Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Voyage II – Rastus & Bessie

My fellow voyagers seem friendly enough. I haven’t made any particular efforts to strike up a conversation but they come along and ask what I’m reading and I’m not unwelcoming. It’s not that I don’t want to socialise. It’s just that I’ve never really known how to do it. I can spout politics or art or religion until the cows get sick of it and go out again, but I can’t chat. Never could. Don’t know why. When you see a group of people – any age, any sex, out together, relaxed in each other’s company, getting pissed, flirting, “having a laugh” as they say, that’s the thing I envy. God, I want that. The only time I ever really felt any real closeness was in bed with a woman. I could have done that forever.
I like that no one can tell what age you really are here. I look about thirty I suppose. I don’t know why particularly. I asked Andy about it and he said ‘What age would you have chosen to be?’ and I said ‘About thirty.’ and he said ‘There you go then.’
That’s enough about me. The sky is pale, the sleet has let up and I’m togged up in my favourite lounger. I have a book on cinema from the library in my lap but it’s too cold to let my hands out so I sit and watch the waves go by. I could do with a coffee but I’m just too damned comfortable here. I think it’s best if I keep myself to myself as much as possible. It’s better that way. Maybe it’s too soon. Maybe we all need time to adjust.

I was sitting near a group of people at a table in the bar yesterday and I happened to overhear one of the women ask one of the men if he thought her dog, Bessie, would be alright. Her face looked empty and loose, like a collapsed balloon. She looked to be in her early twenties and yet at the same time she seemed like an old lady. I thought of my old dog Rastus. He was a handsome collie cross – like a black and white Alsatian. Wonderful dog – not wildly adventurous but fiercely independent, undemanding but never averse to a bit of fuss when it was on offer (much like myself, I like to imagine. Ha ha). I’m not one for intruding on other people’s misery, but this woman looked so sad, and I suppose I wanted to show some solidarity so I turned around and told her about Rastus. None of them seemed to know how to take this. They just looked awkward and somewhat suspicious. I thought the woman might want to talk about Bessie but she just looked even more upset. Why do I always have to say something? I should just keep quiet.
I go along to the forward lounge, where it’s quieter, but close and humid. The cold outside fogs the windows up and consequently there’s a dense, muffled atmosphere in there. I quite like it. I take a book and sit with my coffee and my mind drifts. I feel oddly at ease – disconnected, free.

Another time I was at the bar and a chap came up and ordered some wine. I made a comment about the good stuff on offer here, just to be sociable, and he looked me up and down and sneered slightly. ‘Someone like you would think so I suppose’ he said and headed off.
‘Not as good as his cellar at home I don’t expect’ said the barman.
I suppose I still just look like some old crusty to them. You’d think being dead would make people a bit more insightful, wouldn’t you. Some people just seem to be pissed off that they haven’t got their money with them. I wonder if the ancient Egyptians turned up here with all the stuff they’d been buried with, as they expected to or, if not, how outraged they were.

So I stay out of the way for the most part. I look forward to seeing Andrea every few days and that, dear friend, will have to do me. I spend a lot of time in the library – partly because nobody expects conversation there, partly because it feels quite homely. I spent an inordinate amount of time in the public library at home, when I was a kid and then later on too, and not just to get warm. I read art, philosophy, history, psychology, ecology, some novels too although I preferred non-fiction. I used to go to the university library too, until they stepped up security in the nineties. I always tried to look more like a penniless student than a hobo anyhow so they never challenged me until I didn't have an ID card.
I always wanted to go to university – not for the qualification so much – I just wanted to be a student. I wanted to go to student parties and hang out in student bars and go see local bands and, most importantly, I wanted to sleep with student women. It all seemed very glamorous at the time. They used to take the piss, my sisters – said I was The Rebel Without a Course.

The titles at this place are unfamiliar and by authors I’ve never heard of. I study the illustrations – exquisitely detailed or savagely expressionistic pen and ink drawings, woodcuts and watercolours (never any photos) – plants and invertebrates, and buildings and maps and landscapes that I’m sure have no equivalent in life. I find myself concentrated, lost in the evasive reasoning and subtle design. In retrospect I can remember nothing specific of what they’ve told me and couldn’t begin to explain it. Nevertheless I am left with powerful new perspectives that sit deep in my consciousness – like a strange new filter on my vision in a hitherto unknown primary colour, or drawings made using a completely new spatial dimension alongside the usual three. By comparison, the insights I gained from books in life seem of thin and insubstantial stuff.

I saw some sort of giant squid today – at least I think that’s what it was. I remember a passage in ‘The Voyage of the Kontiki’ where a huge eyeball passes under them during the night, peering up at them through the dark water. It was the fifties of course, so inevitably they chucked a spear at it, as one did in those boy’s own days, and it disappeared – they never did find out what it was. That’s what I saw here – a bloody great luminous eyeball, big as an umbrella, peering up at me. I could see the green phosphorescent cells racing about its perimeter, turning electric blue and shocking pink. I didn’t tell anyone. Nobody I know here would be interested. Justine might have been.


  1. I'm copying this feast of a book to my Kindle. It deserves better than this wretched computer screen/desk/chair that keeps me shackled too much of the day, for varied reasons. Back later with comments!

  2. Thanks so much Vincent. I'm very glad it's holding your attention.


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.