Saturday, 19 March 2011

Andrea IV – Neighbourhood Threat

Andrea and I meet up on the deck for a change. There’s a few other people around, strolling about or lounging but not many and it’s quite peaceful up here. It’s the first fine weather we’ve had almost since the beginning. First it was freezing cold, then it was blowing rain at us and we’ve been forced to tolerate being stuck down below, with all the windows steamed up. Luckily no B.O. here, but it’s still not pleasant. Now there are craggy wooded islands coming into view and purple mountains in the distance where we’re headed. It’s quite exciting.

‘I wanted to ask you if you ever actually did get in trouble with the law’ she says, leaning on the rail. I'm sitting in a lounger. I take my time, considering how to answer.
‘We all did, sooner or later’ I say – evasively I know. She knows it too.
‘What was it – possession, vagrancy, shop lifting?’
‘Breach of the peace, causing an affray, criminal damage, actual bodily harm...’ I continue to look away.
‘Oh’ she says, clearly somewhat taken aback.
‘...and trespass of course’ I add.
‘Did you ever go to prison?’
‘No. It was all over a very long period, and mostly minor stuff. And I'd been diagnosed as crackers of course so that helped.’
She comes back from the railings and sits beside me, but still looking out to sea.
‘Do you think you were mad?’ she says at last, her hands clasped between her knees.
‘Only in the American sense. I just used to get very angry sometimes.’
She nods but doesn’t look at me. ‘Give me an example’ she says.
I’ve been thinking about this as it happens, so I’m ready. It’s about a woman of course. ‘I was at this party, in Hove I think it was. I’d been invited over by some people I knew from the festies. They were a bunch of space cadets but basically sound...’
‘How old were you at this time?’
‘I don’t know, about thirty I suppose. They were quite a bit younger – twenty something, but the owners of the house were first generation hippies – fifty odd, but I didn’t really know them that well.’
‘Anyway. One of the guys, Carl I think his name was, had brought along his cousin from Bristol, and it was obvious even to me that she was making the effort to talk to me and we stood together and got our drinks and so on, and the music was quite loud so it was hard to hold a conversation, so we went and sat down somewhere quiet.’
‘So did you fancy her?’
‘Mmm... yes.’
‘You don’t sound too sure.’
‘Well I wasn’t, at first. I mean, she wasn’t unattractive – rather sporty, a bit boyish I suppose. Just not really my type. I think a lot of blokes would have found her very desirable. She was definitely interesting – quite intense – lots of eye contact.’
‘So what did you do?’
‘Well, we talked. I think at the time I thought it was going ok considering I was really nervous.’
‘And why was that?’
‘Oh, I’ve never been any good when I’m put on the spot – when a performance is called for. It’s all a bit tense, and it’s hard to be funny when you’re like that, but she stayed with me for most of the evening, so I thought I must be doing something right. I fully expected her to make her excuses and wander off, but no, she didn’t, and then it was getting late and I thought I was definitely in with a chance.’
‘And I bet, by now she probably looked a bit more ‘interesting’ after a few bevvies.’
‘I didn’t used to drink a lot’ I say, defensively.
‘Because of your meds?’
‘What? No. I wasn’t on anything. No it was just that I couldn’t hold my drink, that’s all. And I stayed off the drugs too, as I’m sure you were wondering...’ She throws up her hands, as if to say ‘perish the thought’, but I can tell. Everyone just assumes I must have been a druggie. Sometimes I think I just kept myself clean out of sheer awkwardness (You think you know me? Ha! Think again.)
‘No, my life was out of control enough as it was. I had no need for more chaos. Drugs never made me happy anyway, just paranoid. I would have been on the water by then.’
‘But you had had something to drink.’
I look at her. What is she getting at? Why is she suddenly being judgemental?
‘Some, yes’ I say, guardedly. ‘A few glasses of Bulgarian red probably.’ I look at her but she’s looking away again.
‘Go on’ she says. ‘What happened then?’
‘She just got off with someone else. One of the other guys I came with actually. He was always getting off with someone or other, and she chose him. They went home together as far as I know.’ I wait for her to react. She doesn’t. I decide to press on.
‘So the party was pretty much over by then, except a lot of people were still there, stoned or sitting around having intense discussions and I didn’t know anyone and was not in the mood to make friends, so I just put some music on that I liked and danced on my own.’
