Sometimes I lose track of time. I seem to spend much of my life daydreaming or struggling and, in both these instances, time really does fly by my eyes.
A period of time ago that, to me, feels like an age but is more likely just a couple of years, I wrote a blog piece about a dream I had as a small child. A dream that I truly believe shaped my life and my attitude. The piece was entitled “The girl next door” and is one of those few entries in what has become my journal that I’m actually proud of. I try not to read again these words once published, but I have, in that and a few others, found comfort during some of my darkest hours.
Last night I dreamed a dream just as convincing as my childhood dream about the girl next door and one that left me with a similar, yet very different, set of emotions upon awakening. I dreamt I was editing a video for my "French Letters" series on YouTube, a process that takes place weekly in the same seat at the same table as I smoke the same pipe and sip the same brand of remarkably cheap coffee from the same aging Cath Kidston mug with a chip in the rim and, just as in real life, my dream positioned me just so.
I was dreaming that I was playing the raw footage back and, as I generally do, snipping out the parts that don't show my best side.
You didn't think I was really this pretty, did you?
As many of you know, I live in a loft above a garage. The timbers of the loft are riddled with woodworm, the window is nothing more than a hole in a wall with a screen fastened across it and the roof provides me with a lovely, panoramic view of the stars above as I lie in my cot at nights. I love it.
The loft I viewed upon my dreamed screen was in no way similar to the one in which I'm currently sitting and tapping away at these keys. It was a trendy space with solid timbers, expensive rugs, an actual kitchen and a double bed. It even had a staircase that didn't sway from side to side in the wind, a veritable palace in comparison to the spider and lizard infested paradise I dwell in when my eyes are open. The sleeping me didn't question the differences, he didn't realise I was dreaming or that he was nothing more than a construct of that dream dreamed within another head, he just accepted it and moved on.
The footage on the screen was unusual in that I was naked. I'm not given to recording myself naked these days (not for YouTube, anyway), age and poverty having now decimated what was once a physique to be proud of, but again the slumbering John didn't question these anomalies. His finger hovered above the relevant key on the keyboard, ready to edit out any appearance of the aptly monickered "Little John", but no such appearances were made. The footage I surveyed through the eyes of dream John was absolutely fine and required no editing, so back we sat, puffing on our favourite pipe and relaxing, observing and sipping creamy coffee from the unchipped side of our mug, both of us oblivious to the fact that in the real world that only one of us had or would ever experience the real me was sleeping soundly beneath a rotten joist to which a photograph of people we'd once loved and felt loved by is pinned.
As we puffed and sipped and watched I became aware of further discrepancies, little clues that hinted at my real state. During one section of video I rocked a crib in which slept a dark haired infant, a baby girl, who I knew was not the fruit of my own loins but who I knew I cared deeply for. In another clip I lay in my bed, smiling and whispering to the viewer so as not to wake the dark haired woman that slept beside me, a woman I knew to be the mother of the child I loved but who I knew I cared nothing for.
Then, the proof I needed to jolt my sleeping brain from it's ignorance. A shot of me from a distance, naked as in every other shot, revealed a tattoo that I've never had set amidst the tattoos that cover much of my upper body.
I was suddenly aware that I was asleep, that this was a dream from which I was about to wake, and I panicked.
I panicked because of the child in the crib, the child that still slept soundly and whose face I hadn't seen and whose face, I now realised, I would never see. A child my sleeping brain told me I loved, who would be taken from me should my eyelids flutter open.
And even worse than losing her I further came to realise that, once I'd returned to the land of the living, she'd be left with a woman that I now knew I despised.
So I fought to remain asleep. I dashed around the beautiful apartment my subconscious had constructed for me searching for somewhere to hide from the dawning dawn, but to no avail.
I woke, made myself a coffee and sat down to write this entry. This is one of those rare occasions where, even before having taken my seat at the keyboard, I'd known the ending, known the point I was going to make.
As a child, on the morning after my dream of a life with the girl next door, I'd cried. I'd longed to return to the dream I'd just had, for that adventure to continue and to never end.
