A Song For The Elderly



At the end of 21 Grams there's a Sean Penn monologue about the weight of the human soul.



Which starts with the line.



How many lives do we live. How many times do we die.






Watch it, it's beautiful.







With the exception of light at the end of the tunnel experiences spoken from hospital beds, or coffins with scratched ceilings, or reincarnation, i think we must only die once. In terms of the heart stopping and the soul escaping and the flesh rotting. The dust to dust idea. I've always been drawn to things that we can't understand or explain, maybe for the reason that we can't understand or explain them, and up until recently when it came to the idea of the Next Chapter i was happy to sit on the fence with the sun on my face dangling my legs in the late-afternoon breeze. But strangely, these days i find it hard to believe in an after-life.



I subscribe to what Bertrand Russell said.







When i die i shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive.



Bertrand Russell 1872-1970 philosopher, aristocrat, pipe-smoker



But why should we have the arrogance to assume that only logic and science within the spectrum of human understanding is what is actually out there. There is an argument for the existence of God based on ants. It runs that if ants can walk the earth in their billions completely unaware of the existence of us, the self-styled omnipotent species on earth, then equally why should it not be possible that something greater than us should exist outside the spectrum of our own understanding.







It's a question that has polarised humanity's best minds. One of my most relentlessly rational homeys and father of three months GKeezie believes that we must hang around in some form or other after the landlord finally kicks us out into the cold. Einstein was a huge fan of mystery too. This coming from a man the sum-total of whose credibility rested on nothing less than absolute conclusive proof.



I do know one thing. That at some point in the future, certainly bedecked in boxfresh AF1s...






I will wax from the pulpit about the certainty of an after-life.



*


You see, this after-life quandary is just one example of how our opinions on things change in relation to the different stages we are at in our lives. Anyone who has reread old diary entries and looked perplexed as they see a page written in their own hand-writing, spewing forth thoughts that could never possibly have come from their mind, will acknowledge how much our brain can change. Not just a particular opinion. But a complete outlook.


Just as spring eventually loosens winter's grip and autumn pulls down the blinds on long heady summers, so to over the course of our life we will encounter change, not just from the outside but more specifically from within. Right now, despite its insistence on remaining tediously butt-cold, spring is changing everything in our natural environment. There is a continent-wide shift in play.



Check out these same trees, over the course of the four seasons.






The trees themselves, their whole entity, they don't change. But over the years their trunks will morph and fatten, their branches will grow out in different patterns shaped by the wind, they might be felled in storms or pruned by zealous park-keepers, and every year their leaves will spring and bask and die and fall.



The trees are always changing, yet somehow they aren't.



I think it works as a metaphor for how we as people change. The naysayers who maintain that people never fundamentally change are both right and wrong. Just like the trees, we are somehow capable of change and simultaneously incapable of it. We are the tree, but we are also its morphing trunk and falling leaves. And just like the tree, our lives too are made up of seasons






The Wonder Years was great because it pitched the idea of simultaneous time. The mature narrator, speaking to us from inside the mind of a teenage Kevin, was a reminder that time doesn't have to be linear, that the different stages of our life are all interconnected and playing out simultaneously.







I'm reminded almost every day how connected i am to the six year old inside me. I'm looking out for him all the time, i'm still fighting his battles, i still feel his pain. If i stretch my imagination i am also connected to the 75yr old in me. He's studying me quizzically right now by the fire in his carpet slippers, watching as my actions and today's life choices form the tapestry of the life he has to look back on.






Old age is staring me in the face in a more real way too. In the form of two of the people closest to me in the world. As my parents grow older, as they move towards the music and take the floor in a slow-dance with their mortality, i realise they haven't changed. They're still the same children whose blurred photographs stare back at me from old photo albums, the same expressions of joy or boredom or surprise spread across their faces.


They mean the world to me because i love them. But to the outside world they're anonymous people in the autumn of their lives. There's an old lady in my local Tesco's who regularly holds up the supermarket queue to talk to the cashier, much to the ire of the impatient groaning under the weight of their laden shopping-baskets. But it could be the only conversation this lady has all day. She might have lost a few braincells, but she was also once probably the matriarch of a large family. I guarantee in her prime she had guys queueing round the block just to speak to her. She has seen all of life. She demands our respect.



Same as Alf, regardless of where he posts his letters.






Old people are us. 



Because one day, we'll be them.



