Looked a lot like this…
Looked a lot like this…
It seems so prescient upon reflection to have written about the nature of final goodbyes in my previous blog post. A few days before my forty fourth Birthday in 2015, one of my longest standing friendships came to an abrupt and terrible end.
I’d known David J Rodger since 1994. It was one of those situations where you meet another person and just click on so many levels that the friendship that blossoms from such an occasion , feels like a hand fitting in a perfectly tailored glove.
We shared a house together in the mid nineties and enjoyed a friendship that spanned just over twenty years from that era. I’d begun writing a longer history of our time knowing each other sometime towards the end of November but decided that I could use the story for fleshing out the autobiographical section of this website. The thing is, when you truly find a kindred spirit and form bonds that span decades, its hard to imagine that you will lose that connection. I saw in David a man who’s face I could easily imagine growing old, who’s smiling mischievous eyes would be playfully cajoling me over a drink somewhere in time and space right into our senior years. I could see it so clearly that it never seemed uncertain.
Then on November the 22nd, I learnt the lesson that apparent certainties can never be taken for granted. He’d taken his own life. The metaphor that sprang to mind in the immediate aftermath was that of watching a bright star collapse and leave nothing but a black hole in its wake. It felt that way, most literally. I looked inside myself to all the places of possibility and futures yet to happen, all those places and events that I’d anticipated as ‘still to come’ and I found him gone. It was the collapse of an unwritten timeline who’s previous possibilities for potential had all but vanished to some hideously painful , entropic zero point.
It was an event that quietly changed the world of all those who knew and loved him. I watched the wave of grief rise up and spread in the inevitable way that It only could in this 21st century. Online outpourings of pain and loss as friends and relatives put their emotions into this digital data sphere. It was both appalling and equally fascinating. The former as a cementation of the now irreversible fact, the later as an education in how grief has so many facets and aspects.
In writing this on New Years Day 2016, I accept that this is a manifestation of my own grief. It is hard to say it, but I found myself coming to terms with the emotional fallout of Dave’s sudden departure a lot sooner than I would have expected. I’ve been searching my soul for the reasons I seem to have apparently taken his absence in my stride and I should put it into words as it helps me, but also I hope that it helps someone else at some point.
He’d spoken several times about his wish to end his life a month or two before he committed to doing it. Even though I was appalled that he was entertaining the notion, at the time I wasn’t sure if it was all just talk. I’d grown up in a world that said “People who talk about taking their own lives, rarely do it.” I now know this is not a golden rule. But, when the matter was still a point of conjecture in our friendship, and after the inevitable conversations where I argued against the fuzzy logic he was expressing, a part of me began to withdraw, I’d say it was an intuition for self preservation.
About a fortnight before he chose to end it all, I had a most curious ‘omen’ occur. Yes, I will use that word because that’s how my mind and heart work sometimes. I was leaving my workplace in the dusk of a damp and grey, early November evening. An object thumped to the ground before me and I quickly realised that It was a wounded pigeon.
My instinct to pick up and protect the injured bird flapping on the ground kicked in immediately, but to my horror, as the thought entered my mind, the creature craned its head back and spat out a small jet of blood then fell deathly still. I felt shaken by what I’d just witnessed, then on some deep gut level I found myself realising “There will be lives you want to save, but when it is time for those lives to end, there will be nothing you will be able to do about it”
I heard that inner voice and knew it to be true. I began to emotionally prepare myself thereafter. Dave and I had a few frustrating conversations after that little event. He wasn’t interested in reason, rationale or positive outcomes for the yet unwritten future. He was convinced that he was utterly doomed and really wanted to hear no argument against it.
Naturally it follows that having lived through the event of a loved one’s suicide, you can think of all of the things you now know that might have provided greater pause for thought in your arguments against it, and If I had owned a time machine then I truly believe the weight of pure guilt I could have inflicted would have been sufficient to prevent his death. However, as it is often said ad nauseum ‘Hindsight is a wonderful thing’
I’m not willing to put online the multitude of complexities of why Dave did what he did, after all, they would only be my personal opinion not necessarily facts. What I can say as fact is that he experienced a rapid and catastrophic mental illness that was initially diagnosed as acute anxiety disorder coupled with depression. From my own insights of the man, I could add that this diagnosis described the symptoms of the surface of a psychological abscess that ran immeasurably deeper for considerably longer. There had always been signs of a more troubled psyche, but on the most part he’d always publicly managed to suppress the symptoms.
