Something Must Break: A Taste

I shall be self-publishing Something Must Break – a long short story, or miscro-novel (7,000+ words) as an e-book via Amazon Kindle soon. With no budget, time or publisher, promotion will be limited. It’s more about putting it out there. ahead f its publication, here’s a taste:

 

Blood… the roar of blood in my ears. My heart isn’t racing: that connotes an even but rapid pace. Nothing nearly so regular: it heaves, lurches and palpates in my chest. Each beat drives like a hammer, forcing blood in hot, agonized surges through my slowly narrowing veins. My aorta throbs, valves straining and corpuscles pushed to the brink of haemorrhage with every explosive spasm. This is no red mist descending. The mists come in all different hues, dependent on which of the myriad triggers has induced the symptoms on any given occasion. This time, a white haze obfuscates everything, pluming like smoke across all of my receptors.

I inhale slowly, deeply, mindful that I don’t hyperventilate. An oxygen rush would only exacerbate my condition. Which is what? It’s hard to say. But when one of these episodes manifests… it’s not so much that I’m not in control. I’m simply not present, not myself.

My mobile phone vibrates in my shirt pocket and I answer without looking at the display: I can’t focus anyway.

‘Hey, are you ok?’ The voice on the line is Faye, my wife.

My greeting must’ve sounded even worse than I’d thought. ‘Just a bit spaced out,’ I mumble, my voice sounding distant and muffled in my own ears, ‘it’s been a long day.’ She’s aware of these episodes of mine, but I try not to cause her undue worry. I forget the rest of the conversation. I killed the call. My vision was still blurred and my hands were trembling, but otherwise, normality was beginning to return.

I power down the PC, lock up my office and leave.

Liberator! Part 8

Over lunch on Saturday, Tim announced his intention to get out of the rat-race. He was going to jack in his job, and wanted them to move to the country where he would maintain a smallholding, a simple subsistence living off the land.

‘Are you insane?’ Amy squawked.

‘I’ve never been more sane,’ Tim replied evenly.

‘You’ve lost the plot,’ his girlfriend snapped, ‘and if you think I’m going to move out into the country and live some kind of ridiculous hippie lifestyle, you’ve got another thing coming!’

Tim went to speak, but Amy declared the discussion closed and ate the rest of her meal in irate silence. She carried her mood through the afternoon’s shopping, too, and while she went out with her friends for the evening, Tim decided to give the drinks with his mates a miss. None of them had been in touch to confirm the time or place anyway, and he’s not heard from anyone but Matt all week. Fuckers. They were all on the ever-lengthening off-limits list, cut off, excised, out of his life. He didn’t need them.

The following morning, Tim wandered around the house in his dressing gown and decided that perhaps his plan had been a bit radical. He didn’t have a clue about farming, so decided to modify his ambitions to more realistic levels. He’d start with an allotment and learn home brewing. He could sell or trade any surplus, thus creating his own micro-economy.

***

It slowly dawned on Tim that he didn’t have the first clue about gardening, or even where he might go to get himself a plot of land. Then he remembered his uncle had an allotment, and that he had been complaining about not having the time to maintain it, so he rang it up and offered to take it off his hands, or at least take over its running. His uncle agreed, and by that afternoon he had the keys to the shed in his pocket and was standing, surveying his new domain. It made a change from surveying dilapidated buildings as he did in his day-job. He felt a swell of pride and a small surge of excitement, despite the fact that the plot was badly neglected and massively overgrown. By evening, he had cleared some of the weeds, but was slowly beginning to realise that getting the land in order would be quite a major undertaking.

After the first week, anyone who initiates contact may be allowed back onto your list. However, should they fail to return your subsequent response within a week, then they are back off the ‘ok’ list and onto the ‘no contact’ list.

A week later and his patch of ground still resembled a weed-infested battleground, despite his having toiled from morning till night for the majority of the days. That said, he had indulged himself with a few lie-ins and leisurely breakfasts, and afternoons off down the pub. He had also given in and checked his emails a handful of times, and signed into his Facebook account. Each time he had done so, he had desperately fought the urge to update his status, although he found it impossible to resist responding to a fee of his friends’ updates and comments. While his bursting inbox and the number of voice mails on his phone, which were mounting by the hours caused his the same nausea-inducing combination of panic and dread, he was beginning to notice a shift in the nature of his correspondence, in that most of it was either work-related or otherwise spam, and that the number of direct, non-circular missives received by both email and via social networking was beginning to diminish.

