Cover image by Dongwha Lee
This year will be one of great contrast, for you and your loved ones. A Chinese satellite, sent up on a Long March 6 rocket from the Jingyuan Launch Centre in Gansu could have a big impact on your charts. The effect of this new arrival in the house of your ruling planet, Mercury, will be redoubled when it emerges that far from being a harmless Chinasat-series telecoms module, the satellite is a JianBing 6, the new iteration of China’s flagship spy satellite, capable of acquiring images of a resolution and tactical value hitherto unavailable to their military.
Consequently, you should be prepared for things to become unsettled; for example you will start the year with a great deal of enthusiasm but by March you will be tired and wishing it was Christmas again. Try not to get bogged down in too much self-analysis and trust to your instincts. Don’t take on too much and make sure your priorities are clear. At the same time, remain open to surprises; an unexpected development could be revealed as a real opportunity.
You will be bored but in a very specific way. You won’t be bored by your own inaction, which seems to have become so much part of your way of being in the world that you have no emotional reaction to it all, but by the activity of others. No matter what everyone else is doing, at least they’re doing something. You will say: “Oh, I could never work as hard as Tom but he’s got a career path, you know? He’s going somewhere, even if he doesn’t particularly like it.”
You will start thinking about sorting your life out or at least doing something that will get your name into the Saturday supplements. You will buy some books about gardening with the plan of turning the tiny courtyard space of your flat into a riot of blooms and rare plants but will then realise this would take too long and is no guarantee of impressing anyone. You will think about starting a microbrewery or a sourdough bakery and come up with some clever names for beers. You will have an idea for a cartoon satirising the foibles of North Londoners, two strips of panels running in parallel, one showing the action, the other expressing the characters’ interior monologues through miniature figures, something like the Numbskulls strip that you used to read in the Beano. You will email a friend who works as a graphic designer to ask him to do the visuals. He will decline, but nicely, although you will be convinced he is going to steal the idea for his own.
You will notice a photograph in the window of a jerk chicken restaurant, just around the corner from your flat. The photo will look as if it has been printed on a home-grade machine and laminated. It will be stuck to the inside of the window in the middle of a flurry of more expected images depicting menu items, such as rice and peas. This picture shows something like a jewelled egg, flanked by painted winged cats, sitting behind a row of canopic jars. When you describe the picture to your girlfriend, she will laugh and say: “Stop trying to find things to be interesting about.”
A stranger’s advice could be of great value to you. Developing new skills is always a good idea. Have you ever considered doing some data entry for a large bureaucracy in your spare time?
You will consider taking up taking drugs again but then realise you don’t know where to get them anymore. You will go out for drinks more often after work and you will eavesdrop on people in pubs. A Korean-looking student, discussing politics in German-accented English, will say: “British people don’t understand being different. For me, it costs a lot to be different. It’s expensive. British people don’t care. It’s too easy.”
You will meet someone called Ian, in the smoking area of a downstairs drinking club in Soho. It will be too early to be in the drinking club, technically, but everywhere else will be full of people you think are more boring than you.
“What if,” Ian will say to you, “Consciousness is a quantum artefact? What if it’s the result of the action of electron tunnelling in certain protein tubules in our brains? What if that is responsible for the whole rich sensorium in which we exist?” By the end of the night you will agree to check out his blog and get in touch if you want to learn more. If nothing else, you will think, you could write a book about him, if he turns out to be a nutter. You could do something in the Jon Ronson mode, keep yourself at a distance so you’d be safe and look clever. You will think Ian’s blog is impressive and you will be a bit disappointed when he turns out to be some sort of psychologist employed by QMUL or possibly an artist with funding from the British Council. His LinkedIn profile doesn’t make it quite clear what he does. You will email him and said you want to know more. You ask him if he is a scientist. He will reply: “Well, we’re all multi-disciplinary these days, out of necessity.”
He will invite you to his lab, which is an industrial unit in a small clutch of warehouses squeezed in between a street and a park. There is a church in the unit next door. He will bring you in and introduce you to his assistant. His equipment will look a bit like a lashed-up physics experiment or maybe something you would see in the window of a pop-up gallery. It features lengths of paint-spattered scaffolding, an old CRT monitor, stainless steel canisters and thick cabling the colour of nursing home furniture. The subject has to fold himself or herself into a strap-laced frame facing the monitor. It will remind you of A Clockwork Orange although you will make a reference to Stalker, for all the obvious reasons. “The look is very much part of the whole effect,” Ian will explain. “It’s a cargo-cult thing. Modulates expectations.” After you have signed his forms, you will fold yourself into the frame.
