Thursday, 17 November 2016

Let's move to Cumbria! (An ode to Annina)


‘The sea has to remain a mystery.’ She said then evaporated.
I’m flummoxed. They’re married. You tell me now as if I wouldn’t have wanted to marry her and make her a happy wife.
We could have had a country life….
With a cat who catches mice and two lolloping hounds.
Taken long walks against strong winds and seek’n shelter in the carved out hollows of sunken ships, on low-lying beach.
So that we might hide from the world and then burst out in Spring!
Pass’d Winter nights swooning over the fading moon through our slice of window pane, wrapped-up in thick blankets the weight of hay stacks.
Tea at different times of day and different kinds too.
Loose-leafed, ginseng,
nettle, fennel,
Tetley’s. You'd sing.
Think of it - you in the drawing room reading. Me in the living room pleading to be paid attention to and writing.
No babies.
We could have had it all. Moved away from here. And I could've carried you over the threshold with some help from a stranger. It would've been poverty-stricken bliss
(I'd hide the bills.)
But alas, you found her and I found him and we’ll be better off with them.


Saturday, 12 November 2016

Warming thoughts for coming Winter

Cat scrambles up tree chasing after squirrel. 

Her tails whips around the trunk

Squirrel’s tail twitches furiously round and round

The chase becomes a mad scramble. 

Does she catch him? 

Claws and fur.

Leaves.

I have been inundated with books. It’s no bad thing but I need to make time to read them all. No examination coming up. But lethargy is a killer and I always moan that I want to be learning something so I should bloody well open up my brain to all the words. 

It’s autumn now and winter tomorrow. The outside weather makes us all want to stay inside. This happens every year and still it’s unpredictable for me, difficult to commit my heart to. The reason is because it’s unwanted, when it’s getting sunnier and warmer it’s easy to expect it in fact you can’t wait for it. 

I love summer. Friends invite more people out in the summer. We all went swimming in a pond once, no twice. The muddy cold fresh water of Hampstead Heath, leaves stuck to the hair and algae skin. A tiny pool more like a contemporary puddle in the midst of skyscrapers and the new Google outfit, we shared the water with ducks and ran screaming in to a sauna that looked like a barrel.

You can think fondly of those things because it’s life affirming. Exhilarating. But now. Now it’s wet and cold and a political shitstorm so, why would we choose to get out of bed. 

Hole up and read for the winter and eat warm nuts and soup. That’s the life.




Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Childhood memories of transport links


I have always lived near transport links. My earliest memory is of the kalang kalang of a railway barrier, slowly but surely reclining its black and yellow arms to come down across the road so that the people on bicycles and feet would stop. Trains tore passed – kalang kalang whoosh judder kalang ROAR.
I think I thought, in my tiny confused state that we were on the move. Or about to move. I mean to be fair, we did move quite a lot. 13 times in my lifetime so far, and I think I stopped counting at 16.
But as a baby on my bed I could hear the trains on the tracks. That faraway kalang kalang was like birdsong to me but more regular and constant, like a woodpecker maybe. I liked hearing it in the distance burgeoning as I got closer (this is when I had grown older and larger) taking it as given that I could walk to the shops alone, head thrust skyward.
Strolling.
Stations I feel comfortable in are in the middle of nowhere. Like that two-storey flat we lived in overlooking a dank railway bridge made of muddy coloured brick with all the vines and weeds sprouting from the top of it. Placed between deep countryside and a Green Belt that station was a lone platform. Tickets £2 in to town, return.
In the autumnal red and golden brown, I’d cross the bridge with keys jangling in frost-bitten hands to fumble with the lock. Sunset. Bedroom under heaped-on covers I could feel the tremors from the cargo trains as they passed under through the dead of night. I liked vampires back then so maybe there were bats under there or a gothic station master waiting for the red signal that never came.
Screeching.
Imagination never stopped with train stations and all that waiting. The trains went past with regularity and that gave me hope because I knew people were travelling places and I could sit still and be there to listen. Is that strange? I never felt tempted to board one or to escape because that noise of transience made me feel at home.
Amazing stillness, forethought and possibility at stations when everyone else is moving rushing on ahead. I think I’ll wait for the next train. There’ll probably be another one.
Soon.


Thursday, 27 October 2016

Halloween horror spoof


I shot this horror spoof called Halloween at Bromfelde Rd (Part 1). Featuring the haunted housemates who are Georgia Margaret from the dead Murphy, Jesse All hell break loose Lamb, Neil Spade, Louise Demonic Son and it's by me Rimi Solloway on Vimeo. Original score by Jesse Allam and Lou Dickinson. Boo!