His feelings about this were conflicting. On the one hand, it came as a relief as the pressure to read and respond to so much peripheral shit began to fall away. On the other, he began to feel as though he was already beginning to fade from society and from his friends’ thoughts. Out of sight, out of mind… he pushed these negative thoughts to the bank of his mind and slipped a DVD in the player. It had been years since he had simply sat and watched a film, at home, on his own, simply because he felt like it.

Over the next fortnight, Tim toiled on the allotment and spent the hours cooking up more ways of sustaining himself while pursuing his new, alternative non-capitalist existence with its corresponding technology-dependent modes of interaction.

Before he knew it, a month had elapsed. He had sent a letter of resignation to his boss after wrestling with his conscience over whether he really owed the cunt or the company so much as a formal notice but in the end drew the conclusion that it was only decent to honour the terms of his contract and besides, he didn’t want to be hauled through whatever processes, from tribunals to courts just to maintain his right to jack in his job.

Before too long – a month, perhaps – you will have a fair idea of who your true friends are. Cherish these people, and make every effort to remain in touch forever.

You will probably find that you have, in actual fact, far fewer friends than you thought. That’s because people are busy, self-absorbed and lazy. Or maybe it’s just that everyone hates you. Deal with it. The positive to be found in this is that you will have significantly more time to spend as you please.

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk 

Liberator! Part 7

‘Wake up, you’ll be late for work!’ Amy was shaking him to stir him from his slumber. Tim didn’t want to wake up. He’d been dreaming that he was on top of a mountain, looking out across the expansive vista of other mountains and trees on the slopes below.

‘I’m not going to work,’ he mumbled from under the duvet.

‘Are you ill?’ Amy quizzed.

‘Nope.’

‘Working from home again?’

‘No!’

‘Have you got a day off? You didn’t tell me if you have!’ she sounded tetchy.

‘No,’ Tim sighed. ‘I’m just not going to work.’

‘I don’t know what the hell’s wrong with you,’ Amy snapped as she flung herself from the bed and dashed about making herself ready.

Tim tensed. He felt a strange sense of déjà vu and something else just beneath the tension. A tingle of excitement and apprehension perhaps.

Before long, Amy had left for work and Tim found himself alone. He turned over and slept for another hour before being awoken by his phone. He turned over and picked up the device that lay buzzing and bleeping from his bedside table. He checked the caller ID. Seeing that it was Flashman, he killed the call and turned over again and slept for another half an hour before getting up and enjoying a leisurely breakfast. This was novel! But before long the novelty wore off and he began to feel restless. Restlessness gave way to agitation. He felt twitchy, fidgety. Resisting the urge to continually check and recheck his email was almost more than he could endure. It seemed unnatural, somehow. To remove the source of temptation, he stitched off his laptop and went for a walk. He had no idea where he was going. It didn’t matter: he simply needed to be out. He hesitated momentarily as he deliberated with himself over whether or not he should take his Blackberry. Going anywhere, even as far as the lavatory, or the back yard, felt somehow wrong, like a breach of protocol, or worse, like heading into a war zone without any kind of arms or protection.

The first thing that struck him was the extreme quietness that hung in the still air. He inhaled deeply and looked up, soaking in the sky’s blue hue and the delicate patterns the clouds traced across the vast expanse. Before long, he became aware that there were sounds to be heard, that the world was not silent. Sirens, but distant, sounded more calming than they did urgent. Birds chirped.

***

He awoke is a panic-stricken sweat. His jaw ached from grinding his teeth. His bruxism was beginning to wear him down, causing frequent toothache and dental sensitivity. He’d treated the last week like a holiday. He’d even let the charge on his Blackberry run down so he wasn’t being hassled by notifications of incoming messages or calls or texts and wasn’t tempted to switch it on. Ignoring the land-line was rather harder, but he’d turned the ringer down, or otherwise taken himself off for walks, drives and cycle rides. He’d spent all of Thursday from midday onwards in the pub.

So far, he knew inside himself that up to now he had only been dabbling, a few small token approximations of the principles of self-liberation. Small wonder nothing had really changed. He still felt tired and stressed and was still struggling to manage his time. Friday night he found himself walking aimlessly, a little drunk but alert in the cool night air. It was as he wandered he found himself struck dumb by a moment of clarity. This was his epiphany, and with it the realisation it had to be all or nothing.

