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Reasons to be Cheerful

by BootLoot 

Posted: 25 December 2009
Word Count: 2281
Summary: An experimental short story...really not sure if it's worth anything. 22/01/10 - story 2.0...new & improved...

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Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

Reasons to live #3 – Kensal Green.

But only ’cause I’ve not been there before, mind. It’s not like I’m expecting to stumble across Babylon - it’ll be incrementally more or less shit than anywhere else around here, but hopefully in some noteworthy ways. After all it’s just some cattle shed that the fast train normally zooms straight through. But it’s not working today…

A whistle blows and the doors CLUNK…CLUNK shut. The carriage whines, resisting the engine’s pull. I gaze outside, my mind becalmed by gentle locomotion. The variegated greys of inner city London blend into a leaden sky, and I rethink the merits of chalking down ‘Kensal Green’ on my list. Cause this ain’t an exercise in mindless optimism. And neither is this about morose pessimism - frivolity and boredom have no parts to play here. I’m conducting an experiment - and scientific method demands observation of empirical fact. I must call it as I see it.

Reasons to die #2 – the free evening paper.

This one’s the ‘London Lite’, and I’ve just turned to the ‘London Love’ section. There follows a mildly titillating photo story of some lothario, before the ‘London Love Question of the Day’ is posed:

Would YOU date a commitment-phobe?

But I’m distracted from the point by a strong smell of cabbage, emanating from the woman sat next to me. I turn and she instinctively pulls on the drawer strings of a bag, perched on her lap. The meshed hemp-like material is thin and frayed, and I make out several tins of cat food where the fibres are stretched to breaking point. She nevertheless hugs her booty before returning to her own copy of everyone’s favourite free evening rag. Amazingly she too is checking out the ‘London Love’ scene, and with a focus that allows me to take in this curiosity... I quickly pin down the cabbage-like stench to her coat, which looks like it’s been protecting her for many winters past. She also wears a woolly bobble-hat and black, fingerless gloves, and her weathered digits trace our lothario’s ups and downs as if she were divining something of his experience. She’s not that old – late forties, early fifties. There are some broken veins spoiling the skin around her cheeks, but otherwise… Stop. Stop it. Who am I to judge her..?

I toss the paper aside and turn back to the grey-on-grey canvas outside. Fuck… I don’t know why I still read that damn paper. I’m addicted to anodyne distractions. Where would I be without mild titillation..?

Reasons to die #4 – this burnt-out paradise.

Friday. Lunchtime. Pub. Grub. Drinks.

We return to the office with all in super high spirits…it’s the last Friday before Christmas. There’s Geordie Boy, a living, breathing ‘Why Aye’ cartoon of a man. And Alex, from Wales - a really sweet lad who hasn’t got the balls to say he’s stopped finding the ‘you must have sex with sheep’ jokes funny.

Why Aye is holding court and chewing the fat, his ruddy cheeks screaming D-mob happy. Suddenly the Daily Blag on someone’s desk catches his eye – Met Officers in Sex Orgy Shame. Slam dunk… And like the Town crier of old he quietens the crowd and presents the article to the cheeky chaps and chapesses… “…the WPC, in her late twenties, performed a sex act on her boyfriend in the packed bar area…” Why Aye deliberates on the words ‘sex’ and ‘act’, indulging in a little impromptu theatre plus extempore analysis. Finally the audience appreciation dims and he continues, “…another four officers in their thirties reportedly had sex with a civilian, aged nineteen, in the pub lavatory. The woman had been drinking throughout the evening and apparently consented.’ Out-of-the-box ribaldry follows: guys slapping backs and girls feigning disgust, whilst expertly teasing the pricks. A few ditties on the subject of sheep are thrown in for good measure. I join in for a token chuckle or two before retreating… All things considered, there are really only two things that make this life worth living: real love or casual sex. But what do you do when you’re out to sea and neither is on the horizon..?

