nonfiction about things that didn't happen

Sunday, February 12, 2012



Aware of my phone - over there - rattling up missed calls, but sufficiently detached from the existence of others that I failed to make the interpretative leap that another human might be attempting to contact me, I was missing work for the fourth or fifth time that month. An incredible sadness had enveloped me, as it had seemingly formed a habit of doing.

I was attempting to diagnose whether this was the type of sadness that might evaporate in a split-second, as was sometimes the case, or the type that grows ever more weighty and lumbering, only removed slowly and begrudgingly, with concerted effort over days or weeks.  It was hard to say - there had certainly been times where what seemed to be the hairiest, most slobbery of black dogs had turned out to be a shaggy ruse, skulking wimpily away at the sound of a friendly voice from the hallway or the sudden rememberance of an exciting variety of cereal lying in wait downstairs. Sooner or later all my depressions felt like that: something bearable and benign; something I could have wrenched myself out from underneath at any time; something that I could stomach repeating, if the outcome was to feel as connected to the world as I generally did upon coming out the other side. My breathing was fast and loud and interspersed with thick, gloopy swallows.

I had been obsessing, deliberately or not, over a song called 'Philadelphia' by Standard Fare, which I had first heard the previous Saturday in Birmingham, at a pub called The Victoria where the urinals were broad, tall and semi-circular, encasing the user in a manner that brought to mind the escape vessel used in the laborious rescue of the miners in San Jose, Chile.

These are the words to the chorus of the song:

"I'm gonna have to wait a year / To see you again, in Philadelphia"

Although I recalled the melody and sentiment of the song with precision, I could not recreate it exactly inside my head. My mind was hovering, static, above its memory, allowing it to be perceived at once in its entirety, but at an altitude so great as to disable the distinction of its separate parts. I pawed at my laptop to hear the studio recording - it was deeper and warmer than my mental recreation, but similarly unsatisfying - my tinny, sparkly, radio-speaker evocation had been replaced by a bassy, grounded rendition that felt marginally more substantial, but was lacking the most fizzy frequencies that had brought about my initial feeling, on the weekend, of total immersion and sympathy.

And in trying desperately to take hold of this music, to capture and retain every note as it bounded beyond me, I forcibly repeated each fragment as it passed, creating an echo chamber that clogged and throbbed and filled all available headroom with stodgy, mid-range nothingness, washing itself over and away. The inability to capture this music correctly in my imagination frustrated me to the point of tears, as did the failure of the studio recording to represent my superior imagining of the song.

The lie that music tells you is that you can go away with it. Music exists always in the past, sells you a ticket for a journey already departed on, completed. Songs will tell you that there is no death; that you can always return to the never-there.


In the apartment in Cotham that Colin and Natalie rent, I was looking up towards a door-sized shelf, housing four rows of DVDs - two hundred or so, arranged alphabetically with a thoroughness I had for whatever reason not expected. I think it was the afternoon, and I had showered, taking advantage of the towel left on the side for me, and the text message carrying instructions on how to turn on the hot water. The previous night Natalie had laid out a selection of vegan-friendly foods, to save me the indignity of rifling through foreign cupboards. Cleansed and dried, I had returned to my sleeping bag to keep this new warmth encased around me.

I had come to Bristol in the hope of finding some reason to stay alive, but it was a half-hearted hope, as I had also, paradoxically, convinced myself that it was necessary for me to die. I think, though I cannot remember precisely, that my plan was to skip between friends' houses, all the time starving myself, until eventually I grew weary and disjointed enough to throw myself in front of something, or off of somewhere. This would be a kind thing to do, I thought, for everyone. Nobody would ring me and worry why I did not answer.

On Colin and Natalie's sofa with my eyes closed I could only act as idle witness to morbid montages beyond my control, of mangled bodies under trains, all of them mine, trains attacking over and over at different speeds, with my body snapping and folding with infinite variety, the inevitable, grimly compelling output of a computer model processing for the most morbid of research purposes. The findings were prescient. At the slowest speed, the train would scoop me up softly, carrying me some distance before gravity would introduce me to the sleepers or the rails, and I would begin to grind and grate away until some part of me caught, and I would tumble under to the blackness of engine grease, my own innards clinging to the mechanical underbelly. At the fastest speed, there would be almost no time between the wanton skip onto the tracks and the compartmentalisation and redistribution of what was me. The train would continue unabashed, as a planet taken minutely out of line by the passing of a comet so greedily returns to its favoured orbit.

