Tuesday, November 30, 2004


"Adam's Beard-o-Meter" stands opposite the reviews of teas. It reads:

Week 1. He says: Kicked off nicely. They say: What beard?
Week 2. He says: Feels itchy. They say: Looks it.
Week 3. He says: Looking good. They say: Has ginger tendencies.
Week 4. He says: Possibly needs a trim underneath. They say: Not for an Abraham Lincoln impersonation it doesn't.
Week 5. He says: Has the authority of Charles Darwin. They say: No, of Captain Birds Eye.
Week 6. He says: Ha ha ha. Ho ho ho. They say: Santa?

And now, decision time: to shave, or not to shave. Trim, or not to trim. It may have profound consequences, a symbol of ultimate power, or at least a statement of it over my own face; or perhaps some other consequence, as certain interesting, and probably single men, can attest to.

Friday, November 26, 2004


These few days: why not stand around sipping at the wine and gulping at the beer, as if they were any other?

Now, it's time to go home. And still paper work to get through. Still emails to answer. I have been trudging all day.

Social engagements for tonight and tomorrow cancelled. A Thanksgiving party, starting at 4. A celebration of something in the usual bar. An offer of dinner.

Perhaps on Monday I will just be watching television, or eating a meal, or snoozing on a train, at the cinema, maybe, and 6.57pm that night will drift by unnoticed, like any other.

Just disappearing, just like that. Like what?

Like the breath of a man, unconscious and slightly green, laid out in a hospice bed, his brother, his wife, his son stood uselessly around him, like his breath that slows without deepening, once, twice (while a clock must say five minutes to seven one minute, and four minutes to seven the next, unnoticed) - and then the pause between each breath gets longer, and longer, each breath more and more shallow, fainter, going now - a great pause - a final attempt at breath - and then ending, forever. Just disappearing, like that.

So utterly desolate, I looked around the room that night, anywhere, for anything; at the flowers; my uncle's face; to the clock which told me the time - three minutes before seven at that moment, that evening, on Sunday the 29th of November in nineteen ninety-eight. Heh, this Monday, this weekend, however much I empty it out, it won't be like that.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


"Gloucester Road station," the announcer announced, "is closed due to fire-works. Customers are advised..."

Closed because of fire-works? What? Celebrations? At this time of the morning? Customers escorted off the trains, an amazing spectacular promised, the roof of the station rolled back, the sky as open as a basket, and then the mouths of the formal stuffy commuters gaping up in marvel, like captivated children, as the bang of gun-powder announces a million brilliant dots, each plucking a colour from the rainbow and placing it upon the sky?

Or, what? Closed because of a disaster? Some madman, seething at the indignity of it all or some crazy cause, crammed in at the end of a carriage; dammit, he mutters, dammit, I'll do it this time - and then the flick of a match, and a woosh, an explosion, and ... And clothes on fire. Faces on fire. Screams through flames. The tube screeching to a halt. And the slow drift of a smoke that is scented with burning human flesh.

"Once again," the voice repeated, "Gloucester Road is closed due to an earlier fire-alert. Customers..."

My mistake; my imagination. I left the tube to find the world as usual: the old buildings and the morning sky as grey as each other. Albeit with the occasional black stain, and dotted with the bold colours of the advertisements, flashing out such brilliant promises.

Thursday, November 18, 2004


We speak once, twice each week, and have done so for the last two, three years - since I've worked here; the plump, greying, always-suited, soft-voiced, smiley bar-manager and I.

Pretty much, it's either: "The usual is it? And how are you?" "Thanks. O, same as ever. Struggling on. Battling through. Yourself?" "Same. Surviving, just about." "Yeah. Thanks. See you." "Thanks, see you."

Else something like: "And how are you? Here's your usual." "O, thanks. Not bad actually. Work going well at the mo'. Yourself?" "Yeah - business is looking up actually. Good time right now." "Great. Thanks. See you." "Thanks, see you."

Last night it was one of those two again, with a "here's your change" as he passes the coins into my palm. And then a regular, sat opposite him at the bar, as I was walking away: "So you're into all that dominatrix stuff are you?" I turn a touch, stopped in my tracks, to see the bar-manager shrug his shoulder in subdued agreement.

