My Strange, Violent Summer, Lived Through a Shower of Online Content
A new column full of lies, written by a man with no children, who goes to the same supermarket twice a day and thinks about death.
Illustrations: Elena Gumeniuk
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The other day a man tried to fight me outside an upmarket curry house. I'm still not sure why.
I was only doing what I should be doing – playing the part of the vaguely mobile young man, looking at the menu with some distant interest – when he came over, beer-burnt and fever-eyed. "It's good in there," he interjected, "better than that shit that was there before. The chef used to work at, fuckin', what's it called, fuckin'… Dashoom."
For some reason, I decided to correct him on his pronunciation of a restaurant I've only ever read about in ES Magazine.
"Oh right, you mean Dishoom?" I nodded.
Straight away, he bit. "I dunno, man – are you Indian? Am I Indian?" He snarled at me, chomping at the air like a rabid dog who's just seen the pest control van pulling up. "Fuck off!"
He stuck his chin out and took a heavy, full-body sway towards the window, a bit like the move Michael Jackson does in the video for Smooth Criminal.
Pawing at the glass behind him was a dismayed-looking woman with corkscrew hair. Opposite her was an empty seat and a large bottle of Cobra. She and I looked at each other, frozen in time, bonded by this bolt from nowhere.
The unpredictability of it all was compounded by the fact that this man did not look like a nutting threat at all. He looked like a Tsunami volunteer, with his high-end E-shisha pipe, bead necklace and T-shirt with something about Belize on it. This kind of aggro, here, from him, didn't make sense.
For what seemed like forever, the two of us just stood there, locked into each other's energies under a black cloud of random violence. In moments like these, all those thoughts you had about how you might handle something like this go out the window. You're just a dumb statue staring at another one, digging inside yourself for either the best or absolute worst part of you. The first person to do something terrible wins.
I walked away. It was a Sunday afternoon in May. 19 degrees.
"Today our special is spaghetti with mussels and clams and a pomodoro sauce. If you pay me the tip in cash please because my manager takes if you put it on the card".
I found myself in some boil-in-a-bag Italian restaurant. I spotted the manager; he was wearing boot-cut jeans with a wrestler's belt buckle and was giving some deeply sincere life advice to the bored Deliveroo driver outside. A royalty-free version of the Godfather theme tune played on a surround sound system.
There seemed to be condensation on my palms. I broke a breadstick and wondered why the man outside the curry house had switched on me like that. What was it about my innocuous correction that had wound him up so much, and why had I bothered to correct him in the first place? What part of what I said had offended him so much? Why was this fucking hippy trying to fight me? What kind of a society could drive two grown men to argue about the name of a trendy restaurant that neither of them had ever been to?
I had been involved in a few situations like this recently. Was this connected to the bloke with the septum piercing trying to kick me out of his party the other night? That lunatic bus driver in the Kangol hat who just kept going after I'd rung the bell?
What was this strange upsurge in dead-in-the-water near-fights I seemed to be getting into on a weekly basis? Was I giving off some kind of vibe? Or was it something bigger than that, some unknown undercurrent of rage flowing through my universe? Was this the "Trump effect" I kept reading about?
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I get out of the shower. My girlfriend tells that me that an old soul singer has died. A some-time DJ on my Facebook has already posted one of his deep cuts and promises to dedicate tonight's edition of his internet radio show to the dead singer. Many people have already praised this move. Apparently it's kicking off in Crimea again. Apparently running isn't the best exercise. A million people are talking about George Soros. Is he dead? No, he's just leading some kind of revolution. "Kirkstall, Leeds" is also there. A terrorist attack? A sink-hole? Ah, a pile-up. One dead. No signs of foul play.
Today's agenda of tragedies and paranoias is set. Tomorrow there will be another. But for now, at least, I know who to mourn and what to worry about.
Every morning I bathe in these machinations of the universe. As soon as I wake up, my tiny, dehydrated eyes are flooded with Ariana and Lucida Grande on liquid crystal tablets, as the happenings of the world are condensed into names and locations on a kind of morbid FTSE index, which I play a brief and grim guessing game with.
Yet, there is a hypocrisy in all this chronic content anxiety. I do this; I am one of these people; this is one of those things and I have written many before. Maybe I should say something about the dead soul singer? Death is good for freelancers, I suppose.
