The never-ending endings of Edgar Wright

Look, I love Edgar Wright. I do. I was a devotee of Spaced, watching both miraculous seasons of that show so many times it’s replaced parts of my vocabulary (certain friends will forever be greeted by ‘you big bloody man’, ‘pickle’ and ‘fucking… plum!’). When Shaun came out, I liked it, though I less enamoured than my peers: I’d come of age watching action rather than horror, so Hot Fuzz was more my bag (and was it ever my bag). Scott Pilgrim deftly combined a lot of geek-out passions (music, video games, comics), and The World’s End… Ok, The World’s End I need to watch again, but I remember it being, at worst, not as good as his best. Still far from shit, though.

Now that I’ve had some time to digest Baby Driver (which, to reiterate my love for the man, I really enjoyed – saw it twice in the cinema), I’ve been able to put my finger on one of Wright’s weaknesses as a writer-director: the man is not content to end a film once. Or maybe that’s unfair – rather, he creates narratives of so many threads that he ends up having to knit a massive, unwieldy blanket to tie them all together.

There follows A LOT OF SPOILERS:

Shaun of the Dead

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Shaun of the Dead could have ended in the Winchester. Shaun and Ed, professing their love for each other, before dying romantically in a fiery blaze (with Liz looking on with a mix of understanding and disbelief). Or it could have ended with Shaun and Liz being rescued from said bar by the army. Or with Shaun and Liz adjusting to normality. Or, where it actually ended, with Shaun going to the shed to play video games with Ed. Now, I didn’t notice Wright’s many-endings syndrome at this point, because (a) it was the first big feature he’d directed (no, Fistful of Fingers does not count), and (b) it actually functions quite well: Shaun and Ed getting back together is the perfect way for this story to end. Still, I count four potential jumping off points there.

Hot Fuzz

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As with Baby Driver, what Wright (and returning writing partner Simon Pegg) did here was set up too large a cast to be disposed of neatly. Of all the members of the Sandford Neighbourhood Watch Alliance, obviously Skinner and Frank needed big, climactic send-offs. (In fact, Frank’s was satisfyingly anticlimactic.) But of course, they weren’t the actual climax, because then we need to see off Tom – a character who wouldn’t merit his own big face-off were he not played by Edward Woodward, godfather of the village conspiracy horror genre. And then there’s the exploding police station, with Danny’s fake death. And then the flowers on the gravestone fake-out. And then the triumphant screech of brakes as the car takes off. You could make a strong case for several of these being elements in the same ending – Tom + explosion, graveside + car – but my point is, they all feel like big beats where you could solidly end the film had you engineered the story that way. Wright engineered a story that required all of these endings, and it dragged a bit as a result. And I say that as someone who regards Hot Fuzz as his favourite Wright movie.

Scott Pilgrim

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I’m gonna hold my hands up and admit I have not read the Scott Pilgrim comic book, so I don’t know how faithful Wright’s ending was to the comic book, but as its adaptor, it’s his responsibility to decide which bits to trim. There’s the fight with Gideon, then the second fight with Gideon, then the Nega-Scott face-off (again, a satisfying little anticlimax), then the resolution with Knives (I’m told this was maybe the original ending?), then the resolution with Ramona. Again, these endings do a good job of tying up threads and foreshadowings from earlier in the narrative, but remember: Wright started those threads. He painted himself into a corner, storytellingwise.

The World’s End

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As mentioned above, TWE is the Wright movie I am least familiar with, so I’m on less sure ground here, but as far as I remember… they have the face-to-face with the aliens, and the aliens bail (1), and as a result the world ends (2), and then we get… I mean, I only remember one epilogue (Gary’s, at the water bar with his robot followers) (3), but something’s telling me every surviving character got their own sign-off? Even if it was just Gary, that’s still three endings.

Baby Driver

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  1. Baby could’ve left his foster-dad at the old folks’ home and made a clean getaway. But no.
  2. Jon Hamm could’ve died at the diner, leaving Baby and Debora to go live a life on the run. But no.
  3. Baby could’ve won round Kevin Spacey and then got away with Debora. But no.
  4. Jon Hamm could’ve died when his car went into the elevator.
  5. Or when his car went over the ledge.
  6. Or he could’ve died when he did, and Baby and Debora get away, and Baby would have had to live with hearing loss for the rest of his life, and that’s his karmic payment for his life of crime. But no.
  7. Baby surrenders, goes to trial, gets five years (parole), comes out, and THEN he and Debora get to drive off into the sunset.

Would endings 1-6 have been as satisfying as ending 7 ended up being? With the exception of maybe number 6, no – undoubtedly no. Number 7 tied up all the loose ends, paid off various foreshadowings from earlier on. As with Wright’s other movies, it’s all wonderfully layered and neat, storytellingwise. But it’s still a bit bloated, innit? He may make a very satisfying filmic lasagne, but no-one forced him to make it with 17 layers.