Wednesday, 31 August 2016

5 Days in Japan

http://www.akemisolloway.com/5-days-in-japan/

I wrote up my extensive 5 day trip to Japan, co-authored with Aidan Cifford, which is published here.

Enjoy Japan travellers and friends!

Monday, 1 August 2016

The old man in the second-hand bookshop


The man in the bookshop waits for me. I assume he does, a little bit in his heart every day.
When you come up from London to Edinburgh you notice how nice life could be. When it’s sunny it’s even more striking. Better dogs, more frequent snatches of conversation and shared nods and alrights. And here in Edinburgh you get called ‘pal’ in tempered tones of aggression always, and it feels nice. Manageable. Friendly without overdoing it. Not wanky.
I passed Greyfriar’s Bobby with his metallic snub nose, all naked and shiny from being over-rubbed. I got crisps with my sandwich instead of salad, because eating out means not having to be healthy and enjoying life. I pass a charity shop every five hundred meters filled with cardigans and desks (and one cat in the window) and it makes me happy. Edinburgh has to be one of the most pleasant cities to live in. But likely if I said that to someone in passing they’d condescend the comment like a Londoner with ‘If you can afford it’ but then again maybe they’re all just capitalising and hitching up the prices threefold whilst the Festival’s on. I would. Because the southerners coming up here with their selfie-sticks and lack of self-awareness think coffee is worth £4.50 so serve it to them for that.
There is one second-hand bookshop with its shelves immaculately ordered in to categories: modern drama, crime, classical drama, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, American literature, history, ancient history and gardening. Everything really. I asked the white-haired man in the light-blue short-sleeved shirt, ‘Do you have any books by Jonathan Coe?’ because I had finished one of his stranger novels on the train ride up and I was totally intrigued.
The bookshop owner had in fact approached me whilst I was in the fiction section looking up authors’ surnames, I was in section C already and he had just caught me in the nick of time to lend me a helping hand right when I needed it. Good intervention. He seemed glad I knew what I was looking for; so he could actually be helpful I predict because you must get nonsensical requests working in a book store, as we all remember from Notting Hill and Dylan Moran’s acting part.
‘You're in the right place,’ he said with a smile that said I’m proud of you for knowing your alphabet and index systems ‘let me have a look for you.’ He bends down and searches the spines with his index finger.
‘Anything will do’ I say trying to be helpful, but of course I do want that specific author so not anything.
‘Nothing on the shelf.’ He says with not a slump in mood but a wistfulness.
‘Sorry. Coe comes in a lot but we don’t seem to have him in stock.’ He seems amused by it, like he should know where the author was hiding in the book store but has lost all recollection of where he saw him last.
‘That’s absolutely fine.’ I say.
I’m more pleased to have met the old man than to have found this book. I won’t tell him that because that’s too much feeling from a customer I presume. It’s sunny outside and I will keep welling up with feeling whilst my romance with this city lasts (two more days at the most).
The next day and the next day, and the next few days after that, I pass his second-hand bookshop and I see it every time but daren’t go in.
Not out of fear or awkwardness as such, I am not sure why, maybe because I like the illusion of the story I am playing in my head every time I walk past and see in the shop window display not one but two Jonathan Coe books staring at me from behind the glass. I don’t even pause infront of the window incase he sees me and waves at me to come in, or points at the two books with his friendly face and warm heart.
I should just go in.
It would probably make his day.
But what if I did.
And he didn’t remember who I was.
What if he went to all that trouble.
To find those books and put them out.
But what if they’d been out in the window all along.
And he had forgot.
What if they are meaningless.
And the books don’t mean a thing.
That's why I’ll leave it.
Yes much nicer to leave it.
Because I like the story better.
Than ever finding out the truth.
  


Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Yayoi and Georgiana



Took myself on an art day today. Woke myself up early for a Saturday, the earliest in a long while. Made myself a milky instant coffee with a sturdy helping of sugar and then out the door in to a murky grey morn, it’s supposed to be summer.

I woke up fully on the train. Saturday morning carriage still surprisingly filled with hipsters holding caffeinated drinks in flimsy white cups.

The queue when I get there is massive, it’s about an hour and half wait until the front and it’s only just gone 10:00. What a sensationalist exhibition, or populist because it’s free but I don't mind because I have been wanting to see this. Yayoi Kusama that Japanese New Yorker internationally famous pointillist feminist artist, the one I saw one of the best retrospectives of at the Tate a few year’s back is back in London, with some of her walk-in pieces. I had never been to the Victoria Miro gallery and I had wanted to ever since I lived on the boat. What’s an hour and a half on a Saturday morning when there’s nothing else to do but wait? 

