Can only hold the emotions back for so long. Keep them stored somewhere: reined-in, checked. Thereís an inevitability about this. I couldnít leave it all inside anywhere, anymore, as if the weight of history is crushing my shoulders. There are things to be written about and efforts to be made Ė I canít just sit here and do nothing. I want to still feel how I felt not so long ago: to write about the brilliance in the tiny things. Being on the Pendolino train carriage as it slices across thundercloud fields with the rain-alypse in one window and Jamaica-sky on the other. These Ė in some heavenly heard-before words Ė are the days I remember. I have to still be enthralled, inspired, surprised by same-but-different moments that spring up out of gloomy backdrops.
Instead Iím being pegged back by these silly tendencies, same as usual, some good vibes cast aside. Missing the bus. Getting my feet ran over with a pram. Someone brushing against me on the tube. All little niggles that bulge the discontent. But if I am stronger and organise my head to think these things donít count, which they donít, then they will fall easy on my head. Take the pressure off and roll with a smile again, open-armed, thatís a start. Open up.
The train pulls out of the city and into the circuit board of crazy mangled buildings: maintenance yards, market-places, churches, giant pubs, beer gardens, roads underneath the tracks. We push up beside apartments tight to the edge of the lines. Smoke hangs in the air; a charcoaly taste to go with the after-work chocolate. A clang of changes ricochets through the ample undertones. Iím beginning to get a little bit too neurotic, starting to over-analyse. Mustnít let the environment clog me up, got to be empowered by this mega-sky-blue sunset surface thatís teasing the senses.
Each suburb is another level. A new stage. So I get turned on by this new addition and go searching for some solace or answers as well as some belief in the aforementioned beer gardens. Under the Great Expectations lamps I scrunch all my efforts into one: knowing that again Iím inches from an endless love but touching distance is not close enough. And Iím thinking if I could just summon this into reality somehow, it would be the best thing ever. Let these feelings slide Ė it will be homeward-bound before I know it. Leave these fly-bitten, hayfever-swollen leaflands and dart back for the overground, having lost again along the way.Shard
When we dunk towards London Bridge I get a sense of excitement missing recently Ė I take a look at the Evening Standard paper and the glorious light-show lasers steaming off the Shard. When we step from the carriages I crane my neck to see the real thing, taking complete control of my view. The beast is lit now, a mammoth structure guiding me home.Strange days
These are strange days as I thrash through the eastern roads being soaked by a cloud-drop of rain. These are strange days as I melt towards another outpost not fully knowing the way, being crowded out by the tumult of bodies, getting directed to a spectrum of alternative routes. These are strange days as I enter the wilderness of the summer months ahead and scramble with the new faces and iron out the cracks, try to work it all out again. These are strange days as I begin to realise what I have and how foolish I can be when it comes to getting the balance right, to holding my head up high and not pandering to ridiculous fits of rage. I must work at it, I know; ease the stress patterns.
The bars, by the way, are chock-a-block with the sodden hipsters and their bodies flash like paraffin lanterns in the smoking zones between darkened-out blocks. What an evening for a soaking. Itís as if Iíve found a whole new area for these relentless games I play, itís been unravelled and opened up concertina-style right in front of me: some kind of bewildering secret. So many contradictions sloshing around in my head but the most apparent is that I have to release my tedious and unremitting grasp on the past, one that is too safe and secure. It has a crushing effect, meaning Iím struggling to move on Ė these mental blocks have to be struck down, shot off, before the wholeness can be re-found. These are strange days as we trudge out from the hot dancefloors into perma-winter and I swirl, discontented, but knowing some more of the (not ideal) answers before the well-travelled night routes back to home.Motif
ďIím glad that weíre friends,Ē the hum of her voice vapourised into the golden bar. A sad fleck that hung in the hot air before disappearing forever like a deep-sleep dream. A rhythm change in a song thatís only perceptible after youíve heard it seven or eight times. The crossroads approaches Ė I see the edges of the current chapter closing in, but Iím too scared to make an escape-route out. Whatís the tonic? Run faster than theyíre running after you, thatís all I can think of. When these immense nights begin to lose a bit of sparkle thatís when I know the need for new routes is close to necessity, and not simply an option any more. Why do I do these things? is a recurring motif. That obscured but strong light bulb that says: ĎIf you do the groundwork, you will make it easier on yourself, and if you go into these days with hope the tide may turn and you will get a second chance.í
I turn the light bulb up in my mind and plough on. The way the raindrops are caught in the headlamps, against the window, is itself an effect like a dream, reminding me of a billowing, stormy drunken Friday in a November Liverpool, that past throbbing and shifting and lying more than once, a strange snow globe.
