unchecked lists

I wrote a list when I got here, of all the things I wanted to do, and some of the things I had to do. I think I managed about half of them. Maybe two-thirds. Most of them were places I wanted to eat. It’s pretty dumb of me, really. Key West is an island most people go with the express purpose of not really doing anything. It’s designed to undermine the most active of intensions, unless those intensions are to drink margaritas and eat seafood.

I’ve no idea how Hemingway managed to write here. I stare at a page as the morning gets hotter and my eyes get grabbed by a lizard flitting along the deck or a hummingbird whizzing about and then it’s too hot and a tree frog croaks or the pool looks too good or there’s a beer that’s been in the fridge too long and I should probably get that out and sip it while trying to get a word or two down. That’s why I get up early to go for a run before the sun rises. At least if I’ve done that, I’ve done something. I can nap, drink beer, eat ice cream, munch fish tacos on the beach; whatever I want, because I went for a run and did something. Doing something is one of the best excuses for doing nothing out there.

Buy my book.

Buy my other book.

everything that's happened since

I've written a whole book since the last time I was on here. Not sure how I managed that, or how I managed to not pour forth on here about the daily hiccups and constant torrents of self-doubt that accompany that particular endeavour. Previous attempts at book-writing accumulated another book's worth of blog posts; meandering missives concerned with the curious space writers occupy. It could be limbo, but perhaps it's more that limbo is the ideal, the space I search for when I'm writing. An in-between space occupied by only me, a part of the world and apart from it. In contact enough to sip a whisky and see the odd friend, but outside so that nothing can exist but the sound of my fingers banging on the keys to Dvořák's 9th. It works as an ideal to aim for, rather than something to expect. Anyway, I wrote it, limbo or not, and I'm rewriting it now. I like the characters more than the book, so the rewrites are to make sure they get the book they deserve. It's slow, but sort of steady. 

Also, through no fault of my own, I appear to be a wine merchant again. In a shop. With wine. And whisky. I missed whisky. Well, I missed constantly dealing with whisky on a professional level. I was never really far enough away from it on a casual level to actually *miss* it. There are thirteen bottles next to my desk and a glass of Springbank next to my trackpad for goodness' sake. Anyway, it's a job with great booze. I will not be talking about it much here. 

There's another manuscript to rewrite, an old one. The first novel I wrote, the one that got me writing in the first place, that is going to need a hefty rewrite as well. Fortunately, my editor doesn't get their mitts on it until October, so I've got time to rewrite the other one first. Hopefully. That book is published next year. You can still get your name in it, if you fancy.  

I've drunk well, eaten well, and run a lot. I've come up with a name for my wine label. It's Cathar(tic) Wines, if you're at all interested. They are not yet available in a discerning independent wine merchant near you. They may never be. There aren't many bottles to be honest, and I'm pretty sure my mum is going to drink most of them. The name's a mediaeval history joke, if you need any further proof that I'm an incurable nerd. I like having a wine label. It's only taken a decade, which is less time than getting my first novel published, but more time than publishing my first wine book.

Other than that, the summer is kind of a blur. Some lovely friends got married, though that was May. Some other friends had parties and others drank on weather beaten picnic tables outside pubs. I tried to get to get to Scotland but couldn't, so I drank a bit more whisky than summer usually suggests and Scotland came to me. 

Someone died that shouldn't have. Who I'd not seen in too long but was so strong a presence in a time and part of my life that still feels and tastes so fresh that it could have been five minutes ago. I can hear her laughing and fighting and shouting with glee and she's not there anymore and while I know that I'm supposed to celebrate her having been there at all, I'm still angry and sad that so bright a life and talent is gone. She drove a red Honda Jazz (when I knew her) and painted horses and liked wine. I disagreed with some of her politics, but liked the way she fought for them. I'm ashamed that whenever I thought, "I've not seen or spoken to her in awhile" I just assumed it would be something time would correct, that we would meet again because that's what people do. But she's gone now and it doesn't seem real.

 

missing him

He looked sad for a minute that morning. Stood in the doorway staring out at nothing in particular, his eyes watered up a bit more than usual. They’re watery anyway, in the way that old men’s eyes get, in the way you never think your father’s eyes are going to get. But this was more than usual. A timely blink could’ve unleashed a tear. His hands shoved in the pockets of his shorts, he looked as though for a moment he remembered. Not everything, but something, even just that there was something to remember. And with that he knew that it was time. Somewhere in his lost head, a head that knew little but the most basic of things, and not even those very well, there was a sadness and an understanding. It only lasted a moment, then his brow furrowed at an imagined annoyance, and he pointed at a tree, a tree that had been there for years, and asked what the fuck it was doing there. 

Perhaps I projected. Maybe I saw what I wanted to see. It’s so easy to do with his dementia. It’s not like some forms, where the distant past can remain crystalline and sacred. No, Frontal Temporal Dementia is cataclysmic, deleting almost everything and bringing the structure that held it crashing down. Like erasing a chalkboard, leaving that thin dusty film of white, and then kicking the board into kindling. With so little remaining, it doesn’t take much to put there what you want to see. 

