2nd May – We’d like to be unhappy, but we never do have the time.

We are in the aftermath of the discussion which followed Keith’s observation that my life’s ration of luck was spent within its first twenty-four hours. Something I find both compelling, and at the same time, slightly jarring as an explanation of my life. You join us as I wrestle with this idea; my self-flagellation at granting Keith the license to make these observations; and his retreat from them.

In the way that these discussions run away from their original point, to enter territory which, in other circumstances, might provide grounds for international conflict, he has just accused me of: a) sulking; b) being bi-polar; c) running my life by superstitions; and d) being an ingrate. All of which are true – but only I’m allowed to say it. At the time he made each accusation, I was doing nothing of the sort. I was merely cogitating and that’s what it looks like. He doesn’t know about these things – he talks straight out from his mouth, not from the back of the head, where you’re supposed to.

Suddenly, I get this sensation. Proustian you’d call it. That moment, when you’ve fallen from your horse, or bike, when you know that you are committed to the accident, and heading towards the unmoving obstacle, but don’t yet know quite how bad it’s going to be. Just that it is going to be quite bad. In the male of the species, you get a feeling like your testicles are ascending into your body. They probably do. I wonder how these moments present to women? Perhaps their greatest fear is to be impaled, where we fear having our bollocks scythed clean off, and their extremities make similar preparations, like sealing-up or something.

‘My father was complacent and ignorant,’ I tell him, throwing him a bone with the old argument, while I move on to fresh, unstable ground.

Unfortunately, my father didn’t destroy my self-esteem.

And controlling. I forgot to add that bit. Somehow complacent and uncaring, yet at the same time, motivated to crush every opponent. Unfortunately, he saw me, his own progeny, as his most important adversary.

It explains my criminally vulgar shyness too, I tell Keith by way of wrapping up the old discussion before proceeding to the next. He’s sat there with this look like he’s in nursery and he’s cacked his pants.

He can’t compute my 240 volte-face. We stay silent. I’m absorbing the revelation into something like my diaphragm, or liver; viscera. The part that’s responsible for tempers.

See what they’re like when they’re losing an argument? Was it me that made them that way? My father, Wholesome-Prick, Manky-Bones, Keith; everyone bar Polk, ‘Look at him. We’ll bring that puffed-up little prick down a peg or two.’

I recalled it for the first time. As it had been then.  Flying through the air towards an abrupt stop. Telephoned. Formally. A detached, cultured, voice, with a heavy workload to process in a short winter evening. ‘You won’t be needed.’ Needed. Implying that you are considered useful, and may even yet be asked to fill an important role at a later date; but for the next stage, the matter in hand, you are to be excused. You won’t be needed, this time.

‘I think I’m hyperventilating. He’s not sure what’s happening. He hopes I may be joking still, even though the mood has perceptibly changed. A sort of despair now separates me from him.

I fight to control my breathing, trying to swallow the unwanted respirations into a cold stomach. Then I try to prolong the exhalations to extend the gaps between the next breaths coming. Keith leaves me to self-regulate, he still looks like he’s soiled his best linen.. It was like my body was preparing for the worst possible news coming. And yet it was processing something that had already happened.

I ride the wave, and as it settles, horrible as it is, I decide that there’s a part of it that I like. Luckless and abandoned, it gives my life experiences a thread. I can unite behind that, and construct a narrative.

I slowly return to something like regular breathing, consciously doing it through my nose, like I’m recovering from a sudden exertion. Normal breathing is still a long way away.

‘I think I’ve identified it, Keith,’ I tell him eventually.

I fall silent again as I contemplate the thought, and he grants me the space. It’s such a ridiculous thing, yet it feels profound.

‘I stopped, Keith,’ I say.

He stays silent to allow me to say it on my own terms.

‘At each successive stage of my life until then, I just did whatever the next thing was. Then suddenly the next thing was taken away from me, and it hit me like a seismic shock. My life’s trajectory had ended. I stopped. Then never started again. I think I decided that my life was over – the one I was supposed to have. I threw it away for one bad moment. I think I know that now.’

He doesn’t speak.

‘And I never got past that decision. I wasn’t friends with my new life, I simply accepted it like an unwanted stepbrother.’

Keith let the air settle again, but now he’s sympathetic. I sense that he is assimilating my rhythms. Slowly he tries to get my attention. He says it in a nice way, like Polk, ‘Dickie, nobody’s life ends aged eighteen, not even bad ones. It’s a silly thing to say, mate.’

‘It’s silly, but it’s true,’ I tell him, ‘And it’s too late to change back now.’

‘You got jobs,’ he says, ‘You’ve talked about jobs. I’ve heard you.’

I shake my head. ‘It all stems from then,’ I say. ‘You know what I decided to do? I realised that my qualifications didn’t add up, so I thought I’d go out into the real world and get some real experience; something which outweighed the paper disappointments. You know, like a commodity trader that had actually worked in a copper mine?’

‘Nice,’ he said, ‘I like that. It sounds real. Well done. See? Where did you end up?’

The problem with recreating your youth, is that you have to live for the next 300 years alongside cüntз like Bryan.

‘My friend had an uncle in Australia who was a farmer. I decided to be a pigman who went on to trade pork belly futures.’

‘So, what are you talking about then? You got on with your life, and found a way to triumph over the setbacks. That’s the definition of a good life, Dickie.’

‘We didn’t go.’