Once he throws the switch you will find yourself watching a slowly changing flower, something big and blowsy like a camellia, growing on the screen of the old CRT monitor. As it grows, it overfills the monitor’s plastic casing, and its petals start to flop out of the screen, looking suddenly fleshy and flapping towards your face. Once it is all over, Ian will say: “I’ve seen all sorts of things in there. My experiences tend to be more narrative. Something about a disaster and people not behaving like they should.”
You will walk down to the river to get some air, passing through the gates of the old Victualling Yard. You will notice the grey stone steer skulls mounted high either side of the arch. Standing by the Pepys Community Library and Resource Centre you will watch a powerboat cutting down towards Greenwich. The noise of its progress will seem to emanate from the buildings behind you, rather than the river. The spray from the engines will blossom and split in the wind and each droplet could be a petal. You will realise that the flats and houses along the waterfront are fretted and pocked with nautical details; a porthole window here, crossed anchors there. You will realise this is a terrible expensive joke that nobody else seems to have spotted and wonder who was responsible.
Your most heartfelt commitments and projects should not be dependent on the whims of others. Be self-reliant. Your lucky colour is teal.
You will see a protest outside an old tower block, squatters going head-to-head with the police. They will face off across what is usually a busy road but has been cordoned off for the occasion, like a grown-up version of the junior football fields that divide parks on Sundays. The police will hunker down behind their riot shields but stop short of charging the protestors. Neither side seems to know exactly what their next move should be. One of the protestors has a dog which will howl constantly and disturbingly until he takes it to one side and makes it sit. You will see him holding the dog under the chin and trying to keep its attention.
You will think about crossing the road to get a closer look but you will stay away. You will take photos of the banners and post them on your Twitter account but refrain from adding them to your Facebook albums, even though the “Battle of London” typography is pretty cool.
An email will go around at your work asking people to “refrain from depositing matter in the sinks in the men’s toilets.” You will remember that you had seen some bits of blood and snot in one of the basins but had had no idea it was something that had been happening regularly.
You will watch what feels like hundreds of hours of YouTube videos made by a man living in a rundown Nevada town, complaining that the country songs he had written when younger, but not recorded, had been somehow stolen and made famous by Garth Brooks and Toby Keith. He still has enough money to occasionally visit the one remaining casino in his town, where he likes to have giant shrimp for dinner. He films his videos at night, while his wife is asleep. The lighting is low and focused on his face; nothing is visible of the background. He could be broadcasting from the void. Eventually the videos will begin to detail the intricacies of the defrauded man’s psychiatric and orthopaedic treatments and they will further divert into the realms of local politics; a murder suicide that had rocked his town and cost the editor of the local paper his job. It will stop being entertaining so you will stop watching.
Old friends and new will be a source of inspiration this year. An invitation to a reunion might give you pause for thought but make sure you accept. Do not hesitate to ask probing questions, you deserve to know the answers.
You will think about persuading your girlfriend to let you have a torrid affair and then write an article about how it saved your relationship; probably somewhere like Grazia might be interested. Preparatory to this you will contact, on Facebook, a woman with whom you had ill-advisedly once slept with some years ago. This earlier incident had, as far as you were concerned, been forgiven and forgotten by your girlfriend, so you will be surprised when the subject of the affair is brought up and she seems to know that you had been thinking of this woman. You will begin to suspect your girlfriend of breaking into your social media accounts. You will wonder about getting married, in some unusual and interesting way.
Be kind and considerate to your lover and try to surprise them in some way. Honesty about your desires is always the best policy.
Your girlfriend will be very quiet for a couple of weeks and you will wonder if she is still pissed off about the affair idea. But it will turn out her father was ill and getting worse and that he has died. You will both go back to the village in which she grew up in order to attend the funeral. Everything will be tremendously sad and you will start crying after her mother tells you how much the dogs are missing him and how she doesn’t know what she will do with the big gardens now that he is gone. None of the floral arrangements at the church will look very much like flowers to you, but the clouds hanging low over the trees when you come out into the graveyard will seem as if they would be scented and blooming, if you could get close enough to touch them and breathe them in.
