Goodbye 2010 – We Barely Knew Thee

Yes, it’s the melancholy reflection on the year gone by bit that you all dreaded. Just try to get through it, it’ll be over soon.

2010 or MMX as my Roman neighbour insisted on calling it, was a frustrating, idiosyncratic and occasionally difficult year, punctuated by long periods of boorish introspection and thousands of hours of the some of the worst television I’d ever eyed. It ends as it began, with internment at a converted Cornish fisherman’s cottage at the end of the world, or Penzance as the locals sometimes refer to it.

Times change of course and with them the profile of people who live in dwellings such as these. A century ago this compact hovel, with its inadequate sized rooms and a walled yard that would give a claustrophobe a cardiac, was home to a working man and his downtrodden spouse. At the climax of 2010, it houses a mad woman who strictly speaking hasn’t done a real day’s work since 1975.

My dear Mother, whom of course I love and cherish despite all her attempts to foster feelings to the contrary, lives here with her cat Beautiful-Enid, a chinchilla called Maria, who in human terms is a centenarian, and her replacement, the new chinchilla on the block, Chrisdabelle. Showcasing the sensitivity for which my old dear is rightly famous across the world, Mode has set Chrisdeabelle’s cage directly opposite that of her predecessor. This way, the aged Maria, who’s so old that her nose can barely twitch, will spend the last of her days watching her sprightly successor enjoying her portion of the room. Ain’t life grand?

Part of me likes coming here every year because it’s a change of pace from London life and a welcome chance to do cock-all for a fortnight. My mother’s one of those people that doesn’t trust anyone else to do anything, whether it’s washing up, dusting, tea making or burying corpses. Consequently I live like a king during this period, but just in case you’re thinking, “what a bastard”, you should also know that the price I pay for being waited on like an 18th century Lord is exposure to naked lunacy on a breathtaking scale.

The chest of draws that now, inexplicably, blocks the living room window

Within an hour of arriving this Christmas, what little remained of my hair was already en route to the wig makers. For you, going home is reassurance; the knowledge that you’re getting familiar, comfortable surroundings. It’s great home cooking and time with the family pets. For me, it’s the opposite, apart from the pets.

As I walk up the street on the final approach to Whitfield House, I’m buzzing in anticipation of irrational and demented changes that are sure to show themselves once I’ve crossed the threshold. This year’s highlights included an orchid in the shower, a chest of draws blocking the window, the dismantling of the upstairs bed and swathes of mould on the bedroom roof, which my brother dutifully scrubbed off. My Mum had never seen mould before you see, and assumed it was simply just a harmless mark left by condensation – she’s sixty-one.

My mother pens her own graffiti - she's very artistic y'know. Similar scribbling appears all over the house.

The new chinchilla was also an unwelcome shock. “I thought you might like it,” she said, and it’s easy to understand her thinking, given my enthusiastic support for Maria during her seemingly unending lifetime. Comments like “it looks like a fat rat with bat’s ears”, “Oh Christ, is this thing still going?” and “Yes, but what is it for?” could, I’m sure you’ll agree, only be interpreted one way.

The Orchid in the Shower

So here am I once again, relying on the TV schedulers to keep me distracted and hoping the locals are busy eating each other and won’t knock on the door, and another year bolts upright in bed, gasps and dies. Am I better off than I was a year ago? Materially, no – I don’t even have enough to take the bus trip to the pot maker’s to watch him craft the thing I can’t afford to urinate into. Still, money isn’t everything, in fact it’s not much of anything and my brain’s had some opportunity to breathe, following a long period of stagnation.

I took voluntary redundancy from my civil service job at the end of January, after the government had ruled they had to move to Manchester in a bid to create more Labour votes ahead of the General Election. Many of us were left in the gutter looking up at the smog but we lived in safe seats so it hardly mattered.

I wasn’t too worried about this change in fortunes, primarily because I had plenty to keep me going; that’s mental stimulation not cash you understand. The previous September, unbeknownst to most of my friends, I’d started an MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. Why not tell people? Well I didn’t go into it with much confidence, just aspiration, and once you tell people you’re doing something there’s a certain weight of expectation – difficult questions like “how’s it going?” and “what are you writing about?” I’d been there before – starting something I hadn’t finished, so I wanted to be in a position where should I fall on my arse and discover that I couldn’t string two words together, I could grieve privately; a small service would be conducted in my bedroom where I’d burn every book I owned. I’d then switch on the drool box and watch Come Dine With Me marathons until I passed out – hopefully choking on my own saliva while unconscious.

Fortunately this didn’t happen. I met two lovely ladies on my distance learning portal, Sam, hauled up in Dubai and Katherine, resident of Singapore. Together we made beautiful sentences, constructions for the ages or something like it and I rekindled my love affair with literature which had gone cold in recent years as I found myself distracted by just about every lazy facet of life you can think of. TV? Check. Internet? Check. Torchlight shining on wall? You bet…oh and masturbation. There’s always masturbation.

Should have learnt Latin: My MLitt certificate, laid out with the help of a tangerine and a bottle of pills (not originally included).

There never seemed to be a good time to tell people I was doing this course, so I didn’t. I didn’t even tell people when I graduated in November, I just allowed myself a brief gush of pride. I may have netted myself another (economically) worthless degree but I hadn’t done it for the accolade nor a bit of paper which I can’t read because it’s inscribed in Latin, rather I wanted to prove to myself I could do it. I’m also someone who works better when their activities are structured. Any procrastinators amongst you will know what a difference that can make.

