on a Saturday night. I love drinking from the bottle and getting tight. I love the girl who’s standing at the bar, giving me a look that says you won’t get far. I love the size of her boyfriend’s fists. I love the pain of a broken nose. I love the taste of my own blood. I love the sound of the bartender’s voice, the grip of his hands on my upturned collar. I love the cold and the smell of the streets. I love lying in the gutter and thinking of you. I love waking up in a shit-hole flat, picking up the phone to a no-dial tone. I love looking through all the old pics. I love sticking on our old song. I love being skinny and never wanting to eat. I love getting high and writing down words, turning my pain into another smash hit. I love being broke and all alone…
I love not knowing how this’ll all end.
Lukas knew better than to accept the invitation he received on the last night of his trip to Barcelona, but Celeste knew that wouldn’t stop him. Celeste was beautiful—an eight-and-a-half out of ten, easily—and Lukas was basically an idiot.
When Lukas arrived at the small sushi restaurant in the Raval, he spotted Celeste at a table in the corner. She looked up and gave him a forced smile. Undeterred, Lukas sat, and for a while they chatted amiably, Celeste waiting for the right moment to say what she had to say. The opportunity arose about twenty minutes in, when Lukas began to ruminate on the bittersweet feelings he experienced at being back in Barcelona. At this point, Celeste launched her attack.
I saw her last night. She was dressed in a black swing-dress, with black tights and a pair of pumps that had fat pink laces. Her hair was magenta, just as I remember, tied back, her lips wet and red. She smiled and we chatted. She laughed, and those creases in her cheeks appeared. I used to love those creases. It’s seven years since we spoke and I was no longer bitter. I remember—but it no longer hurt, and it gave me hope and a renewed sense of self-belief to stand there and talk, just like two old friends.
One day I borrowed Celeste’s bicing card and rode up to the Parc del Forum at the far end of the beach. I stopped on the concrete platform beside the auditori – the black, triangular-shaped construction that stands at the entrance to the parc – and dismounted, pausing for a moment to catch my breath and take in the view. It was a hot, cloudless August afternoon, and away from the tourist-season claustrophobia of the old town, it felt like a different world. An overwhelming wave of gratitude suddenly washed over me. My God! I thought. It’s so good to be here.
He’s a big guy. That much I knew. Tall and handsome, rugged, with eyes that exude warmth and pain. He was in pain that day, I could tell, but still. When he told me he couldn’t stay, that he had to leave almost immediately, I was crushed. I’d been so excited. Scoped out a place for us to sit, just around the corner—a little café, where we’d sit and talk about writing, before heading into the museum together, where his enthusiasm, his depth and breadth of knowledge would dazzle and nourish me.
And they would still. Just not today.
Every class is different. Every class is unique. But every year there’s at least one you fall in love with, head over heels—sometimes two or three, or even more than that. And you love them for so many reasons. You love them for their beauty and their innocence, but mostly you love them because they make you a better person. They don’t realise it, but they need you, and their need triggers something deep inside. A sense of purpose and self-worth. They grow up, of course. Move on to another teacher and into teenhood. They forget.
But you don’t.
I took a walk up to the football field, just up the path and over the bridge. The sky was cloudless, the stars too numerous to count. It was dark and the field was deserted, and I remembered that night we came up here after a dinner-date, stood in the middle of the open field and embraced. I lifted your top and cupped your breasts and put them to my mouth. I looked out across the field, the light from the shopping centre glowing in the distance, and I breathed in the freezing air and thought of you once more.
Don’t take this wrong, but, well… sometimes I really hate you.
For a start, you force me to get me up, every morning—way earlier than anyone in their right mind would want to get up, for something they don’t get paid to do. (And yeah, boo-hoo about that.) You make me sniff through the pile of clothes by my bed, get dressed, and drive to the coffee-shop, where I spend the next few hours in your company. You make me drink coffee, which stains my teeth and sends me slightly loopy, and has me running to the bogs within twenty minutes as I feel the entire contents of my guts about to drop. You make me sit down, which is bad for my health, apparently, and you make my back ache, as I become more and more engrossed in you, forgetting about the importance of sitting up straight and maintaining correct posture…
Damn you, Writing!
It’s bad enough you made me quit my job—not just once or twice, either. And for what? To keep me awake at night, as I try to find solutions to problems you’ve created, teasing me with new ideas when I haven’t even finished fleshing out the ones you gave me last time. Oh, and that thing you do, when you wake me up in the middle of the night, to tell me, Hey, Matt! You know that sentence you were struggling to put together earlier today? Well, here it is. I mean, not to sound ungrateful or anything, but do I have to hear it right now? It’s three a.m and I have to be up in a couple of hours to go and write.
