From Chapter 3 – Autumn of the novel “Here Am I Sitting in my Tin Can.”
“I know I won’t see you again,” she says.
We’re in the tiny kitchen of Anna’s cottage in the dead town in Lancashire, where she’s feeding me a welcome cup of tea and slice of toast. I’ve managed the tricky morning-after negotiation out of her bed, saying not untruthfully that I need to get to the garage and meet the grease monkey.
“I can’t deny I’ll be moving on,” I say, “If the tin can gets fixed.”
“I’m fine with that,” she says, “I want you to know I’m fine with that. It was me who wanted last night to happen, and for a reason.”
“I wanted it to happen too.”
“And it’s true what I said. You made me see colours.”
“Thank you,” I say, then hate myself for taking the compliment as if it’s something I’m used to. The fact is that I am not; this is the first time in years I’ve had the proverbial one-night-stand, and while I’d like to say I’m proud of myself, I am not. To be honest I’m rather embarrassed, and amidst the embarrassment and the self-hatred there’s something else nagging me and I don’t know quite what it is.
After we do the awkward goodbyes, and I remember to say all the right things in terms of her father dying, I head to the garage not too far away where the tin can waits for me. For some reason it looks rather more impoverished, rather more broken and sad, than usual. It’s almost like it’s saying where the fuck have you been? Why did you leave me here on this shitty garage forecourt when I needed you most?
The owner of the garage is Alan, a thick-set character from Preston who, like all mechanics, isn’t inclined to start with good news.
“Problem is getting the bearings for this model,” he says, gloomily.
“I know it is,” I say, though the sarcasm is lost on him.
But after a nifty phone call he says he can get them by 2.30 and have me back on the road by end of play. This is good news, though I know what it’ll cost me and know it’ll spell the end of my life on the road. I fear I’ll have nothing left even for diesel to get me home – whatever and wherever home is.
Still suffocating from this miasma of oil, poverty, frustration and self-loathing, I head for the town where yesterday I drank my final pint in The Barrel, where I fed my limp sandwich to the half-dead pigeons, and was invited to dinner at Anna’s… where I’d found at last the chance to spend the night in a woman’s arms and realised even that was not enough.
But why was it not enough? Why is that right now I’m feeling an uncomfortable and incongruous self-hatred? And as I sit on the very bench where pigeons twisted robotically at my feet, I finally find the answer – it’s because while Anna was more than comfortable with the one-night-stand because it gave her what she wanted, some respite from the misery of her life and the nursing of her dying father, and I was happy to give her what she wanted, I was fulfilling my own carnal desires with half a mind on someone else. “You made me see colours,” she said, but I was seeing Myra in someone else’s body.
Killing time in this town already dead, and worried lest I see Anna again, I move on towards the river and find a quiet spot to write. But I don’t feel much lyricism to wax at this moment, I only feel anger and depression. So I take my notebook from my rucksack and see what comes, and what comes is an angsty A to Z of all the things I hate.
A – Anti-social behaviour. People who want to fight the world and ruin a good night for everyone because they can’t hold their liquor and have tiny penises.
B – Bullies. Lots of these bastards in the work environment. Their bullying is mostly borne out of jealousy, insecurity and knowledge that they’re not as good as you.
C – 1 Cruelty. I’ve seen the worst of this, whereby some religion or cult or faith or whatever results in a vulnerable war-torn eight-year-old having to look after her siblings because her parents have been slain. But cruelty comes in all sorts of guises and just ought to be stopped.
2 Coldsores. They make you feel dirty, infectious and ugly.
3 Coathangers. They never behave the way you fucking want them to.
D – 1 Dog-owners. Not all of them, just the ones who think everyone loves their mutt as much as they do. The same can be said of parents and children.
2 Depression. My dog is black and makes me see orange.
E – Easter in the journalistic sense. At this time you always get copy saying things like “there’s an eggstravaganza in Garstang (or wherever)”. I hate the bastardisation of my language and its portmanteaux. Brexit is the worst culprit in the world.
F – The Flex on the iron. Like coathangers they never behave – no matter how careful you handle them, they only want to coil like snakes and kill you.
G – Gastropubs. Pretentious, over-priced, under-nourishing bullshit.
H – 1 HS2. Why on earth they want to rip up more of our beautiful countryside so we can be in London ten minutes quicker is beyond comprehension.
2 Hayfever. Blighted my life and stopped me from enjoying the Summer.
I – Ignorance. There are millions of ignorant fuckers who know nothing except how to succeed at it.
J – Jumped-up people with no talent or knowledge beyond who to sleep with.
K – Know-alls. No they fucking don’t.
L – 1 Liverpool Football Club or at least their fans.
3 Lulu. Someone somewhere someday told her she could sing. How a genius like Bowie could let her murder “The Man Who Sold the World” is beyond me.
M – 1 Mothers (and fathers) who’re more in love with their Facebook profile than looking after their kids, hence letting them run amok in pubs and tread garden peas into the carpet.
N – Nightclubs. Zoos for fuckwits.
O – Optrex. They’re liars and cheats. Their slogan ought to be “Pay through the nose for what doesn’t work on your eyes.”
P – People. Not all of them. Some of them. Certain people. People like me.
Q – Queue-jumpers.
R – 1 Radio DJs and their admirable ability to talk affected shit and get paid for it.
2 Road-rage. Your car is someone else’s traffic.
3 Ruby Wax.
S – Snobs.
T – Trump.
U – Unclear and confusing traffic signals.
V – Vienna. Not the city, that’s beautiful. The song. A fucking dirge.
W – Writers who have never done anything, been anywhere, known anything yet earn thousands. It’s an Optrex-sized con and people fall for it.
X – Xenophobia.
Y – Youngsters with no respect for their fucking elders.
Z – Zoos. Zzzzz.
It’s at this point I realise I’ve fallen asleep, and I’m woken by my ringing phone. It’s Alan to say the van is fixed and could I come to collect it?
Handing over my card makes me wince, that awful moment when you’re not sure if you’ve enough to cover it and you expect the man to say, almost with glee, that it’s been declined. But luckily, or unluckily depending on how you look at it, the transaction goes through.
And so I’m finally broke as I crank up the engine and my tin can shakes and rattles into gear, and drive away from a latest disaster.
It’s early evening now and as the sun sinks into the trees I need to find a lay-by to spend my night, and music to iron out my frustration at an aimless pointless future. So I switch on the radio, and as I read through the nonsense I’ve earlier scribbled there’s some affected shit spoken by some DJ on some show that plays the ‘80s, and then as if to mock me there’s the ominous heartbeat of the opening bars of “Vienna”.
In the 80s I was a new romantic, a lipstick and eyeliner-wearing pretender carving out a marriage, making a family. I think of my daughter whom I’m hoping to get to know again, and who gave me so much love when she was toddling around the livingroom in my yesterdays. I think of all my days past, the successes and the failures, the ups and the downs, the making love and the meaningless sex, the reaching of the age of 53 and its realisation that a career is spent. The realisation that I’ve no idea where I am, beyond a B-road lay-by somewhere in Lancashire. Still, I think, at least I have my home back. But I still can’t help feeling depressed, suffering an unbearable loneliness and the fear that this project is utterly pointless or even impossible to complete. And I see it isn’t so much the tin can as me who’s lost his bearings. But what can I do? I just have to get my head down and forget about the whole thing, cry myself to sleep.
“This means nothing to me,” Midge warbles, and despite my loathing of the song and of myself, I finally get it and warble along with him.