You take the blue pill, the story ends…

How do you make decisions? I make them with the greatest of difficulty. I spent twenty-two years analysing and obsessing over the thorniest of them all and in the end didn’t so much decide as implode in slow motion. But enough about that; my past is strewn with bad decisions, utterly random decisions and the consequences of failure to decide at all.

Ridiculously, I’m good at counselling other people. I listen to them and I get inspired; I see, clearly, what they do not seem to see and when I share my thoughts with them they go Oh, yes… Well, sometimes. Unfortunately it doesn’t work on me. I’m not in the least inspired by my own problems, only beaten down, bleached, leached and generally debilitated.

And deciding gets no whit easier as you get older. That thing about the coming of wisdom with grey hair, twinging knees and shortening telomeres? Sadly, no. What does happen is that you start to recognise your life’s recurring motifs. Having waded through the same disastrous, treacle-like scenarios again and again, eventually the penny drops – oh, that again!

By this time you’re weary. You don’t the same amount of energy to spare for havering and wavering so you look for ways to short-circuit the decision-making process and avoid at least some of the agony.

I’ve made a million For and Against lists. Have you done that? At the end of the process the For list is always, by some miracle, exactly the same length as the Against list – and you still have no idea what to do.

Historically people would decide by means of the casting of lots – by the fall of the dice, the toss of a coin, the drawing of straws. In Roman times a priest would augur to discover the will of the gods, by studying the flight of birds, the types of birds, the noises they made as they flew, whether they flew singly or alone. Augury was complicated. And of course, you have to believe that there are gods, who will unfailingly know best.

I’ve even tried that thing with the Bible, where you let the Book fall open where it will and plump for a random verse. But – as with horoscopes – you can make a random verse mean anything you want it to mean. Perhaps that’s the thing, though – your interpretation will reveal what you wanted it to mean.

The best way I’ve found is to talk on the phone to my Canadian sister; or rather I wait for her to ring because she always does ring, when I’ve got a problem. It’s something to do with that vast, chilly Atlantic Ocean stretching between us. Salt water, sunken ships and a host of little fishes, the conductors of our dilemmas.

So, we rabbit on, going round in circles as ancient sisters do. I have a bit of a rant about the problem. She tells me about her desperately sick husband and I can hear she’s either crying or trying not to cry. I cast around for anything to say that might be of comfort. She tells me her problems and I tell her mine, and at the end of an hour-long call she suddenly says: Supposing I tell you the choice has been made and it’s X rather than Y – are you disappointed or relieved?

Somewhat depressed but – relieved?

So you know, don’t you? she says. You knew all the time.

red blue

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

Following the White Rabbit

Apparently there are now mugs advising one to KEEP CALM AND FOLLOW THE WHITE RABBIT. I rather like all these Keep Calms though they’re a bit old hat now.

Follow the White Rabbit – I was assuming Alice in Wonderland but I gather – and this is the beauty of blogging, you find out so many totally irrelevant things – that it may also have some sort of drugs connotation, but also may refer to a scene in The Matrix (I thought I’d seen all the Matrix’s but I can’t remember this scene) where Neo is advised to follow said Rabbit and shortly thereafter is visited by a lady with a rabbit tattoo on her right shoulder. I must watch those films again… but since I can’t afford to go to the cinema, or indeed anywhere I don’t have to in my little motor car, I will have to wait until they appear on one or other of the Freeview channels. Which they will. They’re almost as regular as The Sound of Music. That was on again this Christmas and for once I actually watched it – again. And I hate it. I loathe those goody-goody children in their matching frocks and silly dungarees. I loathe Julie Andrews and I loathe Christopher Plummer… who, I have just discovered, is exactly the same age as my mother. Assuming still alive. Christopher Plummer, I mean, not my mother. I know she’s still alive.

I must have been really bored.

This prompt, Keeping up with the Joneses (or Jones’ as they insist on putting it – no one ever kept up with a Jones’) is asking me to tell you about one luxury item I wish I could afford, in as much detail as I can. I am meant to paint a picture for you.

I’m never going to manage that. I’ve never been any good at selecting one just item out of many. That would involve a decision. I’ve never been any good at decisions. The best I can do is a list.

This is the first time in a long time I have allowed myself to think about what I might want. That’s the worst of poverty – not the lack of stuff but the gradual loss of motive for daydreaming. You get to the point where you cannot want. It’s a bit like sex. I can admire Daniel Craig – his chiselled good looks, his splendid physique, those icy blue eyes – but is there even the remotest chance that he would admire me in return? No. Therefore I cannot fantasise about him.

(Every time Daniel Craig’s name is mentioned I think of Kate Bottley, a vicar who watches TV with her husband and a dog on Gogglebox, wearing enormous fluffy slippers. Kate Bottley, not the dog. She once remarked that she knew there was a Benevolent God since He had created Daniel Craig).

It’s the same with money. After a while you ditch the desire for it. It’s a way to survive. But, for the purposes of this post, I will consider – what would I really, really want, if I suddenly got my hands on some money? Well, here’s my list:

I’d like a driveway. A long, gravel driveway with a house so far down that driveway as to be invisible from the road. I would like it to crunch as I drove down. I would like the house to be large enough for lots of cats to roam about in and wreck, but discouraging to callers. Preferably surrounded by tall, glossy-leaved laurel bushes. Nothing interesting.

