Caught by the River

How Far To The Horizon 2.

7th May 2010

by Ted Kessler.

Jeff sent me a good email on Sunday. It read thus:

“Hi Ted,

just planning the week ahead on CBTR and wondering if you’ll be sending me a diary?

hope you’re having a good weekend

Jeff x”

Beautiful bit of chivvying, full of the kind of easy charm that ensures this correspondent finds himself sitting at his new desk in his new office very early in the morning composing the latest (alright, second) How Far To The Horizon. Soon after I started writing, another email arrived, sent by an old Kiwi friend. In attempt to track me down, she had googled me:

“aha! i just read your blog… you have a BLOG DUDE!…. “diary! “/ “journal!” ….i hear you cry… it was good , almost feels like i got to hear it in a pub, so …close enough !”

I stopped writing and thought about the implications of both emails. To me they add up to this statement: Get it together, you duffus. So I started to get it together. Then I stopped and took it apart again, spooked by the echo of the word “blog” in my head, too scared to step back in to the How Far To the Horizon chamber lest it render me a “blogger”. Blogging. Fishing. Like damp wool, I find both words hang awkwardly from me. Blogging on a fishing website, meanwhile, is an aggregate of terms that make me wonder momentarily about the turn life has taken.

As usual, I decided to ask Jeff. I emailed him. “Before I start writing this again, remind me: what is it about?”

Jeff replied:

“fucking hell Ted. It’s about you and your daft life. The view you take, the walk you walk and the shoes you walk that walk in. Your haircut, your missus, your ex missus, your fucking ex missus. Tomo. No, it’s not about Tomo but it’s about you and Tomo. and James. and Shepherds Bush and football. It isn’t about fishing. It’s about not fishing. What did you read this month? why? was it good or bad or beatles or stones? it’s about getting your face out of facebook and being a face. and it’s to say thank you. to all of those dear to you. and Pete Meadon.

does this help?”

It does help. I’m reminded at this point of Kevin Rowland’s 13 Time, in which Rowland jokes about “the middle class idiots who spend all their time analyzing their own emotions, writing bullshit poetry that we’re supposed to read – as if we’re fucking interested.” Nevertheless, let’s press on and address Jeff’s brief.

Since we last tuned into Ted’s Daft Life these things have either occupied me or happened to me:

1. Larry died. And with his passing, I bade farewell to the only unconditional love I’ve known. Yes, Larry was my cat. He was 16 years old, diabetic, FIV (that’s the feline HIV: I kid you not) and, it turns out, riddled with cancer. He was not well.

The last time I saw Larry was in January 2009, on my knees in my Walthamstow kitchen. “This is it buddy,” I told him a little hysterically, stroking his head. “We probably won’t see each other again.” He didn’t know what I was talking about – he’s a cat – but he knew something was up because I carried bags and the house echoed to fury, and even a cat knows those jointly spell misadventure. He fled, climbing out of the cat flap, left leg trailing in the air, flap swinging closed as he exited, leaving me to brush the fur from my suit and pull my own front door shut behind me. I never saw him again. I returned to the Walthamstow address in July last year to briefly swipe some belongings – CDs, a few plates, photograph album, a pillow…- but he wasn’t in. It was thick summer, blue and bright and hot, and he was out in the garden, somewhere in the shade, head raised, inspecting the breeze…

I returned from holiday last month and unusually there was a missed call logged from my old address, alongside an ex text. The ex text was simply entitled ‘Larry Kessler RIP’. I felt a whump in my gut that ambushed me. I was also surprisingly relieved, not that he was dead, but to have felt grief so instinctively and suddenly, for something that for once didn’t directly affect me. But, man oh man. It stung. Larry came from another era, from a time before the internet (or blogging), and his long decay yet sudden death was poignantly symbolic. The arc of his life spookily mirrored the trajectory of my marriage – he’d first rocked jauntily up from the cat home when we were ridiculously young newly weds, when John Major was in power and QPR were still in the Premiership. Major fell, Blair fell, and QPR just kept on falling, but Larry stuck around. Longer, even, than I did. The kid had staying power. He had heart.

I thought of the good times:

As a youth, he would fetch anything you threw for him that he could fit in his mouth, and he could also jump above my head from a sitting position. I imagine both skills are unusual. I remain proud.

He had a lot of love to give, but only to a select few. And it was very, very good loving.

He was an extraordinary physical comedian.

He liked jazz, bees and mice. So do I!

Once he threw a frog up on the bed. And the frog leapt to safety…

Then, I thought of the bad times:

The two-week disappearance in 2001 (posters, leaflets, tearful recriminations); the day we discovered that his powerful thirst was diabetes and would mean two injections a day, in the back of his neck, after food (tough gig, man, but we mastered it eventually. We pulled through); the vet’s bills and the collapse in the garden, in the dark, wailing in agony, my ex on her knees with a candle trying to find him, me long gone…

She told me that the vet had explained that Larry collapsed the second time because he was so riddled with cancer that his legs simply gave way. He could have come home, since I was away and it’s a tough call to make alone, but he wouldn’t have lasted more than a few weeks, and so…and so. She held him while they injected him and off he went. There was no pain. Just the most insistent of all of nature’s calls…

Here he is, shortly before the close of play, with shorn paws but still devilishly handsome:

2. Barbados.

Nobody needs me to tell them what Barbados is like. If you’ve ever been, you know – if you haven’t, then you can guess. Still, let me tell you what Barbados is like.

