I’m Happy To No Longer Be Part Of It

My granddad recently passed away shortly before his 95th birthday.  Raised in the picturesque village of Thurlestone on the south Devonshire coast, he was sent to fight in the Second World War in his teens stationed in Italy, Austria and later Singapore.  After fighting the Nazis, he worked his entire life in a shoe repair shop in Exeter.  He loved his dog and had a passion for golf (almost turning pro in his younger days), which he taught in his spare time and continued to do so long after retirement.  My granddad shared his birthday with Independence Day on July 4th and something he once said to me after his retirement has curiously stuck with me: ‘I’m happy to no longer be part of it.’  At the time, I recall feeling these words echoed a strong inclination towards personal liberty (although granddad was never overtly political).

I was a rebellious kid at school and much of that spirit has stayed with me into adulthood to the point where I have long found it depressing how little we seem to value freedom in this country.  Reflecting on the above, it seems a tad ironic that I should find myself experiencing a small sense of relief after having sustained a closed ankle fracture.  For sure, I rue the loss of my usual mobility; I easily walk 5-6 miles a day (if not more) and recently took up surfskating, which got me into this muddle (see below) and I’m gutted that it’ll be months before I can return to it.  Nevertheless, the newly found free time seems like as good an opportunity as any to explore the part of me that’s been looking for a way off this ride for a while.  Three lockdowns, and all the hysterical nonsense that continues to drag along with it, has left me wishing I will very soon discover a pot of gold so I can retreat to a peaceful cottage in the woods with only my mountain bike and record collection for company (and maybe a couple of cats and a dog), and have as little to do with the world as possible.

Living in the UK has the feeling of having one’s wings perpetually clipped – why do we love rules so much?  The most notable addition: being successfully propagandised into all but demanding mandatory vaccinations against a virus with a disputed mortality rate.  I say ‘all but’ because, although it’s not actually law (yet!), merely writing the aforementioned sentence opens me up to ludicrous charges of ‘anti-vaxxer,’ as if I’m some sort of deranged conspiracy nut and/or dangerous criminal; not to mention the fact that when lockdown restrictions end, I could potentially find myself forbidden to attend public events like music festivals (not that I really care to attend such corporate shindigs these days).  While it might not yet be mandatory, I may nevertheless find myself, in all likelihood, ‘coerced’ into getting the Covid vaccination largely as a result of my Mum badgering me alongside substantial parts of the population lobbying the government for more laws and protections.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that Coronavirus is real and a threat to certain populations (the elderly, for example).  Incidentally, my issue is not with vaccines per se (I’ve had a tonne of the bloody things), but rather with how the whole politicised hysteria surrounding Covid19 continues to play out, which appears, above everything else, to have considerably enriched a select few billionaires while impoverishing the people and curtailing our liberties; something I find quite sinister and macabre.  For me, just how much of it is as widespread a threat in comparison to other viruses that kill millions every year remains unclear.  As far as I can tell, we don’t seem to have even had that conversation in the public sphere (at least not an adult conversation).  On the contrary, such a thing seems to be prohibited.

The aforementioned delirium, I would argue, was precipitated less by any dire existential threat, more by a seismic shift in the psychology of the masses since mediated through uber-corporate platforms such as Smartphones, Google, Twitter and Facebook (what I’ve come to view as a grotesque mutation of an already stupid culture worshipping celebrities fused with an equally dumb politicisation of everything jacked-up on steroids).  I personally don’t think these lockdowns would have occurred, nor the George Floyd protests for that matter – at least not in a manner that has bizarrely come to echo the neocon’s War on Terror in all its totalitarian use of language – if it wasn’t for the manipulative, hypermedia-driven age in which we currently find ourselves.

While apparently in the midst of a deadly pandemic, I found it weird, and a little embarrassing, watching so many people doing all kinds of mental gymnastics to justify large-scale protests during lockdown (incidentally, a lot of them white middle-class saviours); desperately trying to equate interracial experiences of the UK with a country that has quite a different racial history and a considerably more violent approach to policing.  The stats are pretty shocking for the amount of white people killed by US police if you bother to do any research though of course racism towards ethnic minority groups is evidently an issue as well.  I don’t deny it’s a very serious problem; my issue is with the unthinking extrapolation of overly simplistic narratives originating in a country thousands of miles across the ocean with a significantly higher level of violence than our own (I certainly wouldn’t want the job of trying to police it) to justify mass protests (all during what’s supposed to be a deadly pandemic, no less).  And what about those from ethnic minority backgrounds who don’t buy into the narrative, deeming it unhelpfully divisive, and as a result end up getting berated as if they’re some kind of heretic?