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk 

Liberator! Part 5

Tim rose at 6:30am and was at his laptop, set up on the rarely-used dining table, working, by 6:45. Still in his dressing gown, with a strong coffee, he sat blearily in front of the screen. He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. His skin felt rough and dry, his eyes sensitive and watery. He was exhausted, and this was reflected in his sallow appearance. The text was beginning to drift before his eyes as he read it again and again. The text was beginning to drift before his eyes as he read it again and again.

It was after 11pm when he finally called it a night. He felt exhausted, yet his mind would not cease in its cogitations. Around midnight, after a large glass of wine, Tim retired to the bedroom and snuggled up beside his recumbent partner. He closed his eyes but behind his eyelids images flickered like a cut-up reel of cine film. He turned over and over as his mind turned his list of tasks for the next few days over and over. His heart rate began to increase, until it almost reached the point of fibrillation and sweat was running in rivers from every pore. It was no use. Tim simply could not sleep. Gingerly, he slipped from under the duvet and stealthily made his way back downstairs. Amy continued to sleep soundly.

Arriving in the living room, Tim did not turn on any lights and instead made his way silently to the window and stood behind the crack in the curtains. The street outside was dark and silent, yet unexpectedly bright, illuminated by the bright orange sodium haze of the street lights, one of which was in front of the house directly opposite. The curtains of the house were open, and there was a light in the upstairs window. He watched as a figure entered and exited the room. In shadow, he was unable to observe their features. It felt strange to be alone in darkness and at this time of night: Tim usually remained in bed, lying stock still so as not to disturb Amy, while him mind raced. Here and now, alone in the darkness and silence, with only the breathing of the house for company, his mind wandered. He projected himself outside into the long, anonymous, rectilinear street lined with almost identical red-brick terraced houses. He traversed the street like a ghost. His mind played in a flash a world in foment, in tumult, as rabid dogs and vigilantes prowled the alleyways. His heart raced with a heady blend of fear and excitement, the likes of which he hadn’t felt in years.

Taking a deep breath to calm himself, Tim retreated into the darkness and brought himself back to the reality of the here and now, his interior world. Pouring himself a shot of rum, he spotted the rather dubious pamphlet he had pickled up the other day lying on the coffee table. He didn’t recall placing it there, but nevertheless, he switched on the standard lamp and read as he sipped at his drink and waited for its soporific effects to take hold.

A recent survey found that people working from home work the equivalent of an extra 20 days a year, which almost counters their holiday entitlement. The technology that has facilitated what would first appear to be the perfect working solution and the best way to obtain a more comfortable work/life balance is thus a double-edged sword. Small wonder people don’t all want to rush home and check their inbox.

Be honest: how many times have you been gripped by fear at the prospect of logging in and checking your email, because of the idea of dealing with hassling correspondence from the bank and a slew of messages from people you can’t face replying to is simply too much? Email and mobile communications technology was hailed as a great means of keeping people in touch with one another. But how many proper emails do you send or receive?

Tim shook his head. He hated to acknowledge the fact, but this tract resonated with him. The way he spent – and wasted – hours trying to keep in contact with old friends and former colleagues, even more peripheral family members. He had the niggling feeling that life was too short to expend time and energy on people who couldn’t be bothered, but then, all too often he failed to respond to messages and emails from his friends. He felt like a cunt for doing so, but what could he do? He was busy – busy chasing his tail as he raced like a hamster on a wheel on the treadmill of life.

Tim was exhausted, but read on, slowly. He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. His skin felt rough and dry, his eyes sensitive and watery. He was exhausted, and this was reflected in his sallow appearance.

To reclaim your life and liberate yourself from the tyranny of technology, and at the same time, take the following simple steps.

1: Do not log into Facebook for a week.

2: Stop sending emails, especially forwards and links.

3: Do not send any text messages.

4: Do not make any non-essential phone calls.

It seemed a bit extreme. On the other hand, Tim reflected for a moment just how much time he spent checking into Facebook and reading endless reams of status updates that were ultimately pointless. He didn’t need to know that Neil was tired after going to the gym, or how sick Jonathan had been after his brother’s stag night. More to the point, he simply didn’t have the time to become mired in the vapid empty existences of others. He had his own empty, vapid yet insufferably hectic life to live. What could he possibly learn from a pamphlet that he hadn’t already read and discarded from countless self-help manuals, forums and television programmes?

 

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk 

Liberator! Part 4

‘Do you mind if we don’t got to the cinema tonight?’ Amy asked.

‘Hmmn?’

