This quickly wore off. By the time I left, I was tired and disenchanted. The people whose views I most closely identified with were the malcontents, the old guard outcasts from the shiny new party. And worst of all, the only thing they did about it was gather in their own little fringe meetings, and complain about how unfair it all was. Their greatest spokespeople were cranks, and they seemed happy with that role.
But still, I went back the next year. The year after a general election, the year after we had been told our Glorious Leader wouldn't be taking us into another one. This year, perhaps just because it was my second time, everything seemed much flatter. There was no buzz to the conference. Everyone was playing a waiting game – there were no candidate selections to wheel and deal for, there was no way of knowing whose camp it made sense to attach yourself to. The political animals, the professionals, the careerists, were confused, wary. This was a new situation for the political class that had grown up with Blair, and the wise old heads had mostly already left in disgust.
Surprisingly, there was little competition to get tickets for the showpiece speech. I heard later that party officials had had to run around and drag delegates in, so that the TV cameras wouldn't show the Prime Minister talking to an empty hall. Myself, I was with a friend who had been a candidate in a no-hope seat, whose reward was seats on the floor – not much nearer the action than the visitors' balcony, but the few feet beyond that small wooden barrier were important to so many people. I filed in with my friend, and found myself at the wrong end of a row of cinema style seats, trapped against a barrier. Behind us were the bright young things, the political researchers and wannabes, those whose belief hadn't yet been tempered by experience – or perhaps their ambition was just stronger than mine.
The dear leader approached, the speech began. All around me, the crowds clapped on cue. I couldn't bring myself to do it. When, finally, the speech came to an end, everyone in the bank of seats I was on surged to their feet, the Stalinist standing ovation that is de rigeur in any party conference these days beginning. But I couldn't bring myself to do it.
I had been shell-shocked during the speech, unable to quite believe that the man making the speech and I were in the same party. Everything he had said he intended to get rid of, to sweep away, to modernise, were the things I had become interested in politics to protect. And so I sat, alone in the sea of applause, feeling the eyes of the children behind me boring into the back of my neck.
When I was finally able to get out, I was no longer shell-shocked. I was angry. I marched out of the conference centre and into the centre of Brighton. There, in a branch of WHSmith, I bought the black notebook, and a pen. I took them to a pub (not for me the café culture...) and proceeded to write thirteen pages of vitriol, bile and shattered dreams. To sum up my complete powerlessness, I ended up posting it on a internet site – the last refuge of the damned.
I didn't write in the notebook for three more months.
I kept it with me. It became a constant companion, always travelling in the bag I took with me to work. It even made me take that bag to places I normally wouldn't – the notebook is too big to fit in a coat pocket. I wanted to keep it with me, because I had some obscure idea about using it to capture my musings. Of course, the musings you have in the dark recesses of your mind turn out to be not worth writing down once they are shown to the cold light of day, or at least that is what I found. But I lived in hope, and if nothing else carrying it around made me at least think about my musings a bit more.
When I finally did write in it, I was on a train, without a book, and in a very, very odd mood. I had taken to carrying around my digital camera as well (which did fit into a coat pocket) but hadn't done much with it. And so, on this day, facing a long train journey, I started to take pictures, and I started to write.
This time, it was nothing earth-shattering, nothing special that caused me to write. Just the random thoughts that did cross my mind, strange state that it was in. Most of them seem to be, well, not quite bitter, but certainly on their way – irritated, petty, childish. Complaining about people on the train, that sort of thing.
I still don't know why I wrote in the book that day. As I said, I was in a strange mood. I was drifting, hating my job (as usual), wishing I didn't have to go to this pretty pointless meeting, waiting for Christmas so I could get some time off. I wasn't, essentially, quite myself.
I next wrote in the book just after New Year, in the quiet loneliness of 3AM. It was my last day at my parents' place before I had to go back to work, back to the town I was forced to call home. I wrote about how I wasn't happy with my job, with my life, with myself. I wrote about what I wanted to have change for me in that year. I wrote about my dreams. And I wrote about how I still wasn't using the notebook for what I wanted, I still wasn't writing fiction, I was still sounding like a “whiny adolescent”.
And I wrote about how I was getting to be scared of the notebook.
The next few items in the notebook are small, pointless things – lists of New Year's Resolutions, tasks for the day, a design for a website I never made, the phone number of a Spanish hotel. Little things, to try and break the spell the book had over me. It didn't work.
As I thought about the notebook more, it scared me more. I started to realise that all the rants and complaints and dreams I had written down online had been safe to me because they seemed so ephemeral. While it may be true that most things online never fully disappear, I figured I was probably ok in my case. And, even better, the audience for these things didn't really exist – oh sure, there were other screen names on the website I used, but I had never met any of these people, I had never seen them. As far as I am concerned, that means they are all figments of my imagination, little different parts of my personality breaking off to comment and criticise, praise and mock. The notebook, however, that was a different story. The notebook exists, it is a physical object, with my dreadful handwriting in. This could be what is left of me, my mind, once I succumb to the usual end. And, dammit, I wanted it to reflect at least something positive.
And so the next thing in the book are my notes on a book I read. It was a typical political polemic, cursing the rise of a different type of politics to the one the author likes, complaining of change. While the author may indeed by right that this new system disenfranchises people once again, it would be helpful if instead of raging, there were suggestions to try and fix this. But it was at least interesting, and made me write down some thoughts. Only, however, thoughts that had come from someone else, that I was merely re-interpreting. Originality was still too scary – what if it was rejected? What if it was mocked?
Which perhaps explains the next entry. This talks of how the “War on Terror” is a battle between the state and the people for control of the levers of power, with the “terrorist threat” a mere sideshow. It is carefully dated, and includes the time. And, of course, the note that I was drunk. I needed to be drunk to try and write down any of my theories and thoughts in this notebook.
But at least this started a brief rash of entries into the notebook. The next is an attempted discourse on the nature of the 'good society'. It starts with two pages of academic sounding rambling, before ending with the brief note that I should finish this later. I do not appear to have done so. The note at the top of the entry does say I am writing this in a meeting, so perhaps it ended. In this case, boredom drove me to write.
The next entry is only the day after, or more accurately, the very late night of the same day. This is a brief outline of a possible universe for fiction, a near future world with shattered nations states fighting with corporate states. As I recall, I had again been drinking before writing this.
The final entry is a simple one. It lists the time I had left on my notice period, and the tasks I needed to complete. I was elated following my decision to quit, and ready to change the world.
The notebook scares me. Anything I write in it will last forever, as far as I can see. Anyone could find it and read it. There is no anonymity. And so I am terrified of writing in it, needed to have my mind in an altered state to even attempt it – drunk, bored, angry, depressed, elated. It doesn't get an entry whenever I feel like that, but if I make an entry it is because I am one of these.
Even now, I carry the notebook with me. Now it lives in my laptop bag, always with me when I am going away. Always by my side. Ready for when I am ready to write something down.
But I wrote this on my laptop. It's safer that way.
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