What sort of man are you going to be in this fearful, frustrated future? Are you going to be the sort of man who follows the example of the faithless fathers of the new right, convinced of his sick entitlement to claw back scraps of pride and prestige from all those scheming women who took feminism too far?
I look at my chin in the mirror for a while before getting stuck into the big stuff: today's ego-mayo salad sandwich with a think-piece pesto crust – the thoughts, passions and ranked tastes of precocious Liberal Arts graduates the world over, all helpfully curated and blasted into my consciousness every morning. With their horn-rimmed glasses and politicised hairstyles they look at me, askew and intent, telling me that I better fucking be prepared for what they're about to say, because I might not like it.
Truth be told, it's all a bit much for me right now, so I make a few mental crib notes in case anyone asks me about what's going on in the world. I move to other places, my dark places: the gory dispatches from Arsene Wenger's Right To Life campaign and Getty Images of Hollywood larvae in leather leggings. Do I really fancy Demi Lovato or is it just the idea of her?
Before too long I have been completely engulfed in all the magic and dread of what used to be called the World Wide Web. Every portal of contact, from the mail-outs and links in my inbox, to the "seen this?" suggestions of my friends, colleagues and distant cartoon avatars are bringing me abrupt announcements of political travesties and celebrity tragedies. I've got a lot to think about today, it seems.
Cool, clean and stripped back, the font is the essence of this café: the furniture's minimalist, the walls are pale wood and, at this, its fourth London branch, they've put dark green tiling behind the counter to make you feel like you're eating in a pine forest. It works. Nordic Bakery might be the calmest place in Covent Garden.
I'm in a pub and I ask for a portion of chips. The man at the bar tells me that they don't have any chips. Thinking on my feet, I ask if they have anything similar to chips – some kind of sub-£4 carb-based snack. Sweet potato wedges? Chilli nuts? Mac 'n' Kimchi bites?
"We have French Fries," he replies brightly, patronisingly.
Immediately I'm beginning to align with that violent hippy outside the curry house. Where I come from, those are the same thing, you cunt. Here we were, two men just trying to stay alive in a world where we're saying everything wrong. Why did I have to correct him?
For as long as she can remember, New York-based Grace Ahlbom has been taking photos – first on her disposable camera, capturing shots of BMX biker friends, and now as a fully-fledged artist. Her MO: tracing the universal values and shared restlessness that exists amongst the worldwide youth of today, telling us, "I like to shoot people who are more reckless, careless, boisterous, edgy or extreme than I am… This keeps me on my toes."
On Facebook chat a friend of mine confides in me that he wishes he'd become a doctor or something. I tell him much the same. "Oh well, at least I didn't have to queue for many parties between 22 and 26," he laughs (I think).
The thing is that neither of us can remember any of these parties. Is there any proof that they happened beyond the accompanying content?
Later on, I find myself looking at a list of cool people. All so keen, so assured that what they are doing is holding up a mirror at the world and telling it to go fuck itself, all so certain that what they do matters and has never been done before. All so certain that they won't die anytime soon.
What do I have to do to grow old? I feel it, yet I can't seem to be it. At what point do I finally become not worth selling to? Some part of me yearns to become culturally unviable – not worth selling to, like a busy widower whose address has been struck off the Jehovah's Witness rounds for wasting their time. But apparently I'm still a valuable target market, a vote that matters, somebody who can help to sway the future of his country. I really wish I could feel it.
The UK is facing an "absolute catastrophe" if it does not sort out a "frictionless and seamless" border at Dover and other ports, the shipping industry has warned. The UK Chamber of Shipping, which represents more than 170 freight ship, tanker and cruise liner companies, has called on governments across Europe to urgently grasp the challenge
"I'm gonna blow the whole thing open," says another man in another pub. He looks a bit like John Cazale in Dog Day Afternoon and has a long-retired greyhound with him.
"How far do you think it goes?" says my mate, who's now pretty far through the looking glass.
"Right to the very top," the man with dog replies with casual, but total guarantee. "I'm talking everyone from small town scout leaders, to the church, to captains of industry, to the royal family."
He is writing a report about paedophiles, years in the making and soon to be published. He has a vodka and orange and is tinkering with an Excel spreadsheet on a PC notebook. As he's telling a story about a never-married sitcom star and a notorious guest house in Richmond, I find myself scrolling through the Twitter account he's just followed us both from.