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How to survive shit music: Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’

I’m lucky to no longer work in an environment where generic Top 40 radio is seen as the default diplomatic, democratic choice for soundtracking the work day. If I want to listen to music, I can put my headphones on, select whatever anonymous noise I want and get on with it. There’s no communal work music, therefore no debates about what such music should sound like, therefore no reliance on commercial radio because ‘it has something for everyone’. But I did used to work in that environment and, let me tell you, it sucked. Mainstream radio is filled with the most annoying, lowest-common-denominator dreck that exists, almost as if it was designed exclusively to be filler between ad breaks (which it is).

However, the only thing worse than listening to bullshit radio for an entire shift is not listening to anything at all – the monotony of silence is so much worse than the monotony of something that at least changes (to some other form of monotony) every four minutes. So, in order to maintain sanity in a world of shit music, I developed a coping strategy: I listened out for a small sliver of goodness in each godawful song. If I were to use a climbing analogy (which I shouldn’t, because I don’t know how to climb), the song was a particularly challenging cliff face, with these minuscule highlights representing the finger- and toeholds that would help me get through it.

Let’s take Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You’ as an example. It’s a pile of shit, and contains lyrics like ‘Me and my friends doing shots at the table / drinkin’ fast then we talk slow’, like that’s at all interesting or noteworthy. It’s borderline intolerable, but even this song, which I hate, has a few isolated moments that I can look forward to as waypoints in the long slog til the end.

0:07 – Straight off the bat, there’s the intro. It lets you know, ‘Shit, that Ed Sheeran song’s coming on,’ but you still have seven or eight seconds before the fucker actually starts singing. It gives you time to steel yourself, and for that, you should be thankful.

0:10 – Also before he starts singing, there’s this rattly little percussive acoustic guitar sound which, if you close your eyes and try to tune out the main melody, sounds a bit like Rodrigo y Gabriela, which is a far better option. You can pretend for a moment you’re actually listening to one of their songs.

0:24 – I switched video here because (a) I didn’t want to see his face, and (b) I needed to double-check the lyrics, because I always thought he said ‘Now put your hands up’ in reference to Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies (Put a Ring on it)’. I was gonna say how, no matter how bad a song may be, I appreciate any effort to make reference to wider pop culture. Most songs live in their own self-contained universe, so it’s comparatively rare when one song gives a nod to another, especially by another artist.

Now of course, Ed doesn’t actually say that – he says, ‘Take my hand – STOP!’ or some such bullshit – but I think there’s a case to be made for the way he sings it purposefully echoing the way Beyonce sings ‘Now put your hands UP!’ Look, I know I’m grasping at straws – that’s what this whole exercise is all about. Let’s carry on.

0:33 – Another lyrical mis-hearing, but it’s on purpose this time. ‘Your love was handmade for somebody like me’ is such a shit line that I always automatically change it to ‘Your love is handy for somebody like me’, which speaks much more to what a callous dickhead I think Ed Sheeran is actually like as a lover. ‘Scuse me, darling – I need I random body to stick it in tonight and, well, you’re nearby. You’re handy.’ Did I mention before that part of this survival strategy is, in a large part, just making shit up? No? Well, it is.

0:42 – I’m trying my best to focus on the positives of the song as a method of getting through it, so I’m making a lot of effort not to spend a whole lot of time talking about how shit it is in the first place, but my god, it’s SO. SHIT. I’d say this bit where Ed puts on a falsetto so he can duet with himself (Christ, what a dickhead) is among the worst bits, but there are so many contenders. So many.

1:02 – Ok, some genuine, non-ironic praise for Ed Sheeran here: not enough pop songs talk about how icky sex is. It’s sticky, it smells funny, there are bodily fluids involved and weird noises. Sex feels fucking amazing, don’t get me wrong, and in context those things can all be important elements of the experience,  but in the immediate aftermath, there’s a lot of ‘pass me something to wipe this up’ and ‘I better take a shower’, because sex, when you get down to it, is manky.

And despite there being countless songs about sex (and if you believe Morrissey, that’s all of them), very few of them deal with the grossness of it. Die Antwoord are pretty dependable, of course, but there’s no way they’re getting mainstream airplay. Lily Allen tried to squeeze a bit in at the start of the second verse in ‘Not Fair’ (‘I lie here in the wet patch in the middle of the bed‘), but the words ‘wet patch’ always got censored on the radio (leading me to constantly wonder what horrendous swearwords she’d managed to crowbar into those two syllables. Shitstain?). And now, Ed Sheeran has made an oblique reference to the physical residue of sex by saying his bedsheets smell like his lover. It’s not exactly ‘You were sweatin’ something fierce during our bang-sesh last night, my love’, but I’ll take it.

