Sunday, 3 June 2012

15. They look exactly like a pair of astounded monkeys

Amanda, Gin and I have spent Saturday afternoon in a pub beer garden, drinking mojitos and fending off a gaggle of horny estate agents with Fred Perry shirts and buzz cuts. It is 6pm and we are drunkenly wandering around a supermarket. We are allegedly looking for something to have for dinner but none of us can really focus; so far all we have managed to agree on is a packet of ginger nuts, some asparagus and more mojitos.

Gin and I are standing in the biscuit aisle debating whether to replace the ginger nuts when I suddenly realise the shop's sound system is playing the Barbara Dickson and Elaine Paige version of I Know Him So Well. Gin realises at the same time. She stares at me, her mouth half open in horror.

Amanda skids round the end of the aisle, nearly falling off her purple platform stilettos. She spreads her arms, sending three packets of bourbon biscuits flying.


She climbs on to a cardboard box sitting next to the Garibaldis and waiting to be unpacked, grabs the packet of ginger nuts out of my hand and starts singing into it.

A young mum with dyed-red hair freezes in her tracks and stares. Her chubby, clean toddler leans out of the pushchair and stares. Their expressions are identical, and for a moment they look exactly like a pair of astounded monkeys. I love how sometimes people look like monkeys.


Amanda, standing on her box, is an example to us all. (Do I mean embarrassment? Yes. Sometimes Amanda is an embarrassment to us all. But, also, an example.)

Here is a fact: you can do anything. Anything you want, anywhere you want, at any time you want. You need to be prepared to run the risk of being a) arrested b) humiliated and/or c) ending up on Youtube, but - technically - you can do it.

All of it.


Convention is a strong force in our lives, but it is nothing but an agreement. In the end, the police only have power because we agree they do. The Prime Minister only has power because the majority of the country agrees to observe the idea that he does. Your manager at work, your teacher at school - they're only in charge because everyone agrees that they are. When it's warm enough to walk round naked, the only reason we even wear clothes is because everyone has decided that's a good thing.

(A small crowd has gathered. The store manager arrives, wearing the self- important expression of someone who thinks being in charge actually means something)

Power does not reside in people, but between them. It is not an absolute force, it's a dynamic. Laws and social conventions are not absolute forces either. They are arrangements which the majority of people agree are necessary for us all to live together with minimum violence, exploitation and social awkwardness. Once you realise kind of stop taking it all seriously. This is not always a good thing.


Key change.


(The manager is squawking "You're banned! You're banned! You're banned!" over and over again, like a parrot on speed. However, the store is clearly understaffed, he is pudgy and about five feet high, and Amanda's full-on musical theatre mode is enough to scare Bruce Willis in Die Hard. So he's made the wise decision to shout from a safe distance rather than intervening physically.)

There is no such thing as the unsayable. You can say it. Everything you've ever thought. All those things you think you can't possibly say, the things that eat you up inside. Just open your mouth and enunciate. Say "I love you," or "I hate you," or "I quit," or "I'm good at that, why don't you give me the job?" or "I'm not coping," or "I think we should break up," or "I'd like 15 Cadbury Creme Eggs and a litre of whisky please," or "Fancy a shag?"

Feels better, right?

Yeah. Yeah, it feels better.

Because while you don't know what happens when you say it (well, except in the case of the creme eggs and whisky, when the ensuing chain of events will be fairly inevitable) you do know exactly what happens if you don't. If you don't say it, the status quo will remain the same. Your life will be exactly as you expect it to be. If you don't quit your job, you'll remain in your job. If you don't say some variation on "I love you" you'll end up going home on your own and watching a film you've seen before and then going to bed by yourself while the person you want with all your heart is somewhere else with someone else. If you don't say "I think we should break up," you'll end up coming home to someone you don't love every night for the rest of your life.

And that's fine, if that's what you want. And I know that sometimes it is not as simple as that. And sometimes Amanda's approach is not the best one. But if you know what you want and you have nothing to lose, and you don't ever say fuck it I'm doing this, then eventually you'll be old and smelly in a wheelchair and everything will have been exactly the way you were always afraid it would be and just as disappointing as you expected it to be, and you will never have been banned from a supermarket for standing on a box belting out one of the more melodramatic hits from 80s musicals.

The flip side, of course, is personal responsibility. If you accept that you have complete control over every action you choose to make in your life, then you must also accept that some of those actions may have a negative impact on yourself or someone else and that you have to take responsibility for that negative impact. For example, we are now banned from an extremely convenient supermarket. That doesn't really matter. But if you decided to kill someone, for example, you would have to accept responsibility for taking that person's life. For the impact on them, the impact on everyone else, the impact on you and the probable loss of your freedom. But I think that often people who treat others badly don't ever think about responsibility; it's always someone else's fault. They were forced into that position. You can hear it in every interview: my mum abused me, he provoked me, she came on to me, I can't get a job because the immigrants are taking them all, my parents pressured me, I needed the money, I'm an addict, it's not my fault. I had no choice. Honest.

Of course it's your fault. Your choice, your fault, your responsibility. That's what freedom means.

Amanda finishes, to a scattering of applause. She steps down off the box.
The store manager steps forward and gets ready to deliver a lecture.

Gin grabs my left hand and Amanda's right, and we run giggling for the door.


  1. Um, hi... I just want to say, I've been reading through these in order but this is the entry that made me have to comment. I think you're fantastic. This is wonderful, engaging and fucking spot on writing. You've created a person for me, many people, in fact. Your characters are as real to me as any person I've ever met through a wall of text. But what I adore, more than any other thing, is that reading these entries, some of them at least, make me smile. But all of them make me think.