As I walked down to Brick Lane with my portfolio on my back, heavy with words and responsibilities. I arrived at the Kahalia Cafe and made eyes with a wandering muse. Sitting underneath the skylight with her petit laptop shell, I remembered writing about her in 2012, how she sang so beautifully alongside a bearded minstrel in London Fields.
She became a passing bohemian fancy of mine back then, with her rose petal clippings and strung bow guitar. I’ve noticed her sing a few times in local flower markets, and looking back what made her so attractive was the serene purity of her voice.
After spotting her in the coffee shop, I recalled watching her at Broadway Market with her cello partner one lazy autumnal morning. There was something tangible in the air that day, the weight and tenderness of her voice was beautifully controlled.
Her spirit was free and she appeared (maybe somewhat naively) to live an innately gifted life, one far removed from the bearded entrepreneurs and fat posh mummies sitting next to me. Someone free from the ugly necessities and masks we must wear just to survive.
Alas, I kept on tapping away in the distance, knowing that someone, someone wonderfully talented can flourish by singing beautiful things.
It’s been a while since I was in Scotland for something other than Christmas. Over time it becomes a character in your head rather than a place you call home. From the Angus glens, which shine as brightly as a yellowhammer to the beautiful arches of Old Edinburgh. I take my luggage with me and still can’t let go.
I began thinking how I could live in a grand Edwardian flat close to The Meadows. Avoid the bagpipes and walking tours and live undetected with a metropolitan glare. Scotland is a complex, frustrating and deeply beautiful place. I have my reservations, but maybe here I can construct a narrative that someone can believe in.
Back in London, where I’ve lived for nine years, days become weeks, weeks become months and you tally up the slow, incremental inches of progress. But it takes so fucking long doesn’t it? Why does it have to take so long?
For every moment I’ve endlessly replayed to the point of fixation. Like you’re on the cusp of something brilliantly promising and then it disappears. Its the beauty and rhythm of her mind that I miss the most. How it just took off like a swift in the summer wind.
She’s a far cry from this artificial paradise, a home to everyone and none at all.
All I want to do is make connections with people. Join up the unspoken sighs we privately share and express them vividly in my own language. Like when I ordered a ‘wee’ bottle at the theatre and spoke to a barista about the respective softening of our Scottish accents.
A wee, friendly conversation might be a normal everyday occurrence in any other city, but in London this was a borderline epiphany. For a few minutes, I experienced a kindred sense of belonging I hadn’t felt in years. All she did was ask me which part I was from.
Stonehaven? Is that right? I’m fae Barrhead myself. Softly spoken and yet miles apart, a celebration of commonality by a cash till.
Sitting amongst the cheery chatter of keyboards in north London, I wonder why I’m so fixated on matters outwith my control. My mind rattles around like a broken trolley, swerving and spiralling in different directions. I feel like I don’t make any decisions of my own.
Juggling two books and a barren phone, I wake up earlier now and go on the tube. Reading about an outsider artist from Chicago and the perils of hypervigilance, I rattle past 1930s suburbs in the sunshine. Its a non-linear journey with no tangible end in sight.
Alas, change is always partial and always by degree. Like what did people do in offices before they sent emails to one another? I need to be far grander in my ambitions than merely taking up space. I want to live passionately and make huge, spectacular heroic mistakes.
Nothing will change otherwise. Nothing will change at all.
Don’t feel guilty. What most people don’t understand is that they are characters to someone else, that there are layers. We get so caught up in just one, that we don’t allow people to grow and change. We stick them in boxes immediately, and if you’re not writing it’s fine. I’ve never had someone discover my blog, although I’m sure if they did, there would be hell to pay.
Keep writing – you could go somewhere.
Jane is one of my beautiful forgotten acquaintances, a waif thin blonde poet from Los Angeles. She was an enigma in many ways, but we both shared a love of confessional writing. I particularly loved getting messages at 03.06am. The wonders of millennium technology back then was still remarkable to virgin eyes.
I don’t think either of us had had any real sense of how we existed IRL. We were complete strangers to one another in that respect. Our correspondence was a weird abstract friendship that could only have flourished online.
Looking back I find it amazing that someone so young could be so warm and insightful about the realities of life. How is this even possible? She was barely even twenty when she wrote this.
I don’t recognise myself reading my old emails. I barely write at all now. You run out of things to say, or come to the realisation that everything you want to say has been written by somebody else.
It’s the fear that stops you from writing, the fear of someone you know or might meet will judge you negatively. Without them realising, there are layers upon layers that make me unrecognisable to the man behind this prose.
Like my old emails I forget about what I’ve write about almost immediately. I now abide by false narratives to preserve my pride. If you want to grow and change then you have to run up that hill alone.
Typecast again after another audition, I walked home across the river through a vision of high capital. I looked powerful and resolute as I caught myself in the mirror, approximately one inch taller at 6ft 4″. I was the man for all things. You can trust a man in a suit. He has authority and purpose.
A blonde Russian beauty made eyes with me at Bank station; a petit Indian businesswoman looked twice at Moorgate, and a man in his early thirties asked me directions to Aldgate East.
It was a power trip compared to my life in trainers, but the suit hid the truth. It betrayed what I was really thinking. I don’t know what I’m doing here. Living in the centre of the empire and dressing up like I’m a king.
Listening to a robin sing this morning, I kept looking amongst the branches until I spotted a red breast fluttering near the crown. Spring sunshine was pouring over Lewes’s suburban lawns and ruinous Abbey grounds. I hadn’t heard something so beautiful and unforced in a very long time. ‘A bird sings because it has a song’ or so the saying goes.
East Sussex is geographically far removed from my home in Aberdeenshire. Its the southern end of the green isle, but it felt familiar today only warmer, prettier and less remote.
Standing on Lewes Castle grounds, I remember being an eight-year-old boy, accompanying my mother to Aberdeen’s zoology building. I would bring along my binoculars and pack lunch box to RSPB meetings: a meal composed of ham sandwiches, crisps and two bourbon chocolate biscuits wrapped in tin foil.
We drove there in a poky blue Volvo and the conveners always had southern English accents. I always remember this because they were markedly different from the kids and teachers at my local school. Bird watching shaped my early childhood until the age of ten. But it stayed there for some reason, like many sweet things that drift away in the pursuit of conformity.
Gone are the speckled breasts of thrushes, goldfinches and robins. Living in a big city estate with no garden, birds have become crows roosting over defecated cars. Unlike my RSPB years, I don’t hear any songbirds when I leave the house in the morning. I only hear the caw-caw-cawing of scavengers and a 24/7 motorised world.
Isn’t it funny how far south you have to travel just to remember how things used to be back home.