The grey clouds had broken apart and turned into moving wisps. Seagulls dipped round and round about a tall skyscraper. 

A well-to-do family joined the queue behind me, they were fine apart from the son who must be at whatever parents call ‘a difficult age’ because he couldn't see the point of waiting for something (anything I assume) nor did he like art. As the line progressed I saw taxi cabs pull up and drop well-coiffed males with expensive sunglasses who looked perplexed at the idea of waiting. And aghast tanned belles who strutted up and down the queue surveying it whilst on FaceTime whilst taking a selfie. 

Once inside it was over in a flash. Upstairs there’s a walk-in box room with mirrored surfaces that contain some of the light-up pumpkin installations. They are not beautiful but striking and have that hallucinogenic appearance about them especially when seen close-up from inside a dark reflective box, but as I say, it was over in a flash - 20 seconds to be exact - because of crowd management. Apparently someone had fallen backward and smashed one of the pumpkins during a busy time (insert joke about the band here) whilst taking a selfie, amazing, so the staff had to limit numbers and duration inside the walk-in box. 

But there was more. The all-mirrored and slightly larger walk-in box downstairs which held a revolving flashing chandelier was more alluring. The infinite depth of reflections, you know that trick of facing a mirror to a mirror and getting an optical illusion happened, so the artwork called Chandelier of Grief sort of felt like that. Eternally spinning and superficial aka. ennui. 

In the outdoor garden a pond displayed an older installation by Yayoi, hundreds of silver orbs floating on the surface of the water called Narcissus Garden. It was all very her and I admired the space. Victoria Miro blows Damien Hirst’s new gallery out the water for sure. It’s the elegant use of light and form, concrete doesn’t have to always look like slabs. There’s this long narrow staircase wide enough for two slender maidens to ascend up like waifs, to hit a window pane. Even mortal me can walk up the stairs as through a tunnel to a bright surface. Then sky.

I headed on the 243 towards central London, the red buses completely inadequate for the heat. Sure you can open a window here and there but the seat covers are made of what looks like industrial velvet and you feel suffocated just looking at them. 

Dogs die in hot cars, is a thought. 

Ding Ding! off the bus at Somerset House which holds the Courtauld Gallery. Another space I’d never been to for no good reason at all. I’d been hankering to see the artworks of this Victorian spirit medium called Georgiana Houghton, because frankly they looked weird as hell. 

Ironically she drew most of her paintings about God: the father, son and the holy spirit mainly. White feathery veils were the spirit and the tiny dots something else holy, I remember reading, on the back of one her horrifically detailed paintings. These looked like the product of someone who was not only mad but concentrating really hard on being mad - but she wasn’t remember - because she was a Victorian who conversed with ghosts.

Spindly incessant lines evolving in to swirls
that erupt in to bloom.
Brash irrational colours 
all sensing impending doom.
No salvation

The artist said her hands were controlled by dead spirits like that of Titian’s or St. Luke the Apostle’s, it wasn’t her painting but these dead people and God using her body as a vessel. And you know what, the exactitude of her fine lines and fastidiousness of her scribbles do look like they were made in a trance state. Sure, these even reminded me of heinously close-up variations of Aboriginal DreamTime paintings which were often produced in ritual trance sessions. Yet Georgiana’s paintings were gory and fragile. Precious and atrocious. A bit sick to be honest.

But if you see one of her drawings you’ll think it’s a lot more modern than it is, even the curator when he got shown one of Georgiana’s paintings at first thought it was from the psychedelic period in art i.e. the 60’s. The cool thing is spirit medium or not, this Victorian woman artist managed to preempt the Abstract movement in art by about 40 years, Georgiana’s stuff in the Victorian time looked a bit like a completely-bat-shit Miro before Surrealism had even been invented. So how does that happen? 

That’s what I was interested by, anyway. This glitch in time in something so boringly linear as art history.

Nothing like it had been seen in the sitting rooms of Victorian houses or imaginations before. Yes, even at a time when seances, ouija boards, magicians like Houdini, and Arthur Conan Doyle type stories were prevalent. Even at a time when machines seemed to be superseding the human race à la Industrial Revolution with steam power and the light bulb. Even when Charles Dickens’ most popular Christmas tale conflated Pagan spirits with Yuletide morals in a Christmas Carol, did the people of Victorian England have the capacity yet to cope with the avant garde. It was way too early, far too avant.

Her downfall?

