Under the influence of the need to embarrass her children, my Mother recently resurrected one of my early works from the annals of history for circulation over dinner. I guessed its vintage by the political incorrectness throughout. An ABC book featuring O for Oriental with an accompanying picture of a man who looks like he just wandered out of war-time Vietnam, carries a certain social history. One that calls to mind Jim Davidson and other shivers. P is for papaya, whatever they were. P is also for Papal visit, which I can only guess inspired the first of many run-away notes. This one inscribed on the inside cover. I hadn’t mastered the letter e, but in unequivocal, if impaired, terms, I instruct ‘Mammy, Daddy, and the Brothərs’ I’m leaving with the assurance I’ll be fine. I urge them to resist looking for me and continue about their business. This included “punching over” to watch Grange Hill, probably that very evening. Something distracted me and detonated a life-time habit of dramatic declarations of ambition followed by lengthy spells of sitting comfortably on my arse.
I watch The Killing Fields and weep uncontrollably. It’s possible I’ve been manipulated by John Lennon’s Imagine, but I resolutely declare my intention to be a journalist. Undoubtedly, I sit back down on my arse straight after. Having seen E.T. two years previously, I am torn between becoming a war correspondent and a secret alien keeper. Since the brothers partly meet the criteria for the former, I settle on the latter.
The name’s Bond, Basildon Bond. My Mother writes with such fury on every pad that anyone receiving a letter other than one of our teachers can make out from the residual indentations I have been excused from P.E.. It runs through the pages like the watermark of exasperated parenting. “I regret TOTB is unable to attend class today due to illness”, an instruction I soon came to mass produce myself, including that tricky O in her name. Neither of us bank on me sliding the pad back in the drawer after composing a forensically detailed letter on my impending house party to a friend incarcerated in the Gaeltacht. With it still firmly intact. Insert Munch’s Scream here. I remain in this catatonic state for days.
School’s out for summer and it’s my second working in the local newspaper. I’m unhappy with my hair in the photo accompanying my weekly column – a random ragbag of vox-pops, whimsical promotional pieces for the undiscerning tourist, and the occasional stab at incoherent thoughts on music. The scrapbook smells musty on purchase but it begins to incubate a series of dog-eared cut-outs hanging over the edge of its covers like untrimmed pastry. My ambitions for a career in journalism grow loftier with an ‘assignment’ to review the Michael Jackson gig in Cork, then wobblier as I spend much of it on a bathroom floor. Undeterred by cow-pats of nothingness strewn across my memory, I go on to confound myself with fanciful imaginings of Jackson “gliding through a milky-way of hits”, the only line I remember from events vaguely recalled. I was there though. Definitely. I think.
I sit nervously across from the course tutor as she leafs through my scrapbook. Her face inscrutable; occasionally interrupted by a slight nod. Or maybe the other side of her neck got tired. She enquires about the roughly produced papers towards the back. I explain my brief foray into independent publishing along with another. Only I didn’t know then that’s what is was called. An older man, though not by much. A socialist, who sought to pose alternative questions on the economic decay of our town. Only I didn’t know then that’s what he was called. I just went along with ‘weird’. The pair of us fancied ourselves as Citizen Smith acolytes. For a while it was all very Solidarność in our heads, but the overheads, together with naively executed plans, rendered it a brief, if mildly adventurous, venture. Hmmm, she responds in lieu of a response. I know now what she meant. She thanks me for travelling to meet with her. I start a week later.
The contributions to the local paper are sporadic now; the rare gig review being the height of it. The scrapbook disappeared a year ago in transit from one flat to another. It never gained weight, and I wriggle out of conversations that turn towards the sureties of seventeen. I learned the truth at seventeen (and a half) that certain classrooms were meant for study queens, and highly-motivated folk with clear-minded goals, who married their ambitions and then got hired.
Belfast has the jitters but I am in love. I am spotted strolling down the Ormeau Road hand-in-hand with him as we lick ice-creams in between the faces off each other. We are multi-skilled. The friend who spots me is around the corner in her living room watching the news. The first of two TV appearances (the other being in the audience of Questions & Answers some years later – I know, how did my life become so boring?). I neglect to mention there is a riot going on behind us. But we don’t care. Some months later I attempt to end it (the affair, not the riot – that came later) and compose a lengthy letter promptly dropped through the letterbox. Luckily, the post office is in my hometown, so I’ve a better chance of retrieving it from the postmaster when I explain I think I’ve made a terrible mistake. Retrieving the letter is a terrible mistake. It’s another five years before we painfully part during which time I take to writing interminable essays that address, among other things, journalistic practices in the North, and subsequently journalistic regimes much further afield. Propaganda – the machine that keeps on giving.
2000 – 2014
Ostensibly, a formal writing career lies long perished, but deadlines are always waiting to be buried. I enter writing competitions now with varying monetary prizes up for grabs for groups of people obliged to prove they need it most. My own wage depends in part on it, the poverty industry. Over the years, it is often impossible to distinguish the difference between the buzz from writing, from winning, and that from the prize bagged in the hope of it going towards some good. And I’m no longer convinced that much of it does what it’s designed to do. I wonder if it’s the same for those who go on to carve out that writing career from blogging – where does personal ambition start and the merits of enquiry into much of what they write about begin? What came first – recreational blogging or the inevitable need to convert it into an income, or the self-belief that the writing truly befits one? We’re all writers now, of varying degrees of authenticity and motive.
Relief comes from slipping through portals minimised in the corner of the screen to worlds of strangers colliding in chat of passions. Music, film, cheese. It gives way to unpicking a universal humdrum from which endless entertainment is derived. Keyboards convert into playgrounds for grown-ups who like to climb up words and slide down sentences. The apparatus for making modern connections. A man regularly appears in the same one, casually leaning with one foot up against the yard wall, unassuming in the anorak he makes no apology for wearing. We take each other in, eventually circling one another with one-liners before discreetly booking a room in hotmail. We marry three years later.
I learned the truth at forty-two that blogging is also meant for those who aren’t duty queens or kings, or high achievers with clear-eyed ambition, who married old, and feel somewhat retired. Back to a life with a scrapbook gathering dog-eared entries. A random ragbag of red-mist pops, whimsical pieces for the passer-through, and the occasional stab at incoherent thoughts on music. Only this time without any ambition attached. And that keeps my buzz real.
Thanks to whichever kind brethren among you who nominated this one for the Ireland Blog Awards. It was much appreciated.
Now is the time for all good buns to come to the aid of the party