...that was that, held firmly within the slumber. Back to the trudge of it Ė early into the scramble. Iím pretty sure Iím doing a bad impression of a downtrodden, dismal hard-lucked-out fucker with this morning-into-afternoon frown. Got used to it yet? I havenít. Deep down I want this to get better: to enjoy the skies again and not be perma-annoyed under a London midsummer grey tarpaulin.Saboteurs, dogs
Then itís home for the cycling. The romance of this remains to be flattened on the attritional conveyor belt up the Pyrenees. Crowds getting massive now roadside on some of the biggest summits. Ecstatic cheers when the peloton drills across the peak-tops. Weíve seen it all. Blazing scorch-sun on flat seaside drifts. Charismatic smiles - before the lactic acid - for the cameras. Rogue tank-like dogs trying to flatten the onrushing mad men. Sinister saboteurs lining the road with miniature knives. Then the loneliness as the riders get into the quiet mountains and the rain. Unrelenting. The perfect march towards Paris, wheel to wheel. Pushing the momentum forwards, sweeping across the desolation, and entering, slowly, then even more slowly, into greatness.
And despite this solar-illuminated spectacle, dribbles of the bulging ball of orange falling down onto the TV screen and the polka-dot jerseys Ė thoughts turn to rainwashed canvasses, the deadly faraway clutch of memories detained, those imprisoned always on the distances that never seem to get unplugged. I donít know if this is a universal affliction or not but cyclically there seems to be a brilliant route coming back to a familiar point. The maze of streams of feelings begins to converge; I love it, embrace it, even the ones I donít understand (most of them).The alien identity-soaked stormy and choppy ones. The most important ones. Like a trace of miscellaneous beautiful voices constantly gushing over everything throughout the day.
These are not allowed to slink off and give me a second off. Itís this crescendo of notes, and of emotions, which delivers me into autumn and beyond, as Iím grappling for the sinews to launch me onto a soft landing-pad for the ultimate rains and that moment when I see the crossroads and time appears to stand still.Hangover
Extra thoughts carried in the daydream: Iím getting more lucid through these ruffles, and itís propping up my merry charms. All streets have that sinister edge, the charisma and personality about them and draped in that notion, seen and not seen, we unfurl, with these bewildered and stoic grins, into ascending, mixed-up minutes and seconds. Time appears to drag on, having entered a weird phase thatís not keen on pushing forwards. Like the hangover from the opening decade when everything was settling down, the confetti landing on the floor after the bloated nineties. Everything becoming a little less confused. Since the mid-part of the last ten a sense of unease crept in; I know Iím still trying to figure it out. Despite all the external distractions, noises/neon adverts we can continue to feel lonely within ourselves, reaching out for answers that may or may not be there.
And itís these half-remembered sensations that throb like lead sometimes, dirty clouds that enjoy hanging around. I imagine the feelings after the event so when it goes in the timeline Iíve framed it in a marvellous gloss, probably miles from the authentic. One thing real though is the challenges we continue to face as we plough through the months onwards, while the erstwhile friend sun makes a beam for sensitive heads. So much energy sloshing around the washing machine of the city; itís inevitable there will be confrontations when two opposing forces meet. I watch the mashings before they occur, as jumped-up teenagers slug it out with older, lifestained folk. I watch as bemused foreigners get all ruffled when the dystopian businessmen come hurtling down the escalators.Losing air (ďdid you just sneeze?Ē)
I knew it was getting late when I heard the ďdid you just sneeze?Ē question come and go. I laughed the reply. ďNo, I laughed.Ē I knew I was hurtling straight into the end-days of this bright spot when I clenched my face and couldnít stand seeing the obnoxious rows of terracing any more, didnít want to be exhausted each time I was clipped by a passing domestique. I knew I was beginning to lose air when all the friendly chattering turned sour and I felt faint and just wanted to go and have a lie down. I canít keep my uneasiness at the door now; I am restless and when the buses thunder down the hill Iím nearing hammer-head.
