1. I am concerned (perhaps unreasonably so) with documenting my life, in words or otherwise.
2. My surname is common in Yorkshire, unusual elsewhere. My family moved south and went soft several generations before I was born.
3. I travel on foot, on bicycle, and by rail.
4. That rainbow stands for at least two things, and so do all the rainbows I wear.
5. Trade unionist, Christian, generally seeking to make more things better for more people, accidental fan of many things.
It started with the tubs. People had birthdays, or other things to celebrate, or they went away on holiday and didn’t have room in their suitcases for exotic delights, so picked stuff up at the station on the way into work instead… And because nobody likes to throw plastic away these days, over the months the tubs accumulated. They were all empty.
The stack got taller. I called it a Tower of Disappointment. One of my colleagues, perhaps more optimistic, saw the potential for a Christmas tree, and spent a lunch hour repurposing some green scrap paper. Over the last few days, other members of the team contributed, too. Paperclips. An impressive star for the top. I cut up an old agenda and made it into those little white stars. Streamers from a Christmas lunch party popper. I suspect there’s more to come…
I feel very grateful for my colleagues. They’re good fun to work with, and yes, they make me laugh.
Actually, this drawing is more like ten and a half years old. We got it done in true tacky tourist fashion in Montmartre when we were on honeymoon. I’m not sure it’s a particularly good likeness of either of us, but I like the way that I look like I’m plotting the deaths of my enemies.
Ten years ago precisely, I was a bit of a mess. 2009 was not as rough as 2008, most of which I spent in a hospital basement, next door to the morgue, and which involved two bereavements close to me, but I was still pretty depressed. I was working what would turn out to be my penultimate temp job, and had just failed to get the permanent version of the role. I had pulled most of my eyebrows out (a stress thing).
Things were about to get better. 2010 was really quite a lot better. I admitted that I was probably depressed, which made a hell of a difference in itself. The next temp job was the one that stuck. And my eyebrows grew back. But ten years ago today, I didn’t know any of that.
I’ve had a phrase wandering in and out of my head this year: the documented life. I spent a lot of time in the spring going back through diaries and journals and online spaces locked and unlocked, pseudonymous and otherwise, updates for friends and rambling for myself alone, looking for clues about new (but familiar) exciting (but daunting) developments in my head. There were more of them than I’d remembered. It seemed that over and over again I’d sidled up to these thoughts, and written them down, and shied away again, and forgotten.
If I didn’t write it down, I start to wonder, how can I know who I was?
Then I wrote more, trying to work through the new developments. I forced my realisations into fiction, and rewrote whole sections that suddenly didn’t seem true any more. In my own private writing, I risked more honesty than I remember managing in times past, finding it suddenly important to know what was going on, and what was really going on.
(It wasn’t just text. There were delicate conversations around pints of beer and tears over gelato. But a lot of it was text. Often I think I let people see more of myself in text. Often I think it’s easier to control what people do see.)
In May I started writing in this spiral-bound notebook, trying to collect all my thoughts on one particular subject all in one place. It has worked to a certain extent, though I keep having to retrace my steps across the internet and copy paragraphs, whole entries, sometimes, into an Evernote document. But most of what I have written since on this one particular subject is in this little blue book with the gold spots.
What has changed this year? On the surface, nothing much. I haven’t even written a Christmas letter this year, much as I enjoy the process, because there isn’t much to say. We are living in the same flat, doing the same jobs. I did apply for a new job, but didn’t get shortlisted.
But things have changed, none the less. This time last year I wouldn’t have dreamed of applying for that promotion. We have finally scraped enough money together for a mortgage deposit, and possibilities open up. This time next year, all sorts of things may have changed.
And my perceptions have changed. What seemed once to be a straightforward trajectory from past into future now looks more to have been the long, almost circular, track around the edge of a labyrinth, bringing me to somewhere that looks very familiar, somewhere that I thought I’d left behind long ago. And already I think I’m turning another corner, heading out towards the edge again. There’s so much going on and I can only travel one step at a time. But I won’t be surprised, next time I end up in the middle, in territory that seems familiar once again…
A quiet day. Yesterday’s party is over; last week’s guest has gone home. I’m still feeling sufficiently run down after the slow-moving cold of the last fortnight to be reluctant to do much.
But things are happening, even so. Even on a quiet day, there’s a lively wind ruffling the river and shaking the bare twigs of the trees. Things are moving.
‘This is just ridiculously perfect,’ I said.
We were four days into a narrow boat holiday with my in-laws, six of us, chugging gently up and down the Avon. We’d been up as far as Stratford-upon-Avon, and now we were heading downstream again, towards Evesham and the Severn, towards Bredon Hill.
We moored for the evening at Birlingham Wharf, where there’s space for just one boat, and the closest human habitation is ten minutes walk away. We sat out on the bank, cooked sausages. I wrapped myself up in a blanket. Somewhere there was a cuckoo.
And then there was the balloon, silent, drifting.
It was the loveliest evening.