It's been years now; so many years. If I think of just how many and what I've missed I'll become sadder than the word was ever meant to mean. I miss my home, my city – the dust of where I'm from.
I never knew London was so much a part of me until I became estranged from her. Up until then I mostly only ever cursed the city. I saw a rottenness within her of which I wanted no part. Only once in 30years did she ever really seem beautiful, and that didn't last long before the river turned back to the brown sludge of before and the streets and parks reclaimed their former hopelessness only then with an added air of cruelty. Though how things change through longing. How you can miss even the most terrible lover if they are suddenly no longer there; how you can see only the beauty then, when the world revolves ugly with their loss. Now, I'm exiled from my great prison, outside trying to sneak a peek back in via films, news reports and You Tube clips. I'm becoming crazy with it. Not insane crazy; rather profoundly sad nostalgic crazy. My heart is turning black, like a flower rooted in the wrong soil, I'm rotting from the inside out.
It started innocently enough, looking at Google maps and visiting the areas where I used to live and had grown up. I'd take virtual walks around, zoom into certain windows in the hope of catching a glimpse of someone I knew or a familiar ornament I had once touched. I enjoyed those virtual strolls, but they left me desperate and profoundly miserable. Finally I had to stop. It was too hard visiting those places, being almost able to suck in the diesel fumes and yet aware that not even ten metres from my door was the modern, driverless, Lyon metro system, and then thousands of miles of alien and foreign land. I could walk for months, years, and still never get to the place I needed to be. That's when I started to create something of a fantasy world within my apartment – setting up an atmosphere designed to fool myself into believing I was back home.
Mostly I do this with audio and visual tricks. I'll go online and download an entire day of British television programmes, loosely following the daily schedule. I'll set them up on an automatic playlist and run them through my TV. Anything laying around the apartment obviously French I arrange out of sight. The round two-pinned electrical plugs and sockets are an instant giveaway and so I take great care to cover them. Cigarettes are removed from the packet and left loose in the ashtray. On my bed I'll litter about a selection of old, ash filled books – always the ones which travelled with me from London and have the Pound sign on the back. With the scene all set I'll swallow a triple dose of methadone and lay myself down. Sleep is crucial. Nothing works without sleep. And it need not be long. London is a place you have to wake up to. And it's on waking, to Kilroy Silk's morning call to prayer, that the illusion really begins, and for a moment I feel that it's only six inches of brick wall which separates me from home.
Sedated, subdued, something, I'll lay on my bed and let the morning and afternoon move across the sky, distant sounds filtering in like those dull and unremarkable afternoons of the past. I'll smoke, get a coffee, and lay back down leafing through yesterday’s paper, circling TV programs to watch -- which is just about as surreal as it gets and probably as far away from sanity as I've ever been at any stage in my life. Sometimes I'll pause inbetween what I'm doing to watch a piece of the crap on the box: watch some fat guy break down and admit he's addicted to whores, or learn that cane toads in Australia are regarded as amphibious rats and some farmers blow their bellies out with shotguns. Once again the hours of my day are defined by the familiar jingles of TV programmes, buzzers going off, and comfortable voices drifting around the room and telling me to tune back in tomorrow. And I'd love to; and I will; and I'd really fucking love to.
In the evening, between Cash in the Attic and Eastenders, I phone mum. As we speak I imagine I'm just the other side of town.
“Is that the TV playing in the background?” she'll always ask.
“Yeah,” I'll reply, though I don't tell her that the news she can hear is from 1998 and Frank Sinatra has just died. For the remainder of the evening I'll lounge around, France blocked out in every direction, conjuring up images of what it must be like outside in my imaginary London. I think of the dusk and how the evenings fall with a distant tincture of tragedy this time of year; of how the street lights must just be flickering on and how the last of the days news is being scavenged from the vendors outside the stations or picked like strips of flesh from the upturned milk crates on the newsagents' floors. I imagine lit up buses with rain speckled windows, pulling out of their stops and rejoining the evening traffic, smoke drifting out the back vents as they crawl slowly into nowhere. I toy with the idea of hooding up and going out – maybe to score, or running down to the chippy to pick up a Jamaican Pattie and a Galaxy Caramel. I imagine the grime of High Street, the pavement a slippery mush of dead leaves, sodden cardboard and tramped rotten fruit. I'll let my disembodied consciousness, my Minds-Eye-Googlemap-Street-View, wander down dark back-streets that once led home. It's eerily quiet. Life is confined behind brick walls and Chubb-locked doors. The only hint of the problems housed inside is the occasional hallway light and a glimpse of the top few stairs. The church is an ominous dark projection parked on the corner; I hurry by. I can see everything. As I lay in bed alone, 560 miles from home, not a soul for a friend, not a number to phone, my head a time capsule full of my past. – I close my eyes and imagine it all.
I want to go home. I miss home. I'm sick from longing. Not always but it's always there. The days television schedule has run through and I'm sane and back in France. I don't want to die here. I want to die in the place that killed me. I want my history. The whole disgusting beautiful ugly abused and rotten lot of it. I want the London rain. I want the summer evening walks along the mansions by the river. I want my memories. I want my old invisible footsteps. I want to revisit the places where mum tried to kill herself or where we found her shacked up and bruised with her latest no-good fuck. I want to pass the registry office where I got married. I want to pass my fathers old house and pretend he's still inside mulling over past hustles and planning new ones. I want to read the local papers. England: I WANT YOUR JUNK MAIL! I want to know what deals the pizza place is offering. I want to have the numbers of all the local mini-cabs firms in a tin box by the telephone. I want to understand every word and be involved in social activity again, even if it's only being the local junkie. In France I'm not even that. Here I'm just a silent shape; a blank canvass of human form that comes and goes and sometimes buys a kebab and checks the mail. I am unexpressed. No one knows me. Here I have to offer away all my cigarettes to express something that would normally be free in words. I must hug and kiss tramps to show my politics. I have to activate 'fake call' on my phone, and stand talking to a dead line for five minutes so as people can see my natural body movements and expressions. Really, it's the only way. “No, Georges Bataille wrote that,” I'll say. “Yes, GEORGE BATAILLE!” And now they know I enjoy literature, because I cannot tell them in another way. And clothes, clothes suddenly become important. TOO important. They help to speak my words, a wealth of words no-one would ever listen to anyway, but hears never-the-less – hears and forms an intuitive picture of who you are. I have to find other ways to be discovered here, desperate ways to bring myself out of The Lost. France, listen to me: I'M SAD AND I'M DOWN AND I'M LONELY... NOT EVEN THE DOGS UNDERSTAND ME! Your cafés are killing me, and it's not the passive smoke (that's been banned!) I can't even kill myself comfortably in public any more. You're doing your best to drive me out, and I WANT to go, I NEED to go, but I CAN'T go. France, I am on my knees...
And that's how it goes. Some days are not as bad as others and some weeks pass by more sedated than the last. Apart from maybe the first few days of summer where light tranquil winds waft the smell of the river and life over town, there is no beauty here. It's all cafés and bars and cigarettes, square ordinary people with 20/20 vision wearing glasses and lounging around with intellectual haircuts. These days of love and life are nothing more than a cinematic fantasy. Even the guy with the harmonica is a fraud, and the scandalous news is he's not even French but Romanian!. The Bohemians are bulimic... vomiting up their excess culture just to 'get it out'. Bulimia in Bohemia – a sophisticated Hollywood or a depressed heroin ravaged Bollywood, I don't know. Oh France! Oh France! Shoot me in the head and Vive La France... Just send my body home.