Monday, April 02, 2007

Stuck with tea

Here's another Dole Diary entry.

Tuesday, 17 May,2005
"Today I sign on. I shall not be late. I have given myself fair warning, and now, 10 a.m., I am ready to go although I don't need to leave for another hour. I have applied make-up and brushed my teeth. I have written my shopping list for afterwards. Today, I will get it right. I will leave in plenty of time to walk there.

I really must get something done about the lack of light in my life. The central light in the front room doesn't work -- two bulbs have popped in quick succession suggesting an electrical malfunction. The light at the top of the stairs needs the bulb-holding fixture changed, and the standard lamp has died. The TV aerial on the roof has snapped and a cheap indoor aerial has provided more in zippy crackly interference than existed before I bought it. The back door is peeling paint. The windows in the attic cry out for blinds in order to shun the sunrise. Oh, and while not necessary from a practical view, the avocado green bathroom suite is an offence to even the most blunted sense of aesthetics. But, with penny pinching the order of the day, I must work around the inconveniences. Although, the light situation is trying, especially when tired eyes try to read the newspaper lounging at night with a glass half-full of cheap wine.

Enough of maudlin self-pity. I see what I am doing; I am inviting sympathy. But I don't want your sympathy, thanks. We all have little crucifixes. At least I have my health. Thirty minutes of yoga this morning. Dry-body scrubbing yesterday. A good walk to come. Blue skies to get me thinking.

Wednesday, 18 May 2005
Feeling tired. There's an illness that I have only ever come across in women's magazines. It is known by the desultory acronym: TAT. Tired All the Time. I think I have it.

Why? Is it the air? Certainly a trip out and about leaves me enervated. Is it the water? The food? The stress of life? The financial strictures? The unfulfilled desires?

Sleep's the answer. But last night I didn't and a song by the Ramones got stuck in my brain: 'Twenty-four hours a day, I wanna be sedated'. Eventually, I did just that.

Yesterday I went to JC+ to sign, which took all of 30 seconds, and while in Peckham with my camera set about taking a few photos for a Street Photo Workshop I'm doing at Tate Modern. These pictures may be the last I ever take in Peckham. I have got into too much trouble over them. Too often, people have objected to the intrusion of being photographed. However, I had one frame left in the film. Outside the Jobcentre building I saw a line of people securing their bikes to a yellow metal bar and the colours of the bikes looked great. As I pressed the shutter, the man nearest me had his back to me, but he turned in my direction on hearing the whirr of my primitive camera.

He was not happy. 'You shouldn't do that. It's not right. You should ask first. It's a liberty. You should know there are people around here DON'T want their pictures taken.' Two things saved me. The middle-aged smile on my face as I apologised and mumbled about an 'art project' and the fact that I, too, was on my way into the benefits' office.

But, it shook me up. Before that incident, I took a photo of a young boy trying to escape from two shop security guards. The boy was nabbed. It was a sad moment, and a couple of elderly Caribbean ladies looked really hurt. 'Where are his parents? Why is he not at school?' I thought the kid appeared to want to get caught. His mates got away.

Thursday, 19 May 2005
The thing about writing, or any art form, is that at this stage (undiscovered, unapplauded) one has to carry on in a bubble of hope. The hope has no roots in reality. It stands alone. It alternately mocks and beckons. It is the hope of my grandfather who thought one day he'd have a big win on the horses, and of my father believing he'd win the pools and, later, the lottery. I believe in my gamble. So did they. They were disappointed. Will I be too? One doesn't want to be foolish. Hope never paid a bill nor put food on the table. It must be alchemized with reality.

'Why not try for a job as a librarian in Lewisham College?' posits my daughter, not unreasonably. Regular money for a regular job. 'Because,' I say teeth gritted, 'I don't want to be a librarian. I want to be who I want to be. Not someone else for the sake of a pittance. I've done, probably, 30 years in offices.'

I want to be a writer. 'You are a writer,' she consoles, 'you are a failure, and most writers are failures. They write a half-dozen books before they get anything published or they don't get recognised until after they're dead.' Cheering in its way, but how to circumvent the scenario she outlines? I can't wait until I die. I can't write (prospective) book after book and consign them to the job of balancing wonky tables.

What I must do is carry on. I shall carry on.

What I'd like to do right now is take drugs. Not to obliterate the mind, but to stimulate it into rivers of radical prose. To inspire, alter, galvanise. A mix of speed and peyote, perhaps. Cocaine, maybe. Marijuana but without the accompanying eradication of motor skills (like coping with a computer keyboard gets like really too much, man). But, it's early in the day and I'm too ancient, really. Of course, there's alcohol. How I'd love to be the late-night whisky drinker who writes in a state of mellowing profundity. But, I hate whisky; since once, years ago, it nearly killed me. (Think unconscious and inhalation of vomit).

I'm stuck with tea. And four envelopes. One reveals that I am in credit with my monthly gas payments. I phone to see if I can get some money back. But, it's bad news. It's actually a debit, which explained to me in a soft Welsh accent, helps ameliorate my disappointment. Better news with Southwark Council. I have overpaid on my Council Tax. A signature on a form will secure a refund of £94.34. I deal with that straight away. The bank statement is not too awful. The last envelope is yet another incredible zero percent credit card offer, consigned to the bin.

Friday, 20 May 2005
To Peckham again. I'm really getting the hang of poverty shopping. Close to the end of Rye Lane (or beginning, depending where you start from) are a couple of stalls with knock-down prices on fresh vegetables and fruit. Both are operated by men who have the look of brothers who came over on some wave of immigrants escaping Irish rural poverty and stayed. The customers are from everywhere: I'm sandwiched between a Middle-Eastern family and a Caribbean woman who buys a huge bag of ginger. I ask her about the ginger. She says a friend boils it up for drinks.
For the grand sum of £1.50, I acquire three fat courgettes, a fulsome aubergine, a bunch of sturdy spring onions, a half-pound of bobby beans, a head of garlic and some fresh ginger. One person could eat for several days on this; just add rice. It's incredibly cheap.

'God bless you,' says the man, handing me my change. (Update: some months later I see him in a waiting room of a hospital. He is thinner. He has cancer. The stall is closed.)"

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