10 March 2022

Light where there was no light

After all the internal turmoil I felt taking down the trampoline, another storm blew in and the girls remarked coming home from school last week that someone else's, some friend's trampoline had ended up in a neighbour's back garden and it was good that I took ours down when I did. James and the lad who was not quite a lad showed up unannounced as I was heading out on a Monday morning, and I did my best to hide my annoyance at not being told they were coming because I had been worried that they had done a runner with my deposit — indeed, earlier that very morning I had said as much to my neighbour. I quickly threw everything we had onto the grass and moved the metal shed that I had cut myself badly on when I put it up so four years ago and by the time I was finished clearing things, James was already pulling up concrete slabs. I got a call after I finally went to work that they were going to need another £150 to fill in a hole underneath the old slabs, and this sounded reasonable to both Yoko and me. I came back and James told me it had likely been a bomb shelter, there were many of them built along these terrace houses and I, full of videos of bombing in Ukraine and crying families, felt the terrible collapsing of history that you feel at times in these old houses.

After four days of work, some more men came with the new pressure-treated wood shed and put it up, and Yoko got the cash out of the bank. When James counted it, I nervously watched, making him nervous, and it was £20 short. He assured me that he must have miscounted, and I assured him it was right, although I really had no idea, it was just the money they'd given us at the bank. I held back saying something about this being the problem with paying in cash because that wasn't the point. They did an amazing job and when they left, I pulled apart the old metal shed in the rain and put it out front for a guy from Facebook to come and take away. He showed up with a small Corsa and a wireless drill and when I went outside to tell him it was all there, he said it seemed flimsy, and I said, it will be more rigid when you put it together when I actually wanted to say, JR, you're picking up a shed for free from a guy that you met on Facebook — let's watch the attitude. I gave him the thumbs up and went back to a meeting I had on Zoom about school governance and he was gone when I had finished. 

Having settled this part of the restoration of the house at Victoria Rd, there is nothing left on my spreadsheet of things to rennovate. Now, I have to start fixing all the things that have deteriorated from the first renovation, like the drawer that broke off on Pancake Day because there was too much weight in it and which I scolded my daughter about, before realising mid-scolding that she had nothing to do with it being too full in the first place, what was wrong with me, and that my frustration was really with some other person who annoyed me, and not even with them, but with myself. I apologised and made a sudden deliberate shift in my mood: it's Pancake Day, goddammit, you're right, it should be happy, I'm ruining it. Afterwards, I replaced some screws and refitted the drawer, showing it to Yoko like a boy showing his mother he had managed to put his trousers on the right way round: praise me for my basic competence.

In the midst of all this, insomnia came around again and the dark passenger reappeared, the one that I recognise only when I'm eating hummus at three in the morning and pacing back and forth waiting to run. When I went to give platelets and was giving my health stats, the nurse said, eighty-two kilos, is that right, and I said, no, uh, I'm more like seventy-eight now, and she looked at me concerned and asked if that was on purpose. Yes, I said, I'm training for a marathon and I need to drop my Christmas weig- but she had stopped listening and gone to talk to the proper nurse, the one who had the nametag with Sister on it, the nurse that I dread because she always makes me feel like I've done something wrong. Sister Nurse came over and said, Have you lost weight? and I said, Yes, I'm training for- and she had stopped listening, and said, Do you get the tingling sensation ever when you give blood? and I lied and said no, and she said, It will take longer now, like it was something I could change at the moment, like I could say, Oh, nevermind, I'll put the weight back on. I said, fine, and she looked at the other nurse: Just write, he's on a diet, and she walked off. But I'm not, I wanted to say, I'm training for a marathon. I ran remarkably fast yesterday and it was because I've lost weight. There was another trade-off and the first nurse passed my chart to the next nurse and briefly talked about me, with the phrase, He's on a diet, being said again and me sitting there awkwardly, like some voiceless seventy-eight-kilo body that had only a month ago been eighty-two kilos.

The blood donation went smoothly and I didn't have any tingling, but I felt unsettled the whole time, having listened to other people talk about my body in front of me and knowing of course, as a woke, feminist white man trying to be a part of the solution rather than the problem, that women are subjected to this sort of public talk about their bodies all the time. Really feeling it is obviously a different thing. I remembered being seventeen and having to go to the doctor for a hernia check and after dropping my pants, the doctor remarked, Well, your first problem is that you have a small penis, followed by an awkward silence that felt like a year, followed by him saying, I'm joking, but it wasn't a joke, it can never be a joke, I want to say back to him as an almost forty-year-old man. It's not just a diet, I'm not dieting, I'm trying to run faster. Please let me define what it is I'm doing.

Of course I'm on a diet. Why lie to myself. I feel amazing. I've been running faster than I ever have. The winter has passed and now, I am on the canal at six in the morning, the sun is coming up, and there is no one but me, running faster than I have ever run. I have suddenly begun to believe that I can actually run a three-hour marathon, that my body can actually do it. I come home before seven and there are a myriad of things that need to be done, excruciatingly carefully worded emails to write, or kids to help, or soaring energy prices to mull over, or dishes to wash, or compost that needs to be rummaged through, looking for a flask gasket that has gone missing and inexplicably costs £22 to replace. All of those things are what they are, but I ran five kilometres in eighteen minutes and forty-nine seconds this morning. Do you have any idea how that feels.