Aren't there a lot of crows about?
Sorry, I was miles away.
It's been an eventful couple of months since last I addressed you. A major upheaval at home, a downturn in fortunes of a fiscal nature, a shitload of DIY and, to cap it all, I lost my funky Zippo lighter in the long grass on the field.
I chose a camouflage design Zippo. It looked lovely, but with hindsight the drawbacks should have been obvious.
Despite all the rigmarole, I've also managed to squeeze in one of what I have come to fondly call my "little heart tickles". Imagine having your chest stamped on just once, but by an enormous ape's foot that immediately finds its peak pressure and keeps it applied.
Now, I'm not the world's most ticklish guy, but even I find these tickles debilitating.
This most recent tickle wasn't as bad as last. This time I was fit enough to sign a form saying I didn't want to be taken to hospital. Amidst the current turmoil a break would've been nice, but the closest hospital is many miles away and I knew that I didn't have the cash for extravagances such as bus fare home should I have been unfortunate enough to survive.
Last time, scrawling my moniker on a disclaimer wasn't an option. As I was being driven away in the ambulance I was panicking and worrying about the post-me world. How would people cope?
The day after that tickle, once back home and alone but for my faithful hounds, I thought some more about the painful experiences of the previous evening. What if? I gave it some serious consideration.
Would anyone miss me? Would the world be a better or a worse place for my departure, or even for my having arrived in the first place? I drew deeply on the pipe my doctor has said I shouldn't draw on and gave the matter ever more consideration, eventually coming up with the answer.
I don't care.
Or, at least, I won't care. I'll be dead. Balls to 'em all.
I have, over a number of years, developed for myself a memory palace. Initially just a technique to remember passwords, phone numbers and to-do lists (a now redundant technique given my over-reliance on the almighty Apple) it has evolved into something of great beauty that I can never share.
In my mind's eye, doors from various locations in my past open up into others. If I imagine opening the gas cupboard in the council flat that I once loved and crawling through it I emerge from the cash-box door on the front of one of the fruit machines in the pub in which I grew up. The cellar door in that pub leads to a dark and familiarly scented staircase which, in turn, leads to my 'happy place', a garden by a brook with a bench beneath which my best dog snoozes.
If I follow the brook upstream, my footsteps echoing as I pass underneath the hump backed bridge that forms part of the garden's boundary, the brook becomes a river and, when I emerge from the cool, moist air of the little tunnel I find myself walking along beside an enormous field, the sky above lilac and the wind rustling through and bending the long grass.
In the centre of that field looms a giant version of the doll's house I bought for my granddaughter back in those long ago days when I was still the kind of man that did that kind of thing. Dark and forbidding beneath the heavy, stormy clouds that constantly roll overhead, tattered curtains flap from within the glassless windows while the flimsy plastic door swings open before slamming shut with a regularity that's almost rhythmical.
It looks dark in the doll's house.
I don't know what possessed me to add this last feature, let alone the scarecrow in yellow sou'wester that stares at me as I walk by the gate-less gate posts. I've remained too scared to investigate further, only ever seeing the house from the distance. Maybe one day I'll take a look.
Past the diabolical doll's house and around the bend, where the river magically morphs into a canal, I arrive at a barge.
My barge, in which I can travel to the pub for lunch or smoke a pipe and listen to the little clockwork radio (with integrated LED torch) I used to have in my camper van dwelling days and that now sits by the pot-bellied stove in the corner. When it rains in the real world and creates that familiar and soothing pitter-patter soundtrack on the windows I close my eyes and imagine they're beating their tattoo on the roof of the little, red barge. I like my barge.
The barge is moored at the bottom of my garden. A beautiful garden that leads up to the beautiful house that is my dream home. A fantasy dwelling into which I've put an enormous amount of work and detail and in which pipe smoking is never allowed.
(Unless I'm in the high backed, green, leather armchair that sits by the crackling fire in my dusty, musty, study.)
There's a tree house in the front garden. As with the doll's house, I've never visited it, though it looks far less intimidating.
Scattered throughout these locations are my memories and the equipment I need for the myriad of coping strategies I find necessary. In my beloved council flat the lists and phone numbers I need to remember are kept, usually short term. The pub I grew up in contains the things I loved. The meetings and partings, cherished memories and the things I mustn't forget.
My garden is where I leave the things I don't want to remember, that I want to be free of. I sit on the bench and take the wooden cigar box that my father brought back from Portugal from beneath my seat. (Every time I visit, the box has been replaced) After slowly opening the heavy lid and breathing deep the exotic aroma I place whatever pain I've brought with me inside, clicking shut the lid and engaging the tiny, brass hook and eye. When I'm ready, I place the box in the clear, shallow water as it babbles by. I sit by my best dog, light my pipe and watch as the box floats away, ever faster around the bend and down the weir, taking my pain with it.
As for the doll's house, fuck knows what's in there.
The barge is my thinking place, the dream house my safety. I spend a lot of my time in the house, usually either cooking or watching a film in the jacuzzi.
I've spent many years creating this micro-verse inside my head. I know every detail. I can't change anything for want of ruining it all. Laws of physics are observed. If I dream, I now dream of that life, not this.
This time, with my heart tickly and with the sure and certain knowledge that I'd not give a shit about the outcome of this situation that was clearly out of my control, I went there. I heard the words of Patty, of the paramedic that was treating me and, I seem to remember, of a cat that happened on by (He seemed perturbed to find me lying on the pavement and wasn't particularly sympathetic to my situation) before I tuned into the other world and, safely ensconced in my own imagination, began tapping out my pipe bowl against the garishly painted watering can that sits on the stern of my barge. I wandered slowly up the garden path and said good afternoon to the tramp that I found breaking into my shed last winter and who I've agreed can now live there.
I feel like I should be more in control of my fantasies.
I went indoors and made beef stew and dumplings as some of those I've lost milled around. It was very pleasant, once I'd finally managed to disregard the sensation of that giant shoe threatening to invert my ribcage from another reality.
It was an odd experience set amid an already tempestuous period and one that I didn't have much time to consider. Once back in this greyer reality I share with you, once my hands had stopped shaking enough to be able to pack a pipe with my granddad's favourite tobacco and once I could stand at the back door unaided by anything other than the door frame I set about trying to forget what had come earlier. It wasn't so difficult. Other matters of far greater importance than a dicky ticker were easily focussed upon at that time but now, during this relatively pain free period of calm I find myself enjoying, I've begun to wonder.
Why didn't I struggle? Why did I actively try to control what might have been my last thoughts in such a way? Was I trying to construct my own afterlife? One's last moment on earth would seem as an eternity once passed. I'd have given myself that eternity in my own, personalised, perfect world had the tickle become something more.
It's not that I have nothing to lose, (Have you seen my dogs? And I've got half a Twix in the fridge.) it's just the realisation that we can only lose anything whilst alive. You can lose nothing when you die, all you could have lost is already gone. It's those unfortunate folk that stay behind that lose something, but they get over it. Or they don't.
Either way, it'll not bother us if we're dead.
This week has provided me with a brace of epiphanies. The first being that a man with nothing to lose can't be hurt nor made less happy. This epiphany has caused me to snarl a lot more than before and to give fewer shits.
And the second has been that Codeine is BRILLIANT. This epiphany has caused me to snigger a lot more than before and to take fewer shits.
It is also responsible for the disjointed blog entry you've just endured. Sorry about that.
I think I'm almost ready to make a detour through that long grass and pay a visit to the doll's house. It'll be okay, there's a torch on the barge, I'll take that with me.
Maybe I'll find my lighter.
Enjoy the little things.