But please - don’t mistake me for being depressed, for I am an analyst. Cause I’m not like Alex – young and hopeful of meeting the right girl. Or like Why Aye - gorging myself on the meat feast. I’m thirty six and the sun is setting. The water right now is calm but that will change. And I have no sail, no compass and no shipmates. What is this voyage for..? Honestly, I have no idea. But I will question whether I wish to continue journeying… I’m snapped back by Why Aye’s sudden change of tone as he prepares to deliver a very different kind of story. He’s turned the page and asks for quiet before presenting The Blag’s eulogy to our latest hero, to die on a foreign field. All heads are respectfully lowered to hear of the youngster’s brief life and tragic death. I see Why Aye reading, the page itself adorned with poppies and the headline screaming the 1ooth fatality of the year…and the adjacent page showing a young woman bending to enter a stretched limo, with her short skirt riding up to reveal her knickers. And there you have it – pleasure and pain, both delivered by proxy. I guess we’re too comfortable - even our trauma has to be handed down. Coincidentally, the last surviving veteran of WWI died recently…he fought at the Battle of Passchendaele, which apparently cost the lives of 70000 British soldiers. I guess the game back then was to play down the casualties…what mugs we are.

Reasons to live #4 – It’s Christmas!!

“Steve, stay in key this time, Son – and Suzy, no distracting your brother!”

My Dad looks sternly at my sister before giving me further instruction, “…another year older, and –a-new-one-just-begun… Remember it’s back to A-sequence after E-sequence - you went to D too soon.”

He’s focussed on the tab sheet whilst Suzy continues giggling, clearly hoping I mess it up again. But I won’t…dad really wants to end our set on a high here, and I‘m not gonna let him down. Our family band has played on Christmas Day for the last thirty years, and who knows if there’ll be another - dad has early stage Alzheimer’s, for one thing.

“Alright Kevin, when you’re ready, Son.”

Still wearing a paper hat pulled from some cracker, cousin Kev cradles the mic and gazes out into the imaginary crowd, as my mum hushes me nana and sister down.

“So this is Christmas….and what have you done..?”

John Lennon’s words bleed from him, stirring our living room as me and Dad enter on rhythm and bass guitar. Dad looks my way as we near the section I fluffed last time…and smiles as I change chord correctly. Uncle Richard now enters on drums and suddenly it’s all flowing, the year since we were last all together collapsing into nothing… I look up from my sheet as Suzy turns to kiss her husband, who is swaying with their one year old on his lap, clapping her little hands to the beat. Nana has her eyes closed and holds a sweet cherry, as well as the most satisfied of grins on her face. Meanwhile Kev’s partner is steadying their two little terrors, who’ll be our choir for this number and entering anytime…now. Perfect… This is all anyone needs…it’s all I need. To be part of something.

Reasons to die #6 – my desk.

I stare impassively at my screen, surrendering to a pall of exhaustion that is liquefying my bones. I’m slipping…the words and figures on the spreadsheet blur then snap back, before dissolving into each other once more. Unless I act right now I’m going to glide off this seat and simply melt into the carpet. But I can think of no reason to resist - neither professionalism nor pride come to my rescue. I’m moments away…from disintegrating…morphing into a liquid form. I close my eyes, preparing for the end…Are we in 303 or 304..?...A veil gently floats over my person…I’m warm, protected…I never imagined this to be so easy…

“Hey Steve, dude – are we in room 303 or 304..?”

