Sunday, 28 March 2010

Voyage VI – Careers advice

Last night was a bit depressing. I sat up with Ray and Solly and Brenda, not playing games for a change, which was a relief. Harry and Liz had gone to bed early so all in all I felt relatively relaxed. That was until Solly decided it was time to sort my life out for me – try and make it a bit more of a success next time around. Brenda thought that would be a very good idea and it was about time. She went and got us all a lot of drinks and some snacks. It was going to be a long night.
‘The thing is’ says Solly, in a matey sort of way that immediately puts me on my guard, ‘this art thing of yours just isn’t going to get you very far. You know that don’t you. It’s alright as a hobby but it’s not exactly a job is it. So the question is – what are you going to do? You’ve got a bit of time to think about it while you’re here. I think you should make the most of it.’
‘I do too’ says Brenda, reaching over and touching my hand, and looking into my eyes, with sympathy and concern. It’s a funny feeling. Part of me doesn’t want to trust her. Another just wants to sink into her arms. She still smells funny though so I’m not going to do that. Not yet anyway. Ray looks about with an expression that tells us it’s all vaguely amusing for him but he’ll help anyway, because he’s good like that.
‘Now what about advertising?’ says Solly. ‘There’s lots of very talented people work in PR these days. You could use your er... creativity.’
‘That’s a good idea’ says Brenda. ‘I hadn’t thought of that. That’s where all the artists are going nowadays – marketing. There’s a lot of money to be made there.’
I try to look optimistic, because they’re trying to help after all. I’m not used to people taking an interest. But I don’t really feel any enthusiasm. I’m not sure why. Anyway, they can see I need more convincing.
‘Bright lad like you’ she says. ‘You’d pick it up in no time.’
‘I don’t know...’ is all I can say. I want to say something about not being that bothered about the money but can’t for some reason. It feels like blasphemy or something.
‘Actually I’ve got a contact in the industry’ says Ray. ‘Handled a lot of our contracts – several thousand pounds worth for one campaign as I recall: TV, magazines, billboards. It’s a lot of pressure, but you could really make a career if you’ve got the gumption.’
‘There you go’ says Brenda, clearly very excited for me. They’re all talking as if they can set all this up for me when we get off the boat. I don’t like to remind them of our predicament.
‘That’ll make your mum and dad proud’ says Brenda.
Mum and dad... Oh shit...
‘What did your father do anyway?’ says Ray.
It takes me a moment to register the question. They’re all looking at me. I tell them he worked for the council, which is sort of true. They don’t pry further.
‘So how about it Gabes?’ says Brenda. She’s being motherly. It feels really disturbing but I can’t stop her.
‘I don’t know’ I say again, not making eye-contact. ‘I don’t think I’m really into that sort of thing.’
‘How do you mean?’ says Solly, and I really don’t know how I mean it. After I’ve floundered for a while he says, in a fatherly sort of way ‘Look here Gabriel. The thing is, it’s alright to be idealistic. I was once. No really Ray, you might scoff... It’s alright to have dreams, but sooner or later lad, you’re going to have to grow up, put away childish things as they say. Got to see life for what it really is. Learn to play the game.’ He pauses and studies my face. I look at Brenda. She has the same expression – no nonsense. This is serious. Why do I feel like they’re trying to corrupt me?
‘You don’t want to disappoint your parents all over again do you?’ She grips my hand again and I can’t stop the tears. She moves around the table to sit beside me and clasps me to her bosom. She even says ‘Aw come here love. Have a cuddle.’ I can’t stand it.
‘Gabriel’ says Solly when I’ve recovered a bit, bending forward, looking up into my face. ‘The world’s not going to change to suit you I’m afraid.’
‘Might as well get used to the fact’ says Ray, also appearing quite concerned, despite himself.