Although hang on – wasn’t Ed going to the bar to ‘find a lover’? I.E. a new lover, someone with whom he had not previously slept? Or is this song taking place over several nights? Or are they doing that thing where they pretend to be strangers so it’s more exciting and they don’t have to invest in an actual grown-up relationship? These questions need answers, Sheeran. It’s sloppy songcraft.

1:05 – My bad – ‘Every day discovering something brand new’ suggests this does take place over more than one night. Sorry Ed. Please continue.

3:53 – Or don’t. Christ, I forgot how bad the rest of the song was. There is literally no redeeming feature for NEARLY THREE WHOLE MINUTES until, mercifully, it ends, quite sharply, without an interminable fade-out or anything. Like, I’m not just being chippy, being glad that’s over (although that’s true too) – it is a genuinely tight ending. The chorus doesn’t hang about for half a second longer than it has to.

And thank fuck for that.

Bloodline: Part One (S01E01)

I found myself in a bit of a strange situation, this evening: I’d completed Netflix. Which, ok, fine, not completely true: I have not, for example, subjected myself to a single Adam Sandler movie, but in terms of the stuff I knew I definitely, definitely wanted to watch? I was at a stage of complete catched-up-ness. Orange is the New Black, Better Call Saul, Rick and Morty, Stranger Things, Hannibal, Jessica Jones, Black Mirror, Community, The Thick Of It, The Expanse, Top of the Lake, Making a Murder, The People vs OJ Simpson, Luke Cage: these were the shows that Netflix got me invested in, and none of them have new episodes forthcoming (in some case, permanently; in others, there’s a short-to-long term wait). There’s some additional shows around the margins, of course: The Get Down and Master of None, I just couldn’t get into; Daredevil and Kimmy Schmidt both lost me halfway through their second seasons; I actively disliked Santa Clarita Diet, switching it off halfway through episode one. And yes, there are dozens of comedy specials and movies (including, just as an aside, the great Dig Two Graves and the unexpectedly entertaining Unfriended), but in terms of long-range narrative series I could sink my teeth into? Spent.

(Oh, there’s also House of Cards and Dear White People, but I’m watching both of those with my girlfriend, who’s away the moment. Last time one of us skipped ahead on a joint project, there were tears. And they were mine. And it was season one of Serial. Seriously, how are we still together after that breach of trust?)

So, casting about for something to do that wasn’t just rewatch episodes of Rick and Morty or my perennial fallback of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (which, I’m sure we can agree, doesn’t meet the standard criteria of long-form narrative), I stumbled upon Bloodline, which I believe I’ve heard is not being picked up for another series. Perfect: until I caught up with Netflix, seeing just-cancelled shows was my modus operandi. See also: Hannibal. See also: Breaking Bad. See also: Boardwalk Empire. It reassures me to know a TV series has a definite end in sight, an arc – it means the creators don’t end up spinning their wheels in an effort to keep the gravy train rolling. See: Lost.

All of which pre-amble is to say: I had no investment in Bloodline. I knew Kyle Chandler played the lead in it, and while not being his number one fan, I regard him as a solid, non-offensive presence on-screen. He’s reassuring, like a custom-built oak chair from a respected neighbourhood carpenter. So I flick it on, and become steadily more impressed as the credits roll. Ben Mendelsohn, one of my favourite character actors from Animal Kingdom and Killing Them Softly and The Place Beyond the Pines and all number of wonderful things. And Linda Cardellini, who I never really got over since being dazzled by her smile in the opening credits of Freaks and Geeks. And fuck – Sissy Spacek and Sam Shepard, two very respectable older character actors. And, er, Jamie McShane? As in, son of Ian McShane!? Oh, no, he’s not… well, turns out he’s also had small-to-medium parts in Gone Girl and Argo and Nightcrawler, and I enjoyed all those movies, so sure, why not? Jamie McShane’s in it too.

The aforementioned Chandler plays John, county sheriff and favourite son of the south Floridian Rayburn clan. His parents Sally and Robert (Spacek and Shepard) run a popular beachside hotel; his younger brother Ray (Norbert Leo Butz*) and sister Meg (Cardellini) are locals, of some variety; his older brother Danny (Mendelsohn) is the troublemaking family black sheep, come back home to celebrate the annual Rayburn reunion. ‘Part 1’ does a solid job of laying out the strained familial relations, though the dishing out of certain characteristics to certain genders is a bit predictable: Sally and Meg are the supportive womenfolk most keen to stick up for Danny, while Kevin and Robert are the practically-minded patriarchy with memories of disappointments past.

