poetry

The Great Beyond

purpose~ The Great Beyond ~

Out there in that space

My soul searches for something

Not available in these surroundings

My physical body walks these streets

I pick up things from supermarket shelves

And I appear as another person in the crowd

But really I’m sailing in a solitary sea

I’m scanning horizons for some sort of shoreline

To see those flags fluttering in the wind

Showing me the sign of a place

To finally call home.

I ain’t no great sailor

And my only compass

Is some strange feeling

Here in my heart

Propelling me ever forward

Towards something I can only feel

But not describe

At the end of the day, what am I

But another deluded dreamer

Digging for diamonds in the abyss

And searching the wilderness of life

For the light of existence

While trying to fight off

The waves of depression

And insanity

how to kill time while waiting to die

How to Kill Time While Waiting to Die (an extract)

7

By the time the two weeks of sick pay were up, I had decided I wasn’t going back to work. Freedom had tasted too sweet and I now had over £4000 in my account which would support me for a while. For the third time in twelve months, I informed my workplace that I would no longer be returning through their front door. Amazon of course didn’t care; I was merely another number to cross off their list and quickly replace with another person desperate for minimum wage. Back once more to my default state of unemployment, I carried on writing my novel and sunbathing in the garden. I also fished out my old bike from my parent’s garage; it was in a beaten state but it was okay enough to at least get out into the countryside from some much-needed escapist ventures away from my parent’s house. Naturally, my mum and dad weren’t happy that I had given up my job and were consistently on my case. I shrugged off their comments and told them I had enough savings to last me until the pandemic was over. I told them I could pay their board and stay out of their hair until I was able to up and move somewhere else.

I tried that reclusive approach as much as I could but it was still a lockdown after all and inevitably I had to spend some time around them in the house. And naturally, they weren’t going to let me live an easy life under their noses without any pushback. They had endured a hard life and, like all people who had endured a hard life, they were not going to let those close to them laze around and smell the flowers. Suddenly I had a range of chores to do, frivolous things like clearing out the attic and whatever it was they could think of to get me to do some work. One day they asked me to mow the lawn even though it had recently been done and the dry weather had meant it had barely grown. I couldn’t help but comment on how pointless the task was. As soon as I did this, I realised my error. This was the comment they were waiting for; this was the comment that allowed them to get into character and give one of their inspiring working-class-hero speeches.

“I didn’t raise you to just sit around like a leech or bum,” my dad said. “You’ve got to learn some work ethic. What kind of person gives up a steady job at a time like this? You might not be able to get another soon. And how are you going to explain all these gaps on your CV to other employers? No one is going to want to hire you if you can’t hold down a job for more than a couple of months.”

“Sorry that I refuse to be enslaved by a piece of paper with some bullet-points.”

“You need to think about what you’re doing seriously. You’re going to end up homeless or living on benefits on some council estate full of drug dealers. I had to do that for a while and we want better than that for you.”

“Stop trying to install fear into me. Just because fear of the future controlled all the decisions you made in your life.”

“It’s called growing up, being responsible and thinking ahead. Everyone else does it. It’s not that hard. For you it’s just taking a bit longer than normal…” At that point I could feel a pool of fiery passion bubbling up within me. There was only so much a person could take of not being understood before they were pushed to breaking point. Most people’s eyes looked upon me and didn’t really see me, but there was something about having the people who created you having zero idea about who you were that pushed me over the edge. At that moment, I snapped and let the internal monologue inside my head make a rare appearance out into the world.

“Look, you brought me into this world,” I started. “I didn’t ask to come here and exist in this stupid society. Let’s be honest, you only had children because it was ‘the next thing’ to do in your life. You didn’t have an interest in doing anything else in life so once you were locked into the 9-5 routine so, like most people, you had kids to give yourself some sort of basic purpose. It’s the same reason nearly everyone has kids. To give their lives some meaning and to keep themselves busy with something because they have no idea what else they can do with their life outside of their job. It helps stop them having too much time to think to themselves. Because, the truth is, if most people did have time to think to themselves, they’d realise how utterly pointlesss and ridiculous their lives are. This is why you, like everyone else, keep yourself busy by working and watching TV and having kids and doing absolutely anything to avoid looking in the mirror and really reflecting on your life. And have you ever thought about how selfish it is to bring kids into this world just to give yourself something to do? And even worse, you bring kids into this world and then make them miserable by trying to make them do things they don’t want to do. You want me to have a stupid career so you can feel good about yourself and brag about what great parents you are – but I’m telling you now that that sort of life will drive me to suicide and make me even crazier than I already am. But still, you don’t care about how I feel. Okay, maybe you’re like other parents and you want me to ‘be safe’ and have ‘some security’ for the future. Well, did you ever think about safe and secure I was when I didn’t exist? There was no risk of anything at all before I entered this earth. What’s the point of bringing vulnerable human-beings into a violent and dangerous world and then trying to wrap them in cotton wool at the expense of everything else? At the expense of their own sanity and happiness? Maybe you do mean well, but have you ever stopped and thought about how insane your behaviour actually is? Have you ever stopped and thought about how insane life is in general?”

At this point my parents just stared at the television shaking their heads. A terrible silence filled the room as I realised I had for once actually spoken the true contents of my manic mind. I knew that the truth was a creature of the darkness that didn’t belong out in the open world, and now it was out it was like the whole universe had crashed for a few moments in that living room. People’s brains couldn’t handle the truth; it caused them to crash and to stall. Time went slow as we all just sat and stared into space. Seconds felt like minutes. My mum eventually picked up her coffee and started to read the newspaper. Then my dad decided to break the silence.