But... another but and you saw this one coming Ė I canít get out of these slipstreams. Bang in the middle of summer life slows down, the whirlpool almost grinding to a halt. The pilgrims are lost on these roadsides under the nightmarish but dreamflecked raintumbles that cling to all the street furniture, its plantations. I love it in this haze. I love it when I canít quite see the other side of the street, just making out the fuzzy florescent tablet of a late-night store or taxi HQ, somethingís epicentre. And the pilgrims wade towards these lights but never quite get there, lost on road-islands or down cramped gas-lamp alleyways under the arches.
The right time of the evening for a bit of ambiguity Ė those cries/cheers Iíve heard a trillion times but can never get a grip on. The sinister mood envelops the dark lanes as we push on, into the unknown further and further into these quiet hours, teasing the devastating quality of these boroughs. Iron city. The infinity of its teeth.Solstice bathing
We are luminous shadows in the mid-summer dark, with the navyness only broken now and then by our miniature flares, the floating candlelights that mark out where the line of our bodies would be if there was enough light to create such a montage. Now we, the soldiers, go slanting past a weird statue and the appearance of it nestles in my mind, much stronger than the others. Thatís one of those visions which exaggerates the notion of impostor feelings: those put in, in Photoshop, after the event. Who knows which ones are real anymore?
We spill in these shapes earlier and earlier Ė or later and later Ė whichever angle youíre coming in at, here and there, spouting words from our mouths that ricochet off the night drifts. Now I feel rain everywhere on my body; the globules of water bam down and look surreal in contrast to each summer-glaciallampshaded Battenberg-lit church or other unrecognisable building. Solstice bathing. Those lack-of-sleep-sheened words loosen the air a little, but their sepia effigies leave behind ambiguous traces. Friendships get forged and the bands have to be redrawn. Bonds get retained. Bonds get lost. Lanterns under the bridges. Red and white dots past monuments, mini-pleasures gained from understated, yet colossal, beauties and clandestine life lessons.
Our battles are slight and we still face them like troopers, worried the nearing day might forcibly suck us from this dark shell pulled over our heads Ė and also so we can make the journey more fruitful. I see the first tones contaminate the canvas Ė a slightly bluer black than about ten minutes ago. The opening signals that weíre pushing on, ready to smash any newly made jigsaws of nostalgia that may have crept in.
Cameras flash and fizz as if tinfoil caught in the sun, losing a tinge and dimming in brightness percentage now the full-black sky begins to exit its own dreams. Still raining although a new morning attempts to flatten this waterlogged spell, but not successfully just yet. Iím smiling gently when we descend on the hospital Ďcos I canít believe we made it, these tired legs and heads mean more - and will stay imprinted as a reminder of quiet hope - than anything youíll ever watch in your living room. Or any room. My smile remains now the lights in the rooms are superseded by the real beacon of the drying-out morning. After teas are supped itís time to face the day. So I drip off, waiting in the bus shelter, waiting in the white dawn, drawn like a sleepless moth towards the lamps.Deviated
I put my arms out to it, I thrashed around for it and what I did not find made a note of for later, hoping it would plop into my lap at some other stage. I was flailing into it, believing that things would begin to unscramble and form into a palatable emotion I can grab my hands on and say ďnailed itĒ, whereís champagne? Iíve lost the entire point of my original thread, deviated from the purpose of my experiments, but if I stay on these tracks I could just chance upon some ridiculous profound analysis that my body craves. Strike out for it again. Olympiad storm-forking. Gravityís rainbow.
The months begin to twirl into themselves, flashbacks mingling with this present, so similar situations or phrases spoken, long gone, shatter the calmness plaza. Iím running out of time. If anything needs to be seared on the Ďinevitableí notebook itís that you canít hold your breath, otherwise changes will keep coming and thwacking you in the chops.