It appears critical thinking does not matter in a world that has become polarised as a result of being siloed into echo chambers by Silicon Valley oligarchs, selling packaged hate to competing demographics, to the point that less and less people are thinking for themselves in favour of conforming to a globalised type of groupthink spearheaded by US cultural imperialism.  There is hardly any resistance to this, least of all in the arts, which I find utterly depressing.  Art with no passion for freedom is propaganda. The former is dying while the latter appears rife in our media mad climate. If it wasn’t for the fact that we have become so moulded by, and reactive to, what we see on social media (often with zero knowledge or understanding of the context), then I don’t think either of the above would (or could) have unfolded in the globally unhinged manner it has.

The above got me thinking about something else my granddad would talk about.  About ten years ago, I lived around the corner from him in Exeter and would often pop round to watch the football (back when the Champion’s League was still on ITV!).  The routine was always the same; we’d watch the match, inevitably interspersed with war stories, followed by a DVD usually Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers or Enemy at the Gates, and no matter how often I showed him how to use the DVD player he’d always forget!  One of the things that struck me most about his war stories was the way he’d recount the camaraderie between his friends; he didn’t recollect it in a patriotic way, rather he seemed to recall the excitement of it.  He would also talk fondly of his years working in the shoe repair shop.  Granddad would work Monday to Friday and Saturday morning then go to the Exeter City match with his friends Saturday afternoon, followed by a dance in the evening.  Sunday was your free time, which for him would usually be a round of golf.  I think it would be ignorant, and just a tad condescending, to automatically assume ‘simpler times;’ most of us will never know the horrors and complexity of war fighting actual fascists while only a teenager (sorry, protesting against Trump doesn’t count; and I think it’s a sign of a truly soft-headed, detached-from-reality era that ol’ Agent Orange, an odious character to be sure, could be compared to the likes of Hitler).  Not to mention living through the Cold War that followed shortly after.  Nevertheless, I feel my granddad’s experience represented a self-sufficient, socially mobile working-class that I don’t think exists today.  He had a lifelong job that paid its way (he was able to buy a house as he worked his way up to manager) and enjoyed a relatively carefree life among friends devoid of the unnecessary anxieties (not to mention debts) we seem to burden ourselves with these days.  In that sense, I think it could be seen as simpler or, more accurately, freer.

Are we free today?  If you got rid of your Smartphone, deleted all social media and disconnected from the Internet, would you still feel able to participate in society?  I think we all know the answer to that, and what bothers me is that people don’t seem too bothered by that answer, nor show any inclination to rebel against it.

Let’s face it, we are ‘free’ to buy crap, watch mind-numbing TV shows, holler at football players, binge-watch Netflix, LARP as Gollum clutching an iPhone as ‘the precious,’ idolise narcissists (aka celebrities), turn into a narcissist (aka posting endless gym selfies), be influenced by influencers (aka twats), feel perpetually outraged and argue till kingdom come over inconsequential tweets, debate endlessly the legitimacy of facile American buzzwords like ‘white privilege’ or ‘cis,’ bitterly disagree over whether or not trans women are women, be monitored 24/7 by CCTV and think it’s normal, have our personal data mined by Big Tech to target us with annoying adverts and vote for same result every four years and call it ‘democracy.’  We can bicker over statues, quibble over the self-regarding pettiness of pronouns, indulge in the banality of sexual orientation, or revise history for those who are so impossibly sensitive as to find offence in just about anything (or maybe such people really are just grifters with nothing better to offer society?).

I recently read that an environmental group in New Zealand disbanded because it felt it was ‘too white.’  I don’t think there could be a more blatant example of what an overly pampered, egocentric culture technology has helped create.  The environmental issue is one that transcends ALL racial barriers; Mother Nature doesn’t care about our petty divides.  In contrast to the Covid hysteria, the science is crystal clear: if we don’t ALL do something urgently to address climate change, then we’re ALL fucked.