“Honestly, you need to get your head sorted out first. You’ve been reading too many of those weird writers you’re into. You’ve been brainwashed.” At that point, I got up and stormed up to my room like an angry teenager. I lay in bed and let my head spin with thoughts for hours on end, rehearsing things to say to them, imagining how the rest of the argument would pan out if I carried on the conversation. Eventually I could hear my parents come upstairs and go to bed. Once again, I had to listen to them try and fail to have sex quietly. I reached for my headphones and started playing some music at full volume, drowning out the disturbing sounds of the very heinous act that had spawned me into this existence. I lay there staring at the ceiling, feeling like I was paralysed. Truly it was all too much what life could do to a man at times.

Things got even worse the next days when speaking to Eloise. I noticed that her chat with me had suddenly slowed down since our last meeting. Instead of taking minutes to reply, it was hours. And the sentences were shorter. And her general attitude more distant. One night I couldn’t avoid speaking about it any longer. Clearly something had changed between us and I was going to find out what it was. I rang her but she didn’t answer. So I sent a message asking what was up. Two hours later I got a reply. It was a reply telling me about the new situation between us. Apparently she wasn’t really single, but on a break with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend had been experiencing mental issues, and she wasn’t going to be with him until he recovered. Apparently his condition was improving though, as she was now out of bounds. She said we could still be friends but of course I knew that was just the standard meaningless statement. It appeared our chats were to be no more. Our camping trips were to be no more. And my delusions were to be no more. There would be no peaceful life with this woman. There would be no life without my usual war and wandering. I knew I was a fool to even let such thoughts enter my mind, and my cracked shell and exterior suddenly seized up again. I cemented those cracks harder than ever. I doubled down and withdrew once from the world other people lived in. I looked again at joy and peace and love as things like smoke; which could only be seen and not held or kept. I lay there on my childhood bed and life was more grey than ever – just a meaningless, cruel joke which one had to trudge through. Once again, I was detached, dejected, indifferent. Once again, I was a man killing time while waiting to die.

how to kill time while waiting to die

How to Kill Time While Waiting to Die (an extract)

A few weeks later and I was still alive and healthy. It had been almost two months in the warehouse of doom, and I was craving some respite from the long ten-hour days. Fortunately for me, Amazon started operating this VTO scheme (voluntary time off). It appeared the company branch had hired too many people and now they were overstaffed when there wasn’t enough work coming it. As a result, VTO was offered to you in which you could go home of your accord without pay. Naturally, I would snap their hand off as soon as they offered it me. “VTO?” a man with a notepad and a piece of paper would ask me. I looked at him like some sort of angel. He’d take down my details and return fifteen minutes later to confirm it. Once relieved of my burdensome duty, I’d happily marched out of the warehouse into the spring sunshine with a smile on my face. I’d then slowly walk home through the countryside, stopping again to watch some squirrels live out their lives simply in the woods. Ahh yes, once again I’d get a tinge of jealousy with my furry friends. I watched them burying their nuts and appreciating there was more purpose in that than what I was doing at Amazon. Soon after, I’d get home and see my mother standing in the kitchen. “How come you’re home?” she would ask me.

     “No work again today mum’. 

     “That’s a shame, you must be losing a lot of money with all this time off.”

     “Yeah.. yeah… terrible isn’t it.”

     “It is…”

     After that, I’d then sit in the garden with a pack of beer sunbathing and listening to music all day. I actually had quite a bit of money behind me due to my low living costs and not being able to blow my money on benders down the pub, so I’d treat myself to some top-quality Belgian beers from the local shop. Sometimes I’d also order takeaway, maybe even treat myself to a cigar. All of this tasted extra sweeter knowing that I had dodged another day of employment with my corporate overlord. Occasionally I could feel the glare of my mother from the kitchen window, watching her one son living like a retired person at the age of thirty. Yes, accept it mother. Accept me how I am. This is the life for me. I didn’t ask to be brought into this world; you forced me into this painful and perplexing existence, let me at least try and get through it in a way that is slightly tolerable.

     While sitting there smoking my cigars and sipping my Belgian beers, I’d get reflective about the chaos that was happening in the world. Of course, by this point it was becoming clear that the government response to the outbreak was a hysterical overreaction that was going to eventually cause more harm than it prevented, but right now hysteria was king and I could see that this way of life was the norm for the foreseeable future. I guess I was okay with it. As an introvert the lockdown was no huge shock or blow to me; avoiding people and crowds had been a pastime of mine for many years now, and the whole thing was somewhat surreal and interesting to a degree. Still, everyone had their limit and mine mainly came in not being able to go out and try to pull women in bars. While lockdown may have caused most couples to be screwing more often than usual, single people were more alone than ever – unable to stumble around dancefloors trying to attract mating partners through drunken chatter and bad dance moves. There was now only one way to get potentially laid – and that meant resorting back to the dating apps and websites. 

     I remade my profile and went online to check out the hoards of other horny, lonely, locked-down people like myself. Of course, many bios of people on the dating apps were now full of the line ‘lockdown brought me here.’ I guess it was true; it was a period in time when people had to find new ways to kill time in their lives, and these apps served that function well. The journey between the maternity ward and the crematorium was going slower than ever, but thankfully smartphones could keep us hypnotised for a good proportion of it.

     I didn’t really have much going for me before the pandemic started, but at least I had my own place. Now I was back to living with my parents – which just about rounded me off as the quintessential, stereotypical thirty-year-old loser. I was without a career, without a car, without my own place, and generally without much of a clue about anything at all. I guess I at least had a job. I could even say I was ‘an essential worker’ – as the government had labelled me. Right now, about half the population were sitting at home not working at all while still receiving 80% of their pay. This section of people was basically the middle class – the people who worked white-collar jobs on computers or in offices. The working-class were still out there keeping society running by stacking shelves, delivering parcels, nursing patients, and working on factory assembly lines. Yes, like my other working-class comrades, I was a modern-day hero – a hero who stood at a conveyor-belt line all day helping people get their orders of luxury anal lube. I tried that angle when girls asked what it was that I did but it appeared for some reason many weren’t too impressed by my heroics. Still, I didn’t care – I had my premium Belgian lager and fake Cuban cigars while sitting in the sun on a Wednesday afternoon. I was a success in my own mind for the time being. 

