Red Brick Inheritance
I was born in a red brick slum, taught at a red brick school, walked most days past the red brick remnants of the Brickworks ruins. Red brick and grey skies, the base colour and texture of my life. Victorian walls, mills in the Bristol Byzantine style. White letters spelled out on red brick.
When my parents died, I didn’t inherit much. £60 and a chip on my shoulder, that never went away. No land, no trust fund, no relatives taking me in. I slept rough, on sofas and floors of friends, in derelict buildings and parks, in hostels where hipster tramps had beards and bad clothing before it was cool, mumbling to themselves the incomprehensible mantras of the Brahmins of the bottle.
I squatted for a while in grey brutalist concrete crescents, cold asbestos air matching societal indifference. Escaping sometimes into an inner world of colour, psychoactive psychedelic stimulation, a simulation of a better world.
In time, I went to a red brick university, a former polytechnic. I moved to different places, until I found myself here. A job, in a glass and metal box, a home, a cell in an old church. Encased in red brick. Out of the window, red brick views beneath slate grey skies.
mark e smith
Sings in my ears
The people in sight
Move in time
In 4/4 time.
A John Bird
Gives us his opinion
On professional begging
Figures are quoted
No evidence presented
Good Morning Britain
From the mainstream media gym
We’ll get your mind trim
Shape your behaviour
Into Piers Morgan
I always expected life to be a bit more grand. A nice characterful house and some land, recognition for my creative contribution. Space enough for pets and family, and enough income to support and maintain them.
Instead I find myself in the launderette, on an overcast Sunday, swearing at the machine that eats £5 and will not start, sending passive aggressive texts to the owners on numbers that I can’t be sure will reach them. I read my book, and lose myself in a world of fantasy. I listen to the beeping of the pedestrian crossing, the surf sound of passing traffic, the repetitive rumble of the dryers.
I fold away dry things, walk back home along Sidwell Street, the odd slab of pavement wobbling and clunking underfoot, improvised weapons for a riot that will never come.
At home, I put the electricity key in the meter, accepted, I will not freeze at least. I close the door behind me. The ticking of a lucky cats waving arm, the only sound in the Sunday silence.
I’m still aware.
More aware, perhaps, than ever before. The atoms that make up my body reawaken to universal awareness. There is no separation. I’m a monad. We atoms are all one.
From this perspective, I can see that what I considered consciousness, or self-awareness, was a dim candle to the bright sun of this direct experience. I see my physical existence in four dimensions, the flow of matter and energy. Food that became my body, breath that kept me alive, output products as ripples in a sea of matter. I am a twisting worm in time. Fatter in the middle. I spin a helix around the path of the earth, and the path of the sun. These were my true limitations. Like a ripple on a frozen sea. Zoom in, and there are details in the helix, wobbles from this country to that, repeated fractal patterns of commuting and consumption. I am a waveform, a vibrating string. My habits harmonics, adding a unique timbre to my existence.
Like a wave, I was never really there. An emergent phenomena of matter in motion. Facing forever the direction of times arrow. Blind and blinkered by narrow bands of perception.
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’m having a break from Facebook and Twitter this month, though my blog posts are automatically shared there, and If This Then That wished people happy new year, and shares APOD from NASA, on my behalf. So it probably looks like I’ve failed in my intention already, but who cares? It does make me wonder if I could develop a bot, from analysing my previous social media behaviour, to automate the whole process. I’d never need to go online again.
So, what to do with this freedom from the tyranny of social media? Well, reading, writing, creating music, thinking, exercise, these are some things that come to mind. New Year’s Day, and I went for a walk. Coffee and reading An Experiment with Time in my favourite café, a walk in the rain through Northernhay Gardens. I paused before the bandstand. I can’t remember the last time I saw a band play there. The homeless used to shelter there, until the council secured it with gates. An empty stage, caged in the rain, an audience of one.
Tomorrow I will visit the gym, meet an old friend, and make some music. All good behaviours, from time off social media.
I’m in Seabrook Road, Newton Heath. A car is wedged at the top of a hill. I try to decide if a housewife could kill and dismember the driver, and then dispose of the body. I decide that she couldn’t. It’s an idea too far, from a writers perspective.
I look out of the front room bay window. Across the road, neighbours argue in West Midlands accents. The view is not how I remember it. No dusty, nicotine stained net curtains cover the glass. Upstairs, in my parents bedroom, I butter toast on the bed, trying to remember siblings who died in a fire here. There’s the click and twist if a key in the door. A man called Adam, who lives with my mother. He dislikes me on sight, thinks I am my father. We argue. I encourage him to read, he’d rather kick a ball about outside. I hate sports, but join him anyway, to foster some goodwill. We kick a ball about in the street, running between wheelie bins.
I’m cycling. I’m on a low tricycle. It’s B&W footage. I give the camera the finger as I comically pedal into the darkness of the canal towpath. There are other shots, but no context, no storyline. That will come later. It depends on who the editor is, and what other shots of their own they add.
I see my story in a newspaper. It’s a feel good, heart warming, Christmas story of triumph over adversity. I’m not sure how I feel about my complex existence being simplified for mass consumption.
I am interviewed. I wear a comical gold barrister’s wig. On top of that, I try various amusing hats. The interviewer and the audience love that. I flick through a magazine. Animated images play as I look at them, and answer questions I ask. A black square is a ninja in a dark room. I tell the people I’m with how this technology could be supplemented with raised Braille text, to let visually impaired people read magazines. We cycle off down the road. I’m enjoying the exercise. I tell the others that I’ll meet them back at the house. I want to go further. They follow me. They’re having fun too.
I sit in a street. Across the road, fog, at the end of the road, rain. I ask Adam how this can be.