Wednesday, December 15, 2010

All the Pennies in the Thames will not make it how it was

"I can't stay very long," he said to me. "I have to be back in Crouch End to move out of my flat, you see..." I nodded, silently. I was silent in a manner that suggested I understood, not silent in the manner that suggested I was offended. But I was offended, you see, for it was my first night back in London and I had wanted to see my old friend. I had wanted to talk about music.

He smiled and humoured me, suggesting that we walk along Southbank as the sun went down. I took note of the things I had missed, the OXO Tower glazed in a gooey sunset, the ruins of another nameless church and its pulpit, flooded with cigarette butts, but we promptly ignored the beauty and the ugliness of our surrounds and retreated to our own world of blazers, musical love and lyrical sincerity. I had waited years to see him again and just when I felt most grateful for all of it, he said he had to go.

I sat alone on a water-filled barricade at the door of the Houses of Parliament. I had treated myself to an 88p dinner, an imitation Red Bull and two bananas. The light grew dim, I could not use my phone camera in such low light. I could only watch strangers and chortling tourists pass me by. I attempted to get onto my brother Andrew, but he was raging at a party in Hackney and would not answer his phone. Neither would any of my other friends.

As I ambled slowly up the north bank of the Thames, I contemplated what it was to feel so ill at ease with my city. In the silence of my own company, I could only think of those I had lost due to carelessness and indifference. For all the beauty, adventure and promise of London town, it all seemed to mean very little if I could not have those lost friends alongside me.

I stopped when I came upon Somerset House. The cream-coloured Georgian bricks glowed in a sodium vapour hue and I smiled. Loud music echoed and bounced off the walls, I realised that it had been five years since my first love and I had been there. I cried at that concert, even with his arms tightly wound around my waist. It was not an emotional response to the music, as such. Three days before, a bandmember of the performing band told me that he wanted to end our friendship. He never wanted to speak to me ever again. At the time, I could scarcely describe that disappointment, not out loud anyway. Instead I took a photograph that said it all to me: the night was over, the courtyard was deserted, the spotlights stretched out to reveal bent cups and indistinguishable debris. Every foot of that opulent space had been desecrated and I felt so completely wretched.

I started to walk towards the Strand when a woman suddenly accosted me. She grabbed my wrist and explained breathlessly: "I have to go now, but here, have my pass. It'll get you in for nothing. Here, take it, take it." She desperately attempted to reattach a fluorescent pink paper bracelet around my wrist, then she ran to her partner who had already hailed a cab. Confused and uncertain, I walked to the security guard of Somerset House and showed him my wrist. He told me to have a good night.

It was Noah and the Whale. Everything happened as it meant to. The band performed, the audience sang and the lights glowed. Upon hearing the first few chords of Five Years Time, a baffling sense of serendipity crept over me, a true sense of wonderment. There was the promise of meeting soul mates that night, new friends who could understand my every feeling and intent. But as I stood there alone with my broken paper bracelet, I wanted everyone to leave the courtyard immediately. I wanted to be alone with that moment I had lost.

Almost immediately after I recreated that photograph, my phone shrilled and vibrated. It was Andrew, agreeing to come to the Strand and save me. I later told him of my riverside loneliness on the 2am busride back to Paddington. I told him in the knowledge that I did not know true loneliness. It was not possible to be acquainted with such a thing. I live in the certainty he will always be there for me, even when all the others have gone.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Rules of Productivity

In my time as a procrastinator, I have become attracted to blogs and other websites devoted to the promotion of creativity. They offer boundless encouragement and guidance about how to go about tackling your next creative project. This is often delivered in the form of a list: "Top 5 Ways To...", "99 Excuses For..." and so on. All the relevant points are provided in bold text, so it's that much easier to run away with that positive message. In later times, I have been a bit skeptical of (but no less attracted to) these types of sites. I have recognised that I fit into their market of the creatively blocked. This disappoints me, as it would. Blockages are unpleasant.

What compelled me to write a piece in relation to these types of sites is one particular article I came across tonight: The 1-Step Plan For Super Productivity. In essence, the article maintains that the secret ingredient for productivity is getting up early. There are citations aplenty, from Ernest Hemingway to the Harvard Business Review, but how do 99% understand the nature of my productivity? I've maintained apparently dysfunctional sleeping hours for the best part of twelve years, what's to say I'll produce work of a higher quality if I go to sleep at 11pm, instead of 11am? I am unlikely to ever cease my consolidation naps, am I doomed to be creatively unfulfilled for ever, so help me gawd?

What these sites fail to acknowledge is that you, as a reader have developed your own individual coping mechanisms. Instead of encouraging you to understand and appreciate how you work, they offer rules. I appreciate the positivity of the message. I understand that they want their readers to go on to create wonderful work. The fact is that we place too great a reliance upon what they say, without acknowledging that we have solved it all before. We know what we have to do to be productive and it doesn't involve bookmarking a list of excuses. It's about a fundamental recognition: there is value in your expression.

So what the hell are you doing here? Get on with it. I'm going to bed.

Jan Pieńkowski's The First Christmas

Thursday, December 9, 2010


It's curious how you can miss someone you've never met. You can mourn the memory of one who lived and died before your time. Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the day Mark Chapman shot and killed John Lennon. It's difficult to fully comprehend the horror of that day, outside the Dakota building. There is an indescribable injustice attached to it, a kind of tragedy that constricts the chest and twists the gut. For all his wit, his humanity and untouchable creativity, he did not deserve to die as he did.

We love John. We talk about him in the present tense, as if he were one of our old friends. We refer to his words with ease and due familiarity. We sing loudly to his songs. We grin, harmonise and implicitly agree that I shall always take the bottom part. His music has underscored the most compelling of friendships. It continues to be subjected to the most lovingly relentless analysis, I'm sure it forever will be. Even now, I cannot listen to Abbey Road without recalling our promises to cover I Want You (She's So Heavy). I cannot listen to Yellow Submarine without chortling at the thought of us howling, growling and barking to Hey Bulldog. I cannot listen to Rubber Soul without wanting to resume our discussion about Wait. It's been six years now and I'm still waiting.

Every song is a lost moment. Every melody is infused with a personal meaning, every rhythm a universal consequence. I'm so grateful to John for all of it. I know that with him, there is the possibility to fall in love with these songs, over and over again. There is the chance of finding a new interpretation, a dubious method to understand that little band that little better. I live with John in the present tense, both grammatically and temporarily, as I do with any friend I've ever lost. I know I am likely to think of him as he was in A Hard Day's Night, turning left at Greenland or else snorting a bottle of Coke. He lives in 1964, with his cap, tight grey suit and that moderately gleeful façade. He looks just like him, y'know?

In spite of all his presence, his relevance and resonance, it's impossible not to miss him.

I don't know how it's possible not to.