‘I’ve sort of double-booked. I don’t really feel like going out,’ she said, ‘and I can’t really be bothered to get dressed up and I’m really tired…’

‘Yeah, me too,’ Tim said, pursing his lips and blowing the air from his mouth through the small puckered gap. He rubbed his eyes. It was true, he was tired, largely on account of the fact he was having extreme difficulty sleeping. He had spent the last few nights lying awake, tossing and turning, his mind endlessly and restlessly cogitating myriad work issued, and now compounded by the fact the Sword of Damoclese hung over his career. This in turn was causing him to agitate over their finances. However much he earned, it was never enough and things were tight enough as they were. he simply couldn’t afford to lose his job. In the meantime, he needed to conserve every penny should the worse happen, and not going to the cinema meant money not spent and in the bank for the rainy day that blotted his once-bright horizon.

Amy, however, wasn’t done. ‘…but I kind of promised Lizzie and Will that we’d be there tonight for their awards night, and I know we were supposed to go out and spend some time together but this is really important to them and besides, it’s a really good networking opportunity. I can’t really go on my own…’

Tim closed his ears and his mind as he tried in vain to stifle a yawn, then rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger.

‘Ok, ok. I’ll go and shower.’

It was after midnight when they got back home and his mind was abuzz from the endless babble of small-talk with anonymous, self-important pseuds. It was like being at work. Only worse. In an attempt to unwind, he poured himself a large Scotch, despite knowing that he really didn’t need any more alcohol after all of the wine and continental lager he’d sunk at the ceremony of back-slapping and smugness he had just squandered the last few hours. Slumping on the settee, he sipped his drink and picked up the leaflet again in the hope that reading something – anything – might help stop his mind from racing. His skin felt rough and dry, his eyes sensitive and watery. He was exhausted, and this was reflected in his sallow appearance. The text was beginning to drift before his eyes as he read it again and again. The text was beginning to drift before his eyes as he read it again and again.

It was no good. He was simply too tired to read on. He poured himself a glass of wine and returned to the living room where Amy was on the sofa watching some zombifying ‘talent’ show or something while simultaneously chatting on Facebook to a friend on her iPhone. He didn’t want to arrive at work hungover the next morning – in fact, he didn’t want to arrive at work the next morning at all – but yearned for a good night’s sleep and hoped that the alcohol would sedate him sufficiently.

***

It didn’t. Another night spent restless left him feeling disorientated, groggy, detached. Every day was exactly the same, only worse. Over the past few weeks and months, Tim had felt his energy levels decreasing incrementally, and now, having reached what he felt had been a non-specific tipping point, the plummet had moved into a spiral of exponential decline. And as his energy levels dropped and his levels of exhaustion soared, he increasingly began to feel that his life was no longer his own, as though he was being steered by some other force. He was no longer in control of his own destiny.

Tim felt a strange sense of déjà vu as he entered the office. It wasn’t his office, the office where he worked and had worked for the last five years, and it wasn’t the office he worked in for three years before that. In fact, it was none of the offices he had ever worked in. And yet he couldn’t explain this vaguely bewildering sensation any more than he could shake it. He spent the morning working like an automaton, firing off emails by the dozen and answering phone calls back to back. it’s relentless, it’s dizzying, it’s dehumanizing. He keeps on sinking the hot stomach fluids that pass as coffee that the machine dispenses, but never has the time to leave his desk and relieve the pressure building in his bladder. He can feel himself slowly losing his grip and his focus. All he can focus on is the acute stab in his lower abdomen, but he hasn’t the time to stop just now.

A tall, skinny man with short, mousy hair and an ill-fitting suit that hung from his curved meatless shoulders escorted him to a generously-sized meeting room. The unsettling recognition stayed with him as he took a seat, to which the grey suit man had gesticulated wordlessly, at the long glass table. Another faceless suit, charcoal grey this time, spoke, but while Tim saw his mouth move, he heard no sound. Tim nods. He has no idea why he nods, it’s as though he has some involuntary need to nod. Charcoal grey suit moves his mouth silently again. Again, Tim has no idea what he’s saying or why he can’t hear. He’s not even sure if the dude’s actually speaking or if he’s simply miming.

Why would he be miming? That doesn’t make any sense… Nothing made any sense. Am I deaf? The eerie silence, which Tim could only liken to how he expected it might sound like in a soundproof padded cell – something he had never experienced during the course of his extremely normal life – was only one of his concerns. Where was he? Why was he here? Who were these people? He’s in autopilot, feel like a car crash, like he’s in a dream watching a fictional performance simulating his own life.

