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Sunday, 24 February 2008

First Emporer

The cast was removed from my arm a week ago, but Dr Bundla signed me off work for a further four weeks. What to do for these weeks of inactivity? I'm unable to do the things I enjoy most, like bike riding and climbing, and even guitar playing, a joy I had rediscovered recently, is difficult. Travel they say broadens the mind, so I'm fortunate that I had two trips planned.

I set out on the first of my journeys to visit my older brother in Cheshire amid the first signs of snow that Hull has experienced since we arrived here. The cold snap lasted about a week with daytime temperatures below zero, and is very welcome in some ways as it represents the only real change in season I have witnessed since January 2007. It is less welcome in other ways, because Toshack's pet frog has not been seen for days. Froggie had previously been easy to find, hopping around the large lawn to the rear of our apartment block, fattening up on insects, moths and worms. The appearance of Arctic temperatures might be bad news for the frog, worse possibly than his occasional encounters with Toshack, who has undergone an intensive course of aversion therapy, whenever I observed him extending his paw towards Froggie during our hourly walks of the last three weeks. Strangely, this seems to have worked, as Tosh now just looks at Froggie when he discovers him, tail twitching. Even cats, it appears, can learn not to mess with their environment, but just to observe it.

When I arrive at my brother's, he greets me pointedly:

"Global warming, my arse, its bloody freezing."

Peter, my brother is a climate change skeptic, and in the UK, is not alone, is perhaps in the majority. Needless to say, a family argument ensues, Peter's opinion is that glass recycling is a waste of time;

"Do you know how much sand there is in the Sahara? There's enough sand there to make glass forever. "

I don't want to argue about this, but cannot resist saying that recycling is about the future, and it is in his children's best interests to leave them with a planet that does'nt resemble a rubbish dump. This is a big mistake. Just as you should never critisize someone's ex-partner, you should never, as a DINKY (Dual Income No Kids, apparently) invoke children in any discussion, as you are unqualified. As with all family discussions, there's a whole unspoken, unacknowledged sub-text at work here, which is only resolved when we shift focus and gossip viciously about other family members, and their children's failings.

A few days later, and I'm off to see the First Emporer, but not before a day out at London's Family Record Centre, the main repository in the UK for geneaological research, and a Mecca for Crumblies from all walks of life. I am the youngest person in the room by a mile, or a decade, and immediately want to be naughty so that I can be comfortingly disapproved off. Nevertheless, I roll my sleeves up, and extract my flasks, pens and notepads from my bag and knuckle down amid the rows of back-packing sixty-pluses, desperate to discover a family member who was'nt illiterate pre-1920.

I do uncover a trend - a rootless element in my family of malcontents and drifters who fought their way through the Mexican- USA Wars of the late 19th Century,the Boer Wars, the Spanish Civil War and the Irish Troubles. A confused set of allegiances seem to indicate no principle behind any of my ancestor's actions, the only crumb of comfort I can derive from this motley collection of mercenaries is that none of them seem to have taken up arms in the service of a privatized rail industry.

Next day, and I'm off to Redhill to meet an old friend, who has tracked me down via Facebook. A 2.00pm meeting is arranged and i travel across London via Tube, get onto a train at the outskirts of London then travel south for half an hour until I arrive at Redhill in Surrey, technically part of the commuter belt, and technically separate from London. In fact, this journey never involves leaving the city in any meaningful way, there's just a transition from the tower blocks at the centre of London to endless identikit semi-detached houses as we pass through the suburbs. London often has a powerful effect on people - the sheer size of the place can intimidate people.

My friend does'nt show at the restaurant and repeated phone calls just reach voicemail. I've been stood up. It is after I've been waiting for an hour, and realize that she's not just late, she is in fact NOT going to show, that I feel the London effect myself. Suddenly, I'm one of 17 million ants, but without any unifying scent of pheromone that comforts ants and provides cohesion in their colonies. Its a depressing thought. Reacting to this, I resolve to stay strong and think proudly of my hometown;

"I won't let the bastards grind me down. I'm someone. I'm from somewhere. My name's Nickson and I AM HULLONIAN."

That night we finally get to see the Last Emporer exhibit.

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