Photo by Lynsey Smyth, of Will, when he was playing a researcher called Fenchurch in a game I ran about vampire hunters. He’s the one in the middle. This is day two of the 10 Days of Blogging contest thing that I am doing with my wife.
A commenter – Will, above, who I know in real life – responded to my request for topics in my 10 Days of Blogging challenge. Here’s what he said:
I figured I could only oblige, because it’s a nice idea and I love to write about myself. Don’t we all? So; some meals, and some dreams.
At first I was born, I assume, although I only have the word of my mother on that; my father was tending bar throughout, taking bets on my gender. He always wanted a girl; he told me at the age of nine that I would be called Rosie, were I born differently. It’s a good name. I can’t blame him. My life up until now has been one of disappointment to him, a progression of stresses that I am not achieving everything I can, that I spend too much time in imaginary worlds. Maybe Rosie would have done well for herself. Maybe Rosie would be a PhD student or a manager or a car-owner.
I’m happy with what I’ve managed to claim as mine in this life, what my parents helped me achieve; a faltering career, a loving wife, a body that lets me reach things on high shelves, a bundle of neuroses that I can pack together so tightly that they fire across the page like a tripped claymore.
(I rang them when I learned that I was to travel to San Diego to interview famous porn star Sasha Grey about Saint’s Row the Third and I said to Mum, I said: “And to think you told me all those years spent playing video games and wanking were a waste of time.” She was right, of course, if I was a chartered accountant or something, now, I could maybe afford to buy new jeans. My life is one of such small horizons that New Jeans are an unattainable goal)
The first meal I can remember clearly is the one where I was closest to death. I was less than three years old. It was a fish finger, I believe, and a cod bone had somehow navigated through the industrial threshers that mashed the fish into pulp and ended up in the particular finger that I was eating, and I choked on it some. I can remember green peas and butter on the plate and sunlight coming sideways through the windows onto our dining room in Scotland and not, precisely, how the matter of my choking was rectified but instead the fear etched on Mum’s face that her little boy was in danger.
I remember Dad’s hands, as well, his massive Dad-hands, impossibly big, impossibly safe, holding me after it happened.
Dreams I am not so good at remembering, and even worse at having them. My dreams all too often take place in the real world, or at least a counterfeit reproduction of it; I don’t get fantastical landscapes, grand romances, epic narratives. I dream of boring things. There is a place in my dreams that is made up of every school I have been to save my University, all empty corridors and changing rooms and playgrounds and echoing halls, and it is always evening there. Sometimes I end up there, but I’ve not had need of it for years.
I can’t remember my first dream. Here is one from age 10 – I am being chased by the Pog Monster, as in the hairy monster who used to be heavily involved in the branding of Pogs, and I cannot lose him. I cannot escape. I run and he is still following me.
I lock the back garden gate, the big wooden one with a metallic “Beware of Dog” on it that alludes to a dog we no longer own but that Dad cultivates as a phantom dog, a paper dog, a scare-thief, I push the bolt in place but he still comes. I run upstairs to the first-floor landing and he follows me, and I run across clear the train-tracks that are inexplicably running from the upstairs bathroom to my bedroom. A train thunders by and I am safe; Bugs Bunny is standing with a sign informing me not to cross.
Except. Except it is not Bugs Bunny, and he says “Aeehhh, sorry Mac, this ain’t all it seems” or something and unzips himself and he is the Pog Monster in disguise, and I am paralysed with fear, and I wake up.
I wasn’t even scared of the Pog Monster. I don’t know why he was scary. It was a good three years after Pogs were even a thing, after GoGos and Puppy In My Pocket and transfer tattoos (called Tattoons, because Cartoons) whatever other shite we were convinced to buy as children, brightly-coloured tat that let us play at capitalism with our meagre resources.
Still. I remain terrified of the concept of a villain that pursues and cannot be stopped by any means; it is a quiet wrongness, a pit-of-my-stomach feeling that makes me put down books and turn off films.
But food, again, before I spend too long in dreams. I remember being humiliated by the Headmaster at school because I dared to ask him to help me open a Penguin Biscuit after my fat little fingers had problems with the wrapper; he called the lunch hall to a silence and said that this was a prime example of how pupils were wasting teachers’ time. I was five at the time. In his defence, dogs can open Penguin Biscuits; but conversely, not in his defence, I was five.