He nods again. It’s not even a compulsion. He simply feels himself nodding as though he was a marionette, his actions controlled by some invisible puppeteer.

Charcoal suit man walks stiffly from the room and returns almost immediately with a small plastic cup full of some foul-smelling brown fluid. It could be the pumped contents of someone’s stomach for all Tim knows, but he instinctively knows it’s coffee.

Tim speaks, no words leave his mouth. Charcoal Suit smiles and nods.

Charcoal Suit walks around the table and sits down opposite. Tim’s feeling hemmed in: Baggy Grey Suit is situated at his left elbow and he feels like he’s a piece in a game of chess and the moves available to him are diminishing by the moment. He’s feeling like car crash and wondering why he simply doesn’t seem able to cope with certain things, certain scenarios, certain situations. The day spins by in a blur and he’s not even sure if it’s actually happened or if he’s dreamed or imagined half of it. He’s only too relieved when it’s time to knock off and head for home.

‘What time are you going to be in tomorrow?’ asked Peter as they passed on the stairs.

‘I’ll be working from home tomorrow,’ Tim replied. ‘I’ve got no appointments booked and I’ve got to get that report written and submitted by the end of the week and I’m way behind.’

Flashman pursed his lips, his brow furrowed. ‘Right, if it’ll help you get caught up,’ he puffed irritably.

 

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk 

Liberator! Part 3

Tim had been in a conference call for over half an hour and was dying for boredom. Sitting back and exhaling, long and slow, he took the opportunity to check what his contacts were doing on Facebook and respond to some of the myriad text messages that had been flooding his inbox during the morning. There were two more invitations to go for drinks that he would have to decline having already agreed to meet Steve and Andy for a couple of pints after work before heading over to Dan’s for their weekly poker night. It would be his turn to host it in another couple of weeks.

His mobile began to vibrate, just as it was his turn to speak in the conference call. He let it go to voicemail. On his way out of the office to pick up a sandwich by way of a late lunch, Tim checked his messages. The first was from Amy. ‘I’ve not had time to do any shopping for food today,’ she said breathlessly. ‘Jane had a crisis so I had to go for lunch with her… long story. Anyway, I’m out this evening. I’d completely forgotten it’s Sammy’s birthday meal tonight, so you’ll have to call in and pick up a takeaway or something on your way home.’

***

Before he knew it, it was on Sunday afternoon, and while checking his pockets for receipts to submit along with his expenses claim form Tim rediscovered the leaflet he had picked up at lunchtime on Wednesday. It had been another uneventful weekend at home with Amy. He’d not swap Amy for the world, but things had been growing a little stale of late: maybe to swap for just one night… No, no, it was wrong. He pushed these thoughts from his mind. Amy had spent the majority of the time asleep or otherwise lounging around in front of the TV, reading a magazine, in her worn towelling dressing gown and nightie, without makeup and her hair unbrushed. Tim felt that he should have been able to appreciate the fact she felt sufficiently relaxed and comfortable, but instead felt like a cunt for resenting her for what he perceived as slovenliness and a complete lack of effort on her part. It wasn’t as though the long lie-ins were spent getting it on. He read the first coupe of paragraphs, and found himself agreeing with the points made.

Technology was supposed to give us more leisure time, but it seems to be having the opposite result. There can be no question that there are more labour-saving devices in existence now than ever before. Things like washing, washing up even eating, take next to no time in comparison to in times past. You’ve never had it so good! And distance is no object. With the advent of the Internet, it’s as easy to keep in touch with someone on the other side of the globe as it is someone who lives on the next street. You don’t have to leave the house for either, and in both cases it’s instant. In short, communication has never been easier. Or faster. It’s instant. But this immediacy has exacerbated the demand everything, and demand it yesterday, culture of impatience. And there’s the rub. Communication is too easy. Talk is cheap. Quality is falling by the wayside: quantity rules. And there’s no escape. People arrive at work and are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emails awaiting them.

Just then, his mobile phone rang. The song he’d once been really into and so selected as his ring-tone was now simply another sound, another source of irritation and stress, its stunted, compressed take on the original supplanting appreciation with anxiety, its trebly bastardization becoming just one more trigger in his infinite nexus of triggers. Without thinking, he allowed his reflexes to dictate and he responded in a flash.

‘Tim James.’

