Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections – Ted Kessler

3rd January 2010

In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments;

On Dec 19th, I started to write this year’s contribution to Shadow’s And Reflections. Here’s what I wrote:

“Today we dim the lights on 2009, a year of many shadows and much reflection. Too much fucking reflection, to paraphrase David St Hubbins. But first, let’s pause and wonder if pulling apart the year’s curtains and stepping through into the magical and frightening lair of Shadows And Reflections for a third year running is really wise. Once bitten, twice shy. But three times? That’s asking for trouble. That’s masochism.

For my first Shadows And Reflections in 2007, I told the tale of the young QPR footballer Ray Jones who’d recently perished in his new car beneath the wheels of an East London bus. I related that story because, as I explained, the year had been of “unspectacular vintage.” Nothing else had truly impacted upon me emotionally, I moaned. A few days after it appeared on Caught By The River, my wife left me.

I wasn’t surprised by this turn of events necessarily, as I live in my skin, but I was shocked nonetheless. So it was with some relief that I settled down to compose 2008’s Shadows And Reflections. The year had started badly, I related cautiously, but with the help of a new bespoke black suit and the awesome streets of Central London, notably Berwick Street, I had walked myself back to a kind of equilibrium. The ship had steadied. The storm had passed. And though I was still stalked by its blustery shape on the horizon, I anticipated a smoother onward passage through 2009…

Within days I was on the run from my home in East London, sleeping in the spare room of a generous friend in Shepherd’s Bush as the mystical balm of the Uxbridge Road healed reopened wounds. My world was once again upside down, inside out. I felt insane, deliciously so in some respects, because when you’re staring-down-the-barrel of nutso you can get a lot of quality carousing done without the sleep debt collectors calling, and horrifically so, in a Colonel Kurtz kinda-way in other respects. The horror, the horror…But, my, the wine, women and song. (That plural ‘women” might be over-stating it, but, please, allow me some poetic licence).

Since then, the journey through 2009 has been anything other than smooth. Life has been extreme. I have undergone the darkest self-examination and revelled in the full flush of illumination. I have travelled near and far, from Wales to Japan to Spain to France to America to Holland. I have spent lots of quality alone time. I have made many new friends and let my hair down, very low, very long: I spent quite a lot of the first few months of the year stumbling down the Uxbridge Road high as a kite/drunk as a lord (cliché police please delete as applicable) either side of dawn, always so, so glad to be alive. I have done a lot of physical exercise to stave off psychosis. I have fallen in love. And I have remembered some valuable lessons about life. Such as:

1) It’s never as bad as it first seems – sometimes it’s much worse.
2) Do not go to the Met Bar, no matter how drunk you are nor what promises have been made to you.
3) Don’t tell anyone you are writing a book until you’ve finished it. You look like a wanker. Which you may well be.
4) Don’t get up at 6:00am on the morning of the heaviest snowfall in a decade for a spin class, you mentalist.
5) Ecstasy stops working as advertised after a certain age. Feelings of euphoria are reversed. This is a bad look.
6) Australians In Europe: good song.
7) The expression “take it slowly” is extremely sound advice.
8) Following the above advice is impossible.
9) Do not stage dive unless you have correctly judged the distance between stage and crowd. Nor if you momentarily believe you can fly.
10) It takes an ocean of trust, in the Kingdom Of Rust.
11) If you are drunkenly lost alone on the streets of Barcelona at 2:00 AM on the morning after FC Barcelona have won the European Cup, the police are not your friends. Nobody is.
12) Queens Park Rangers are a team of transients, of mercenaries, managed by two otherwise unemployable journey-men who answer to a room full of crooks and spivs and unaccountable, vain liars. These are my guys.
13) Whitney was right. Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all.

So I pause before continuing with this forensic inspection of 2009, knowing that I end it in a state of some eager anticipation, and that that is historically the best way to provoke the vengeful gods of Shadows And Reflection. The outlook feels hopeful. I have a new home, the fourth new address that my bank has had to absorb this year (and brilliantly, I find myself still paying mortgage or rent for three of those addresses), but one that feels permanent. I have a girlfriend, with whom I am tentatively making plans. And I have a vague sense that the future is exciting, that this is my Barry Manilow moment, that I have made it through the rain…”

That’s as far as I got with the cursed Shadows And Reflection this year. I stopped writing as my girlfriend was feeling unwell…

Within 48 hours we were in Accident And Emergency in St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. We arrived at 8.40 PM in a state of mild panic and huge discomfort, in blizzard conditions, my girlfriend immediately suspected of having either mumps or meningitis. We were confined to a respiratory room in A&E as the hospital searched for an isolated room somewhere in the hospital. Ten hours later, at 6:30 am, we were finally wheeled up to the seventh floor and Jean was assigned a bed.

We spent Christmas there, in the hospital, Jean painfully wired up to a series of drips, me in an armchair by the bed. We shared a picnic Xmas dinner, watching the television together, and in truth, it was probably more enjoyable for me than many family Christmases of the recent past. Calm, peaceful, grimly romantic even. But it wasn’t ideal, there, in the hospital, on Christmas day. Not ideal at all, particularly for Jean, as she had neither mumps nor meningitis. She had both…

So now it’s eleven days since I abruptly stopped writing my Shadows And Reflections and she is finally home, asleep next door, convalescing. And as we stand poised on the first day of the new- year, I find myself unable to ignore the completion of 2009’s Shadows And Reflections, despite being painfully aware of its almighty hex. With every smug pronouncement I feel I am baiting its curse. But fuck it. Are we not men? Are we not able to overcome a curse passed down by a fishing website? I think so. I hope so.

2010 is a new decade. I remember keenly toasting 2000 by blasting The Verve’s A New Decade in my old kitchen as I orbited NW6, singing along through chattering teeth: “A new decade, the radio plays the sounds we made, and everything seems to feel just right, coming through your lonely mind…” But now, with both the melancholia of passing time and the glee of bidding farewell to anarchic lodgers, we say goodbye to the hysterical, extreme 00s, with its death, destruction, debt and divorce, and step hopefully once again into a new light. It’s got to be better, hasn’t it? We know it will. And believing so surely that it will be better… well, that’s the beauty of the human condition. Shadows And Reflections, do your worst. Happy new year.

2009, the end credits:

The Strange Boys, albums one and two
King Soloman’s, Uxbridge Road, W12
Donald Draper’s difficult evolution
The Crown And Sceptre, in the sun, in the winner’s enclosure
The Black Lips in Barcelona and Paris
One final beautiful, ridiculous night with NG and LG, Amsterdam in February
Cass McCombes’ Dreams Come True Girl.
Long days and nights in Teo
Man In A Box: A true credit crunch hero
Ton Kanom, Harrow Road
Animal Collective, in my ears.
The Fatty Crab, NYC
Little Jo and Little Jack, Nashville, Tennessee: wedding of the decade
The White Ribbon
Julie Bland’s white witchery, 15th February
Smoke And Mirrors On The Dancefloor
The Funky Chicken Bar, Shibuya, Tokyo
The XX
Steven Wells, RIP.