I Live in Reading, part 2

Part One here.

We moved into our new place last week. While I was standing in the empty bedroom I saw some kid, maybe seventeen, kneel down and pretend to do his laces up outside our flat. Very suspicious. Next day boxes were arriving and I saw some kid about the same age in the hallway we share with the upstairs flat. Thought he must live upstairs or somesuch. That night at 2am the doorbell rang; young man, weak face, pathetic. ‘I’ve forgotten my keys can you let me in please?’ ‘No, I don’t know who you are.’ ‘Yes, you do, this is my auntie’s place, you saw me here this afternoon when you were moving in.’ Oh yeah, so I had. I let him in and waited at the bottom of the stairs to see what would happen. He knocked — absurdly lightly — then came down to me. ‘She’s not in,’ he said, ‘do you have a key?’ ‘Why would I have a key?’ ‘Doesn’t your key fit the upstairs flat?’ he asked. ‘Right, fuck off out.’ ‘I can’t sleep on the street.’ ‘You can and you will.’

Turned out of course that our upstairs neighbour doesn’t have a nephew and all three ‘young men’ were the same kid. The next day I passed him in the street, put him in a headlock and then let him go thinking ‘I just can’t be bothered’. All very peculiar. The moral of the story, so hard to learn, is there is a species of confusion and doubt which always feels the same and always means you are being conned somehow. I felt stupid for being conned, or almost, by a complete moron, but these things happen.

After the headlock we went for a walk, through the town first — where, on the corner of Broad Street, we saw a middle-aged man in checked-shirt and tight shorts carrying an eco ‘jute-bag’, bent over, shaking, stumbling around, pissed out of his mind, trying to roll a cigarette. Reading was swarming with the usual crowd of bleak desperates but in the main busking bit there was a blackfella, middle aged, odd-shaped body, with a superb Otis Redding Type voice belting out soul standards. Everyone was transfixed, even (especially) young children. Quality somehow cuts through it all.

We ambled up to the river; the upstream Thames. Asians were having barbecues, dog-walkers and joggers and picnickers, a few young-uns smoking weed, grotty families taking a break from warehouse work and various lower-middles taking a break from being an estate-agent or managing Lidls. This was all on the south-side — Reading — the commoners’ side. On the north side, Caversham, huge palatial river-side properties, boat-houses, sculpted lawns, big shaggy dogs and serenity. A few enormous white-teethed young men were in practice for the quad sculls. No bridges, no way over. Mined? Pretty depressing, but I found out a few days after this that when the Thames floods, Caversham goes under long before Reading does. I’m not the kind of person who gets off on the idea of wealthy people losing everything they have very soon; but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t somehow consoling.

Upstream a few miles they were putting together the Reading Festival site. I lost my virginity at this festival, thirty years ago. ‘You’ve come full circle’ said Ai-chan.

On our way back we saw the same guy in the checked shirt, in the same place, still struggling to roll his cigarette. I stopped him, took his tobacco pouch and rolled it for him. He watched me, head rattling and boinging, took the fag, mumbled thanks and staggered off.

I don’t really want to be here, in this place. I want to be on the side of a Welsh mountain performing ecstatic moonlit ceremonies. But it’s darkly fascinating, Reading, like the insect room of a zoo. Or like the end of the world. I find that I want to survive as far as possible into the coming apocalypse as much as out of pure fascination as anything else.

Tescos Extra off the Oxford Road. No need to go into the long, long story and the tiresome details, but essentially I ended up at customer service arguing about a sim-card and £10 top-up which the woman on the tills had made a mistake ringing up. We (Ai-chan and I) started off talking to Gloria, a small, bullish working class woman who was permanently slightly angry, huffing and puffing about ‘losing her break time’ and trying to blame me for everything that had ever gone wrong in her life. Next the boss came over, a little Indian or Pakistani guy called Pahi, who sided with Gloria and said I would have to un-register the sim in order to put the money on my sim. ‘What sim?’ I asked. ‘Your sim.’ ‘But that is my sim.’ ‘Well you cannot get the money then.’ ‘Just give me a new voucher can’t you?’ ‘But we need to transfer the money onto your sim.’ ‘What sim?’ Round and round it went, this stupid argument. All I wanted was a new top-up voucher, but this was impossible for insane reasons. Then ‘Maggie’ turned up, another careworn working class woman, late fifties, but kind. She understood the situation immediately and started campaigning to give us the £10 voucher. Gloria, now proved wrong by Maggie, left rapidly but Pahi wasn’t budging. Eventually Maggie said ‘Look, I’m just going to give them the voucher.’ ‘Okay,’ said Pahi, ‘but your till will be ten pounds down and it will be your responsibility.’ ‘Fine,’ she said, and gave us the voucher. Pahi left, we were all smiles and thanks. Ai-chan was saying ‘oh you are lovely Maggie-san.’ ‘Your family are lucky to have you,’ I said. ‘I lost my son a few months ago,’ said Maggie. Ai-chan burst into tears, Maggie started crying, and I started crying.

There we were, the three of us, at the Tesco Extra customer service counter, crying at life.

DONATIONS

It’s hard to tell how many people have downloaded 33 Myths of the System. It’s hosted on two platforms, Dropbox and the Internet Archive. The former doesn’t give stats and the latter seems to register ‘interactions’ rather than page views. As it gives a ‘views’ count of 19,000 I’m going to guess that at least 20,000 people have downloaded it, perhaps fewer, perhaps more — maybe many thousands more. I can say for sure though how many people have paid for it — about 40.

Now, I gave it away. What kind of gift is it that is given in expectation of return? Not a gift. Business. Bad karma. The book is freely given, so if you can’t afford to donate, or just don’t want to, for whatever reason, then fine. Also many people who have read it have bought my other book or have donated before or have helped spread the word with social media posts or knocking on sleb’s doors, all of which, if any were needed, is certainly payment enough.

But do consider a donation if you haven’t made one. That book took a year to write, full time, and I’m boracic. If you found reading 33 Myths of the System useful, then please know that a donation, in return, would be useful to me, although not of course in the same way.

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