How Diagnosis Murder Saved my Life

In September 2001 I moved to Brighton with two of my friends. I knew nobody else in the city, had no job lined up, no particular savings, and no real idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I was recently graduated, and the only things I could be sure of were that I didn’t want to continue studying and that I had no desire to get a proper job. I had vague ideas about forming a band or writing a book but in truth I lacked the dedication to bring any ideas to fruition. My notebook from that time is filled with first pages of stories that were never finished, and although, with one of my flat mates, I did manage to write some songs, we never played them live, let alone recorded them.

 

Four days before I was due to move to Brighton, I sat on my parent’s sofa and watched the twin towers come crashing down. It was obvious watching that the world was about to get crazier, that this tragedy would be the start of more death, more bombs, another war. I vaguely wondered how this would affect my chances of getting a menial job to pay the bills, but pushed it to the back of my mind.

 

Things started to go wrong pretty much as soon as I moved in. We had taken an unfurnished flat as this was cheaper than a furnished one. However, none of us had much furniture, or any money to buy some. I had rescued a foldaway bed that my parents were about to throw out. After a couple of hours of sleeping on it however, it became clear that I may as well be sleeping on the floor for all the protection it offered.

 

The heating was meter operated. None of us had any money to put in it and so we were freezing all the time. In the evenings we would sit around on small garden chairs we had rescued from a nearby skip, wearing as many clothes as we could physically fit. I soon took to going to bed fully dressed and wearing my coat and beanie hat. As I lay on my useless mattress, swaddled in layers of clothes, I watched my breath move in the air in front of me and desperately hoped that tomorrow would be better.

 

Tomorrow was never better. Our landlord had neglected to plumb the washing machine in, so the first time we tried to wash our clothes we flooded the kitchen. As we cleaned the mess up, a furious knocking at the door startled us. It was the man who lived in the flat below us. The water from our washing machine was dripping down, through his bedroom ceiling. I remember him stood there, tall, wild dark hair, dishevelled, red eyed, calling us wankers. We joked afterwards that we had probably disturbed an axe murderer. It was a way of making light of the situation, but part of me took it seriously. Why wouldn’t we be murdered here?

 

My early confidence about getting a job quickly started to unravel. I applied for lots of jobs, all of which I was perfectly qualified for and heard nothing back. I got an interview at HMV. This, I was sure, would be the answer to my problems. Not only would I have a small amount of money, I would also get a discount on CDs and maybe make some friends in the city. Part of the reason we had moved to Brighton was because of its reputation as a bohemian, arty city with lots going on. Not knowing anybody meant that if there was a cool party scene we were not able to find it. My interview went well, and I walked back to the flat feeling confident that I would get the job – and that my real life in Brighton was about to begin. Two days letter I got an automated email saying that my application was unsuccessful. A few days after receiving the rejection email I was sat in a pub in the city centre when a small group of people walked in wearing HMV uniforms. I looked at my would be colleagues, would be friends and eavesdropped their conversation. There had been over 200 applicants for the job I had been interviewed for – and only two positions. For a brief while I felt better about my failure to get the job, but then I started to think. If there were that many applicants for the job – how was I ever going to get a job in this city against all this competition? It was still early but I finished up my drink and walked back home, in the opposite flow to dozens of people who were just heading into town to start their night out.

 

Sitting here now, fifteen years later, writing this whilst bored out of my skull as I manage the stand at London Book Fair for the small publisher I work for; it is easy to laugh at these memories. At the time though, there was nothing funny about it.

 

One of my flatmates, Stuart, had a job when we moved into the flat. Somehow he had got himself a job as a guidance counsellor in a sixth form near Croydon. I wasn’t jealous of the job, but I was jealous of the fact that he had some money to buy non-value range goods from Tesco, and also, the fact that his days had a purpose, even if it was not one that he enjoyed.

