I’m teaching rugby to school kids. It’s a very small group, mixed ages, genders, and abilities. Sport is no longer compulsory. I feel uncomfortable in the changing rooms, even though I’m alone.
A friend asks me for another friends phone number. He wants a cheap haircut. I can’t find the number. He’s very insistent. I fob him off. I walk along the edge of a flooded field. It’s flooded with black sewage. Another friend carries a fishing rod and a gun. We talk, and he walks into the water, disappearing beneath the dark surface. I talk to Tom. A friendly hippo comes to the surface. It follows us as we walk along the field.
The water has receded at this end of the field. Black silt is raked into strict lines. This will be fertile land once more. The field becomes a slope, up to a stage in a theatre. The theatre and stage are full of stones, still wet and stained brown by sewage. I climb a wall, trying to clear a narrow chimney of the brown stones blocking it. I realise the exit is too narrow. I will never fit.
I’m cycling around the block on a tricycle. The road bends in unexpected ways. It is night. Yellow sodium light disperses through a pre-dawn Mancunian mist. I go round and around. As the sky lightens, I cycle home.
I love exercising at the gym. I love the self righteous feeling of walking home before dawn in the rain, cooling off after exercise.
I don’t like the music at the gym. Pop pap pumped to make you move. You have to opt out, by default it’s opt in. Earplugs can’t complete silence the incessant din. Four screens flash to grab your attention, flickering like a Tetris snowstorm as the connection drops. Free wifi, stickers proclaim, but the connection just spins and spins, and you’re back to the shitty music again. No one talks, or smiles, or says hello. I close my eyes to focus inside, on my own breath, my own heart, to shut out the gym, and it’s built in extroversion bias.
I’ve moved to a new area. Across the road, neighbours are wassailing in their garden. We move furniture outside, and I photograph the neighbours. I want them to know I’m musical too. I find an out of tune, blue, ukulele. I take it outside. Workmates are sat around on chairs, chanting by candlelight, and plucking parts of the chairs like strings. Our cats are nervous. They have yet to meet the local cats. I fuss them by the heat of the fire.
I walk into a bakery, carrying a small, unassembled table. I bend down to put it down. My eyes meet with those of a petite young woman. She tells me to stand up. We chat. She’s friendly. Her friend, a Jewish psychedelic rocker, takes my number. He does this at a distance, through a window. I go out to check he has the right number. His phone is red. The keys are inscribed with cryptic, occult, symbols. I find my number. It’s correct.
We walk through a pile of sharp scrap metal, walkways with sharp bits sticking out everywhere. They form a slope. As we descend, the metal moves. I slide down on an avalanche of sharp, dark, metal. I pull my hands into to sleeves of my leather jacket to protect them. Others pull me up. We exit though a white door, into a white room. Those of us who survived the metal avalanche have ceramic eyes, mounted in stylised silver filigree, covering parts of our heads. The petite woman talks to me. She’s aroused, and wants to fuck me. We sit on green sofas in the white room. Music plays. There’s a tension. No one talks. Someone leaves, and others rapidly follow. Terrible rap music comes on. The scene changes. Young people kill their old rocker friend. String him up with his guitar, to the sound of 90s indie pop. Judge dread grunts at stereotypes of bodybuilders. Macho posturing. The only language they speak.
I’m flying down a rainy northern road with PP. we talk about missed investment opportunities in the Turkish housing market. We sidestep a double decker bus, into a side road, slowly landing outside his house. Inside, he arranges new furniture, made from hand carved wood. It almost looks like the product of pleaching. I love it. He wears a check shirt, like a lumberjack. Woodenness is everything about him.
I’m in a hostel, The Good Shepherd. It’s all open plan, and wooden floors. I try to find my allocated bed, but the number on my key armband keep changing. A doctor speaks to me. He’s glad I’m here. He hasn’t seen me in a while. He thinks I should be in a meeting, discussing my problems with others in the same position. I think of all the treatment options I’ve been offered, but failed to use. All of them were pointless.
I sit on a bed. Other guys chat to me. I explain that I have my own place, a bedsit, nearby. I just come here for the food, to see other people, and remind myself that there’s a caring safety net. One guy asks if my other place is like a mobile bat cave. I say it is exactly that.