If we lack respect for them, we disrespect ourselves. We disrespect the cycle of life that we ourselves are involved in. I wonder if this trigger-happiness to dehumanise the old is something we need to start checking ourselves for. Why should it take a leap of imagination to think of old people as young once? Is it not all part of the same grand arc of life. Just as the leaf grows hesitantly out of the branch, dances for a while in the summer breeze before turning brown and falling to the ground. That's life. 



Alf could tell you that.






Funnily enough Alf is the lead character in all of this. I'd send him a letter about it, but i'm not sure he'd know how to return it. Oscar Wilde said the tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is youngAlf is connected to all of us, by reminding us that one day we will be just like him. By reminding us that we are all connected. Young and old are all the same. This doesn't change because we sprout nose hairs or start to feel the force of gravity weigh more heavily on us. It doesn't change because the distance to our feet can feel unbreachable when the time comes to put our socks on. And it doesn't change because we post all our letters in the dog poo box. We'll still feel the same inside as we did when our bodies worked without a second thought. Our parents would be the first to tell us that.



*


I'll leave you with the ending of Prufrock, where a 22 year old T S Eliot somehow manages to write from the perspective of a man both looking back on his life, whilst wondering what old age might bring.







I grow old... I grow old...
I shall wear the bottom of my trouser's rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.



*



We can start singing, even if the mermaids won't.



We can at least remind ourselves to from time to time.



Real Cold Shit




For some reason this dude has been circulating on many peoples' radar of late.






Wim Hof is his name. 



Chilling in sub-zero temperatures is his game.



They call him the Ice Man, and he's basically trying to get everyone to follow his sub-zero lead and alter their early morning shower and bath rituals in keeping with his philosophy; that prolonged exposure to very cold temperatures has a vast wealth of health benefits. Asides from shrivelling your nuts to pre-pubescent levels and halving your heating bill, apparently it's supposed to make you feel great, something to do with oxygen to all parts of your body and dopamine and stuff.



Plus you get to look like a gee.






I then watched this video.



Which was really interesting, about the merits of cold showers, and the importance of sleep.






At first i wondered if this stuff only applied to people with one syllable first names and surnames.



Fuck it i thought, only one way to find out.



So i took the plunge. 






That was one week ago.



I've been having ice cold showers for one week. Do i feel better? I don't fucking know. 



Am i confused? Yes i fucking am



I'll tell you why. An ice cold shower is fundamentally a very unpleasant experience. Not even when you're past the stage of hyper-ventilation and you've semi-gotten used to it, is it even vaguely enjoyable. I'm not going to lie, the immediate aftermath is other-worldly. The feeling as you dry yourself off and begin to warm up whilst still feeling all tingly is incredibly invigorating. Kind of like the feeling you get when you use that mint shower-gel, but with the bonus of not looking about twelve.







But the shower itself is i repeat not enjoyable. 



Which throws up an important philosophical question. Should we do things that are fundamentally torturous because we know we're going to feel better after having done them? That seems a little like focusing too much on the destination whilst letting the journey go to shit. Like living a life of pain and martyrdom only to earn eternal salvation once we move onto the next life. Sounds familiar.


Surely life is in the doing. And showers are one of life's great motherfucking pleasures. The last time i enjoyed a shower was over 8 days ago. At the moment they are sources of incredible discomfort for me. Just thinking about them at my desk makes me go all Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining.






Stop taking cold showers then dickhead. 



I CAN'T.



Because these one-syllabled punks Wim Hof and Paul Chek have got me thinking that if i continue to prostrate myself at the hands of their cultish teachings, then my life is going to be better in a myriad of different ways. One of them says it'll even improve my sex-life, which is interesting, seeing as i literally can't remember the last time i had sex. I can't go back to the joys of hot showers because as much as i might enjoy being in them, i won't enjoy the sadistic feeling of coming out of them. And now, if i even think of cranking the dial towards hot as i lie there in the foetal position convulsing in the corner of my shower crying out for it to stop, i keep imagining the Ice Man looking down on me and shaking his head sternly like the terrifying dude in the painting in Ghostbusters 2.






This sub-zero Catch 22 is ruining my life.



Fuck you Wim... i'm into it.


