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 clichés 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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