Not made the Lido today. Frustrating because it’s the perfect day for a swim. Foggy and miserable. The trees are bare and the beauty of autumn is over. The pavements are slippery, covered in leaves wet with rain. My 12-year-old boy and I have appointments at the Royal Free Hospital to check our respective breakages. Him – finger. Me – thumb.
Our appointments take about an hour and we leave with our respective digits newly bandaged. We decide we deserve a reward so go to the Starbucks in South End Green. It would not be my cafeteria of choice, but my boy has assured me they do the best cheese and ham toasties. Being somewhat of a ham and cheese toastie connoisseur, I order one to test his claim. He orders a salted caramel double chocolate frappe but fails in persuading me to have one too. The woman behind the counter asks him his name, and he says it is Lotus. Lotus is not his name. I smile, impressed at his jape and thought to myself that that is what I would have done at his age. The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree and all that. We wait, laughing to ourselves mischievously until the payoff when his frappe is ready, and the woman shouts out ‘Lotus’. We snigger like Beavis and Butthead.
We leave Starbucks and decide to cut across the Heath to our train/bus stops. He is getting the C2 bus to take him back to school, and I am going to Gospel Oak to get the overland train to my office in Highbury. He asks me what I am going to do at work. Something clutches my heart. I want to give him an honest answer and I need to make someone redundant. I might even need to shut up things entirely. I need to spend the day trying to work out how to survive another five months until the next funding instalment. The slight crumb of comfort is that this state of affairs seems to be a perpetual situation. And something always comes along. Running your own business can be a white knuckle ride, and the music industry is a fickle mistress. My carefully crafted three-year business plan invariably can become a three-month rescue plan or even a three-day crisis-management plan.
Anyway, rather than go into that grim detail, I decide to give a slightly more glamorous answer that working in music affords me. It may be the only plus. Eyebrows arc with interest at dinner parties. But in reality, it is a lot of heartache and misery. And increasingly, I feel somewhat dubious about fanning the flames of dreams that will never come true and even if they do, it may turn into a nightmare.
I give Lotus the spinner version of events
“Oh, you know we got some bands out on the road, working out how many shows to do next year, scheduling releases, that kind of thing…”
I could hear myself trying hard to impress him. He didn’t sound that impressed.
“Oh,” he says, but is more interested in sucking on his frappe.
We walk in silence for a while and I feel a knot in my stomach tat I know could be unravelled by a swim but there is not time today. I need to make fundamental changes because things are not sustainable but getting increasingly scared about the lack of plan b. Or should I say realistic plan b? I have a whole host of plan b’s that are flights of fancy pipe dream stuff, and I can’t seem to let go of them. Even writing this diary is not a diary; it is a forthcoming bestseller in the Adrian Mole mode.
I can’t help myself. On one level, the time is ripe to write a diary. I am 49, so what better time to take an audit of my life. The more honest, the more it might resonate. But there, I’ve done it again, saying words like resonate. I immediately think this diary will be of interest to others. But I know what’s going to happen. I won’t finish it. I will stockpile it with all the other unfinished projects, but this knowledge won’t stop me. Oh no, I can’t seem to learn. It’s one thing having an artistic endeavour, but my real skill seems to be the ability to spend hours dreaming about the success my creative efforts will bring me to the extent that I run out of energy and desire to finish them.
What’s all that about Alfie?
And this particular venture has been inspired not only because I’m at the ripe age – not only am I turning 50 but also in the space of two weeks next summer, three things will happen. Next year is a big one for many reasons. I turn 50. My oldest son becomes a teenager, and Sarah and I celebrate 25 years of being together, 15 of those as married. So it does seem a good time to take stock.
We are almost at our respective destinations. My boy will jump on the C2, and I will head eastbound on the overland. We walk past the Lido, and I look longingly at it’s red brick surround. I need a swim. I decide to tell him an interesting fact about how it feels colder swimming at 17 degrees than it does at 14 degrees.
This factoid had piqued his interest more than my job description did.
I wasn’t sure of the exact science.
Someone had explained it to me in the sauna, but I had forgotten. Science was never my strong subject.
“At 17 degrees, you just feel cold, but at 14 or anything under 15, your body goes into panic mode and sends warmth to your core, so after the initial cold shock, your body starts warming up. I feel pretty hot after a couple of lengths at 14 degrees actually.”
He gives me a not convinced look.
“Yes, but you still got to get into the cold water first.”
I try another tact.
“Yes, but the payoff is good. It triggers these thing called endorphins, and they make you feel happy, and as you get older, it’s easy just to feel old and sad, but cold water swimming makes you feel young and happy.”
‘Oh’, says Lotus. His attention has turned to the noise his straw is making while he sucks the final remnants of his frappe.
I decided to commend him on the toastie.
“Good toastie, by the way – finger-licking good. Nice amount of goo to crunch to salt ratio. I’ll give it an eight out of ten.”
“Eight!?” He says outraged.
After a few protests, I nudge the score up to 8.5/10.
He gives it a 9.6. He has a rule not to ever give anything ten out of ten. Even his hero Messi.
We reach Gospel Oak station, and it is time to say goodbye.
We have a quick hug, and as he walks off he says.
I say ‘love you too’.
Saying ‘love you’ is a thing he has recently started to do, and I am cherishing it before his teenage years inevitably steal these two precious words. I watch him walk off down Gordonhouse road to his bus stop still sucking at the straw of his empty frappe feeling a vast, beautiful, painful love for this little blonde boy with a broken finger.