After a few minutes I lean back, shrugging them all off as tactfully as I can, trying not to look ungrateful, trying to look brave. I swipe the tears away angrily, like I have flies feeding on my eyes, and I take a deep breath. I can’t believe it. Why am I crying again? I’m fucking eighteen for fuck’s sake.
‘What about being a draughtsman then, if you can’t see yourself in advertising?’ says Ray.
‘I could see you doing that’ says Brenda enthusiastically.
I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to do technical drawing either. I say ‘I think you need a lot of maths for that’ but I’m not sure you do. They seem to accept my excuse anyway.
‘There’s always hospitality. Catering and such like’ says Ray. ‘Nephew of mine left school at fifteen, making beds for nearly ten years. Now he’s got a chain of hotels. Doing very nicely for himself. Bought himself a Jag, last I saw. But then, he always was a grafter.’
Ten years? Oh my God no. And they’re all talking like this is all so exciting, getting a job, working your way up, saving your money. But I don’t get it. Maybe I should talk to Joe about it.
‘Gabriel’ says Brenda seriously. ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but you don’t really want to work at all do you?’
‘No, that’s not true. I don’t mind working.’
‘What, hard work, really hard work? Long hours? Getting your hands dirty?’
‘I don’t mind hard work’ I say again, and it is true. I remember helping unload the lorries when they came in, getting everything off, taking it through to the stores and checking it off, then getting it out onto the shelves – working late, completely knackered afterwards. It was alright a couple of times. But after I’d done it a few times I knew where everything went and I was just thinking about the paintings I hadn’t finished at home and how beautiful it would be up on the Downs at that time of year, and I knew I’d be too tired to do anything when I got home. And then I had to work Saturdays too.
‘It’s just...’ I want to say something about being bored and miserable at work but I can’t. Everybody else gets on with it after all, don’t they? Eventually Solly says it for me.
‘You think it’s not good enough for you son?’
‘I didn’t say that.’
‘I didn’t mean it in a derogatory way Gabriel, believe me, but I think you’ve perhaps got unrealistically high expectations.’
‘I do want to do something useful, I really do. I don’t just want to skive off or go on the dole.’
‘I didn’t say you did. I just think perhaps your expectations are a little bit over ambitious.’
‘But ambition is a good thing’ says Brenda.
‘Of course it is, but you’ve got to be realistic. Do you consider yourself ambitious Gabriel?’
‘I suppose so.’
‘Your last job, at the DIY shop, would you say you really put yourself into that, heart and soul?’
‘Well it was only a shop job.’
‘Doesn’t matter. You’ve got to put a hundred and ten percent into everything you do if you expect to get anywhere. Did you enjoy the work?’
I don’t know what to say. I can’t begin to imagine getting even slightly enthusiastic about a job like that, let alone “enjoying” it. None of this makes the slightest sense to me. But other people “enjoy” their jobs, supposedly, so they say. Why can’t I? What is wrong with me? I asked Richard about it once – he was the delivery driver. He said it got him out of the house. Unbelievable.
‘I just always thought...’ I begin apologetically, knowing already how they’re going to react to this, ‘I thought there should be more to life, to work. I don’t know.’
Ray looks very frustrated but then says ‘Look, what exactly do you expect to get out of life son? Can you tell us that?’
I look about vaguely. I don’t know what to tell them. Everything I want sounds either ridiculous or just totally unrealistic. I know what they’ll say – money.
‘How do you see yourself in ten years time – sorry – how do you see your self aged thirty?’ They all smile at the slip. I try to work out an answer.
‘I don’t know’ I begin. ‘I’d like to have travelled a bit, maybe find a place to live somewhere in the country. I’d like to have a girlfriend by then...’
‘A girlfriend?’ says Sol, grinning. ‘You’re sure?’
‘Well, yes.’ I shrug. It doesn’t seem that far fetched.
‘You owe me a pint’ says Brenda. Solly smiles ruefully. Ray thinks it’s funny too.
‘What?’ I say.
‘Never mind’ he says. ‘How’re you going to afford all this then?’ is his next question.
‘I don’t know.’
‘It’s pricey, travelling, owning a house...’
‘Impressing a girl...’ and they all grin to each other again. I still don’t know what they’re up to and anyway, Amelia was always bringing home dodgy blokes. Complete losers most of them, and Justine’s last boyfriend was unemployed.
‘I could hitch’ I suggest, ‘and rent a place. I don’t mind.’
Gareth, at college, was hitching around Europe last I heard. He said he was going fruit picking or something. Gareth was always doing things like that. I’d imagined living with some cool people, maybe students, having friends round and parties. I could get a double bed...