 

For myself and my other flatmate, Olly, our days were formless, long and depressing. We were time rich but we couldn’t afford to do anything and we didn’t know anybody else in the area who could entertain us. I became so desperate to talk to other people that I started to stop in the street when people asked me if I had considered letting Jesus into my life and talking to them at such length that they became keen to get rid of me. For a while we pretended that all this free time was a bonus – that it would mean that we were able to create our masterpiece. For a very short period we worked hard, writing songs, drafting and re-drafting lyrics, and working on a back story to throw to NME journalists when we got signed. Soon though, we drifted into apathy. In the morning we would walk into Brighton, visit the job centre, and look around the town to see if there were any jobs being advertised in shop windows. This done, we would trudge back to our flat. If the trip into town had been particularly futile and depressing I would buy bottles of white lightning on the way back home. Once back in our freezing, almost empty flat I would drink them, quickly, my complaining getting more bellicose and self-righteous as I worked my way through the bottle, cursing at the posers and fakes that made up the entirety of the population of the city as far as I could see, not that any of them had spoken to me.

 

If our visit to town hadn’t been quite so spirit-sapping, than Olly and I would play lounge cricket with a sponge ball that had been a toy for his parents dog that he had accidentally brought with him and a rolled-up copy of Metal Hammer magazine. These games would sometimes go on for hours, as bizarre rules were invented, and we desperately tried to take our frustrations out by hitting the small, soft ball as hard as we could. Occasionally we would mix it up and play football instead, but it just wasn’t as satisfying as winding up to take a huge swing at the ball, even if we both missed more often than we hit.

 

What really stopped me going under however was discovering Diagnosis Murder, broadcast in the post-Neighbours slot on BBC1. In Diagnosis Murder Dick Van Dyke plays Mark Sloan, a doctor who is a special advisor to the police force. Dick’s real life son, Barry Van Dyke, plays Mark’s son in the programme. Barry’s character (Steve) is a police officer, who fundamentally is unable to solve a crime without his dad (and a couple of other Doctors) doing all the work for him.

 

Watching Diagnosis Murder was the only time I was genuinely happy when I lived in Brighton. I loved it. I loved the theme music; the shot in the opening credits where Dick Van Dyke pretends to play the clarinet; the convoluted crimes; Barry Van Dyke’s total reliance on his father; the way that Dick Van Dyke was able to waltz in at the last moment, contradict all the detectives working the case, present some paper thin evidence and that would be enough to get an arrest made. I’ve heard it said that great art can lift you out of the everyday … well, in my experience, so can shit daytime murder mystery programmes.

 

I became obsessed with Barry Van Dyke. It must be tough being the son of a famous father, difficult not to feel that you are always in their shadow. Not only did Barry Van Dyke have to deal with this in his actual life, he even had to deal with it in a fictional setting. Barry’s character could occasionally get to be the muscle in a situation, but he never, ever got to be the brains. At best, he trailed in his dad’s wake, at other times he tried to challenge his father, putting forward his own theories on who was guilty to a crime. He was inevitably proven to be hopelessly wrong. I used to sit and watch the show and imagine the bullying his character would get from the other police officers – or did they all get to bring a parent in to work to solve a murder as well?

 

No matter how low I got, no matter how deep my shame was from my behaviour the night before (did I really get so drunk that I fell into a man using crutches outside McDonald’s knocking him to the floor?); no matter how futile everything seemed as the rejection letters piled up, no matter how lonely I was, no matter how much I longed for a woman to just talk to me let alone touch me; no matter how close I felt to just walking out into the cold East Sussex sea with my coat weighed down with pebbles from the beach, I always had Diagnosis Murder to look forward to.

 

Since those months in Brighton I’ve had several periods in my life when I have felt helpless and useless, when my life has collapsed in ruins around me and I have been close to falling to pieces. I’ve never truly succumbed to those feelings though because I remember that once I sat in a deckchair in a lounge, wearing an overcoat, hat and gloves with my breath pushing out in the air before me, knowing that my rent cheque was going to bounce, waiting for Diagnosis Murder to start and feeling nothing but happiness. If I was capable of enjoying Diagnosis Murder it meant that I was capable of finding something else that I enjoyed just as much, and maybe today would be that day, or if not today, then it would probably be tomorrow and I wouldn’t want to miss that would I?