She puts on an exhibition of all her best work at a prestigious and probably pretentious art gallery in Bond Street in the 1870’s and it was a successful spectacle but ruined her financially. After that she didn’t get another chance and was forgotten about until now when post-modern art critics are looking at Victorian Georgiana’s spiritualist pieces with newfound admiration.









Thursday, 16 June 2016

(Hangover Poems)





HANGOVER QUILLS



I am very hungover today
And I will work on poetry
I read your poems Pooja Nansi
And they reminded me of
A time when I wore a broken
Healing wretched heart
Like a pin on my lapel
Men I couldn’t really tell
Apart fell in to my lap
Like drink spills, I
Didn’t really miss them
When they’d gone


*


I woke up with no recollection of how and why
Top half still on (bra and all)
Bottom half relegated to the floor
Lamps still on and bright white light
Flooding in from the window and at first
You’re numb from the truth which is
Oh no. It’s daylight and last night I drank too much.
Then it’s the dread of what happens next
If I move? And then it’s some odd recurring thought patterns
That flit in and out of dreams or delusions or both;
I am at a training camp where you must raise your hand
And share with the faceless class an occasion of
Heartbreak and humiliation
No body makes to move so I raise my hand and yell
Quite loudly – a time I waited for someone who never came
I get some nods of approval
I wake and I crawl to fill my glass with water and
Sup and wait and set my alarm to be back again
At that camp but it’s an assault course this time
In the dimmed dark, it’s wet like Scotland outside
Inside my friends are climbing walls and it feels
Ominous. The one I love has an accident, grisly
Head splits open and comes to sit by me
And I look at his smashed skull with brain bits but his face
Still looks fine to me and I need to wake up before
I am sick with horror and dread and fear of it all
It’s a dream you sick sad fuck


*


I will sleep on my desk
As the ticker tape rolls
As the typewriter clicks
And flags wave for goals




Friday, 3 June 2016

Primavera Sound Porto (playlist)


Listen via Soundcloud to my Primavera Sound Porto playlist





With my arm bound in poly-thaaine (Withnail fans bow in adoration) I am aware I have not yet done my packing nor got any Euros out or checked my train journeys to the airport. Again I loll about in a lull of time listening to tracks that flicker because of our super-slow broadband connection and the light outside my window only exists because of pollution. Off to a beach town. Off to a port. My arm is wrapped in cling film because I burnt it on the frying pan flipping courgettes. I wonder what will happen when I wake up.


Thursday, 19 May 2016

A Moment of Truth


What do you notice when you’re back from a place that not only speaks a wholly separate language from your own but has different set ideas for architecture, cuisine, ethics, everything. Well not much because you’re sort of overcome by the ambivalent wonder of -

Lucky me. I got to go see that.

Once back, and after recounting some things in anecdotal detail you have to get on with what’s normal. Jobs, commutes, online banking, everything. 

It’s only when you’re stood on a footstool gazing out of a clear windowpane with the microwave thrumming innocuous radiation at your head that you think about what it all meant. Those sights, those people, those food stuffs. The kindness of all those people so far away from us now that they’re a little speck in a different time zone – not just a different space zone. 

That mega 18 hour trip from the London Underground Piccadilly Line to my hometown of Kasukabe; (you always start at the beginning when you recount something don’t you? It’s funny because the beginning is the least significant part because nothing has happened yet. It must mean we like the feeling of something about to happen, not the actual happening. That’s probably why life can be disappointing.) 

You think afterwards, what could top that? Not another holiday, surely. Well quite. I don’t want to be living a life which is mostly me taking time out from it. Telling the whole world on my dating profile that my hobbies consist of ‘travelling, going out there with open arms to explore and experience what the world has to offer my bared soul’ and ‘food. Eating is discovery, much like travelling, I think that when you’re eating food from different countries you're widening your horizons and learning about foreign cultures too.’ Etc. I don’t want to just be taking holidays for the rest of time. 

So you set to thinking, was it the holiday aspect of it that you miss? If coming back has stopped you from writing then what’s that about? Is it simply catching up with friends, your workload and washing? Partly yes. But it also means something’s changed irretrievably. It sounds dramatic, perhaps it is, but a gear got stuck when I got back. I wasn’t sure what was wrong, if anything, I was at a stand still. 

But something has been brewing for several days. A concoction; a thought which I didn’t have quite enough empirical evidence to muster out of conjecture. An inkling it has been, an awakening it is. 