Any observant person will know that suicide is an act that causes deeply divided opinions about itself. Many consider it to be the most selfish thing that a person can do, the other half see it as a terrible and preventable tragedy of someone drowning in their own life. Until November last year, I could only sit on the fence between these two schools of thought, but now I have insight enough to recognise that it is both of these things. Sorry, there is no clear cut answer that will provide comfort, both sides of the coin are ever present.
The selfish act will inflict untold misery to all who bear witness to it. Like a bomb detonating in the middle of a group of loved ones, it will devastate those who were closest to the person committing the deed. It scars and taints, leaves wounds that may never heal, bears little regard for the consequence of the action or just how many casualties it will leave in its wake. It is the ultimate act of self centeredness, which can only be underlined if it is clear that it was one of many options unexamined and unexplored. If you are not terminally ill, then there really is something to live for.
Then, drowning in your own life, seeing no light at the end of the tunnel, seeing nothing but darkness and being utterly convinced that this will be the only future available to you. How tragic, desperate, infinitely sad, to find yourself feeling that way and believing every word you tell yourself to reinforce that notion…
It’s possible that you have been thinking suicidal thoughts and have stumbled upon this page because of the subject matter. If so, pause for thought, the negative self talk is a lie. It really is, and if you can’t see beyond that, then talk to your closest friends and family and tell them what you are going through, hopefully they will tell you things contradictory to what you are feeling and you really should listen to them, no matter how opposite their thoughts are to the facts of what you are going through. If you valued the love you have experienced from all those you know, then their thoughts and feelings may well define the stark line between life and death.
It is a colossal act of ignorance to reject that love and while you may see your problems as a situation with a tempting end point, all you will really do is pass that pain you’re feeling on to all the people you ever cared about, the ones you forgot about who didn’t forget about you. A suicide transfers all the misery and pain of its own experience over to those who live beyond it. As a final solution, the emotional mess left behind is incalculable.
On the 11th of December I attended Dave’s funeral and wake. The occasion brought with it a certain sense of closure. In the stripped down facts of the ceremony, family and friends reunited for the final emotional farewell. Nothing can compare to the ultimate full stop of a life’s story than arriving in a building in a coffin shortly due to be cremated. In life Dave had been a writer of science fiction and horror stories. During his mental illness, it had been suggested that his depressive state had been a form of creating some kind of twisted, nihilistic, narcissistic narrative where he had made himself the central suffering protagonist. As one of his friends said in a brief eulogy “Dave, your ending sucks!” and he was right, it did and still does. I can say with pretty much one hundred percent conviction that everybody in attendance and those who couldn’t make it have all thought ‘What a bloody waste of a life”
What a pity that such clarity of thought and feeling doesn’t enter the minds of the suicidal before the final act.
Since Dave took his life I’ve learnt another lesson about grief in these circumstances. Suicide devastates the grieving process by turning something that should be pure into something that feels like a polluted emotional fug.
On the one hand, the natural tendency is to mourn and feel the pain and sorrow of the departed’s absence, yet these emotions are frequently robbed by an equally natural combination of frustration, anger and resentment. There is nothing clean about post-suicide grief, friends and loved ones must learn to come to terms with their conflicting emotions about the event, even if that ultimately means today I feel tearful, but tomorrow I will feel resentment, the day after that I may feel sadness again. If I were to compare it to sleep, then it is like being woken up by the snoring of the person in bed with you every time you come close to nodding off.
You get to examine your own capacity for guilt. Did I do or say enough to prevent this shitty outcome? I must admit that whilst such thoughts were briefly entertained, I drew a line through them fairly quickly. By nature I am not a masochist and in understanding human nature I recognise that while guilt may be a natural tendency, it provides the potential for self flagellation in an endlessly empty rhetoric. I think there is also a danger in it as it provides fertile ground for the kind of toxic emotional environment that the suicidal person was experiencing. In this light, one could view the transference of negativity from the sufferer to those left behind as blatantly apparent.
I know I said and did what I could, I know that those closest to him did the same, I know that his long enduring partner continually supported him in his most desperate times, showing love, kindness, understanding beyond ordinary limits and it still wasn’t enough for him. In the end, he chose darkness over love, he sought death rather than embracing the opportunities of life. In his darkest and final moment, Dave chose to ignore or couldn’t see the only things that make life worth living, even though it was all around him. In the end he made a choice, it was the wrong one and nobody should blame themselves for it.
