“…and your second record?”
I wasn’t planning to choose this, but thinking about the first choice sent me towards this.
At school I worked on Saturdays and one or two nights a week in a small shop. Weekends were spent marking time by noting the visits of the little old lady from round the corner who arrived three or four times daily for quarter bottles of vodka. Each purchase was apologetic, her voice cigarette cracked. “Sorry son, I’ve had visitors and need to get something in”.
The work was not difficult: stacking shelves, changing prices, arranging orders, serving on meat or fruit and veg counters or at the checkout. And people were, for the most part, friendly. When stacking shelves I had to move packaging from a store at the rear of the shop, and move the detritus – cardboard boxes, packing cases, and trolleys into a store at the side of the shop topped by a clear plastic roof which gave it the feel of a greenhouse.
I had finished school. And in that final year had achieved things what seemed a lifetime (three or four years) had been spent striving for. But achievement was disappointing. I remember the emptiness in the car journey following one success. Was that it? Was this what we’d got so worked up about? I sat in the front seat, my one vivid memory of the day an animal carcass on the road. Its ribcage framed by meat, blood red, leered. When I got home I headed straight for my room. Cried.
I had a university place. I was biding time, trying to build some money up for the months ahead. And so I increased my hours at the shop, having worked intensely at school to do as well as I could.
I grew tired easily, drained. I was flat. Simple things took an age. And then one night I couldn’t read. Concentration gone. Letters would dance on the page – I knew they were meant to make up words, and that words were meant to make up sentences, and that sentences were meant to make up paragraphs, but the letters moved. They would not stay still. I panicked. Reading was my being. Being unable to read, unable to write, would leave me as nothing, as no-one. I was heading for a degree in law where I expected to read a lot and I had forgotten how to do it.
The next day at work I collapsed.
I was in the store in the side of the shop. It was a sunny day. The plastic roof, the clear plastic roof, did its job. The room was hot. I was taking apart boxes, folding them to force into the giant bins. And then I wasn’t.
One of the women who worked there had noticed I’d not been on the shop floor. She brought me round with some water. I went home.
A few days later I was diagnosed with a post viral illness. I was not to go back to work that summer.
Ordinarily, having time meant a space to read. But I couldn’t. The words had stopped dancing but I couldn’t concentrate. I read and reread pages, forgot the top of the page by the time I got to the bottom.
So I hid. Day after day I hid.
I could feel nothing.
I could do nothing.
I was worth nothing.
I wanted to be better, and to be better I wanted to feel. I would mark myself with a pair of compasses, needles, one night a blade.
I could not feel.
I could not
I was in my room a lot. My mum would come in trying to cajole me into life. I lay there. Flat. I kept the radio on a lot during those days. I worked through the channels. Lots of Radio 4, Radio 2 for the sport. And I ended up on radio 3.
In my head I associate getting better with the Proms, but it may be that if I checked the schedules I would find that the relevant thing was on in the middle of the day, or late at night.
It was the first time I had heard the Rite of Spring. The presenter spoke about the opening night. And the music started. And as it went on I felt every drum beat. They reverberated through me. I could feel the drum beats in my heart.
And I wanted to live.
So my second record? My second record is Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.