Pool Fulla Liquor Pt 2


Last year i started writing an account of my decision to give up drinking. I described it as one of the most confusing things i'd ever done. The reason it left me so confused was because i didn't learn anything from it. Well i kind of did and i kind of didn't. But strangely the lessons i did learn seemed to vanish into the ether pretty quickly. The whole exercise had some point to it, whilst simultaneously proving in the end somehow pointless.



Like the punchline of a joke you get, but just don't find funny. 






You can read the first part here.



Having said this, it was one of the most important things i've done in recent memory. Me saying i didn't learn anything springs from the fact that now, five months later, i've resumed a pattern of drinking none too dissimilar from the one i was in before i stopped. But the aim was never to stop drinking completely. The aim was to take a peek behind the curtain. And to mull over whatever it was that peek might reveal to me, over an ice-cold pint of pilsner







To say i didn't learn much isn't true.



We always learn. Even when we don't, we somehow do.



*



I'd say my experience could be split up into 3 key states of being, appearing to me one after the other.



1. S M U G



The most immediate and obvious effect of stopping drinking is clear. 






With not a milligram of hangover, the magic of the wake-up lies in beginning the day on the right side of normal. From here a smooth transition into Total Geedom is by no means out of the question. Have a big night however and you don't get out of normal until most probably late afternoon - the state in which you begin when you don't drink. On a big night with the wrong type of hangover, you might not even by the day's end reach the oasis from which your teetotal self has been calmly sipping all day.






Another option is to go nitro and have an absolute blinder. At least you wake up feeling marvellous, because you're still drunk. But from then it's a headlong freefall into the abyss. Which depending on how philosophical your mindset is, or more importantly how much work you have on, can be quite funny but more often than not an absolute living death. 


In this new hungover-less state, the greatest difference i found from the off was that i woke up winning. I didn't have any hazy memories of candle-lit heart to hearts or Campo Viejo-fuelled rants, but what i did have was no headache. The rocky road from fuzzy-headedness had had an upgrade, and now more resembled an Autobahn to world domination






This mental clarity also served to dampen the voice of my self-doubt. With no hangover gnawing at me, everything had hope, everything had potential, things were worth trying. There was less fear, less non-engagement. The glass wasn't just half-full, it was over-flowing with San Pellegrino. 






The decision to stop drinking took on a force all of its own. As i said a 28-stone bouncer manning the door of my willpower had moved into permanent residency in my brain. The expression on his face of unflinching brutishness could be seen mirrored in my own, whenever the possibility of a drink presented itself. It was self-perpetuating. The greater i felt, the smugger i was, the more i wanted to sustain it, the less i wanted to drink. 


The first couple of weeks were characterised by an unbearable smugness. I felt fucking great, and just as any state of prolonged smugness should rightly bring with it, i soon became unbearable to myself. I'd see groups staggering out of pubs at 10pm on a Sunday and think how they were throwing their lives away. I'd see baskets in supermarkets loaded with tinnies and feel my eyes roll to the back of my perfectly sober head. My U-turn was shocking. I was turning into a sanctimonious dick. 



And i was loving it.






But all good things must come to an end. 



Towards the end of my fourth week sober, i friend of mine suggested a pub visit on a Thursday afternoon. My smugness had been gradually waning, the novelty of my new lifestyle was becoming no longer novel. I'd had a shitty day, and i wanted nothing more than a release. The kind of release not many things in the world can give you quite like the first few sips of an ice cold lager. I went up top, and there was my 28-stone bouncer friend, looking especially lairy this time, gravely shaking his bald head. So i went to the pub and sat there monosyllabically for half an hour with a soda and lime. I got to the bottom of the glass, made my excuses, went home, and fell into a deep depression. 








That’s why i insist that my psychic deterioration was down to a lack of drink and drugs, rather than anything else. As bad as those things might be for your longterm health, they’re still down-time. Which for someone who gets as caught up in his own head as i do, desperately needs.



Mike Skinner 1978-present rap bard


*


After my depression came something else, almost more worrying than its predecessor. Part three will cover my teetotal-induced rock bottom and my attempt to claw my way back out of it with the help of some aggressive self-questioning and a motherfucking SodaStream



Riturrrn Of Tha Track Pt 3



This is the concluding episode of a trilogy telling the story of a bike theft, and an heroic attempt to restore justice in the face of overwhelming adversity. Call it a soaring middle-finger raised to injustice's melon so we can all sleep better at night. Just thinking about it makes me want to call my mum. You can read episode 1 by clicking here, and episode 2 by clicking here. I can't even remember what the hell happened so i had to read them again too.