     I carried on sifting through the profiles of potential lockdown lovers, mindlessly swiping left and right like a bewitched addict. I eventually matched with some girl called Eloise. She popped up asking me where a photo of myself on a mountain was taken. She herself had pictures of her in the woods and walking her dogs. All in all, she seemed like an actual human-being; there were no fake lips, ridiculous pouts, and her face wasn’t totally plastered in makeup. Our conversation quickly started flowing. We talked about hiking and camping. We talked about our lives and music and what we were doing to stay sane. I didn’t know whether it was cause we were both bored as hell or there was an actual connection between us, but we ended up talking for hours on end. I sat there in my parents garden texting her until the sun went down and my beers had run dry. It seemed that for once I actually had found a girl I enjoyed talking to.

     I eventually put my phone down and took myself inside the house. I poured myself a juice and went to sit in the living room where my parents were reliably found watching their five hours of TV for the evening. They asked me if I knew I was going to be working in the morning. 

     “Well, I’ll definitely go in, but it depends how much work they have for me whether I’ll stay or not.”

     “It’s ridiculous that is,” my dad said. “Making you go into work and then sending you home. They should give you half a day’s pay just for dragging you in.”

     “Yeah, well, it’s Amazon. They’re not exactly known for treating their workers with any respect or dignity.” (Of course, Amazon weren’t ‘sending me home’, rather I was volunteering to go home and sit in my parent’s garden all day, but they didn’t need to know that.) 

     “So what are your plans when all this is over?” my mum asked. 

     “I’ll probably just stay here now I reckon. I’m quite happy here chilling in the garden all day with a few beers.” I really couldn’t resist throwing some bait out.

     “Yes, well you can forget about that,” my dad snapped. “As soon as this is over you’ll have to go out and get your own place or start paying £100 a week at least. You’re thirty years old now; you were too old to be staying here five years ago, let alone now.” I sat there with a bored and blank stare. Every line that came out of their mouths was so painfully predictable that you could see it from a mile off. I thought they were done but then my mum repeated a line she had used about fifty times previously.

     “I just don’t understand why you got that degree if you didn’t want to use it. Your sister got her degree and is now working in what she studied…”

     “Good for her, but I don’t want what she wants.”

     “Well, you should do. You should already be earning £30,000 a year by now with your degree. You should be aiming for £40,000, £50,000…. Even more. Not doing whatever the hell it is that you’re doing – which is nothing. Why don’t you get a proper job, like everybody else.”

     “No thanks,” I said, after a moment of non-reflection. “I don’t wanna be another person who spends all the days of my life at work, then comes home to watch TV for five hours before going to sleep. And then only use the money for things that I don’t need and make me miserable – like a rug.” Such a clear personal swipe set my dad off on a rant, saying some vague things about me being brainwashed, and deluded, and whatever else it was that explained why I thought differently to them. I wanted to tell them not to bother procreating just to pressure their offspring into living a life that only satisfies themselves, but in the end I couldn’t be bothered. I simply realised the cold, harsh reality of my current existential situation and went up to my bedroom for some much-needed solitude. I then looked up out the window at those stars once again. I imagined meeting sneaking off to meet this girl somewhere, and running off to start a new life in the forest. I imagined living in peace and harmony like the squirrels. I imagined spending the rest of my days in some sort of tolerable space.

5

The days at work recommenced as the warehouse got busy again. Each morning I’d look around for the angel with the notepad coming around to ask if I wanted to go home, but sadly he was nowhere to be found. It appeared there was no escape out into the spring sunshine, and the long days at work were back as the norm. Fortunately I had at least managed to get myself back onto the inbound section of work where I could stand alone and not talk to anyone. I was back to living in my own head and daydreaming the days away. I was also spending a lot of time texting Eloise on my phone. At work we, of course, weren’t permitted to use our phones. Not a problem; I left some boxes stacked on my workstation and used them as cover while I texted her throughout the day. Sometimes I’d even go for a fifteen-minute toilet break just to spend some time chatting to her. I didn’t even need to daydream the days away by writing my new literary masterpiece in my head; I could simply write to her while imagining how it would be when we finally met. I knew my work-rate was going to be even poorer than usual, and I was waiting for the man with the laptop to come around and get me to justify my incompetence. There was nothing really to say, other than I didn’t care. I was really at the stage where any concern for my job was zero – a dismissal at this point would have been a sweet and merciful relief. 

     While texting Eloise, I couldn’t help but let my mind run away with the idea of meeting this girl somewhere during the lockdown. I was a man of daydream fantasy; of letting stories and events take place in my imagination. I was comfortable with that because I could control them and make them exactly what I pleased – unlike reality which was brutally out of your hands. There was nothing your imagination could do when the whole situation turned to shit as things, of course, usually did. Still, I knew I couldn’t hold on to this daydream forever and we made actual plans to meet on the coming weekend. 

     She wasn’t actually from my city, but a small town 20 miles north. She drove down and parked in a pub carpark near to a countryside park. Before meeting her, the only thing I could focus on was my hair – it was a bushy mess that hadn’t been cut in almost three months on account of all the barbers being closed. Still, apart from the anxiety of my disheveled appearance, it was closest thing to excitement I’d felt in a while in this society that had made any sort of fun illegal.

