Addiction makes liars of us all:
You in the back garden, me in the hall.
Sucking up a sneaky dose of nicotine,
So we can behave like rational beings
For the next hour without punching a wall.
Call it a miracle
or call it grotesque
but size zero trees
spring forth from paving
in Primark’s forecourt,
adorned with fairy lights
that belie the lack of festivity.
CCTV surrounds like a prison wall,
capturing skateboarders and
the world’s most optimistic busker,
wailing to nobody but the darkened
window displays. A few cigarette butts
have evaded the street-sweepers
and mar the image of clean living
like cancerous moles blemishing a body.
Cold creeps in; most of the benches
are deserted, arm-rests dictating
that we should travel in packs of three
only, and offering no peace to those
with no bed or home. Some strawberry
thick-shake slithers McSlowly
down the side of a shiny waste-bin,
rejected like the rest, left to loiter
here. Godiva sits patiently, transfixed
in a staring contest with Starbucks,
while a Hen party totters past with almost
as much flesh on display as she.
Tasteless adverts roll like film credits,
signalling The End of everything.
The busker plays on.
You have no redeeming qualities.
Try to compose a thing of beauty,
Like Matt’s fingers trail-blazing the keyboard,
Paige’s high notes uplifting the room;
Halfway ascensions to heaven.
But, no. There is nothing inside.
Steve can reel off monarchies
And battles that changed the world.
What can you recite?
A sweary Larkin poem
And every childhood injustice.
You have no redeeming qualities.
Gaetan has travelled the globe
While Dermot masters
Foreign tongues at his leisure.
You’re going nowhere. Fast.
Sam plans to conquer the world
Of publishing; you plan
To make a plan someday.
Your sanctuary is built of Lego,
Ambition collapsed into rubble.
You have no redeeming qualities.
“What about you?” said Wobbler. “What do you want to be?”
“Dunno,” said Johnny.
“Didn’t you go to the careers evening last week?”
Johnny nodded. It had been full of Great Futures. There was a Great Future in retail marketing. There was a Great Future in wholesale distribution. There was a Great Future in the armed forces, although probably not for Bigmac, who’d been allowed to hold a machine gun and dropped it on his foot. But Johnny couldn’t find a Great Future with any future in it.
“What I want to be,” he said, “is something they haven’t got a name for yet.”
“Oh, yeah?” said Wobbler. “Like, in two years’ time someone’s going to invent the Vurglesplat, and when they start looking around for Vurglesplat operators, you’re going to be first in the queue, right?”
Pratchett, T. (1997) Johnny and the Dead. London: Corgi.
I was thirteen-years old the first time I ventured inside a Careers Office. We’d been told to choose our GCSE options; I felt like I was expected to know exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Up until then I had never had a problem envisioning my future: I was going to be a best-selling author, it was all I had wanted since I was five-years old. Yet suddenly I was experiencing a wake-up call that maybe my life-long ambition wasn’t entirely realistic.
Ever since then, assessing future plans has always been depressing.
I remember desperately staring at the blank sheet of paper on which we’d been told to write the types of jobs we were considering. I was drowning in a sea of beauticians, soldiers, psychiatrists and nursery nurses – my friends seemed to have figured out their paths in life already. In desperation, I scrawled down ‘police officer’ (I liked the image of myself as a detective) and ‘marine biologist’ (sharks were my favourite animal); they sounded legitimate, mature. I considered journalists to be amoral parasites (I hadn’t yet discovered broadsheets), so that option was out. You couldn’t make money from writing, not really, not without a massive heap of luck thrown in, I explained to my younger self. It was time to let go of the dream. Keep writing, sure – but from now on it was relegated to a hobby/interest, something I had to hide away in private, a passion I could no longer defend as being my ultimate goal.
The Careers Office computer had a programme you could use to generate suitable career prospects; it asked lots of questions about the types of things you liked and disliked doing and then printed out a list of ideas for you to show the guy who worked there, so he could grunt and hand you a leaflet.
My print-out told me I should be a pest-exterminator.
There was nothing else; that was the complete list of my future prospects. It might as well have read ‘doomed to become a homicidal maniac’. Sometimes, late at night, I stare up at the darkened ceiling and wonder exactly WHICH questions and answers indicated that pest-exterminator was the life for me? I swear there was definitely nothing along the lines of ‘Do you like pulling the wings off flies?’ or ‘Does the sound of a mouse-trap fill your heart with joy?’