As a peace-keeping lawman, John is called upon to make most of the important decisions this episode: Danny, angling to stick around, asks him to speak to their father on his behalf, and when Robert, with Solomon-like wisdom, defers the decision to the remaining siblings, John has the deciding vote between the forgiving Meg and the stubborn Kevin. At first, John favours Danny staying – he hints to Kevin that he and Danny have a long, unknown history – but after big bro disgraces himself one too many times, upsetting even his doting mother in the process, John opts to put him on the next bus out of town (though not without sneakily laying the blame at Robert’s door).

I was enjoying this slow burn of simmering family resentments and tangled relationships, so I felt a bit let down by the overly dramatic flashforwards of John dragging an unconscious Danny through a storm-drenched bayou. ‘Chill, Netflix,’ I said, out loud, on my own. ‘You’ve already got me involved. You don’t need to tease me on with this sensationalist foreshadowing.’ The idea that John would end up being his brother’s keeper was already subtextually evident – why tip the hand this early?

Of course, I was wrong, in exactly the way Netflix wanted me to be, and the episode ends on an explosive cliffhanger that throws John’s steadfast image off-kilter. I’m pretty sure I’m into Bloodline for the long haul now, giving Netflix another good stretch of time to prepare more margin-area shows for me to trawl through.

*How does someone with a name like Norbert Butz get this high-profile a job? Seriously?

Limmy on drugs

Kenny’s big night out

Right, I’ve been putting this off for a while – mainly because it feels like quite a big story, and I already tried starting it a few days ago but got exhausted by the second line. But I feel ready now. I’m ready to talk about Kenny*.

Kenny was – is, hopefully, still – the guy I met on my way home from Lizzy’s club night last Friday. It was around two or two-thirty, and Lizzy had just played two packed rooms of a debut night. (Well done again, Lizzy!) I’d had a fun wee dance around with Ryan, had a fair few drinks, and was quite content to call it a night before closing time. I check the bus app – eight minutes til the night bus, peachy – and head out into the February night.

I meet – well, let’s rephrase that – I encounter Kenny slumped in my bus shelter on South Bridge. I ask him if he’s doing ok, but from the rolled-back whites of his eyes and the way he’s chewing his own cheeks, I can see he’s doing a belter. He manages to get a few details out – he’s called Kenny, he’s from Stirling**, he’s out at Cab Vol with some mates – but generally he has trouble being coherent. I look up, and see my bus approaching.

I’ve thought back on my subsequent move a few times in the week since, and the question I keep coming back to is this: would I have taken Kenny home if he was a homeless person? The answer I’ve fielded is no, I wouldn’t, and when asked (by myself) to extrapolate, my immediate answer has been that a homeless person knows what they’re getting themselves in for. Kenny was in no fit state to know anything about his position – he was a wasted stranger in an unfamiliar place – so the way I see it, he was more of a danger to himself than someone who’s perhaps accustomed to sleeping rough.

Not only does that gloss over all the poor souls who find themselves unexpectedly sleeping rough for the first time, it’s also complete bullshit. The reason I took Kenny home and don’t regularly do the same for homeless people is I could see Kenny was, at worst, a 12-hour problem. By morning, I expected him to have regained at least some of his composure, and I could happily send him on his way, and get all those altruistic good feels of helping someone in a tight spot without any of the attendant realisation that this particular tight spot was just a drop in wide, shitty ocean. Of course, this is a conclusion I’ve come to one week after the fact. At the time, I was just helping out a guy I happened to stumble across. But I’m now aware my mind was making all sorts of calculations beyond my immediate ken.

Anywho, the bus tears by as I’m helping Kenny to his feet. He’s asking me for directions to Cab Vol – it is literally round the corner and down a hill, he could fall there with enough momentum – but I manage to convince him that he won’t get back in (he won’t) and that he’s better off getting somewhere safe to lay his head for the night (he is). I feel a bit bad that I’m able to convince him so easily – if I had malign intentions, it’d be just as easy to take advantage of him in this state, in any number of ways – but, luckily for us both, I don’t. As a last ditch effort to make him somebody else’s problem I ask him if he can reach any of his pals on his phone – not expecting much, as they’re in a club and probably not responding to calls, never mind the fact Kenny’s managed to give them the slip without seeming to cause them any bother so far. Kenny’s so mashed he can’t even unlock his phone though, so I let it drop and flag down a taxi.

In the back of the cab, between watching Kenny mash his fingers against his phone screen and telling him don’t worry about it, it’s no problem, no it’s cool, just chill, I keep an eye on the driver, wondering what he thinks is going on. Wondering if he’s listening and realising I don’t know Kenny, and making a mental note of this particular fare in case the police come calling looking for the last known whereabouts of Kenny Farquarson* of Stirling** and he has to give a description of what went on. And then I remember I’m not a preyer on whacked-out cheek-chewers, and I’ve got nothing to worry about. Although if Kenny did somehow accidentally die in my custody, it’d be far from ideal.