‘Tim, Peter.’ Peter Flashman was his manager. Tim felt his stomach sag from the inside, whole at the same time his flesh prickled with resentment a the intrusion. Yes, he was on a good salary, but he felt increasingly that his life was not his own, that he was the property of the company and constantly at their beck and call. Did the end justify the means? Was he being pad enough to cover not simply his official working hours, but his every hour outside the workplace too? ‘look, you know I hate to call on a weekend, an so late, but….’

Before he knew it, Tim had agreed to take on three additional projects, produce another report by Wednesday and meet with some new clients in a week’s time, which involved cancelling the three days of holiday he had booked to visit his sister who had recently given birth. He felt bad: not only had he not met his new nephew yet, but, he realised with no small shame, he hadn’t seen or even contacted his sister in almost three months. But what could he do?

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk 

Liberator! Part 2

Back at the office, Tim’s afternoon raced past in a flurry of telephone calls and a short but mentally taxing meeting called at short notice by the department manager, who had to announce that there were ‘significant changes afoot within the company’s structure’. ‘We’ve all got to be seen to be on board with this, going forward,’ he said.

A break was called and everyone dispersed, headed to the coffee machine, toilets or outside for a cigarette. Tim loitered in one of the recessed areas and checked his Blackberry, which he had kept on silent while in the meeting. It showed he had fifteen missed calls. He rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. His skin felt rough and dry, his eyes sensitive and watery. He would have to deal with returning the calls later. As he made his way back to the meeting, he encountered a tall, skinny man with short, mousy hair and an ill-fitting suit that hung from his curved meatless shoulders who was loitering outside the generously-sized meeting room. The grey suit man acknowledged Tim.

‘Have we met?’ Tim asked hesitantly.

‘Er, probably not’, the man replied. ‘I’m visiting from Head Office.’ He introduced himself as Richard Fiddler, Executive Director, and gesticulated toward a seat midway down the long glass table as they entered. Another man in a navy pinstripe suit spoke, and asked Tim if he had met Barry Brown from the Manchester office previously. Tim nodded, as Barry, a chubby ginger bloke with a goatee bounded forward with his hand extended. He displayed an expression like a happy Labrador or a man who was meeting a friend he hadn’t seen in years.

The man in the navy pinstripe suit addresses Tim again, but he doesn’t quite catch what he says. He feels a little out of his depth in the company of all of these high-powered executives. To save face, he simply nods again. He feels has though he’s a marionette, his actions controlled by some invisible puppeteer, his nodding an involuntary action like a nerve twitch, a sleep kick, a cough or some kind of tic.

The meeting resumes. It’s insufferably dull. There’s talk crossing the table, line upon line of factual data and a grasp of figures and financial projections. There are flip charts and flow charts and Microsoft® Office PowerPoint® slideshow presentations. The presentations are slick. A beefy bloke in a navy pinstripe suit speaks commandingly about the business plan for the forthcoming financial year and the company’s ‘high-level’ strategies.

Some middle-aged bim with goofy teeth and a tasteless trouser-suit straight out of the 80s is presenting now. She’s clearly wise to using Microsoft® Office Fluent™ interface but her presentation is all style and no substance. She goes on for an age, extolling the virtues of ‘building relationships,’ ‘being progressive’ and ‘proactive cascading.’ She’s winding down her interim report and the business projections for the next six and 12 months and she’s pushing to end with a positive, but instead simply spouts more corporate bromides. The meeting concludes with more rhetorical throat-clearing and back-slapping both metaphorical and literal, faux camaraderie slipping across the smooth surface of the smoked glass table. Tim’s glad when he can make his exit: he has reports to write and calls to make.

As the meeting progressed – or, perhaps more accurately, became increasingly mired in relentless corporate self-absorption – Tim could feel his tension rising. Anxiety coursed through his veins, accelerated by a massive doses of adrenaline and norepinephrine secreted by his overworked medulla. Sustained high levels of catecholamines in the blood are a good indicator of chronic stress, and Tim’s were off the scale. As the realisation dawned that his job was potentially on the line, a fear gripped him and his head began to swim. A strange sense of disorientation began to wrap itself around him like a cloud. The remainder of the day was spent in a caffinated, adrenalized daze and he arrived home after seven in the evening tired, exhausted and drained and also tetchy and wired. He couldn’t help it. The simple fact was that he had been feeling decidedly fractious lately, and it was difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why. And because he didn’t know, he felt he couldn’t really talk about it with Amy – what was there to say? It was his problem, and he didn’t want to push it onto her. Thursday and Friday bled into one forgettable grey mass of telephone calls, conferences, meetings and reports, and by the time Friday night finally arrived, Tim’s hands were tender from the relentless batter of forceful handshakes and he still hadn’t found the time to catch up on all of the calls he had missed during the lengthy meeting on Wednesday afternoon. He tried in vain to stifle a yawn, then rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. His skin felt rough and dry, his eyes sensitive and watery. He was exhausted, and he needed the weekend to rest and recuperate.