‘Can I just interrupt here?’ she says, turning to me, quizzically. I nod and sit back.
‘Go ahead’ I say.
‘Did it occur to you at all in all this that this sort of thing happens to everyone, all the time – being rejected I mean?’
‘I can’t say it the time...’ She goes to interrupt but I hold my hand up. ‘But I know what you mean, in retrospect. The thing is though, you have to understand...’ and I don’t know how to explain this without sounding really pathetic (And then I think, ‘What the heck? She doesn’t think much of me anyhow.’) ‘The thing is, I didn’t even get that far very often, back then. It was quite a big deal. I'd actually been talking to a not unattractive girl, at a party, and, what’s more, she actually seemed not uninterested in me. It was unheard of. I was in a complete panic. You can’t imagine.’
‘I can’t’ she says, genuinely confounded, and I am suddenly furious with her for her lack of imagination.
‘So anyway, I’m there, not dancing any more, just feeling really bad, really angry at myself for being so feeble, going over all the lame things I’d said and how I should have just gone for it somehow – been more assertive, more masculine about it or something. Then there was the self-loathing, and the hating the world and how I didn’t fit into it and how they wouldn’t let me fit in – all the stuff I told you before. Horrible, horrible, all of it. I used to get these terrible black moods, usually late at night, out in the street, crying and swearing and kicking stuff over. I was never actually dangerous. Usually I just hurt myself or maybe wrecked something that didn’t matter too much – a pile of rubbish or something. A couple of times I went playing in the traffic, swearing at everyone, giving the four-by-fours a good old boot as they went by.’
‘Didn’t that hurt?’
‘Steel toecaps. I took my lead from the ostriches – best defence against predators is a well-aimed kick. I have a theory that the primitive hominid was a kick boxer.’
Now she really thinks I’m insane. Oh well.
‘Anyway, they were never used on civilians, rest assured.’ She looks very doubtful but gestures for me to go on.
‘Anyway, on this occasion I’d been planning to crash at the house – I wasn’t going to sleep on the street if I could help it. But I couldn’t sleep and I didn’t want to talk to anybody and I couldn’t go somewhere private and have a rant. I was trapped so I just sat there. I remember it really clearly, sitting in the middle of the floor. I think they tried to ignore me at first. Then someone tried to pull me up to get me to move, and I sat down even more. That’s strange don’t you think – how you can make yourself heavier when you don’t want to be moved? I wonder how that works...’
She turns and smiles at me. That’s better. ‘What happened then?’ she says.
‘A struggle ensued as they say. I found a place over by the wall and I fumed over there instead.’
‘I don’t really remember the next part. Maybe I made myself really angry, going over things in my head. Maybe it was something someone said. I just felt so frustrated and embarrassed and I just hated everything. I made a lot of noise, broke some things – a lamp I think, and some glasses. Then they were throwing me out and I managed to break someone’s nose. I was just so furious but I didn’t do it on purpose. I had to have five stitches in my face too, spent the night in casualty, then in the police cells while they got hold of my family.’
‘How did they react?’
‘Oh, the usual. More of the same.’
‘How many times had you been arrested before then?’
‘Oh a couple of times, but they’d never been involved before. What I mean is it was just more disgrace, more bother, for them, like they knew I’d end up like this eventually and “didn’t we always say this would happen if you didn’t buck your ideas up” and so on. And they never asked what had happened – just assumed I was guilty.’
‘Well you were.’
‘Yes, but they didn’t know that. That’s the point. They never asked me about it – they just assumed I’d become a criminal now. Even when the previous occasion I’d been in hospital it was me that had been beaten up. But they just assumed there must have been something I’d done to deserve it.’
‘Did you ever think of maybe trying to prove them wrong - saying “I’ll show you”? It must have been fairly humiliating, having to sign on, begging on the streets.’
‘What and get myself a nice respectable job with the council or something? Suck up to some dickless wonk in a tie, day-in, day-out? Talk about humiliation. Oh absolutely, they’d have loved that. “See, I knew you could do it if you put your mind to it.” Shit heads...’

