I’ll have to do this randomly, because as usual, I ended up talking way too much, so here are a few #reverb10 Prompts to be getting on with.
December 3 – Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).
I live right near the beach, so in the summer, whenever possible, that’s where I am. It was a superhot Saturday in July, and the beach was heaving with both locals, and the many coachloads of London daytrippers. Looking for space, and so to avoid this dilemma, I walked down to the far end of the prom, and was drawn to the pretty cheery sound of a London gospel church in full flow, there on the sand. It was really cool to unexpectedly come across that in the open air; that Ladysmith Black Mambazo-style acapella with complicated, layered melodies and handclapped rhythms. So, there I chose to sit and eat my sandwiches, getting a free performance to go with the meal. I’m a pretty black-hearted, cynical motherfucker, but I dare say there was a smile on my face at the sheer not-a-care-in-the-world joy of those people belting their hearts out, seemingly for no reason other than the gladness to be alive and be together, stood, as they were, surrounded by deckchairs and lunches like regular tourists.
When the music ended, part of me felt like applauding, but I didn’t. The second song, which immediately followed, eventually began to go on for just a bit too long. Loose, free-flow vocals started to become repetitious and, well, a bit odd. At a certain point, the passion of their singing suddenly seemed to have slipped over into mild-fervour. Hands were pounding together, feet stomping into the pebbles, and the chanting had a level of joyous aggression that I just couldn’t take my eyes off. The lyrics were hard to make out, with the heavy West Indian accents, but there was one word that seemed to be on the lips of everybody in that group. Jesus. “Je-sus!”
At this point, I became aware of one woman, amid what was now, a heaving throng of Southern Gospel, rolling in the aisles zeal. Eyes rolled white in her head like WWE wrestler The Undertaker, her arms were thrust limply back, and her hands trembled in a badly acted seizure. After a few minutes of twitching and thrashing on her feet, the woman staggered out from the group and collapsed onto her back on the pebbles. There was no panic, nor even any acknowledgement; the chanting and clapping continued. Don’t bother calling for an ambulance, Millard, this happens every day. She lay on her back, deathly still and unconscious (although with an arm that had fortuitously flailed over her eyes to block out the sun overhead), until she was eventually heaved to her feet by a friend, and back into that crowd.
Things then began to escalate very quickly. There was more twitching, and then, speaking in tongues. People dropped like cutlery, with their arms raised to the sky, gabbling gibberish as they fell, with as much reaction from those around them as if they’d softly sneezed. By the time I’d finished my last sandwich, I’d witnessed three seaside exorcisms. “Devil out! Devil out!” yelled what was obviously the leader, laying hands on twitching women who’d buck and writhe, and collapse under a sea of hands, while kindly looking elderly ladies under big church hats calmly watched from deckchairs as though they see it every day. What came next was a long (and I mean really long) blessing of the ocean, with people on their knees, praying for Jesus to send his light into the waters, many openly weeping, and then, the main event: a baptism. Now, this doesn’t paint me in a very good light, but art is truth, right? And the truth of that day was that the shapely young black women who were sent into the sea and dunked that day did so while clad in long white t-shirts, and nothing else. You don’t need to have been on spring break to know how that works, and I quickly felt as though I was trapped in some weird Girls Gone Wild DVD guest directed by Billy Graham. Two white women in their fifties – locals – had been watching, and congratulated those who’d been baptised, hugging these strangers proudly like family, with the huge, beaming smiles of the family of Christ, while I thought “Have you not noticed that you can really, really see their tits and arses?”
It was a moment not so much about feeling alive, but about truly appreciating the vast gulf between lives and beliefs, from two sets of people separated by a mere morning’s coach-ride. We sat twenty yards apart, eating our sandwiches – seaside lunchers simultaneously occupying the same small stretch of sand, but two different worlds. One world, populated by the power of Christ, and demons that can be banished before kicking off your shoes and having a happy paddle in the water; another, by atoms and atheism, and a man who mentally cheapens one of the most emotionally moving moments of somebody’s life by trying not to stare at the big brown nipples and stripe of pubic hair, like Adam after The Fall embarrassed by his own cock.
December 7 – Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?
2010 was the year I became obsessed with Twitter. The tedious dismissal of “I don’t want to read what people are having for breakfast!” couldn’t be more wrong. Twitter is like having the world filtered exactly how you like it. All other social platforms – real or internet based – suffer from an unfortunate injection of twats. In the real world, you can’t move five yards without a stupid, ill-informed opinion from an idiot wafting into your ear. On Facebook, for example, you’re ‘friends’ with people you’ve actively chosen to connect with, but those racist or twatty statuses and opinions still get through, and yeah, you can block the garbage, but you certainly can’t force people to be interested in the same things you are. I mean, in real life, I don’t know anyone who’s even heard of Werner Herzog. Trust me, any pop-culture references I irritatingly drop off-line are met with nothing but blank stares.
But with Twitter, you’re only seeing who and what you want. Done right, Twitter is a glorious world where everyone cares about the right issues, but not in an obnoxious way, a world where the Daily Mail purely exists to be ridiculed, and I can make a joke about Aguirre or Terry Gilliam, and if it’s funny enough, some people might even get it. People appreciate great movies and great music, and nobody ruins everything by piping up with a horrible xenophobic view typed all in monkey-fingered text speak. If somebody does turn out to be a twat, just stop following them and they’re gone. Oh, for that power in the real world. The streets would be like I am Legend.
I’ve also…well, not ‘met’ but come across some amazingly talented, funny, inspiring, interesting and wise people on there, for which I am very appreciative. They’re like the kind of people you imagined you’d be friends with when you were older, palling around each other’s patios and talking long into the night, before you realize that’s not how it works, because in real life everyone around you reads The Sun entirely without irony, and gets angry over football. Well, on Twitter, my Twitter, nobody reads The Sun.
December 9 – Party Prompt: Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans.
I’m not a guy who gets invited to parties, but there was one impactful gathering of the year; the wake of a family member who died suddenly during the summer. The abiding memory of that day is of his dog, now without a master, and stuck alone and confused in the house, after smartly dressed and crying family members who’d sadly waved away her anxious pleas to play ball, had solemnly disappeared into the distance in big, black cars. I’ve never seen such joy in a creature as I did on our return; tail wagging so hard she was almost flying, paws clambering on every pair of legs, and all so much more than just the regular “you’ve been gone for ten whole minutes!” canine apoplexy, but an obvious desperate relief that we hadn’t all left her forever like he had.
I fed her the chicken nuggets I’d pocketed especially from the buffet and took her for a long walk through the countryside while being thoroughly overdressed in a suit, tie and sensible shoes.