Final Destination

This is going to be a mistake, I thought to myself as I stood outside Manchester Piccadilly train station waiting for S. It was starting to rain, huge goblets were dropping from the Joy Division sky, as I checked my phone anxiously.  S was late, of course, S was always late. Part of me was always waiting for S, checking my phone, trying to work out how many hours of my life I’d spent waiting for S. Although, to the outside observer it seemed like I had been waiting for S in many different locations across nearly thirty years, in actual fact, as my state-of-mind, anxious, annoyed yet utterly resigned to the fact of S being late, was always the same, I experienced waiting for S not successively but simultaneously. Whilst I was waiting for S outside of Manchester Piccadilly train station I was also waiting for him in a dive hotel lobby in Budapest, at the magazine rack inside Mac’s News and by the monographs on the French Revolution at the University library. Realising this made me relax slightly. I hitched my rucksack up on my back and texted S to tell him I would be inside the concourse by the information screens.

I saw S before he saw me. He looked sweaty and dishevelled, and his eyes were darting nervously from side to side. I stuck my hand in the air until he saw me, and then I turned my back and headed towards the platform. S bustled up alongside me.

“Sorry I’m late, it’s been a fucker of a morning.”
“Aren’t they all?”

We did the walk/jog hybrid beloved of commuters and just made it on to the Cross-country train in time. The doors locked behind us and the train started moving before we found our seats.

Some part of me is always berating S for being late, so I decided that I didn’t need to actually say anything as we put our bags in the overhead storage space and sat down. S started to tell me about his morning, about how there had been some emergency problem with the university server that he had been woken up at 4am in order to fix and he had only just managed to get the system stable again before the train was due and that was why he almost missed it, and he was sick of being on call, that he was going to quit and do nothing for 6 months whilst he figured out what he really wanted out of life. I wasn’t really listening, I had my own problems to worry about.

We were catching the train down to Bournemouth, our  childhood home, to attend the wedding of our old friend P. It had seemed like a good idea when I accepted the invitation and persuaded S to accept his own invitation. We could travel down together, and spend the weekend by the seaside catching up with old friends. Now that we were beginning our journey though I was starting to wonder if this was such a good idea. In particular two thoughts had struck me:

1. Old friends are old friends, as opposed to current friends, for a reason.
2. There was a reason why S had fled to Manchester and never returned, and there was a reason why I had fled to Manchester and then fled further to Glasgow and never returned.

“I’m going to find the buffet car.”
“Can you get me a coffee?”

Ten minutes later I picked my way through past trailing limbs, outsized suitcases and half-folded pushchairs to our seats.

“What did you want again?”
“A coffee.”
“I got you 2 cans of warm Stella.”
“I don’t want 1 can of warm Stella, let alone 2. Why did you buy me 2 cans?”
“There was a deal if I bought 4 … I don’t think I can drink 4 cans right now so you should do your civic duty and help me out.”
“Jesus” said S as he pressed down the tab on the beer can until it opened with a hiss and the beer frothed and ran over the top of the can down onto the stained off-white seat tray on the 11.16 cross-country service from Manchester to Bournemouth.

Just leaving Stockport, “Have you ever considered wearing a hat?” I said to S, “It might give you gravitas, or at least hide your baldness. When do you think your hair will finally stop clinging on? When do you think your hair will accept the futility of its attempts to cover your massive scalp? It’s a metaphor isn’t it, your vanishing hairline, where there’s hair there’s hope, that’s what you tell yourself isn’t it? Whilst you are not completely bald you still think there is time for you to change your life around and do something meaningful. That downy tuft of gosling like hair on your crown is all there is between you and suicide isn’t there?” S stares at me and takes a long pull on his can of warm Stella Artois.

We’re approaching Stafford when the at seat trolley service comes past. I order another 4 cans of Stella for £10. After a moment S, leans over me and plucks all the remaining gin-in-a-tins from the cart. “If I have to sit next to you for another 4 hours I don’t want to remember it” says S by way of explanation. The woman in charge of the trolley looks at us nervously but takes our crumpled notes anyway. I can see she is wondering whether she should make a call to the transport police to be ready with tasers and handcuffs when the train pulls into Wolverhampton so I try to put her at ease. “Don’t worry, he’s just joking” I say, gesturing at S, “he’s just forgotten to buy our friends a wedding present and he’s hoping that these gins will make an ok present.” I turn to S, “maybe you should get them a Kitkat as well?” “We’ve sold out of kitkats” says the woman handing S his change and pushing the trolley onwards down the carriage.

