Friday, January 12, 2007

Sumira 6

Very quickly their love had grown such that neither one of them could conceive of a life without the other - both in the here and now or in later life. Both expressed fear of being left alone by death of the other, but were unsure whether this would be better or worse than leaving the other on their own. Loneliness with only memories of their love for company seemed to both Sumira and Michael the worst possible way to pass their final years on earth.

As far as they could see, the only chance they had of avoiding such misery was the orchestration of a simultaneous / joint suicide. Despite all they knew of man’s instinct towards self-preservation, they soon arrived at the rudiments of a pact detailing just this sort of action.

Its outline was this: as soon as it became clear that one or other of them was in declining in health - fatally so - they would get in the car, head for the pass that skirted the cliff tops, drop a stone on the gas pedal, steer towards the sea and turn to each other, falling into open arms as they flew over the edge towards the end of their lives.

They had shaken on it, kissed on it, held each other on it; as far as a pact could be a pact, this was a pact.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Sumira 5

Sumira met her husband at a training day for The Samaritans. Before they’d even been introduced they performed a role play exercise in which one represented a Samaritans volunteer, the other a distressed pensioner on the verge of taking their own life. It wasn’t until they’d been through a full eight hours of similar routines that they were finally able to leave their helpline personae in the training room and allow Sumira to meet Michael.

They had three gin and tonics each and Michael told Sumira that his mother had killed herself by walking out into the sea when he’d been only fifteen. He’d starting cutting soon afterwards - his forearms usually, but sometimes that tops of his feet and ankles - and had done so until he got into Ketamine in his twenties. He’d passed thirty before he emerged from this trough, enough of his brain still intact to complete a home study course in psychotherapy.
Ten years on, the vestiges of his turmoil were still evident in the rapacity with which he tore through an entire packet of Camels within the two hours that they spent together.

She told him about the steering wheel, about the tube trains and Durdle Door and between them they delineated the theory of the human self-preservation switch. Their own experiences as well as what they knew about others convinced them that this thing existed: a part of the brain that is hard-wired to trip when it’s subject is in danger thus delivering it from doom and propelling it towards safety.

They’d both tried, in their own ways, to over-ride this mechanism, and both failed. Sumira thought that even if you could disable the first trip switch, you were then taken over by an even more powerful one that acted as an emergency back-up. It was this auxiliary switch that had been flicked that time she’d flung her car off the road in Nice. Realising its subject was disappearing into extinction, it was activated, dominating all other cerebral motor and sensory function just in time to preserve life. They speculated that it may be the most powerful instinct known to man.

“How did your Mother conquer it, then?” she’d asked.

This became the topic for their next meeting and first date.

Over several more gins and Camels either side of a fragrant Vegetarian supper, they’d suggested that chronic depression, other mental illness, alcohol and drugs could all play a part in numbing the self-preservation switch.

Six months later, they married.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sumira 4

It was in France that it happened, as she was driving to Nice airport after an exhausting three day magazine shoot. She had worked long hours, had drunk long into both nights and had jumped straight into the hire car as the “wr…” of “wrap” was called in the hope of making her midnight flight.

The roads were deserted. She was in the car on her own. The CD player was faulty and French radio irritating. It was dark. She was tired. All she could think of was how it was within her power to throw the car off the road.

For a long while, she kept the thought at bay. Plans for next week, reflections on the shoot, the odd gear change just about helped her stay on the treadmill. Soon, the worst of the drive was over and she was looking good for an eleven o’clock check-in.

The roads kept coming, the empty, interminable roads, and her mind kept drifting, less and less cogently, more and more waywardly. Her body felt like a shell, her mind vapid, unpiloted, out of her control.

There then came a flash - the impulse.

She felt her left hand wrench the car away to her right, towards the verge, careering off the road at 110kph. In that movement, joy exploded; a nanosecond of ecstatic concession of agency - physical, mental, spiritual.

Before her eyes had time to perceive the hazards hurtling towards them, she felt her right hand pull the vehicle back towards the nearside lane and her feet crunch into the brake and clutch pedals simultaneously.