We sit in silence. We look at the sea and the sea birds. It’s actually a beautiful day. I’m in my shorts and vest and sunglasses and she is in a summer dress that makes her look fabulous. She catches me looking but does not react.
‘Did you get involved in any demos, direct actions, stuff like that? I’d have though that’d have been right up your street.’
‘A bit’ I say, dismissively, ‘I was at Gleneagles for the G8.’
‘But you weren’t all that keen.’
‘Not really. Oh, it was a great party atmosphere and everything but ultimately it’s all mob rule. I couldn’t bring myself to really join in. Unless you’re into fighting with the police... I found it all a bit... impotent I suppose is the word. Perhaps if I could have found myself some simple straightforward evil to fight, a proper villain I could take a stand against. But no, it’s hard being a leftie. You’re always having to think about direct action versus people’s right to make a living, or people’s right to make a living versus the environment, collective responsibility versus individual freedom, chances of actual success versus publicity stunt. And then you have to weigh your own brief allotted time against sacrificing yourself to some cause. If you’ve got half a brain it’s impossible. Being right wing is easy. You just say “I’ve got the bloody money. I’ll do what the hell I want.” You can see why Thatcher was so popular.’
‘Well I don’t think...’
‘You don’t think it’s quite as simple as that. Yeah yeah, whatever. Moving on...’
She gives me her little half laugh, looks at her papers and asks me what else I got into trouble for.
‘That was about it really’ I say. ‘I got done for breaking and entering but that was just looking for somewhere to sleep.’
‘No other violence?’
I look at her. All at once I know what this is about.
‘That’s what you’ve been waiting for isn’t it.’ Now she looks embarrassed. ‘Hitting a woman?’ I suggest. ‘Knifing someone? Rape maybe?’
‘No, of course not. I never thought...’ she says, unconvincingly. ‘I just wanted to know.’ She turns away.
‘You don’t trust me. You assumed.’
She nods and smiles at me a little guiltily and I feel vindicated, for a moment anyway. But I know she’s right really, when I think how furious I was for so much of my life.
‘You are a bit scary sometimes though, you have to admit’ she says, bringing me back. ‘I bet that’s why she chose the other guy. Not because you were pathetic, but because you were a bit too intense.’
‘Maybe’ I say without conviction. It seems plausible. ‘But I can’t help the nagging feeling that if I’d made the right move...’
‘Maybe. But then I think, if she’d been the right girl, what you did would have been the right move naturally. It sounds to me like you didn’t feel very comfortable with her from the start.’
‘But I never did... with anyone.’
She looks at me for a long time. I think we’re done for today. I’m hoping for an epiphany from her. Maybe another time.


  1. Hi Steve, just to say that I'm still here, still enjoying the story as it unfolds - or as it will unfold, I hope! Even if it never gets anywhere astonishing, it's still a good read on the way.

  2. Thanks Vincent
    I was thinking it was about time we said Hi.
    And rest assured things do develop.

  3. Gabriel: "Perhaps if I could have found myself some simple straightforward evil to fight, a proper villain I could take a stand against."

    Andrea (in a later part of conversation, not related to the above):"Maybe. But then I think, if she’d been the right girl, what you did would have been the right move naturally. It sounds to me like you didn’t feel very comfortable with her from the start.’"

    These two extracts struck me as together summarising a young man's dilemma, in the arenas of war and love.


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.