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The centre of town burns, the fires of the barricades rise until late at night. Seen from above the city recalls scenes from its past, when Barcelona gained the nickname of Rosa de Foc. But we are in 2019, a time when political dissent is intertwined with late capitalist tendencies, and indeed you can see Glovo’s workers diligently darting around the front of a barricade fire. Because in the burning city there are those who do not give up ordering sushi at home.
Jonah stares over my shoulder, suddenly quiet. He holds his coffee close to his mouth but doesn’t drink. He looks troubled by something, like he’s made the worst decision of his life. I don’t know what to say so I just stare at the girls’ table, at Lindsey stealing glances at us and laughing with the others like we’re in the high school lunchroom instead of being locked in a mental hospital, in some story we don’t fully understand but know will define and direct the course of the rest of our lives.
I guess they’re the kind of lyrics most songwriters would use as a place-holder before coming up with something more universal and generic. Apparently the Beatles song ‘Yesterday’ was originally about bacon and eggs, but obviously McCartney decided to change the words to something more commercially viable. Thankfully commercial viability isn’t something I need to worry about. And for me, at least, I still find the lyrics quite meaningful as they are.
The Magic Bus stopped for no man as it sped across Europe, heading for Amsterdam. In Yugoslavia, it was changing Drachmas for Dinars time. My memory of the journey through Yugoslavia, is a rainy wind swept communist country. Pretty backward, with kid soldiers, wearing the worst looking ill-fitting uniforms you can imagine. These kids had guns, so it was scary when they went through the bus.
To commemorate the centennial of Degas’s death (1917), many books were published and shows were held. In London, The National Gallery show “Drawn in Colour” was organised in conjunction with it and with the marvellous opportunity to include works from the Burrell collection. I visited together with Dr. Penny Florence (Slade) and as we both come from a different background, our conversation in front of the paintings spurred new insights and encouraged me to write about Degas’s work, the way I see it.
And so I often find myself wandering through a hollow house alone, as he adventures to the tool sheds in the far corner of a backyard. I sift through the trinkets, the decorated knives, commemorative postcards, and wonder – who held these before me? I find a binder full to bursting with buttons of all types and sizes and colors. What hands carefully sewed each into place?
Lesson learned. When dealing with the Island Greeks, they’re lovely people, but they’ll take you to the cleaners given half a chance. This deflated our egos for a few nanoseconds. We saw a family out back refilling plastic water bottles from a well. If the silly tourists want bottled water, we’ll sell them bottled water. This was the Greek idea of keeping the tourists happy.
I mean, even the first time round, who the actual fuck was Alice? And who cared about living next door to her? I’m not very good at either listening to or remembering pop lyrics, but even without knowing any of the rest of them, I understood that it was a song about the girl next door. But rock stars didn’t want the girl next door, did they? They got on planes and travelled, got off, collected all that gear, got into vans and disappeared up the road, in search of more glamorous girls.
But the market wasn’t just a place to buy and sell, it was a meeting place for grownups, filled with chittering and chattering. It was the weekly news update in a pre-Facebook era; the who married who, and the who got who pregnant; and the biggest scandal on everybody’s lips, was the waiting times at the doctor’s surgery. I loved seeing my wee Ma’, surrounded by friends, super animated and smiling; this, I guess, was how she nourished her mind.
Down on terra firma, it’s my turn to pass through the weathered red, flaking door and into the gloom. The entrance is a small and, currently crowded, five metre square. Despite the doors being open, there is a musty, damp smell which overwhelms the huge spray of carnations, roses and lilies on top of the near empty mahogany bookcase in the corner. I am handed the white order of service by a faceless man and then it’s my turn to whisper clichéd condolences to two men, one of whom I know very well, the other I have never met.
Folk music, formerly the prerogative of ale-swilling beardies, is now cool, a bit like smashed avocado and Swedish backpacks. What happened to the old scene? Where are the pork scratchings? What happened to ‘Dirty Old Town’ gurgled into a pint glass for single figure audiences?
Nanny Pam and me are watching This Morning; there’s a woman on talking about how she’s been cheating on her husband with a ghost. The TV presenter asks if she has ever been intimate with the ghost. Nanny Pam stares at the TV while her Rich Tea biscuit breaks off into her coffee.
I knew I was an excellent candidate, as they cheerfully say in medical circles, for sudden death. Most everyone on both sides of the generation before mine had suddenly dropped dead before the age of 60. Some had lingered due to repetitive strokes. Fortunately, I had passed the age threshold, but I wondered how much longer I could defy the odds.
One of the joys of this level of football, a joy that detracts somewhat from the actual football itself, is the rapture of proximity. Whatever trials and tribulations the working week throws at you, however painful the boredom of retirement or the frustration of youth, all the rage that you carry can be readily directed at an arbitrary arbiter, or whoever is playing on the wing next to the only stand.
There are four Zadusnice in a year, one for every season: summer, autumn, winter and spring, and they always fall on Saturday. Saturday is the day of week devoted to the dead in Serbian culture. And Serbs are funny people. They are outgoing and talkative, and they love to socialize with one another, laugh and make jokes anywhere, even in the cemetery.
I have killed her in my head more times than I can count. I have attended her funeral. I have wept on her grave. I have cried alone in a room littered with pill bottles and years of filth because I wasn’t there to save her. Every unknown number from Connecticut is her final plea for forgiveness before she swallows the pills or slices the blade across pale blue-veined wrists. I am a bad son. I let her do this. It is all my fault.
For some reason, my first instinct was to assume that Derick Johnson was a figment of Nick’s imagination or a sort of creative in-joke between some of the players. The name, I observed, sounded like a character from Mad Men. I imagined a dapper fellow in his mid-thirties turning up to play, with a short glass of scotch on the rocks in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
Mouth open as he presses cold metal against each tooth. Leaning over me, he recites codes I don’t understand to his assistant. When it’s over, he smiles and tells me, to my surprise, that I have good teeth. Good, straight teeth. It means more to me than it should. I tell myself he says that to all his patients. Within reason.
I’d swoop down upon you each night and stand before you as a silhouette, as a shadow, as a black canvas upon which you paint the faces of all those you loath, as an embodiment of your fear—I’d force you to face your fear, which is at the root of all evil; afraid of change, afraid of difference, afraid of unanswerable questions you’ve held your tongue, spat your lies, chanted your curses, lifted your arm in the air.
No one ever plans to end up as a dancer on Bourbon Street. It’s an employment choice born of pure desperation. I worked at a unisex joint called Sweet Mama’s. After only two weeks on the job, I despised every minute of my interminable shifts. I lurched around the club in stilettos like an awkward stork, as songs like “Strokin’” and “My Prerogative” pounded in the background.
To me, both language and football can give sensory pleasure to the ears and eyes respectively. When I hear a well-composed sentence, it evokes an appreciation of something far beyond the successful exchange of information. Equally, for an impartial observer in football, a crisply struck shot finding the top corner is of far more sensory merit than a deflected, scrappy effort sliding its way into the net, though there is no difference in terms of reward.