The reception will be back at the house, in the garden. You will keep calling it a reception, even though your girlfriend will insist that it is a wake and receptions are for weddings, because you secretly believe only Irish people can have wakes and that they need to be dramatic and poetic and involve singing. You will get drunk at the reception and try to talk to your girlfriend’s mother about her schooldays and what the village was like before the war. Your girlfriend will have to take you out into the garden and tell you to calm down: “Stop trying to make her happy. She wants to be sad.”
You will remember that as a child you never could understand how people met and you assumed it was just like in the films or TV programmes where they bumped into each other crossing the road and immediately fell in love. You used to quiz your parents about their relationship, refusing to believe that they met “at work” or “in a pub after work”. You will want to ask your girlfriend’s mother how she met her husband but she will have cried herself out by that time and gone to bed. In the morning, you will wish you had managed to work out what you wanted to ask her before she left the reception because in the light of the new day she seems a lot less interesting and approachable. You will think you might like to have a daughter and to give her a name that reminds you of where you are from but you won’t tell your girlfriend.
When you pull off the M4 for coffee on the way home from the funeral, you will get an email through on your phone from Ian. He will want to know how things are going and if you have anything interesting to report. His continued experiments with the machine have started to reveal some interesting developments in the narrative of his visions. “Are you progressing in any way?” he will want to know. You will not reply because you think you have gone far enough along that particular avenue.
You have a habit of not listening to other people, even when they make themselves as plain as possible. Don’t be selfish when it comes to your girlfriend’s family, they are all you have. Give at least one thoughtful gift, maybe something involving acanthite or wool. But don’t be stingy, they’re not entirely sure about you as it is.
You will go on a spring holiday to a downtown area of a north European city balkanised by trends and gentrification. You will be based in the area that has most recently become OK to live in. Everything will be expensive and the social contract will be rigorously enforced; you will stay in an AirBnB, drink the same beer you drink at home and you will not see a single homeless person. When you get back you will say: “Yeah, it’s one of the few places I could really see us moving to.”
Later in the year you will book a last-minute break to Turkey, all-inclusive and at a resort because your budget will be tighter than you thought. You and your girlfriend will be happy in the smell of each other’s sun-warmed skin and will decide to walk up the gravelly hill behind the hotel. On the way out of the resort you will meet a man selling artificial flowers, folded out of paper and card. The stems of the flowers will be made of newspaper, rolled tightly until the pictures and the words become smeared striations of colour. The paths up the hill will be overgrown and hung with cobwebs. Some of the webs will be ragged and tangled, their threads twisted into a thick whiteness; others will be invisible initially and you will only be able to make them out when you spot the spiders, fat-backed and bloated against the blue sky. Your girlfriend will walk ahead of you, swinging a stick through the webs and clearing the way. She will tell the spiders: “Sorry about this. I do feel bad for you.”
At the top of the hill there will be a small village with a café. The café will be closed but you will be able to see a collection of dusty stuffed birds through the windows facing the square. Most of the houses will have something wrong with them; a thick curtain of green vegetation, dotted with purple blossom, growing out of a broken upstairs window or a pile of rusting olive oil cans, mattresses and broken fridges dumped in front of a door. Your girlfriend, who normally likes to dream about buying a rundown place somewhere hot and doing it up, will not express her usual enthusiasm. After trying to get into a locked building you think should be an old and noteworthy church you will say: “Do they even have churches here? Is this the Muslim bit?” You will see the resort from the edge of the village and its stepped concrete outlines will remind you of Canvey Island’s sea defences. You will get turned around and lost on the way back down and throw a small tantrum. However, in wondering through the spiny trees you will discover a tumbled pile of stones that is either an old shrine or a water trough. Either way, it will feel like something special and different you have managed to provide for your girlfriend and your bad mood will lift.