When her eyes opened again, they told Sumira that she was in a car that was lying stationary across three empty lanes of traffic and that she was alive.

She opened her door, vomited, turned on the radio and made the flight.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Sumira 3

It was only several years into this job that Sumira learnt to drive.

Growing up, she had relied on friends, often boyfriends, to ferry her from place to place and at Uni, she’d simply walked everywhere - not that there was anywhere to walk when her weekly commitments comprised four hours of seminars given by her philosophy professor in the snug of the pub at the corner of her street.

Once in the city, a car had continued to feel surplus to requirements. Despite her tube complex, there remained enough ways to zip around town without having to resort to her own petrol power.

As her career had progressed, however, and she had begun to gear herself up towards going freelance, she’d seen the ability to drive as a way of making herself more marketable. At first, she’d felt fear behind the wheel; fear of what other drivers may do to her. As she became more proficient - enough to pass her test at the second attempt - fear was replaced by enjoyment, by a burgeoning sense of control.

As this sense grew, however, it began to offer flashes of fear once again. This fear though was different from that she had experienced as a novice; she was no longer scared of what other drivers may do to her, she was scared of what she may do to them. With increasing regularity did Sumira see herself jerking her Clio off its 85mph course and either into the oncoming traffic, over the verge at the side of the road, or, less often, square into the back of the vehicle in front.

Usually, sensory input from the reality around her was enough to dismiss these visions - a word from a passenger, an item on the radio or the need to react instinctively by steering, indicating or braking would reinstate her on the treadmill of her existence and confine the impulse to some recess of her mind.

There was one occasion, however when the impulse proved strong enough to be converted into action.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sumira 2

This urge wasn’t confined to the underground. She could trace it back to being six years old and walking at Durdle Door with her father. Whilst her younger sister had frolicked carelessly close to the catastrophic precipices, she had been unable to even stand, bound instead to crawl on all fours, intermittently reaching out to cling onto her father’s trouser legs, tears making it hard for her to see her hands in front of her knees.

Her family had explained this as an episode of vertigo. To her then, this had meant she was scared of heights. But she knew that it wasn’t the height she was afraid of - it was knowing what she might do once presented with it.

At school she had been captivated by stories of notaries who - for some reason or other - had done themselves in, delighting in their methods, particularly those that were spontaneous. Whilst self-destruction seemed to her to be most often born of some form of unhappiness, Sumira sensed that there was a wanton element in humans - in her, as in others - to destroy for destruction’s sake. At university she enjoyed Sartre’s confirmation of this and for a time toyed with the career possibilities offered by existentialism.

Two years later, she moved to the city and took a job as a PR executive for a fashion firm.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Sumira couldn’t bear to watch a tube train pass her or pull up at a platform. This was a problem as she lived in the east of the city, worked in the west and played all over. To counter it, she either hid in the walkway between north and southbound platforms or, when she needed to stake her claim for a place in the boarding queue, closed her eyes. Only when she heard the airy release of the doors as they opened did she feel able to move towards the carriage and continue with her journey.
The source of her fear was the knowledge that if she saw the train as it approached her, she’d want to jump in front of it.
Of this, she was certain; the first and only time she’d been platform-side with eyes open as a train pulled up, she’d had a sudden, overwhelming, terrifying urge to throw herself in its path. What she was uncertain of was whether this urge would naturally lead to action. She decided that at this stage it was perhaps not worth her while finding out.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Thelonious Monk
Melodious Thunk
In love with the horn
From the day he was born
Thelonious Monk.

According to Geoff Dyer, being a jazz musician is extremely dangerous:

natural musical talent + gregariousness
guaranteed heroin addiction + two litres of gin daily + never more than 4 hours sleep a night
inevitable mental illness (choose one of schizophrenia / depression / anxiety) + death before 40
Tough breaks. Sounds like a life with all of the normal stuff that grounds you sucked out. Like they lived all of the good bits back to back, one continuous highlights package. Good to watch, but always destined to be shorter. And they all called each other 'cats'. Imagine that.


How can I contemplate the responsibilites of having a job when I cannot even keep an ill-formed blog up to date?