Sometimes he seemed like a great actor who forgot his lines. The words, their meaning, their place. He sounded so like the man I knew. But the things he said, even though they were in his voice, weren’t him. Sudden anger, annoyance, and a stream of swearing at some mysterious slight. And yet all I had to do was stick my tongue out, make a funny face, and give him a thumbs up, and all was laughter. It was something he’d done to cheer me up, when I was little. Then, as I grew up, we would both do it, trying to catch each other out. Now it’s just me, using it like he did, to cheer up a stubborn child. Child? I guess so.  A 79 year-old baby. 

And like a baby, moments of joy were a wonder. His smile and laugh lost nothing. But when they passed, a blankness returned. Disinterest; vacancy. 

We took him to the home on Monday. It was unexpected in the way that inevitable things tend to be. Instead of drama, it was a quiet, paperwork laden process. Every possible disaster played out in my mind, but not in reality. It’s a nice place, run by caring people. His room was nice. He chatted and said hello to the strangers around him. When mom said goodbye he said I love you. I held his hand and kissed his forehead and told him to take care, I’d see him soon. Whatever presence had been there that morning was gone. His attention turned from us to the book in his hands. Pages covered in words he didn’t understand. We left the room and then left the home and part of me was destroyed.

In my head, my father’s been gone for some time. His disease left an echo of the man I knew. We, I, had to be pragmatic about it when mom could not, and seek what was best for her and best for him. Taking care of him was killing her. I knew, we knew, were resolved, convinced, convicted, all this was for the best. But now there’s doubt, not that we made the right decision, but that it’s what I wanted. For her, for him. Because leaving my father there and sitting here without him all I have left is missing him. Pushed down and back and deep for four years there’s no longer his echo to provide the comfort and frustration, to delay that truth. I miss my father. I miss the man he was and the man he is now. I miss him laughing with elfin delight when I stick my tongue out and give him a thumbs up. So that moment on Monday morning, that glimpse of sadness, if that’s what it was. I so desperately hope that was there. That for a moment he understood enough to be sad and that we shared that sadness. Because I’ll miss him for the rest of my life, and he’ll never know.

 

 

Please support my first novel.

I’m not the chatty guy in the hospital waiting room.

That’s someone else. I’m the guy with his nose in his book, reading and flipping pages and not being there. Aside from the nurses, it’s just me. Just me and the chatty guy. 

He arrives with volume. 

“I hate these things. Always scare me. They petrify me, in fact. When I was first diagnosed, they scared me to death.”

I look up enough from my book to see him gesturing towards one of those circular, wire-framed, rotating racks. Somewhere else it would be full of postcards, or ordinance survey maps. Here it is full of information pamphlets.

I manage a semi-nod and maybe even a grunt. He disappears to produce a urine sample and I continue to read. I hear a flush and he sits down again and it’s another paragraph before I realise my plight is hopeless. 

The chatty guy in the hospital waiting room will not be denied.

“So how long have you had MS?”

Everything stops. I see the sunrise through a large glass of whisky from my bedroom window in the summer of 2012. I swallow my first response that it’s none of his chatty fucking business when I got MS. This is a place of shared suffering. 

“Three years.” 

A couple of weeks ago I sat on a couch in an old wooden house with an old friend I’d not seen in half a decade and I told her about it and she smothered me with a hug so warm and full of love I didn’t know what to do.

Chatty guy pulls me back.

“How’re you doing?”

I’m tired and fucking sore, dude. But I’m fine. I’m managing.  “I’m fine.”

“Walking ok?”

That’s the fucking scariest question you can ask. “Balance is a bit tough.”

“You do yoga?”

Fuck off. “No.”

“Do yoga, man. It helps with the balance.”

Fuck off. “I run. As much as I can.”

“Wow. Running with MS?”

As long as I can. “Keeps the fatigue at bay.”

He’s going on to my medication. How am I finding it? Fine. Better than injections. So much better than injections. He mentions how scared he was. He points again at the rack of pamphlets about living with MS and tells me how they petrify him. He then tell the nurse that he’ll get all his info from the internet and I know why he’s scared and maybe why he’s so chatty. I’m called into the office and nod towards him and mumble some attempt at “nice chatting with you”.

My meeting turns out to be a meeting to arrange more meetings. I need blood tests and an MRI and some sort of schedule. I leave. Chatty guy is still chatting to the nurse. The MS ward is on the 4th floor. Quiet; away from the rush of the rest of the hospital. The elevator’s crowded but they make room for me and an old man with a cane. 

As I leave the hospital it occurs to me that the chatty guy in the hospital room is the only person with MS I’ve spoken to since I was diagnosed. And I have no idea what his name is.

 

Please buy my new book

What I should be writing.

For about the last ten years or so, I've been writing a novel. Well, not solidly. I finished a first draft about 8 years ago and since then, in between failed attempts to find an agent and publisher, have performed various light-hearted revisions and tinkerings with the manuscript. In that time, I wrote and published a whole other book from scratch, held various jobs in the wine trade and moved to Scotland from London and back to London from Scotland. A glance back to 2005 and 2006 in my archives will show several references to 'the book' as well as the navel-gazing and pondering that poured forth in the writing of it. 

