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Tuesday, 4 May 2004

Death in the Family


Topic: Lactose Incompetent

Sunday night, and I've driven out of London to catch a late movie. I missed the start, so opted to go see a horror movie, instead, one that toyed with the premise of going into the past and changing it, and what ripples that could have on your life.
Driving back at midnight, slightly nervy as I don't know where I am, already having stopped once to try to find myself on a map, window down just far enough not to be dragged out through it, radio on XFM low, wondering if men feel quite as nervy as women on the street at this hour, noting that basically there are no women on the streets at this hour, unless they're in a mini skirt on the street corner - I pass a brightly lit fast food burger joint in Thornton Heath. As I pass, I deliberate: pulling over, getting out, getting a kebab? Then dismiss leaving the car as too dangerous at that hour, in an area I don't know - and an odd movement flickers in my peripheral vision. Just a flicker, but it's someone - maybe a few people, moving fast. With something at their feet.
I'd been speeding, slowing as I came towards a roundabout, trying to recall which route on the map translates to the deserted wasteland of a Sunday night in front of me. The glimpse is only peripheral, and it passes quickly by with the rest of the street. As it passes I hear a sound.
Dull. Heavy. Yet reverberant. Like a chair leg quietly knocking against a chamber pot.
If you've ever heard this sound, you don't forget it. If you hear it once, you'll recognise it forever.
It's the sound the bone inside a skull makes when it hits an immovable object.

Today, my grandad died. He was an okay grandad when I was a kid, he was a nice guy. He tried to give all his grandkids aims and aspirations, and that's a good thing. He gave me #10 for every exam I passed, which I still have, in the same post office account, and haven't ever brought myself to spend. (Not spent because when am I ever going to find myself with any other money so honestly earnt?)
As I grew into an adult, I could see that he was belligerent at times, but he had a large family, and a large house, and it was a nice place to sit and read a book you got for Christmas. I guess I'm saying, I liked him, but he wasn't close.
The last time I spoke to him, he was staying at my parents' house when I phoned. He picked up the phone, was told it was me, and because the phone was by a computer proudly announced he'd never chatted on the internet till now, then hung up.
The time before that was when he wrote me a letter wishing I'd find God and someone to spend my life with. I found that letter pretty upsetting, especially as I had a girlfriend of eight years standing at that point, but I guess then I knew that he at least knew, although my aunt had hinted as much, and at his disapproval, but he was pretty old, so I can forgive him for that. I guess. Eighty nine is pretty old.
And I never had any other grandfather, either. I sort of regret that when I was told to attend his ninetieth birthday party with the instruction that I might never see him again, I'd replied "you promised me that when he was eighty". But not really. I didn't mean it like that. Really.
There's no grandparents left now. I think that's the frightening part of it. Everybody expects an old chap to pass on one day. But now he's gone. Who's next? I find that much more frightening. I don't want any of the rest of my family to die. They haven't had eighty-nine years to torment us yet.

Back in Thornton Heath, I'm stuck at a red traffic light on a roundabout, turning right, and realising what the sound is, my memory leaps back in a rush to the other three times I'd heard it.
I heard it in '01 when my car hit a dog running off its leash round Bellingham, hit it in the head. It survived pretty well, but the shock and horror lasted for ages. I heard it in '98 when I was living on a dangerously lawless estate in Kennington, when I looked out of my window and saw my neighbours kick the jaw loose from a passersby's head, because he'd said hi in an australian accent. I heard it in '92 when a group of eye-rolling kids in Brixton smashed glass into my face and then drop kicked my head for the fiver in my pocket.
I'm ashamed of it, but my first impulse is to drive away. Away from the beating, away from Thornton Heath, away from the violence, away from my own impotence to stop it. What could I do? A skinny woman on her own in a car. I turn the corner and drive, trying not to hear the sound.
What does that make you, if you don't care? I ask myself, as I reach the next red light, still on the roundabout. Do you know who that makes you? Is that what you're about?
I pull the car further to the right than it needs to be to make my turn. I know I am going to go back, but I don't want to know that I'm going to do it. Every other time I'd heard that noise had ended in a scene of mob law, with police who weren't interested, were mates of the people involved, or who just wanted me to fit up some black guy, and didn't care who it was, or how correct my statement might be. I don't like the police in the areas I think of as war-zone London, I don't want any more contact with them than necessary.
But I have a phone. He might be dying. I knew it would be a he. And I know that what seems like a heavy roll of carpet, behind that sharp flicker of movement, isn't. I don't want to think about what I will have to do. I just pull the car round the junction and turn back into the road behind me.