Part of being an adult is being helpless

Not helpless like a child who can’t open a jar. Helpless like an adult who has to carry weighty news that they’d rather drop in the bin but can’t because it’s called responsibility. Meeting people who have integrity and knowing you are imprudent. Trying to procure an ounce of sympathy from within when you see a fellow human suffering but you can’t seem to understand why or care. All those “Big Thoughts” as Sam Simmons (comedian) would say. 

Listless may be the word to describe that day. I had been feeling belittled by an app which managed to translate a Japanese word perfectly for me after I had struggled with it all day. I had this immense dislike for this app, which took away my struggle so easily, like someone who says they’ve solved all your problems but makes you feel inferior so they’ve given you another problem all together. And whilst sitting at the bottom of my carpeted staircase thumbing my phone and breathing deeply, I had this very clear realisation what being an adult meant. Responsibility, knowledge, wider resources, yes to all of that but really, it means making do with the bloody truth.

Even if that truth is emotionally draining, or the answer to the question is I don't know, or you secretly accept cruelty because it’s not your problem, or that money really matters a lot. I mean it’s all so draining and yet it’s all true. And we have to Eat. It. Up. but also live life like it isn’t true, otherwise what would you ever get out of bed for? 

Making do with the truth is like the tale of Father Christmas, where you know it’s not real but the joy of pretending it’s real for the sake of a child makes life worthwhile. Or if you’re about to go inside for a bollocking from an authority figure but you’re outside and the sun is shining and the air is balmy and everything smells sweet, that bit of life makes the rest of life however morose, seem pretty good. When you get to feel lucky for a moment before it peters away in to a life of mundane expectations, and if you got asked by the devil ‘would you like to do it all again?’ you probably wouldn’t bother. 

There’s nothing bad about being cynical. The best piece of news I’ve read since being back in the UK (and this is actually interesting rather than all these soapsuds I’ve left strewn across the web) is that being unhappy does not affect your mortality. As in, research had often detected a link between people being unhappy and people dying earlier than the rest of the population, which would lead society to think unhappy people die faster. But in fact we had just got the causes and effects mixed up. Unhappiness and death correlate but they aren’t linked, so people who are unhappy tend to be sick and so more likely to have a shorter life span. But those who are perfectly healthy and unhappy live just as long as the happy buggers. So that’s something isn’t it, after coming back from the halcyon that was Japan with the boyfriend and the family who are all alive and healthy. Even if I get really unhappy about life for some reason, death won’t come to me any quicker. And that piece of knowledge actually made me happy.


photo by Aidan Clifford




Saturday, 2 April 2016

The Little Man In The Lights

The first time I learnt her surname was from the back of an identity card for the Film Biennial. That’s where they had met. Story checks out I thought as I hunkered down in to her wicker armchair shoes off legs swinging idly. I watched Annina move around the room silently like an insect with a headache whilst Layla got (un)dressed in to clean clothes. She had stayed the night on the flat floor on a semi-thin mattress and her knees were well-swollen in the morning; we had now completed the hunt for aspirin for Annina’s aching head. It was Sunday.

All our clothes stank from the night before of stale cigarette smoke. The bars in Berlin still allow people to light cigarettes indoors, and what’s nice is that most seem to be smoking and enjoying it rather than vaping in consternation. I felt more relaxed there than here, maybe because of the lack of language skills I possess around Germans (less pressure to be understood) or maybe because they do generally have a more relaxed attitude about city stuff. They ride a lot more bikes and everything is graffitied but runs on time. That’s cool efficiency for you: muck without stress. Amen.

Saturday we had been on a hunt for sauerkraut. Annina, my ever dear host and mythical shapeshifting cat moved to Berlin months ago and yet still we are on the hunt for sauerkraut. I can’t pronounce any of the stations or street names so have to make up an anglicised-equivalent to etch a trace of where we have wandered in memory. Once at Hamburger Hobanof [sic.] art gallery each of us wondered about the Manifesto exhibition with most sides agreeing afterward that it was post-ironic-pop-art-wank that involved Cate Blanchett thirteen times. I thought it was worthy because it was funny, Annina thought it was a bit much and if “new companion” Layla had been given the task to take it of leave she would have left it. Not a barge pole.

We traversed a street called Shoos de Yunga [sic.] where a traditional restaurant supposedly lay but it was closed because it was the weekend; and the story of its name goes something like a young man who sold or cobbled shoes did something with the shoes and that was it. The morning after when Annina had told me this shoe-based history she had felt sickly and I was still blurry from the beers the night before that we had drunk amply from the bottle in a bar that Layla called Bar (Untitled Two)

I found the sauerkraut of my dreams! Jumping off and on U-bahn carriages - an urgent blinking red light like eyelids - snap to. This one word I’d learnt: ampere menschen (the little man in the lights).