Anyway…history is repeating. Only I am a full-grown adult and really SHOULD know what I want to do with the rest of my life. Have I spent the past few years pretending (again) that writing is a viable option? Or is it genuinely possible, if I seize the right opportunities and manage to improve my craft? All I know is that I feel ill-prepared, worried and depressed…to summarise, I am thirteen again. There are vague industries and roles floating around my head, but the dream job is yet to leap out at me; I guess I was misguided about how university works. They’ll give you the kick up the arse to start thinking about this stuff; they’ll provide you with the tools you need, like CV tips and summer placements, to excavate your ideal future; but you still need to know what you want to do, in order for them to help you.
Yesterday, during a presentation, a careers advisor said there might not be a dream job for everybody. Some of us will have to make do, compromise. I understand and accept this, but it still sucks. I’ve already spent many years in jobs that neglected to utilise any of my skills. What’s the point in tailoring all these CVs and cover letters to highlight my ‘strengths’ if I’m going to end up in the same position (with the addition of approx. £40K student debt to pay off)?
Who knows, maybe my version of ‘Vurglesplat Operator’ will leap out at me during the Careers Fair tomorrow…
Until that happens, though, I will continue aspiring to deserve the label of ‘writer’.
The way some people feel about going to the dentist – tense, nervous, intimidated – is how I used to feel about getting a haircut. Seriously, I hated it. You could blame it all on my chaetophobia. After all, a process that takes place in a room full of hair-covered surfaces, involving loose hairs falling all around and resulting in prickly-collar syndrome is not the ideal experience for somebody with a fear of hair. Yet this is not the only reason why going to the barbers was always my least favourite day out. When you’re not properly prepared it can end up as uncomfortable as spending Christmas with bigoted relatives because, unlike at the dentist, you’re not allowed to be passive: anything that goes wrong is basically your own fault, as you’re expected to know what you want and to understand certain technical terms. Thanks to these factors my approach to haircuts has generally been to get as much taken off as possible, in an attempt to prolong the length of time before I have to visit again. This method has its drawbacks: primarily, that I’m trapped in a continuum wherein my hair switches between looking stupidly short and then stupidly messy as soon as it starts to grow back.
However, since discovering the Mop Shop – Coventry University’s exclusive salon – I think my attitude towards getting my hair cut has started to change. Conveniently located on the ground floor of the Hub, popular with both students and faculty, this place is more welcoming than the average barbershop or hairdressers. They ‘get’ people like me. They understand that not everybody walks in knowing exactly what they want their hair to look like, along with the detailed instructions for how to achieve that look. They have magazines to offer clueless guys like me, full of good-looking people with shiny hair, while understanding that we might still be equally clueless once we’ve flipped through all the pages. Not that this excuses you from doing a bit of homework: you should have some idea of either what you want or really don’t want – but it’s OK if your vocabulary is missing lexical items like ‘tapered’ and ‘textured’. The stylists are friendly and put you at your ease, to the point where I feel able to ask questions that have plagued me for years, such as “Can anything be done about that evil cowlick thing at the back of my head?”, “Is it OK to have the wash after the cut?” and “What happens if a customer has a twitch, do you have to agree on a warning system or do they end up with unwanted bald patches?”
Maybe all salons are like this and I’m just not aware because I’m only recently initiated – but I’m pretty sure that their price lists can’t compare to the Mop Shop, which takes into consideration budgeting on a student loan. Paying for a haircut was always my least favourite way to part with cash (my own warped brand of logic dictates that if you hate every minute of it and leave with less than you came in with then somebody should probably be paying YOU) but £7.50 for a basic men’s cut, including a free shampoo and rinse on request, is practically painless. There are also loyalty cards: get yours stamped four times and the next visit is half-price. Even I have to admit that £3.75 for a haircut is a pure bargain.
For prices and other information, visit The Mop Shop website .
A year passes,
men and women emerge.
The shades lighten
and darken alternately
and the truth,
in the breaking light,
tears everything apart.
Like a chestnut bursting open,
the spikes stab at flesh
and foolish sentiment
seeps forth. What you desire
faces up to what is:
the mutual abuse,
unspoken practicalities –
the pointlessness of the whole point.
Nature fosters dependency,
adopts it, disowns it bitterly,
but self-imposed roles
fight hard to continue sparring
with the rips and ruptures,
darting back and forth;
frenzied sewing-machine needle
desperate to repair
ragged optimism as it wanders
blinded across the heath,
roaring for some form of justice:
a happy ending,
or meaningful tragedy.
For my eighteenth birthday
I received a book called Coping with Depression.
It was the most depressing gift I’ve ever had.
But also a gesture of acceptance
From a family whose response to the diagnosis
Had been to yell at me for failure.
I wanted to fly right off the face of the planet,
And I guess the only way they knew to anchor me
Was to weigh me down with burden;
Little packages of guilt, sandbags plump with sorrow.