New Year’s paragraphs

Merlin, circa 1978. Junkyardsparkle, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

On Christmas Day a fly was bothering us outside near all the food. My niece Iris ran inside and got the fly swat and presented it to my brother JP, who said, ‘No, we don’t do that outside.’ ‘Yes, otherwise where would it end?’ I said. I was imagining chasing flies through the streets, down to the beach, up into the hills with a swat. I liked the idea of the outside as the fly’s house. You don’t swat the fly in its own house.

I’ve just realised it’s that time of year again. New Year! That time where I moon around in a bunch of disjointed paragraphs, with little dashes in between them, kind of complaining about things, kind of describing some things I have noticed, but most importantly of all, being vaguely disconsolate. It came around so fast.

Every time I clean the skirting boards of a house, which isn’t often, but when I do, I think about the times someone has inspected my cleaning of skirting boards. There was a flat in Newtown, around 2008. I’d spent two days cleaning and the place was now just two bright empty rooms. The landlord walked back and forth slowly between the two rooms, then he came to a stop and said in a jolly voice, ‘Did you do the skirting boards properly?’ I knew this was going to go badly and said that yes I had. And I had! I had. But he knelt down to the skirting boards, like some skirting board whisperer, and found a bit of dust straight away. I felt completely ashamed and said I’d do them again. I can’t think of any landlord who has said the words ‘skirting boards’ without a faint tone of excitement in their voice. They just cannot wait to get their hands on those things after you’re done with them. Skirting boards aren’t inherently bad – they’re like light switches, or barcodes on the backs of books – but they are the place where your true slovenly self, your life of utter filth, will be pointed out to you. There are so many boards in the world that speak of other lives and obsessions – skateboards, storyboards, soundboards, keyboards, dartboards – but skirting boards will only ever be to me the place upon which this tiny, deranged battle must play out between tenant and landlord. So I hate to clean them, but I will.

Above where I’m writing this a sparrow goes in and out of its house, a secret one in the roof of this house.

Late on Christmas Day my brother Neil in London messaged me and JP. ‘Do you remember that weird computer thing that we’d play noughts and crosses on. It was red and would make bloopy noises.’ I tried to remember, and thought I almost had it – the ghost of something red, something bloopy-sounding; maybe I could remember something of the feeling of its presence in a room – but in the end there was nothing that could be called a memory. After some minor sleuthing JP found that it was something called a Merlin, and sent a picture: yes, it was red and looked like it would make bloopy noises. It gave me a funny feeling that gadgets from the 80s always give me – half deja vu, and half a sort of simmering dread at the knowledge that all of that time is over, is so long ago, which in the trade we call getting older. ‘I remember never really knowing what to do with it,’ JP said. ‘I don’t think it was fully functional by the time it ended up in my toy orbit. But every now and then, it would beep and come to life.’

My old bora-infested desk is sitting outside with a sheet of rain lying on its top. There are so many things I haven’t finished writing while sitting at that desk. It’s been out there for a few days. We’re going to cut it into bits with a chainsaw tomorrow. The desk before this one – also wooden, even heavier, even more bora-infested – also sat outside in the rain for a few days, and I can’t remember what happened to it after that. I treat all my desks very badly. I had a thought that you could turn this current desk upside down, saw off its legs and plant a herb garden in its undercarriage, but it all seems like a hassle and the desk garden would probably just need to be left behind anyway.

When I ran through the bush earlier today the light and shade and rain together had a strange effect: for a few moments it looked like door frames, or picture frames, were hanging in the trees. The rain got heavier overhead, with the sound of something speeding up. On another day when I was running through, there was this young guy striding along through the trees carrying something in a drycleaning bag.

