December 1st, 2003


More News from The Empire

It's too early to call it the morning and just about too late to be night. In the summer, we'd be seeing a little light peek around the houses, but not at this time of year. Ah! The glories of insomnia. It might help if I weren't drinking espresso as I write, but I like coffee too much to deny myself the pleasure. I only two cups a day and this one's already almost used up. So why are you awake and, if you don't mind me saying so, what is that you're wearing? This, shuffling in appreciation of the question, is a new smoking jacket. Well, a new vintage smoking jacket. This one is in a garish vermillion silk with a repeated gold dragon motif. The cut's pretty much like this. I don't really need another smoking jacket, but sometimes when you see something in a shop you just have to buy it to stop it falling into the wrong hands. You never know if you'll ever see its like again. Life may be materially lacking in some areas, but we've no shortage of louche apparel that you can't wear outside of the house.

Since the radio has died, I've been streaming it through the computer. I've been listening to BBC (Radio) 7, a fairly new venture. They're trying to package it as a drama and comedy channel, which it is, but it's also fairly much old school Radio 4 nostalgia, back when they used to do a lot more in the way of drama programming. So through the night, we've been half slumbering through Wilkie Collins' The Moonstone, Sherlock Holmes, War and Peace and came fully alert to 84 Charing Cross Rd. There was a film version of this with Anthony Hopkins and Vanessa Redgrave, if memory serves me right. Except my memory doesn't need to serve me at all in this day and age as I can check those facts in fifteen seconds. There you go, Anne Bancroft.. She looks like Vanessa Redgrave in my memory.

This may prove to be a workable solution for degenerative (or is that disassociative even?) conditions like Alzheimer's. Listen, Dad, you don't need to remember anymore, we've downloaded all your key memories, and a whole bunch of other stuff, onto this disk for you. Why, son, I remember back in 1943 when (accesses chronological database, computer suggests relevant historical event depending on geographical location, political bias, etc, doesn't even have to break eye contact)... This would only be a simulacrum of memory. But most people wouldn't care either way. Isn't it great how much stuff the old coot remembers? To him it doesn't feel quite the way memory should, but we're being shortchanged over a lot of things and people forget soon enough how things used to taste. Give it three generations and you can falsify the records. No one remembers anymore. Why would you need to with data so cheap to store? For all the sixties talk of consciousness expansion, we're only using 20% of their potential, blah, blah, our brains are turning to mush. Brains will look like early consoles sometime soon. Impressive enough for their time and certainly very economical on memory. But memory is cheap now and why carry all that memory around in something so fragile as the human skull? Upload it and access it wirelessly. We're a longish ways from making this form of memory seamlessly interchangeable with the feel of the current forms of human memory, but I'm not sure this will matter. The brain will adapt it, smooth out the edges. Can you remember what a 78 record sounded like? Isn't this remastered crackle-free version preferable? 95% of customers say yes. The others will die off soon enough. If I could only lift this Nine Pound Hammer, I'd be happy to show these tech types a thing or two about our glorious future world. But, provided everyone is uploading the reality tv of their lives, it will all be there for reference and remix later on, should you (or anyone else) need it.

Oh, no it won't! Oh, yes it will! Behind you. Looks like you were right again, Horselover. We can remember it for you wholesale... Mmm, I was trying to get from here back to 84 Charing Cross Road. This was a true story of the long correspondence between a New York writer and a antiquarian bookseller in London. I was thinking about the death of the letter. There's a friend in Canada I used to write to, we're sort of out of contact now, it's my fault I guess. We used to write. What a physically demanding process that is, but worth it. Just how, oh, you know, in some intangible way to do with smell and touch and weight and the movement of a clock's hands. Technology advances and the ground beneath our windows is soggy from bathwater and laden with the bodies of many small children. I lay in bed. I shouldn't have stopped writing to her. Let's write before Christmas. In honesty, it was hard. If she lived in London and not Vancouver, just maybe things might have panned out differently. I've had a sort of crush on her since I was about 15. And there's a sudden trail of thoughts that might lead me and the smoking jacket back to bed and sighing towards the ceiling with the sound of birdsong rising from the railway tracks. Ho hum. There's a phrase you taught me. How on earth do I allow myself to abandon people like that? For sure, I have excuses, but that's they all really ever are and I've taken them far enough now. The fact I haven't mentioned her before says something. Those letters were pretty much all that held me together at some points.

On the train back from Bristol last night, I was sat next to a couple reading magazines. For him, it was the bumper September edition of FHM with free calendar and diary. For her, it was celebrity mag Heat (with a backup copy of Now, in case the buzz faded, I guess). For the record, I was leafing through Edge, so we were all falling into our respective quartiles. Sunday night train journeys are never the most uplifting and it was hard not to fall into a despondency fully supported by a stream of sad songs the iPod was throwing my way. When I'd arrived in Bristol, it had played Ring of Fire and then moved into The Art of the Fugue by Glenn Gould. The sun broke through the clouds and I was very glad about that random juxtaposition. On the way home, it was all lost boys and girls singing alt-country, except for when Serge turned up with Manon. If life was really a film, the roof would have been slowly lifted off the train at that point and I would have hammed it up along a set of precarious skeletal bogies as the train sped through the rainlashed darklands. Just before Slough, the lights went out and, instead of being a brightly lit box, we were all cast into the night. It looked so much better than the couple next to me. He had particularly large hands, so large that a ring he was wearing couldn't even get past the second knuckle on his hand. His head was extremely distended as well. I was feeling very bitchy. It was a nice weekend, but come the birthday party, I was surrounded by couples with children, or just couples. As I stood on a veranda outside puffing a fag, someone came out and said, in good humour: "You don't have any children and you're smoking, what are you doing here?" Swings and roundabouts, if I had children or maybe a lover even, I wouldn't be spending my time at 5:34am writing journal entries. I'd be baking muffins or retiling the bathroom. Or possibly trying to earn a living for a change.
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    Man upstairs still moving furniture around. It's been a good year he's been doing that.