There was nothing I could do for him.
You can't go back to the past and change things. The decisions we make in the present are the ones that have ripples. The past is the past - we've already lost the moment.

This page graced by sarsparilla at 2:42 AM BST
Updated: Tuesday, 4 May 2004 3:14 AM BST
Post Comment | View Comments (39) | Permalink | Share This Post

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - 3:58 AM BST

Name: Missuh
Home Page: http://www.upsaid.com/missuhgolightly

My heart goes out to you.

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - 5:35 AM BST

Name: paul
Home Page: http://noxturne.blogspot.com

I'd rather be a live coward than a dead hero.

I'm sorry to read about your grandfather.

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - 5:38 AM BST

Name: chrysalis

Condolences.

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - 8:27 AM BST

Name: Winnie
Home Page: http://fastmixer.blogspot.com/

Alone. I hate that word. Did you ever think how courageous you have to be to deal with being alone, in one situation or another? I feel that is a true test of courage.
I am so sorry for your loss.

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - 9:03 AM BST

Name: Cyn
Home Page: http://cyncity.typepad.com

{{hugs}}
I'm sorry.

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - 11:55 AM BST

Name: Francesca
Home Page: http://www.frachelai.com/

Sorry to hear about your grandfather.

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - 12:25 PM BST

Name: maria
Home Page: http://www.agirlwitha.com

chills went down (and up again) my spine. that was fantastically written.

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - 1:06 PM BST

Name: Rev
Home Page: http://friendlystranger.servebeer.com/blog

You have my sincere condolences.

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - 3:00 PM BST

Name: Lux

Very sorry about your grandfather.

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - 3:55 PM BST

Name: Vanessa

I did go back, you know, to help. But there's not much heroism about in situations like that - there's nothing you can really do other than stand, ask, ring, stand, wait. He wasn't dead, he was just hurt. And plenty people were doing the standing and shrieking, so I didn't wait. Probably I was luckier, cos I didn't have to see it. I remember not getting on a tube for ages after someone jumped off the platform edge in front of the train a few yards away. It took a few weeks to deal with what they'd done, and the vile nastiness of their not caring what it would do to others, but it took much longer to forget the screaming of the teenage girls who'd been stood next to him seconds before.
(Sorry; suicide: not a fan)

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - 4:44 PM BST

Name: shopaholic
Home Page: http://shop-aholic.blogspot.com

Sorry to hear about your grandpa......

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - 5:08 PM BST

Name: sarah
Home Page: http://nytoo.rumandmonkey.com

beautifully written - my heart goes out to you

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - 5:10 PM BST

Name: Jen

That positively resonates. On so many levels. I'll be hearing bits of it inside of me for days.

Close or not, grandpas are part of us, aren't they. I'm sorry for you, for that.

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - 7:33 PM BST

Name: Vicky
Home Page: http://www.thehighrise.org/weblog

I'm really sorry to hear about your grandad; the sentence about 'talking on the internet' made me smile.

Best wishes xx

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - 8:59 PM BST

Name: Kat
Home Page: http://www.mostlyfluff.blogspot.com

I'm sorry about your grandpa as well. And don't feel bad about not being close. Just because you're related to someone doesn't mean that you will be close. I'm probably truly close to a handful of people in my family.

Excellent post, by the way. I had the chills myself.

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - 11:10 PM BST

Name: cacoa

I don't know what to say, just this((hugs))and beautifully written.

Also i'm still thinking about what it mustve been like for those teen girls watching a man jump infront of a train. Dear God.

BTW, a few posts earlier you were lamenting how british blogs never cover politics, http://www.petergasston.co.uk
is doing ALOT of politics lately. Personally, i intentionally try not to cover much politics, I have particular reasons for this (mainly i'm trying to stick to very personal stuff on my blog, and get worried about mixing in too many identifying features, and getting particular google hits-am very paranoid) , and save it, for other places.

Tuesday, 4 May 2004 - 11:53 PM BST

Name: Vanessa

Thanks for the heads up - I'll check his blog out.