I wander across wooden, laminate floors, and down wooden steps with no bannisters, scared of falling. The numbers on my armband slowly stop changing. Words appear. “Just Now” they say. I realise I don’t belong here. I pause by a gift shop. Soft toys and jigsaw puzzles. I put a puzzle in my bag, and put a frog toy from my bag in the shelf. As I leave, a security guard stops me. He picks up the frog, telling me that I forgot it. I thank him, and leave. Outside, I look at the puzzle. A sunset, over a German autobahn.
I’m driving with someone else. We follow the gps map onto mud tracks. There’s no gps signal. We are lost. We walk over a wooded hill. I think about how it’s like the start of a horror film. I find myself in bed, thinking about different plots the movie could have, how they start out comical, and end in horror. A knock. E is at the door. We go to a launderette. There we meet other friends.
An older, black woman, asks me what her work email address is. I recognise her, and, slowly, she remembers me. E and J are playing an Ocean Colour Scene song on guitar and bass, through portable amps. I join them, looking through different apps on my iPhone until I find a suitable synth. We jam. People like it. We pack our clothes away and leave.
I’m alone, by the launderette. My phone is now a terrible old model. I try to bring up a map, to find my way home. It shows me a route from Syria to Iran via Saudi Arabia. I know home is a long way, but just about walkable.
I start the long journey home, unsure of my final destination.
I’m attending an AA meeting. It’s up a spiral path, inside what looks like a tesla tower. The path gets slowly narrower. I see Tony and Penny struggling to ascend. I get stuck behind a little old lady, as it narrows to the width of one foot. There’s a handrail now, both are red. My left glove starts to slip, I’m worried that I’ll fall. No one can help me. I reach over, and manage the last few steps. I look back.
What I couldn’t see, behind me on the narrow path, was how safe I was. The drop was tiny, into a laminate floor. In the middle of this floor, people sit on 70s furniture, drinking coffee.
I navigate a huge plastic puzzle, and slide into the outer office. A couple emerge from the inner office. They dress like the 70s, and have three, friendly, robodogs with them. There used to be four. They had a band. The couple ask me if I could adopt one. I explain that pets are not allowed where I’m renting. But I realise, these are not pets. The inner office door opens. My dead dog, now a puppy wriggles out, happy to see me and the robodogs. I decide to take them all home.
We pass an archive. It’s a huge cylinder, containing items donated for Tony and Dawns marriage. They are sorting through things. Occasionally, they become Katie Price and Peter Andre. I find an old jacket, and a stack of hats I used to wear, and some smaller, sentimental items. There’s a range of shampoo samples, and chocolate body butter. K&P appear covered in it. I ask if it left their skin smooth. P has a shower to wash it off. Workmates complain about me washing my mouldy hats in the sink.
The archive is now outside a huge old house, and D searches for a compass I left her. She’s lost her direction. Me and a robodog carry things home. He has a Dublin accent, and I narrow it down to one, specific, area. We use an underpass. P will follow us in a van, with the rest of this stuff.
We cut through a nature reserve. Our way is blocked by a nest in a box, with a flap, as wide as the path. I open the flap, and a cotton wool ball is fired out, then, soon after, another. I notice a rhythm. The gap between firings is the same as between AC/DC riffs on Highway To Hell. I close the flap, then open it again, beginning to sing after the first shot. They are perfectly timed.
Behind us, a group of naturalists take notes on flora, while my dog watches out stuff. I realise that as a real dog, he’d never play guitar, or talk, or carry things with his hands.
An image. A broken multi core cable. No explanation. It may be underwater.
A small drone is flown by a man. It has the torso of a naked woman, and a small, metal head. It fires ineffectually. Dead lizards lay on the ground. A wicked witch character taunts me. I step safe, behind a corrugated metal gate.
I’m waking down from a moor. Old ladies stop to offer me food. It has gravy on it. I’ll spill it as I walk. They want to drive me, but we need to walk, the exercise is addictive.
I’m in a castle. Two of us dare each other to lie in a cold, water filled barrel. I get used to the temperature by slowly undressing. I stay in the cold water longer, covered by a blue blanket. I feel like I’ve won, but also that I’ve cheated.
I walk through a muddy field on my way to the moor. A woman running a seed festival, in an empty hall, gives me a shirt. It has a sun design, and the words “the golden sun” on it. I won it at Christmas, but never picked it up.
We carry on through blue muddy fertiliser, I joke that it’s made of blue meanies. We pass other castles. At one, tiny Napoleon Dynamites protest a naked giantess telling her to go home. She’s with us, but we pretend to protest too. When I explain I’m English, one of the uses basic hand signals for “leave our land”
They are like a UKIP of Napoleon Dynamite clones.