By: Will Roberts
4th February 2011
Just caught my reflection in the window. With the blue/white light from my laptop reflected in my glasses I look fucking sinister. I have eaten, predominantly, South African Biltong this evening (ahh, the primal thrill of tearing strips of dried meat with your teeth), I’ve drunk, exclusively, lager and smoked a good handful of cigarettes. This could be a rough one. Not that I’m feeling sorry for myself you understand, it was very much in an effort to prepare myself for the experience of knocking the smile off this keyboard’s mush.
You see, there is a fug on the horizon which is shaping up to be something I feel suddenly rather bitter and bent out of shape about. It’s that hideous plodding of life towards the grave, the listless pissing of time into the ether, those days spent idly idling whilst all the while a world was hopping and skipping passed my window. Could someone not have warned me that there was a killer at my heels, knife in his teeth and a grin on his mug (if you can grin with a dagger wedged between your canines)?
I met a man I did. Stood outside a pub he was. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.
Met some boys I did. Stood outside a pub was I. The four topshopped, plimsole wearing, tight t-shirted baboons, buffooned out into the street whilst I stood happily smoking and contemplating the nature of existence, the credibility of religion in the modern world and, probably, tits. You could smell the testosterone in the air, I swear two of them were already sporting semis, their tight bodies fairly glistened with spattered sambuca and there was a hint of mischievousness which, if the alpha felt inclined to show off for his acolytes, could suddenly explode into violence. They were eighteen. Tops. Almost certainly older in fact but they all look so fucking young these days. I’m a proud man and showed no sign of being intimidated but I sobered up three degrees as they approached and encircled. ‘We’re looking for, like, where all the main bars with, like, fanny in and cheap drinks and shit are’ they said raising their inflection at the end of the sentence to indicate a question. ‘You’re of advancing years and have a bald head and glasses, you look like you might have a semblance of intelligence. Tell us what we wish to know or we shall exhaust our pent up energy bouncing your head off the kerb whilst boisterously singing varsity rugby songs’ is what their demeanour said if not their mouths. I furnished them with information, attempting to carry myself with the matter of fact air of a man who had barely noticed them but almost certainly appeared to be a man struggling with terrible constipation. They skipped away into the ebb and flow of the old main drag and woke the next day in strange places and spent the coming days piecing the night back together from the photos of themselves tagged on facebook. I presume.
At first I was annoyed. How dare they?! How dare they treat me like a fragile old man? How dare they assume I was afraid? How dare they assume that I couldn’t outdrink and outlast every one of them? ‘But wait’ I thought ‘you were their age, you were high on your own new found sense of power and drunk on the freedom that comes with release from the family manor and immersion in the life of a student’. Suddenly I felt happy for them, ‘fly my pretties’ I thought ‘you can have this night, I give it to you. Now take the baton and run, run like the wind for, just like me, your time will come. One day you will awaken in your own bed with a hangover you know will last for two days and pass your time shakily checking the NHS direct website to see if you have the symptoms of the early onset of AIDS, unwilling to believe it’s just that your kidneys can’t keep up anymore and that you can’t ‘have it large’ with impunity these days. Enjoy my boys, have one for me.’
On re-entering the pub I saw a man I had somehow failed to notice before. Mid twenties. Tops. Etc. Near skeletal, Nick Cave hair, immaculately dressed, sumptuously accessorised, cheekbones so sharp his statuesque girlfriend’s face was an ordinance survey map of nicks and scratches. The glistening cunt. The slick wide-on of a man commanded attention, captured the eye and the imagination on a heady Friday night but would have looked utterly out of place in, say, a supermarket early on a Tuesday evening. He popped and fizzed with pizzazz in a way that I don’t and, now, never will. I’m too old for a David Bowie style reinvention and, in any case, not built for skinny jeans. I moved on to my table, avoiding eye contact. If he’d talked to me I’d only have gone weak at the knees and said something giggly and sycophantic.
Later that night, I met a man I did. Stood outside the pub he was.
He had a voice with more gravel than a suburban driveway and had a good few years on myself. A fellow smoker, I became a member of his circle and he held court. ‘I smoke’ he buzzed and drawled ‘and I drink a lot, especially for a nurse, and you’re supposed to feel bad about that, like you’re wasting your life (inhale, exhale) but I’m enjoying myself tonight and I spend my days working on a geriatric ward. If you spent your time in that place you’d be comforted by the thought that your lifestyle choices will lead to a heart attack in your late fifties ’. This man was ok with his lot. He’d seen a lot and done a lot and he knew who he was and where he was going. Some people plan to be successful accountants and retire to sunnier climbs, others plan to retire in a much more literal sense and skip the whole chintz and nostalgia end of things altogether. Maybe I won’t bother setting up that pension after all, looks like I won’t be needing it. Fuck, I thought I was just smoking to look cool in front of my friends. If I’d known it would eventually rescue me from the indignity of the colostomy bag and the crippling price of adult nappies I’d have been inhaling all these years. Was this man a glimpse of my future? A voice like Tom Waits, a look borrowed from Richard Hawley and a comfortable sense of resignation to fall onto when I’ve drunk myself insensible?
Who knows? What do you do when you’re never going to see yourself as really being young again but you still don’t feel old enough to take responsibility for planning the rest of your life? What happens in that limbo between the age at which your tomfoolery can be dismissed as the folly of youth, or the consequence of juvenile confidence, and the age at which you have to know who you are and where you’ll end up? You write about it I guess. I survived my twenties. What the fuck do I do with my thirties?
Will Roberts. D.O.B. 30/03/1981