I’ve come to terms with living in a post-Dave world. I’ve chosen to let go of him in the most part. These words are part of a remaining residue of a friendship that concluded unnaturally before its time. I have mostly happy memories of a friend who at best, I could whole heartedly call my ‘Brother from another mother’ , who at worst could be so frustratingly self absorbed, it was lonely being in his company sometimes.
Of course, these are two extremes of emotion and I wouldn’t dream of doing the couple of decades of our friendship the disservice of saying that’s all it was. I loved him, I recognised the best and worst of him, laughed and cried, fought and tickled, shared journeys and adventures, chatted endlessly, enjoyed silence together, argued and hugged…all the hallmarks and ingredients of a proper loving relationship.
I will hold onto these memories and cherish the times that were, but I have put them in a mental box with a lid on it. I’ve recognised that wishing Dave should still be here is like wishing I was still a child or that it was eternally last Saturday, to think this way is a path to deep unhappiness, self torture in wishing for things as they aren’t rather than as they are. What would be the point?
All I really know of my particular grief is that I will continue to live in a world where I will occasionally enter zones of experience, such as hearing a song, seeing a movie, finding a beautiful or interesting place, hungering for a particular kind of conversation knowing that there’s an empty space in life that Dave would have filled, would have enjoyed, would have offered an opinion or a like and his absence from these moments will be deeply felt. I feel as if a part of my own life has died, there is a perceptible void, a valued friend should have been in that space and now there is nothing in that space. This will not be unique to me, or any of the friends and family who remain. It seems that one of the hardest lessons that death teaches, is that life goes on and that in living fully, one has to let go of the dead.
I’ve written this post over the course of a couple or so weeks, partly due to the incessant demands of a life away from the internet and partly due to wishing to gradually allow thoughts and feelings to percolate. Since beginning writing this entry, celebrities from the entertainment world have also passed away Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister, the actor Alan Rickman and global superstar David Bowie. The recent passing of the later has served to underline the sentiments I’d felt about the realisation that a person’s death is also a little part of your own life dying also. This is accompanied by the realisation that should you live a long and good life, one will inevitably see that most of what had formed the vital backdrop of that life has died away also. To continue living is to become a survivor. I don’t think this has to be a fatalistically bleak outlook, after all, I’d like to think for everyone and everything that dies, new things will fill their places and In these renewals, the cycle of life will sustain.
Dave’s ashes were scattered yesterday at Holy Island, Northumberland. Although I wasn’t present during the small family gathering, the news of the event reminded me that Dave had loved a science fiction book by Richard Morgan called ‘Altered Carbon’. I remembered the title and found it hard not to connect it with the final fate of my friend, and see the irony of it. If his consciousness exists posthumously, I’m certain that he’d have enjoyed the dark humour of this observation.
Here’s an update of sorts. Busy seems to remain the flavour of this part of life’s seasons. So, being rather ensconced in my career as I am, I still fill the pockets of free time that I can snatch, with musical creativity. I compose tunes in break times, always gunning for a development in my style and ability to arrange. An hour a night at meddling with my electric guitar is starting to pay off. I’ve been (according to my Instagram page) been practicing for thirty seven weeks. That’s two hundred and fifty nine hours based upon my hour a day regimen. “The path is long” as I’ve been told, I can believe it, but on the whole as each week passes, I gain a little confidence and have found on certain occasions, I have a magic hour where my hands seem to intuitively glide around the fretboard and satisfying metallic shreds occur. Given a little more time, I’ll post something for your anonymous curiosity.
Halloween 2015 has just passed. It got me thinking that I should mark the occasion in some way so I delved into my music files and dug up the first piece of music I created back in 2013. I added a simple visual from the opening sequence of Halloween 3 (An old horror favourite) and uploaded it to Youtube. The piece, as with most of my noodlings, is thought of as a work in progress, as I intend to return to it at some future point and flesh it out a little more. It was always intended to be a track with spoken narrative, mainly inspired by the Bauhaus tracks ‘Departure’ and ‘Of Lillies and Remains’
In the mean time, I’m refining my ability to 1. Play the guitar parts myself. 2. Develop the guitar melody so that it builds and evolves more throughout the track. That said, I’m still pleased that this first version was the main reason I began this musical adventure, I found that I’d proved an old daydream to be something that would eventually find some substance. So, here’s ‘The Summoning’ a working title that may become something else eventually.