With my eyes open I could look at nothing but Colin and Natalie's shelf, and feel nothing but an intensely physical revulsion to the rows of films collected by my friends. What was the value of this cumulation of works, other than to manipulate, create falsehood and enact deceit? Films with a combined span of weeks or months, millions upon millions of frames, with the sole purpose of preventing their viewers from inhabiting their own natural existence.

Both collectively and individually the films served to re-enforce their status as one massive, unconquerable lie, the myriad variations on plastic casing of identical dimensions, uniform in their unique horrendous novelty, their garish fonts and facetious titles. The words "Matt Le Tissier" I could not look away from.

I could feel nothing but sick on attempting to take in the sheer volume on display. The total of time expended on the creation of this mass, the sheer sum of life made unrecoverable, seemed to be the most tragic waste. Why would anyone choose to gamble everything, to discard all sensibility for the sake of something that so patently could not effect change on the existence that really mattered?

Pausing a film in the split-second before disaster strikes does not offer its protagonists the opportunity to escape, nor the slimmest moment of respite. The characters are no longer present; their existence is replaced with that outside of the screen. Their terror; their certain doom: this is assured, eventually. What was the consumption of art, if not this process in reverse - a clumsy, bum-on-the-remote pause in the directionless, error-strewn Dogme 95 film of life? It did not even serve to delay the inevitable, as one’s own situation is not frozen or static, but non-existent. Art confirms its existence by destroying one's own, and leaves its enabler frigid and bitter in the wake of abandonment.

I could not escape the words of Jeff Mangum, whose music had so surely convinced me that beauty was an end in itself, but who did not have the ability to turn intangible songs into a tool capable of improving his immediate surroundings.

"The songs were what I stood for. It was a representation of the platform of my mind that I stood on. And if the platform of the mind is crumbling... then the songs go with it. Also, I think that the difficult thing after Aeroplane was that, when we started doing the Elephant 6 thing, we had a very utopian vision that we could overcome anything through music. The music wasn't just there for entertainment: we were trying to create some sort of change. We had a desire to transform our lives, and the listener's lives. I guess I had this idea that if we all created our dream we could live happily ever after. So when so many of our dreams had come true and yet I still saw that so many of my friends were in a lot of pain... I saw their pain from a different perspective and realized that I can't just sing my way out of all this suffering. I have to try to understand human nature and myself and the nature of suffering and a lot of these other issues on a deeper level. When I realized that a lot of my understanding of these issues was on a pretty flimsy platform, that's when the platform started to give way."

I did not remember these verbatim at the time, but the jist of them: that is what was in my head.


In the spare bedroom of Lisa's house in Bedminster, I could hear and smell that downstairs Steve was preparing dinner. I had not eaten for two or three days, and I hoped that he was not going to offer me anything, because I had committed to starving myself to death, and did not want to get into a conversation about it. I felt vaguely ashamed at inviting myself round only to lie in bed waiting for death.

All at once, without reason, spasms of a thousand different songs infiltrated me. I could hear, or rather imagine, simultaneously, every tone in the human hearing spectrum and beyond. At dazzlingly quick intervals a tone would rise up, sharp, demanding attention, yet when I tried to focus on it and follow its melody, it would sink back into the omniphonic morass, hopelessly intangible and infinitely distant. I was pulled viscerally all in directions equally by everything, and whilst at that time I would happily have been torn to pieces, the cumulative effect was that I was left immobilised, unable to focus on anything but the great pit of inaudible noise that I was situated both within and beyond.

Dan rang me for a second time, and this time I answered. He told me that he liked my album, and that I should have released it properly. He asked me if I was still coming to his brother's band's show on Friday, and I said that I probably was.

Like a stupid mutt I shuffled downstairs and asked Steve if there was any dinner left. I asked him what music was playing; it was the Bill Wells Trio. It was about ten years old, he said, but it had an air of timelessness.