We manage to make it back to my place without Kenny spewing all over the cab, for which both I and the driver are thankful. I pay the driver, hustle Kenny upstairs, plop him on the couch, place a glass of water within arm’s reach (though not where he can kick it over), and turn off the light. He passes out almost instantly; as I leave him to it, I make a last minute decision and grab his phone, to see if I can have any better luck with it than he can.

It is indeed locked, but by this point Kenny’s received a couple of missed calls – a Dan, I think, and a Laura*** – and I can swipe to call them back without actually unlocking the phone. Sadly, neither of them answers, but just as I’m about to give up, I do get a call from a Rick***. I answer.

‘Uh, hi, this is Kenny’s phone.’

‘No it’s fucking not, it’s mine!’ says a woman’s voice.

‘Uh… wha?’

‘You have my phone!’

‘Oh, right… shit. Ok, so here’s what happened-‘ I can hear firm-lipped skepticism on the other end. ‘You… you were in Cab Vol, right?’

‘Yeah, and I’ve lost my jacket, which had my money, and my keys, and my wallet, and my fucking phone in the pockets-‘

‘Yeah, so, Kenny picked up your jacket.’

‘- and – what, is he your pal or something?’

‘No, he’s-‘ this is gonna sound weird ‘- he’s, erm, just some guy I took home because I thought he might freeze to death.’

I manage to convince the woman (let’s call her Kirsty***) that Kenny and I are (a) two totally real, totally distinct separate people, and (b) not a pickpocketing network targeting unwary clubbers. I give her my address and tell her she’s welcome to come pick up the phone, jacket and assorted paraphernalia.

Twenty minutes later I meet Kirsty and two male friends – the shorter one who I assume is Rick, the taller of whom strikes me as a Bob – on the street. (I figured inviting them into the flat, in close proximity to Kenny, might just make things awkward.) I silently commend Kirsty for not coming to meet a strange man, who has all her stuff, on her own. And also for being really understanding when I tell her I’m 90% certain Kenny had no malicious intent, that he genuinely just picked up the wrong jacket, and that he’s been trying to get into her phone all night like it was his own. She buys it, in other words, which is more than can be said for Rick.

‘So where is he then?’ says Rick.

‘Crashed out on my couch. Honestly man, he’s a mess, don’t even worry about it.’

Rick seems somewhat placated. ‘Well, ok… I mean, we came down here ready to kick off.’

I look at Rick the white knight, all four foot nine of him. Anybody who knows me will tell you that I’m not exactly somebody you’d want you backing you up in a fight, but I can tell you I am twice the man Rick is. If only in weight.

I bid them farewell – Kirsty thanking me and saying she’ll never leave all her important shit lying around in a nice-looking jacket on the floor of a club again, so at least someone’s learned something – and head back up to the flat. After checking on Kenny – still passed out – I get into bed, and am just about asleep when my girlfriend Judy comes in from her own night on the town. To her credit, she takes my story about the blackout-drunk stranger on our couch in her stride, and even serves to remind me of one of my better one-liners in the morning: ‘You know how you get those situations where you think, “Well at least I’ll be able to laugh about this later”? Well I’m laughing now.’

Seven thirty a.m., and we awake to Kenny standing over our bed, not shouting, but very definitively asking,

‘Where’s my phone?’

‘Uhm…’ I struggle to pull myself out of several layers of deep sleep and deliver a coherent answer. ‘It wasn’t actually your phone, Kenny.’

‘Aye it was.’

‘Afraid not, man. You picked up someone else’s jacket on the way out the club. She came by for it last night, after you fell asleep. It was her phone.’

‘Naw it wisnae.’

By this point I’m out of bed and thankful I hadn’t slept nude the night before. I’m guiding Kenny out of the room as non-threateningly as I can, so Judy can continue sleeping. Eventually he buys the phone story and, in a flash of problem-solving nous I would not have suspected him of possessing, asks to borrow my phone, log into his Facebook Messenger account, and internet-dial his absent pals.

I’ve overheard less fraught phonecalls. Kenny’s pals – ensconced in a hotel in the city centre – think he’s copped off with some lucky lady, and won’t believe his story til I pop on the line to set the record straight. After he finds out their address and room number, he makes sure he’s logged out on my phone – again, unexpectedly sensible of him – and asks me to call him a taxi, which arrives a few minutes later.

‘Aw cheers pal, thanks so much,’ he says on his way out the door, and then pauses to thrust his hands down his underpants, withdrawing a sweaty baggie of pills. ‘Here, ye want some drugs?’