As mentioned, life is busy and it seems all available space is filled perpetually. I’m working in Bristol currently, helping restore an old Victorian hospital so that wealthy people can live there in luxury apartments. There’s a certain irony that the site is immediately adjacent to a massive, crammed block of flats inhabited mainly by the impoverished. As a partial remedy to this juxtaposition of fortunes, a new building is due to be erected that will serve as a visual barrier between to the two classes. One can almost imagine the kind of neighbourly dynamic that may present itself if civilisation reaches the kind of societal boiling point that it sometimes seems we are heading into.
I’ve digressed, what I had intended to mention is that my wife has provided me with access to her Audible – audio books account and recommended gems within. Whilst I perform architectural conservation tasks by numbers, my mind and ears are often operating in a different sphere altogether. Recently I have listened to a magnificent anthology of spooky stories by John Connolly called ‘Night Music -Nocturnes Volume 2’
I’d adored his earlier book ‘The Book of Lost Things’ and subsequently found that the aforementioned audio book was equally, if not more gripping that the previous offering. I highly recommend it and the narration is superb. I found particular delight in a section of stories around the middle of the recording under the heading ‘The Fractured Atlas’ If like me, you enjoy the spooky old yarns of M.R James, H.P Lovecraft and Arthur Machen, then you’ll find your spine suitably tingled by these stories.
The next audio book I listened to was ‘The Versions of Us’ by Laura Barnett. A most enchanting love story about two people, Jim and Eva who meet in Cambridge during the nineteen fifties. One of the things I really loved about this beautifully written story was, the way the narrative branched out into different timelines, allowing pivotal plot points to unfold in entirely different directions to each other. It digs deep into the questions I think all of us sometimes wonder “What if I’d chosen to _________ (Insert hypothetical tangent universe question here) Instead of _____________ ? (What you actually did here) What you are left with is a rich tapestry of three vivid narratives of the same couple living their lives through seven decades with all the love, heartbreaks and loss in three entirely different universes to each other. The book saves the reader from the complications of the ‘why?’, it isn’t necessary. Each story is so luminous with believable characters, dialogue and situations, one just easily accepts the three versions of events as they unfold. It also made me snivel repeatedly during solitary moments on my scaffolding, I don’t mind admitting it.
Once I’d regained my manly composure, I moved on to Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. In a strangely similar vein to The Versions of Us, this story follows the multiple lives and deaths of Ursula Todd, beginning in the early 1900’s. A very effective plot device takes the reader/listener through a fractal maze of the protagonist’s existence as she lives the same life over and over again branching off at various narrative points to discover the paths that never were or what might have been. She never fully recognises all the other versions of herself that had been before and we never really need to know why. In an age where concepts like the Multiverse and Parallel Universes are fairly well understood constructs, I think Atkinson makes the assumption that the reader will bear these things in mind whilst enjoying the stories. Once again, I was entranced by the richness of the narrative and the growing beauty of the characters as they are slowly revealed throughout their various subtle iterations. As the story takes place over several decades and passes through the Spanish Flu pandemic and two world wars, it creates an often harrowing account of life in both Germany and Britain, particularly during the later war, where we see through the eyes of Ursula as a young woman and consequently see the carnage from an adult perspective. It is both a wonderful story and history lesson.
By now, I’ve learnt to carry robust tissues in my pocket whilst listening to these stories. It is a credit to the authors, and narrators that they can reduce a man to a snivelling wreck when he should be focussing on the job at hand.
Listening to the last two stories prompted me to think about life’s ‘What if?’ a little, quickly realising the futility of such lines of enquiry. It did make me ponder however, the recognition of the transient nature of things and people; our lives in general. I thought of the passage of time and that curious knowledge that comes with having lived a few decades, that there are people you know, that you meet up with for one last time without either party realising that you will probably never see each other again in this life. School friends, ex lovers, occasional family members. Its a funny thing, you say your goodbyes in such a casual manner, perhaps even say something like ‘see you soon’ and then it never happens. Its like a little death of sorts and I have pondered if we would all act very differently if we were armed with the knowledge of these fateful last encounters?
And then there are those you know you’ll never see again if you can help it, and you’re glad. Good riddance you fucker!
It’s a funny thing, this life…
Said to nobody in particular.