One, two, three weeks on and the memory is so disparate. It has been squidged inelegantly between northern parts of England, fireplaces and chocolate eggs. Easter has come and gone and although it is a completely forgettable holiday for me each year, these last two I have been spoilt by a newfound family. I have to apologise to Annina for being so tardy in my writings and being so ineffectual in my rantings. Yesterday I celebrated 6 months of having stayed in one place, yipee! with my lodgemum whom everyone tells me to call my landlady but I think that’s not what she is because she’s more that that. The wise words from this woman were, ‘You should know it goes by in an instant.’ It rings in my ears as love laced with fear. This goes by in an instant. O no.

My favourite part is Prince Lower Berg [sic.] which is where Annina grew up and it feels somehow familiar, perhaps my subconscious pretends to be her in Berlin to steadfast itself. That’s where we found the sauerkraut and after the slap-up meal us three drank smooth beers in Bar (Untitled). The super-bar-man served us by sitting at our table and chatting whilst not really taking our orders but occasionally returning full-handed with delicious pitchers. There's old moustachioed men in the corner laughing and bellowing and sometimes sniffling; smoking cigarettes that looked like they had no filters and one big dog and a jaunty navy blue cap atop a brush of hair. Some women joined them and they sloshed about baring teeth to laugh and cry and the night had set in and I was still highly dubious of this thing called Spring. 

They serve a tofu sandwich. Shops are closed on Sundays. Emergency pharmacists speak through locked glass doors (port holes to peer through at little cuts and bruises). Bikes are ridden everywhere, cycle lanes on pavements.

Whilst scoffing gherkins and pre-cooked wieners larking about on the streets in the nighttime we heard a bicycle bell and then something - boof - turn around to see Layla on the floor she'd been crashed in to by a cyclist who looked like, it doesn’t matter what he looked like, he stood up apologising to tough sweet Layla who had cut her hand. The sausages were poking out from between his spokes. No severe damage done, at least. The next morning after the successful aspirin hunt and the unsuccessful bandaging of her hand the pair took me to a covered market filled with East Londoners serving me eggs benedict. I must have had 5 or 6 oysters, Annina examined, tasted and deliberated over some chocolate and we had coffees that sparked thoughts off about the future. 




Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Beyond The River Sanzu (radio doc)

My friend and radio producer Eloise Stevens made this radio doc. after interviewing me about Ogiichan's (Japanese grandfather's) funeral aptly titled Beyond The River Sanzu. The piece was aired on ABC Radio PocketDocs on 28 March 2016.

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/pocketdocs/beyond-the-river-sanzu/7251314
Beyond The River Sanzu - radio doc. prouced by Eloise Stevens

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Bench of Bread

I’ve been lacking of late, not paying attention, not really observing or taking anything in. It may be an obstruction caused by love and happiness, those nuisance anti-muses. I am on the top deck of a double-decker bus and a girl with her left arm in a sling has just managed to stand up to get off, but the vehicle impromptuly stopped and with no free hand to steady herself she boob-planted the man sat beside her. Full breast. He seemed pleased but tried desperately to hide it and she seemed amused if slightly pissed off.

The moon has been out a lot lately, I notice: A sliver here, a round face there. There have been minor maintenance problems which must rack up to some amount. The front door Chubb key became a ‘deadlock’ because the tooth of an old key broke away inside it. Deadlock? I had never thought of it as an object but it must mean a key that no longer turns or fits. A redundant key. How many memories are redundant keys I wonder to myself as a I stare at a bench full of bread. They look like fresh loaves to me. Loaves remind me of something and it has to be biblical doesn’t it, or was it a poem I received about bread being poetry, or is it about poverty? And a funny thought every time one sits on a bench you’re fulfilling its purpose, benches like being sat on. If you have a bench in a part of town nobody uses then it’s a shit bench, but if it’s used a lot then it’s being a good bench. But what if some baker uses this bench to lay out his loaves at night so that passers by can look on bewildered until someone hungry comes along and it becomes normal because it seems necessary to them and then also for us. Like art. You don’t need it until someone who wants it sees it and consumes thus carving the way for the rest of us, sheep. Baa.