‘I’m… I’m good man, thank you.’

‘You sure? Good shit man, I swear.’

Yeah, I’ve seen that. ‘No… no, that’s alright Kenny, you keep ’em.’

He’s already on his way down the stairs, drugs safely returned to his scrotal region. ‘Cheers again man, thanks a million – eh, add me on Facebook, aye!?’

I nod and wave him goodbye while silently confirming that fuck no, I wouldn’t be adding Kenny on Facebook. Happy as I am to have helped the guy, if all things go well, I’ll never see his face again.

 

*Not his real name.

** Nope.

*** Totally made up.

The boy with the watch for a heart

I have trouble sleeping sometimes. Well, most times, actually, unless I’m drunk or just back from a holiday or I’ve been crying or something. Actually, the holiday thing, not a guarantee. If I slept, like, 3 hours on the plane, I think my body thinks that passes for a full night’s sleep, and so no matter how shattered I feel, if I’ve had that tiny sleep, that’s me screwed and sleepless for the next however many hours. Like, however long the day is. Or at least, until some deeply inconveniently early time – like, 8 o’clock or whatever – when going to sleep would result in me waking up hella early. It’s a pain in the dick.

But anyway, yes. Trouble sleeping. The slightest bit of light will get right on my wick. I actually have an eye-mask – like, an old ladies’ eye mask, except I managed to find one with a sort of bloodshot zombie eyes design on the front – but it’s too tight, the elastic’s too tight, so I can’t wear it when I’m going to sleep, just in the morning if the light wakes me up and I’m bleary enough to put it on and fall back asleep without the tightness bothering me. So, it’s not just the light, but the physical feel, the tactile sensation as well. I can’t go to sleep if either of those aren’t right.

And sound. Obviously. Sound’s a big factor, though for some reason I have less problem with music pumping out from the flat downstairs’ party than I do, say, birdsong or road works. Maybe because I can establish a pattern with the music, learn to anticipate it, incorporate it into my own biorhythms or whatever. The birdsong and the pneumatic drills and whatever, they’re random and unpredictable, so I won’t be able to fit them into my trying-to-fall-asleep acceptance of the situation. Wave sounds and rain are ok too. I really like falling asleep – or trying to fall asleep, anyway – listening to rain.

And the watch. I have this watch, an antique-style pocket watch – solid silver, I think. I was gonna tell you it came from my grandfather who died in the war or something, or from some old musty shop in a lesser visited part of town where the owner – probably an old Chinese guy, thanks for the casual racism, Disney, or whoever made those movies – told me some mystical story about the watch’s origins and why it always stops at 5.08pm or whatever. I thought those lies might make the whole story more interesting, but the truth is, my friend Jamie gave it to me as a thank you for being his best man at his wedding. It’s monogrammed with my initials on it. Everyone in the groom’s party got one. (With their own initials, not all with mine, obvs.) Jamie has a bit more money than sense.

Obviously, I’m not going to wear it out everywhere – or anywhere, really, because I don’t wanna lose it. Even if I don’t get much (or in fact any) daily use out of it, it was still a lovely gift, with a lot of automatic sentimental value – best friend, wedding, etc – so yeah, I keep it in the house. I’m not much of a watch-wearer anyway, never mind pocket watches. That’s what phones are for, right?

So it hangs on the shelf – I’ve got this shelf above my bed I’m very proud of, made from the busted-up side panel of a Welsh dresser I found dumped in the street, cut to fit then supported on these two black wrought-iron brackets that I think were maybe more intended for hanging baskets full of flowers outside picturesque Devonshire cottages, you know? Anyway, the watch hangs from one of the wrought-iron brackets, the one right above my head. The other bracket, above my girlfriend’s head, that’s all choked up with her shit, necklaces and keys and stuff, so I keep the watch sort of suspended from the bracket on my side, the chain coiled and wrapped around the little – I wanna call them curlicues? – the little twists and decorations on the bracket. In the right light – or maybe the wrong light, I’d be better saying – it looks like an incomplete Hangman drawing, the bracket forming the gallows and the chain forming the rope and the noose, and the watch itself being the head of the guy who’s hanging, with no body or anything. God, Hangman – it’s one of those things that you don’t realise at the time, until you think on it later, how fucking morbid it is – and this is a game we teach to children. Like, what the hell? File that away with Roald Dahl and fairy stories and ring-a-ring-of-roses as heinous, black-hearted shit we inflict on children, then wonder why they go and shoot up the school or whatever. Yeah, blame it on rap music, why don’t you. Forget the obvious date-rape context of Sleeping Beauty. Forget that Hansel and Gretel straight up murdered an old woman. Forget that kids learn this stuff at the same time as they’re learning how to think.