I’ve spent a while working on a track called The Dying of the Light. This is a small teaser clip of the audio from the song. Over the last week I’ve been experimenting with the guitar riffs that I’ll be adding to it and my little studio has just gained a decent mic, so at some point in the near future I’ll be adding vocals as well. To think I used to just make music with ink and paper…
On a week to week basis I receive an email from Statcounter telling me how many visitors I haven’t had here at hiab-x.com, this doesn’t trouble me greatly as I’m not a regular blogger, I don’t put a lot of effort into SEO tools because I’m not gagging to be noticed by the rumbling world of human web traffic. In my twenties and thirties I may have been yelling “Look at me!” these days I’m more likely to yell “What do you bloody want?” **
Having said that, I noted recently that traffic for inexplicable reasons has been spiking here so as owning a website is a three way process for me, primarily because old habits die hard, and I like talking to the void- a relationship between man and computer, then there’s you, the anonymous third party who likes to ogle in the background. What do you bloody want? 😉
Probably more content. I mean, if you’re going to start visiting and looking through all my rambles, it’s a bit like you’re watering this virtual plant, which puts the onus on me to grow new shoots. Metaphor over.
Here, have a playlist of some of my favourite abrasive, metallic guitar bands peppered with amusing and obscure poetic monologues from a bygone era.
In other news:
I continue to make music in any little snatches of free time that I have, normally this consists of break times spent in my car. I rig up my DAW to my car stereo whilst parked on the edge of a field, crank up the volume and compose. This last week I’ve been putting together a track about an amoeba that crawled out of the sea, climbed up a tree and turned into a monkey, it came back down with two feet on the ground etc, etc.
No, you can’t listen to it, subscribe to my Youtube channel if you want to remain on the cutting edge of my creative output. (Can you see what I did there?) If I haven’t updated in a while, don’t assume that I’m not up to something.
Other than that, I’ve made a point of spending forty five minutes to an hour each night , learning guitar. It’s difficult, rewarding and the aim is to be able to shred in a satisfying way for my musical compositions, give it time, I’ll be demonstrating how to settle arguments and general disputes with riffs via my Youtube channel… and other mysterious™ web site.
Ooh he’s a proper caution, isn’t he!
**Unless I share this on Facebook for friends and family because contradictions help us grow spiritually, dude .
A brief update. I had begun rambling something longer but realised that It would just be better to keep things short and to the point.
This site has been recently updated in the section called ‘Auto Bio’. I’ve slowly begun adding date specific entries to that section dating back to the early 1970’s. It’s an exercise in remembering and will only really hold interest to family and friends, but If you don’t fall into that category, feel free to have a browse.
Over the last couple of years I’ve decided to indulge an unrealised daydream from my formative youth by starting to make music. Probably just as well as I have little to offer in the way of visual output these days. Conversely, it appears that my musical faculties appear to have awakened from a thirty plus year slumber and are eager to make up for lost time. I’ve added a couple of ‘teaser’ videos to Youtube
I’m deliberately keeping the teasers short just to give a taste of what I’m doing, more will follow. Later this year, full tracks will be made available.
In other news, a picture says a twangy word.
The wheels of my industry grind slowly but constantly.
Gah! I made an unfortunate discovery today. Quite a few years ago, 1997 I think, I was introduced to a wonderfully eccentric young lad called Cris Bruce via a girlfriend I had at the time. They both lived in the states, having come from Virginia. They were good friends and decided to do a trip over to this side of the pond. When introduced, I immediately warmed to Cris, he was very bright, engaging and naturally funny.
Cris had a great talent for words, he loved writing poetry and keeping an illustrated travelogue of his adventures. I think one of the things that originally made me start to like him was that he told me he came from a town called Mechanicsville, It made me laugh and I really thought that he was pulling my leg. He wasn’t. There really is a place called Mechanicsville, which in itself was brilliant introduction, for a young man like Cris.
