Onwards, with nothing (/everything)

Tonight, I sat on a bench, and the bench itself sat perfectly parallel to the road, which ran parallel to the community pavilion building, which sat parallel to the playing grounds, which sat parallel to the river, which ran parallel to the railway tracks in the distance. I stared out towards them in the dark and waited for the passenger trains to race across my horizon – I caught two travelling south into Stirling proper and beyond, and then the much faster northbound service, headed perhaps to the Tayside coast or up to Inverness. Much closer, cars and cyclists and runners passed me on the road. My ass was wet on the bench and my hands reeked of the rubber cement that I’d used to patch a puncture on my bicycle tire. My head was in tatters, and I scarcely knew why.

Yesterday, I dumped half of my belongings into the clothing bank at the fire station. I felt immense, and still do. I don’t own much anyway, owing to a base character makeup of frugality and non-commitment, and when I’d moved up here in the first place, I’d abandoned half of what I’d owned then as well. I now own roughly a quarter of what I did three months ago, and the ultimate dream of whittling down my possessions into a single bag doesn’t seem quite as far-fetched as it did then.

I’ve been wondering how long I’ll stay in Stirling, and it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that it likely won’t be much longer. When is it appropriate to leave? I’ve got my eye on the Hebrides, on Dundee, on Aberdeen, on Kirkwall, but how do I get there? How do I stay there? The logistical distance between where I am and where I want to be always seems insurmountable and the restlessness builds and builds.

I feel sick and nervous. Suffocated and frustrated.

And so on.

And so, as it goes, I thought too much about the future and stormed out of my apartment, setting off towards the open air and the open arms of a panic attack. I thought too much about the words, and a heavy palpitation pounded in my chest; a thick, torrid thump that reminded me of the physicality of my blood and my body. “This is fine,” I told myself, capable now of coping with such sensations, and I sat down to stare out towards the trains until the January air sank through my coat and I began to feel cold again in the winter mist. I took the long way home, joining the river at the footbridge where it veers away from the tracks and towards the high street. And passing over it on the main road, I thought I spied a heron through the dark, standing stock-still on the edge of an ait. I called my dad to tell him about it. I told my mother that I wanted nothing more than to live out of my backpack and head elsewhere. And they said to me, 220 miles to the south, “why not?”

Why not?


Fuck it, I am the Scrooge

“Ya’ve finished ya Christmas shopping then, aye?” my coworker asks my legs one day in the kitchen, where she spies them jutting out from underneath the workbench as I reach to grab a sack of flour from the back. The question reaches me there as if it comes from miles away and I pause in my rummaging; the deliberation over whether or not to tell a bare-faced lie or suffer the highly predictable consequences brings me to a momentary standstill.

Because the answer is yes, pretty much. For Christmas this year, I bought myself a trip to Reykjavik in March, because we all deserve nice things sometimes. I bought myself a new backpack after my old one had suffered an unfortunate accident in the store room. I’ll probably buy myself some new wheels when I resume working five days a week and have enough time to get down to the cycle shop, but only because my current bike is no longer happy to carry me where I want or need to go. And that, there, is the true extent of my Christmas shopping.

But I know what she means and, because it’s Christmas (and also because the idea of pretending to give a damn for the remaining duration of the month fills me with dread), I choose honesty. “I’m not really getting anything for anyone,” I say, dragging out the flour just in time to see her eyebrows hit her hairline. She tilts her head to the side and smiles confusedly, politely, but says nothing, so I fill the silence with assurances that I am also expecting nothing. But she’s already clocked me for the sort of person I am, and I shrug my shoulders and turn back to my cake.

I’ve worked in service since I was eighteen years old, and each year, my December disappears in a flurry of customer complaints, five pence reusable bags, cups of coffee, baked goods, and checkout belts stacked to the ceiling with Quality Street selection boxes. Each year, I take about four days off in all of December, one of them being Christmas itself, and I rake in an incomprehensible amount of dollar. And each year, I bear witness to the sudden, deliberate, and utterly predictable dumbing down of humanity, wherein I watch people willingly risk their sanity to traverse overcrowded shopping centres and start throwing punches at one another over bags of sprouts.

And listen, try as I may, I just can’t bring myself to be about that life. Sprouts aren’t even fucking nice.

I imagine that it’ll be unsurprising to discover that I’ve been defending myself against accusations of scroogery for years, but honestly, I do get it. Gingerbread lattes are pretty good, Love Actually makes me cry, it’s good when it snows, and it is kinda nice to kick back and gorge yourself on roast potatoes and Buck’s Fizz with relations you haven’t seen in a great long while. And you know, it’s really nice to give something to someone, but I just can’t shake the feeling that the sense of obligation (or else, the expectation of receiving something in return) that defines Christmas these days sort of cancels out the altruism. It doesn’t matter what the advertisements say, you just can’t buy your way into goodwill. Or peace on Earth, for that matter.

So let me say it again for the kids in the back, I’m not opposed to the Christmas spirit — to handing out thermal socks to the homeless, to opening your home up to strangers who have no one to eat with, to sitting through the three-hour introductory credits of Ben Hur, to biting your tongue over your great-aunt’s accidental racism. These are time-honoured traditions and, culturally, they’re important. It’s jus too damn bad that these things are being shit on by a hyped-up consumerism that dictates that Christmas now starts in September and drives people to violence and assault over vegetables.

The brutal hilarity of it all is that, come January, I’ll wake up to a day off. My customers will wake up to a house free of decorations, where the evidence of all the pointless tatt they splurged out on will no longer be tucked away underneath the tree, but rather inside the closest of their loved ones; out of sight, out of mind. And we’ll be much kinder to one another.

Something tells me it shouldn’t be that way.

So let me buy you something nice in April. Let me treat you on your birthday. Let’s make a boss-ass meal the next time I see you. But let’s not do any of that on Christmas, because what a waste of sentiment that’d be.

(Cross-posted on Medium!)