While people are distracted by the novelty of the spectacle, our beautiful world is dying; our NHS is being privatised by stealth; billionaires get more tax breaks; the West continues to bomb brown people (or sells arms to Middle East dictatorships that also bomb brown people); university fees are skyrocketing (can university even be deemed ‘middle class’ anymore?); the arts are getting ever more homogenised and beholden to big business; thousands continue to work zero hour contracts in precarious, often highly stressful, go-nowhere jobs paying extortionate rents to a greedy rentier class while many are increasingly having to rely on food banks to feed their families.  None of our political parties give a fuck about any of this. Never mind. Just clap for the NHS, wear a mask, look away as you feel a tiny prick in the arm and, above all, think not of liberty for you no longer have any.

People turn to drink and drugs to escape the drudgery of life finding refuge in oblivion.  For many, addiction takes hold and even though they do not enjoy the circumstances brought on by it, it nevertheless remains preferable to dealing with reality as it is.  I think this might go some way to explain our addiction to mobile phones and social media, despite the fact it’s making us increasingly miserable, uncreative and dumber as a race.  21st century reality is both banal and shit: humanity is intent on destroying all that is beautiful to produce more crap that none of us need and does not make us happy, all purchased via the fairy-tale creation called ‘money,’ which none of us really have.  Celebrities are a perennial bore whose job is mainly to help prop up a war-mongering corporatocracy while successfully portraying themselves as pious liberals as they literally drown in their own privilege (see: Meghan Markle).  Politicians still lie, the News is still reduced to simplistic sound bites, music mostly sucks and real journalists are left to rot in prison (see: Julian Assange).  We are not supposed to question any of this, anymore than an alcoholic is to think about why they drink; if they did, they might stop drinking and that would ultimately entail dealing with reality.

Everything is shit and we are less free, but it doesn’t have to be this way.  However, while we remain a society plagued by addiction, whose collective consciousness has been colonised by the polarised infantilism perpetuated by a saturated media culture, we will remain like the alcoholic and the drug addict: in denial, forever in chains subsumed into a self-absorbed mono-mind while everything beautiful burns.

I realise now that perhaps Granddad’s throwaway remark (he was never a serious person) contained a prophetic air with regards to discovering today’s ever-elusive road to liberty, i.e. to find a way to no longer be part of it.

24 June ‘21

© Christopher Sharp

Image: sticker I came across at a bus stop in Pool, Cornwall.


The Joys of Surfskating

There’s a really good surf shop just down the road from where I live called Freeriders.  Back in April, I bought a Kernowfornia sweatshirt for my brother’s birthday and something else caught my eye while looking around the shop: a Mindless longboard.  I used to skate a little back in my teens though I was generally more into BMX, which I think is why I enjoy mountain biking so much.  I’ve done a bit of surfing and always enjoyed it when I got the chance, which is why this particular skateboard caught my attention for it is actually a ‘surfskate.’  Interesting, I thought, and subsequently looked into this curious sounding sport online.  The YouTube videos seemed like fun plus quite a few of the locals spoke highly of it.  I needed a hobby and figured ‘what the hey’ and bought one.

I have been surfskating for a few weeks now and I am really starting to get into my turns and the whole ‘carve’ manoeuvre.  I can see why it’s so popular with surfers; it’s a great workout for core and lower body.  More than anything, it’s just really good fun!  Surfskates are different to skateboards in that they’re best suited to a flat (or relatively flat) open surface such as a car park.  You can ride them along streets and pavements, but the more open space you have (ideally with no one around – like a nice long wave all to yourself) the more you can really get into practising those carves!

To support studying to be a Personal Trainer at Cornwall College, I have been doing a mixture of jobs from washing pots ‘n’ pans at a beachside café to working for a housing association as a Relief Worker helping the homeless.  More recently, I have been working for the NHS on a psychiatric ward in Redruth; a job that can be as much high stress as it can be strangely isolating (not least when doing night shifts), particularly when you find yourself amid a pandemic living in a place where everything – and everyone – is totally new.

I like living in Falmouth; it’s a friendly town and being by the sea is great plus there are some ideal spaces for surfskating within a community that seems to love all things active and outdoorsy.  I find the Cornish considerably more laid-back and much younger in spirit than elsewhere in our jolly kingdom, a quality that endears me to this county over other places (though it can drive you a bit mad if you rely on its public transport, which runs on ‘Cornish Time’).  Nevertheless, I was looking forward to visiting family and friends for a week across the border in grumpy old Devon.  I suppose, like a lot of people, I was finding yet another lockdown a bit lonely to the point where it had been affecting my mental health considerably.