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

Notes From a Mountain: Annual Coleridge Kick, 2011

My annual Coleridge Kick began in 1987. My father had a Winter Fell-walking trip booked with a friend of his who dropped out, so I took his place and I got a real taste for experiencing the great outdoors in the kind of conditions that keep most people sheltering indoors or heading off to sunnier climes. I’ve always been a fairly solitary individual, so the idea of spending a whole day out there without seeing a soul was part of the appeal and the excitement.

It wasn’t called the Coleridge Kick back then, of course: that came much later. Although Wordsworth’s association with the Lake District is stronger and more widely known, Coleridge also spent significant periods of time there, and I find Coleridge far more interesting, both as a poet and a character. Despite being one of, if not the first to record an ascent of Scafell Pike, England’s highest peak, Coleridge’s importance in the history of Fell walking is spectacularly eclipsed by Wainright, but Coleridge’s relationship with the mountains has long fascinated me, and I consider the darker, deeper shades of his verse to correspond and resonate with my experiences of the mountains far more vividly than Wordsworth’s.

In the intervening times since that first excursion during the February half-term week, I’ve missed a few years here and there, but have been making the trip each year since the new millennium. It’s pretty much the only time I can truly empty my mind and find a moment of inner peace, and in that sense, it’s become a sort of pilgrimage, a duty I undertake for my own mental health. Immense physical exertion, coupled with a need to concentrate on staying on the mountain while battling with snow, ice, high winds and difficult terrain requires focus, and the mind tends not to wander into the domains of fretting about one’s bank balance or getting churned up over how much you hate your job. Recording my walking experiences directly has never really been of interest to me in the past. I much prefer to absorb the atmosphere and draw on it – or otherwise escape there in my mind – when required. This year, however, I decided that I would record a few notes, not on the summits as Coleridge (supposedly) did, but each evening, at the end of the walk when I would reflect on the day’s walking.

Having been pretty busy over the last few months, I was keen to get out in the open air. The absence of snow or true winter conditions wasn’t going to impinge on my enjoyment or appreciation of the time out. No internet, no television, only sporadic mobile phone signal while on the fells and none whatsoever in the hotel nestled in the Borrowdale valley, it’s like stepping out of the century.

 

Day 1: 25th January 2011

The Langdale Pikes. 3 summits, relatively low – Pike o’ Stickle, Harrison Stickle, Pavey Ark. Total distance a little over 6 miles. On paper, a veritable piece of piss. In practice, rather different. The simple facts – even considering an extended distance, including a double-back detour, totaling 7.8 miles and a total ascent / descent of a fraction over 3,400ft – don’t convey any of the other factors: high wind, low cloud, rain, wind-chill, terrain that all contribute to the fatigue such an excursion can cause. Having started rather late – a little before midday – and lost time to an unplanned detour, the light was beginning to fade on the final descent from Pavey Ark. The atrociously-pitched path down didn’t help, either.

As the daylight began to fade, I felt myself growing anxious. My ever-present internal monologue, usually a reasonable travelling companion who keeps quieter when hard concentration is required, begins to take over. Today, it makes a fairly rapid transition from a calm but endless narrative to a manic scream as darkness descends. Toward the bottom, I manage to lose my footing on a stone, landing with my right leg halfway underneath my body. I bounce back in an instant and it doesn’t hurt much, and within another few minutes, I’m back at the Dungeon Gill car park, relieved to be down and uninjured, and to have made it before it became properly dark. It’s not that I’m afraid of the dark, I’m just fearful of being on a mountain in the dark. Having emerged from my state of high anxiety, I’m beginning to realize that I really do need to take more steps to address my stress levels. More headspace is clearly required, starting with a few pints, a decent meal and a hot bath.