When I was writing this, around the midnight connecting Thursday 9th and Friday 10th February 2012, a guy who I am friends with (only) on Facebook posted this status:

"Why do I always convince myself that mufasa won't die. I'm always disappointed and sad :("

Friday, February 05, 2010



One definite quick way to tidy is to line things up. Two books on the floor like this ! \ or this _ | look messy, but... two books like this \\ or this || are then books that look as though they are in a place for books. The book place. Same with shoes - put them like this || || || || || || || rather than all st|rewn| everyw|he|re/ around /the_ place. You'll actually have the same amount of space in your room as previous, but you'll be using that space in a different, more managable way.


Monday, February 01, 2010

E-Messag to th E-Moon


Oh, Moon,

anemic watermeloon,
the Loonar balloon,
watery mouldy crust,
air-bitten dust, oh U

^that moon


Friday, January 29, 2010

American Life 2


"God, it sure sucks being a teen-ager round here", said Mary carelessly, letting a dribble of Pepsi run down from her brash red lips and off her chin.

"You can say that again."

The air was hot and stiff, the ground was hotter still, and Mary and Cody had six weeks left of summer vacation. They were both working for Mr. Gordon five days a week. On the week-end they would play on their rope-swing by the river, chucking sticks and rolling in the damp dirt.

"Say, what does it take to get you guys to do some work?" Mr. Gordon had come round from the back of the farmhouse and caught them slacking off. Mary turned still sucking moisture from her cool, blue Pepsi can.

"You know what Mr. Gordon, you can screw your job!" she yelled, and her and Cody jumped from their branch and sprinted through the tall grass, hurdled the picket-fence and ran for the river as if their freedom depended on it.


Sunday, December 06, 2009

American Life


It was a harsh, sunny day in Greenvale, Arkansas. Susie stood
with a tunafish panini on the corner of 5th and Madison.

“Yo Jerry!” she exclaims as her young cousin Jerry appears from the
sliding doors of the seven-eleven. “What's a guy like you doing with
so many bagels?” He gives her a questioning sideways glance.

“What can I say? I'm a hungry guy. I heard that bagels are like eating
five slices of regular bread.”
“Yeah, I think I heard that too.”
“Mm. Well, I got some cream cheese and watercress too, you wanna come
to the park and eat?”
“Nah, can't, got too much thinking to do. You know how it is with the
folks at the moment. This tunafish panini here's the best thing I got
in my life.”
“And it's almost gone.”
“Tell me about it,” she said mournfully.

Four finches flew aimlessly up, careening, dizzily.


Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I had this idea for a story, it starts with a series of columns in the Guardian by a man, a cross between Charlie Brooker and George Monbiot. He makes a snide suggestion that the least intelligent 20% of the country should be denied the right to vote. Between him and the online commenters it begins to be less of a joke and they end up establishing a party with this aim.

The next thing that happens is that The Sun or someone starts a counter-movement, creating a party with the aim of denying the vote to the 20% of the population with the highest intelligence (I don't know how intelligence would be measured). And it would go on from there.

The reason I thought this story would be interesting is because I think a lot of people think they know best, and that the world would be better if stupid people couldn't vote, and I thought it would be interesting to see who would vote for what party, like whether they would each get an equal share of the votes, and whether the percentage that voted for the intelligent party would be the most intelligent people, or just the cockiest.

Anyway I thought it would all be a bit naff and heavy-handed.

Monday, August 10, 2009



Oh Graham, you're hopeless! What on earth made you think these were a good idea, she pointed across the room at the foyer paintings, and went at them purposefully, where on earth did you dig these up from? A police auction, the first visit I couldn't think about anything but the cameras. Just act as if they aren't here, Matthew had said, she grabbed at the picture nearest her, the signal this is sending to your customers is look, we don't care about style, we don't care about looking up-to-date, and with that they are going to think well if they don't care about their interior design, they won't care about me, what do you think Deborah, I've always hated them, right since the day he bought them. Graham, you know that. She dropped the picture into a waiting bin, that was great, Rebecca, that'll be great stuff, well done Graham, now if we can do some in the back room, the office, a make-up girl was flustering over her but didn't actually seem to be doing anything but touching the air around her

Graham, your cavalier spending, really, it has to stop, and I looked at her and knew that it was coming from Rebecca, I know, and I didn't mind, and in the meantime we need to, to generate some income, some additional income from somewhere else, Rebecca breezed in, she couldn't have been younger than thirty-five, I'd seen older men with younger women, uglier men too, than me, and less funny, oh, are you two discussing your finances, that's good, Deborah and I have looked over the books and there's no way, Graham, that you can continue to spend at your current level and keep this business open, we reached an agreement that I should sell off some of the statues, really I would have sold anything.