You bastard, Writing.
My memory’s a little hazy, but I’m pretty sure I was doing fine before you came along. Now you distract me from other, more worthy endeavours, such as… oh, I don’t know. Swimming, or cycling. Or building my own house. And yes, you’ve taken me to some interesting places—physically and, you know, spiritually—but they were places I didn’t always need to go. Uncomfortable places. Places of profound personal discovery. Worse still, you’ve given me a sense of purpose—an ambition, a goal—when all I really want to do is sit on my arse and watch old episodes of The Simpsons, or whatever’s on Sky Atlantic HD. On occasion, you even—whisper it—give me hope, when, really, we all know that hope is pointless, and that we’re all doomed. And for that, I really hate you.
But I think the thing I hate most about you is that you know, in spite of my need to do other things, and my dalliances with other art-forms and creative outlets, you know that I’ll always come back to you. No matter how many dead ends you lead me down, how many rejection-slips you get me, how many glazed looks of disinterest you’d have me receive. You know I’ll be back…
Oh, Writing, you smug old git.
So, yes, sometimes I really do hate you. Savage Garden-style—truly, madly, deeply. Lifelong-partner-style. For all the early mornings, the backache, and the deteriorating eyesight. For the gut-rot and all the other pain you cause me. But the truth is, I wouldn’t have it any other way. No, siree. Not in a million years. Because—to paraphrase the great Mister Gregory Porter—even our worst days are better than the loneliness I’d feel without you.
Andi Jackson and I have been pals for over a decade now, having met in the musical Mecca that is Milton Keynes, where Jackson–a bass player by trade–had been one of the most recognisable faces of the scene, rocking the stage with both The Modus Vivendi and Our Man In The Bronze Age, before relocating to the north and joining Lake of Snakes and Horrid. He’s a hugely talented musician, with a healthy taste for most things weird and wonderful, and hanging out with him is always a blast, thanks in no small part to his boundless enthusiasm and infectious energy.
Excerpts is Jackson’s first solo outing, and it marks something of a departure from both The Modus Vivendi’s spiky discordance and the gut-rolling heavy rock of Our Man In the Bronze Age. Written, recorded and produced by the man himself, the six tracks on offer here see him in reflective, almost plaintive mood, experimenting with sounds drawn primarily from his twin loves of dream pop and krautrock. Jackson told me he was looking to push himself beyond the boundaries of what he’d done previously; at the same time, he wanted to keep things simple and “create space”.
It can often be tricky reviewing something created by a friend, but in the case of Excerpts I had no qualms about saying what I thought: I loved it. Each track is unique, quirky and shot through with a unifying theme that’s suggested rather than shoved in your face. There’s a simmering, Fugazi-like menace to the bass lines that drive ‘Verano’ and ‘Compare & Despair’, while ‘Gateway Drug’ erupts into a frantic chorus midway through, before resuming its focused trajectory. ‘Dew Drops’ is an unsettling fusion of arpeggio chords and propulsive drumming, and ‘Ex Capere’ delivers a sonorous, slow-building slice of psych-rock. ‘Contaminate’, meanwhile, wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Josh Homme’s Desert Sessions albums—no bad thing, as far as I’m concerned.
Excerpts is unlikely to be embraced by those whose tastes don’t extend beyond the mainstream but this is a tantalising introduction from a dedicated, multi-talented musician; the sound of an artist striking out on his own, melding his influences into something singular and surprising.
One of the things I repeatedly tell my pupils and tutees, and their parents, is that there’s nothing I can teach them that they can’t learn by reading books. Occasionally, this backfires and they tell me not to bother coming again, but mostly they nod in agreement… and then go straight back to their iPads the minute we finish our lesson.
When I look at photos of Chris Cornell—especially those from the early nineties—I’m immediately struck by two things: one, how handsome he was—how tall and handsome and robust-looking—and two, how happy I was listening to his music. In the case of the latter, of course, the passing of time, coupled with the sudden sting of a tragic event such as the one that occurred last Wednesday, can cause us to over-tint the glasses through which we view our memories. In this instance, however, I’d say my vision is pretty clear.
So. I’m just about done with the first draft of the latest WIP. It’s no longer a WIP, exactly—more like a WAD. A Work Almost Done. Long road ahead, I’m sure, but right now it feels good to have reached this stage. It’s taken a lot longer than I expected, and there were definitely times when it felt like I would never get there. Adding to that sense of never-gonna-get-there was the fact that, throughout the process, I watched as other writers finished their projects. Writers who had started at the same time as me, or even after. I read their posts on social media, noted their word count, tracked their progress—even saw some of them get their books published.