I wake up in a tangled mess of sheets, like I have slumbered next to a violent sex partner. My legs and arms bent unnaturally as white sheets curl tightly around my torso. In the background, softly throbbing away, is the music I’ve had on to help me sleep – an eight hour ambient dance track designed to help insomniacs, babies and fretting students. It appears to be bored – six hours and forty minutes in and suddenly cymbals are being crashed together like it’s ten minutes to Nuclear O’Clock and heaven is only open to percussion.
Above my head is an enormous skylight. I can see nothing but grey skies and brown bricks. At this time of year the seagulls use it as a ski-ramp, and I lie there watching them as they skate down the glass, wings flapping frantically, as though they can’t work out why this is happening. Then they have another go. The bastards.
I leave the house and walk down the steps with a head full of music. When I eventually get on the bus, it’s nearly empty but there is no shortage of characters. An intensely smelly man at the front has all the passengers opening the windows, and wrapping themselves up in winter coats to combat the cold. He is dreary – faded skin, hair and clothes, except for a neon beanie hat that sits on his head in a state of confusion. Presumably, at hat school, it dreamed of nestling on the manicured crown of a skater boy or girl, keeping the dark hair as poker straight as possible. Now it rests on this man, waiting optimistically for promotion, all the while looking down at the wretched coat and the wretched jeans and wondering when it will be next.
A morbidly obese woman takes up two seats and eats, and eats, and eats.
In the south of England, old mining towns have become gentrified and the terraced estate is filled with manicured gardens and nameplates like Summerwine and Evensong. Estrogen and Marsupial. Here, window ledges rot and the paint falls like snow onto the pavement below. Behind a filthy window, and behind the filthy window of the bus, I see a Confederate flag hanging proud. Signs advertise houses To Let, but there are no doors, just big sheets of metal and cardboard. A burger van sits in an empty car park, as the owner dispassionately smokes a roll-up and blows smoke in the direction of the steel works that belch sulphur over everyone’s hanging washing. The old who farted? gag isn’t funny here. The local job centre has metal detectors and promises jobs every Friday, but what hope is there in an air conditioned call centre for a welder with thirty years experience, or a housewife with twenty years of kids, wearing a shirt that smells like the norovirus in an orphanage?
Saltburn used to be the Monte Carlo of North East England. It even had a hotel with its own railway platform. Now it attracts only daytrippers, and the locals can pretend they live in some kind of bourgeois luxury by visiting the Hyggne shop, or however you spell that fucking Danish fad, or by donating their Jimmy Choos to the local charity shop and imagining that an elderly woman with lung cancer would be delighted to receive them. Today it is cold, bitterly cold. I try to hold my camera up but the wind is having none of it. I can feel my head ache from the temples to the jawline. The sea is restless and spoiling for a fight. Any ship unfortunate enough to sail near here would be instantly sunk, pummelled like mice interrupting a line dancing contest.
The old hotels have long since been converted into flats and are crammed with the elderly and the troubled. I pass a car on a particularly notorious street that says Not All Disabilities Are Visible. I always wanted to live on this street – it has a pub, a bookshop and a Chinese restaurant – in other words, everything I need to survive. Apparently it also has people who howl like wolves under a full moon, or a half moon, or even when the moon has fucked off for the night and is partying in Tokyo. The pavement is dented and cracked from white goods hurled from third floor windows.
Whenever I drink with my parents, two things always happen. We laugh a lot, and I learn something about our history that I never knew before. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to me, as someone very adept at hiding what I perceive to be unnecessary, and yet I’m still surprised and delighted when my parents drop little links to our past as though throwing away a chewing gum wrapper. An oft told tale of our family car having the wheels stolen from under it and left resting on bricks was enlivened by my father’s revelation that, actually, it wasn’t just ne’er-do-wells after some easy wheels to sell but a little local gangster whom my father had sent to prison, enacting pathetic retribution with his little army of thugs mere days after sentencing. Just like that. As nonchalant as someone who hadn’t had his bins emptied by the council. Yeah, I know who did it as well…. It’s a miracle I was even allowed to play outside as a kid.
On the bus back, there’s a bastard in a suit. He works for the bus company and I hate him on sight. He sits in a seat, slouched with his feet over a couple of railings and his legs open, like he owns this entire bus and everyone on it. He keeps leaping to his feet to advise the driver who is doing perfectly fine on his own. He wishes me a good afternoon as I show the driver my ticket and I blank him. I can smell an insincere smile in a hurricane. Five feet four in steel-toe boots with horseshoe hair and a wisp of a goatee? Fuck this cunt. I privately hope the bus driver sends us over one of the many deep valleys and gorges cut by rivers, railways and mines, just to see the look of incredulousness on this suit’s face before we explode. He doesn’t and we don’t. He takes us to our destinations without fuss. I hope the suit is really itchy.
I sit next to a young man who seems put out by my being alive and breathing in and out. As I sit there, staring down the aisle and listening to The Cure, I have an evil thought – what if I just asked this handsome twenty-something if I could suck his cock? Would he react with cool wit? (Unlikely.) Would he react with delight? (Improbably.) Would he react with horror? (Probably.) Would he react predictably? (Certainly.)
I keep my mouth shut, in both ways. I have no desire to suck this young man’s cock or anyone elses. I don’t even have any desire to get a reaction. I just want to go home.
Back in my Sanctuary. Loud music rattles my letterbox. Drink is consumed. A friendship that has lasted over a decade is unceremoniously terminated. And I took some really shit photographs. Perhaps it was the cold. Perhaps my heart wasn’t in it.
Either way, an eventful day. Blood, sweat and tears. Memories made and extinguished. And a journal entry that doesn’t know how to end. An entry that meanders and shuffles like the last guest at a wedding. Hope you had a nice time. You looked gorgeous. Yes, so did I, thank you. Maybe meet again. Maybe not. Bye.