     We met in the carpark and said our first awkward hello. Then we started walking slowly around the countryside park, chatting about life, exchanging stories of our last years. She was a pale, blonde girl – a couple of years younger myself, with blue eyes and a sad but compelling look on her face. I could see there was a pain there – some sort of story that hadn’t been told or expressed – and I couldn’t help but be fascinated by her as we walked without any particular destination. The spring sunshine was still out and we eventually found a secluded place under a tree to have a picnic. This naturally led to our first kiss and eventually a little more. Sex was usually as exciting as this life got anyway, but when it was out in a public place during a national lockdown, well, I was sure that was the top thrill a person could possibly experience at that moment in time.

     After a while, we got speaking about camping and decided that we’d drive back up to hers, grab her tent, and find a place somewhere to stay the night. This ended up being Sherwood forest, the home of the mythical legend Robin Hood. We pitched our tent in a secluded spot surrounded by ancient trees before opening the wine and playing some card games. Eventually we got into our sleeping bags and cuddled up while listening to some ambient music. I lay there drifting off appreciating that there was even a movie-like romance to the whole thing. The circumstance of meeting during the pandemic lockdown, and of sneaking off to go camping illegally, made it seem like we were characters in some sort of scripted story – one that was actually interesting. The whole country was gripped by fear and hysteria but there we were doing our own thing, making love in the woods, drinking wine under the stars and chatting about whatever drifted through our confused minds. For once in my life I considered that this girl was something more than another meaningless exchange of sex and temporary company. Maybe it was the whole lockdown situation getting to me, but for once I considered a normal, peaceful life alongside a woman. I considered a life of harmony and home. A life without war or wandering. A life without being indifferent and detached from it all. A life where I wasn’t just killing time while waiting to die.

6

I eventually got word of a little trick workers in the warehouse were using to get an extra two weeks’ holiday. The government had put in a law that if you or anyone in your household had come down with or shown symptoms of Covid-19, then you were entitled to two week’s paid leave from work as a way to help stop the spread of the virus. There was nothing your employer could do but comply; it was the law, and they couldn’t even demand proof of your claims. It was one of the few times a worker could take total advantage of their employer, and it seemed that magically everyone in the warehouse had – at some point – been living with an infected person. It seemed stupid not to also stick it to Amazon and get my two weeks’ paid leave. It was a small victory for the little man in the war that he could only naturally lose over a lifetime.

     I rang them up the next day. “Yeah, my parents have just come down with symptoms. A bad cough, a fever, loss of taste and smell… I think it’s best I stay off work until we know what it is.” I usually hated chatting bullshit, but this time that bullshit coming from my mouth tasted ever so sweet. For the sake of health and safety, they had to believe everything I said, take down my details, and withdraw me from work. I put down the phone and stood there with a surreal feeling. It really was that easy; I now had two weeks’ paid freedom from the warehouse of doom. Like the owners and shareholders, I was getting money for doing nothing. 

     I spent the next days really hammering into my new book project. This lockdown situation was raising my creativity and one morning I managed to fire off 4000 words in one sitting. I could hear the voices of doubt once again in my head telling me I was deluded and stupid and that it was a waste of time, but I simply didn’t care. At this point being deluded and stupid and wasting my time was my own private religion. There was something nice about it, even courageous. I guess we were all deluded and stupid and wasting our time to a degree. I only had to watch my dad using his wages to order his 22nd pair of jeans or 33rd T-shirt or 7th pair of shoes. Yes, truly this was what life was all about and I was doing it in my own way, once again attempting to create literature with an edgy dystopian novel that sounded great in my own head, but probably caused anyone else reading to roll their eyes in utter disinterest. 

     I did all of this while sat in my parent’s garden, drinking those Belgian beers and getting a tan unlike I’d ever had before. Of course, I also spent a lot of time chatting to Eloise who was taking over my mind more than I was comfortable with. After our little camping trip, I wanted to see her again at the nearest opportunity. Such a feeling was strange. Here at the age of thirty, my hard shell may have finally been cracking and I was feeling enamoured by another human-being. Naturally, I weighed up whether she was just another escape – an escape from my parents, my job, myself, and my general living situation – but I wasn’t so sure. There was an actual feeling of joy from speaking to her as my fingers typed away for sometimes hours on my phone. Naturally I was cautious and untrusting of this foreign feeling, but I followed it anyway. There really wasn’t a choice in the matter. I was a passenger on some sort of strange trip I hadn’t taken before.

     Our next meeting was for two days over the weekend. Again, we loaded up on food, wine and music playlists, then found a place we could go and camp. This time we headed out to the Peak District in the centre of the country. Camping at this point was strictly forbidden so we walked for a while along a path before finding a hidden section of woodland where we could reside in peace. We set up our tent beside a stream and made some lunch. Then we went on a hike to the top of a big hill that overlooked a valley. With the sun setting over the rolling green hills, we drank from a bottle of wine and chatted about life. She was soon drunk and told me about her ex-boyfriend. She also told me she had had an abortion, and that her mother was abusive as a child, and that she had been ‘taken advantage of’ when she was a teenager. My initial inclination of her being a hurt soul were true. I guess I was no guru or genius; almost everybody was hurt or damaged in some way, but some were clearly more wounded than others. I think her vulnerability and damage only attracted me more towards her. I knew the general consent was not to go for damaged people, but I couldn’t help but be allured by such marred creatures. Probably I was just attracted to one of my own kind, but also I was always distrusting of those who bore little damage. Surely they had used some sort of cheat to make it through the fire without being burnt. Surely they didn’t know what it was really like to be human. Surely there was something wrong with them by having everything right with them.

     Eventually the sun started to set and we made our way back down to the campsite. We cuddled up together in our sleeping bags as the soft sound of the music from the speaker played. Raindrops pattered on the leaves on the trees above while we lay there like we were in some sort of womb or cocoon. 

     “So what is it you’re looking for?” she asked me, just after a kiss.

     “What do you mean?”

