As December finishes, it is time for another entry to The Pictonaut Challenge.
For those who don’t know what that is – every month The Rogue Verbumancer (also known on the Twitter as @Glempy) posts a different picture on his blog and invites people to write a short (around 1,000 words) story around it. Entrants post their attempts on their own sites, or can send them to TRV if they don’t have one, and at the end of the month he does a post linking to them all. It’s a nice way to flex your writing muscles, particularly if you are working on something that is doing your head in or if you are stuck for ideas and would like a fixed exercise to get you thinking. It’s also really interesting to read the different ideas people take from the same image.
I began writing my December entry during breaks at work, but when I went to finish it today realised I didn’t actually email it to myself. So I wrote a different one, in about an hour (using my favourite app, Write or Die, to get to 1000 words in just over 20 minutes and then revising it in the remaining 40), which I have posted below. It is really not my best work, but such is the nature of the first draft, and hopefully the rawness will help you understand why the fact I have drafted all these books does not mean they are ready to read yet…
It’s funny, isn’t it, the way people change.
Except it isn’t funny at all, not even funny-peculiar like that old lady round the corner with the windowsill full of stuffed wooden animals who has one live cat that sits amongst them and sometimes it’ll move and scare the crap out of you.
No, the way people change isn’t funny. It’s banal as fuck.
For a start, you don’t even notice you’re doing it at the time. Everyone else gets to see your personality traits fall away, revealing the raw pink new you underneath, but you’re just carrying on as usual. In fact as far as you’re concerned, it’s everything else that’s changing.
You are wrong.
As a kid, I planned to be Prime Minister. It wasn’t in a wishy washy dreamer sort of a way – I didn’t have time for daydreams, there was work to do. Once I’d done all the right things, it was really just a matter of time.
My parents couldn’t afford to send me to private school, but I was able to forgive them for this in due course, as the comprehensive I ended up at was quite a good one. And anyway I figured it would probably help my approval ratings with the voting public.
I got into Oxford University to do the requisite Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree, after completing a gap year doing administrative work for an estate agent. During this time I read voraciously on the grounds I had to be able to speed-read things when I was PM, so’s to be on top of everything all the time. I didn’t want to be entirely reliant on advisers, or to wind up carrying the can for other people’s mistakes. In my leisure time, I read biographies and autobiographies of Prime Ministers past, hunting for hints and tips.
Once at university I began rigorously networking with potential future cabinet members. You hear a lot of stuff said about posh people, but they’re not so bad. Their eccentricities are a product of their upbringing, just like anyone else. However, there was one person I probably should not have associated with.
As is so often the case in these tales, it was a girl.
They called her The Psychedelic Lady in student halls, because she was supposed to be a drug dealer. I don’t know that she ever was, but she allowed the myth to grow up around her – actively encouraged it, in fact – because it made her sound fascinating and dangerous and who wouldn’t want that.
The first time I met her was at a house party before Christmas break in my first year. I went along as someone’s wingman, slightly uncomfortable but determined to practice schmoozing. I didn’t get invited to a lot of parties at school, not because I was disliked particularly but because we were kids and we didn’t have that many dinner parties. It would have been weird.
When I got there I hovered by the door a long time, holding coats and rehearsing pithy things to say to strangers. Obviously I’d put in a couple of hours in front of the mirror before coming out, but I wanted to make sure.
Most of the guests seemed to know each other already, and studiously ignored the weird unknown talking to himself under his breath in the hallway. My advice to new students is, don’t be that guy.
I was trying to remember a hilarious joke I’d read on Twitter to throw into a planned conversation with a blonde girl in a twinset and pearls, when the kitchen door opened and I was distracted by the appearance of The Psychedelic Lady. Even though we’d never met, I recognized her by reputation.
Her hair was pink on one side and blue on the other. She wore a ballerina’s tutu with knee high stockings and football boots, complimented by a green and brown army camouflage jacket several sizes too big. The colour clash was jarring and the studs from the boots were wreaking havoc on the floorboards, but nobody seemed to mind. Or if they did they weren’t going to say anything to her about it.
She looked insane.
She saw me staring and marched straight up to me, handing me a beer and a toothy smile. Then she began to make small talk, just like an ordinary person would do. I expected her to say something outrageous or off the wall, but she surprised me. I liked her for that and gave her my Twitter joke, although I couldn’t help blurting out that she was dressed pretty unusually.
“Laundry day,” she said.
She must have got through a hell of a lot of other stuff to be stuck in this getup, I wanted to say, but I thought it would be rude. Well, it would have been rude, but I don’t know whether she would have minded.
I ended up taking her home with me, which was unexpected. I remember she was there as a wingman as well, but her roommate left for a different party accidentally taking her bag – this contained her keys and purse, and of course her phone. She bemoaned the fact she could have put all that stuff in the shirt pockets, if only she’d had the foresight. But it turned out OK.
The morning after I woke up to find her smoking in my reading chair, naked except for a green vest and the stockings.
“Morning,” I said sheepishly, but she was miles away, trapped in her own thoughts.
I watched her for a while, sunshine streaming over her angular body, smoke from the cigarette coiling uselessly above her head.
She was imagining being Prime Minister, she said later, but she was teasing of course. Addison’s mind was intent on greater things than politics. I like to think she would have achieved them, too, if she’d had the chance.
I, on the other hand, was always destined for a fall.
If it taught me anything, that experience with her and the endless hospital appointments, it was that you probably shouldn’t spend your whole life preparing for something that might never happen.
At the end of it all, I mean really at the end, after the memorial and when most people had started to forget her completely, I knew I didn’t want to go into politics anymore.
Of course this meant that after twenty-two years of preparing for something very specific, I had nothing. I had to start again. But whereas my younger self would have been crushed, I just laughed.
I sat in my reading chair and thought of her, and laughed till tears came.
Then I packed up all my political biographies and textbooks and the like, and burned them. This was bad for the environment and my pocket, not at all fiscally prudent. But it felt like the right thing to do, and put me in the right frame of mind for starting again.
People changing is just a thing that happens.
Har har har.