It's not easy reading: hundreds and hundreds of retweeted articles about nonces and sex cases; a Gloucestershire fire fighter, a kebab shop owner in Longsight, a contestant on Ninja Warrior UK.
"Pretty much anyone who's ever been in any position of power in this country is a paedophile," he reiterates.
"Knowing all this, how do you not just kill yourself?" asks my friend. But the bleak pathos of these remarks is suddenly cut through by a dreadful smell, one with a meaty note of Winalot to it.
"Oh, for fuck's sake, has he farted again?" the man cries, before going back to his spreadsheet.
I wonder if I can really believe a man whose office is a pub. But another part of me wonders if his truth may be greater than that of a man whose office is an office.
We've seen it before but, now, surely this can't go on. He can't go on. No more.
Arsene Wenger is staying. He just beat my lot in the cup final, but I'm strangely glad. Over the last few months I've started to empathise with him as some kind of Dennis Skinner character, an awkward constant for whom I have nothing but total respect. He is a man steadfastly refusing to bow to the weight of the universe, taking every lash on the back and thanking his captors after. He ignores science and logic and proof, like a disgraced magician still adamant that there is no trap door in the box. Fair fucks to him, I say.
He might just be the last confident man on earth, the last person who won't admit the enormous pressure of modern living, modern talking. He's King Cnut still telling everyone he can control the waves, when he knows he can't, an ageing Vietcong radical still refusing to eat at McDonalds, a metric martyr in a world of imperial sellouts.
I am not convinced that he will do any better this season. In fact, he will likely do worse, like he does every season. But like the late, great Gustav Metzger's "destroy, and you create" manifesto, I can't help but admire a man who's willing to run something into the ground. Why should I give them what they want? He could be the first football manager to really mirror the horrors of being alive, and if he ever goes I don't know what I'll do.
A large gang of schoolchildren have "beaten up" a man during a street attack in west London.
Witnesses described seeing the group of youngsters attacking a middle-aged man in the street before the terrified victim sought refuge in a café.
Police raced to Chiswick High Road at just after 6.15PM to reports of a man being assaulted by a group of schoolchildren.
Today has not been a good one. Some people on the internet have decided that I'm a paedophile and a paedophile troll at that.
It's all started because there is another Clive Martin. Some Twitter politico who has seemingly ended up on some very strange shore of wokeness and reinvented himself as an LGBTQP+ activist (the "P" stands for paedophilia).
I've messaged one of my hunters but they don't seem to believe that he and I are different people. I'm considering reaching out to the man with the greyhound as some kind of mediator. Maybe he thinks I'm in a position of power.
What's your brain doing when you process information? Could it be producing a "controlled online hallucination"?
The paedo-hunters have now relented, but refuse to apologise. The memes they have made of me are still there. I am collateral damage in their cause. I've had a good life and maybe now it's my turn to suffer for the greater good.
I've also found out that the story about King Cnut isn't true. Maybe this is how he would feel, eternally damned by a false legend. Wenger has signed a new contract. Corbyn has them by the throat now, but the children of Ian Paisley are about to have a say in what happens in my life and being paid a billion pounds to do so. Things are looking both up and down. The stars are realigning in some undetermined formation once more.
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For centuries we were ruled in fear by sex, death and God. We invented philosophy, politics and religion just to get to grips with shagging and killing and the great unknown. But with no answers in sight, we've finally decided that the customer is always right, hung up on the man in Tibet and got on with the stuff we do understand. Every Instagram is immortal.
Sometimes when I'm on a train or in a car, I start to feel this incredible crush – pinned down with the weight of everyone else on Earth. All that electric light, underground steam and magnetic wave activity on a billion-year rolling boil.
I go to the country and I can't seem to escape the sky. I end up focusing on distant Lock 'n' Stores and thinking about football transfers to ignore the enormity of it.
When I was young I assumed that art and sex and culture and going out was some kind of respite from all this, a clean break from all this overwhelming life, something intangible that you could sneak off into when all this humanness got too much. But now those, too, just feel like another load on this fucking crush.
What is this feeling I have? Is it really real, or just another example of all this post-millennial tension I keep hearing about? Does it ever stabilise? I know that everything I'm saying has been said before, and better.
I can't just walk away from this one. It's 3AM. 14 degrees out. There's a tower block on fire in west London.