I didn’t know him for very long but never forgot him, some people can just make that kind of lasting impression. My flatmate and I gave him a place to stay during the Bristol leg of his UK travels. He was an excellent guest, never short of conversation about his observations of life and the bits of the world he had explored. Looking back now from an older perspective,I think Cris was one of those people who liked to grab life by the proverbial balls and give them a good squeeze, to see what would happen. He wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and immerse himself in strange and new locations, even if there was a reasonable degree of risk involved in doing so. After we parted company and he went on his adventuring, he wrote me a letter a few months later, talking about one of his adventures, which had involved being back in the U.S. He’d been invited to an acquaintances house for a social meeting, while their parents were away. The small do, partly involved being offered Morphine and hanging out in a jacuzzi in the back yard. In Cris’s altered state, and in a moment of poetic intensity, he found a kitchen cupboard, crawled partly inside it and wrote something on the slate wall at the back of it, he couldn’t remember exactly what, but it was along the lines of:
“As long as you live in this house and as long as my words remain undiscovered, this house will never be entirely yours, there will always be a little piece of me, hidden away, occupying your space without being noticed”
Except, I’m certain Cris phrased his hidden words far more eloquently. Cris was a bit of a concern, in that brief time that I knew him, he told me stories about his experimentation with getting high. In the UK, when a kid wants to do that, they just connect with a friend of a friend and buy a bag of weed or some pills, or just buy some alcohol. In Cris’s world at the time, it seemed to be about getting loaded by drinking cough meds in non recommended doses or worse, raiding some poor sod’s stash of legitimate pain killers or other meds. It seemed a bit mad and I advised him against this as a future behaviour, though it struck me at the time, that it wouldn’t be advice he’d heed. He seemed very much a free thinking spirit, if not just a little misguided.
The letter he sent was hand typed, it seems a page has gone missing forever somewhere along my own life path. I guess, he would have liked the thought of that, a page of his words going on its own travels, not content to remain in one place. Cris kindly enclosed a photocopied reproduction of his self penned poetry book, called ‘Some Kind of Strange English’
In the advent of information age, I’d tried looking him up online on a handful of occasions. Usually when prompted by either hearing something by Lou Reed or Risingson by Massive Attack. He’d liked both, he loved the Lou Reed track that appeared on the soundtrack to David Lynch’s ‘Lost Highway’ and I remember a brief call I had with him when he’d travelled to New York, we both gushed enthusiastically about the Massive attack song.
I recall at the time, I was kind of amused that Cris was into Lou Reed, there was something about him that reminded me of Lou. Since then, I’ve seen things about Lou that reminded me of Cris. Maybe it was how they spoke, they seemed to share a similar energy to each other.
Anyway, looking Cris up always wound up a fruitless task, part of me thought ‘He’s probably not wired to the net because he’s still out there adventuring’. After a few years though, when he occasionally popped into my mind and I found no reference anywhere to collections of his work like the one mentioned above, I started to imagine that life had perhaps taken a bad turn for him. It seemed it could have gone two ways, he was either going to reappear into the world as a new kind of guitar-free Lou Reed character or he was going to turn up dead.
I could slap my own face now, I’d been looking online for Chris Bruce, not the correctly spelt Cris Bruce. I keep his book of poems in my little work space, today I pulled it out and noticed my grammatical error, I was listening to Risingson at the time. I Googled Cris Bruce for the first time, got nothing. Refined the search to Cris Bruce+Mechanicsville. I got a result, but not the one I’d hoped for. Cris died on May 17th 2008, age 30, of a heart problem. Although he’d been taken to hospital, the nurses were unable to revive him. His blood toxicology was clean, its just that his ticker had decided to pack up on him.
My discovery was a bit of a blow, having considered the fate of Cris for so many years and hoping for only the best outcome, to think that his wonderful quirky character is no more is a final answer to that lingering question. The full stop on the last page of his poetry book. For that, I am truly sad.
Apparently there was a gathering somewhere in Mechanicsville, to remember and celebrate his ‘Vibrant’ thirty years on Earth. Had time, knowledge and more convenient geography been more favourable, I would have gladly attended. Now I just consider the strange kind of irony on page one of his 1996 poetry journal, a picture of anatomical hearts.
These song’s are for you Cris.
“…starving in his own sentence, the poet crosses himself,
there were words etched where he rested, and only those
who laid paper birds on his chest could read those words, none but those.
Sudden, is the life
and death, of the few who strive.
Under covers, in the dark, feeling around for whatever’s gone out.
There must be a light switch”
Cris Bruce 1996
I’ve tried a couple of times to write about how I spent the majority of my free time during the last six months of last year. It was the reason blogging and much of my other digital activity fell into a deep and procrastination-free coma. Rather than post out of date info that was sketchy at best, I’ve just decided to write a new post and start over.