     “You know, in life. You seem to be like me, in a transient place in your life, what is it you want for your future after all this pandemic shit is done?”

     “A beer down the pub, I guess.”

     “Come on Bryan, seriously…”

     “Well, you deserve honesty, and the truth is I don’t really know. I’ve always just kind of drifted around and meandered through life. I only went to university because it was easier than getting a job and nothing much has really held my attention for too long. I don’t have any attraction to some sort of job, or goal, or grand purpose. I like writing but I don’t expect that to amount to anything really. I guess I’m just looking for a place that is tolerable. Some sort of way of getting by and seeing out this life without having to endure too much trouble or discomfort.”

     “You don’t hope for much, do you?”

     “I’m just realistic about things.”

     “I’m not so sure. I think I see more lust for life than just that in your eyes. You speak like a pessimist, but I think within you is a disappointed idealist. You can’t just be looking for a ‘tolerable space’ – there’s more to life than that. I’ve had rough times and felt defeated many times in my life. But still, I can’t help but hope for something better in the future. A future with a home, a family, a reason for being, you know? A future with peace and happiness and even excitement about what each day brings. Don’t you want all of those things? Life is a struggle yes, but don’t you want to get something great out of it?” At that point I could feel that she was sussing me out and trying to ascertain if I was actually compatible with the kind of future she wanted. When she talked about family and home, I couldn’t help but think of my parents’ life. That way of life had only seemed like a secret prison to me and I didn’t see how I could get anything out of it other than the feeling of being trapped even more than I already was. This is the problem with getting too close to a woman, I thought. They eventually wanted you to settle down into their suburban, happy family fantasy which nearly always turned out in wreckage. You had the divorces, the alcoholism, the arguments, the quiet desperation as the days drifted on and on without any spark. The smiling family photos were veils to the truth of the suffocating reality that most people lived in. I didn’t know what to say something that would disappoint her. The last thing someone like her needed was to crush or belittle her one dream that kept her limping on across the tempestuous plains of life.

     “It’s good for you that you know what you want and I hope you get what you’re looking for. But for me, I guess I’ll just see what life brings, if anything at all.” After I said that, we both went quiet and drifted off to sleep as the rain continued to drip down upon our tent from the trees above.

how to kill time while waiting to die

How to Kill Time While Waiting to Die (an extract)

Boxed In

Of course, my parents weren’t gonna be happy with me sitting around the house all day. And when I thought about it, I didn’t really want to do that either. Each hour there caused my brain to go funny. I could feel the walls of my bedroom closing in on me; my old books on the shelf staring at me judgmentally. Any longer there and whatever was left of my sanity would be gone. I still had over £2000 in savings left, but I figured I’d go out and get a job anyway. Naturally, not many places were hiring as society continued its draconian lockdown. However, with everyone spending every waking hour in their homes, it appeared there were new opportunities in the working world. No longer able to blow their wages on drinking, restaurants and football games, people sought to get their fix in other ways. The main way was ordering random useless shit online. The online retailer Amazon was already the biggest company in the world, but now it was set to get even bigger as bored people browsed the website and looked to order anything that might entertain them during the pandemic lockdown. Because of this, they were hiring more staff to work at their warehouses. One of these was conveniently thirty minutes walk from my house, so I said screw it and applied online – anything will be better than sitting around here watching my savings go back down to zero. Thankfully, there was no interview process; I simply registered my details and was due to start the very next day. 

Arriving on my first day, I had to queue for twenty minutes to enter the building. There were markings on the floor to socially distance each worker by two metres as they entered. There were also temperature checks, as well as masks and sanitiser distributed upon entry. I stood there in the queue which was snaking around the car-park while looking at the almighty warehouse before me. It was maybe the widest building I’d ever seen. It stretched onward into the surrounding countryside for what looked like almost a kilometre. There must have been thousands of people at work under that one roof. It was a beautiful sunny day, but I noticed the building bore no windows. I thought of everyone in the artificial lighting, toiling away like robots, doing the same thing every day for years on end for a little more than the minimum wage while the owner increased his millions by the minute. As always, it was hard to shake off the feeling of absolute absurdity before I even entered the building to start my first shift. But hey, maybe I was wrong? Maybe it was actually a fun and engaging environment full of happy and content workers? 

Such optimism was quickly put to bed. Upon entry, the first thing I noticed was that the social distancing was all for show for the outside world. Once inside, people crowded together and pushed past each other to get to their work stations on time. There they would stand in one spot and spend the next ten hours doing something that a robot was surely going to do as soon as it was invented. It was the most dystopian workplace I’d ever seen. There were endless rows of people wearing face masks, separated by plastic screens, repeatedly picking up boxes off conveyor-belts and opening them up. There was an awkward atmosphere and absolutely no sense of community among the workers. There they toiled in silence along with hundreds of other workers like some messed-up version of Santa’s workshop where the elves appeared to be more machine than living creatures.

Before getting started on being another mechanical elf, I naturally had to receive some training for my important role. This was done in a few hours with a woman I could barely understand, partly to the fact of her bad English, partly to the fact of how loud the warehouse was, and partly to the fact I couldn’t be bothered to pay attention. I eventually went in blind on the task and figured it out as I went along. Basically, all I had to do was open a box from the conveyor-belt, scan one of the items inside, and then allocate a certain amount of those items into a plastic tote to be distributed to the correct onward destination. And then do the same thing again. And again. And again. Once more, I realised my university degree had served me well; I was back to doing one of those jobs which was best done by leaving your brain at the front door. That I did as I spent the days staring into space, daydreaming about anything and everything. All in all, it wasn’t actually so bad; at least there were no customers and bosses to deal with, aside from some guy who occasionally came around with a laptop to give you feedback on your work-rate. Typically, you had a target to meet for how many items you scanned per hour, as well as explain any mistakes or periods of inactivity. I expected such dehumanising measures in a company which was basically a giant machine, but I truly didn’t care about any of their targets or staying too long on my break. When the worst someone can do is fire you from a job you don’t care about, then you had a sort of untouchable aura about you. Besides I knew there were a set amount of warnings to get through before they actually had the right to dismiss you. By the time it got to that point, I would surely have quit on my own accord anyway. 

