It’s funny how sometimes a thing can take you back. I don’t mean take you back in the violent sense, trigger words and flashbacks; just vivid memories of things past and put behind one, suddenly evoked again.
An online friend has just had a massive upset in her life, one that has thrown all her plans into disarray, and she’s been left feeling pretty discombobulated by it. I feel awful for her and I'm worried that she is having a f*cking hard time in several areas of her life at once. I wish there were something I could do to help. Because I know how that feels. I’ve been there. I don't mean the exact same things have happened to me; but things have happened that left me in that same situation - the ground cut from under my feet, all my dreams in shreds and tatters and my life-plan collapsing around me.
It’s absolutely years ago, now, and it’s rather extraordinary to realise just how strongly those memories can be brought back, by my trying to offer support and sympathy to someone else in a similar position.
I was living and working in Canterbury at the time, and to cut a long story short, I teamed up with a friend from college, who was planning to move to London. I was going to become her lodger, and move back to London too, something I had wanted to do for ages.
I was very, very fond of this friend; we'd seen each other through some tough times. She was going through a pretty sticky marriage break-up, and I thought this latest battle of hers had brought us closer still.
Eventually we were right on the point of making the move. She’d left her husband, and given the tenants in her old home notice to leave, and they’d moved out. I’d quit my job, and was about 75% of the way to being packed. Our moving date was six days away. Then I discovered, pretty much by chance, that my friend was planning to commit a crime when she got to London, and that she expected me to give her my tacit assistance by covering for her. And I thought, WTF??
Given the amount of stress she had just been through I was astonished and horrified that she was casually preparing to do something which could, if discovered, put her in very deep shit indeed. I knew it was technically none of my business how she chose to live her new life – but then, she was expecting me to aid and abet her, so actually it was my business. After a lot of careful thought, I just couldn’t get past the fact that I felt very strongly she should stop and think twice and twice more before she took a step like this.
So I told her so. I wrote a long and carefully-worded email trying to say "I'm really very concerned about this, I really don't think it's a good idea, have you realised the implications? please understand I say this because I'm seriously worried about the risks you're taking, & please, won't you think again?"
I hope I was polite about it. I think I was. I’m not a very combative person to begin with; and she was one of my closest friends, and I knew she had been under a heck of a lot of strain in recent months. I really didn’t want to appear pushy or rude, or as if I thought my opinions superior to hers. I actually thought it was possible she might never have realised the implications of what she was doing. I honestly was trying to help, I thought it was my duty as a friend to say what perhaps no-one else had bothered to; "this is not a good move, and it's also illegal; please don't do it." I think there are times when it's a friend's job to say the thing they know you will be uncomfortable hearing, because no-one else will (& gods know, my friends have done it to me on occasion, so I do know what it feels like!).
We had a very, very difficult telephone conversation the next day, during which she told me I had no right to have an opinion about anything she did, yelled at me about my arrogance and my appalling betrayal, and demanded an immediate apology. I tried to reason with her, to no end, and then I pleaded. I just seemed to make her more angry and more hurt with every word, and in the end I gave up. The conversation was making one thing very clear that I'd never realised until then; namely, that even if this had not happened, this good friend of seven years' standing and I would never have been able to share a house peaceably. I simply can't live with someone who expects me to say "Yes, of course, you are right in everything you do, and I have no opinion and no right to one, my only role is to support you unquestioningly."
This is one of the major reasons I'm single. I will not, I cannot, live like that.
When I put the phone down, I knew that our plans were over. I was not going to move to London with her, and she was no longer my friend. I was shaking.
I rang my Dad; and he was a rock. God rest his soul, he really saved my sorry ass that day. I had just ripped my entire future apart on what was, essentially, a matter of principle, and I was sitting in a heap on the floor crying my eyes out as the enormity of what I'd done really hit me.
