03 January 2019

Begging indifference

And those who saw it told them how it happened to him who had been demon-possessed, and about the swine. Then they began to plead with Him to depart from their region.
The cold snap in the UK reminds us that winter is here and has been here and will be here for the foreseeable future. It's a nice distraction from Brexit at least, to read news about the failing NHS and some migrant boats we're all meant to worry about. The cold feels less oppressive than it has in the past, with the house on Victoria Road's new boiler and freshly plastered walls. The fifty-five inch LG TV glows in the dark and like how we imagine a normal British family would, the five us of sit together watching some inane American reality show. The girls and Yoko do a puzzle on the floor and look up occasionally to see if whatever made-up drama around which the show revolves has been resolved or not. I'm absorbed in my phone. On New Year's Eve, Mei and I stayed up to watch the fireworks in London and counted down to 2019, the first time I had done that in years and years. Yoko and Naomi came down after midnight and we hugged and kissed and went to bed finally, with nothing to do in the morning but wake up. On New Years Day, I didn't dress until one and then finally, when the sun was setting, lumbered off to the High Street with the excuse of buying some crisps, the last day of the holiday. I wandered around Harborne, drank coffee, and ended up buying popcorn for the girls and a one hundred and eighty seven millilitre bottle of red wine for myself, that I put in my coat pocket and from which took small sips as I walked through the cricket grounds, stopping to take a photo of the sky.

After eleven days of holiday, the structure of work feels euphoric, like someone placed their hand on my shoulder while I dug through the pantry and said, 'It's time.' I'm a fat man, and I dread Christmas. My regimen of eating and drinking and exercising only works when my mind is occupied for some substantial part of each day; that is, when I'm always working. The holiday comes closer and finally sets in, and I become unmoored. An undercurrent starts to draw me out. What have I eaten, what am I eating now, what will I eat later. In the first two or three days, I try to keep track and then realise how pointless it is for an app on my phone to tell me I've overeaten several thousand kilocalories, and if I were to do this every day for the next five weeks, I would weigh fifteen kilograms more than I weigh now.

On day four, I've entirely given up, lost sight of the coastline. I'm not eating anything I wouldn't normally eat, of course, I'm just eating four or five times more than I normally would. Like a rice cake with several, upwards of five, tablespoons of natural peanut butter on it — high in protein, only sustainable palm oil, and good fats. To offset this, to see if I can placate the app, I also try to run when I can, to keep up my exercise, but waking at five AM and setting out in the dark makes little sense when there is no rush to do anything, does it. I fall asleep trying to meditate on the new sofa and wake around ten, wondering why it's still so quiet.

You can punish yourself for this particular mix of sloth and gluttony. I know because I've regularly done it. These are easy sins to identify and hate in yourself, particularly when you spend the rest of the year hating them in other people. I ate half a loaf of sourdough bread that I bought after it had been reduced to forty-three pence, and then I drank the last two hundred millilitres of whisky in the house — if this isn't what a sinner looks like, I'm not sure what does. Gluttony is this exactly, isn't it, to keep eating and eating despite how you feel, like if you keep eating, you might feel full. Of course, it has nothing to do with feeling full, so the feeling never comes. I stop for maybe two, two and half hours and then start at it again. The kids wake up and it's like I've been in a manic state all night despite having slept hours and hours later than I normally would — where are we going today, does it matter, can we leave the house.

And then, just like that, when Wednesday came, and my Garmin Vivosmart buzzed me awake, the spirit of gluttony had been cast out. It must have happened some time in the night because I was suddenly aware: the man dressed normally while the pigs charge towards the sea, possessed with whatever had possessed me. I drank some water and made coffee and had a banana, one banana, and one piece of toast with one tablespoon of peanut butter and one tablespoon of blackstrap molasses. I turned on the meditation app and could meditate again. I found myself writing emails and running on the gym treadmill again, bloated, sure, but someone I could recognise. It was bitterly cold outside, but that didn't matter like it had mattered that exact same time two days ago.

I logged back into my email and waited, and am indeed still waiting, for a message or series of messages that will let me finish my application for Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK. I've looked forward to this day for years now, more than nine years I told someone, as I thought back on all my talking about the future, the potential places we might or might not go. That feeling that it might not happen, that we might get free from the Home Office, from the tyranny of the twelve thousand forty one pounds it will cost to stay, has waned in the last few years. The girls get older and as I listen to stories from school about cliques forming and dissolving, I wonder to myself: what, will I really uproot us, drag us across the channel to Scandinavia, to a longer, deader winter because I'm fed up gathering paperwork. I look in the mirror after I turn the light on, after the spirit of gluttony has gone out, but my face is still bloated like I'm nineteen again: of course not, don't be absurd. You have other things to worry about. You need to stop eating and focus. Pick up where you left off. Go meditate and have a glass of water. This is actually the future now. There never was any future.