29 December 2016


The frost is covering Harborne in the morning. Our neighbour Lyn, one down Victoria Road towards the roundabouts at War Lane and Fellows Lane, has a skeleton of an old greenhouse, dead plants coming up through the metal and covered in crystals. The sun both comes up and goes down behind the house because it's just gone winter. You can get up at seven or seven-thirty and still not be sure if it's morning. Like when we were in Scotland, and you couldn't tell if it was actually morning or if the sun had just come up at three-thirty. Two sides of the same thing.

With Christmas passed, I am spending the week getting things done around the house. Laundry that had piled up and moving some furniture. This house is too small for the five of us, but there is no energy or impetus to move. I decided instead to just change the master and second bedroom, giving the kids more space. Yoko and I are now confined to the second room, on the second bed, but it doesn't matter.  This is the self-imposed paternal martyrdom that my parents used to practice and I used to resent. From the second bed, one can see out the back window into the garden as the sun is coming up and then going down.

When we came to this house three years ago from the heat of Malaysia, it was damp and cold, covered all over with mould. Yoko still insists there is mould everywhere, but I can't see or smell it as much: I pulled out the rotting boards in the washing cupboard and then painted over all the stains underneath the sink and resealed it. I feel a kind of warmth emanating from it at night, calling me back after I've been out drinking with a friend and I fall down Victoria Road, drunk and tired.

There was never this stasis in Malaysia or even in our first stay in the UK — in my mind, I was always backed into some kind of a corner. Now, it feels like nothing will change ever again. I will get fat and old. I will think about whether or not we should buy the house or a house or some house. Can we buy it or not. I finally have the money I need, but I don't feel like I have the money I need. It's always simpler to say, I don't have the money, than I don't want to, or I can't, or I'm afraid. We didn't go home for Christmas because our passports are with the Home Office. There. Finished.

I shouldn't feel old, but I do. I looked across the street when I was at the cashpoint yesterday, and I saw my reflection too clearly in a shop. My ears are larger. They look larger. I put on the sort of jumper that my dad would wear and feel increasingly concerned about this title I'm taking on next year, that I wanted for so long: Reader. I am going to read now. In this Soseki book Yoko bought me for Christmas, a character says, 'The only thing that will satisfy you from now on is the library.' I worry that this is my future, some monasticism, with all the trappings of settling. What now, I wonder, as I set out for the high street, wanting to smoke a cigarette. What about another twenty years arguing with your wife about the dentist. What about it.

If a year of personal success feels like this, I wonder what a year of failure would be like. This year had failure too, I guess, I just haven't had time to think about it. I was on the train, or I wandered off, like at the beach in Scotland. The kids played and Yoko followed them, and I, having done whatever imaginary duty I needed to do, followed the stream back up into the hill, wondering where it came from.

02 December 2016

The secret chord

The alarm clock has been waking me up at 3:30 for the last month: baseball games, the election, trips to London, Glasgow, Bristol. Today, because it was so early, I took a taxi to the city centre. The car came early, around 4 and it was cold outside, minus two, the driver said. The streets were empty and dark and I thought about Letchu, our Malaysian taxi driver, and Genehsa on the dashboard of that car. It's been three years now. He had us to his house once, for dinner and the girls played in the park across the street.

The trains are on time or late, but it hasn't mattered actually. In London, I've sat on the 8th floor of the Institute of Education, going line-by-line through a funding bid, and taking time out here and there to go to Pret to get coffee or down past Totttenham Court Road to a pizza restuarant, where I get a slice and then stand on the road, eating it and watching the city go past. That project is done now, I think: there are five or six people left to check it and see what can be done to make sure the costs are maximised for the university. 

The visa application for 2017 has hung over my head for years, but two Monday's again, the Certficate of Sponorship came through and then on Wednesday, the day that my PhD student passed her upgrade viva, I sat in the finance office with the credit card and watched nervously as two payments went through £3000 and £3320. Five people, main applicant and four dependents. I put everything in an envelope and went to send it off. I ran into the other American on campus, Trump had won, yes, I hugged her, but this, holding the envelope, this is good news. This is the best news. Forget Trump for a moment.

I was hoping for a rush of satisfaction that never came, like after my PhD when I jut sat at home and drank whiskey for a night, angry rather than relieved. It's my fault for not putting too much importance on these things, to view my future only as various obstacles to overcome. You can't just keep flirting to pass the time, to put of the inevitable.

Nothing buys happiness though and we got the letters to go do our fingerprints and biometerics at the Post Office. I was angry with the man at the window for treating me poorly and then with the girls for dawdling, and then with myself for choosing such a difficult path. It was done and we went out into the German Market up on New Street. There was nothing left to do but wait. The money saved is just a number and there is still all the usually concerns to worry about. My salary still doesn't really cover our living expenses, isn't it, I say, and it's true and not true because I work so much on other things and there is always money coming in. It's an excuse really. I go to bed without anything to say.