Monday, September 28, 2009

Mist on the West Lake

So it's not all doom and gloom chez Zen. My good friend A has spent hours (weeks, months?) making my China travel diary into a book. It feels really good to have someone show so much faith in my writing. I have put a badge in the sidebar that allows interested parties to preview the book and it can be seen here.

I am really left without words to express how much I appreciate what A has done. It has uplifted me at a pretty glum time. Thanks A.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

In the morning

In the morning, a noise awakens me. It is Naughtyman. He is getting into bed with me. I wrap my arms around him. He feels thin, insubstantial, a bundle of wires.

I love you, Naughtyman, I say, and he moves in a little closer, till we are like one melded lump of dad and son.

Dad, you're always so warm. Because you stay in bed for sooooo long. Naughtyman is early to bed, early to rise.

I'm English, I say. We have to be warm because of the cold winters.

He is squirming to get free. I don't want to let him go but there is too much besides me in his life to keep him here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Dad can't make me sad

So Zenita comes out of her bedroom and she says to Mrs Zen, I've got a smiley face and I can't stop smiling.

It's past her bedtime, way past, but it's hard to be upset with a child who has a smiley face.

She comes over to kiss me goodnight, and she says, you can't make me sad.

So I say, in a stern voice, no computers for three days. Nope, she says. Not sad.
So I say, sterner still, no lollies for a month. Nope, she says, you can't make me sad.
I pinch her back and she laughs because it tickles.

Mum, she says, Dad can't make me sad.

Well, I'll try not to.

Earlier, Zenella had put on a "show" for us. She likes an audience. In the dark, she dances with glowsticks the only light. Zenita goes, wait wait, it's my bit, and she does a dance they have clearly choreographed. But she breaks it off and comes to hug me. She can't help herself. I do not, as it happens, play favourites, but I am Zenita's favourite, I know. It is an awesome responsibility to be the person someone loves most in this world.

I will not ever let them feel I do not love them. That's the way your dad can make you sad. No matter what happens to me, no matter what cost I have to pay for it, they'll never feel that, not even for a moment. It is not a difficult task for me. If I love you, I will, other things being equal, love you for good, and I have no problem letting you feel it. Because no other currency matters to me, nothing else is worth hoarding, and I know, if you have love, you're rich, and if you don't, you're damned to a poverty that nothing else can alleviate.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Just like Bryan

I was listening to some Roxy Music yesterday and it reminded me powerfully of a place and time I was happy and successful and it seemed to me that my dreams -- although they were inchoate -- could come true.

And strangely, what I could remember most clearly, and hold most dearly, was one weekend before that time. Maybe -- memory is misty and when you are a romantic you collide your reminiscences together to make a more satisfying past -- it was the start of the happiest time of my life.

On the subject of Roxy Music, I do recall very vividly buying Pyjamarama in Pratt's Market. There was a secondhand record shop that carried the detritus of Hayle's record collections. I had never heard any of their music before that, I'm fairly sure.

It was one of the first "real" records I ever owned, the first that was in any way alternative or leftfield (not that you'd think of Roxy Music as particularly leftfield now, but the early artrock was significant in its day, and even when I was a boy, some years afterwards, it stood out from the sludge of the early seventies).




For a sensitive, clever boy, Roxy Music were the perfect band. The impossible glamour, the upfront nerdery and Bryan Ferry. It wasn't just the girls who loved Bryan. He was my idol: a Byronic figure, a colossus of suffering, whose pocket masterpieces of heartache seemed to advertise to us a glorious world of beautiful women who would break our hearts.

K was a beautiful woman. In any case, she seemed like a woman to me, although we were peers. She was one of those girls who seem to go from 14 to 23 and miss their late teens. She was incredibly attractive and carefully made up, but what set her apart was her asymmetric haircut. She had hair like Phil Oakey's, which was beyond cool.