Bus terminates here. The amount of drivers that have to change over at Camberwell, really, South London is like falling off the map for some. Getting on and off buses getting slips of paper and touching cards on readers. Bleep bleep. I never feel like I turn a key in my life unless it’s the actual key in the lock that broke. I mean I don’t do anything hands on. I now see why the Makers’ Revolution that Portlandia and The Observer covered happened. Everything is touch sensitive when was the last time I worked anything hard? Not even hard, light? God and why do you think there’s bread on this bench? The only answer is someone put it there, is it a social movement and what makes me different from that woman with the shopping bag perusing it whilst waiting for the bus, checking on their condition. And now stuffing one, two, maybe four loaves into her bag. Bread for free. And why am I afraid and uncertain of what? ‘Stress comes from giving a fuck’ I told Chloe. A tax rise of 3% on rolling tobacco. Numbers of nightclub goers continue to fall preferring eating establishments that turn in to clubs later on i.e. The rise of the restaurant-clubs. Yuck. We touch everything and nothing happens and this ineffectuality about my being makes me rise and fall with hopeful longing and hopeless settling. And that bench of bread remains but now with three loaves, still not none. 





Sunday, 28 February 2016

Old Days


The last few Sundays have been grey and monotone. Feeling under the weather or staying under the covers there had been no need for me to get up and face the music, however, on Sundays I usually call my Obaachan in Japan. This time two years ago  (three if youre counting the Japanese way) my Ogiichan died. He was my grandfather and Obaachan doted on him even though she mildly complained and sometimes jibed at his inadequacies, I remember she used to often follow it up with I am grateful for how hard your Ogiichan worked in his day. They were an old couple like any other, they annoyed each other and couldnt imagine life without one another. Then he passed away. One cold February morning, there was still snow piled up on the roadside; you could see your breath inside the house. The cold wooden corridors left condensation marks after your feet. I always forget about February and how harsh it can be and so darn draining, even here in England, and especially here in London. It is a time when sane creatures hibernate.

Moshi moshi? Comes from my speaker - its Obaachans inquisitive kind voice.

Moshi moshi. Thats me - saying that its me to her.

Today I went to a laughter-show at the local centre. Held for children, parents and old people of Hamakawado. The man had grown up here, a Hamakawado resident, and the woman had been at school here until Year 6. They were very funny and made me laugh a lot. Afterwards, we played wanagé.

Old age and community are done differently in Japan. I think being old means you are just another category of human being who is treated in a certain way like children, and you have a definite position to fill in the community who see it as common sense for old people to be included. They arent old and separate. They are old and present. I like it. I ask is a laughter-show some sort of comedy/entertainment/stand-up/pantomime and she replies yes, and I wonder some more about the different sorts of people who were there today but first -

What is wanagé?

You have ten long sticks in the ground and you try and get the wanagé in between them. It must be like cricket and wickets I think.

So wanagé are balls?

No circles.

Circles that are balls?

No they are more like circles.

I then remember that the Japanese for hay is possibly wa' so I ask: Are the balls made of hay?

The wanagé have to go over the sticks. She sounds miffed that she cant communicate to her granddaughter a very simple game she had played today, the more sticks that you get the wanagé caught on the higher your score.

The wanagé go over and around the sticks?

Yes.

Like doughnuts?

Like doughnuts.

What do you win? There was a pause. Perhaps she was coming to terms with the comparison between wanagé and doughnuts or it was the sense of relief she felt after I had finally understood the basic mechanics of the game.

You win the game. She said frankly.

No prizes then. I say more to convince myself that this was in fact fine.

You win the game. The person who scores the highest wins.

And I realise that my whole concept of having fun in a community was sort of like a fairground where you win soft toys and tack that you dont need and I felt a bit tacky myself for having asked.

During the show they give beer to the parents, sweets to the children and then theres tea for the old people. Obaachan held back one of her laughs, I took home quite a lot of rice crackers. It was fun.

All for free? I am so pleased with this whole idea of a Sunday fun day with kids and beer and comedy.

Of course for free. We pay money in to our communal pockets every month so when they have enough money they hold these shows or similar things. Last time it was a talk about cherry blossom gardening but only for the old people.

I am going back to Japan relatively soon after I had left it this Christmas. I notice each time the enthusiasm with which Obaachan greets me and takes up the activities such as shopping for groceries or cooking or gardening whilst I am there, but I worry that she will overdo it and make herself ill. One holiday I remember we went with the whole family to a bath-house in the mountains. All the meals were included and laid out beautifully in wooden lacquer boxes and filled to the brim with delicious things. Obaachan with her olden days philosophy, or it could have been her World War mentality (or both) hates the wastage of food so preceded to eat everyones leftovers from their boxes after the meal. After that she got ill and caught a fever because her stomach was so tired from having overworked at the bath-house. A hard-worker by nature a hard-worker by nurture, it doesnt suit her to sit still and be patient, she wants to get up and clean things, cook things, fix things, and so old age I imagine doesnt suit her at all.