Rebecca, I took a breath and tucked my hands deep in my pockets, I am so, I'm really so grateful at what you've done for us, and honestly, really I don't know what we'd have done. If you hadn't come I think me, that Deborah and I would have been, it would have been over, the business would have been over, she strode towards me and wrapped her arms round my middle, you buffoon, it's you you should be thanking, you've put in so much hard work yourself, you've really turned this place around, you and Deborah, I clutched her tight, she felt surprised, I think I love you, she pulled her arms back from me and shoved them into my chest and I fell backwards onto the coffee table, Matthew was staring at us both, okay what's going on, Rebecca, Graham, what's going on, Rebecca, do we need, are you okay? I think we, okay, right, I think we should, just all sit down now, and talk, I don't think I can carry on here, Matthew? could we please travel straight to, straight up to Hartlepool and get all that shot and finished, and you or someone can talk to Graham and Deborah about it, about carrying on, she seemed determined not to look at me, why don't we sit down, Joe we don't need to be filming this darling, she was already making for the car park, hang on let's get things clear here before we go anywhere

I saw her struggle up the attic ladder with a box of our old rubbish and I went up after her, by the time I'd got up she'd put the box down and was standing at the top of the ladder. Can I talk to you, I was standing on the top rung of the ladder, my face was the height of her breasts, she was wearing a quite long black dress with a greeny-grey petticoat, she took a step back to allow me to get off the ladder into the attic, I don't there's anything to talk about, well I'm, I just wanted at the very least, just to apologise for, not for saying what I said but for the timing when I said it, you know I'm sorry for that, but I still, I'm not sorry for that I said it, really, I don't want to talk about this, I'm here to finish this and after that, just ignore me until tomorrow and if you need to talk to anyone I suggest your wife, she started to go down the ladder, please let me, look I, I want to talk, I think I could make you happy, I was thinking and this business, it's looking good, now, all thanks to you, and it's, I own it, it's in my name, it's just in my name, and we could, oh I don't know, she was gone

There was a spread on for the crew, now Rebecca = egg and cress = Rebecca, Deborah, what makes you, why do you have to believe everyone but me


Monday, July 27, 2009



What was familiar about him was the way he created clutter. He did it exactly the same way I did. He would leave sticky plates on the floor, cups teetering on the arm of the sofa, clothes pretty much wherever he took them off. It was funny that I had travelled to Mexico and seen a lot of new things but this boy was definitely from the same mould as me. His mum Greta would come home from her work and chastise him. Her finger didn't wag but rotated like a royal wave, which seems hilarious now when I think of her, fat in a way more spherical than I'd ever seen before, speaking Spanish and making me feel like the wrong demographic, like when I tried to get my Dad into Monkey Dust and he sat perfectly still not laughing for the whole thing and I felt completely guilty on behalf of the programme makers for not amusing him and wondered whether it was just a bad episode compared to the other ones because i hadnt found it funny either or whether it was just as funny as the others but i just couldnt enjoy it because i was watching it through his eyes and seeing these jokes about rape and peadophiles as not jokes but just things happening that had no relevance to anything in my life or his and when i saw life through my dads eyes there was nothing in the world that could make me laugh

The main way I made clutter was to leave words on the internet and then forget that I put them there, so someone else would have to clear them up. And he did that too, and he played football once a week and wasn't very good. I thought I was better than him because I thought he didn't have a football brain, but I realised halfway through Jane Eyre that anyone watching me play would think I didn't have a football brain either.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009



Once there was a man who applied to be on a quiz show and got on it. So he spent the time between his audition and his appearance trying to remember as many things as he could.

Because the thing was that he didn't really have any money and had no choice, he thought, but to win the quiz show. So he tried to remember as many things as he could. Cheddar.