Consequently, the months from February to September were more productive for me than the previous 5 years combined. I made good progress on a novel, which should be completed in the New Year, I wrote some poetry, at least 5% of which is readable and I kept myself in the habit, creating a pair of websites that I hoped would allow me to work through my bad habits and improve the ol’ craft. Consequently you lucky bastards got this blog, which to some astonishment, appears to be read by some people, and a film and literature portal that I hoped, and still hope, will provide an alternative to the identikit fanboy regurgitoss that sloshes it way around the web. Modest ambitions then, but you’ve got to believe in something haven’t you?

Well, haven’t you?

Toying with just two farthings meant allowing for a modest summer, in which, as is my wont, I spent much of my time in the cinema and a great deal more pissing away the hours with Twitter and her older Sister, Facebook. Around this time I started to see my underground existence on the Internet as an essential bolt-on to what was becoming a one dimensional version of a three dimensional real world experience. In fact 2010 is the year that these web communities became indispensible for a while. I looked forward to interacting with the people on there as much as those I could touch, due in no small part to their wit and company during some otherwise unbearable spells in front of the idiot’s lantern. You all made a difference, so thank you.

Despite my poverty, I did manage to fulfil a childhood ambition, thanks to the generosity of my friend Goran. He showed remarkable tolerance, listening to old R4 plays on the in-car CD player, while en route to Switzerland, and agreeing to participate in a re-enactment of Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Final Problem. Astonished tourists on the right bank of the Reichenbach Falls, watched an idiot in a deerstalker being “strangled” by his mate, at the spot where Holmes and Moriarty would have enjoyed their last tussle.

Goran and I going all Detective and Nemesis at the Falls

From September life became a bit of slog, primarily because I was demoted from secret student to fully disclosed unemployed person. Anyone who’s suffered the indignity of being out of work, assuming that you’re not being given pocket money by a wage slave or have deluded yourself that doing sod all is fine because you make an alternative contribution, folding bed sheets and making cakes, will know that it’s the worst reduction in social status imaginable. I discovered the joy of the job centre and the curious spectre of the job centre worker, a strange breed who roughly fall into three categories.

There are the ones with plasticised friendliness, who have usually been infected with the blood of recruitment consultants, who tell you that someone like you is bound to find a job, because you’re not like those other wasters. Sadly, they care little about the actual jobs they’re offering you. They’re confused when you show indifference to an exciting new administrative opportunity and staggered when you don’t want to commute to Milton Keynes. Didn’t I want a fucking job?

Having mentioned that I did some writing I was delighted when I was handed a piece of paper with a copywriting job on it. The only problem was that I needed to be an expert in Latin American Politics. Did it matter that I wasn’t? “Well can you learn about it and apply this week?” I was asked. Well, when you put it like that…

The second category was the indifferent brigade, none of whom gave a shit whether I’d been looking for work or not. My signing on meetings with them comprised of waiting an eternity only to be asked “How’s it going?” I’d say, “Could be better, I’m still unemployed” and for that I’d have my card signed and I’d be told to report back in a fortnight. Taxpayers will be delighted to hear that the system is being so rigorously policed.

Then there was the third, the frustrated life hating jobsworths who’d read Nineteen Eighty Four and salivated at the prospect of one day working in the Ministry of Information. These are the ones that regard anyone unemployed as subhuman, a drain on both their taxes and society at large. They talk to you like you’ve walked in covered from head to toe in your own excrement and should you be late for your appointment for any reason, perhaps you were ill or had a bit of unpaid work or had a lie in, because there’s got to be some advantage to being free, they delight in patronising you, talking to you like you’ve been freshly labotomised, and the only job you might be good for is catching the worm of drool that’s making its way from the corner of your mouth to the floor .

Some of my happiest moments of the year were sitting quietly, listening to the great-unwashed fight back in the face of intransigence that in any other sphere of public service would be met with mass redundancies but at Job Centre Plus is worn as a badge of honour by employees who imagine themselves to be under siege from the feckless public.

The job centre is a strange place, where women can be harassed for having the audacity to use the free phone service to look for work on a daily basis, where unemployment hardly matters because the end of the world is coming, as foretold in the book of Revelations, at least according to one woman I spoke to, and in which there’s an atmosphere of weariness, as though it really was a waiting room for death. Top of my list for 2011 is permanently leaving its charms behind. Sorry Job Centre workers, but some day, maybe some day soon, you’ll be out of work and you’ll understand.

Despite the problems, 2010 wasn’t a bad year. I didn’t lose anyone I’ll miss, I made some new friends who I now wouldn’t be without and felt more like myself than I had in years, none of which was a given 12 months ago. All that’s left to do, before I disappear into the ether and re-emerge in the early hours of 2011 holding a half empty bottle of ginger wine and making obnoxious overtures to passers by, is to wish you a happy new year and thank you for reading the blog over the last 9 months. I can’t promise that it’ll be any better in the New Year but I’ll pledge to have a go at making it so*, how does that sound? Sounds dreadful? Fine, enjoy your evening.

*This is self-deprecating dishonesty of course, the blog’s the tits and you know it.

Published in: on December 31, 2010 at 19:39  Leave a Comment  

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