As an adult, I fought to keep the adventure alive as long as I was able even though the panic I felt as I searched for a cupboard to hide in spoiled the ending of what, until then, had been a wonderful time. I'd focused on the dream's approaching culmination and I'd mourned its loss before its loss had arrived. Now, as I sip and puff and sit and think, I know that tonight will bring with it another dream, and that that next dream is only possible because the last one ended.
Each adventure we undertake has both a beginning and an end but, to paraphrase the great Eric Morecambe, not necessarily in the right order. A new adventure can only begin after an end, so was the end really the end or was it really the beginning?
A child will live the dream right up until morning comes, enjoying every moment of it and only allowing the sadness of loss once that loss it found. An adult will see the loss looming and fight against it, prematurely mourning a passing that may never come to pass and, in doing so, wasting precious time that could have been better spent by stroking the soft, dark hair of the child in the crib as he at last looked upon her face. A child enjoys his dreams, an adult fears the end.
The child in you is the optimism you feel when embarking on your next adventure. He is the one for whom the Cath Kiston cup is half filled, probably with Vimto, and who doesn't give a toss that he might get a cold sore from the chip. The adult, he's the pessimist. He looks forward to the adventure, so eager to taste it that he'll blow on the hot coffee to be able to take his first sip then, once embarked upon, dreads the other end as it approaches. His Cath Kidston cup is aging, half empty and he can only drink from one side for fear of the hypothetical scabby lip that may or may not arise at some point in a future he may or may not have.
If your cup is half empty then it's still half full, enjoy what's left. If it has a chip in it, finish your brew, smash the cup against the wall and go find the next adventure. You never know, you might be just the dream-you dreamt by the real-you and your real chipped cup is still sitting, safe and dirty, by the sink where you left if last night.
A number of years ago whilst researching my family tree I discovered that, several centuries ago, one of my ancestors had travelled to the islands of my birth from the Iberian peninsula aboard a ship…
…as part of the Spanish Armada.
He, like many others, had been forced to fight in a war that would in no way benefit him for a king he detested. A number of ships turned left at the Bristol Channel, their mariners intent on jumping ship and fleeing ashore to Wales where they hoped to live their lives as free men.
Back then (as now) the Welsh hated the English as much as the English hated the Spanish, so in a case of “the enemy of my enemy is alright by me, boyo” these oily looking, dark haired individuals were welcomed into the communities, becoming quickly assimilated.
This influx of migrants is, in fact, why the traditional Welsh doll is dark haired rather than being coloured in a more Celtic fashion, the gene pool having been forever altered in a way that would make a Brexiter's blood boil.
I’ve only ever been to the land of my forefathers once (Unless you count Ibiza, though the drug fuelled days of debauchery I experienced there gave me little insight into the place) and I wasn’t a fan. Still a child, I’d ended up at a bullfight and had had to sit, open mouthed and nauseated, as some blokes dressed as Copa Cabana showgirls went all ‘Joe Pesci’ on some cows.
Back home in England I discovered that the father of one of my classmates, a local butcher, was a bull fighter. His name was Frank, which seemed to me an unusual name for a matador, and he was forever on the local news being celebrated as the only Englishman to take part in the barbarism of the Plaza de Toros.
He was celebrated for being a bit of a twat to some cows and I said as much to his son and son’s friends. They didn’t dress as showgirls, nor did they stab me to death, but the severe dead arms I was given on the stairwell between lessons meant I struggled even to lift a pencil for several days afterwards.
Eventually, the sense and sensibilities of my countrymen caught up with my own and, rather than being featured on Granada Reports every summer, his business suffered. I seem to recall some rather ugly graffiti being daubed on his windows occasionally, I think there may also have been an arson attack and, eventually, his fame waned, at least in Britain.
I doubt it did likewise in Spain. I've heard it seldom wanes in Spain.