The train arrives early into Stafford station and sits on the platform for a few minutes. “How did you know I had forgotten to buy them a wedding present” asks S, “do you think anywhere will still be open when we arrive?”

When the train is moving again I can feel the confidence from the first 2 warm Stella’s begin to evaporate so I open another one in the hope that it will revive me. “Your failure is more honest than mine” I say to S, as an unkempt hair from my moustache snags in the ring-pull of the can making me wince. “At least you’ve been upfront about it, you knew you would fall short of everything we dreamt of, so you didn’t even try, you fled to the north to be an IT professional whereas I fled to the north to continue my studies before unleashing my creative talent on the world, and all I have done is unlearn everything I once knew and unleash my unending thirst on an interchangeable series of pubs. I think I knew though, that’s why I had to go further north than you, I knew deep down that I would fail, but I couldn’t admit to anyone else, that’s why I had to go further away than you. Of course, if I had an ounce of self-respect I would just keep on heading north, to Scandinavia, far, far away from the south of England and the stench of my dying dreams.” I said to S, as the mechanised voice announced Wolverhampton as our next station stop.

Somewhere between Wolverhampton and Birmingham New Street. “I’m only disappointed in us because we had promise” I say to S, as families gather themselves together around us, ready for an afternoon of shopping at the Bullring, “is it better to have had potential and fail utterly to live up to it, or to have had no potential at all?” I ask S, as my left arm is bumped into and jostled by pre-teenage children trying to find a seat.” There’s no need to answer that.”

As we leave Birmingham behind and head towards Coventry and Leamington Spa, S is talking about the bands he has recently seen, mostly bands who had their moment, then ruined it for themselves and split up and have now reformed in order to ruin it for everyone who had good memories of their younger selves. We care too much about music, we agree, that’s our weakness, or one of them at any rate we accept, we think that bands mean the words they sing, just like we would mean the words we would sing if only we could, but they don’t, we agree, they never mean them at all, or if they do mean them it is a meaning that can be changed for a cheque. Musicians make good capitalists we agree, we know that it is true, but as soon as we hear a song of revolution set to a noisy guitar riff we forget it instantly and fall in love again, forgetting that music has ever disappointed us. We’re idiots, we agree, but at least we are innocent idiots. Is that better than being a cynical idiot? I wonder, but S is adamant that it is and it makes me feel better to agree with him.

I think I fell asleep because I don’t remember stopping in Banbury but we must have done, I distinctly remember that the train was due to stop in Banbury but we stopped in Leamington Spa and the next stop is now showing as Oxford. I look over at S but he is staring intently at the advancing buffet car. There is a different person in charge of it now, thank God.  S, turns to me, “you keep quiet, I’ll handle this” he hisses. S buys more drinks, sandwiches and crisps with a level of competence I don’t remember seeing from him before. “I don’t think they sell pro-plus otherwise I would have you got you some” S says to me as the train pulls into Oxford. I don’t answer because I am too horrified by what I can see out of the window. “Who are these people?” I ask, “these are our future leaders and look at them, look at them in their salmon pink trousers, with their gormless expressions and their complexions like boiled hams.” “Keep it down” says S, and I can see that our deck shoe wearing overlords are looking in my direction. “For fucks sake, they’re probably logging your face into some central database right now”, hisses S from behind his gin-in-a-tin, “ready to pre-emptively arrest you before you commit the hopelessly deluded act of protest that your life is inevitably heading towards.”  “Will you be beside me”, I ask S, “As I fling my molotov cocktail at parliament?” “He won’t he says. “Will you stand by me at my trial” I say, “will you organise petitions protesting my innocence and stand on oath as a character witness?” He won’t do that either, replies S, he has responsibilities now and doesn’t intend on going to jail for any reason at all, especially not if that reason is me. He’ll be standing in the public galleries, cheering as my sentence is announced, making sure that his feudal masters know that he is a loyal subject, that he can’t be found guilty by association.