Recap.



My man Wilma's beloved track-bike disappears mysteriously outside a coffee shop. A month later on my way to a silent art-house movie from the 20s i catch sight of it and its new custodian, a huge dreadlocked man. Sacking off any plans for my film-screening, i Jason Bourne the man across Hackney whispering hushed coordinates over the phone to Wilma, who by chance is in the area drinking a pint. We crisscross London Fields, suddenly losing phone contact, and with it all hope of coming out alive. At exactly the moment where i think all is lost and i'm about to get sucked into an underworld of iniquity in the council estates whose heart our oppressor is reeling me into, Wilma appears stage-left on his vespa, careening across the roundabout at precisely the spot where the tip of my finger ends.








Rubber burns, pedestrians gasp, inner city speed-limits are broken. 



We rest easy. It's clear which side of the law we're on. 



As Wilma rattles towards me, I wave my arm in the manner of a man urinating powerfully down both trouser legs in the direction of our oppressor, whose back is turned and moving incredibly slowly up the road. The spine-tingling moment when time seems to slow in moments of high-tension washes over me, draining the blood from my face. Out of the corner of my eye I see two old ladies motoring up the other side of the pavement, and realise time has not slowed at all, not even remotely. It is merely the unfathomably slow progress of our man down the street that has duped me into thinking the space-time continuum is out of sync. 



In my confusion my mind drifts in the manner of a Caribbean wave to the totally tropical taste of Lilt from the 80s advert, new mango and mandarin. And Javan, the Lilt-man, chilling with his selection of tropical fruit out of the back of the Lilt-mobile. 







In this strange odyssey through the recesses of my subconscious i careen into a wall. All of a sudden a rising sun of realisation dawns on me. The man we are tailing looks remarkably like Javan. Someone upstairs is telling me something. I snap back to reality and shake off images of the Lilt-man like a dog shaking off the late morning rain.



I refocus on Javan, the name bestowed on him as a literary device for the purposes of the story.






His name could actually be Javan. Who knows.



This is no getaway driver, fingers on the wheel, primed for siren-wail. But does the gazelle being tracked though the high-grass by the cheetah see any cause for concern? Suddenly the motives for his slowing become clear. He is stopping. The thief, and by now we both seem clear on the fact he is responsible for the cruel theft mere weeks before of the white Brother bike he is astride, comes to a languid halt by no. 142 Landsdowne Drive. Lazily skipping the bike up off the pavement he walks towards the bright red door on the left. 







Wilma and i move forward together in unison.


Wilma shouts...


WILMA
Oi!

JAVAN about-turns at the door of Number 142 exhaling a plume of sensimilla

JAVAN
jahmun?

WILMA
That's my bike!

JAVAN
what jah talkin bout?

WILMA
You're holding my bike mate it was stolen from a coffee shop on Broadway Market three weeks ago. I'm calling the police.

JAVAN
jah madman bredren mi buy dis fi 20 pound from man pon brick lane

WILMA
I'm calling the police.

ME
yeah

JAVAN
nuh call di police bredda

WILMA
Give me my bike or i'm calling the fucking police.






At this point we move in perfect pincer-movement towards him, me a whisker away from tripping over a paving stone and face-planting into a shrub. Feeling our advance Javan recoils into a cat-like position, ready to spring at the throat of his oppressors. In the blinking of an eye, his face morphs into an expression of such fury and unabated evil that both Wilma and i do a huge double-take. The intensity of his glare seems to explode every capillary in his face and a river of blood washes over the whites of both his eyes, turning them crimson.






Whether i shat my pants at that exact moment or it was only at a later stage that i lost all control of my bowels, remains unclear to me. The traumatic events that followed have been papered over by selective memory and much therapy, but as far as i can recall what happened went roughly as follows.


Wilma launches himself at Javan and the bike, and together they fall to the ground. Mid-fall i see Javan remove something from his jacket pocket that for a split-second catches the reflection of the late-afternoon sun. It is metallic. I fear for my friend's life and do the only thing a man faced with such a predicament can. I get out my phone, certain of lensing the viral video of the decade. I sigh, realising the pixel-power of my nokia 301 is never going to set youtube on fire, and consider switching to my Canon G5X. I also think better of this, concluding that any passer-by opportunistically capturing a fight between a white man and a huge black man being filmed from a metre away by a guy on a DSLR, and you really do have the viral video of the decade. All the while Wilma and Javan writhe on the ground outside number 142 like a pair of sketchy breakdancers trying to do a freeze.


