Monday, 9 April 2012

Opportunity Knocks

From around mid-January of this year I opted to reduce my hours to four days a week. Quite a gamble. It’s not like booksellers earn a handsome wage. Shaving one fifth off your wages is... sobering. Squeezing in writing around shift work was proving near impossible. Squeezing in life around shift work is pretty difficult. Regular meal times go out the window, the diet descends into murky realms that skate the abyss of McBadness. You eat on the run, vegetables are things that happen to other people, coffee isn’t so much a pleasure as a necessity. Seeing friends becomes challenging. Planning life around the all-powerful rota becomes all-consuming. And the writing. Well, maybe tomorrow, or the day after that.

That’s why you have to be an opportunist.

Be able to write when ever you can, where ever you can. I’ve got better at this but I still don’t feel it’s enough. I’ve written in coffee bars (a favourite), or the bus (least favourite), in pubs (loud), in the staff room at work, on the train (the favourite) and at home. I’ve written alone and I’ve written alongside friends (including Tom Pollock, who gives great feedback). My most flat out productive periods are when I’m cat-sitting in Penge. Perhaps the week long deadline and lack of distractions are contributing factors. I may have to move to Penge just to dis-prove my tenuous theory it sits on some sort of keyboard-based ley line.

Monday, 2 April 2012

A Haunting

I went back to my hometown recently; a tiny place in Dorset. After living in London so long the peace and quiet are almost surreal. The sea shifts and swells calmly, chalk cliffs soar above the coastline, and everywhere, grass grows a verdant green. I left there just as I was turning seventeen, which is a shockingly young age to leave anywhere. Or anything. After landing a place at a performing arts college in Kent I was determined to leave Nowheresville firmly in the rearview mirror. Or so I thought. You never really get away from anywhere. Locations have a habit of waiting you out. Even if you never return there’re still there. Waiting.

I’ve always regretted not staying on for sixth form. At the time I loathed school with a passion only the truly hormonal can summon. I scowled, I wore a black trench coat, I grew my hair out, I was in to heavy metal (of course). I was a perfect fit for a large school of 1500 kids. That last sentence was sarcasm in written form incidentally.

I would have liked to have stayed on though. It would have bought me three more years with my friends Jess, Frazer and Zac. It might have given me a deeper understanding of English and an A level to prove it. I would have grown up a bit. And I might have come to terms with my hometown.

My mental map of Swanage is strange one. It’s streets where I did or did not deliver newspapers on various crap BMX bikes. It’s corners where I might have been threatened by other kids, or areas of woodland that scared me; now covered in new apartments. It’s pubs where I drank under age, full of bravado and glib insincerity. It’s the beach where each of those sixteen summers blur into one sandy, ice cream-coated afternoon. It’s three different houses and all the attendant Sturm and Drang those memories bring with them.

You might say that versions of me haunt all those locations. Versions dressed in terrible 80s fashions, versions taking themselves much too seriously, versions buying vinyl from Woolworths. Versions obsessed with girls and versions obsessed with pop music (later metal, grunge, ambient, hip hop). These versions lurk and whimper, whisper and moan. They need no graveyards to conduct their vigils. And the truth of it is that they don’t haunt the locations, they haunt me.

Which is why photographs are better than memories. A photograph captures people at their best. A photograph records when you got together with family or friends for the good times. A photograph doesn’t care you looked like an idiot, only that you were happy at the moment someone pressed the button. No one ever took a picture the day you got a poor school report, or that time your parents argued. No one takes pictures of that stuff.

And thank God for that.