The worst thing about seeing old friends is that they see you not as you are but as you could have been, which is why S is always so disappointed in me, and why I am always so disappointed in S. Why on earth are we going to spend an entire weekend with people who will be looking at us and comparing us with what we could have been? “Someone turn this train around”, I say to S, as the train idles in Reading’s futuristic new station (“What on earth has Reading done to deserve a station like this?” asks S, “This looks like it has come out of the manifesto of the futurists. What a dreadful disappointment in must be to leave this station and see Reading as it actually is. A backwards, consumerist vision of hell”),” Nothing good can come of this”, I say to S, as the passengers around us study their watches. S pushes another beer towards me. The best thing about travelling with old friends is that they know how to calm you.

We are somewhere between Basingstoke and Winchester and settled into a comfortable silence when S lets out a groan.” For a minute there I was starting to enjoy myself”, mumbled S as he held his gin in a tin between his bottom lip and chin, “I was starting to relax, to forget about work, ignore your nonsense, notice the fields outside the window. I felt like I had finally learnt how to just enjoy the journey, and then I remembered why I was making this fucking journey in the first place.” I was tempted to ask S why we were making this journey in the first place as I knew that would enrage him but my almost empty beer can was sliding off the pull-down tray and I was too busy making sure it didn’t fall into the aisle so I kept quiet.” I fucking hate weddings”, said S,” they bring out the worst in everyone, including me. I can’t stand the clothes we have to wear, the hypocrisy of standing in a church when you know that neither the bride nor groom have been in a church since the school carol service, I can’t stand listening to the vows, the speeches, the children running around everywhere, the dreadful swing band that will inevitably be playing, the dancing and most of all I can’t stand the drinking. Every wedding I’ve ever been to has ended in disaster,” said S as he rummaged in his bag for a packet of quavers,” and it has always been because someone hands me a glass of cheap fizz in the morning and that’s it, all I can think about is drinking. White wine, red wine, gin, champagne, guinness, brandy and then more gin. That’s all I’ll remember about this weekend” says S, as he stuffs 3 quavers in his mouth.

I bring my phone out of my pocket and start trying to get on to the internet.” What are you doing?” asks S, with a mouthful of quavers. “Looking up flights, we’ll be at Southampton Airport soon. We’ll be saved, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this earlier.” A flash of excitement passes over S’s face, his blue eyes suddenly seem brighter. “You can fly to Berlin from Southampton.” “That’s ideal”, I say to S, as the Southampton Airport website loads on my phone, “We’ll be safe in Berlin, we can eat pastries and drink coffee and really think about what we are doing with our lives, and once we’ve had our Berlin epiphany we’ll drink strong wheat beer and head out to dance to techno music until dawn.”

The train leaves Southampton Airport Parkway and we are still on it. “We’ll never be saved”, I say, “and we don’t deserve to be. It’s important to remember that we’re doomed, fighting it just makes the end more painful.” S looks doubtful and drains the rest of his gin. “It’ll be good to see P again though”, says S, “it’s good that he is happy with whatsername.” “Whatsername? How can you not even know the name of the bride?” I say, wiping the dregs of my final beer from my chin with the back of my sleeve. “Well what is her name then?” “I can’t remember, it must be on the invitation.” “Jesus,” laughs S, “how can neither of us know the name of the bride? What’s wrong with us? The only reason we’ve been invited to this wedding is that P wants to rub it in our faces.” “Rub what in our faces?” “The fact that he’s won, we thought we were so much better than him, that he was too scared to leave, and now it is clear for everyone to see that it didn’t matter if we left or stayed, we would have ended up in exactly the same state, and that it wouldn’t have mattered if he had left or stayed, he would have ended up in exactly the same state as well, a state happier and more successful than we could dream of.”