I stand there gawping, unaware of the warmth working its way down my left trouser-leg. Wilma pulls some beginner jujitsu out of absolutely nowhere and arm-bars Javan, forcing the metallic object out of his hand. It drops to the floor, letting out a tinkle on impact with the paving slab. Time stops. The three of stare at it.


It is a bike-key.






JAVAN
man fi try unlock mi lock fram bike fi give it back rasclaat!

WILMA
oh

JAVAN
(wincing in pain holding his arm)
lickle pussyclaat take ya pussio bike

WILMA
Err... yeah nice one man. Umm... sorry about the arm buddy.



As this strange dialogue moves into second gear, another glint of something interrupts my vision. In my periphery i make out what i think can only be Javan's mum, a squat Afro-Caribbean woman holding an enormous casserole, yelling something about rice and how Javan is always late for his rasclaat dinner. My last impression is that of Wilma and Javan, arm-in-arm, laughing loudly as they disappear indoors in the direction of the casserole and a thick cloud of jerk-infused steam. But by now i am motoring down the street as far as my awkward limp can carry me, fully aware of the added weight of some substance coating my left leg and exploratorily seeping into my shoe. And the smell.



*



So yes in the end we got the bike back. Nothing quite so dramatic happened. No shanking took place. No blood spilt. No jujitsu arm-bars were adminsitered. Did we confront the perpetrator. Yes. Did he seem completely surprised and turn aggressive. Yes. Did he ask how the hell we had followed him there. Yes. Did i at that moment feel incredibly like Jason BourneYes i did. Did Javan reluctantly hand the bike over after repeated threats that we'd call the po-po on his ass. Yeah. Did Wilma and Javan shake hands at the end of this transaction. Strangely enough, they did. 



Did i shit my pants. Maybe.



Much more importantly, was the clenched-fist of justice administered to the glass-chin of wrongdoing, in the face of all adversity and against all odds.



 The world was the winner that day.








*


There is a strange sub-plot to this story.



Following the incident, Wilma and i fell out and didn't speak to each other for almost two months.



Upon retrieval of the bike we hugged it out and whooped and hollered and went our separate ways. I was still in time catch my silent art house movie from the 20s. He of course had his pint to finish. That night as i got into bed, my phone bleeped with a short text: 




The next day, i met Wilma on the canal by Victoria Park in the midday sunshine. And he didn't even bring it up. It was like the whole thing had never happened. There was no mention of the heroic reconquest, the fight to the death, the faith in the universe restored. Nothing. I couldn't believe it. I began questioning whether i'd made the whole thing up. And yet there he was, in clear possession of his white Brother bike that three weeks ago he'd mourned the death of and said goodbye to forever.


And in that delightful manner i seem to have inherited from my old man when he senses an injustice slung his way, i pulled the portcullis down on our friendship. I mean i'm not a total psycho, i had other legitimate reasons for doing it, but the aftermath of the bike story had left me a bit cold. And so i shut-up shop on our daily banter and basically went ghost on him for over a month.


Resenting not being thanked sufficiently for something is a strange emotion. But a month of feeling it keenly made me realise that it is fundamentally a waste of energy. Much like those other two strange emotions self-pity and jealousy, they are emotions that shouldn't exist because they are so fundamentally pointless. There i was thinking all that had happened was something monumental, mythic even. But maybe it wasn't. Maybe Wilma didn't really give a shit about the bike. Maybe he had other things on his mind. 


Stumbling through Lao Tzu i saw the short passage:


Fill you bowl to the brim and it will spill.

Keep sharpening your knife and it will be blunt.

Care about people's approval and you will be their prisoner.




Do your work, and then step back.


The only path to serenity.


This stuff is 2,600 years old. My wrath at not being sufficiently thanked lasted little over a month. And then it subsided. It wasn't that i thought Wilma was in the right about hardly thanking me. It was more about how i chose to react to it. Because sulking doesn't get anyone anywhere. And sulking is the practice of children. Why don't i write about it, i thought. Immortalise it on the page. Pour my scorn into words and let them bubble. Or step back. 



So i did both i suppose.



*


Do your work, and then step back. 






The only path to serenity.