On My Love/Hate Relationships With Linen, Graham Greene, And My Own Eyes

Bought a bonsai tree. My flatmates keep telling me to name it but I’ve resisted their advice; I don’t want to anthropomorphise it. I’m not sure why. My friends have suggested it’s to maintain a certain emotional distance between my bonsai and I, lest it die in my arms just as my previous bonsai tree, Bruce, did back in 2015. But mostly I think I just don’t like being told what to do.

My tree sits on my desk looking wise and ancient. It reminds me of Japan. It would probably remind me of Korea too if I’d been there, but I’ve not. I’m thinking of taking a holiday to Laos this year. Or Cambodia, maybe. I dunno. I’m enjoying my life a lot these days, but the wanderlust I thought had left me forever after my graceless nose-dive return from Colombia is once again creeping in. I don’t think I’ve got another gigantic stint in me – certainly not for another year or two – but I do quite fancy a holiday somewhere humid and alien. Somewhere that smells like palm leaves and motor oil – somewhere I can sit with bare feet on a balcony at 2am and drink a beer and smoke and not give a fuck about anything beyond how good the warm night air feels on my skin. Cicadas chirping. Tropical sheet lightning out at sea. That’d be nice. I miss feeling like a pirate.

My London bedroom is slowly transforming into a sort of cowboy wizard’s barn-tower. Aside from my tree I have my skull, my shells, my volcano rock, and now a quite-large clay octopus and a very small wooden cow. Loads and loads of books too – they’re everywhere. And there’s not really any theme to them. I have Macbeth sitting on top of Holes and Harry Potter a l’ecole des sorciers resting two up from Che Guevara’s Bolivian Diary. I read Strangeland by Tracey Emin recently, but I didn’t really enjoy the experience – sometimes I read things because I feel I might learn something valuable, rather than because they’re enjoyable. And sometimes, as with Strangeland, this makes for an actively bad time. It reminded me of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock: bleak, desolate and windswept, like an English coastal town (and I suppose it’s no coincidence that’s where they’re both set). Brighton Rock took me ages to get through; I was repelled by every page. I remember one scene where the gangsters are eating sausage rolls in their hideout. The author describes how there are crumbs everywhere and plates left out. Something about that always struck me as unforgivably gross. What’s the point of a life of crime if it’s so powerfully shit? If you’re going to get Greggs dust all over your evil lair you might as well just pack it in and get a normal job like the rest of us. Imagine getting murdered by a man with steak bake crumbs on his lapels. I’d be so upset.

*****

I went mad two weeks ago and bought several linen shirts and some linen trousers. I don’t know why. When I wear it all together I look like one of the forlorn Mexican villagers from The Magnificent Seven. I quite like it though; wearing trackie bottoms around the house makes me feel slovenly. Nobody looks good in trackie bottoms – I mean not really. Trackies can look cool if you’ve just bought them and they’re jet black and immaculate and you’ve got clean trainers and a fresh haircut, but other than that they just make everyone look like Niko Bellic. Better to just wear jeans. Or better yet – as I’ve now discovered – linen trousers. They are, unbelievably, miles comfier than trackie bottoms, and what’s more, they make you look deliberate and statesmanlike; casual yet, I dunno, ready to purchase an island and open a dinosaur park on it. I mean, they do also make you look like a bit of a Tory knobhead, and of course I’d never dare actually leave the house in them for fear of getting folded up and shoved into a dustbin like a pizza box, but whatever: they’re nice to wear around the house.

One thing linen clothes certainly don’t do, however, is keep out water. I’ve been spilling quite a lot of boiling liquids on myself recently. You know how it is. I got freshly boiled coffee all over my linen-clad groin last week, mid-lesson with a student. The linen did nothing; I may as well have been naked. It was a major spill too: I didn’t just tip my cup a little too eagerly, I fully whacked it and upended the whole thing over myself. Searing heat, instantly. Of course, my student saw none of this because my laptop camera only ever shows me from the chest up, and so she continued chatting amiably. Not wanting to interrupt her, I had to just squint and nod considerately, fingers steepled, while the steam rising from my scalded genitals wafted faintly up past my increasingly pink face.

Oh, and I went blind last week too, for a while. It was really weird – I’d gone home to Leeds for a week for my mum’s birthday celebrations, working from there instead of London (love being my own boss), and on Wednesday afternoon, while teaching a relatively new student, my vision started to go funny. It had been totally fine at the beginning of the hour; in fact, I was pretty satisfied that I’d given a really useful, professional lesson. There was 20 minutes to go and we were reading a book together: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon. And then I just… fucking went blind?

At first I thought I’d just been gazing into the sun in a daydream or something and had given myself those little blinky-black sunspots you get, the ones haloed in orange like cigarette burns on camera film. Only it wasn’t that – it didn’t fade. And it wasn’t a black-ish splodge, it was white, with a rainbow haze to it. As my student was reading the book, I nodded along, listening and helping her pronunciation of key words, while simultaneously closing one eye, then the other, then massaging both of them and blinking furiously, trying to figure out why I couldn’t see anything. The white smudge in the centre of my vision remained no matter which I closed, which told me that it was more of a brain-induced blindness than an eyeball issue. This, of course, wasn’t particularly comforting.

While my mouth continued its usual job, saying to my student things like ‘so what do you think this paragraph is about?’, my fingers opened a new tab to Google ‘sudden vision loss reasons’. The splodge of blindness was about the size of a basketball held at arm’s length, and it moved with my eyes, like an irritating sibling leaping into your field of vision wherever you turn your head. I looked in the mirror and saw that I could make out barely half of my face. The other half… it’s hard to describe. It wasn’t simply white, because if it’d been a solid mass I might have been able to focus on it. It was as if my brain was simply telling me that there was nothing there at all – a rainbow-glowing void in reality.

Naturally, Google told me I was having an aneurysm and had moments to live. I nodded to myself. Thought as much. Unable to read or see my student’s face – but otherwise still completely compos mentis and oddly calm – I chatted through the last 15 minutes. As we talked, I noticed the little void slowly moving up my field of view, out of the ‘focus’ zone and into my peripheral vision. Ten minutes later it was gone, drifting vertically out of frame like an alien spaceship in a 1950s B-movie. Goodbye little splodge. What the fuck.

I finished the lesson, shut the blinds, climbed into bed and text my mum. She came upstairs to find me lying beneath my duvet in the dark.

“Migraine,” she said, as soon as I said the word ‘blind’. “Little watery line? Moves across your vision slowly? Half blind? It’s a migraine.”

Well shit me, never in thirty years. I took two paracetamol for the headache and got back to work, substantially wearier and more annoyed than I have been some twenty-five minutes earlier. There are lots of things I’m really enjoying about getting older: relative maturity, more self-control, a dramatically decreased care for the opinions of strangers. What is a little disconcerting, however, is my body’s increasing propensity to do mad shit without warning. What an adventure; what an honour.

See you next week, when my testicles will simply implode while I’m walking to Lidl.

On Castles and Towers and Dungeons and Pretty Gardens

I’m off to Toulouse today. Well, I’m flying there. I land at 9pm, ish, and when I walk out of the airport Seth will be standing there, just like he was last year in Avignon, just like he was in Tasmania. Then we’ll climb up into his van – the one he converted into a mobile home three years ago – and drive to his new apartment, in a town called Albi. It has a very nice brick cathedral, apparently. Seth tells me about it every time we speak on the phone.

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