I walked all the way to the Post Office the other day. I was pleased with myself when I got there because I had walked a long way and I still felt fine, so, then I walked to the super store. But once I had walked there I had got very tired. Very tired so I sat down on the bench just inside the entrance.

I know the entrance. You should use one of the old walking sticks that Ogiichan left behind. Obaachan concurred that she should, only, she didnt feel she needed them because she doesnt get tired often enough to require a stick. Stubborn as well old. How refreshing.

I sat down taking my time and having a rest. And I noticed that on the other end of my bench was an elegant old woman. Her hair looked very neat. I said to her: Once you reach eighty years old everything you do makes you feel tired; and she smiled, nodded and replied: Yes it is the same for me too. I am glad to hear the same applies for you as well. I get tired so easily now.

And the pair struck up a conversation inspired by mutual dissent of ageing and Obaachan had found one of her own. She had begun telling me the story with a hint of what was still possible but I didnt realise that it was the story of how she had made a new friend who was also in her eighties and now lived alone. It strikes a note of pity in me when I think of Obaachan alone. She likes to tell stories and laugh and joke, you cant very well do that in the evenings by yourself. The old graceful lady had moved to the town recently, precisely because the Post Office and the super store were at a walking distance from each other; she had lived in a city before where everything was further away and not close to her home. Now she lived in a high-rise flat and her daughter would come to visit sometimes and she liked it here. The pair ended the conversation inviting each other to their abodes, in the hope that one day they would meet again. No numbers were exchanged. But no lies were offered up either. It was a pleasant serendipity that passed my Obaachans day and the others too.

By the time I had said good bye - Obaachan this time let out a fire cracker laugh, it was already getting dark and I knew if I went home then I would have to turn on the switch on the rice cooker and wait forty minutes for it to finish. So instead I went downstairs to the food court and bought myself two onigiri (rice balls). And when I got home I ate the two for dinner.

She never liked leaving Ogiichan alone in the house after dark. I remember her rushing the final bits of grocery shopping to get home before five oclock so she could bring in the washing and turn on the rice cooker incase Ogiichan had forgotten. She would buy her groceries in the day in preparation for the night and the meal she would lay out at home for the pair of them. It gave her a routine and a reason to be home by a certain time, to make her cadential apologies to her gathering of friends at the super store or on the street corner to get home in time to do the cooking. Now she has to be her own stopwatch and when you stop living even just a little bit for that other person, when ostensibly you stop being needed by someone, you slip up - a little bit like - over a frozen crack in the pavement. I was afraid she would lose her footing being departed by her husband like that, like so many old women of Japan where longevity is unnaturally great, but I worry just like her, a lot.

The two old friends were sat on the massage chairs on the fifth floor of the super store. If you slot a ten yen piece in to the arm of a chair then the machine turns on and gives you a massage for three minutes. The legs and the back. The local super store is a warm safe hang-out for the old, and my Obaachan and her friends often spend their whole afternoons there buying some little thing and then sitting and chatting. In the winters it is cheaper to sit with friends in the warmth of the super store than to have your electric heater turned on at home alone. And more fun, I suspect.

I was talking with Tabata-san on the massage chairs on the fifth floor and we didnt notice then but I do vaguely remember now a tall woman passed us by. There was nothing familiar about her. She might have given us a nod. I dont remember.

Do you use the massage chairs often? They always looked so clean too, which was more my surprise than their existence.

We werent getting massages we were just sitting in them because they are comfortable.

Obaachan wanted to speed on with her story this time her tone said it. I was always impressed by her stories, they never had non-sequiturs like mine or my mothers, which always go off on tangents. There is something of the trained storyteller about Obaachan which is something I had always been drawn to like a bright light but only recently landed on, it is the reason for my enthrall when she speaks about the past and plays out scenes from her life over and over again with dutiful clarity each time.

Tababta-san and I conversed about their relatives and possessions they owned but no longer needed or friends who were ill I presume, then the woman came back and handed us some tea. Green tea. She said: Here you are, please have it. So the both of us exclaimed: We cant take this - its not our place to take it! but she insisted and said: Please have them.

Who was it? I wondered. How old did she look?

About Marikos age, who is my aunt and so I suggested she could have been one of Marikos school friends who recognised Obaachan and thought to buy the old women some tea.

Ive kept the empty bottle on the table. To not forget it happened. It was an odd thing to happen. And so we mulled it over and passed it off as random kindness. I think of her in Japan and make sure to call next week.