 

Day 2: 26th January 2011

Skiddaw via the Edges ostensibly represents a single-summit ridge-walk on the face of it. But this nevertheless comprises lesser peaks en route – Ullock Pike, Little Man and Blakestall. The continuous, straight and clearly-marked ridge path which is, in most places, broad and not too severe in terms of gradient generally makes for comparatively easy walking (although these things are all relative), with the valleys unfolding below from the top of Ullock Pike. There are, however, steeper sections, notably toward the summit. That the ground was frozen solid on this section was frozen solid, thus rendering a purchase rather difficult, was cause for panic and it did extend the ascent time by some minutes, which felt like an eternity as I scrambled, slipped, puffed panted and panicked my way from one moment of paralysing fear to the next. Once over this short steep stretch, I found I was able to feel the joy and elation of being out there once again. I was doing this! It felt good to be alive.

Again, the headline statistics don’t account for elevation – 4,600 of ascent in total, a distance of 9.2 miles and a temperature just below freezing on the summit, reduced dramatically by a steady 35-40 mph wind. It was enough to freeze my beard, with crystals forming on my eyelashes too. Views from the summit were limited by the cloud, but dropping down below the cloud level toward Dash Falls, and sheltered from the winds, the air felt balmy and the grass looked right and fresh.

Back at the hotel with a bottle of Conniston Bluebird by the roaring log fire, having made it down well before dark, I had a sense of well-being. My mind and limbs, too weary for activity, soaked in the warmth and the alcohol. I was in bed by 10pm, although again my sleep was rent with disorienting dreams. It usually takes me a night or two to adjust to a different bed, but the focus and effort of the walking on these trips tend to override that. Clearly, I needed more walking, more focus, more beer, more time in front of the fire.

 

Day 3: 27th January 2011

The Coledale Round: a pleasant ride-walk punctuated by some dramatic undulations. 9.4 miles, 4063 feet of ascent in total, taking in 6 peaks. Ascending to Grisedale Pike via Kinn is a steady climb until the final section toward the summit of the Pike, when it becomes steep and rocky, and can be particularly challenging in high winds or icy conditions. Today, there were neither, but I still found it hard work. Unaccustomed to walking with a pole, I found the instrument an encumbrance, worsened by the knee injury I sustained on the descent from Pavey Ark two days previous flaring up at possibly the most inconvenient time.

It was cold and windy on the top of Grisedale Pike, but the views – Scotland was clearly visible, including the Robin Rigg off-shore wind-farm in the Solway Firth – more than compensated. This is precisely what I do this for. It’s hard to describe the exhilaration and the ‘top of the world’ feeling such vistas inspire, but it’s a sensation that fills every corner and weaves through every fibre of one’s being.

A brief saunter across to Hopegill head yielded more rewarding views as the sun began to break through, making the relatively easy-going stretch to Crag Hill via Sand Hill all the more enjoyable.  The subsequent summits were equally a joy, until it came to the descent from Sale, when my knee became unbearable and my pace slowed to an agonizing crawl only matched by the searing pain in my joint that rendered flexing my right leg – or putting any weight on it – almost impossible.

This dictated the adherence to the formal route, rather than the preferred extended version that takes in Causey Pike. Stepping cautiously, and, for the most part-sideways and using my pole as a walking stick certainly took the joy out of what should have been a downhill yomp to the finish. Still, I felt I’d earned my pint, and made myself comfortable in the Dog & Gun, Keswick for a while.

 

Day 4: 28th January 2011

My walking companions took pity on me with my painful and rather swollen knee, and so the planned ascent of Great Gable for the final day was shelved. Instead, leaving the car at the hotel once we’d checked out, we headed over from Rosthwaite to Watendlath, then round Watendlath Tarn, up to Dock Tarn and down through woodland back to the start – a mere 5 miles with around 2,000 feet of ascent in total. Even then, I found some of the going tough, especially on the downward sections, but a perfect blue sky and glorious golden sun on the frosted grass and frozen tarns had an undeniable capacity to lift the spirits.

I hadn’t really given Coleridge much thought over the course of the four days away. I hadn’t tried any insane descents via climbers’ routes using only my bare hands, preferring instead to keep to less risky routes. I might not have composed any great poems, and I’d barely made any notes, but I had managed to squeeze in a fair bit of reading for pleasure – a rare luxury – during the evenings. Returning home meant reconnecting with the things I enjoy about my home life, but also rejoining the world: very much a two-edged sword. I missed the Internet and wanted to escape it in equal measure. Nine-mile excursions followed by local ales and hearty grub, a spot of reading and an early night for a long sleep may be the perfect antidote to modern living, but in or out of the rat-race, life goes on. I’ve got some catching up to do…

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk