"For what is a man? What has he got
When he wears hats, and he cannot
Say the things he truly feels
But only the words of one who kneels?"
THE SEX PISTOLS - My Way
Things fall apart.
I don't know who said that, but it's true.
Things fall apart. All things. Health. Happiness. Love. Oh, yes, certainly love. Because emotional commitment, like a washing machine, has a built in obsolescence factor. You know that as well as I do. Even though you may be in a position where, for the moment, you prefer to believe otherwise. That's your choice, of course.
Look, view me as a cynic. View me as a sad case. I don't really care. But things will fall apart, and one day you'll need the focus to deal with that. The point of this story is to help you when they do.
And I'm not a cynic, as it happens, or a sad case. Oh, I was for a time, after Lisa. For quite a time, actually. And I do believe that cynicism can be a powerful tool, in the short term. When you're between better things. Between one love and another, one pleasure and another. Between one moment and another.
But, you see the good news is that even cynicism can't last forever. Even cynicism falls apart. And new loves, new pleasures, new moments do come. Unbidden, they come. Unsought, they come. Actively resisted, they nonetheless still come. I learned this yesterday. Just yesterday. And I won't forget.
Do you know the city of Basel? Probably you don't, unless you're in the chemical business. And it isn't vital in the absorption of this story that you make a visit. But I'll tell you a little about the place in any event, because as I write this story, it's my geographical base. And my prison.
My prison? Well, more accurately, I've thought that it was. Now, I'm starting to understand that there is truth in old wisdom, and that the mind can imprison at least as competently as stone walls and iron bars.
Basel. Yes, I was telling you about Basel.
Basel is an industrial community, home to a number of the most corpulent chemical companies in the world. As such, it has a voracious appetite in the international labour market, sourcing legions of Americans, Canadians, Brits and Germans for well paid posts in those areas of the companies which can't afford to be insular, such as marketing, legal, technical and sales.
I'd joined Ciba-Geigy's Research and Development Department two years previously, a month after losing Lisa. As a new challenge. As a departure. As the start of a new life.
And you're right. Of course it didn't work. But you know as well as I do that naivete often links arms with loss. And it did with me. Which I suppose was just tough, as Yvette, the only girlfriend I've had in my time in Switzerland often told me. Life's like that. Live with it. Live with life.
Switzerland? Oh, sorry. Yes, for those cartographically challenged amongst you, Basel is in Switzerland - although not, I hasten to add, in the Switzerland familiar to ski fanatics, buyers of chocolate and avid viewers of James Bond movies. From the streets of Basel, for one thing, there isn't a mountain to be seen. For another, cuckoo clocks are pretty damned hard to obtain. And snow is an infrequent visitor.
Tourists drive through. There's nothing special about the place, and in evidence of that, western born residents like me do what western born foreign residents do all over the world. We work, get drunk or sleep, as the hour of the day requires. We follow the standard expatriate lifestyle.
Oh, don't get me wrong. There's nothing awful about Basel either. It has a rich history, and the Rheon runs broadly and impressively through its centre. The city social calendar is full of odd, entertaining events, and, as you might expect in Switzerland, the streets are clean. But in general principle it's a city like any other city. Basel is Berlin, and Basel is Liverpool, and Basel is Chicago. Like all cities, it's unwelcoming to those brought up outside its sprawling borders.
Well, that's my experience at least.
It took me a year to realise that taking the new job had probably been a mistake. Although getting back with Lisa would have been an impossibility even had I stayed in Manchester, I began to dwell upon the fact that I at least had family in Manchester, and some friends too. In Basel, there is a large and insular British community, but I'm sorry to say that insularity does not necessarily breed emotional closeness. We're a disparate group at the best of times, made up of professionals and airport workers, family folk and single loners, washed and unwashed. If you gel with one or two people, then you're lucky.
I hadn't been lucky, because I'm a dismal soul at the best of times, and seekers of joy give me a wide berth. Yes, just tough. You don't have to tell me.
Look, I don't exactly know what I'd expected from the move. Someone to step into Lisa's shoes, you suggest? Well, perhaps. But if so, that possibility would have been very much at the back of my mind. And just as well that it was, because opportunities here are few and far between. At work, the majority of the female staff is Swiss and married or Swiss and xenophobic. And socially, well, suffice it to say that I couldn't have afforded the company of any British or American woman who was footloose and fancy free in Basel, even if I could have attracted one such. The bar bill would have been too high.
For the most part, then, I've been a female free zone recently. Except, of course, for Yvette. Yes, keep up. I've already mentioned Yvette. Who was definitely a female of our species.
But a valid romantic relationship?
Well, no. Not really.
We'd met over the Christmas holidays, Yvette and I, as a result of my choosing to pull on my best hair shirt by not going back to England for the festive season. Our paths had crossed because at the time she was waitressing in a café on the river, a café where I ended up after a heavy, moribund drinking session on Christmas Eve.
She was Belgian, six years older than me, and was more obviously battered by disappointment than any woman I'd ever met.
Consequently, she was none too fussy.
Consequently, we clicked, desultorily.
A consequence is when one thing leads to another. Which, on and ever on through that long night and longer Christmas, it did.
She invited me to her pleasant flat on Strassburgeralle, about a mile from the city centre. I spent Christmas Day there, and we to be fair we were temporarily well matched, not least because she too had cast herself adrift. Scrooge and Scroogette, we ignored festivity for carnality, but there was no magic in the practice of that, for her or for me. Looking back, it was as though sex was our way of telling the world, as individuals rather than as a couple, to go stuff itself.
The periods in-between copulation were punctuated by little of value - forced caresses, faked intimacy, arid conversation. Occasional moments of shared self-pity.
By Boxing Day, she'd wanted me to move in. That was an awful prospect, and I couldn't seriously consider it, but I was too cowardly to cut the thin string that bound her to me, convincing myself that if I did that I'd be no better than Lisa. Also, I romanticised my situation, pathetically, deciding that I couldn't hurt Yvette because she had been so benign, and because (I supposed this somewhat uncertainly) she was starting to depend on me.
We danced around one another for another day or two, but her general gloom quickly headed south towards depression, and the anger I'd seen crouching sneakily behind her eyes found the courage to start to express itself.
And so I compromised. With a pusillanimous flourish, I moved in, but simultaneously I made secret arrangements to maintain the lease on my own flat.
We lasted a week. After which she threw me out, which was exactly what I'd wanted to happen. My lack of understanding of the needs of a serious relationship was, she said, at the root of the failure, and that accusation was the wedge she used to lever me out. But we both knew that there were other tools lying unemployed in the debris around us. Other fights were left unfought, and motives were left unquestioned.
Relieved, I returned home, feeling only a vague resentment, a resentment which I suppose stemmed from the fact that she could have been kinder. But I comforted myself with my mantra of the time. Women, I had come to believe, were strangers to kindness, were harsher and more professional in their decision making than a prison governor.
I lolled in my misery, bathed lazily in the new betrayal, easily ignoring the fact that I had actively sought it.
For a week or two, I was more conscious than ever of that prison of skin and bone.
Some of you may be a little confused about my state of mind? Why was I so damned depressed? Over nothing worse than lost love. Sad bastard. Not the end of the world.
I'll try to explain.
The colour had drained out of my life when Lisa left, and at first I hadn't wanted to even try to get over it. Of course, the longer that lack of heart and soul and courage and energy went on, the more it became a way of being, a destructive habit. I fed on mental reruns of the past, and they weren't very nourishing.
In the end, there was only one possible destination for the road I'd taken, and that was a prescription for antidepressants. I reached that destination. And I took the tablets willingly, because doing so seemed somehow to relieve me of the responsibility for changing the way I felt.
I think, though, that I took them ineffectively.
.... There is more of this story ...