What a year. What – a year? Nah. Not so much a year, more an involuntary exercise in extended despair lit by an SAD lamp due to the no-show sunrise; or to be precise, a perpetual bleak afternoon in mid-February with a blinding-white, cloudless sky keeping the soil hard and the grass grey. This is the year that never was, the year written-off before it even began – strangled in the womb once the first domino fell. I knew it would be the longest, hardest slog of all, and I was right. A powerless witness to the moment Arcadia became Hiroshima – unleashing many a dormant demon in the process – I haplessly tried to turn back every stopped clock; but this was the catalyst for collapse, when joy, beauty, happiness and hope were so utterly obliterated from the landscape that it’s often been impossible to imagine them ever resurfacing. Farewell, 2018. It hasn’t been nice knowing you.

To anyone thinking ‘he used to be good, but he’s really lost it this year’, welcome to the last word (all being well) from ‘the breakdown chronicles’ – and if you’re prepared to walk in my shoes for seven more paragraphs, this is the post for you; if not, look away now. Of course, telling it like it is with prominent warts precludes sugar-coating, but we’re all grownups here, and we all know the world can often be a very unpleasant place – especially when the sparks depart our own little corner of it. Okay. Are you sitting uncomfortably? Then we’ll begin…

A bud beheaded before it flowered has all the skewered promise of Amy, Jimi or Kurt curtailed in haste and in waste; in other words, it’s January and I’m resident at a crime scene. I’m allocating possessions to the most deserving, along with money in the event of an event anticipated; do I box them or bag them to make their distribution easier for those entrusted with the unenviable task? I owe them something at least. No doubt they’ll be expecting the call, anyway. The daily testimony in ink has been superseded by on-camera monologues conducted in varying stages of inebriation; I presume they’ll be viewed as posthumous documents of decline now, with the private made public because it doesn’t matter anymore. The walls inch closer, the light fades, the avenues of pleasure are cordoned-off, and preparations are made to add another insignificant name to the statistics. You’re on your own, kid.

A Wilde thing graces the calendar’s second page, though his entrance is unexpected when it comes. I never thought I’d see Dorian Gray’s daddy. How come I’m still here? Cowardice or hubris? Anyway, internalised trauma is manifested as obsessively recording the dead and discarded of a destiny denied in prose, verse and video – distracting anal admin as the Devil draws up work rotas for any sign of idle hands. The box-set suggests similarly sad and unshared salvation in escapist down-time retrophilia, with pretend friends opening a portal I can peer into but never enter. Joni M and Gainsbourg C succeed winter’s mellotron as spring gatecrashes the exterior whilst the interior remains comatose, recycling redundant anniversaries as imaginary porn plays on a flammable reel, burning holes in the fabric of magic.

The creeping menace of the next blow – which feels inevitable if the established narrative is to be maintained – instils a permanent fear of tomorrow that makes retirement from the day wholly undesirable, provoking as it does the dawn of another energy-sapping round. Twitchy tossing and turning hours pass, then off we go again; three black coffees and seconds out. Ding-bloody-ding. Platforms that provided an outlet and spawned an audience are devoid of appeal in this atmosphere, as are all the stories that come and go free from comment; everything seems so immense and so exhausting in contemplation, let alone action. Every scream is released into a vacuum as the depth of the trough is rarely revealed, for the few prepared to listen may realise the magnitude of the mission and pull out prematurely, as though fearful of catching a contagious disease. Their absence would make a difference; nobody new can be trusted with such information now, nor can they ever again.

Backseat passengers strapped into a driverless vehicle (destination unknown) blub like babies at the slightest trigger. Too much is imbued with heavyweight memory that beats with the intensity of the eternally cherished. Aural (and visual) stimulation stokes the sadness without warning, which is why isolation is essential. Do you want the world to see what a wreck you really are, always one step away from dissolving into melancholy mush? Embarrassment and shame are obscured by necessary niceties when company calls, the false impression a blend of survival and denial; moreover, it serves as a safeguard should the judgemental perceive the trivial when confronted by the uncomfortable. Occasional online missives also manufacture the illusion all is well and that the waspish edges remain sharper than a serpent’s tooth. The lives of others lie on social media; I lie of mine in person too, dining alone as a flabby cadaver rotting from the inside.

Comrade Smirnoff and Monsieur Chardonnay uphold their position as purveyors of desperate elixirs despite another spirit – that of ’76 – attempting a useless resuscitation when the soul’s animation has been suspended; heat is a frivolous, ill-fitting irritant, whereas cold makes sense when the sole source of warmth is withdrawn with the chilling ease of stardust drifting out the door. The unseasonal fog has to be slogged through like the evening void and the silent night, even if there is still no convincing reason as to why. The ghosts in my machine continue to choke on the ashes of deceased desire, raked over and analysed with the kind of forensic precision Poirot would be proud of, as though cracking the riddle will alter the outcome. No. The present is the past with all the best bits edited out; the future can go f**k itself – as can earthly bread when heavenly bread is all that matters. Mourning hasn’t broken; black is black, whatever the weather.

Apparently, it’s another month, but it’s irrelevant because nothing has changed bar the world outside the window; the seasons switch with the same inexplicable abruptness of an architect becoming an assassin or reality reduced to mere dream. The kindness of those to whom we are now strangers was too good for too long (talkin’ ’bout my aberration), and life is a missing persons report – missing persons, missing pleasures, missing everything. It has hatched a hard-boiled egg of a cynic, one who doesn’t subscribe to the conveyor belt. After all, why search for a silver medal when you’ve held a gold? Meanwhile, as I’m down, my teeth are there to be kicked-in and various eager parties line-up for a penalty shoot-out. DWP? YT? Let ‘em get on with it. What do I care? Truths are lies, lies are truths, and fake is the news. This isn’t Strawberry Fields, but nothing is real, all the same.

The pavement blanket is now ginger and crispy underfoot, but the romantic air cannot penetrate the permafrost, regardless of the gorgeous spectrum plummeting from the branches as they strip for the imminent full circle. Burying a lovely old life and enduring a horrible new one, these are the wilderness years condensed into twelve months – I hope; twelve more months of this and I am spent. But when the worst thing that can happen to you has happened, nothing can ever hurt you again, right? At the same time, anyone expecting me to regenerate into the irritatingly upbeat Tommy Steele of ‘Half a Sixpence’ as of midnight is residing in Cuckoo Land; such delusional optimism is naive at best and wilfully ignorant at worst. Having said that, the Reaper no longer looms quite so large on the wordsmith wish-list; and, lest we forget, a quartet of hippies from LA, Texas, Salford and Toronto once acknowledged that we have no choice but to carry on – so fingers crossed that when next we meet I’m in a better place…if I can find one…

© The Editor