“We feel defeated now, but also more at peace”, I say to S as the train gathers pace. I put my arm around his shoulders, I always feel sentimental towards S when I’ve been drinking and I want to do something to cheer him up.” I was saving this for later, but then I realised that now is later”. I stand up, putting my hand on the headset of the seat in front to steady myself, and bring my tatty and fraying black rucksack down from the overhead locker. I reach into the bag and bring out a bottle of 18 year Flor de Cana rum and place it down amongst the debris of empty cans of Stella Artois and gin-in-a-tin, I crunch the empty sandwich packs against the back of the chair in front to make sure there is room for the bottle to sit evenly on the too small tray. We could do with some ice and some cups but that would mean having to get up and find the buffet trolley again and I’m not sure that either one of us in a fit state to make it there and back again. I take the top off the bottle and take a swig before passing it to S.

“What should we drink to?” I ask, “this is good stuff, it deserves a toast.” At that moment the guard’s voice comes over the tannoy, “Now approaching Bournemouth, this is our final stop, all change please, all change.” “To change?” says S, taking a long swig from the bottle and passing it back to me. I put the lid back on the rum and start to make sure I have all my belongings before I reach my final destination.

Happy Birthday

I’ve started to fear the tick-tocking of the clock, I can hear the sound of the shovel hitting the grass, and I can sense the rat-a-tat-tat of the soil on wood. I can feel my ankles ache; my knees give way when I’m not expecting it and my shoulders are sore just from waking up. The list of things I’ve given up is getting longer than the things I can still enjoy, just thinking about drinking brings the bile rising from my stomach to the back of my throat and I feel dizzy and light-headed just smelling coffee in the evening. It’s my birthday today, I lie back and listen to the rat-a-tat-tat of the soil hitting the wood.

Eight Hours

1 hour in casualty and its 18:00 in Swindon, Great Western Hospital.  Children screaming, noses bleeding, cuts to eyes, burnt limbs and stomach clutching pains.    Indifference at the front desk, vending machines hammered by chubby fingered tweens, infected tattoos, polished floors, anguished faces and a sense of perpetual waiting.

3 hours in casualty and the badly drawn mural on the cubicle walls mixes African plain animals with ocean predators, a terrifying image for any toddler mildly concussed from an aggressive snatching incident in the sandpit.   Pensioners hobble silently past as doctors float breezily from patient to patient dispensing hope and pain relief from healing, surgical gloved hands.

5 hours in casualty and they take my blood.  Heart rate of 50 beats per minute.  A true athlete laid out on a narrow steel framed bed.  When will I walk again? When can I go home, back to smashed glass and the thick coating of inky crimson blood dripping like an alpine glacier onto the charcoal tiled kitchen floor?   Another man is admitted to my septic ward.  Skin like tracing paper.  He lies motionlessly, accepting his role as a languid passenger on the lifeboat NHS.

8 hours in casualty with 60 stiches in my foot and nausea spreading from my tingling fingers to the freshly sown gouge on the sole of my right foot.   Dr Marshall looks pleased with his embroidery and recalls his water polo playing days with Prince William as the needle pierces 3 inches into oozing organic tissue mass.  “Not bad for a boy from Preston”, he self eulogizes.

Back on the duel carriageway in Wiltshire drizzle

Reprise

I’m stood in a dive bar with my Birmingham friend, huddled as far away from a group of Aston Villa fans as we can be without actually leaving. ‘I want to talk about your Brighton years’, says my Birmingham friend, ‘it always makes me feel better about myself’ says my Birmingham friend.

‘Was it the most desolate period of your life?’ demands my Birmingham friend. ‘Was it an entirely wasted experience?’ my Birmingham friend asks. ‘We’ve been through all this before, there isn’t any point talking about it’, I say as I try to stop gulping my pint and to sip it instead as we stand in a deserted corner of an otherwise packed bar. My Birmingham friend is not to be deterred.