On my lunch breaks I sat socially distanced from everyone else. The canteen was also a giant room with 100m-long tables stretching down from one end to the other. The sight of everyone there eating on their own under the artificial lighting made me sad; all those people sitting apart, most of them out-of-shape with bad postures, eating their lunch quickly before rushing back to their workstations. I suppose I was just seeing it through fresh eyes and that I’d get used to it after a while like everyone else.

It took me a few shifts to realise there was an outside area. The spring weather so far had been one of the best on record – something which only made being stuck in this giant, windowless warehouse for ten hours a day even more horrific. Once I knew I could salvage a small amount of sunlight and fresh air during work, I took myself outside for my two thirty-minute breaks to enjoy it. I’d lie down on a bench sunbathing, thinking of nothing while staring up at the bright blue sky that was soon to blackened out by the great steel roof of the warehouse. The outside canteen area was close to the main exit of the building and quite often I would eye it up before returning to work. Knowing it was spring and the flowers were blooming and the sun was shining and the streams were streaming – yet I would have to return to the bleak darkness of the warehouse – caused that usual feeling of escapsim to fall over me. It had only been a week and I was already looking at the front door and imagining walking out of it once again – just like my last job, and the one before that, and the one before that. Surely I wasn’t the only one who constantly thought this way? Surely the other worker elves around me must have been thinking the same thing? Hell, all across the world, there must have been tens of millions of people who eyed up the exit to their workplace like it was an attractive member of the opposite sex. Why was it seemingly just me that continually gave in and lusted after it? Maybe I was lacking something – I was weak or complacent. Or maybe I was the only one with enough guts or recklessness to actually go through with it? Whatever the case, it seemed that this feeling of running off was inescapable, and as the sun continued to beam down, I came very close to leaving another transient piece of employment yet again. But another thought was also there: what exactly awaited me outside of that fence? The lockdown of the country had confined and boxed me in. I had nowhere to go, no other job I could hope to get, and my only shelter was at my parents – which would be even worse than here. God knows the grief they would get me after quitting this job after a week. I could hear them already. “You’re stupid to quit a job at a time like this! Don’t you know it’s a pandemic? You’re not going to get another job anywhere else. If you’re going to spend all day here then you’re going to have to pay more board….” No, it appeared I was trapped in this strange place for the foreseeable future, so I turned my face away from the sunlight and marched back inside to join the thousands of other obedient workers at their workstations. 

3

I think it was roughly three months after I had sent out my manuscripts for my novel that I accepted my latest life failure. I must have contacted over forty publishers and agents, and only five had contacted me back. Three of these said they weren’t interested and the other two I turned out to be vanity publishers. They wanted me to pay thousands for publication of the book while they basically sat back and did nothing. A quick review search of these publishers shown dozens of people complaining how they put thousands of pounds into the printing and promotion costs, only to receive a handful of sales. Once again, the impossibility of making it as a writer was made stark and clear – not only would you have to invest hundreds of hours of your time to write a book, but then you’d have to invest more time to find a publisher, and then you’d have to invest loads of money only to see your book pick up a few measly sales here and there. Truly, it was the ultimate waste of time – time-wasting on a godlike scale, in fact – and I thought of all the other millions of aspiring writers that ever existed who spent their whole lives writing in vain before dying without anyone reading their body of work. Such thoughts only reminded me how hopelessly out of odds I was with it all. I could still hear the throwaway lines from teachers and parents. “Do what you’re passionate about and you’ll never work a day in your life.” “Aline your passion with your purpose and you’ll find your true calling.” Pfft, it was a tedious script people were fed at a young age, but what is a person to do when their passion was something that didn’t make money? What to do when your passion was poetry, or painting, or sitting around staring into space? Better to be passionate about driving a bus, or stacking shelves, or making cheeseburgers, or sitting at a computer and typing digits into a screen. Better to be passionate about standing beside a conveyor-belt and picking up boxes for ten hours a day.

No, I remembered that the whole writing thing was just another delusional daydream of mine. I shook my head free from such fantasy and focused on the cold, hard reality before me – the reality of being a robotic cog in the corporate Amazon machine. My role on this earth was to not to enlighten and entertain the masses through well-written literature, but to pick up these boxes off a conveyor-belt, open them up, and place items into another box. My place amongst humanity was set and I looked down at the many items I was scanning. It was an eye-opening insight into the current state of consumerism, especially into what people were buying to entertain themselves now they were under a government lockdown. People truly bought anything – including a fan-holder for ice creams, so you could carry them for prolonged periods without them melting. Or a shower curtain with waterproof pockets for your phone. Or a selfie stick for dogs. Or a miniature leaf blower. The absurdity of society was made clear before my eyes and I thought of all the people working jobs they didn’t like and then using money to buy this useless shit they didn’t need. A lot of that shit seemed to only cause them more stress and unhappiness, like the rug in the living room which kept them on edge whenever someone had a drink anywhere near it. It was a system of insanity which I was now an integral part of it, helping everyone out there get their useless gizmos and gadgets made from the bones of this slowly dying earth.