I’d like a beach hut. Rented would do. I love the sea. I’d love to go down to the choppy English Channel with my flask of lukewarm tea, some cheese–and-pickle sandwiches wrapped in tinfoil and a thick blanket to wrap round my shoulders (I’m guessing it gets cold in beach houses) and I’d sit there and drink it all in. View, not the sea.

I’d like a camper van. Is that a universal name, or just British? Maybe they’re called something different in America, like caravans being trailers. I’d like a van I could stuff full of tea, cheese-and-pickle sandwiches, blankets – whatever else might be needed for a week away – and I’d like to just go, pootling around the countryside like Toad in his motor-car and parking in lay-bys. I never got to travel – well, a weekend in Paris, a week in Ontario and a few assorted works outings and day-trips to forgettable destinations such as Calais, Bruges and Le Touquet. Oh, and Scotland where like most people I didn’t get to see the Loch Ness Monster. But travel. I would like to just drift… from lay-by to lay-by… stopping to look at the view, keeping some kind of journal… And it would be sunny. Sunny, for once.

On a more practical note, I’d like a white transit van capacious enough to transit a large number of cats in a large number of large pet-carriers, should I ever decide to move. Better still, one of those vans specially adapted for transporting animals, with built-in accommodation, like the RSPCA have. Although I suppose if I already had the camper van it could double up as a transit van. No room to park two large vans and my little car. Although of course if I already had the laurel-shrouded house at the end of the crunchy driveway, that would be no problem. I could day-dream a triple garage somewhere round the back. Or just park them all on the drive.

And lastly I would like approx £500 a month from some sort of Trust Fund, which will be discovered to have been set up for me by an Uncle in Tasmania I didn’t know I had. £500 a month would mean I didn’t have to think about money, ever again. I could manage on that. We could – the multi-cat-and-person-commune. Felix for all and the occasional tub of Raspberry Ripple ice-cream for me.

So what do all my ‘wants’ have in common? F.I.P. No, not Fell In Pond – as Rudyard Kipling recorded of unlucky visitors to Batemans, his beautiful house in East Sussex, but





Blue Pill or Red Pill?

Bloggers, Unplugged

 I suspect I am the only woman in the world to be annoyed at Urban Dictionary for one of its streetwise, cool and hip-hop ‘definitions’. I mean – who writes this stuff? Oh, I see, we do – whoever we are. For the purposes of this post I googled ‘definition Unplugged’ thinking by now the word would have moved on – was likely to mean more than just Eric Clapton playing an acoustic guitar. Although of course there’s no ‘just’ about Eric Clapton.

And under Unplug I came across various definitions, ranging from the pedestrian (plug removed from computer) through the obscene and totally unrelated to the just plain wrong. I mean – Blue Pill. This at first sight appears to be a good analogy. I too have seen The Matrix films, in one of which Keanu Reeves has to make a choice between a Blue Pill and a Red Pill.

Except that it’s the wrong pill – because I’ve checked.

(I know – what sort of needs-to-get-out-more weirdo would check a thing like that?)

The Blue Pill is the one that will allow the classically-beautiful and splendidly high-cheekboned Keanu to remain plugged in to the Matrix, living a life of comforting, though fabricated, reality. The Red Pill is the one that will allow him to unplug from the Matrix. And the Red Pill is the one he chooses. (I don’t suppose this counts as ‘spoilers’ since there can be few people left who haven’t seen The Matrix – and those who haven’t by now are probably not going to bother.) He then discovers that all this time he has been lying in a liquid-filled chamber, his body heat and bioelectricity being consumed by the sentient machines that have enslaved humanity. And very queasy and unpleasant it is for him.

I am beginning to wonder whether words can be classified as a Special Interest or Obsession, in which case maybe I need to unplug myself from them rather than La Tour Abolie or the internet in general. It all depends what you mean by ‘unplug’. If you define it as to disconnect from the electricity supply – well, no computer. If you define it as to foreswear electronic devices of any sort – even if still fully charged – then that’s tablets and smartphones out the window.

I was actually forced to unplug, in this sense, a while back. My eyes had become abominably painful to the extent that half an hour of staring at a screen resulted in several days of lingering headache that no painkillers could make a dent in. I tried resting expensive coloured acetates over the screen. This did help a little but made everything look green, dented and slightly smeary. It was like computing underwater: all it lacked was fish.

Still the headaches. I took to wearing wrap-around dark glasses for driving and turning the house-lights down low of a night-time. I accidentally frightened a new neighbour who decided to be friendly by knocking on the back door at nine o’clock one evening. I invited her in, trying to disguise my lack of enthusiasm, but she peered into the gloom of my semi-detached interior and started to back away. I suppose she was thinking I’ve moved next door to Lady Dracula!

Eventually I was forced back to writing by hand like authors used to do – in actual pencil on actual file paper. Prehistoric! But it turned out to be a pleasant change. It was a bit laborious, but do-able. Subsequently I would type up and post what I had written in one quick burst. Sometime after that, over the course of a month or six weeks, the eyes sorted themselves out, more or less. I won’t go into the details.

But do you mean, by unplugged – just not writing at all? Just not connecting with words, just not spilling it all out in words, just not quibbling over words, obsessing about words, wondering about words?

Maybe I could.

Maybe I couldn’t.

Blue Pill or Red Pill?

Maybe it’ll never come down to that.