I'm trying very hard to be careful about what I say here, incidentally. I'm not going to name my erstwhile friend, and all I will say about the things she was proposing to do, and expecting me to abet her in, is that they were fairly serious pieces of fraud. Honestly; I wasn't being petty about something unimportant like her weed-smoking. We're not talking about a police caution or a point on a driving licence; we're talking about tens of thousands in fines, and the possibility of prison.
Since we've never spoken again, I have no idea how things worked out for her. I really hope she didn't get caught; but I'm not sure I want ever to find out. I don't need friends who need me to be their ronin when they decide they're entitled to commit a crime.
Anyway, that left me, just under a week before I was due to move, with no future, no job, nowhere to go and live, my plans and dreams in shreds and one of my closest friends suddenly gone from my life. I had a lot of self-doubt and a lot of grieving to do, and a heck of a lot of work to get my life back onto some sort of an even track.
But I did get it back on track, and eventually I did move back to London, under my own steam and not on anyone else's coat-tails. And I've never looked back with regret on that earlier plan.
I want to be able to say to my online friend, now; look, it will happen, you will get there. I want to hope that it would help her, to know this story. Life can kick you flying sometimes and fuck up everything you've got planned. But the human heart is resilient and the human mind solves problems if given half a chance. Sometimes the post-disaster solution is better than the original plan.
You will get back on track, and you will begin to make progress again towards your dreams. I cannot promise you or anyone else much in life, but I can promise you this, my friend. Because you are already looking for ways forward, I can say to you with confidence, you will find a way. "Where there's life, there's hope" became a cliché precisely because it is true.
On to more cheerful things. How about a movie review?
I went to the flicks last night, and I can report that “Pacific Rim” is great fun. You won’t need all of your brain to enjoy it, as it doesn’t have the world’s most intellectual script. But it’s viscerally exciting, the production design and special effects are tremendous, the plot is pretty coherent, and Idris Elba seems to be having a terrific time playing the courageous and world-weary commanding officer. Otherwise, it just does exactly what it says on the tin; this is a smash-em-up movie about giant robots battling giant sea monsters. Bam! Wallop! Crash! And all in spectacular 3D.
I’m being a bit unfair here, actually; it isn’t lacking in subtlety by any means. For once a film that announces right at the beginning “The world came together to try and solve the problem...” does then go on to have a moderately international cast of characters - well, developed-world international, anyway, no-one’s from Bangladesh or Zambia or the Windward Islands – but still, they aren’t all WASPs, and the climactic “last stand” defence is of Hong Kong, not a US city. So for once it isn’t “America saves the world!” but “America, Australia, Japan, China, Russia and the UK save the world by working together!” It’s like a subliminal echo of a more innocent age, when it was World War 2 movies that told these “goodies beat baddies” stories, and the mere use of the term “the Allies” instantly implied an international force for good.
The two scientists are written as classic clichés (nutty-professor mathematician with a limp, excitable geeky biologist in specs), but they’re also written as by far the bravest people in the film, which goes some way to compensate for that. And it’s good to see Burn Gorman getting a decent role in a big budget film; he’s a lovely actor blessed with an extremely quirky face, and makes for a splendid bonkers scientist.
Another thing that pleases me is that the scriptwriters have the guts to kill off several major characters. I know it’s a bit silly to grumble about a sci-fi action movie being unrealistic (after all, giant robots and sea monsters...), but the ones where only minor characters ever die do irritate me vastly.
A final nice touch; there’s an obvious attraction and growing bond between the two leads (brave & handsome American chap, brave & beautiful Japanese woman) but there’s only the smallest inference of outright romance, and all the clichés here - the desperate last clinch, the death-bed confession of love - are completely ignored; it could just as easily be simply an intense friendship, and that is all one ever actually sees. Hurrah; ship them all you like (& I do) but they don’t kiss on-screen, folks!
And by gum, it looks fantastic. The jaeger-robots and the monsters look amazing, and so do all the gritty details; clothes and accommodation look lived-in, walls look dirty, metalwork looks rusty, and so on.
So all in all, rollicking good fun, and a perfect relax-and-eat-popcorn movie.