A&M’s resident realpolitik columnist Dave Lazer tells it like it is. This time it’s looking like it’s the end of the world… or is he just having the time of his life?
Last Wednesday, as I was walking across the road at the traffic lights by Oxford Circus station, something bizarre happened. As soon as I stepped off the road and on to the pavement, a kind of icy chill swept through me and everything around me suddenly seemed to take on a kind of greyish hue. I felt an emotion unlike anything I’d ever felt – an eldritch mix of apprehension, realisation, terror and utter clarity.
You know in films, when they show someone ‘coming up’ on ecstasy? It was like the polar opposite of that. It was hyper-lucid and completely petrifying. As I looked around in horror, it all became clear; London had, at some point, crossed the line and descended into full- on, end of the world, science fiction dystopia.
People swarmed around me, lights flashed, and the plethora of multi-lingual voices all merged into a horrid, incoherent hum. Rooted to the spot, unable to move, my eyes darted. They fixed on a dead-eyed man, caked in dirt and sat on a dismantled cardboard box, playing the theme from The Great Escape on a massive traffic cone. Fuck.
“Oh my God … I’m back. I’m home. All the time it was … we finally really did it. YOU MANIACS! YOU BLEW IT UP! OH, DAMN YOU! GODDAMN YOU ALL TO HELL!”
Then, just as quickly as it came, it went. The grey hue lifted and normal service resumed. I stood listening to dead-eyed cone man play The Great Escape and decided that it was actually pretty good, as much as a man blowing into a traffic cone can ever be. He only knew one bit (which he would play in a loop), but to be fair, it was the best bit. It sounded quite like a big orange tuba, which is a good thing. I like the tuba, mainly because it’s by far the silliest of all the orchestral instruments.
He realised I’d been standing watching him and we made brief but awkward eye contact. He must have mistaken my micro-breakdown for legitimate intrigue and, in what I can only assume was a ploy to guilt me into giving him some money, broke out into ‘Seven Nation Army’ by The White Stripes. I wasn’t having any of it and hastily executed the type of about-turn you can only perform in slightly scuffed, leather- soled shoes.
As I walked off , I wondered how long Cone Man would be in possession of his austerity tuba before a particularly heartless policeman confiscated it. He clearly hadn’t bought that traffic cone. I wouldn’t know where to buy one; perhaps eBay? I couldn’t realistically picture Cone Man convincing a policeman that he’d acquired his makeshift instrument via an online auction. After a few hours spent pondering if I had developed brain disease, I have since decided that the Oxford Circus incident was in fact the result of two main contributing factors.
Firstly, I had forgotten my headphones. When I know I’m going to be anywhere even remotely crowded, I rely on my iPod to drown out reality. If I’m listening to something with a fast enough tempo, I can usually plough down Oxford Street at a fair pace, barging my way through groups of meandering Europeans without a second thought.
Secondly, for the last few weeks I’ve had a dark cloud hanging over me. My normally manageable bouts of hatred, nihilism and despair had become a far more regular occurrence. If I get through a day without discovering something new that I hate, the day can be considered a success, but my targets have become far too erratic. Yesterday, I moaned about the futility of elasticated belts for nearly an hour and this morning I got angry at a button. This is, however, all perfectly understandable; for in two hours and eleven minutes I will be 30 years old.
Exactly ten years ago I remember being completely inconsolable about the fact that I would no longer be a teenager. I was turning 20 (TWENTY!) – life was over. No more fun. I imagined it wouldn’t be long before I had a mortgage, a family, children and probably some kind of tiny, shitty dog I’d been forced into buying by the wife I secretly despised.
In the ten years that passed, none of these prophecies bore fruit. I have a better computer, a slightly bigger bedroom, slightly shorter hair and a meagre savings account, but I’m essentially exactly the same. This is both reassuring and incredibly unsettling.
I own one suit – a purple tuxedo I bought when I was extremely drunk which I have worn only once. Since leaving school, I have owned one tie, (a sparkly silver one which I’m pretty sure I threw off the side of a P&O ferry a few years ago). In short, I’m far from being a proper adult. This is something that needs to be rectified sooner rather than later, because before I know it, I’ll be less ‘Peter Pan’ and more ‘Peter Stringfellow’. No one wants that. I think, deep down, if he’s honest, even Peter Stringfellow is regretting growing up to be Peter Stringfellow. I think he’d be much happier being Alan Sugar.