What is deemed to be socially acceptable now may not be so tomorrow. The world changes, the inhabitants change with it. In my lifetime I have seen drunk-drivers go from being considered as “characters” to become scum, decent people no longer smoke in the presence of children or non-smoking adults, most dog owners carry plastic bags to clean up after their best friends and folk take their own, reusable bags to the supermarket. There is no shame in looking at a situation and thinking “That’s not right” even when most others couldn’t give two shits about the same subject. In such situations you’re generally just at the forefront of the zeitgeist. What you and I may consider insignificant your neighbour may find to be of the utmost importance and vice versa.
Like my distant ancestor, who took the Anglicised name of Noah upon arrival, I have recently left the land of my birth with no intention of returning.
Once, many moons ago, I couldn’t have imagined ever wanting to leave, but leave I now have. Following a zig-zag course north I eventually ended up being done a kindness that I’m sure I didn’t deserve and given the opportunity to flee the country that had allowed me to rot. The fates have conspired to bring me ever closer to the land of my mutinous ancestor and the closer I get the more I wonder why on Earth he ever left.
Once upon a time there was an England that was merry. Then some bloke with warts decided he wanted those around him to work hard and he told folk some fibs based on an old book.
Suddenly, instead of dancing, singing, loving and playing whilst occasionally doing enough work to sustain the lives of their countrymen, your average Englishmen began working as hard as they could to ensure that, once dead, they’d not suffer. Suffering for a lifetime to ensure they’d not suffer for an eternity. The fucking idiots.
Working hard, paying taxes, making the warty man wealthy with no benefit to themselves.
I’m genuinely unsure how long I have been out of the country now. I could easily check, but I just can't be arsed. I don’t care. It doesn’t matter. I live among people who work to live, they don’t live to work. I visit pharmacies and, instead of seeing professional wearing pristine white lab coats and bustling about busily I’m greeted by a chap in jeans and a grateful dead tee-shirt who asks me how I am and smiles a lot. Appointments give one a vague idea of when something may occur. Basically, if your appointment is for 2pm on Tuesday then that simply means don’t make any plans for Tuesday afternoon.
The young and the old smile and greet one and other in the street, food is shared, homes are homes and not investments, jobs are slotted in between lives. The only exception to these “rules” are those other rules put in place by the economic migrants (apparently the French for “economic migrant” is “ex-pat”) who infest the one bar that’s owned by an Englishman in the town square and complain about having had to wait an hour for a bus. An hour during which, had they bothered to learn more of the language, they could have conversed with the locals who were waiting for the same bus and sharing food around.
They’d not want that food though because, apparently, French food is all shit.
I’m looking to head further away from the English channel soon, though if I could I'd remain right here. Like an abandoned galleon that eventually smashes into a beach many miles away I have no hand on the tiller of my life. But then, few of us ever have, we just think we have. I shall probably be in Spain by Christmas, completing the circle set in motion by my forefather and continued by myself. Maybe I'll find a way to stay here and not make it back "home", maybe the journey will remain unfinished, an arc rather than a circle.
It turns out that the warty man had mislead us and that life isn't a chance to earn enough merits for a happy afterlife but is, in fact, for living. Many a friend has told me they wish they could do what I have done and live how I now live. They won’t believe me when I tell them they can. They have jobs to pay for their mortgages, they have mortgages to provide a roof, they toil for much of the week and, one day if they toil hard enough, they’ll die and leave that house to their offspring, providing the government with a huge chunk of revenue and their children with a house to tie them into a similar drudge.
Many reading this will think me an idiot or, at best, a dreamer. But I'm not the only one. Raining punches onto our skinny arms on a dusty school stairwell won't convert us to your way of thinking. Don't be the last to realise what others have already realised. Modern life is as barbarous as any ridiculous, archaic tradition, though now the common man is the cow.
Some have said I'm living the dream, but a dream is a sleeping fallacy, a flight of fancy over which we've no conscious control. A dream cannot be lived. This is no dream, we'll not one day awaken, bleary eyed and refreshed, into a life of leisure where we'll be reunited with our loved ones.
Or, if I'm wrong and we do, it'll not be because we did a load of overtime to pay for bricks and mortar that, in a few hundred years time, won't even exist anymore.
You don't have to jump ship to live life as a free man. Work less, earn less, owe less, dream less...