Anyway, sorry, I got side-tracked there – the watch. It ticks. Obviously. (‘Obviously’ as in, yes, it’s a watch, of course it ticks, but also as in it ticks in a very obvious way.) And the first night I got it home – or rather, it would’ve been the first night I hung it up, cos the first night I actually got it home I would’ve left it in my waistcoat pocket and collapsed into bed and passed out – see what I was saying before about being drunk leading to a good night’s sleep. Anyway, the first night I hung it up, I thought the ticking was gonna drive me nuts. I stared at it, dangling above my head, thought about wrapping it in a pair of socks and sticking it at the bottom of my drawer or something – which is I think what Yossarian or someone recommends in Catch-22, because they have a hard time sleeping as well and they want to smother someone else’s watch – but then I figured it’d still be there, audible, or just on the edge of hearing anyway, and I’d have to get up again and move it to another room and then I’d forget where it was and lose it, plus I was already in bed and didn’t want to have to go through the rigmarole of getting up and moving it, twice, once to the sock drawer then once out of the room, so I just lay there and stared at it and hated it a bit and then finally tuned it out and went to sleep. I mean I guess you could file it under the category of repetitive noises that I could learn to anticipate a la loud music, waves, etc, but something about it just stayed on the edge of irritation. Maybe because it’s a smaller thing I theoretically could change – like, the loud music and the waves, I couldn’t really do anything about them (well, I could go and ask them to turn the music down, but who wants to be that guy?), so there’s no point getting worked up about them, but I could do something about the watch, and the very fact I wasn’t doing something meant it stayed annoying. Like how an itchy foot might be less annoying than an itchy nose, because an itchy nose is more easily within reach, and why don’t you just scratch the fucker?

And it was like that for, I dunno, at least a week. I’d get into bed and the lights would go off and Judy would turn over on her side – the watch never bothered her, by the way, she sleeps like a log – and I would lie on my back and stare upwards (only til I start to get sleepy – then I have to turn onto my side, so I don’t snore through the night. Ok, when I said she sleeps like a log, she still wakes up when I snore and nudges at me until I roll over onto my side, which stops me snoring.) and there would be this fucking watch, and I’d think, ‘ah, shit, I still haven’t dealt with that, I can’t do it now, it’ll disturb Judy, and besides, I should really get to sleep’ – and then I’d re-run through all the reasons for not getting up and putting it somewhere else (the socks, the loss, the regret), and then eventually try to start thinking about something else, and then eventually fall asleep. All the while acutely aware of this incessant little tickticktickticktick sound above my head.

And then, I dunno, after that week sometime, I came up with this character for the watch. A little boy – a sort of very rough-drawn stick figure, a Tim Burton-style creation, with wiry little hairs and a very circular head and a nondescript blob of a body and single lines coming out for his arms and legs. Sort of like the 7-Up guy, though I can’t remember if he maybe had thicker legs and arms. But this kid, this little boy, he has the watch for a heart. (I know – very Wizard of Oz.) Just his regular, stick-drawn arms and legs and body and head and so on, but with this real-life silver watch in his chest, where his heart would be. Pinned there like a medal.

IMAG1371
This isn’t even a truthful representation of what he looks like – his body’s the wrong shape or something, I can’t figure it out. That’s how much I suck at drawing.

The kid seems happy enough with the watch, or oblivious to it at least. Like, to him, it’s normal: why would he react to having a watch for a heart if that’s all he’s ever known? He doesn’t really do much, as far as I’m aware – I don’t have pre-written adventures for him or anything like that, he just kind of floats in the ether and provides a focal point for me to hone in on while the rest of my bodily senses – sight (my eyes are closed), touch, taste, etc – all shut down, or whatever it is happens to your senses when you go to sleep. He’s just there, being himself, quite content, this little watch ticking away on his chest. He’s not sleepy or anything – it’s not like he’s yawning to make me yawn (although, funny story, I can’t even type the word ‘yawn’ without starting to yawn – that’s four times inside the last 30 seconds, and twice more in the edit). I guess what I’m getting from him is he’s relaxed, and the whole ticking thing, it’s not something he’s worried about or letting the stress get to him or whatever, so it’s not something I need to worry about either.

It’s been really useful though, because what started I guess as just a coping mechanism for not getting all stressed out about the watch, has turned into this way of rationalising – or I guess de-rationalising and re-contextualising – any other noises that would normally come at me out of nowhere and distract me as I’m trying to drift off to sleep. Like, if the fridge kicks in – that’s just him taking a breath, or it’s the sound of him raising his eyebrows or something. (The sounds don’t have to be the actual sounds someone would make, they just have to be related to something he’s doing.) If a heavy truck goes by outside, that’s him running his fingers through his hair. (He develops things like fingers as and when they become necessary – they’re not in clear focus the whole time.) If there’s music coming from another flat, he might tap his foot to it or slightly sway, though he doesn’t get himself worked into a hyped up dance frenzy about it or anything – it just becomes part of his scene (or, I guess, my scene) rather than some external element that he/I can’t control, something that’s intruding into his/my consciousness.

