This winter I’ve been knuckling down with the business of writing my next book. I left the local cafe this afternoon having just finished chapter twenty-nine, making the total (current) wordcount 144k and my rewrite has gotten up to 121k of that. I teased an excerpt so here it is. Bear in mind this is still a draft.
Chapter Twenty – Greater Serbia
My week in Newcastle was all about relaxation, seeing my family, spending time with my nephews, and playing a few video games. Travelling uproots me because there’s no sense of grounding or stability. There’s a kind of meta-stability in the sense that in every country I visit, I can follow the same routine and there’s a certain familiarity with the method and with it a certain predictability. Nonetheless, I’ve found it whittles me down over time. I returned home to remind myself that I can be a normal person doing normal things, if only for a week before the wolves start howling again.
I’ve found that the transience of Euro-jaunting unmoors the boat and separates me from the local and specific. Think of it this way: as a young boy my entire world was a one-square-mile patch of land around my house. That’s where I ate, drank, schooled, played and explored. I knew every path of that land – which neighbours would chase you if you jumped through their hedges and which wouldn’t, where the stingy nettles were, which trees were easy to climb. We local kids had our own names for the best play areas. For example, my house was built over an old mining railway that had long since fallen into disuse and had the tracks removed. So now there was a long straight trail of several miles leading from the top of the hill down to the river. About a hundred metres down from my house there were two identical tiny railway bridges side by side – which were now pedestrianised – spanning a two-lane road. Weeds, long grass and nettle bushes turned the twenty metres between the bridges into wilderness, a steep high wall marking the drop to the road below, and a council yard full of building materials occupied the other side.
We called this area “the Blue Bridges” and it was great for hide-and-seek and also doing dares, such as walking along the outside of the bridge while the traffic whizzed twenty metres below. It was the last frontier of “our turf” before the next housing estate which we rarely ventured into.
Kids stuff, I know. The point is that as a child my life was intensely local and specific. I was tied logistically and emotionally to a small patch of land and the people therein – blood and soil, if you want to be dramatic about it. Euro-jaunting represents the opposite end of the local-global spectrum. I was now ranging far and wide across entire continents, cherry picking very specific elements as my cocoon to live in. I’d stay in a city a month without seeing much more than a few streets, cafés, bars and clubs. The only people I’d meet were women aged eighteen-to-thirty and at the upper end of beauty.
“Where did you go this time?” my grandmother would ask as we shared tea and biscuits at her nursing home.
“Minsk, Belarus” I’d reply.
“Oooooh! That sounds far away. It is nice?”
“Yeah. It’s the former Soviet Union” I’d continue.
“Oooooh! What’s it like there? Are the people interesting? You must have seen a lot of the world now!” she’d excitedly ask.
And I wouldn’t have an answer for her. In my month in Belarus I’d not seen a single theatre performance, no cinema screening, nor been inside a museum. I couldn’t tell you a single street name except those honouring Bolshevik idols. I’d not spoken to a single local man in a social context. At least John had been to the cinema to watch performing monkeys.
That’s how it is with Euro-jaunting. It made me disassociated from humanity. I’d feel like I was a ghost floating several inches off the ground and never quite touching anything real. It was like Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense. Eventually it messes with my mind.
I might post more of this chapter later. Any thoughts? I suppose this is a little like those open betas video game developers do.