I never meant it to be some didactic *command* to readers to begin blogging about politics - I meant rather to comment upon how if barely any of the hundreds of UK blogs out there, none of them mention current events, even in passing (note: not to politically analyse, but just to show their view of the world), then that's going to present a certain image of UK bloggers, one that I think is insular and wrong.

We do live in the world, and I'd hate blogging, a tool with so much potential, to become a way of pretending that we don't. I love the way blogging allows me to see how different nationalities - esp expats - see things. That includes the news.

I understand the particular context that prevents you from talking politics on your blog, cacao - because you've blogged your reasons in the past. So your regular readers know why already, and also know that in a way it's the very fact that this stuff is important to you that you can't blog it.

That's a different thing than never seeing anything political or to do with current affairs on *any* UK blog.

***begins to segue into a generalised rant***

Like it or not, we do present an image to the world, particularly to Americans, who make up the majority of blog readers. If my bleating on about it all the time can prevent that image being *only* navel gazing, I'm prepared to lose a few acolytes for it.
I know that making barbed or negative comments is fraught with danger in blogging - most people seem determined to assume every last detail is an attack upon them - but that's their problem, not my problem, and if my saying that it's a damn shame that barely any UK blogs can mention something so beyond politics as the Spanish bombings, or Army torture of nationals of a country we've invaded current affairs upsets them, then to be honest, they don't have to keep reading, do they?

***shakes blood from knife, and tries to remember where the last lot of bodies were buried***

Phew, I feel better for that.

Wednesday, 5 May 2004 - 2:15 AM BST

Name: paul
Home Page: http://noxturne.blogspot.com

Yes, that's true, I probably wouldn't have gone back.

And who is a fan of suicide?

Wednesday, 5 May 2004 - 2:41 AM BST

Name: fridgemagnet
Home Page: http://fr1dgemagnet@hotmail.com

That was probably the best-written post I've read all year. I feel rather humble to be honest but, you know, it also makes me feel competitive.

Wednesday, 5 May 2004 - 2:53 AM BST

Name: fridgemagnet
Home Page: http://fr1dgemagnet@hotmail.com

I've made a conscious decision to avoid posting about politics. It doesn't really work; I slip sometimes, because I actually spend a lot of time thinking about it and that will seep through when I have nothing else to post. My posts on boards concerning politics outweigh my blog posts by a hundred to one.

The problem I have is: it's easy to get sucked into the "political blog world" and concentrate on the issues that, well, other people blog. I spend a lot of time whinging about the media agenda that directs our attention to selected issues based on whether they're being promoted by an interest group, and I can't in all honesty contribute to that. I have a visceral negative reaction to posting about anything that I read other people commenting on.

I think quite a few of my readers would be shocked if I posted what I actually think.

...maybe that's a reason to.

(Typical bloody blogger, comment on someone else's post has ten million "I" sentences.)

Wednesday, 5 May 2004 - 7:59 AM BST

Name: Vanessa

But do you include your sidebar blog-in-miniature in that assessment? That's seemed quite political in the sense that you at least know what's going on in the world.
I know that there's totally political bloggers who do the job effectively, but their blogs bore me to tears. Come the day that every journo has a blog, I'm sure that pile of secondhand crap is what theirs will look like.
I'm only interested in the personal blogs, the subjective viewpoint. And I also think that they have much more power to change things.
I accept that people have a complete right to post what they want on their own blogs - but don't you think that if almost NO UK blogs mention something as big as the issues mentioned above, it indicates something? Is it all just one big happy coincidence, then? Even though it happens again and again?

Wednesday, 5 May 2004 - 8:01 AM BST

Name: Vanessa

Mmm, but I've found that if there's a 'suicide is brave' type discussion going on, you tend to get short shrift for suggesting otherwise. It's probably lack of tact on my part, but I don't admire it or think it takes guts. It's an act of aggression against others.

Wednesday, 5 May 2004 - 10:15 AM BST

Name: anti
Home Page: http://antidisestablishmentarian.blogspot.com

dude, i got yer back.

Wednesday, 5 May 2004 - 12:32 PM BST

Name: lemonpillows
Home Page: http://www.lemonpillows.com

Wow! That was a beautifully written piece. I'm also jealous, but still in awe.

I don't know what to say... I'm very sorry to hear about your grandpa. (((((((((((((Vannessa Here))))))))))))))

I'm speechless.