My course broke up for half-term on Thursday 27 May and my 42nd birthday (that’s right, I surfskate at 42 – I’m not ready for lawn bowls just yet!).  I got the train from Redruth to St. David’s that evening.  On Friday 28 May, I decided to take the board out after doing a recce around Exeter earlier that day for some decent looking car parks to continue practising my carves.  There is quite a long cycle track to get to the Quay, which has some ideal empty spaces located nearby.  As I was heading down the cycle path, I noticed a cyclist coming towards me.  I then heard a bell and saw that a number were also approaching from behind.  I figured the best thing would be to get off the board, step aside, let them all pass and then continue on my way to the Quay.

Now, as I said previously, surfskates are different to conventional skateboards; the former it’s best to step off the front (particularly if you’re a beginner), whereas the latter you usually stop by using the tail of the deck, as it’s much more stable and generally lower to the ground (I have quite large wheels to increase speed, plus I find larger wheels to be more versatile when carving on rougher surfaces or if the ground is slightly wet).  Unfortunately, for me, I forgot that golden rule; I casually stepped BACK off the board with my front (left) foot at which point it shot out in front of me carrying my right leg with it over a grass verge, swiftly followed by a ‘snapping’ sound and I immediately thought I’d twisted – and possibly broken – both my knee and ankle, ouch!

The lady cycling towards me stopped and asked if I was okay.  I was in a sort of heap on the grass verge (the cycle path runs by a flood plane towards the Quay) and in considerable pain at this point.  Another lady walking along the path to my left heard the snapping sound and also came running over to see if I was all right.  After about a minute or two, I was able to bend my knee (not broken, phew!) but my ankle was hurting a lot.  After a few more minutes, I gingerly got to my feet and limped about half a kilometre back to the bridge whereupon I was able to get a lift home.

I used to play a lot of football as a teenager when I injured my right ankle; it was quite a severe sprain that kept getting injured to the point I had to stop playing.  I was gutted as I thought I had done something similar and would, in all likelihood, not be able to do any more surfskating.  The next day I woke up feeling sick and unable to put any weight on my right foot.  My Mum wondered if I should go to A&E, but I was content at this point to see my GP when the surgery reopened after the bank holiday weekend.  However, by Sunday, I was in a lot of pain and unable to put any weight on it.  Mum convinced me to go to A&E where I sat in a wheelchair for over three hours in an overcrowded waiting room surrounded by a motley crew of the walking wounded, which included a number of crying children (one young girl was sat on her mother’s lap – who was doing her utmost to comfort her – clearly in terrible pain, poor thing).

I was X-Rayed after waiting for about an hour, then a nurse came to get me over two hours later.  I hate being poked and prodded and so I found myself feeling a little awkward and annoyed at the nurse merely doing her job – ‘does it hurt here?  Does it hurt here?’ blah, blah.  I couldn’t understand why she didn’t check my X-Ray first, but hey, I’m not a medic.  A&E staff were considerably overwhelmed and I could see she was likewise quite stressed too; the ward sister had even come into the waiting room about thirty minutes earlier to say they were so overrun that anyone who felt their problem wasn’t urgent was advised to go home if they didn’t want to wait a long time.

After sitting in a chair for more than three hours, at this point bursting for the loo but unable to walk, I very nearly made a phone call home!  I’m glad I didn’t; turns out I had sustained a closed ankle fracture on the bottom of my right fibula and so my leg had to be put in plaster and I was not to put any weight on it, hence I’m currently getting around on crutches.  The nurse asked if I would like to take a photo of my X-Rays.  When I asked her if I’d be able to skate again, she replied ‘sure’ … but then made a comment something along the lines of ‘aren’t you supposed to quit at some point?’ evidently in reference to my age.  What I didn’t tell her was that I’m only just getting started!

I wasn’t offended by her remark (that would just be silly), but I nevertheless find it strange – and somewhat arbitrary – where these ideas come from i.e. things we should be doing at certain ages.  I’m single, never married; I do not have a mortgage or kids and have never held any real interest in acquiring the aforementioned.  And what sport should I be doing at 42, precisely?  I’m not going to get all deep and philosophical, but I can’t help but think of Heidegger’s notion of what ‘one’ does as prescribed by the ‘they-self.’  At 42, ‘one’ plays squash and sits behind a desk, whereas, at 42, ‘I’ surfskate!