‘Nah’ says Solly, leaning back. I look at him expecting him to elaborate but no, I’m simply wrong apparently – end of story. It’s a bit like trying to talk to my uncle Len, or my mum, or any of my family for that matter. They always insisted one day I’d want the all things they had – a wife, children, a mortgage, a big car but then I looked around and there was very little about their lives I envied. I hated being a child but I never wanted to be an adult. They were always complaining about their lot. They didn’t seem to like each other very much – their wives and husbands. They certainly didn’t seem to want to spend any time with their children.
I think they all just saw me as a bit simple in some way. Uncle Len was always pointedly telling me that he didn’t suffer fools gladly, as if the rest of us really treasure the experience.
‘No, you’ve got to get your own place’ says Solly conclusively.
‘I don’t think I’d mind renting’ I say. ‘It’d be ok.’
‘But it wouldn’t really would it’ says Brenda, suddenly very seriously. ‘It’s like your idea of hitchhiking around Europe. The things you hear people get up to. It’s a good way to get yourself killed – end up in a ditch somewhere...’
‘Loads of people hitch, all the time’ I say.
‘Not really Gabriel. Drop-outs and junkies maybe. Students.’
‘I wouldn’t give any of them a lift’ says Ray.
‘But it’s not fair on the drivers anyway, expecting them to stop all the time.’
‘Well what? ‘
‘Well it can’t hurt to ask’ I suggest. I hear my voice squeaky and uncertain.
‘It’s a complete liberty’ she continues. ‘How do you think we motorists feel, after we’ve paid all that for a car? Why would we want to share it with you?’
‘Well you wouldn’t have to. Nobody’s forcing you.’
She looks at me, a tight, appraising smile on her lips, her arms crossed tightly across her chest. ‘When you’ve got a car of your own’ she says tersely, ‘If you ever get a car of your own, we’ll see how you feel about it then.’
‘You’ll feel differently I promise you’ says Ray.
‘I’d still want to give people lifts’ I say feebly.
‘No. I don’t think so. You wait and see. You’ll find out. When you’ve paid for it, years on the HP...’
I don’t want to argue any more. I feel extremely weary. I want to go back to my cabin. ‘I just think...’ I begin, but I don’t know where to begin. Later on, back in my bunk I realise I wanted to say something about generosity and assuming the best of people but there would have been no point.
Now Ray is saying something about some rented houses he’s seen, what utter tips a lot of them were. He goes on to tell a story about a launderette in the same neighbourhood, and the ‘magnificent specimens of humanity’ he ‘chanced to glimpse therein.’
‘Got to get your own place, your own car, everything. You can’t rely on everybody else.’
‘And that all takes money’ says Brenda, triumphantly.
‘Then you can get yourself this girlfriend...’ says Solly.
‘I don’t know...’
‘Oh you will’ says Brenda, suddenly motherly once again, grasping my hand again. ‘Of course you will Gabriel. You’ll meet a nice girl. But she’ll want to be taken out to the pictures mind, take her out for a meal once in a while. You’ve got to take all that into consideration.’
‘Not all girls are like that’ I say feebly.
‘Don’t kid yourself’ says Ray, and I see Brenda wink at him. ‘No decent bird’s going to want you without the wherewithal to pay your way. I don’t care what the feminists say. It’s a fact of life son.’
‘You might be able to live on nothing but you can’t expect her to.’
‘Wouldn’t be fair.’
‘He’s right. And then there’s children to think about. And your mortgage ...’
‘I just think...’ I begin. It's so hard to explain. ‘I just think, it’s like my parents, they worked full time, weekends too, to get all this money, and then they just didn’t have any time for anything else.’
‘You make time’ says Solly. ‘Weekends, holidays... Gabriel that’s life. You’ve just got to think of the money. That’s how it is.’
‘You’d get bored with too much holiday anyway’ says Brenda. ‘I was always glad to get back to work. It’s like my two. Didn’t know what to do with themselves by the beginning of August. Every year. I don’t know why they have such long school holidays.’
‘Teachers’ says Ray contemptuously. They all nod together.
‘But then there you are down the pub’ says Solly, grinning broadly, grabbing me around the shoulders and shaking me about in what I suppose is meant to be a display of male solidarity. ‘Friday night, meet up with your mates, have a laugh, take the boy to the football on Saturday, a bit of gardening, a bit of DIY. It’s not so bad.’
‘Sounds fab...’ I say, not quite managing to hide my contempt.
‘Now now’ says Brenda. ‘Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit you know. We’re only trying to help.’
I look around the room, trying to think. I know they’re trying to help but why does this all feel like being buried alive? And anyway, who says sarcasm is the lowest form of wit? My uncle Len used to belch limericks to get a laugh. Come to think of it, spouting clich├ęs has got to be quite near the bottom.
Ray gets up and collects our glasses, ready to go to the bar. ‘Well I don’t know son’ he says, leaning over. ‘I think you need to think about all this a bit more, because between you and me, that’s how it’s going to be so you’d better get used to it. Same again everybody?’
I nod and look away. I don’t know if I want to ever go back.