I think it was when I was scanning packs of luxury anal lube that it all started to get to me. Apparently the Covid-19 lockdown had caused people to start experimenting in the bedroom, and I imagined all the people out there screwing for hours a day because there was nothing else to do. For some reason, I couldn’t focus on what I was doing anymore – I couldn’t accept my purpose on this earth was to help people fulfill their sodomy fantasies in the bedroom – so I started working on a new book in my head. Of course, I realised I had just accepted my doomed fate as a writer, but at that point I just needed to occupy myself with absolutely anything that would take me away from the depressing reality of my current predicament. My new literary masterpiece which was destined to be unappreciated in its lifetime was a novel about some kids who discover something which they think is a hallucinogenic drug, but is actually a substance which helps them sober up from the chemical they were secretly poisoned with through their water supply. The drug in the water supply kept everyone blind to the reality of the slave system they lived in, and the substance they found help awakened them from its spell to see the reality before their eyes. The kids would then on a mission to infiltrate the water factory and help sober everyone up from their secret poison and slavery. It was another edgy dystopian novel which had probably been done in ways before, and would cause publishers and agents to roll their eyes, but these ten hour days of degrading work were getting to me – time needed to be killed in any way it could at this point, so I stepped my daydreaming up to a new level, writing whole paragraphs and chapters in my head, plotting the book out as I zoned far out from my bleak surroundings.

I did this for some while and at one point it was clear how much my daydreaming was affecting my work. One of those people with the laptops came around and commented how my scanning rate wasn’t up to the standard required to be a good mechanical elf. Consequently I was moved to be trained up on the outbound section of the warehouse. I was given a pair of work boots and then led on a long walk to the opposite end of the building. My new role was quickly explained to me and I realised the job was going to be a lot more physical and – even worse – I would have to actually speak to people. The other elves of santa’s workshop were walking around, interacting, cracking jokes in between stacking plastic boxes onto pallets.

I tried to get on with my new role in solitude, but as usual my quiet and receptive nature attracted the nearest barking dog towards me. This particular dog was an Indian guy, about 50 years old with a manic look in his eyes. He asked me how long I had worked here and how I was finding the job. Once he had done the required level of interaction to seem like he actually cared about anyone’s voice other than his own, he then barked on relentlessly about himself. Within a few of minutes of listening to him, I knew this was yet another man made violently sick by society. His insecurity about working a dead-end job was instantly clear to see, and he kept continually talking about how much money his family had, and that his daughters were going to university, and that he paid £10,000 for his son’s car for his birthday, and that he worked this job through choice, not necessity. Truly, I was awe-struck by his desperation to impress a stranger – especially one who cared as little as I did. I couldn’t believe this was a real human-being and I kept looking around for some cameras; this insane man surely had to be from some types of comedy sitcom. I knew I had my insanities to a certain degree, but here was a man that was completely maddened and messed-up by the high-achieving expectations of his culture. I looked at his face and realised that this is what society can do to a person – turn them into twitching, insecure, distorted messes who can’t help but pour nonsense out of their mouths constantly. I eventually zoned out as he continued to repeat himself. “Yeah yeah… my daughter will be earning £70,000 a year when she graduates…. Yeah, yeah… my family owns five properties in total…. Yeah, yeah.. I got my son a new car, we like to look after our own, you know, help them out a little bit.…”

When the line got busy again, I took the opportunity to flee to somewhere else to work. Once there, I was free for some time until the line stopped due to a jam. I thought I was in the clear until I was unfortunately spotted by a bald and overweight Polish guy. He got asking me about myself and I told him I was an aspiring writer with a journalism degree and was just working here through the lockdown of the pandemic. “What’s a guy like you doing in a place like this?” he then asked me. It was a question I had heard a few times in my life during my short stints in these low-skilled jobs. For some reason, I must have given off an aura of being too intelligent for such work (maybe it was the fact I had a degree, even though they were worthless these days as nearly half of all young people had them.) I gave some generic answer about making extra money through the pandemic and this prompted him to start telling me how much overtime he does and that he sometimes even works seven days a week. I didn’t really know what to say for the poor bastard. I felt terrible for the guy spending his life in this warehouse, but the worst thing is that he seemed to be happy to work here all day every day. Listening to his story, I could see it was all he knew at this point in his life. Divorced, no hobbies, no social life – what else exactly awaited him outside that fence? I knew his story was a common one – that there were so many people out there were, working through the whole of their lives, all of them inevitably institionalised by their workplaces as their jobs killed off everything else in their life. Soon the hunch-back posture came, the beer bellies, the rings around the eyes. Their best stories were from when there had been some drama or scandal at work. 

As the line restarted and I got back to work, I told myself I didn’t want to end like these strange people. I didn’t expect much from this life but truly there must have been something slightly better than this repetitive, robotic and degrading existence. Surely there was a better way to pass the days then surrendering yourself to something that was not too far off slavery. On the other hand those who chose not to allow themselves to be moulded and melded down into a job role were usually destitute and homeless. They were the insane alcoholics, the mental asylum patients, the lost and lonely lingering in the loveless shadows. Where exactly was one supposed to slot themselves into this system while maintaining some sort of spirit of life? It was absurb and anyone who still had a working heart could feel it. With a heavy feeling in my gut, I looked at the clock which shown there was another six hours to go. I then looked at everyone scurrying around and stacking boxes. Out of nowhere I had a feeling of and I wished to be infected with this stupid virus now. Wasn’t this suppose to be a pandemic after all? Yes, come on, Covid-19 – do your worst. Let me have a bad reaction and let’s get this whole thing over with once and for all. 

thoughts

~ Striding Proud ~

“He not busy being born is busy dying.”

