Monday, September 20, 2010

Thoughts from Westminster Bridge

Is it a bad sign when you feel like Michael Bublé is writing the lyrics of your life?

Tonight I feel as though I'm living someone else's life. If it was my life, surely I'd feel more at home in it?

I'm alone in a hotel room again. This time it's a posh hotel room, a small suite in the brand new, so-cool-I-feel-they-shouldn't-let-me-in Park Plaza at Westminster Bridge in London. I'm here for a conference, together with a few hundred other management consultants and technology managers. Can you feel the excitement?

I know how I should be feeling becuase I know how my colleagues would feel – pleased to be here.

The hotel is ultra modern: light boxed walls, bold art, dramatic colours and futuristic shapes carved in glass and chrome and marble. The carpets still smell new. From here on the 9th floor, I can look down the atrium, along Westminster Bridge and see the tower of Big Ben gilded by sunlight. I have a good story to tell. I'm amongst my peers. The food and drink is free and plentiful and I am surrounded by people I should be either selling to or hiring.

So why do I want to hide in my room and do email? Why did I skip the corporate lunch to walk to McDonald's on the river front. Why did I reject room service and bring back a takeaway pizza to my five star suite? Why does a room full of relatively happy, relatively friendly people, make me want to turn around and walk away?

I can see my own eccentricity in the faces of those around me. If they were a bit more working class at least one of them would have said: „Cheer up, mate. It might never happen.“ Instead I find that my body language is so negative that I never actually have to speak to anyone.

By this evening, I was feeling invisible and inadequate. I know that part of this is that I have a cold and I'm tired. Part of it is that I'm a grown man and yet I've never learnt how to do small talk or mix with a crowd. I now anticipate failure before it happens, wallow in the anger and disappointment that that brings and then beat myself up for still being stuck in this same pattern all these years later. It is, I know, pathetic.

I think it is made worse because I'm back in the UK and not at all sure whether I want to move back permanently or never visit again.

This weekend, I walked along the coast in the rain, near the town I grew up in. It was cold and grey and dauntingly beautiful. When the week sun hit them, the runnels of water on the mud flats looked like liquid lead. The sky was mist and melancholy, gilded with hope. I was passed by families on a sponsored walk for the dead and the wounded in Blair's wars. They wore T-shirts with pictures printed on them of the men they lost or who had come home broken.

In Switzerland I watch the politics the way a meercat scans the sky, looking for threats that might require flight.

In England I feel rage at the politicians at a level so deep it takes my breathe away: the Tory minister who believes that the poor are poor because they are stupid; the British National Party front men who exploit the fear and discontent of the powerless to promote hate and who have the gaul to dress themselves in symbols that the working men of this country died to bring meaning to; the pundit on the radio who uses half-truths and flawed to statistics to push the idea that the National Health Service is „probably“ not a good idea. I want to rail at them, to grab them by the neck and shake them like a dog with a rabbit.

And yet I choose not to live there.

Perhaps it is Dido, not Bublé who's script I'm following. Maybe the problem is that my life is for rent. I need to make a commitment to people and to a place.

If you can't imagine your future, your present starts to detach itself. Your identity fades. Your are neither 1 or 0 but on a journey towards something yet to be defined.

I can feel a storm coming.The air is heavy and tense. It is hard to see even to the horizon.

Still, I've always enjoyed storms. I hope this one arrives soon.

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