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Friday, 19 March 2010

Journey III – The ridge

My walking at last has brought me out on a high outcrop. It’s bright spring weather and in the short turf, exquisite flowers are scattered about. I’ve never really looked at flowers before, but here among the mountains, under a blindingly blue sky, everything is fresh and new. There’s still snow in the shady hollows (sprouting tiny fringed purple bells), and gullies where the melt water runs clear and frigid (and edged with tiny silk white buttercups, stained with red at the edges). The crevices in the otherwise bare rock are stuffed with tiny green cushions, studded with crystalline wine red stars. I feel sure nothing so wonderful could possibly exist back in the world, although I admit to being dizzy with the clear air and the sun (although it’s still very cold) after all that damp and shade. Mountains, still half clad in snow stretch on forever in all directions. I drink the water and find a sheltered place to lie down naked, and spread all my belongings out on the grass so I can finally dry everything out properly. Tiny birds hop among the outcrops, and a huge furry iridescent black bee savagely molests a nodding jade green, bowl shaped flower, wrestling it to the ground just beside my head (What’s the point in a green flower? What a strange place).
Still, it’s freezing out of the sun and the wind picks up at dusk so I set my tent up just below the tree line for shelter.
I wonder where she is. I can’t bring myself to go back and look. I call for her sometimes but there’s no answer. Partly I doubt she even exists, but part of me knows I’m being selfish. Going backwards is just more than I can stand. ‘I’m sorry’ I call. I hope she’s alright.

Morning comes. I look at the view. My good mood of the previous night has turned sour. Each ridge, exposed above the tree line gives fresh hope, and just as quickly dashes it. Part of me wants to avoid them – to avoid the disappointment of having to re-enter the forest after. But the respite is too good to miss. I love the air, and the light, and the chance to dry off, and the fellowship with other living things. You’d never think a moth could be a kindred spirit until you’ve had the company of nothing but millipedes and spiders for weeks on end. Oh colour and movement my soul! I sit and steam in the sun, or rinse in the rain - either way it’s too good to pass up. And then there’s the snow – so white after so much gloom. Looking at it I can feel my retina burning away and it feels wonderful.
I cast my mind back, and I can’t say how many tree lines I’ve crossed. It all begins to merge and repeat. I have had nothing to eat in a long time and I don’t miss it that much. I would like to arrive somewhere some time soon, but it is remarkable that I’m not going mad for it. I just keep going. That’s what there is to do, so I do it.
It gives me time to think though, which I suppose is the point. Kevin said something about there always being a purpose – a meaning – to what happens here, unlike in life, which I know had come to seem completely meaningless to him after he lost his family. I always used to believe in fate – in destiny (I’ve never been sure what the difference is) because I never really felt like I had much of a say in what happened. Here though, it’s different. This is what it’s really like to feel a subtle presence acting on events, making things happen. I know I’m being tested.
I endlessly go over what happened with Ray and the others, and with Lucy of course and I just feel like punching myself. Why couldn’t I just act like an adult like everybody else for fuck’s sake? What was wrong with me? I should have either had the balls to tell them to fuck off or... Or what? Or been like them? Tried to fit in? Hah! No way.