Reasons to live #5 – This Precious Life

Embankment Gardens, on the banks of the River Thames. A strip of green in the heart of the city. A solitary woman jogs past, her warm breath riding the cool air. Between Christmas and New Year and the place has a sober, sombre feel. But in spring and summer…the blossom on the trees, the broad lawns and lush flower beds. There’ll be workers enjoying al-fresco lunch, retired couples hand-in-hand, basking in ostentatious leisure…and young tourists with shiny faces and loud, foreign tongues, checking out the open-air bands playing just for pleasure…

Isn’t this enough..? Why the ‘cost benefit analysis’? Maybe I’ve taken things too far. Christmas Day and I realised - it’s really not that complicated. It’s no-one’s fault that a whole year had passed since we were last together. It’s normal, nowadays. But everyone has their smaller clusters – mum and dad, Kev and his young family, our Suzy and hers. Nana’s on her own though and I did try talking but she’d had way too many sweet sherries…kept asking if I was one of them ‘fancy boys’. Next morning though she comes over and holds my hand… Steven Love, she says…you’ll be there when your Dad starts needing help, won’t you, Love..?...It’s a nasty illness that he’s got…it’ll weaken him slowly… I’m very proud of you, of how your mum and dad raised you. Some of these kids I see…I doubt they know how to clean their own backsides. In my day we didn’t expect much…it’s good that lasses have more choice but who knows what they want..? It’s not right that you’re on your own… There’s plenty now that go abroad, find themselves a wife from Russia and the like… God knows what sort of world our Suzy’s little ‘un will grow up in…

There are statues here, mostly of notable British citizens, such as the poet Robert Burns. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants – can’t I just appreciate it for what it is? I have enough food to eat, a decent, warm home. Good clothes. I’m the lucky one. Maybe it’s just winter blues…maybe I’ll get myself a lava lamp.

Today, Tomorrow…?

“…and you know what, she didn’t realise she was pregnant until she was halfway up Machu Picchu!”

“No way...that’s so unreal…”

The girls collapse into hushed giggles, aware that they’re in a public space but oblivious to my eavesdropping... This part of town and there’s so many colleges, and the two young women sat in front are returning from an open day to some university. The talk was of courses, expectations and dreams, before mentioning a mutual friend who started uni last year - apparently it’s been a crazy twelve months for her. Tomorrow… Even when the subject turns to impending exams, the life in their voice cannot be dimmed.

So when did ‘tomorrow’ stop holding a promise..? There’s no point trying to pin it down…a day, a mere moment when the axis shifted. Who knows… The thing is we’re selfish. I am and these two girls are. They’re excited because their future is up for grabs. But if I were to die today, someone would replace me in my chair at work, and soon be staring at those spreadsheets…and laughing along with Why Aye. We can’t all be champions - someone has to put cornflakes into packets. In China, workers exercise together in the morning - from the chief right down to the cereal packer. Tai Chi, an’ that. The talk there is of ‘nation building’. But we speak a different language and our vocabulary ain’t so…inclusive. And so me and the cornflakes guy, we only got so many options: family, football, friends. Fucking, films and fucking films. And the London Lite. And most of the time, it’s enough.

So think hard, ‘cause I ain’t choosing between skimmed and semi-skimmed here. Nana was right about Dad – it’s really up to me to be there, when his Alzheimer’s sets in. And I’m not scared of doing right by him but is that reason enough to live..? So what about me, then? Can I too become a champion..? Or a lover? Or find true love? Anything’s possible, I guess. But I’m thirty six and the game’s played by percentages. So maybe I just need to roll the dice again, have a change of scene. Perhaps all I need is a holiday. Pack a rucksack and go to Machu Picchu… Or find myself a Russian or Thai bride. But the unknown scares me, as much as tomorrow’s certainty terrifies me. Cause I’m a zombie…a vegetable on a drip. And I now resent being lobotomised…hooked on TV…cooking up with lingerie adverts and pics of women entering stretched limos. I have been conned into thinking that my spreadsheets matter.

So we’re back at the beginning. But like the alcoholic I’ve had my moment of clarity, and as desirable as those lingerie models are, there’s no point in continuing to stare. I want genuine pain and pleasure. When my dad’s shitting in his pants and doesn’t even recognise his own wife, I want to be there to hold his hand and clean him up. And I want to enjoy a real woman, and not be forever toking on paparazzi snaps of some popstar’s crotch. The results are in…tomorrow is another day.