These places have been spied hundreds of times before with identical outcomes, I get bored sometimes with how relentless it can be. Another inevitability though is that each time slightly different feelings are born, variations on the teachings from before: victories, hopes, challenges, redemptions, battles won, internal fights, disappointments, conflicts, gasps of joy. And some of these are already strong now; I hope they will turn into positive, inspirational ones, but Iím afraid the unquenchable, perfection-seeking ones will linger. Hold tight.Wiggins rings the bell
Wiggins rings the bell. We are set in motion.The throbbing engines
The flames go on burning along the rivers. Out of sight the cauldron is a red-hot furnace that does the work behind the scenes. Cosmopolitan vibes, the commercialisation of smiles is the essence floating around here Ė these tourists full of bloated grins and exotic accents. Always travelling. I know the combustion engines remain in full tilt. Powering the city. The throbbing energies. Taxis and coaches power on through the exclusive lanes. Boats dock close to the banks and intrigue itself keeps the heart beating, it is the endorphins. And me breaking spirits as I pound against the pressure. The eternal strains of ancient Olympia breathe a weird atmosphere in, really metally. It is bouncing. When the people open themselves up and let the momentary things in I see the purpose in it. The general tone is one of extremes but I think the undertone is murmuring: ďGet closer.Ē
Autumn doesnít want to sweep in, and I wonít let it. Our dreamed-up cocoon - itís always a cocoon - should last longer than the memories which are swotted and buried after the last piece of confetti is blown to the next flame-bearer. These two weeks will last forever. All strategy is tossed out the window, the carnival of calm, of going into work late, replaces the boredom of the normal notions. The signs: ĎA Summer Like No Other.í I revel in the atmosphere Ė a true summer fl‚neur, taking it all in, smiling when something familiar but unusual happens. Retaining the humility tone.
Flashbacks. Remember 2008? I was coming up the stairs, of the unfamiliar platforms. I didnít realise what I have yet, couldnít yet define in my mind where I stand, and what I have to lose. Alien shapes pop up now and then on the hoardings. Itís not registering yet.Wrap yourself up
We buried the city for the winter, as we do every year. The darkness hugged us, briefly again, then disappeared leaving a tiny trace; window frost Ė just a cling-film visual from a memory. The mad haze gone. I embraced it - or tried to - and dreamt of pleasant breezes and what was beyond the shadows. Now Iíve stopped dreaming.
Flipped the coin over, turned the plants from the back edge of the garden and put them nearer the light. London bathes. It was good to sleep all snug, duffel-coats on, but when we gleam like this I feel my heart foxtrot. Trains glide through it on all the possible lines Ė the famous lands and landmarks lathered in sun-tan lotion. Can you feel it? The whiteness of it is almost a bleach on the cleanliness of my contact lenses. Gradually the molten days defrost our lovely St Paulís, our lovely St Clementís, our lovely Tower Bridge, our lovely Shard, bring them back from the ice Ė getting the petit pois out the freezer and watching the steam rise. Maybe it was a vision straight from the utopia book, maybe it was reality.
Paralysis is nailed to the previous. I remember the smashed-in shop fronts, the police cordons, the helicopters snarling above, the shopping trolley in William Hill, the hush around these same streets Ė with Ďeach borough wrapped in the cough of fireí. I remember it vividly; going up to the chippy with just the quiet sun helping to throb my disillusioned head. Now we wrap ourselves up only in this jubilant fist-pumping. I canít get enough of this.
ďItís not all over yet,Ē Julia reminds me in the almost-dark of the gritty back-room catacombs. Sheís right of course. We are actually in the eye of the storm but the glory is beginning to subside, very slowly at first. Being in the middle of this is strange, beginning to miss something while it still exists really close (having someone pinch me then enduring the after-pain, the dull ache). There are luminous pink signposts on all the corridor walls: directions to things that probably arenít there. I long for feelings to return that Iím not entirely sure were there in the first place, want times to return that, in my head, I invented were untouchable. The music reminds me, though, that there is a lack in this. That there will always be rough edges, places I might have been, life-lighted glories I might have seen. Now Iím basking in the coldish airs of it Ė imagine a newly switched-off paraffin lamp gradually fading into the pale black around it. When it goes out fully, I will cry.
© Copyright 2016 John Maher