31 December 2018

V is for plant-based


At eleven-twenty on Christmas Eve, we left the house to walk up the hill to St Peter's for midnight mass. The girls were singing in the choir for the third or fourth time in two days, and we came into the alcoves in the entryway of the church, as the community carol service was ending. I could see Father Graeme through the glass windows on the inside doors, wearing a black robe and collar and as I looked past the vergers, I could see him leaping in the middle of the sanctuary, willing the carolers with their coats on but open, to sing more loudly, more clearly. One doesn't always take one's coat off for worship at St Peter's. In practical terms, the heating may or may not be working, but in theological terms, you may also need to make a run for it. The community carolers were singing loudly, but not as loudly as they could and were looking at Graeme with a begging, collective weariness. It's eleven-thirty on Christmas Eve — surely, this level of enthusiasm is sufficient.

28 December 2018

As good a story

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Nearly five years now in Harborne have come to an end, and more years, I thought to myself as I walked back from the High Street on Boxing Day, than I ever spent anywhere else. After living here for so many years, everything seems to run together. Which year was which; was I fat or thin that December. I find myself telling the same origin stories whenever there's someone new to tell, but I've worn these stories out. Like the story which starts with Yoko and I marrying in a fever and ends with our disastrous honeymoon. Yoko said once, as I recounted with practiced precision our misery as we came by ferry into Gozo at golden hour: He likes telling that story, and I thought, it's not that I like telling this story. It's just the story that I have to tell. If I had a different story, I would tell that story.

27 December 2018

No time is wasted


From the top of the estate behind Saint Peter's, there is a steep hill leading down into the valley. The fog comes in and sits there, waiting for some change to dissipate or move it, but nothing changes. The sun comes up late and goes down early and the valley is still full of fog. It's perfect weather to run in, but I'm resting my legs. Instead, I put on my grey coat, the one my mother bought for me in two thousand and three for thirty dollars at a thrift store in Park City, before I left the States forever. I walk through the church cemetery to the other edge of Harborne, to fetch one of my daughters from an address scrawled on some scrap paper. Early afternoon now, and night is falling. 

It's been five years in the house on Victoria Road. With the work done, the new plaster and paint, the nagging inconsistencies of the white paint and the furniture we need to buy aside, things are finished for now. There are no gaping holes in the wall. I wake up and the blue-grey light comes in from three sides, like we had knocked a wall down. I make posher coffee than I have in the past and stare up and out the window as the kettle boils away. 

We watch the end of the year, the different shades of grey sat in the valley. Next year there will be more waiting, won't there. In Malaysia, the never-ending summer meant that the year went on and on without a perceivable sense of future. In the UK it's different, of course. Things stall, they don't spin out. I ask Naomi, as we look up into a tree at some birds, if she remembers the monkeys in Kajang, at the top of the hill near our house. I remember them as proboscis monkeys, but they must not have been. The mind plays a trick. 

Whatever profound thing I meant to say gets lost in the muddle of memory. I'm staring at my phone again — I'm lost in some other world. Night is falling, we need to get home before dark. 

17 December 2018

Ascetic

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I fell asleep on the sofa with my head next to the iPad I had set an alarm on — thirty six minutes to sleep after meditating and then I would run. I woke before the alarm went off and had another apple and cup of coffee before finally willing myself to put on my trainers, open the door, let my activity tracker catch the GPS and then I can start running. Just start running, nothing more. I tell myself I can stop, if I want to, but once I start and I make the first kilometer and then the second, I am on the trail and of course I am not going to stop running, what sort of dumb lie was that.

15 December 2018

Evidence

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It hasn't snowed heavily this year, but the cold has set in, the bitter 1920s cold of the house on Victoria Road that comes in through the fireplace. I don't want to ride my bike, so I have been running everywhere, changing out of my running kit into a jumper and jeans like superman when I arrive at work or the city. It's a good cold for running and feeling the inevitable mud-suck of winter removing your agency in the nights that become longer and longer until they don't. At the end of the year, everything is erased — nothing has happened. I feel it as I struggle through the paperwork of my final visa in this country, the indefinite one. I went through my calendar for the last five years, everything that had happened as entries of events and plane departure and arrival times, but I couldn't tell if they had really happened. I was in the States this year, wasn't I. I was in Japan. There was that AirBnB in Queens, and the runs around the lakes in Växjö. I'm sure they happened. I'm sure there are pictures.

04 December 2018

Indefiniteness


It's a mild heresy to start advent on the first of December — Advent begins on the first Sunday of December. The children have their advent calendars with chocolates and I considered getting a vegan one for myself, because I am a child too. I thought better of it and instead, followed my wife and daughters to the first carol service at St Peter's, to sit in the dark in my long grey coat that I've had for years now and try to clear my mind. In Japan, Japanese men are expected to avoid sweet things. 
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