I am, however, far from unique in my arrested development. The vast majority of my friends and associates aren’t what I’d call ‘proper adults’ – at least not how I had imagined adults to be when I was a child. An adult drove a train, was a reman, a teacher or wore a bowler hat. An adult played golf and had a people carrier with children and shopping in the back. An adult owned a house and read a big newspaper on the train in a stripy suit. An adult didn’t wear ripped jeans, silly earrings or play Grand Theft Auto.
My male friends either have jobs they hate so much that they never ever mention them (so much so that I would genuinely struggle to explain what they actually do) or have vague media/music/internet related jobs that seem to involve lying to people on the phone and referring to a trip to the pub as ‘being in a meeting’.
My female friends have similarly vague jobs, mostly beginning with the letter ‘P’: ‘Working in PR’, which, from what I can gather, involves shouting at people and going to parties and ‘being a PA’, which, from what I can gather, involves getting shouted at and going to parties.
I’m not saying my friends don’t work hard – I’m sure they do, they just all seem to spend a lot of their time shouting, drinking, lying and going to parties. Oh, how times have changed since we were teenagers.
We spent our formative years under the false hope of the New Labour government. We were encouraged to believe we could do anything we wanted to do and be anything we wanted to be. We, as a generation, decided we wanted to wear jeans to work, have pool tables in offices, think outside the box, brainstorm with marker pens, network, shout at people and go to parties. We wanted jobs that didn’t seem like we were actually doing jobs. Of my friends that do have jobs, most of them seem to change (lose) these jobs with alarming regularity.
We are now seeing the fall out of all that and nobody’s picking up the pieces. I live in a city full of musicians, graphic designers, video editors, film makers, journalists, bloggers, social media graduates, ash animators, art-workers and people that tell you they ‘build’ websites – all wandering around like headless chickens with fuck-all money or direction. To make matters worse, pseudo-universities are pumping out thousands and thousands more headless chickens who are all far younger and far better equipped to compete for these non-existent jobs.
It really is saying something when you begin to fantasise about growing up under a dictatorship. At 20, I was pretty liberal in my views. Now, I can’t help marvelling at the speed at which the autobahns were built. I’ve heard people mention that large numbers of people my age have ‘fallen through the cracks’ of society and are left stranded. I can’t help feeling that a fair few have actively sought out said cracks, crawled in and hidden.
I find myself wondering if my life would have been better if, at 16, I’d been taken to an office and handed a piece of paper that said ‘your job shall be – pipe installer’. I wouldn’t have liked it, but if I complained I’d have probably been shot. I’d have just had to get on with it and eventually accept it. On the other hand, maybe I’d get lucky and get assigned to designing intimidating flags and propaganda posters. Either way, I imagine I’d spend far less time fucking about on Facebook. I think the prospect of getting shot would really help put things in perspective. Fucking hell, what am I even typing… we need to talk about Kevin.
I’m trying to look for a positive in all this and all I can think of is ‘at least I’m not turning 40’. The problem is, before I know it I will be turning 40. If I still can’t grow a proper beard, have some kind of mortgage and at least one half-Japanese child I’m going to be seriously fucked off .
Great, now I’m worrying about turning 40. I think I’m going to have to watch one of those ‘inspirational’ videos on YouTube about someone with no arms or legs that decided to ‘take life by the scruff of the neck’ and climb a mountain or something.
I’ve just noticed the time. I’m 30. I’ve been 30 for 42 minutes. Writing this article has drained me emotionally so it’s impossible to tell if I feel any different. I just feel tired and I think need a wee. I don’t have it in me to log into Facebook and read the first of the flurry of meaningless ‘Happy Birthday! xxx’ messages from people I briefly knew four or five years ago.
I think I’ll just go to bed; tomorrow I’m going to my parents’ house. My mum will have bought the same ‘Colin the caterpillar’ chocolate cake she always does and I’ll regret not telling my mum that I don’t really like chocolate cake 20 years ago. Still, it’s the thought that counts. I really am very sleepy now; I’m going to have to go to bed. Hopefully I’ll wake up to the news of a coup d’état.