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Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Random randomness as the mid-life crisis gathers momentum...

If my tortured memory serves me correctly, scrawled on one side of The Smiths album The Queen is Dead was the line "there is always the past". I'd go into the attic and look it up, but alas all my beloved Smiths albums were borrowed by a mate who left them in his psycho girlfriend's house when he escaped so my kids won't be inheriting these cherished vinyl memories. We all have a past, but one of my greatest crimes has been to sometimes live in it perhaps too much. Life may not be so pleasant at times, but the past can provide a bolt hole, somewhere to open the filing cabinet of time gone past and remember happier times, but the problem is how you choose what drawer to open. Sometimes the present chooses what drawer to open, no matter how ugly and tainted the memory may be. Sometimes they are incredible though, like this clip of Stevie Nicks:

She has always been one of my greatest guilty pleasures, and may now look somewhat ‘weathered’ in a manner of a well skelped arse attacked by a bunch of pissed off teenage wasps, but this is good. Her voice fills the room, and she positively oozes natural talent in a manner that every idiotic fame seeker on a Britain Lacks Talent on Ice type show couldn’t even contemplate. I have always been obsessed with music, and tend to listen to something that fits how I feel at the time. At this moment in time so much music I passionately love feels tainted by sad memories, so hence Stevie Nicks. She provokes memories from periods before any hard times, and feels strangely alien to anything that has gone on of late. A safety net, in the form of a woman who makes me look stable. Bless. 
So when not listening to Fleetwood Mac and Balkan Gypsy music I have found myself in the position of full-time Dad for a change. Hedonism has disappeared, as well as thinking that I do my best work at four in the morning, unthinkable for a man who wakes at seven AM and passes out with a million undone tasks some time after ten PM.Transferring the past to your children also takes on additional significance, particularly when your kids have grown up apart from you, in a different culture, with different reference points. This came rather stunningly to light sitting watching Still Game with Klara, my daughter. The Glaswegian patter and humour, coupled with a liberal use of 'technical' terminology such as 'boaby' was flying straight over her head. Here I was, with my own flesh and blood, myself, dipped in the Clyde at birth sitting having to explain language that gave me so much comfort and happy childhood memories. My past was an alien complex to her, while her world was one learned by me in the process of escaping my own. The search for stability, roots and a sense of belonging is one that can be forced as much as chosen, something you can run to avoid, something William McIlvanney summed up wonderfully when he stated, "You cannot forget your past, as it marks where you are going."
Collette Webster, in our room in Hotel Citluk, sometime in 1993. Sean Vatcher. 

The past has a cunning way of creeping up on you, when you least expect it. I was standing in a tense demonstration, the heat was oppressive, and the demonstrators were screaming with real passion, a distinct change in the fabric of Kosova's politics a palpable sensation vibrating electrically in the charged air. I'll be honest; I wanted it to kick off. I really did. It wasn't just financial, as if it went tits up I sold a story and pics, I also would get that gorgeous jolt of adrenalin, that multiplication of the senses as instinct kicks in and excitement replaces relationship woes, financial fears, all the day to day bullshit that haunts everyone in differing quantities. Basically in this game somebody has to get unlucky for you to get lucky. 18 years down the line, and only now can I admit it. The week before, sitting in a bar in Tirana waiting on a court result, somebody got unlucky next door. Seven 9mm rounds flashed, the reports slow to the flash, in quick succession spreading instant panic. A blur, out into the street, an instantly empty street, one figure crawling his leg seemingly alien to his body, the black red pulse spreading over his thigh. A girl in a black mini dress screams by his side, while he continues to crawl in our direction.

A few more yards, pushing on and sitting prone, a figure gasps for breath, while the black red spread on his ridiculously white shirt creeps further and further. A waiter lamely presses a cushion against his chest, while his eyelids flicker. The exit wound on the back of the ridiculously white shirt states the game is up. A camera between your vision and reality, the press of a button your excuse for being there, and at the back of my mind the thought that I was glad his eyes where shut. I hate to see the black. That stays, better shut. Basically you distance your self by dehumanising, you don't put a name to the guy you just watched take his last breath, he is just some poor bastard. The poor fucker bought it, got slotted, even wasted. But the adrenalin courses through your veins, someone bought it, you got the story, the picture, and the economic exchange of life goes into your bank account. The level of adrenalin, the mixture of manic laughter and wanting to turn yourself inside out is sickening, physically and mentally, but still feels good. The sympathy of harsh language creates distance, you file, go for a kebab and a beer with a fag in your hand, tasting glorious on a technicolour evening. Luck. Not me, someone else, and onwards I march. Then a week later a phone rings in the middle of a demo; the name is 18 years in the past, you cannot hear, but still the sickness kicks in. A previous phone call, from someone unwanted comes to mind. A friend has been "wasted", and he thought I should know. I carry on, use the same language, and push on the same path. Eighteen years later, after the demo, with no glorious violence, an email detailing the purpose of the call arrives. The noise in my ears rises to a steady alarm, I light a fag, stagger outside with the ringing and slump against a pillar under the hideous sun. Eighteen years I ignored the death of a friend. It was a tag of honour, the profits of a life in pursuit of war, something to tell and gain sympathy with. She got wasted. The voice from the past showed me I'd never dealt with it. She didn't get wasted, she died, and several of us never grieved. I thought I'd moved on, but the ringing in my ears eighteen years down the line told another story. The filing cabinet of the past had opened, but it was the bottom drawer, the one you thought you'd lost the key for. Sean, her boyfriend, had chosen to get back in touch, and the drawer popped open. I'm glad he did. The past was also beautiful.
Peter, Collette, and Paul. How I even held the camera on this evening is a mystery.

If you read my blog or have the misfortune to know me you have probably realised that I'm one of the last people on earth that should have children. Fortunately I do, and in confronting the past I took them on a grand tour of Kosova, to try and explain, particularly to Klara, how I came to be there, what I did, and what it did to me. Now your average ten year old would list Disneyland well above the scenes of a few massacres as what to do on holiday. As for my four year old, the product of PC parenting and not allowed toy guns, he thought it was awesome. He was particularly impressed that Adem Jashari lived in his house, with his guns. Now the reality of a tragedy that made the other villages rise up in rebellion is more complex, but to his mind, the man had a gun. To Klara it is more complex also; being at school, the history taught is more angled, she informed me, "yes I know about it. We do history." The reality of propaganda versus reality is one she will have to learn. For two days we drove across Kosova, and I returned to scenes from the past, with my future. I never thought I was a good dad before. Once we were home, and for the first time spending time solely on our own, all the time, going through the ugly and the good, it felt good. I feel like a good dad. Standing where you once saw people you met dead, with your children somewhere down the line, is strange. Driving through the tunnels in the Rugova Gorge with the windows down screaming Robyn songs of dumping and being dumped at the top of your voices is even better. I'm having the time of my life with my kids.

I never thought I'd ever show this image, but now here it is. Klara and Leon at Adem Jashari's grave.
A trip to The Hague over Racak, then time passes and taking Klara there. strange days.

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