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Comments by other Members

twistedfoot at 14:04 on 26 December 2009  Report this post
You write very well, Tamim, and your story is easy to read. My problem with it is that I can't connect with the MC - he's bored and boring. I would probably have preferred a story about Why Aye! Sorry, therefore, but the experiment doesn't quite work for me ...

Season's greetings anyway.


NMott at 14:38 on 26 December 2009  Report this post
The writing is very good. I love your mc's observations and descriptions of people and places. The MC's 'voice' is distinctive, which is another plus point.
Like Brendan I found it hard to empathise with the mc. Maybe if there was some humour in it - eg, self-depreciating, a little light hearted banter - to relieve the general air of depressive gloom that hangs over the story, it would help lighten the atmosphere.

- NaomiM

BootLoot at 21:41 on 26 December 2009  Report this post
Brendan, Naomi - sincere thanks for taking the time to read.

Brendan - I can't pretend that I'm not disappointed to know that my MC was simply 'bored & boring' for you, but I absolutely take the point on board - the reader is always right. Furthermore Naomi largely concurs with your view & thus I'll work on injecting some 'ebb & flow'.

Big 'thank you', guys.

Becca at 09:25 on 27 December 2009  Report this post
Hi Tamim,
I feel that there are stories to be made out of your character's observations on life, but the writing in itself is more a fleshing out of a character than a story.

'So when did ‘tomorrow’ stop holding a promise..? There’s no point trying to pin it down…a day, a mere moment when the axis shifted.' The theme is a huge one with which people could easily identify, but here you are expanding on the theme itself and if you could use it as a motivator for the character then I think a story would emerge. This is definitely 'creative writing' though and there are some acute observations in it.
Happy New Year, and welcome to the group.

Hugh26 at 18:56 on 05 January 2010  Report this post
Hi Tamim

Only just had a chance to look over the piece. Although I agree with much of the above, particularly regarding 'ebb and flow', I have to say that I really liked the fragmentary nature of the piece.

In a city such as London we walk past a thousand people every day we will never know or talk to. We are constantly bombarded with imagery - 'mild titillation' - and this overstimulation often leads to the apathy your protagonist describes.

I think the piece could go one of two ways. Either, become more of a 'traditional' narrative/story or go truly 'experimental'. If you decide for the latter, why not push the structure, language and style even further to bring out the disconnect of modern city living in more imaginative and engaging ways.

As mentioned above, some of the writing is very good and the descriptions, astute. Writers are always told to 'move' the reader - and that is probably right - but if the reader could be left 'hollow' and still gripped by a piece, it would be an admirable avhievement on the part of the author.

BootLoot at 00:34 on 06 January 2010  Report this post
Hey Hugh, many thanks for your time & observations. I've just updated this piece so hopefully it has more beef now...it certainly has ebb & flow (I think!)

I'll return the read shortly.

Sincere thanks,


BootLoot at 13:33 on 22 January 2010  Report this post
Guys this has now been updated (hopefully enhanced), following some incisive comments. Any more takers for a read..?

Becca at 10:08 on 23 January 2010  Report this post
Hi Tamim, I can't be much help looking at a new version, because it's difficult to know where the changes are in this style and pace of writing - I can't remember significant bits about the first version so that I can make any sensible comment on the second. I, like Brendan, can't get close to your MC, this is partly because he lives in a world unknown to me, huge age gap, and also because there's a kind of desperate hardness about his observations.
But your MC becomes more 'human' towards the end and I sense a possible story evolving there. I'm possibly a wee bit pedantic about what a story is because I tutor in it, but if I were to disregard all other aspects of the craft, I think I'd stick with the idea that a story needs forward momentum, something occurring. 'Reasons to be Cheerful' is a bit like a blog, maybe you've got a new form here, a kind of fiction blog - ficblog? But at any rate, it feels more like the beginnings of an energetic novel that would definitely be one targetted at people who understood the world your MC lives in, what? 25 to 35 year olds? Not terribly helpful observations, perhaps, but best I can do for now!

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