I am still hoping to finish my Personal Training course in June although right now I don’t know how long I’ll be on crutches for.  The exam is very practical, which will be difficult to do if I’m limping around and there’s no way I can safely work on a psychiatric ward.  Fortunately, my tutor is very flexible so I can finish it late if necessary.  More than anything though, I hope it won’t be too long before I can get back to surfskating.  Yeah, it hurts if you fall off badly and it’s a pain in the arse getting around on crutches (so much for walks on Dartmoor during my – since extended – stay), but surfskating sure is a lot of fun!  Yeah, I surfskate at 42, but I recently read about 76 year-old Bombay resident, Tripat Singh, who got into weightlifting at 60 after losing his wife – this guy lifts barbells while hanging upside down!  I suppose Tripat might say ‘at 76, “they” go lawn bowling; at 76, “I” deadlift in beast mode!’

Don’t act your age.

4 June ‘21

© Christopher Sharp

A bit about my journey…

I grew up in a council house in a village on Dartmoor overlooking a beautiful valley we simply referred to as ‘the fields’ where we would spend many an hour building tree houses, attempting ninja moves, swimming in rivers and exploring the terrain free as birds.  The fields seemed a world apart from the village with all its rules and in many ways to us harboured mysteries akin to ancient myths and folklore.  I was creative as a child; I particularly enjoyed drawing cartoons and was very good at theatre.  My parents also like to remind me about the time I ‘Jackson Pollocked’ their bedroom with Mum’s nail varnish!  It was Thatcher’s 80s so tough times for those in the low income bracket but, although my parents struggled a lot financially (divorcing when I was quite young), Dartmoor was a truly magical place to have spent a childhood.  The wonderful feeling of freedom and creativity amid nature experienced by my brother, friends and me remains, I think, the single biggest influence behind my work as a ‘grown-up’ artist.

I was an anxious and rebellious indie-kid coming of age in the 90s via underachieving at a small town comprehensive (kicked out of home, aged 16, during my GCSEs but that’s another story!), and working various part-time jobs to earn money that was mostly spent on t-shirts, weed and cassettes.  Early on it was all things indie and grunge – from Senseless Things, Ride, the Cure, Nirvana and L7 (and outrageous shows like The Word) to the dub and spaced out electronica of Mad Professor, Dub Warriors and the Orb.  I remember discovering the golden era of hip hop from A Tribe Called Quest and the Beastie Boys to Public Enemy and the punkish gangtsa rap from groups like NWA.  It was BMX, skateboards, Super Nes and Street Fighter 2 in an era of Strictly Jungle and The Edge mixtapes, late night cruising country back roads of Devon (usually to a free party), high as kites and trippin’ on shrooms, boppin’ to the D’n’b riddims of Hype, Nicky Blackmarket, Micky Finn, Darren Jay and more!  Most of all, I’ll never forget the first time I heard Demon’s Theme on LTJ Bukem’s Logical Progression compilation; it blew my mind and got me into DJing!  There was Bristol’s Trip hop and D’n’b scene from Massive Attack to Roni Size’s Full Cycle Records.  There was the time we got loved-up to see Leftfield’s Paul Daley do a set at Plymouth Warehouse (with Fabio in the back room) and my first crowd surf was at a Prodigy gig on speed.  We had music with energy, diversity and spirit that made it genuinely exciting to be young.

At college I encountered the barminess of Brit Art while visiting the now infamous Sensation exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery.  I recall being particularly drawn to the paintings of Fiona Rae and around this time decided the dream was to be an artist.  The creative culture of the 90s spoke to that rebellious teenager inside who, through youthful naivety, believed the 21st century would play host to an even greater spirit of indie!