‘It was no secret that there was a great sickness in modern society. Sadness filled the streets and I saw the souls suffering around me every day. I saw the sunken eyes, the feet dragging along the pavements, the bitter words coming out of mouths. I saw the behaviour of frustrated and jaded individuals. The people staying in jobs they hated; the people neglecting their inner voice; the people dragging others down with them. It was all around me but I kept on striding and doing my thing. I made no apologies about my way of being. I was here to live my short life on this earth to the absolute fullest. If I disliked a job, I’d quit it; if I disliked a place, I’d move from it. I refused to compromise on any of this. Hell, there wasn’t time for compromising. Very soon I would be another dead person in the ground, my one precious life all spent and gone. And with that knowledge I set out to make every year of my life a great adventure. I set out to do things that would fill my soul with joy; that would leave my mind full of memories and my heart full of fire. And as the years went by and time aged me, I would refuse to let life grind me down like it seemed to do to so many walking down those streets. No, I would continue to stand proud, a straight posture, my head high and my eyes wide and open. Still looking toward the next horizon. Still chasing that inner bliss. Still discovering the beauty of life on this earth until the very end.’

thoughts

~ The Great Beyond ~

~ The Great Beyond ~

“I sat on the beach facing the almighty pacific ocean. The waves crashed on the shoreline and the sun reflected off the water onto my face. I closed one eye as I downed my bottle of beer, thinking of memories of the past and my path to here. It was true: thirty years old and still living in the dirt, dreaming in the darkness, wandering the outside spaces. Maybe some thought I would give up this freedom fight, maybe I did, but there I was once again: travelling alone in Mexico, wandering through old towns, drinking in random bars and speaking to whatever stranger drifts into my course. I am a boat out on the ocean of the unknown, and by now I don’t think I’ll ever dock. These sails still catch the wind firmer than ever and the journey shows no sign of slowing. Stormy seas I have known, and my crew of weary sailors – whose blackened faces work the coal engine rooms of my heart – their eyes know the toil of that turbulent journey. Their eyes know this ship wasn’t made for safe harbours of stability and security; those anchors of mortgages and marriages, but instead to drift in the great beyond in search of some divine light of freedom and adventure and life and beauty.”   

thoughts

~ Just a Feeling ~

“There’s nothing else to do but write. No job to work, no woman to marry, no reason to settle down. I see no meaning to it all anymore. There is nothing else to do but write. So here I am typing on these keys, and walking down those streets, and staring at the things that pass me by: the faces that tell a story, the dogs staring into space, the sadness and the madness of the suburban universe. I stare at it all and try to make sense of what it is to be human, to be here on this earth, and to try to get by in whatever way you can. I try to understand this all before dying so I can put it into words that might mean something to someone somewhere. This is what I have chosen. This sickness. This insanity. I was not gifted with many things. Hell, I’m not even too good of a writer. But at least it’s something that feels inherently right. And I believe that feeling is the beginning of doing something that makes your life one worth living. To find what comes naturally and throw yourself into doing it completely. To find what makes you feel as if the whole universe is working in harmony the moment you’re doing it. Surfboards and keyboards. Dancing and singing. Sex and love. These are the things. This is the secret. Like others before me, I am a devotee to the rivers of passion running through me, letting them carry me along, moving ever forward to the lands of some divine light.”

thoughts

~ An Inside Job ~

Like others before me, there came a time in my life where I knew I needed to find something. Whatever that something was, it seemed to be not available in my immediate surroundings. Unsatisfied with my external world, I realised my journey was to become an internal one. One day my quest began. Digging into the depths of myself, I struck that spade into the solid ground. With force and might I pulled away the dirt with a driven and determined energy. I knew in my bones that something in those depths, buried away in the darkness, waiting to be uncovered. I didn’t know what it was exactly, but I could feel its presence within, and soon everything else in my life centered around finding it. Naturally I knew there were those out there who would dismiss such an undertaking as foolish or crazy, but I knew that that something within me was something that would make me richer in most ways that people had experienced. So I kept digging away, breaking apart that earth, with blistered hands searching deeper and deeper within my own soul. And in that act of soul-searching, I felt assured that one day the time would come where I would stand with that great diamond in my hands; a man who broke through his walls, who stripped away his surface, who unearthed his treasure and let it finally glint in the morning light. A man no longer blind to what he possesses.

pricless pleasure

thoughts

What Will Become Of Me?

“What will become of me? I ask myself this now in the summer of 2021, aged twenty-nine, with the world in a state of chaos and my life in a state of transition. I sit on the shore of a Scottish beach, staring out at the sea and the setting sun. The future looks unclear and often I don’t even know what I believe anymore. My mind feels frazzled and things I once knew for certain now seem murky. The morning mirror doesn’t show the person I once knew with such certainty. My path now seems more unclear than ever. There is an ache in my heart as I stare into those waters and ask myself: what will become of me? As time ages my mind and body. What will become of me? As close friends become distant strangers. What will become of me? As society changes in crazy ways. What will become of me? As my body accumulates more scars, as my heart is filled with more pain, as my soul struggles to shine its light. No, I don’t know what will become of me. Maybe I’ll be reduced to madness, that ranting maniac on city streets lost in his own mind. Maybe I’ll settle into a peaceful and simple life somewhere in the country. Maybe I’ll end up on a path that takes me to something I never knew even existed. As always, it’s hard to know what awaits in the unknown, and sometimes finding the faith to march on into that mist can be hard. But, as I sat there on that beach, I realised the only way forward was to just do what I’d always done before. I believed that the only way forward was to get up and keep following the heart, no matter which direction it led me. Inside I felt that was my only shot of making it through, of ending up in the right place – of becoming exactly who I was supposed to be.”

thoughts

~ What I Have ~

~ What I Have ~

“No, I haven’t got that stable mind, that polished resume, those practical and pragmatic skills. I haven’t got many things that most people in this world have. But such is life and I have learnt how to survive my own way and by my own rules. Because I got those feet that march through the swamp, those eyes that lift to the horizon, that spirit that never quits. I got those values that never corrupt and a heart that can’t be tamed. And when the others lose their way, I have just enough madness left inside to pull myself up and continue on through the storm. These are the things I have, and although they may not be the things most people desire, I would not trade them for all the riches in the world.”