And while I never doubted that I would find someone to publish it, there were times that I doubted my lack of doubt. 

Well, yesterday the project launched on Unbound, and with fast enough funding should be published in Autumn of 2015. I need your help for that, and I'm not too proud to ask. I very much enjoyed this process for Salt & Old Vines, though at times it was a battle. So if you've read my blogs and are wondering what I should have been writing at the time, check it out here and pledge. Thank you, and thank you for reading.

 

 

ten years

We sat around the table, the two of us, speaking in hushed tones. She was sad, disillusioned. He'd been a dick. Again. I poured out the end of the bottle into both our glasses. She looked at the wine and then at me, her large blue eyes surrounded by a haze of red. Hurt but strong. I took a sip and tried to look at the time without looking at the time.

What are you looking at? It's 4 in the morning. 

It's Game 4. The Red Sox could win the World Series. 

You came over here with wine when Game 4 was on?

You sounded like you needed wine.

I needed wine. You want to see if we can watch the game? 

It was the sort of late that just didn't matter. No exhaustion or sleepiness. It could have been any time of day.

Yeah.

She popped open her laptop and we looked for a feed, but nothing came up. The connection was too slow. We finished the wine and poured a whisky. 

One of the computer labs?

Could work. My ID's a lot out of date though.

I'll get us in. 

The rain pelted. The wind hammered. Both came from the east. It was cold. We leapt over puddles and leant to the right as we did to keep our balance. A proper Scottish gale. It was only a block. Cobbles one street, tarmac the next. A wynd and a half in between.

We dodged the empty kegs outside the Keys and crossed North Street. The lights around the library glowed but it was dark. But we weren't going there. She slid her keycard down and the lock clicked. One lone student sat working in front of a glowing screen. One screen out of dozens.

She logged us in and I found a feed. It was so pixelated. I still can't believe there was audio. Just a small window on a small screen. Small blocks of green and red and white and sand and grey. Blurs, really. My heart beat fast and my breath shallow and then there was no breath. She grabbed my shoulder and still there was no breath. We watched.

Pixelated, impressionist, Keith Foulke flipped a ball to Doug Mientkiewicz and the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. I looked at her because I didn't really believe it. She looked at me because she was happy for me. It's a rare joy to be truly happy for somebody else. We laughed and ran back out into the storm. 

I woke my dad up with the call, but mine wasn't the last. My sisters and brother phoned too. We phoned our dad who handed the bat to Ted Williams 50-odd years before that. He sounded happy and sleepy when I spoke to him. Not as excited as me. As though that flame had been passed to me and he was fine with it. It was my joy and burden now. 

I said goodbye to him and hung up. I said goodnight to her and walked home in the rain. But I didn't go home. I walked to the end of the pier as torrents, gales and waves pounded and the North Sea raged and I looked out into the black and grey maelstrom of night and elements and I shouted and cried and punched the air and my hat soaked to my skull and I laughed because it happened and I couldn't believe it. 

Damp and cold I went to bed about 7 and was at work for 9. My shift ended at 5 and I opened a bottle of Dom Perignon 1996 for my colleagues and friends who knew nothing of baseball or curses or Ted Williams or David Ortiz. I explained everything, or I tried to. No one cared. There was great Champagne, what else mattered?

Everyone is in a different place now. But that morning, that day, ten years ago, everyone was right there, and it wouldn't have happened without them. 

extra hours

Some old friends are coming for a late lunch. I've chosen some wine and there's beer in the fridge, but one of them's driving and the other behaves themselves on school nights. That's ok. I behave myself on school nights too these days. Most of the time. 

There are some things to chop sat on the island in the kitchen. Mushrooms and courgettes. I've not got out the onions yet, but I'll chop a couple of those too, for good measure. One onion to go with the chicken and one to go with the mushrooms. Outside it's a cool, autumnal grey. The piles of fallen leaves look tired.

I put this morning's extra hour to good use. I filled in my absentee ballot for the midterm elections in Florida, caught up with some paperwork and found an extra £6 I didn't know I had. Enough for a pint, at least. Well, in some places anyway.

What I didn't do was work on the book. Instead I'm writing a little blog post, assessing the brief bit of the day that's gone by, planning in my head what's yet to come. It's part procrastination, but only part. A bit of it is stretching. Getting my fingers used to the keyboard again, and writing for myself rather than the day job. There are no perfect writing conditions, but there are a few things you can do to make it easier on yourself. 

I changed the clock in the car and the one in my bedroom. I can never remember how to do the oven. I'm a daylight savings time agnostic. I always appreciate the extra hour and loathe the one stolen, but don't feel either way whether it should be maintained or abolished. It amuses me how arbitrary it is. It makes me yearn to set the calendar back a week or two, to get some extra time that doesn't slip away so quick. Why fuck around with one measly hour? Why stop with a week? Let's turn the calendars back a year or so. I'm sure I could fix a lot with an extra year. That's what I tell myself, anyway.