I remember eating a leftover Ritz Biscuit in two bites and my teacher noticing this – I was seven, perhaps, or eight, I can’t remember how old I was but I can remember the classroom door with the green-grey chipped paint over the top of late-eighties red, the brass security wire criss-crossing the glass panels – and she called me a Little Pig and made me stand outside for reasons that I can barely understand even now. I stared at the door. It was the last day of term. I went back home and watched Samurai Pizza Cats.
I remember dreaming of a girl, and it’s always some girl I know and generally fancy, and where other people have dreams that presumably end in sex mine always stall at the point where we are fully-clothed but close together and breathing so we can feel it on each other’s lips, for hours maybe, and it is powerfully erotic but also endlessly frustrating and I have had this dream more times with more people than I can remember.
I remember eating Big Macs in the city centre of Carlisle, a mess of grease and cheese and lettuce shards and that pink sauce and the cardboard burgers and pretend buns and perfecting the amount of chips that you should jam in your chubby 12-year-old mouth to get the correct mix of fried salt and potatoes with the frenzied gulps of burger and coke. I used to buy two and wedge them together, eating four burgers at once, with a sort of pride divorced from the real world that would later see me invent the Vagider, a cocktail of Vodka and Gin and Cider that is in no way original but I sure as hell talk about it as though it were. Someone should have stopped me. I should have stopped me.
I remember dreaming that Dr Wheeto from the Wheetos box was genuinely evil and out to get me, and waking up bolt-upright in my Uncle’s spare room, heart thumping.
I remember… I can’t, you know. I have told you all of my full dreams. All I have left are shards, memories so vivid that they’re barely unreal – a warehouse where I sat and played on a green Gameboy Advance and watched people wearing zebra-print clothes dance; a train on a cycle track carrying my wife. They don’t stick for long. There is too much noise in my head for them to survive.
I remember eating a Box of Joy – doner meat, chips, cheese, garlic sauce, burger sauce, thrown into a styrofoam box melting from the hot oil – outside a party, and I can’t remember what the party was for; my wife’s birthday, or Christmas, or New Year, or one of us leaving a job and getting another. I sat with a good friend and we picked at the rapidly-cooling box with plastic forks and he confessed to me that he thought he was an alcoholic and I was so scared and so drunk that I didn’t know what to say, or do.
I remember coming home from my first time clubbing at around half-past eight in the morning with a stomach the size of a walnut and walking into a service station and buying an apple, of all things, because food was something I was assured I should be eating but otherwise alien to me, the sensation of appetite burned out of me by the night before. Apples are the fundamental unit of food; A is for Apple, A is for Alpha. I put it in the pocket of my coat and it fell through the lining and I went to bed and I found it three days later, and ate it, grinning.
I remember staggering in steaming drunk from a full afternoon of Summer drinking in Norwich with my best friend, and moving on to a bottle of discount scotch I’d picked up in Portugal, and dropping the frozen oven pizza we decided we wanted to eat at half eleven at night and having it fracture into at least thirty individual shards on the linoleum and just staring at it and laughing until he came through and we jigsawed the thing back together on a baking tray.
It is not the great meals you remember with clarity: the slaved-over Christmas dinners (last year we buttered a turkey with goose fat), the meals you cook to impress potential lovers (I made a girl salmon and courgettes and onions once and she liked precisely none of those things and didn’t even really drink so I hold it as an act of extreme kindness on her part that she agreed to kiss me later that night), the tables groaning with food.
It is small things; apples, chips, fish fingers, biscuits, the punctuation to an otherwise unremarkable existence that is thrown into sharp focus by events around them. Barely meals at all; totems. Scars. Relics. Great and terrible things do not happen on a full stomach.
As for dreams, I have apparently written down some others, and they are visible here – my favourite is the one were Lee Ryan from now-defunct boy band Blue tried to sell me a job lot of mints. But they read like someone else wrote them; I have no memories of them save what’s written down there.
That’s all you’re getting from my life, for now, Will. I hope it was close to what you wanted.