So what was I supposed to do? If I couldn’t be myself convincingly, and I couldn’t stand to be like them, what was I supposed to do? To be honest I’m not even sure I wanted to do anything much. When I was alive I was happy to stay home, drawing and writing stories in my room, reading, listening to music. Well, not happy, but I could stand it. I knew how it worked. Sometimes I couldn’t even get it together to sign on and I’d have to go in all shame faced and apologise for being crap and fill out a whole load of new forms. Then I got the shop job and I was crap at that too – I didn’t know a hawk from a hacksaw but it got mum off my back. I don’t know. Up until my exam results actually arrived I still thought there might be some sort of miracle. I’d always got through somehow before without doing much work at all. It was a shock, and yet I wasn’t surprised when I found I’d just utterly failed. The staff giving out the result slips just shook their heads and looked away and I went home. Nobody said anything about it.

If you want to know the real reason why I wanted to go to university it was because I wanted a girlfriend. Pathetic isn’t it.
I met Naomi at a family do and started going out with her the autumn after I left school. At the time I don’t think I took her very seriously. She was only sixteen and kind of mad I thought. She made me feel quite mature by comparison.
I didn’t even think she was particularly attractive, not initially, but I did what I thought boyfriends did – went round to her house a lot, even took flowers once. We didn’t do anything much, hardly said anything to each other – just snogged, or I sat and watched telly while she studied for her A levels which she was due to take a year early. Seems strange now. Of course I desperately wanted to go further but she wouldn’t let me – she just giggled and made sarcastic comments. It was only then that I realised she was, of course, absolutely gorgeous. Suddenly her ‘madness’ was really sexy. I spent my days waiting to be with her and my nights fantasising about her. That was when I bought her the flowers – I was that desperate. I told her I loved her.
As with the A level results I saw it and I didn’t see it coming when she finally broke up with me. The fact that she was applying to Oxford and was clearly very bright didn’t make me feel any better. She’d been increasingly unpredictable, playing stupid jokes on me – inviting her friends around on the evenings I was there and excluding me from the conversation, giggling and flirting with the boys, pretending to play fight with me but actually hurting me quite a lot, pinching and scratching, and I had to pretend it was cool in front of everyone because I was more mature or something.
No doubt she was hoping that if she treated me badly enough I’d ‘get the idea’ but of course I didn’t. I now know that this is a cheap and cowardly strategy and probably never works on the besotted (After all – you always hurt the one you love, or so my dad used to sing, and he should know) but at the time I didn’t understand at all. In the end she was the mature one and told me very calmly and articulately one day that she didn’t want to be with me any more because I was still living with my parents and didn’t seem to have a future, and she was very sorry and there was even a little tear. I spent the next I-don’t-know-how-long working on my script to get her back, writing letters I never sent (Thankfully. My common sense hadn’t completely given up on me) and wandering about town aimlessly, half hoping to bump into her, half dreading it. The whole thing lasted about two months.

I know now I wasn’t in love, and we didn’t even have anything to talk about but it doesn’t help. No one else wanted me even as much as she did. How fucking pathetic. I did the right thing that night, up on the Downs, just brought the whole stupid thing to an end – done with it.
And now here I am, trudging through wet undergrowth alone for all eternity for all I know. Terrific.

Actually, the forest can be more interesting than I’ve admitted. The trees are not all one kind for instance and I’ve been collecting bits to compare. Although, like everything here, large numbers are difficult to keep track of, I think there are at least twenty different types, plus miscellaneous climbers, ferns and other weeds, not to mention fungi – especially in the clearings and lesser ridges. The best places (except the high tree-less ridges of course) are where the path runs along the side of a precipice. There you see enormous birds, and streams dropping hundreds of metres into the void. I look from above at the top of a huge tree that has its roots somewhere far below, and watch herons nesting in the uppermost branches. Even on some of the smallest twigs there are tiny ferns and mosses clinging, beaded with moisture and supporting bustling colonies of ants. In some places the trees exude a foam of tiny flowers strongly scented of honey. I tasted some and nearly fell into the abyss in the process.
I don’t want to spend an eternity doing this, but actually, it’ll do for now.

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Monday, 15 March 2010

Voyage V – Time and Space

I spent a fair bit of time alone after that. There weren’t many people as young as me on the ship – none, in fact. Actually there didn’t seem to be many people about at all most of the time. I couldn’t believe there were a hundred of us. I usually found a few people up on deck in their loungers, or if the weather was too bad they’d be dozing in the library. Everywhere had something of the feel of a rest home. People seemed to spend a lot of time dozing or just staring into the middle distance with their books in their laps and their teas getting cold.