‘The friend I was going with, got a job. I’d been hanging on for him – you know, the most loyal member of the gang, me, owing him me, until he’s absolutely sure that he no longer has any use for it. So, suddenly I had to try and get a job too, but by then I was no longer a recent graduate with a golden future, I was a mere member of the public with no experience, who was sent to job interviews by agencies.’

‘But still…’ said Keith. He’s guessing that there’s a redeeming episode to come. There isn’t.

After a while he tries his luck again, ‘You know why you flunked those exams don’t you?’

I refuse to answer on the grounds that I might indoctrinate myself.

‘You wanted the answers to appear on your tongue again, without doing any work, like that day you guessed all the animal noises,’ he said.

‘Expected it, I think.’ I said.

‘I think I get it now,’ he said. He stressed the second ‘I’ to trump my earlier version of a same sentence.

‘I’ve spent my adulthood sulking, eh?’ I say.

He does this little snigger thing. He’ll decide what my faults are, not me, if I don’t mind. ‘I think that in the mistaken belief that you were gifted, you turned yourself into something that was merely lazy.’

‘Maybe there’s something in that,’ I said, and I took myself on a slow tour of the room to decide at which point I should capitulate, and wholly concede whatever argument we were having, and when. ‘You mean, I had fallen from the path of wholesomeness and piety, and ceased to be a vessel unto the Angels?’

Keith shook his head. ‘I don’t know why they insist on all that antediluvian bullshit, like reciting a poem and doing a curtsey, before they let you in.  All it is, is a DNA test dressed up like Tom Brown, to see if you’ve got an intellect, I don’t know why they don’t just take a swab instead.’

I like that idea. And I take a moment to allow my lack of intellect to process a response to it.

‘What would yours have said?’ he asks, ‘ – your DNA intellect reading.’

I say, ‘The results would have read, merely bright with a penchant for paraphrasing.’

Keith bursts a supressed laugh, as if he definitely has not shat his pants.

‘But you know, Keith, when the last exam was over, and I was walking back to real life, Wholesome-Prick was walking along the corridor with me, and he said, ‘I suppose you found something to show off about?’

‘What’s so odd about that?’ he asks, ‘it’s just normal post-match analysis.’

‘Well for one,’ I say, ‘Even though I said yes, I had not, mainly because I hadn’t done any preparation.’

I tend to wear me cossack shirt on mentoring evenings.

Keith grimaces as if he’s going to the toilet without taking his trousers off, again.

‘The point is,’ I say, sounding more offended than I mean to, ‘and this is why a luckier life would have been different, that when you are entrusted to the care of the ignorant and complacent, you only get good advice after the event. Wholesome didn’t tell me to find something to show off about before I went in, did he? It’s the beauty of the tutorial system – and why I regretted missing out on it so much. Tutored, Keith. What a word that is. Listen to it. Tutored. Nurtured. Cared about. Turned from an immature boy, for his age, into a capable man.’

He takes a moment to process, so I continue. ‘Suddenly, I was only fit for municipal buildings, not good ones like the BBC, or the Secret Service; just the ones that had chairs that made your pants smell. Like I say, everything had ended.’

‘Not only is that ridiculous, it just isn’t true,’ he says.

See what I did there? I made a lovely point, that was difficult to oppose, and instead of leaving it there for him to deal with, I added that bit on the end. And so, instead of wrestling with my main point, he was free to ridicule me for the addendum, which I had only added to help him out. There, in microcosm, is the dog’s breakfast which has become my adopted model of rhetoric.

‘Think about it.’ Oh, he’s like a dog with a boney ham that has just fallen into his breakfast by dint of a tortured metaphor.

‘You were used to being top of the class, but that was only because you’d been given early intellectual insight, and you’d come to expect that you could coast through life like that. You resented the arriviste elation of your classmates, which their hard work and effort had brought about – it offended your sense of superiority. But, by then, you had learnt to be lazy and it was too late to do anything about it. You are lazy, slightly unfortunate perhaps, but essentially lazy.’

Earlier, I endured a Proustian, bollocks-first, flight, onto a hard and sharp object. Now, suddenly, I experience a Eureka! moment that is also euphoric. I transcend the earthly to the numinous, accompanied by easy-listening, euro-pop, played on a euphonium.

‘Keith!’ I shout, jumping up, ‘You’re right. You’ve got it. I have never done a hard day’s work in my life. I have the attitude of a complacent, sulky, teenager. I am a lazy fucking prick. It defines me.’

‘You’re welcome,’ he replies. ‘It’s obvious to me. You are profoundly lazy and useless.’

I thank him.

Then he looked at me squarely in the face, and didn’t begin speaking until he was sure that I had met his eyes.

‘Listen to this. Now you must get out everything that hurts you,’ he said. ‘Inside it grows like a disease. Outside, you see it to be the worthless, self-indulgent, shit that it is. No one ever sees anything properly until they’re forced to look at it as others do. And I’m telling you this for certain: you are a very ordinary, intellectually stunted, quasi-snob, who has conflated precocity with genius; and who since, eaten up with jealousy and regret, has lost those few, minor, attributes you once possessed that made you interesting and good company.’

I can’t believe it. Finally, someone cares about me.

‘… and who, if he continues in this way, will see no other solution to his wretched existence than to end it, since his retreat from his engagement with it, will become so complete and irrevocable, that the infrastructure he has always assumed to have been present, assuring him that he would always be caught no matter how high the fall, will be revealed to be what it is: minor acts of charity from disinterested people who hadn’t yet fully worked him out. People who just happened to be passing through at the right time.’

Do you know. He’s a wonderful man, and I am lucky to have him in my life.