After college I lived rent-free in a village pub while working in the bar and kitchen, deferred a place at uni, saved some money and travelled Australia and New Zealand.  I attained a Bachelor’s from the Nottingham Trent University and later got my MA at Central Saint Martins, London (also making various trips around Europe whenever I could visiting numerous galleries and museums).  The former I spent most of my time in record shops, spinnin’ a mixture of dub and intelligent drum ‘n’ bass on Nottingham’s Fly FM and various bars and clubs, disinterested in the arty-fartys promulgating postmodernism’s arid worldview.  I had lots of fun working part-time in a small bistro run by an old rocker and in my second year I undertook a collaborative project with Nottingham’s Royal Society for the blind, which got me short-listed for an Ambassadorial Scholarship.  At the time I was hoping to study a Master’s in California, but sadly it wasn’t meant to be.  Yet, still I dreamed and ultimately headed to London where I discovered that an idealistic council house boy from Dartmoor would come to find the art scene, in such a cosmopolitan city that had been so creatively vibrant only a decade earlier, boringly fauxhemian (the result of too much gentrification, maybe).  It was also around this point that I began to acknowledge I was suffering with severe depression and it was time to face some difficult things from my past.  This unsettled me and London wasn’t somewhere I felt I could be.  Needles to say, I didn’t have the confidence of my colleagues to sell myself and I began to feel the arts were little more than an indulgence confined to a particular mindset.  I was in a dark place, full of self-doubt, seeing no place for me in this world.

The ensuing experimental, melancholic and disenchanted years eventually led to a return to my roots, as it were, i.e. I found myself getting into the mysteriousness of landscapes, in particular the coast and countryside of my native Devon, drawing from the region’s folktales alongside the work of Jung, Eastern philosophy and art of the early modernists.

All of the above, coupled with my love of underground dance music, helped coin the term ‘dub spectrum.’  Since launching the website, I have held various exhibitions as well as written two books: a novel and a long-form poem.  I am currently writing my second novel.  Personally, I feel the arts have gotten too corporate, hence pretty much everything I do is in the spirit of the indie scenes I grew up around.  Over the years, I have supported myself by working various jobs in mental health and teaching at a language school in Exeter before moving to Cornwall last year to study to be a Personal Trainer.

May 2021

© Christopher Sharp

Remembering an Unlikely Teacher

He had a beautiful face, much like the Felix cat.

As humans, I have come to believe we possess two smiles – inner and outer.  The outward smile would be the most common, not necessarily ‘fake,’ we may feel happy to a degree, but the clouds have by no means fully dispersed within.  In that sense, it is somewhat of a mask.  The inner smile is that which sees the sun emerge through dense nebulas and shine deep into the abyss.  For centuries, this expressway penetrating to the depths of our very souls has self-evidently been despised, feared and suppressed by authority more than any opposing ideology … for it is the smile that liberates.

The outer smile is clearly what makes us vulnerable.  Though it can make us feel good, its ephemerality is all too easily exploited – insidiously so, I would suggest, by our mass consumer culture.  Be it festivals, bars, clubs, the Internet, social media, cars, holidays, smartphones, wealth, fame, alcohol, sex … such things are endlessly sold to us via clichés all obnoxiously vying to achieve the same thing: selling the promise to be a ‘better you.’  The catch?  It’s only for as long as it takes to reach the next sign … and the next and the next, all offering something even better dotted along boulevards of a kind of ‘just buy stuff’ perpetuity, like an all-pervasive narcotic.  In contrast, the inner smile tends to be that which costs us nothing (or relatively little), dwelling in much simpler things and where there are considerably less profits to be made.

Nevermore do we appreciate our pets than when they wholeheartedly immerse themselves in family life and Alfie was a fine example.  An active participant in the day-to-day household, you noticed if he wasn’t around.  If Mum was gardening, he’d be following her.  When Mum and step-dad returned from shopping, he’d be waiting by the car.  Unpacking, like a true Goonie he’d be sticking his nose in the bags, ever curious at what treasures may lie within.  Making sandwiches in the morning, he’d be at the front of the queue demanding his share of the ham.  The builder comes round to measure up the new fireplace and Mum finds herself having to inform him that a tape measure is a source of considerable intrigue.  I also recall Alfie’s peculiar habit of tipping over my laundry basket … and if there was a box, or an open drawer, he could not resist the urge to investigate this mysterious new space.  Alfie: eternally fascinated; to the end, he never stopped being curious.