I got my papers and charcoals out and tried to draw but then Ray and Solly came along and made some comments and I felt a bit embarrassed so I put it all away again. Why do I always feel embarrassed? I brought a book out and sat in the lounge with a coffee.
I’d been quite content there when Ray comes along and takes the book out of my hands and looks at the title. ‘“The Current of Favour” by Jeffrey Simpson’ he intones theatrically ‘What’s that about then?’
It takes me a moment to answer. I’m not sure myself. I’m only on the first chapter. ‘It’s about how people used to look at things back in the...’ he hands it back to me like it’s a piece of someone else’s used toilet paper.
‘God help us’ he says with a shrug.

But I can’t help noticing that everyone else is just quietly getting on with their deaths. Generally, understandably, the atmosphere is a bit subdued. Like Joe said, everyone’s in mourning.
I suppose it depends a lot on how you died, young or old, suddenly or after a long illness, and of course, who you left behind. I try not to think about that. A few people seem genuinely happy to be here, although in a quiet and contemplative way. Others cry a lot. No one seems to be particularly angry which is surprising. I’ve begun to eaves-drop and what I hear mostly is a sad acceptance setting in. No one wants to make a fuss, except for Ray and that lot of course. I wonder why that is. Lucy and the punks seem to be having a good time too, but they generally keep it down, and they’re civil to the rest of us at least. I listened to Matt playing his guitar the other day. I liked it a lot more than I expected. He said he used to be very Joe Strummer but death has made him a lot more Nick Cave.
I’ve got some big pieces of paper and I’m doing some watercolour and charcoal views. I can’t stand waiting for Ray and Solly to come and take the piss so I’ve set up in a spare room on the deck below. The light’s weird but I like it. I didn’t want to carry on painting too many memories but I can’t help myself. Actually I think this is my best work ever, much less literal than the stuff I was doing when I was alive. ‘Enigmatic’ I think is the word – amniotic oceans, primordial soup. I keep thinking I can’t wait to show Justine – she’d really love these shapes – but then I remember she’ll never see them. There’s no way I could ever get them to her. My brain only understands the difficulties of getting things to people as a problem of time or distance, of things having to travel a long way through primitive or corrupt postal services, bad weather or rough terrain. My brain cannot cope with the fact that I’m not in a distant part of the universe. I’m somewhere else entirely. Justine is not reachable in the future. Her life is not going on parallel to mine in a far away place so that I can meet her later. Nope, my brain still won’t accept it.
I try to imagine her now as a child, unaware that I’m going to be born some time soon, rather than as an adult with children of her own, mourning my death. I wonder what it will be like to be born, and then spend all those years as a baby, a toddler, a schoolboy? Is there any way I can bring these pictures with me through all that?
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Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Joe III – Options

‘How are you feeling?’ asked Joe casually after I'd sat down.
‘Oh, ok’ I shake my head dismissively and shrug.
‘How have you been filling your time?’
‘Oh you know, staring at the sea, eating. I found the library’ I add mock brightly.
I think for a moment, puzzled ‘No, actually. I feel pretty good.’ I realize I actually feel remarkably relaxed. I spend hours, days, nights, I don’t know how long, sitting up on deck, in a lounger, in my sleeping bag, looking out to sea. It’s amazing. ‘Most of the time I just feel, well, content I suppose.’ I shrug again.
‘Some people get very low’ he says, leaning over to get his coffee from the shelf behind him. ‘This voyage is supposed to be like a decompression stop, or convalescence if you prefer. It’s best to go with it, enjoy the ride, get some rest. We’ve a long way to go yet. What’s wrong?’
‘I keep thinking about home and everything. I want to cry a lot of the time.’
‘That’s understandable. It’s not just them. You’re grieving too. You’ve suffered the loss too, leaving them all behind. It’s hard.’
‘I won’t ever see them again, will I?’
‘Not the way you did, no.’
‘But I can be reborn – to the same life all over again?’
‘Exactly the same except for the things you change. Well... that’s not strictly true... But anyway...’
We pause and I look about, he looks at me, sipping his coffee.
‘So who are all these people?’ I nod my head at the door. I mean the other people on the ship, Ray and the others in particular.
He smiles broadly, like it’s funny. ‘It’s very interesting actually’ he says. He straightens and puts on a deep ‘portentous’ voice and a ‘sincere’ expression. ‘You wish to know, mere mortal, how you and all these other people were selected from among the countless billions of the dead to accompany each other on the long journey of the spirit?’ I nod. He continues. ‘What arcane equation thrust you together on this eternal quest?’ He adds pompously. I wait patiently. ‘Well,’ he continues conversationally, ‘sorry to disappoint you but the fact is these are merely the hundred people that happened die about the same time you did in the same part of the world.’ He sits back smiling to let the idea sink in. ‘Cool isn’t it?’ he adds. I sit back too, incredulous. ‘It’s worked out regionally’ he continues. ‘You were in southern England. We waited until we had our hundred, and we set sail. That’s it.’ He grins at me happily. ‘Now if that’s not proof of God’s omnipotence I don’t know what is.’ I laugh a little. It’s ludicrous. We relax a little. I feel quite peaceful.