We hired a car and drove up and down the west coast and around the south coast for a couple of weeks. What a drive, especially as a passenger. We snorkelled, beach-hopped, bought lunch out of the back of cars, snuck into 5 star hotels, acting like guests for the day, and sunk beers under arching sunsets, all the while sucking in the heavy Caribbean breeze and blowing it wistfully out again. The mission had two briefs: it was mainly a rest-cure for the indomitable JC as she battles back from the low blow of mumps-meningitis (do not contract this illness, readers: it’s an infection of the brain. The brain. There’s no ointment for the brain.). Meanwhile, I was also going to attempt some creative writing.

What I mainly did, however, was not writing. What I did instead was this: thinking about writing, which actually adds up to just thinking. Nevertheless, you get a different kind of thinking done floating in the Caribbean compared to the thinking attempted on the Bakerloo Line. The main thought I had was that while it might not be for everybody, I am a floating in the Caribbean kind of guy.

On the plane home, I watched the Bourne Supremacy shown on the seat in front of me. I realize, obviously, that Jason Bourne is a fictional character. That he was on the run from various intelligence agencies, that he had superhuman physical and mental powers, and that my situation is not immediately similar to his. However, he opens the Bourne Supremacy living with his girl in a very presentable beach hut in Goa. He writes by candle light in the evening, he runs along the beach at dawn, he goes shopping in the market with his girl…and yet, he is troubled by this life. It doesn’t satisfy him. He needs to know more. I am not like this, I realised, as the jet surfed homeward in the darkness. I need to know less. That life – the hut, the beach running, the candle-light writing, the girl and the market – that is all I need. I need nothing more. And as I leave each trip having tasted something similar, it becomes ever harder to disentangle myself from the notion that I want to live like that. My colonist genes kick in. I want to live in the very centre of a great Western city, or on a distant shore. Yet I do neither.

And despite the many reasons for joy in my life, I feel a little sad about that. Answers on a post-card, please.

3. Josh Rouse’s El Turista album.

Rouse has been crafting bittersweet rock-pop songs to very minor acclaim for over a decade. He’s a honey-voiced Midwestern American who now lives in Spain, with his Spanish wife, and has delivered this career swerve of lush, orchestral Latino pop, often sung in Spanish, called El Turista. It’s what I’ve been listening to mostly this year, and now, as even NW10 blooms, it’s an aural welcome mat to spring. If you’re a fan Gilberto Gil and Mick Head, then this might be for you. You can hear it on his site, if you haven’t already.

I can also recommend Aviv Buffalo’s debut album, whereby the lyrical guitar maze of Felt’s Maurice Deebank is reborn in the shape of teenage Californians. And Ray Charles’s After Hours, too, which arrived as part of a nicely priced mini-box compilation of five of his albums and seems to work in any situation, day or night.

“That’s why I hold you, that is why I hold you near…”

4. Bill’s spin class at LA Fitness Piccadilly on Monday and Friday lunchtimes. Bill’s class is the reverse of class A drugs: during it you feel like death and would consider murder for release – afterwards you get an almighty rush of endorphins that lift you to the heavens. Truly, there’s nothing like having a six-foot-something, 14 stone, middle aged male sports masseur shouting “driiiivvvvvvveeeee!!” at you from an exercise bike as you too frantically peddle half a foot away for motivational exercise. Join us. Take your seat one lunchtime, alongside the lyrca-up’d secretaries, pen-pushers and dysfunctional weight-watchers as we perform standing press-ups while riding upon stationary bicycles, bathed in disco lights and energised by the thump of Scooter and 10 year-old Balearic techno. What are you afraid of?

5. Mendoza, Brick Lane. The man knows shoes (and shirts, and suits, and socks…).

6. A word to my fellow “bloggers” (spit, cough): all reviews, good or bad, must carry your true name as a byline. It’s the universal law. It’s what separates you from cowardly message-board warriors with axes to grind and too much time on their hands. The knowledge that you are accountable keeps you fair, earns your view a modicum of respect and mentally prepares you for being ambushed with a nut to the brow by one of your critical knee-cappings when you are innocently enjoying a pint in Tufnell Park, as happened to me many moons ago. Otherwise, you’re only picking a fight in the manner of a football hooligan, flicking Vs and bottles anonymously from the safety of a throng. And we know what we think of those guys.

7. A window on Shaftesbury Avenue, opposite Neal Street: at last a view to day-dream from after years of working in a busy corridor. A perch to plan mid-afternoon pints in The Cross-Keys, outside The Crown, on Devil’s Island, or, perhaps, a sunny shuffle down blooming Monmouth Street for mid-morning coffee. All the time, however, the oppressive, confusing rumble of industrial dispute in the distance grows ever louder and closer. Welcome to the new working week.

8. Then there is Rosie, who greets me in the morning sitting in the sink, paw raised, pleading for a shower. Rosie of the sweet tooth and the white fur that attaches itself very tightly to black suits. She is not Larry. But she’s making doe-eyes at me, and I, I admit, am making them at her. The wheel turns…

And swiftly, before you realise it, the world has shifted, time has engulfed you. A new era is no longer dawning. It has arrived. We’re in a new place. And the only lessons you can only truly say you’ve absorbed as you sit at your new desk, in your new office, in your new post-code, with your new love’s feline’s fur adorning your lapel, with all those fresh plans in your head and sparkling resolve in your heart is this: respect the past, treasure the present and expect the unexpected. It’s the only thing guaranteed.

See you in a month, or maybe two. I hope to have nothing to report.