As a little bit of background, here’s how the project began. In 2007 when my career path took a U-turn and ventured into the world of stone masonry, my wife and I had also just been through a year of minor upheaval as we’d decided that rather than moving house, we would refurbish our existing abode and extend it. Our original plan was to add some extra room onto our kitchen by buying a small plot of our neighbour’s garden that was immediately adjacent to it. When this didn’t go through, we decided instead to buy two wooden cabins to use as extended spaces away from the main property. A ‘his’n hers’ kind of arrangement of outbuildings, If you like.
Time passed and the buildings became functional, I used mine as a workshop for man jobs, and because the cabin was a respectable size with two small annex rooms, we put in a sofa bed, should we need to put up guests. It was an ok setup, damp and cold in the winter. I never felt satisfied that as a usable space, that it worked as well as I wanted it to.
In the meanwhile, my career in stone masonry fully blossomed and the cabin became a place I infrequently visited. Sometime earlier last year, It occurred to me that both cabins would benefit from some retrofitted internal insulation. The materials were ordered, arranged to be delivered at a future date after I’d had time to prepare the spaces, then promptly delivered on the non agreed date one week after ordering. A large palette of styrene backed plaster board, probably twenty large sheets of the stuff arrived one rainy Friday afternoon. Plasterboard doesn’t do rain very well, so I was forced to throw my plans out of the proverbial window and fill my cabin as quickly as possible with the sheets of board, I hadn’t been in a position to clear the place out and now I was filling it up, and taking up half of the available floor space in the process.
What do you do? Well, due to the unpredictable British climate and the desire to not have to keep shifting twenty sheets of giant plasterboard back and forth between cabin and garden, I decided to start work by working around it. “It’ll take a couple of weekends” I told myself, and the gods of D.I.Y had a good laugh.
A couple of months later both cabins were insulated.
So, close to tears, sitting in the chaotic midden of quadruple handled personal belongings plonked over to one side of my cabin, I began thinking. It had been my intention to return to business as usual, I had a work bench area in the main room and a designated guest area in one of the smaller rooms. At the time, I was considering how to decorate over the plasterboard to give the spaces a more welcoming finish for both myself and a wouldbe guest. In addition to that, I’d spent much of last year feeling frustrated that my artistic creativity had been the victim of ‘too much going on’ and no appropriate space to occupy, where my creative juices could flourish. You see, on any given week day evening or weekend, when not working down the cabin, I’d fallen into a trap of sitting at my kitchen table and zoning out in front of my computer. We live in a small terraced cottage, each room is functional but there isn’t a suitable room to bang on a stereo and get out the creative arsenal without encroaching on someone else’s plans for vegging out at the end of the day. I’d long accepted this, but felt creative inertia chewing away at my soul like an angry malnourished rat.
Sitting in my personal midden, an idea popped up rather innocently…”What if, I shifted my work bench over to the small guest area, and what if I turned the main room into a more comfortable recreational area?” followed by “What if, that area was decorated to look a little ‘Bohemian’?” At the time, I’d recently seen an image on Tumblr that I’d felt a wistful bit of affection for:
Although not entirely to my tastes, it seemed like the person whose room this was, had made themselves a little nest of comforts and stimulations that harkened back to another era. I liked that, and the seeds were sewn in my own imagination. I set to work moving my work bench, then cursing the fact that, having built plasterboard insulation around it, I now had a bloody great gap to sort out, which I did.
The following months saw a flurry of intense activity during my evenings and weekends, sometimes that activity just involved going down the cabin and taking a perch then staring intently into the contents of my own skull. I was working out problems, imagining things that hadn’t materialised yet, just basically building the space in my own mind. I’d come to the conclusion that I’d borrow from earlier ideas I’d tried out in my early twenties, where I’d cheered up dismal bedsits with strategically placed Indian bed sheets to hide flaking, lumpen ceilings and cracked plaster walls.
My wife had been banned from entering the cabin since about June, I’d sold her the idea of there now being a second living room, come reading room, and I wanted her to see the final product without worrying about the gigantic mess leading up to it. During my working days on a large construction site, I’d noted that a fair amount of useable timber was being skipped; off cuts from roof joists and the like, so began rescuing bits and pieces to recycle and repurpose them. My original idea had been to make storage using old scaffold boards, but with my bohemian direction starting to take shape, the idea upgraded to using joist offcuts to fashion shelves that would start in one room, turn corners and continue into another room. Silly ideas began floating up.