‘So why? What’s all this about? What’s it for? Why are we here?’ I ask earnestly.
He looks more seriously into his empty cup, turns and puts it back on the shelf. ‘Honestly?’ he says, ‘I really don’t know.’
Clearly I don’t look like I believe him.
‘It’s true. We’re not told. We, the guides are just like you, except, well, for a lot of us we just weren’t ready to be born again yet, if ever. Or we want to help. I like to think I’m in the latter group. Basically there’s four options. A, you go through the whole journey and are reincarnated, if you think it’s worth a shot – if you think there’s some fairly specific changes you’d like to make, assuming you remember anything when you get there. We need to talk more about the details at some point, but anyhow, option B. Some give up – nothing to be done about their lives – nothing they can imagine changing that would make enough difference.’ He pauses. ‘It’s pretty horrible a lot of it, how people have died, and suffered all their lives, powerless to... Well, anyway, that’s why I came back – try to stop them throwing themselves over the side.’ He stops to gather himself.
‘Anyway, option C is that you find somewhere here to stay. Later on in the journey you’ll find places where people have settled here and there – real little utopias some of them, bloody frightening places some of the others. You’ll see them.’
‘That sounds alright’ I can see from his face there must be a catch.
‘Except it is forever. Wherever you stop, you’re there for eternity. It’s kind of a big decision. You get some time to make up your mind, I’m not sure how long, but after that, that’s it. People tend to get what they always wanted here. It’s not always a pretty sight.’
‘But if you don’t choose somewhere you just go round and round for all eternity.’
‘Exactly’ he says.
‘Bloody hell’ I say wonderingly.
‘Well there’s lots of details we can talk about some other time. Right now...’ He begins to stand.
‘What was the fourth option?’
‘What? Oh, option D. Just a temporary fix I’m afraid – do what I did, become a guide. I need to look around a bit more before I decide. Come on. Let’s get some fresh air’ and he gets up to leave. I follow him up on deck. Standing at the rail he turns to me as I pass. ‘We are going to need to do some work on your past at some point you know.’
‘Oh. Right’ I say uncertainly. I suppose we will. I head for my room.

Lying in my crib – with its cut-out plywood side, linen sheets, watching the tops of the waves and the birds outside (actually It’s a nice bright day out. The weather seems to be improving of late) I can think. I spend quite a lot of time down here, it’s quiet and comfortable, and nobody bothers me, thankfully. I do some reading, writing, drawing, and some you-know-what... I think a lot about Lucy. I know she doesn’t fancy me. I think I can tell by now. I made a twat of myself enough times at school. Still... I lie naked in the light from the porthole and imagine her in a little black dress with no knickers on...

There are really only two options when you think about it – the utopians and the lost spirits. Heaven and hell. Everything else is just going round and round. There must be more to it than that.

To continue reading either go to Lulu to buy or download the book, or let me know when you want to read the next bit and I'll post it on the blog.

A life backwards

It's in the nature of blogs of course that you come across the latest postings first (or you find yourself in the middle.) Normally it doesn't matter but if you want to read my novel in order, the first installment is as you'd expect, the oldest posting.
Thanks for your patience.