He notices. "Problem with the change?"

"If anything," I say, "it might just be a bit too much."

Tuesday, November 16, 2004


November, I hate you.

Last year – under your endless slates of cloud cover, the wind punching about your short frozen days, the rain pummelling your grey streets, and three months to come of the same – I said that I hated you then, too. And I did. I do.

For instance, for instance... The year before last, my girlfriend was a New York business woman. She was here on a study year out, staring into my eyes at night, lunching with contacts-cum-friends on afternoons, ticking off one more box from a list of museums and galleries each weekend, and lounging around pricey coffee shops, in classy London knee-length socks, while reading anything-but-politics. And she did not understand, November, that fight at a party over nothing, in front of all her friends, or when I turned up stoned to meet her parents, or dumped her just for not being right for me (twice, and each time right out of the blue), or forced her to try a restaurant that I must have thought she would hate, her being a Jew. November, it's true: it can’t be her fault. So I’ll blame you.

But that was nothing, really, November.

Remember, remember.

A phone call to an office bureaucrat about the tax I pay: it ends in swearing, shouting, slamming. And stares from all over the open-plan.

A drunk student, his arms spanning entire width of the door of the train as it pulls into Putney: he gets pushed out and pinned against a wall, told never to get in my way again.

A towel on the back of the door shoots upwards as I fall downwards: two hours later I come round on the floor of the bathroom, someone from the party has been banging on the door, wondering whether they should get a screwdriver and take off the hinges. I was trying to fucking sleep, I tell him, dizzy and slurring.

Shop-lifting, even! And the personal emails left unanswered, culling a few distant friends – all for what? Only for you, November, and I hate you.

Seven November’s ago, I did not know what I know now: that I hate you. O, my second year at university. The nights lit by disco lights, the days dozing in a warm daze. A dingy bedroom, a cheap wine or whiskey hardly touched, and the flame-red shirt of she from the lecture slips from her shoulder like a shadow. Then, a free weekend and the student loan just in? To London! To Amsterdam! To Paris!

But the year after was different. The November when I first hated November. I was only 21: I didn’t think to quit University to be with my father; I didn’t know that getting a mobile – so I could rush home in an emergency – was a token safeguard that guaranteed only bad news, and that however short a future is, more should be asked of it than that; I didn’t even know, deep down, really deep down, that when the Doctors told me that “he has a couple of weeks, a month at the most”, they actually meant it, nor that they were right.

November, kicking about in your leaves, why have I never looked for consolation? In their symbolism say, or a joke. Their yellows, their reds, their rustle underfoot: such a beautiful, massive death that only happens in November, that only happens to leaves, dropping like hair from a cancer victim.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


At first, I thought this:

Four more? Unbelievable. I knew this would happen. Up and down the platform I muttered to myself: murder, murder, I could murder someone. That businessman flicking past the pink pages of his paper - he'd do. The half-stoned student buying sweets from a machine - him perhaps. The man in the blue uniform lazing by the dirty wall - anyone. All these unfazed others, casually waiting like me on this grey platform of dull light, for a machine to hurtle out from the black tunnel, slow for a few arbitrary exits and entries, then hurtle on unchanged. Why aren't they, like me, hopping mad?

Murder, murder: a four minute wait at this time in the morning? Unbelievable. Of course those thoughts go nowhere in the stuffed carriage of strangers that eventually arrives. Stupid to feel all that, when we are all here collected under the same artificial light, swung along with the same bumps, our lungs sifting the same dirt, all late, late, late; but all with a hidden faith in getting there. The train sweeps in and out.

Then looking around on the train, I thought this:

All the millions underground: each of us have that power in us, to go mad, pull a lever, shout; any one of us could step off a platform, jump under a train, push a stranger. Of course, we all judge ourselves safe, there on the tube, with a hidden faith in strangers. And what good to do it? The power to take action is not the power to make consequence, and as the train speeds into the inevitable darkness, whose hand will deliver good things, whose distribute bad stuffs, is unknowable. Someone folds up a newspaper with a fatalistic headline. And as the future speeds on after a brief wait at a platform, like a train into a tunnel, who knows what murder or marvel nests in each coming moment, minute, year, set of four years.