On the day of his appearance he drove to the studios. The other contestants were waiting in a room that was cream and burgundy. He spoke to them but he didn't listen because want to lose all the things he had remembered. Europe. Czech. Prague. Praline. Chocolate. Stomach. Pancreas. Body. HMS Endeavour.

When they were filming the show he was doing well, then in a break the floor manager said "you look a bit hot". The next thing that happened was that the man's brain became so hot that it reached boiling point. The way this became known to the floor manager was through the ears, as a hot sticky liquid. "I thought it was wax, or something" is what he later said to his boyfriend.

Once the police said it was okay, one of the runners mopped up the man's brain and squeezed it out into a bucket. Another one of the runners poured the brain, which was now diluted with water, down the sink in the bathroom.

The man's brain became more dilute every second as it rushed down the drain, and then another bigger drain, and then flew out into the sea. Over time the brain became entirely separate, and completely ceased to exist, as the trillions of atoms made homes in different parts of the ocean. They became part of the water cycle. They whooshed up, hovered, fell down. They were washed ashore. They went to the city. They had side projects. Some were given jobs. Some helped make animals. Some helped dismantle them. Two were were forced to fight each other, and both died. And, Once in about every million years, four or five atoms that had once been the brain of the man came so close as to almost touch. Jungle. Jakarta. Miso. Mall. Aerodynamic. Bluebird.




His job was to visit the houses of the owners of the pets, at a pre-arranged time, and to look for any signs that the animals illness or injury could have been caused by any factor other than the one given - usually natural causes. Mainly this meant signs of mistreatment; not feeding it enough, or allowing it to become obese. Sometimes it meant whether they had been kicking or punching it - which was usually clear. It was in his companys and therefore his own interest to be very thorough in examining possible causes for the pets condition, as if the condition could be linked to any negligence on the part of the owner(s) then the policy would not cover it. So for this reason he would often link cause and effect together very tenously:

Smoking in the house could account for any lung or respiratory problem, cancer, heart disease, tooth decay.
Excessive exercise could account for heart attacks, limb problems, tooth decay.
Lack of exercise could account for heart attacks, limb problems, tooth decay.
Sharing the house with a mentally disturbed person(s) could account for abnormal behaviour, self-injury, tooth decay.

He had gotten into this line of work after completing a degree in Business Management, and after his friend Ricardo had gotten him to apply for a job working at the company eighteen months after his graduation. He was still living in Birmingham at that time, but after working in another department initially he was moved over to Pets and that department was in Sheffield. But then when he became a Loss Adjuster and had to travel around he was given first the North Yorkshire route and then the Humberside route and now he was doing West Midlands, so pretty much back he started, although travelling from Sheffield by car.

The training to become a Loss Adjuster was two days in London at Head Office, and was a series of briefings and role-playing scenarios.
He was told that it didnt matter a great deal that he had no real knowledge of animals, because what he was really going to be evaulating was the people. Use your instincts, she told him - the training leader - and if something seems up, it most likely is. These people are out to make an easy buck off our backs, she said. She was from Scotland, about as far North as you can get without falling into the ocean, she said.

He found it easy to get along with Jean, and they had two children. Upon his retirement there was not a party as such, because working in a car, travelling, all those years there wasnt the opportunities to build up real friendships. The owners of the pets that he visited were never pleased to see him. For about six months, one time, he did have an apprentice but he was gay and they had nothing in common to talk about. Their lunch breaks were sometimes entirely silent, usually in the seated area of the service station. On one occasion the apprentice noticed through the large windows one man being pushed into a car by another against his will - over there, he said, freeing one finger from his sandwich to point. On the news three days later they saw that the man who had been pushed into the car had been found dead - had been taken to a copse of trees near Hatfield and killed. He and the apprentice were granted three days paid leave, to get their heads together. Jean said over dinner on the second of those days that it made you think, didnt it, how many people must you have seen just before they died.

Being a Loss Adjuster was not an especially well-paid job, but he was entitled to benefits, the most notable of which was the company car which was upgraded every three years. One night after sex he confided to Jean that he would love, if he could afford it, to buy the car outright after its lease term was up, and Jean said it would be nice wouldn't it but that there was so much needs doing with the house, for now.