Wednesday, 5 May 2004 - 8:51 PM BST

Name: sarah
Home Page: http://nytoo.rumandmonkey.com

It might indicate an utter feeling of loss, lack of control, reacted to with shutting it out, and pretending it's not happening? Hmm, not sure, but there's definately some shared feeling going on. Maybe the same reason I rarely argue politics with my friends - when a subject comes up it's all agreement, so we're not discussing things massively. The assumption is we all agree - preaching to the converted. Oops, I'm rambling now. Best stop before I lose the point..

One of the few angry political blogs I'm really liking at the minute is Space Hardware.

Wednesday, 5 May 2004 - 8:51 PM BST

Name: Vanessa

Anti wins the first gmail comment round!

Wednesday, 5 May 2004 - 10:10 PM BST

Name: Vanessa

Yes, I read his posts when they come up on blorgy, which is almost daily. I would Kinj that blog, too, except that I pretty usually 98% of the time disagree violently with everything he says. Glad he's saying it, though, if the alternative is everyone pretending we hear no evil, see no evil, so we can continue to speak no evil.

Your point about never discussing politics with your mates is interesting, but surely that just puts it into the 'nobody young can be bothered to vote' category? If so, it's hardly a defence, for the UK blogosphere as a whole (and remember, I'm accusing *all* UK blogs, not an individual, here, folks, no more paranoiacal rants by return, please). Again, that's my own perspective - I feel ashamed if I don't vote. Not disregarded, just ashamed.

I find it mildly interesting that I can say all blogs are utter bollcking shite that's not worth a damn, and nobody gets upset, but if I say I'm surprised that the vast majority of blogs veer very starkly away from mentioning current affairs, it's as if I insulted people's mothers.

(Anyway, Sarah, you blog about current events in the news, doncha?)

Thursday, 6 May 2004 - 12:12 AM BST

Name: BykerSink
Home Page: http://spacehardware.blogspot.com

You disagree?

Can't say I blame you. I'm full of crap most of the time.

But feel free to comment. I can take it.

Thursday, 6 May 2004 - 12:55 AM BST

Name: Vanessa

Yeah, frequently. It's beautifully written, and I enjoy disagreeing with it.
Like I disagreed with most of Boyhowdy's rant about Michael Moore today - but it was the best phrased rant on Moore's failings I've read since .... ooh, since my own. ;D

Thursday, 6 May 2004 - 1:12 AM BST

Name: BykerSink
Home Page: http://spacehardware.blogspot.com

I'll have to check that out.

I have a lot of time for Moore but his books (usually except for the first two chapters) are rubbish.

Bowling for Columbine is a work of genius though.

Trouble is, if Moore doesn't say half the things he does, then a lot of people won't get to hear them at all.

Thursday, 6 May 2004 - 1:23 AM BST

Name: cacoa

i agree, there are alot of purely political blogs, and they can be pretty dull, the personal blogs with current affairs thrown in are more interesting.

Don't you think maybe it's a british thing? I mean like even in conversation, people avoid religion and politics? I know when i listen to my mom get together with her arab friends, 80 % of what they talk about is politics and current affairs. Or maybe it's just because most of the current affairs of the moment are to do with the middle-east that they feel personally involved?

I do blog news and stuff, but it tends to intentionally be buried under alot of other stuff. I worry see, current climate being what it is, you can attract some rather hostile visitors if you are like me arab -brit. For example if i criticise british/american foreign policy, the tone in return is: "well you know what you can do", if I criticise the middle east, I get hostility from both sides..

I needed to blog for all the personal stuff i can't talk about in my daily life, that's why anytime i mention something islamic, it is spelt "isl@mic", to avoid the hits of people coming by interested in that and then being shocked by any of my personal choices..and i'm terrified of being found by someone i know, its a small world in the arab-brit comunity, hell i've moved site twice!

Crikey this comment is long, but its because like you said current affairs and stuff is something i want to talk about because of my personal links etc, but i am a bit muffled, its a bit frustrating the limits regarding politics i insist on the blog, but hey. But you know what, now that i write all this out, i think i should throw caution to the wind a bit, and not feel so politically gagged on the blog.

hehe, this is a very interesting debate in itself.

Thursday, 6 May 2004 - 6:56 AM BST

Name: Vanessa

Oh dear, there I go agreeing with you again - this is worrying. Just when I'd felt nice and smug with my stereotype, and all. Yes, his books were what I ranted about, ages ago, but I do have a soft spot for BFC.

