My upstairs neighbour goes to bed at 10-30, and gets up at 5-30. I know this because I live in a 1960s high-rise block, and in the 1960s the phrase “sound insulation” would have seemed like the phrase “heat wrapping” does to us now – a bizarre juxtaposition of two words that have no relationship to each other, not a desirable thing to install when you’re building flats. The ceiling above my head is the floor beneath my neighbour’s feet: a single layer of concrete, through which sound is readily transmitted. This means that I hear more of his life than I ever wanted to.
One of the things I hear is his smokers’ cough. I hear him take his first cigarette of the day, at 5-30, and I hear him take the last, at 10-30. I know a smokers’ cough when I hear one, because I lived with a smoker for the first 19 years of my life – my dad was a 40-a-day man from the age of 14 until his death at the age of 68.
His smoking killed him, probably, since he suffered a fatal heart attack. Heart disease is a consequence of smoking in its own right, of course, but the smoking had also given my dad Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and the steroids that made it possible for him to breathe had the side effect of increasing his risk of heart attack.
The smoking got him coming, and it got him going, and he never stopped, not even on the day he died. My mum found his last cigarette in the ashtray – by then it was just a long column of ash attached to a filter, ready to crumple to nothing the moment it was touched. It had burnt out hours before, but it was probably still burning when he died. Cigarettes killed him, and a cigarette outlived him.
It is traditional (although, actually, it seems I skipped it last year) for me, as a single person, to mark Valentine’s day with a facetious post. A post in which I pretend to be filled with bitter, twisted resentment at finding myself surrounded by heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and red rose bouquets – available for a reasonable price from all supermarkets, just a few shelves over from the laxatives and cat litter trays. A post in which I over-egg my opposition to the all-around orgy of commercialised sentimentality that the retail and hospitality industries find to be a useful way of boosting revenue in the slack winter period.
Usually in one of these posts I say some mildly disparaging things about Valentine’s day (); emphasise that I’m just play-acting, not really bitter (); and make the point that my disparagement of Valentine’s day does not imply disparagement of loved-up people themselves, to whom I wish nothing but continued happiness (just done that right here, so ). And then I close with some suitably anti-romantic song.
I had some candidate songs in mind this time round. I considered ‘Without You I’m Nothing’ by Placebo, but discarded it on the basis that it’s too genuinely heartbroken. I also considered ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’ by The Smiths (“Sweetness, I was only joking when I said/ You should be bludgeoned in your bed’) and ‘Where Dreams Go To Die’ by John Grant (‘Baby, you’re where dreams go to die/ I regret the day your lovely carcass caught my eye’), both of which add humour to the mix.
But in the end I decided that I didn’t want this kind of thing right now. I’m still feeling pretty dreadful, with the depression bearing down so hard that I’m having a hard time keeping hold of even the slightest tatters of expectancy for the future (hope for the future is quite beyond me). In times like these – when the bleak weather inside my skull is matched by the sleety snow falling outside, and it seems like there is no spark of light or heat anywhere to be found – I have a powerful craving for warmer things. So here instead, for this wintry Valentine’s night, is a gentle song filled with longing for an absent other: a song for looking yearningly forward, not bitterly back.
This night and always, be kind to yourselves and each other.
Apparently, it has been almost three weeks since I last posted anything here. That’s an awfully long time – it must be about the longest I’ve gone in the almost 6 years since I started this blog. I feel like I owe you a few words of explanation. I also think that – given that I sometimes look back at my blog as a way of gauging my mental state at various points in time past, as a means of correcting for my tendency when I’m well to underestimate the extent to which I can be unwell – it would be useful to have some kind of record here.
You should not read this if you are a normal person uninterested in the minutiae of my mental state. Also, probably lots of triggers relating to mental state, feelings, emotions etc. Please don’t read if you’re feeling fragile yourself.
So, anyway, I’m sorry to report (to my curious self, in 6 months time, who’s probably thinking that things weren’t actually all that bad, surely?) that I am currently not doing especially well. (Though I am on a slight uptick at the moment – hence the reason I have sufficient spoons to put together and publish this post. So take it as read that I am describing how I felt circa 2-3 days ago, rather than right now, when I am feeling a bit – a bit – better. Clearly, I hope the uptick will establish itself as a trend, but only time will tell.)
Last Friday, The Guardian ran a blog post about the programming code that appears on-screen in films and TV programmes when the creators are trying to make a scene involving “computer stuff” visually interesting. You know the kind of thing – lots of scrolling text, figures and arcane symbols, probably with some unnecessarily dramatic music orgasming away to itself in the background. The Guardian‘s post was brazenly stolen from drawing attention to a Tumblr, set up by a computer programmer with a sense of humour and some spare time on his hands, which looks at screenshots from these films and TV shows, and tries to identify the code that features in them. It turns out, for example, that some of the text overlaid on the Terminator’s heads-up display is assembly code from an Apple II, and that The Doctor once spent time musing over what you’d get if you clicked ‘View source’ over a Wikipedia page.
I don’t have a problem with the Tumblr or, in general terms, with the Guardian blog based upon it. It’s light-hearted, amusing, and an impressively geeky achievement. The Tumblr reminds me in some ways of a train forum I sometimes hang around, where discussions of railways as they appear in films and TV shows will always be filled with people pointing out such inconsistencies as showing a particular class of railway vehicle in a part of the country where it has never operated. It’s that same keen attention to detail that most people miss, coupled with a desire to point out the goof to other people so they can enjoy it, too.
Where I do begin to have a problem is with an apparent opinion of the man who set up the Tumblr, as it’s ascribed to him by The Guardian‘s journalist:
Sorry in advance for this post. It’s going to be boring and whiny, and either depressing or annoying, depending on your usual response to self-indulgent whingeing. Best not read it. And definitely best not read it if reading about other people’s dental things makes you get all weird and twitchy, like it does me.