Thursday, August 12, 2010

Still/Rise: the World is Enough

'I like the smile on your fingertips,
I like the way that you move your hips,
I like the cool way you look at me.
Everything about you is bringing me misery.'

– Bob Dylan, Buckets of Rain

On Friday night I went out with Alan and my NZ cousin, Chris, to some pubs in the West End. We called on Grace who works as a barmaid at the First and Last on Dover Street. Then we went to a tacky night club in Covent Garden. I liked it, it was kinda fun. People were dancing and laughing and kissing. I like seeing happy couples and smiles, it makes me feel happy. It was all a bit of a joke. it looked like it was full of people from Essex. A hen night or two.

I thought there was a girl who was giving Alan the eye. I saw her look at him a couple of times. I told Alan and ten minutes later he plucks up enough courage to go and talk to her. 'Fuck off,' she says, and walks away. Alan dances to a cover version of the theme song from Only Fools and Horses. After we've all danced for a bit, Alan has a bit more luck: two pretty teenage German girls. He dances with them for a bit, then the three of them go and sit down. Me and my cousin are standing around looking like idiots. I tell Chris to go and join Alan and the Germans. 'Why?' he asks. Just go, I tell him. What for? He asks. Just go, I tell him, and I push him. He joins them, then it's just me standing there like an idiot. I go and join them all. I'm tired now. I don't even talk to the Germans, but they seem nice.

At about one we all went home. The tubes had shut; I waited for a bus home. A handsome Asian man kept looking at me. He winked at me. I was tempted. I was bored. The bus came and I went.

When I got home I put the key into the front door. It wouldn't open. I kicked it. I knocked on it. I tried to force the key. Nothing. I knocked on my neighbour's door. It was raining lightly but steadily and I was drunk. Sue, my neighbour, eventually opens her door, none too pleased. For some reason, because of the rain, I guess, she wants me to take off my white shirt. I won’t. I climb out her window and over to my bedroom window, next door, which is slightly open. I climb through. The front door lock had got caught. It's now a matter of hours before I have to meet Casey at Liverpool station.

The train journey to Stanstead was completely pleasant. It seemed that we left London abruptly, with buildings suddenly just ending and then we’re in countryside.

If it wasn’t for the Guggenheim and Go! doing cheap flights to Bilbao, the city would have stayed the poor, insignificant, industrial place it always was. As it stands now, thanks to Frank Gehry, ‘most significant architect of the last century’, etc, Bilbao has transformed itself into a cultural beacon. All that remains of its past industrialisation is a chimney. Who says art doesn’t have the power to change? At least at a superficial level.

Bilbao is: freaks, gays, winos, rudeness, coffee, mantequilla, Jeff Koons, no food, impossible to get drunk on ┼Ľose but a large G&T helps. Bagpipes near the beach (sponsored by Go! airlines).

In a gay cafe, the only place in Bilbao open past ten, Casey was ruder and nastier to me than anyone else has been ever. I won’t go into detail. I went to the bathroom. I locked the door. I burst into tears. I looked at myself in the mirror. These were the first tears for many years. My face was red, my eyes were red, I looked like shit. I splashed water on my face. Looked at myself in the mirror again. I looked the same. I went back out. Casey could tell I’d been crying. She apologised.

The film Holy Smoke seemed to echo our relationship. I'd see it on DVD when I got back.

On a train to the beach I was looking out at the factories, the graffiti, the cranes, and I knew she was looking at me. After a while, I looked back at her. We were looking at each other for a bit. She was looking like she hated me. She turned away, casual and cool, detached and bitchy. I continued looking. Then I looked elsewhere.

We went into the Basque shop in Bilbao and bought souvenirs of Northern Spain. The idea of north and south held us rapt. Stickers of Che Guevara. A car sticker saying ER, another one saying CANT. The fun with language. Still/Rise, there it was again: graffiti on a garage door like an underground movie title. No one knows where the Basque language comes from. It has no relation to any Latin or European language: it looks and sounds more like a cross between Chinese and Welsh.

Always on our last night, our last day, do we find our way – we get the point of things, we know our way around, we’re natives, and then it’s time to leave. It’s probably for the best. Every journey feels like it’s going to be our last together. As soon as we arrive at a place, she’s already looking forward to the next place we’re going.

Casey had told me about her pink knickers, one night in a French restaurant in Soho, just before we had an argument, and she'd called me a freak. Before then, I'd had no interest in her sexually at all. I'd always liked her eyes. I'd always liked her mouth and her hands. I liked the clothes she wore. Isn’t that a song? Anyway, I didn’t get to see her pink knickers.

When we arrived back at Standstead, I knew me needing the toilet at just the wrong time would be a defining moment. I had to go. I went.

When the lift was coming down I heard the whistle for the train, and then I heard the train departing. I looked at my watch: llpm. There wouldn't be another train for half an hour. I knew Casey had got on it. I said to myself: if she's got on it, we're never going to see each other again, we're never going to speak to each other again. If she hasn't got on it, we're going to be friends for years. We're going to be lovers. We're going to make films together. She’s going to have my children. The lift door opened and my heart was beating fast. I thought I saw her but it wasn't her. I bought a ticket and walked up and down the vast, dark, cold platform. There was no Casey.

When I get back I’m cheered up by Alan's email girls: He’s got Algerian, South African, Indian, Argentinian and Spanish, but he’s not really getting anywhere with them.

I went home and phoned Casey every day for a week. On the Saturday I must have phoned her ten times, when I was with John. We went to an Alcoholics Anonymous disco in Mile End, just for the fun of it, but it was no fun; obviously there was no alcohol, and everyone looked really tense. A year later John would be dead. Casey wasn’t answering her phone. Finally she did, on Sunday. She said she’d been ill, had a rash, and hadn’t been answering her phone. We had been seeing each other every week for about a year, but now something had changed and we didn’t see each other that much anymore. And when we did, Casey was late or in a bad mood. Does the heat affect thinking, creativity, sexuality and temper? Obviously. And the cold?

(Bilbao, Spain, 1999)

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