Yes, there's a place for him, but it's not a place as a trustworthy opponent of big business, he's too slapdash for that.

Thursday, 6 May 2004 - 7:02 AM BST

Name: Vanessa

Yes, I'm glad you brought it up. I saw kinjing your site this morning that you'd broken the silence. :)
But honestly, Cacao, I fully understand and respect your reasons. And I think within that, you are a political blogger, in several senses, because you do still mention your ethnic identity, your responses to world events, even if summarily, and despite the hate-googlers, you still blog about isl@m. I think you strike the balance well.

Thursday, 6 May 2004 - 11:54 AM BST

Name: cacoa

hehe, i toyed with dedicating the post to you!

Thursday, 6 May 2004 - 5:19 PM BST

Name: fridgemagnet

I'm finding it hard to disagree much because, well, it's true. People avoid current affairs and politics, in real life and in blogs. It's difficult to keep track of what's going on, and more importantly it's *painful*, at least it is to me; the more you know the more you realise that you're being lied to constantly, most of what you were taught about the nature of the state and the institutions that you grew up with was lies, appalling things are being done in your name across the world... continual cognitive dissonance. And you really know very few facts and likely won't ever, yet you feel it's very important stuff that you should have an opinion on and do something about.

I'm afraid I have very little time for people whose response to that is to latch onto an ideology and simply parrot that whenever an event comes up, less time than for people who make decision to stay neutral and avoid things. At least the latter aren't deceiving themselves that they're thinking about matters and coming to their own conclusions.

(The less charitable element, though, is that we are all selective in the people that we give a fuck about, whether we like it or not, and a lot of people simply do not give enough of a fuck about those potentially affected to bother investigating. If someone wants to put up a mobile tower at the end of their street they might blog about how terrible that is, but their government massacring people in foreign countries is barely a blip on the ethical radar.)

Thursday, 6 May 2004 - 6:20 PM BST

Name: Vanessa

I think there's a difference then, by that definition, in blogging current affairs than blogging politics. I mean for instance, I know it would be trite and dull for me to parrot my preconceived ideas about how we're taught to pretend everything's a lie, everything's going to hell, that total apathy is a politically justifiable option. The opinion stems from my prejudices, and is parrotted if I state it, because I'm not making any new connections.
I rate that an extremely different thing than writing "my god, there was a gigantic bomb in Madrid today".

Personally, I'm interested to know what an Aussie blogger makes of that, because of their different perspective, and the way the 'coalition' embroils them in conjecture about the supposed motives. I'm not going to find that on the street - not because of some middle class embargo on saying anything that might upset the vicar and frighten the horses, but because I don't have access to a handy fund of Australians, other than expats, who by definition are cultural driftwood and don't count. That's a killer app of blogs for me.

Thursday, 6 May 2004 - 6:21 PM BST

Name: Vanessa

Ooh, don't, I'll blush...

Thursday, 6 May 2004 - 7:19 PM BST

Name: fridgemagnet

I see what you mean. Yes, I find that interesting too; not just limited to current affairs, it's always good to see different perspectives on things with a certain shared basis, be it news, music, relationships. And with current affairs it's a different thing each time.

It's quite hard to divorce writing about political current affairs from writing about politics more generally, though. You're probably going to end up with some mention of the author's political viewpoint. As well as that, someone's simple opinions and perceptions, while they might be interesting to other people, often won't appear very interesting to them, so they may not bother posting.

I don't think you're parrotting if you write about your own opinion, as long as it's something that's not coming directly from someone else, but there's only so many times you can do it.

Wednesday, 27 April 2005 - 12:02 AM BST

Name: Anne
Home Page: http://muddyblog.typepad.com

It occurred to me after reading this post (and scanning down to the comments) that it seems you have almost as many readers now as you did...you know...at that other place *points thumb backward*.
No wonder, really. You still stun me with the depth of your skill.
Sorry about yer grandfather. One of mine died when I was 15, I don't remember much about him save that he was big and powerful, in all sorts of ways. My other grandfather died before I was born. The less said about him, the better...apparently.
As for politics, I wish more UK blogs would mention them. In detail. With charts and graphs and small words. Maybe then we'd know what the hell was going on. No one tells us anything, over here. ...at least nothing that's the truth.

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