Am I the boy? I don’t think so. Maybe he’s my inner child or whatever, but I don’t feel any especially strong connection to him, or at least I don’t right now, writing about it – maybe I do in the moment, as it’s happening. Right now though, I just think of him as someone who’s just hanging out, and I can observe him and take… not comfort, not solace exactly, but I can see how chilled out he’s being and take that on board as a helpful, healthy way to be (as far as that goes in terms of falling asleep, anyway). It’s not even like he’s being demonstrably super-chill, like you’ll look at someone on the beach and be like, ‘god, they’re so chill, they’ve got zero stress in their life right now’ – it’s not like he’s some paragon, some exemplar of chill, he’s just average, every-day, not letting shit get to him but not making a big deal out of it either. He just is, you know?

Anyway, I’m sleeping better now, as a result, I imagine. It’s handy to have a focal point. I know sleeping’s all about losing focus, to an extent – sort of losing your grip on the reality of the waking world around you – but by focusing solely on him, I can sort of allow myself to lose focus on the other things, you know? And then it’s just him, and the darkness, and then after a while, it’s just the watch, and then… that’s it.

Pablo and Harvey: Face-licking

I’m sitting watching my dog, Pablo, and his brother, Harvey, get into some serious tongue action on the couch across the room. Harvey’s my mum’s dog – a couple of years ago I expressed an interest in buying a Border Terrier and the next day she phoned me en route to Carlisle, saying she’d seen an ad. She got there and decided on impulse to get a second one for herself (her first dog, Eddie, doesn’t feature in this story). She kept the livelier one, Harvey; I got the runty whiner, Pablo.

Pablo is hoaching with mange. It’s a strain called demodectic mange, which means its non-contagious (as I patiently explain to every dog owner who recoils in terror from Pablo’s touch), and passed down genetically from the mother’s side. Of course, Harvey doesn’t have demodectic mange. He’s fine. Pablo has it. It’s a type of parasite that infests under the skin and lays eggs and all that horrible shit that makes you squirm just reading it. Unless you’re a vet or some other warped variety of selfless zoophiliac, in which case you probably say ‘aw poor thing’ and manage to mentally sidestep the sheer hideousness of what domesticated animals are.

Anyway, the mange, it makes Pablo itchy. Or, I dunno, there’s also this yeast infection that comes and goes, which may or may not be a side effect of the mange, and that makes him itchy. Anyway, last week, on Saturday morning, I awoke to find Pablo flinching away from his own ass because he’d chewed a patch of it raw through the night because it was so itchy. I was gonna say something there about dogs being so stupid they can’t be trusted not to chew a hole in their own ass, but the vet sensibly pointed out how stuff like eczema can drive humans to do excruciating things to themselves, so fair play to the dogs.

So Pablo, now he’s got this cone on, to prevent him chewing his ass further as it heals. And Harvey, just now, he’s pouring himself face first into the cone, getting his tongue all in about Pablo’s eyes, his ears, right into the gaps between his lips and his gums. I don’t know if there’s a name for it. The connective tissue bit that’s all stringy and sinewy. He’s licking the fuck out of that.

And Pablo’s responding in kind – or maybe he’s trying to bite Harvey’s tongue, it’s a bit hard to tell, there’s a lot of movement going on in quite a small space and a good deal of it is obstructed by the cone. It’s a thing they’ve done before – they’re both very face-licky dogs, with each other and with other dogs and with humans too. And Pablo, being the whiny dog he is, is simultaneously licking Harvey’s face licking his face, attempting to chew parts of Harvey’s face and specifically his mouth, and issuing soft little whimpers along the lines of, ‘stop licking me, no don’t stop, or just do it like this, I don’t know, something, god’.

And, if I was a better writer (or at least, less self-pityingly, a different sort of writer), this’d be the bit when the story goes, ‘And then, for some reason, I started thinking about the state of modern politics,’ but I’m not that sort of guy. I’m the guy that looks at two dogs, one wearing a cone, both licking and chewing the faces off each other to no discernible benefit to either of them, and rather than keenly dissect the situation’s similarity to some greater universal or societal truth, says, ‘hey, look. Those dogs are really going at it, huh?’

Which, when you think about it, tells us a lot about the current state of-

Nah. I’m just fucking with you. Dogs are gross, is all.