I had a bulimic lapse the other day. I like to call these ‘lapses’ – the sense of a failure obviously but also a kind of sinking, a sliding, a falling, that tells me something got weak and needs to be built back up. It was the first one in almost a year, the longest stint yet. This old place comes rapidly into view, like a stage set with moving parts, each sliding back to reveal the next part where I have to go and where I’ve rehearsed going hundreds of times before. I’ll pretend to myself I’m going somewhere else now; I’m only passing through, I’m going into the wings. But then I’m slowing, slowing, and pushing the door open. I’ll probably always go back there, maybe even many more times, to move through this shonky set I’ve known since I was very young. It’s weirdly, maybe wrongly comforting to think that this won’t be the last time. I can accept it, and it doesn’t have to be a disaster.

The chainsaw went through the desk ‘like butter’.

Was irrationally annoyed when I opened the new Sally Rooney to find she had quoted from Natalia Ginzburg’s essay ‘My Vocation’ for the epigraph. The bit about being ‘a small, a very small writer. I swear I know it.’ My heart sank. You can’t just bandy those lines around, I thought. You can’t just put them in a novel that millions of people are going to read! Then I realised I was just jealous and didn’t want too many people to know about that essay and claim it for themselves. Then, how idiotic that was. The love that you feel for a book always feels private, between you and the writer, and nothing can really touch it, and the love is so particular to whatever you’re looking for, or maybe don’t even know that you’re looking for, in that moment. Helen Garner, from How to End a Story: ‘My friend gave me a marvellous book called Macs for Dummies. The minute I saw a page headed “Mindlessly opening and closing files” I knew it was the book for me.’

I was thinking about this flat I went to look at in Newtown around 2004. It was winter and a tall woman in a long skirt let me in through the kitchen, which was poky and wooden and had onion peelings all over the bench. The woman owned the place and she didn’t want anyone home during weekdays: people just made mess. She led me down a hallway. The house seemed simultaneously enormous – high ceilings, this long hallway – and tiny, the rooms cramped and cupboardless and onion-smelling. One room was full of piles of newspapers and magazines and books, and armchairs heaving with stuff. I had an overwhelming sense of dust. Upstairs – I remember the woman’s skirt sweeping the stairs – there was a bathroom that was mostly bath and very little room, and a window that opened out onto the roof. Back out in the hallway she knocked on a door and opened it, and there was a man sitting at a desk. What was his name? I want to say Mike. This was the time when most men were named Mike. I had already lived with several. This one was sitting in front of a computer. He had a cup of tea and some Marmite toast on a plate beside him. He was wearing a thick cream cable-knit woollen jumper that came up to his chin. I remember thinking about the jumper and the toast, how the crumbs would get on the wool, how it would be scratchy, how necessary those two textures were to be warm. We had a brief conversation and I don’t remember what we said, but I remember the soft glow about that guy, in the small room with the tea and his toast, working at his computer – a similar one to what I had, a bulky PC, with the matching cream-coloured keyboard – how it seemed like such good fortune that in this cold house filled with other people’s things, here he was in his jumper with his toast, working on something. This was how you did it. I thought I could probably live there then. But the next day I lost my nerve and changed my mind and stayed where I was.

New Year. I think New Year is the bit in part 3 of Get Back when George says, almost with disgust, ‘Well, I don’t want to go on the roof.’ And then Ringo declares, ‘I would like to go on the roof.’ And Paul says: ‘You would like to?’ Ringo: ‘Yes, I’d like to go on the roof.’ And then eventually they go up on the roof, because there was really no other option. New Year is also like this very enjoyable argument I had with someone at a party who thought that Get Back was too long and I thought it was the perfect length: it had to be that long, I said, to show all of the chaos and silliness and lame jokes that made up the Beatles. ‘But by that logic, where would it end?’ he said. ‘Why not show all 60 hours?’ I hadn’t thought of that and he had a good point. You had to end it somewhere.

About ashleighlou

Person, usually on bike
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2 Responses to New Year’s paragraphs

  1. Rochelle says:

    I love your writing. This was the perfect thing to read . My full stop insists on having its own line and this nearly stops me from leaving a comment but I’m going to push through as have faith it will be formatted differently after I push post comment. That’s when the magic happens? Happy New Year

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Heather Petryna says:

    ‘Chasing flies through the street’ Absolutely loved this imagery. A fabulous read – as always!

    Liked by 1 person

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