26 May 2017

Before the bombing


On Sunday, the end of Christian Aid week, there was a bake sale at the church and Yoko made rice crispy treats with dark chocolate so that Mei could eat them and they could be sold with cupcakes during the time after the service. The church is on the hill above Victoria Road and the bells ring at 9:30, when I am walking Mei up to the choir practice before the service, and then back down in the sun as summer, British summer, is taunting us. We sing our way through the service and then communion and the processional and I get caught up talking to the old academics at the church hall afterwards, the men that I look at and think have lived the dream, teaching and working well into their seventies and only stopping because they can’t physically do it anymore.

I walked up to the university, Mei and Mia at a friends house, to pick up a book I had ordered then sit and read it a bit before walking back into town to buy a some pale ale in a can and walk up the high street, everything closed because it was after five on a Sunday, but the afternoon seeming to go and on as it does at the end of May.

I came past the takeaways at the end of the High Street, and the barber that I used to go to until Brexit and I started getting my hair cut at the Turkish barber shop. I turned the corner, and then was struck suddenly, like in the sort of pathetic manic way I am at times, by the beauty of the road, leafy as they would say here, and sun streaming through the trees that had been there forever. Yoko and I once found a picture of the church and the pub next to it from a newspaper in the early-1900s. It looked the same, the same huge trees coming up around it. Do you see this, I wanted to say to the guy passing in the tracksuit, headed somewhere – do you see where we are. This is where Virginia Woolf was. This is where it all happens.

I slowed down, thinking about when I first came to this country in 2002, when I had just cut my hair. I spent 18 hours in London, wandering around and making my way to Hyde Park. It was what I thought it would be – massive and grand and British, the way you want Britain to be. I don’t remember much of anything really. I remember sitting on a bench and thinking, naively and foolishly, Well, what comes next then. What comes next.

20 May 2017

Spirit of my silence, I can hear you

Pangkor Island Trip, March 2013

In Malaysia, I remember wanting summer to end. We arrived in summer even though it was December and the Christmas tree was still up in the hotel and summer continued on and on, through January, February, on through the real summer and on until autumn. It was summer, only summer. You would wake up to summer and go to sleep to summer. I waited two months for a man to come deliver the aircon, but he never came. We escaped the British winter and returned to the British winter, like it was some wardrobe to Narnia.

It's May now, late May even, and the heater is still on in the house on Victoria Road, the damp one where the sun rises at four thirty. On this side of world, there isn't any feeling of false abundance like there is in Malaysia, cab drivers reminding you again and again that they can. Can what, you ask, and they can anything. In Britain, everything is cannot from the beginning. It is the first thing you say in the morning to each other, that you are tired and miserable and everything has gone a bit pear-shaped. No one is fine, no one is feeling good today. We're all just holding on, aren't we, in quiet desperation, like the song said, you with your smiles and fake American optimism. Look where it's gotten you.

Yoko showed me a picture of a nicer house near us, down the road, with three bedrooms and well-presented. It was £1395 pcm: well over half my take home salary. I was marking something when she showed me and I felt the sort of panic that you mask with anger when you realise you're just pretending, that you can't actually afford to live the life you want to, can you, not in this place, not in Harborne. What are we doing here, who are we kidding. I looked at another house on Hartledon Road, just down from Victoria Road, perfect in location and size, and owned, the realtor told me in the way you tell someone about a black friend, that the house was owned by two men, a fantastic couple who were moving into their other home. I had my three kids with me — Yoko was at church, and we traipsed through it, me thinking, yes, I could afford this thing I need if perhaps I was a gay man with a working partner and three fewer kids. Instead, I gave my card to the realtor, lied about making an offer perhaps, and held Mia's hand as we crossed the road.

All this pretending about competency, telling the kids to clean their bedrooms, and reading pointers online for healthier relationships. Nietzsche blames Jesus, but Jung says we need our myths. I'm far less reasonable, shouting in my mind at my father for fucking this whole thing up, for electing Trump and this crushing shame of unrighteousness. I bought Naomi a book for her 10th birthday, a book that had won some awards in the States and is about this family of three black sisters living in the 60s. Yoko laughed, American, of course. America like I feel about it — foreign and strange and wrong. We've been reading it to each other, Naomi and I — I read a chapter outloud and then she does. Mei is at church and Mia is upstairs doing something and I drink a £1.19 Carling Premier that I bought at the War Lane Cellar. I look out the window into the garden and that huge tree behind the Victoria Road house, listening to my daughter's British accent read African American English. I think about the forty or fifty years I probably have left, and how, when I'm an old man, I hope Naomi will read outloud to me again. I remember when I first held her, as a baby, pretending as you do when you hold your first child that you have any idea what you're doing.

07 May 2017

Dollar signs and Amy Grant


Kent

It’s funny the things you remember. I remember singing a praise song that included the lines ‘Holy Ghost, we appreciate you’ when I was a child and my parents had Bible studies. This was the end of the song, the last verse, after you had appreciated all the members of the godhead, one-by-one, eyes closed and hands raised up. ‘We love you, adore you, we bow down before you.’ I never thought much about this, but I was a child. Now I’m judgemental everyone who wasn’t, but still sang and didn’t think about it.

The last two months have passed with little to comment on. I wanted to write about death and dying for most of April, particularly after I came back from Japan and the kids’ guinea pig died, the blondish one they called ‘Pilly’. Pilly had gone through his life with people always asking, clarifying that his name was in fact ‘Pilly’ and Naomi saying the name again to them like they were stupid for mishearing, Pilly. The day after I came back from Japan, he was suddenly ill and laid in the cage. His brother, the ginger one, crouched down next to him, and then he was dead. Everyone cried and I did too. Ricky, his brother, spent the night with the body and then we buried Pilly with flowers in the garden, before I went to work.

Japan, it turned out, was a kind of trip in a time machine. I walked around feeling like I was 24 again, particularly in Shinjuku when I walked past the Keio Plaza where my family stayed when they came for the wedding and I stayed with them. My parents had money then and I remembered one night going out of the hotel to this plaza that I walked through last month, and talking to Yoko on my phone. I don’t remember what we talked about. I don’t remember anything specific. And I remember one other time, my dad staying there at that same hotel and he and I going to Roppongi to eat and argue about Jesus and the church and George W. Bush and war. I don’t remember the specifics.

Now, some ten years later, there I was again in the heat and walking up towards that park in the shadow of the metropolitan government offices, seeing the families and thinking about some parallel universe in which I live there and we are happy and Yoko doesn’t have to learn English. There is no Brexit and no Life in the UK test. No house on Victoria Road that is too small and lacks sufficient shelf space. None of it.
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