This was written as a monologue to be recited at a live event. I think it was the launch of one of the Gold Dust anthologies. To the best of my recollection it has never appeared on UKAuthors. The way it’s spoken is almost as important as the content. I can remember rehearsing my reading of it quite intensively. I hope you like it.
I had another little chat with the postman this morning. He told me that he starts at six o’clock every morning and most days he’s finished before twelve. That’s not a bad job, is it, finishing at twelve? Not always of course, because sometimes people talk to him, slow him down. I wonder if he was getting at me when he said that? No, I’m sure he wasn’t. He’s a nice chap. He has a wife and two sons. Takes them to the park to fly model planes on his day off. Takes them fishing on the canal. He told me so.
He’s a busy man. You can understand how he doesn’t have very much time to stand and talk.
I don’t have all that much free time myself, really. I mean, I have to shave and dress, and take showers, and cook my meals… and then at night get ready for bed. I have my room to keep clean, and the hallway, and I’m always the one who does the dishes and cleans the communal kitchen. I don’t mind doing it, I’m not saying that I mind, but it is always me.
Mrs Duncan says I’m the best tenant she’s ever had. Always pay my rent bang on time, keep my room clean and tidy, remember to put the lights out in the kitchen and the bathroom, never make noise… she’s full of praise for me, she is. Well, it’s because I’m older than the rest, I suppose, more mature and responsible. I’ve developed good habits, living on my own for all these years.
Well, I say on my own, in fact there’s three other people in this house. More than that when their girlfriends are visiting. That’s not supposed to happen, of course, and I don’t say anything to Mrs Duncan, because it isn’t really any of my business… and it can be quite interesting. Listening to them, I mean. Listening through the walls…
Sorry, that sounds terrible, doesn’t it? Of course I don’t listen to them. Not deliberately. But you can’t help hearing things, can you?
I don’t have any lady callers, myself. Don’t have any gentleman callers either, for that matter. I just like my own company, you see. I was never a great socialiser. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters – I used to spend a lot of time on my own when I was a little boy.
There’s nothing wrong with spending time on your own. Nothing wrong with being self-sufficient. It’s a sign of strength. Inner strength, that’s what I’ve got. Inner strength and independence.
I like walking. I go for long walks at night. It’s a different world at night – calm, quiet, restful. There isn’t all that traffic and all that stuff going on that gives you a headache, and if you do happen to meet somebody, there’s a better chance that they’ll exchange a few words with you. Even if it’s just ‘Good night’.
Down by the canal is where I like to go. Along the towpath. You could walk for hundreds of miles along that if you wanted to. It goes all the way up to Leeds – maybe even further, I’m not sure. It’s almost deserted now. As if they’d stopped using the M1 because everybody had started travelling by helicopter. A superhighway built for another age. Just a toy now. A theme park version of what it once was. Some people live in the canal boats of course. Loners like me, square pegs of one kind or another. Always have a story, canal people. Or so I would imagine. Not that any of them has ever shared their story with me.
But I have that effect on people. It’s something I’ve noticed. People don’t seem to want to have conversations with me. Even the down-and-outs in the park, lying under their blankets with their plastic bags and the scruffy little dogs curled up at their feet. All they want to know is whether I’ve got a drink for them, or money or cigarettes.
Sometimes when I sit on one of the benches by the swings a little toddler will talk to me. Then the mother always pulls them away, tells them not to talk to strangers. But if we don’t talk we’re all going to be strangers to each other forever, aren’t we? I don’t want to be a stranger. That isn’t my choice.
There’s a place on the canal where the streetwalkers wait for their customers under a road bridge. I often stop by there, wish them a good night. They don’t even answer me now. Just wait for me to move on. I suppose somebody like me hanging around is bad for business. Anyway, I move on. I know when I’m not welcome.
There’s a lock on the canal as well. Quite a walk from here – it takes me the best part of an hour to get to it. The water gushes out from between the gates, makes a sound like a waterfall. I love that sound. I sit and dangle my legs over the edge and look down at the water and listen to that sound. It’s deep, the water in the lock. Way over a man’s head. Somebody must have drowned in it last summer, because there were little floral tributes piled up just where I normally sit. A funny coincidence that. I couldn’t resist picking some of the flowers, tearing the petals off and dropping them one by one into the water. It was a disgraceful thing to do, really, like some young thug with an ASBO. The petals floated. Just sat there in the water, exactly where they landed.
I remember a line from an old comedy film. I think it was Woody Allen, before he got all serious and into his angst. A boat with Woody and another man in it was about to sink. The man asks Woody if he can swim and he says: ‘I don’t know, I never tried’.
I never tried either. If it turns out that I can’t, will you drop some petals into the water for me too?