‘Was there anything positive to take from the experience?’ ‘Art is hard’. ‘That’s what you learnt isn’t it? Art is hard, best to just sit it out and try and piggy back off of someone else. He can picture me’, my Birmingham friend says, ‘sat on the floor in my furniture-less flat, clutching a can of tramp cider, muttering art is hard and I am weak to myself as I watch Diagnosis Murder on the black and white portable tv’. ‘What exactly did I think I was going to achieve’, my Birmingham friend asks, ‘he isn’t being perverse, he just wants to know?…’

You already know all of this, I say to my Birmingham friend. I did the worst thing anyone can do, I gave up on creating anything myself and I looked to piggyback on somebody else’s work. That’s why I am here, here being mocked by my Birmingham friend, here to talk about my grubby little book about the burning fires of creation that live within some people, here to over-intellectualise, by which I mean ruin, the listening experience of the most important British record of the last 20 years.

My Birmingham friend downs the dregs of his beer and looks straight at me. ‘Just tell me I’m wrong’ says my Birmingham friend. I down my beer. I wipe the froth off my uneven facial hair. ‘Just tell me I’m wrong about you?’ my Birmingham friend says more insistently than before. I look into my Birmingham friends grey eyes and say nothing at all.

Elsewhere

When I think of Brighton, which I try not to do, I say to O as we stand at the bar, when I think of Brighton I think of the inside. The pier, the beach, the miles of promenade, they mean nothing to me in my memory, I say to O, and all they meant at the time was something to be avoided. When I was outside I wanted to be inside, back in our freezing cold flat, our freezing cold flat with the mouldy wall, our freezing cold flat with a mouldy wall and no furniture, not a bed, or a chair, or a table, that’s where I wanted to be when I was outside, I say to O as we stand at the bar and fail to attract the attention of the barmaid. When I was inside, when I was inside, wearing every piece of clothing I owned in a futile attempt to get warm, when I was inside watching my breath crystallise in the air in front of me, when I was inside admiring the sheer blankness of our empty flat, when I was inside watching the mould spread across the kitchen wall all I wanted was to be elsewhere. Not outside necessarily but elsewhere, somewhere I wasn’t trying to experience my life as a literary experience.

What did you possibly think you could have achieved by being elsewhere? Asks O as we carry our drinks over to a small wooden table in the corner of the pub. What possible difference would being elsewhere have made? O says, although he knows my answer already, knows the idiotic belief I had that somehow the location was to blame for our failure, for our misery, for the blind rage that we felt towards every inhabitant of that cesspit of a seaside resort. Things would have been better, wouldn’t they, laughs O, if only we were in Berlin? How light our tread would have been if we were in Madrid, the music we could have created if we had moved to Barnsley, anywhere but there, that’s what you said isn’t it, said O, nothing true could be created in this place full of fakes, I remember hearing you repeat that to yourself one night, as you lay swaddled in clothes on your bedroom carpet like a post-rock mummy, O said, at least you know now, says O as he raises his glass to his lips, at least you’ve learnt something in this life, he’s not sure he has, although I was always a bigger idiot than him so it is easier to measure my progress, says O.

 

Brighton

Brighton was where it all went wrong. Not that it was Brighton’s fault. There are enough terrible things that have happened because of Brighton without adding me to the list. My failure was always there, it was just waiting for Brighton to make it apparent. Why did we even move there? I asked O, what did we possibly think we would achieve? It’s important to be close to London but not in London, that’s what we said isn’t it?, I said to O, the best music is created on the periphery, we were agreed on that, but we needed to be able to strike at the centre when out time came. Our time never came though did it? I said to O whilst clutching my can of Stella, We were ahead of our time weren’t we? That’s what we told ourselves whilst we shouted and screamed our tuneless tunes wasn’t it? What if it was our time though and we missed it? What were we doing? I asked O, why did we miss it? I was probably drunk, but what was your excuse, what were you doing – watching Diagnosis Murder I expect?

We moved to Brighton to create a music that would move mountains and what did we create? I asked O. Almost nothing, that’s what, we just got angrier and angrier and more and more drunk I said to O. Thank God we lost all sense of shame in Brighton, that’s the only saving grace, the only way I can cope with thinking about it all. When did it happen though, I used to have a keen sense of my own shame, it was one of the best things about me, I said to O, what happened to it? O took a sip of his drink and looked down at the floor; it probably left in shame after you knocked over that man with crutches in Brighton town centre he said.