I'm writing in this moleskine- no, wait: I am not writing in a moleskine. I am transcribing the words I wrote in my moleskine onto a computer screen, hours after the actual events took place. But whyfor this wilful disruption of suspended disbelief? Let's not get too post-modern about everything. We'll end up like Ouroboros with a mouth full of our own tail. Or tale... or otherwise disappearing up our (my) own arsehole. With some experience of bricklaying, allow me to rebuild the fourth wall. Are you sitting comfortably? I hope not.
So: you are with me, on a train, inside my head, hearing my thoughts. Or better still, looking over my shoulder from the seat behind, watching these words appearing not on your computer monitor or smartphone screen but as black ink on off-white paper. I'm writing in this moleskine. I am writing in this moleskine. I am writing for precisely the reason cynics believe people write in moleskines: for vanity. I'm attempting to project an image of bohemian-savoir. I want to radiate the cool air of the aloof intellectual, jotting notes in his pad as he travels form Brighton to London. I am probably failing at this: the girl to my (our) left for whom this whole performance has been staged does not seem the type to be impressed by antics such as these. Quite how I'm able to determine what she does or does not feel about the situation to which she may or may not be paying any mind is a mystery: I've barely looked at her long enough to ascertain whether or not she's attractive enough to merit such a performance.
I'm smirking now. You, of course, cannot see this from your seat behind me. But you can read me writing about it, if you are reading at all. I'm smirking: evidently amused by my self-aware, self-deprecating wit as I glance to my right to take in the view from my window. Perhaps I'm pretending that the majestic landscape of the South Downs is in some way inspiring these words as I jot them absent mindedly (and somewhat awkwardly since I'm not looking at the page as I write), jot them in my mother-fucking moleskine. MY moleskine. Twat.
This pretence would be more effective if I were not travelling through a tunnel. There is no view, there's nothing to see here... and she's probably not looking, anyway... ad I'm probably not even bothered. Probably.
So: enough masturbation. It's unseemly to do so in public, no matter how clandestine one engages in auto-gratification. I mean, up until now this pen in my hand may just as well have been my cock. Who's to say it isn't? A poet or a philosopher might posit that they are both conduits for [non] spontaneous expressions of passion. I think a scientist might disagree. But I'm not any of these things so I can can decide for myself: since no-one is going to dissect the logic of this idle scribbling [typing] I feel at ease stating that this pen is both my cock and a pen. Behold! My mighty phallus! Barely ten millimetres in diameter and with a tip that has a tendency to dry out...
Huh. CREEPY. Glad she can't see this, though of course you can... THIS IS BURGESS HILL. This is the 15:26 service to London Bridge. Change for services to Luton and Bedford. Might steal a glimpse of the lady: hopefully her head will be turned away, I can catch her reflection in the window of the glass. Oh well: here goes. Think I'll pause first, close this book... and look out my side. From OUR side.
* * * *
"Can I see your tickets please?"
One, two, three, four...
"You have to change at Croydon."
Can't I stay on until London Bridge?"
* * * *
I lean on the glass. The suburbs rush by: one thousand back gardens of one thousand strangers all shouting in unison that I have no part to play in their narrative, and they have none in mine. The universe is only big because it is a conglomeration of billions of tiny, independent, heliocentric microverses, each of us a sun at its centre, proclaiming ourselves the only point in space.
I have stopped writing. You are still with me, an invisible presence at my side, or maybe inside, privy to my thoughts, witness to my psychic dynamics . You will hear my internal attempts at translating the Franglais of the bi-lingual family and their beautiful dog. You will hear me cursing the ski-tanned returnees from Gatwick airport. You will hear me ask myself again and again why don't I just shut up! Perhaps you might ask what makes me think my misery is so special that it merits broadcast? I will say this: because it is mine, and because you are taking the time to listen. It's not misery, anyway: it's stuff happening on the other side of the glass as the train rushes towards it's inevitable terminus.
The palace, the rain, the faint nausea: all these things are familiar. Is there an inch of this metropolis I have not trodden unhappily? How many times have I been alone in St James Park waiting for a pelican to eat a pigeon? Don't answer that. Tread. Listen to the chorus of French voices. A reminder that it is nearly a year since my last derive, wandering the streets of Paris.
Doing the same thing again and again, each time expecting different results. What the hell was Borges/ Browning talking about, these red brick labyrinths? I see only yellow brick and concrete and white-washed render I see the same squares where I've had the same conversations with innumerable faces, all starting to merge into one, a copy of each other, each more faded than the last., I see the city city sees me. Invisible no more, is this the city of the dead?
Nauseated, yes. Nauseous, too, I think, judging by the space I am granted.
All roads lead me back to my Rome, Stroud Green, centre of the universe. All aboard the Piccadilly line. In the carriage, head cradled in my hands, I am robbed of my moment by the knowledge that someone may or may not be taking my picture. Suddenly I am a performance piece, my actions are bereft of verisimilitude. I am not genuine, an affectation. A man writing in a moleskine for the benefit of an audience. We are only alive when we are being watched. When not, we are ghosts. I hope he gets the image he wanted, though I do not photograph well. Can you take a picture of a spectre? He has taken a piece of my soul: indignant indigenous idyll.
I used to use that code when I climbed the steps from the platform, so that I'd know which way to turn when I got to the top. One stairwell had a bright red bannister, the other had none, and through this simple aide-memoire I knew which way to turn.
It's fitting that now I don't know which way to turn. The bannister has changed colour, and this time I suppose I'm supposed to take a different exit. I'm thinking that if I see you there waiting it will be as bad as I can imagine. But things are never as bad as you imagine: they're usually worse. This knowledge does not help the feeling of dread that's been brewing all day, probably the result of too much time tramping on an empty stomach.
But you are not there, obviously: you are everywhere. This city was your home before it became my home. That day is still fresh. I relive it often, and here I am reliving it again: looking at the same view that greeted me nine years ago. Nine years. I wish I knew where all that time went. They were painting the bowling alley back then: and the paint job has held up well. Maybe the years have been kinder to it than I. maybe I should stop comapring myself to Rowan's bowling alley.
Then the bus. Won-oh-sicks. Grimly inevitable, and with me, lion:
Lion that eats my mind now for a decade knowing only your hunger
Not the bliss of your satisfaction O roar of the universe how am I chosen
In this life I have heard your promise I am ready to die I have served
Your starved and ancient Presence O Lord I wait in my room at your
It's taken me years to decipher just what the old queer meant when he wrote that down- probably in a Moleskine, maybe on a train. In all that time those words have taken on a meaning of their own, independent of their original author's intent. Likewise, everyone with whom I have shared them has projected their own interpretations, wrapped up in the event, the spectacle, the performance. Mostly my frenetic rendition, I flatter myself: TERRIBLE PRESENCE! EAT ME OR PERISH! Meaning re-inventing itself, endlessly undone and remade: much like this city, an organism, a project, a collaborative work of art.
Whatever Pepys may say about me being tired of life, I remain unflustered. I draw strength from the fact that this it is not the same place that he wrote about. It is my home: or at least the nearest thing I have to one.