Alongside boundless curiosity, Alfie was always playful.  I lost count of the times he would chase you if you had a stick of some kind (pen, spoon, cardboard tube – anything!), seeming to adore the thrill of the pursuit, purring loudly as he leapt to grab the object in question.  Curiosity and play were his defining characteristics, expressed purely through Alfie being Alfie.  Interestingly, despite a penchant for endless play and curiosity, he never ventured far from home – once he found home that is.  Alfie was originally a stray, just another unwanted feline from the Lane who turned up at Mum’s back door, circa 2009.  We had no idea how old he was at the time, but it seems amazing to think such a character could be unloved, unwanted, to the point they should seek out a new home.  Still, I feel fortunate this unique little fur ball should have felt the need to pack his bags and find his place elsewhere in the world.

Alongside boundless curiosity, eternal playfulness and knowing where home is, Alfie never failed to bring out the inner smile … quite a gift.  My attachment to him stems from when I lived at Mum’s a number of years ago so I could afford to do some teaching courses while continuing to work part-time in mental health.  Myself coping with anxiety, OCD and depression, I often felt too burned out to be around people, I.e. after working/studying with people all day, the last thing I felt like doing was going to a pub, club or whatever.  At the same time, I didn’t want to be alone as such; rather, this was a mixture of burn out coupled with the growing realisation that I am somewhat of an introvert.

While living at Mum’s, Alfie, for whatever reason, became quite attached to me and remained so since moving out.  Despite the fact he was ever the extrovert, there was a natural bond.  He regularly slept in my room, always wanted to sit on me in the lounge and would get quite jealous if one of the other cats beat him to ‘his lap’!  Likewise, I rather enjoyed his company; no matter how low I felt, he never failed to reach the inward sun.  He was refreshingly comical – humour not at the expense of anyone or anything, something quite lost on what passes for much of today’s comedy.

Fast forward to June 2019.  Alfie had become suddenly ill about a week prior to my Mum and step-dad going away for a few days on the Harley.  Unsure what it was, Mum took him to the vet hospital.  They thought possible lymphoma but weren’t certain without doing more tests.  I don’t want to write too much about the moments leading up to his death, just that it was a heart-breaking couple of days.  Mum had asked me to stay over and look after the cats while she was away.  We were hoping the antibiotics would see him pull through.  After nearly two days of unsuccessfully getting Alfie to eat very much, I phoned her for advice.  She contacted the vet and made an appointment.  My brother drove us there in the evening.  Our worst fears confirmed; the vet felt the most humane thing would be to put Alfie to sleep, as he was very sick and weak.  This was not the first time I had to witness a beloved pet put to sleep, but it was certainly the most upsetting.

We generally think of human deaths as automatically more upsetting than the loss of an animal.  Indeed, there will no doubt be those who will scoff ‘It’s just a cat!’ and in one fell swoop demonstrate everything wrong with humankind.  Earlier this year, my Nan passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.  Here, I must confess that bearing witness to Alfie parting this world was more heart-breaking to me than even the loss of an elderly family member.  Not that I didn’t love my Nan, of course I did, but I had prepared myself for her departure.  She had been ill for years and there’s much to be said for preparing yourself for the inevitable.  It’s like the difference between stopping and not stopping a fall in time.  To be sure, the former can still be painful, but it’s never likely to hurt as much as landing face first on the solid ground.

I remember hearing a faint thud in the hallway the night before Alfie’s passing.  I went downstairs to investigate the noise and there he was, lying beside a box he’d tipped over, too exhausted to turf everything out and have a snoop inside, as he always liked to do.  I tidied the box and sat by him in the hallway, gently stroking him, part smiling, part heartbroken – it was to be one last act of Alfie.

He had a beautiful face, much like the Felix cat.  However, it is what shone from inside the unwanted stray from the Lane, which I’ll remember most: to be playful, to be endlessly curious, to be completely present in family life (a sentiment expressed by the great Lao Tzu himself) and to know that home is where Love is and that you needn’t wander too far from it to explore the world (indeed, it was in part through reflecting on the joy he brought to life that inspired me to start writing The Cycle Diaries shortly after).

The following evening bearing witness to Alfie’s passing felt like life face-planting me on the cold hard concrete – his final act as a teacher. R.I.P

Alfie (unknown – 19th June 2019)

June 2019

© Christopher Sharp

April and May 2018, I travelled from Marrakech to Porto making a number of sketches along the way.  Click here for more images.

2016, I travelled north Spain and camped in the beautiful Picos de Europa national park.  It was while camping amid this glorious backdrop that I finally put pen to paper for my debut novel, Adrift in Amnesia.  More images from my journey can be found here.