Later that night, you will be eating dinner at one of the “adults-only” restaurants at the resort, far enough from the hotel to qualify as being by the sea, when you will notice the artificial flower seller from the morning crouching on the beach. His paper and card flowers will be on the sand beside him as he stares up into the night. Your girlfriend will say: “Oh go and buy one off him, he looks sad.” You will join the flower seller on the sand and he will barely look at you while you buy three flowers from him. You will look up. There’s nothing much to see, as far as you can make out, apart from a blinking light that could be a plane but definitely isn’t a star. After a while, he will get up and leave.
You won’t need those sea-sickness tablets you packed wherever you go this year. The boat trip you planned to take in Turkey will come to nothing. The sea will be too rough on the day you set aside for it. But chin up! You never know where your travels will take you next.
A general feeling of lassitude and angst will descend on you after your holidays. After a couple of weeks your girlfriend will make you visit your GP, who will say there is nothing wrong with you. One of your girlfriend’s most annoying friends will recommend that you both go on the Saffron Diet, a detoxifying and revivifying programme based around a vegetarian menu incorporating as much saffron as possible. You eat orzotto, made with barley and a stock prepared from a virulent yellow macrobiotic powder, for most meals. The vegetable material makes you feel sleek and heavy, as if it were crowding under your skin. You will feel hot and sweaty at night. After three weeks you will feel better. You will refuse to credit the Saffron Diet for your improvement.
You will buy some new running kit. You will run and get thin. You will sign a petition against the building of a new cycle superhighway through the park where you run. You will start to notice some of the other runners from the park in other places around your neighbourhood. You will see one of them, a thin blonde woman, crying in the carpark of the supermarket you use most regularly. She will be on the phone saying: “Yes, I know. But your granddad has chronic pain. He’s in pain all the time and he has to manage that.” You will avoid the supermarket for a while after that.
Ian will send another email, the tone of this one less friendly and more insistent. He will imply that he has something urgent that he needs to tell you about his experiment or art installation and that you might be breaking the terms of whatever agreement it was that you signed. You will not reply to this email.
It will rain for two weeks, almost solidly. You will stop running and get fat. You will look out of your office window one day and notice that the trickles of water on the plate glass look like vines or roots, swarming down the side of the building.
Your relationship to the idea of health is not healthy. You’re not in competition with yourself. You should be nicer to your girlfriend’s annoying friend, she’s only trying to help. And fretting about what Ian is trying to tell you is useless unless you’re prepared to take action.
You will win £200 by betting on who would be announced as the Saturday night headliner at Glastonbury, based on something someone at work told you, that he had been told at a dinner party by someone who worked in the music industry. Otherwise, your usual inability to understand money will keep you from making any. That’s what you will tell yourself anyway.
You will find a pad of orange Post-It notes lying on the pavement outside your front door. Written on the first Post-It, in neat separate letters, will be this:
“Meanwhile, The New Cromis burns, different flames issuing forth as pockets of exotic substances are torched, chimeric filaments of light washing over the onlookers as they imbibe the fumes and enjoy the resultant cheap chemical engorgement. The New Cromis burns splendidly, as if it were meant to burn or had been built with burning in mind, but Teague still does not care.”
You will consider keeping the Post-Its but, after a moment’s thought, throw them in the recycling bin.
It will finally be Christmas again and you will decide to do something different with your decorations. Your girlfriend will want to make paper flowers, like the ones you bought in Turkey. You will try to fold your own but you can’t make out how they are put together. One of the flowers has a damaged stem, crumpled in the suitcase on the homeward trip, so you will decide to unpick it and study the secrets of its construction. The flower will seem to leak a scent, oregano and thyme, and its petals will rustle as you begin your dissection. The tightly rolled paper will rips as you attempt to open it out but you will finally manage to dislodge the folds holding it in place. You will flatten out the sheet and it will be revealed as the front page of a copy of a newspaper called Zaman. There will be a large picture, taking up most of the space on the page, of a landslip or a mudslide. The silhouetted heads of onlookers will be visible in the foreground of the shot and the orange lights of rescue vehicles will be seen towards the rear.
You will recognise the scene and feel a vast shift inside, a change in your topography. You will think: “This is what organ failure feels like. Or even worse, the complete and literal disappearance of an organ. My internal scheme is changing and settling into a new shape.” You will think that you really should email Ian but your girlfriend will remind you that it is Christmas and you have a lot of other things to do.
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