I didn't, couldn't, dream that she would be interested in me: she struck me as impossibly sophisticated and had an older boyfriend. I was not sophisticated and few women seemed to look twice at me. I suspect though that my problem was more that the right women would not look at me -- I was then, as I am now, prone to the hopeless crush, and would centre my desires on one girl, who would in every instance oblige me by snubbing me cruelly. At least, this is how I was until the time that began with the weekend I spent with K. I began to be more comfortable with girls, and realised that they liked me, I thought because I could be funny and kind, but when you look at my photos from back then, they probably just fancied me, because I was very handsome and did not know it. Sadly, my confidence was burned away when we left Hayle, and never returned, although I'm comfortable with people now simply because I am old enough not to fear them and do not care so much about their judgement of me.

So K invited me to stay at her dad's hotel (the more careful reader will have been suspecting that K's sophistication was born out of being wealthier than most, and she was, let's say, spoilt some) one Saturday night. I don't think I ever knew why she wanted me to hang out with her. (Of course I realise in hindsight that there doesn't have to have been a reason, and she may just have liked me, but I didn't know I could be likeable because for so long people -- boys at school, my dad, whoever -- had made it clear that no one in the world would ever like me.) Maybe it was because I loved Bowie, which was rare where we were, and for her, a woman who made herself up to look like him, a plus.



So we went to Peggotty's, which was something new for me. Everyone of my age from the St Ives area knows Peggotty's. It was the disco. The Northern Soul night at Beachside (at least I think it was there -- I remember it being up near there, anyway) was fun, but Peggotty's was it.

I found this video of the outside of Peggotty's, taken before it was redeveloped. I remember walking through the door like it was yesterday, into a dark world of loud music, cigarette smoke and indeterminate noise.



It's to laugh at now, because of course it was not Studio 54, but believe me, with a couple of ciders in you and Love song at full tilt, it's impossible not to get carried away.



I am sure K regretted dragging a wide-eyed boy behind her, because I didn't know anyone and wasn't witty or interesting. But I loved being with her, not that she was witty or interesting either but because she was cool and beautiful, and let's face it, New Romantic music, which I loved, indulged itself in vague, huge concepts that didn't stand up to examination. We hoped not to consist of anything but to be admired, and in turn we admired image over substance. The first band I ever saw live, at the Barn in Long Rock, was headed by a man who wasn't just pretending to be a Red Indian, but actually believed he was one.




And the bands I loved were unabashedly romantic, willing to cast their own mundane lives aside and sing about their dreams: in Simple Minds' case, the dream of swapping suburban Glasgow for central Europe's faded glamour; in Duran Duran's, the dream of leaving dull old Birmingham and cavorting with brownskinned women in the tropics; in OMD's, the dream of suffering for something noble, or if nothing noble presented, at least for love.



So K had some other friends to meet and we took a cab to some pub in the north of St Ives that had a DJ. But the music was horrible, and her mood soured some. She consented to dance to Depeche Mode though and as we shuffled on the wood of the dancefloor, the music not even loud enough to cover the sound of our shoes, she smiled at me, a wan but genuine smile, and I felt like my life would possibly be good to me.



As we were leaving, the DJ was spinning Same old scene, my favourite Roxy song, and I wanted to ask her to stay to listen at least. I had a vision of her in my arms, me in my tuxedo, just like Bryan, my hair just so. But she had already gone out into the night and I had to run to catch up. I think she had forgotten I even existed.

I could hear the music fading as we moved away, and I felt my heart beating hard in my chest, surging with yearning and hope.

Roxy was the music of my dreams. I knew when I listened to Over you or More than this that I would one day leave the narrow streets of my home village and enter the magic kingdom of London, where I too would don a tuxedo and find the woman of my dreams.

So, as these things go, I did go to London, and I found the woman of my dreams, loved and lost her, but hey, I still have the dreams and they are great!

And when I hear Same old scene, I can see that beautiful, sensitive boy, hoping to catch the eye of someone wonderful, hoping and yearning, ever hoping, and he's never died but lives in the part of me that never left St Ives Bay.