These aims and ambitions kept me busy all the way through until December the 31st, by which point, if it hadn’t been the Christmas break, I’d have seriously burnt myself out. It’s pretty hard being a stonemason by day and an interior mover and shaker at any other given moment of free time.
Finishing touches and a grand scale tidy up took place and completed around five p.m on New Years Eve 2013, later that evening I escorted my wife down the garden to see the fruits of my labours over the last six months. I must admit, I felt very uneasy about the prospect as her former banishment from entering the cabin had potentially conjured up ideas of some kind of palatial den, that may or may not have lived up to expectation.
She was thoroughly delighted with her visit, so much so, we spent the rest of the evening celebrating in there. You know you’ve done a good job when your wife is happy to spend her evening in the shed!
Slideshow of the cabin so far: Hover over an image to skip back and forth.
As it stands, the cabin will remain a work in progress, it needs to be lived in and added to, I may well add images of its development here as I go along. Needless to say, it’s now a great little place to be creative, or just read and listen to music.
I turned 42 a few days ago. As birthday’s go, it was quite unremarkable from the point of view of opting to go to work, the usual wakeup start of 6 a.m, then a day spent in the cold, doing my usual stonemasonry routine in a nine hour day. I had a celebratory meal with my family after work (which was lovely) then came home and the day was just as good as over. It added a sharp contrast to my 41st, which was spent lounging around in the beautiful Caribbean sun of Grenada, I have now vowed to myself that I won’t do a working day on my 43rd, 44th etc. I felt quite flat.
Entering 42 has been a poignant experience lurking in the back of my mind, mainly because it has provided me with a little opportunity to dwell on the numbers involved. It caused me to reflect on ‘halves’, specifically half of my lifetime, twenty one years ago.
At 21 in 1992 I’d just moved to Bristol, having left the comfort zone of my familiar home county in Norfolk. It had been a massive step in my independence as a young man, no longer reliant on the familiar faces and locations I had always known as home. It was a leap into the unknown and uncertainty. I took the move in a brazen spirit, it felt a little risky and dangerous, I won’t deny that deep in my heart I felt the call of adventure and the unknown variables just meant excitement to me.
Historically, twenty one years ago was a pivotal junction in my life, the choices I made in relocation became life changing circumstances which echoed on to present day. I live in Bath now, having spent eleven years in Bristol. Those years, upon reflection were like a burning forge for fashioning the man I would eventually become. I won’t deny that they were emotionally incredibly difficult years in the most part, much of my life in Bristol became a stormy season of letting go of ‘kidulthood’ even though I wasn’t aware of this at the time. I’d wrestled with myself and my often complicated emotions throughout the most of it. I generally don’t look at my ‘twenty something’ years with much affection, I was lost, directionless, emotionally lonely, acutely aware of being in a boat without a rudder and terrified of what that actually meant in the long run. At the same time, the connections I had made with new friends had helped me through the most difficult of those times, I will always be grateful to those who cared.
By the time I reached my thirties, I felt a great relief, It seemed that the most desolate and difficult emotions had passed. Life still seemed difficult but I felt that I’d survived a lot of the shit I had either put myself through or been put through. This gave me a core of resilience, I knew I had it, and it pleased me to know I could survive. Is that how one starts to grow up?
I’m quickly heading into the tenth anniversary of meeting the lady who is now my wife, this adds another contrast for processing half of what happened over the course of twenty one years ago. She has been the greatest personal catalyst I have ever known, my lover and my best friend.
Becoming 42, has been a ponderous experience because of the above reasons. I know that I have lived my whole life all over again since being 21. In turn, the memory of my twenty one year old self has been akin to remembering being a child; something I could never have anticipated feeling. Unlike the string of small recollections I have about being an infant, the memory of who I was as a younger man, seems very fresh, as if two decades worth of living feel like something that happened last year. It makes me feel a kind of emotional vertigo.
It’s easy to imagine further down the line, advice I would have given my younger self, changes I might have made to do things differently, but, I don’t really go too far into those thoughts because I’m mostly happy with who I am and how life has changed for the better. Remembering half a lifetime ago is bittersweet, of course there are things I would do differently if I could do them all again, yet at the same time I’m very aware that my greatest mistakes and challenges have also been my greatest teachers, and now I’m old enough to appreciate such an insight. Isn’t this a case of Ouroboros eating its own tail?
*Hat worn like a lemon for artistic purposes