amoral 10: Familiarityview galleries
I have to write about the disconcerting familiarity of these afternoon drinking sessions with Martha and James, and the afternoon drinkers in this pub, Aesop’s Playground. I don’t know if I am stuck in a strange foreign film (in which I bizarrely understand the language, Kazakh, maybe) or perhaps I am forgetting things. There seems to be less and less that is real other than my hour in the pub, and this piece of writing, my diary of the time in the pub. I am getting carried away with my fancies, it is what keeping a diary does: makes certain memories feel more real than other memories. The disconcerting point is not the familiarity of the regulars, or the regularity of the regulars from the old man at the bar counter, to the threesome in the shadows, to the large booth, to the two tables of youngsters. Sometimes they move about a bit but they always seem to be here. The disconcerting point is the gaps in between. The moments when I think to myself, did I actually do that. Did I take bus here or did I walk. I don’t think someone is fucking with my head, it is just a lack of sleep and the monotony of lockdown life.
There is no stimulation so I don’t make new memories. And the strangest thing is the way it affects time, I read once our internal clock estimates how much time has passed by the number of memories we have made. So with no new memories time literally drags.
These thoughts were swirling about in my mind, mixed with the anticipation of a half hour in the delightful company of Martha and James. Martha with her candid tales and James with his acerbic wit. James, if you ever read this record of our days together, I fear I have not done your wit justice but, Martha, I feel I have performed better when it has come to your storytelling. I had arrived even earlier than usual as Martha was likely to be early with her class being on isolation. Since she mentioned it last week I noticed how many times on the radio they talk about the lost generation with the number of pupils out of school in the last year only exceded by the year before. I am now an expert in education, how it builds step by step, how missed steps are not noticed until much later when the whole edifice collapses in destructive behaviour. I nursed my beer for a long time as Martha came at her usual time, late.
James arrived before her. He stood for a while at the door fiddling with his phone. He seemed to be struggling with what we are all so familiar with now. Scan. Register. Enter. He waved at Aesop and pointed to the toilets. Aesop nodded at him from behind the bar. Eventually James returned to the table without going to the bar, without getting a beer.
“Not thirsty today?”
“Martha will be here in a minute, she said it is her round.”
I felt a little awkward wondering if I should offer to get a beer for James, if he had run into difficulties financially. Instead I blurted out my thoughts about how rigid our new habits had become.
“This new familiarity is doing my head in.”
James looked at me nonplussed.
“You know how when we first realised life would be different we were all totally happy to do anything differently. There are so many things we happily stopped doing. Anything that had any interaction in person. No more shops. No more pubs. No more touching. It was like we gave up on so many habits and traditions. And our lives became so small. So small and so familiar. A little weird really. That is what I meant by the familiarity doing my head in. I thought about it because you and Martha are still keeping the old tradition of rounds.”
“That is not exactly what it is about.”
I turned surprised to hear Martha, I had not noticed her come into the pub. She gave James a look before going to the bar.
“OK, so that might not have been entirely true. Thing is, Aesop can’t serve me because I haven’t actually signed in, as I have temporarily disabled my phone so that it doesn’t record my being here. Especially with Martha’s class quarantining last week. Thing is my wife, my family doesn’t know that I come here. They think that I have a work thing every Tuesday. I know it may come crashing down at some point but for now it seems better not to worry them.”
“But that means some people won’t be getting notifications when they need to isolate.”
Martha returned from the bar, placed two beers on the table and joined in the conversation.
“You are so innocent.”
“It is not like the death rates are what they were in the first year.”
“But that is not the point.”
“Well, the point is that when everything was new we were all worried. We all had utmost respect for the virus. But as time went by, things became more familiar and we stopped feeling threatened. Everyone is doing it. Even Aesop, he knows these beers are not both Martha’s. Familiarity, as they say, breeds contempt.”
“But wouldn’t it be simpler just to tell your family where you are?”
“I don’t think they would understand.”
“I always wondered about the moral of the tale of the fox and the lion.”
“As the ending is unclear?”
“Well, I guess you have to assume the lion eats the fox. But in the Serengeti, the closest match would be the lion and the hyena who are very familiar with each other.”
“There are foxes in Africa. My favourite, when I was young, was the bat eared fox.”
“But perhaps you just steered the conversation in that direction as a challenge.”
“The bat eared fox?”
I had not followed the conversation, the quick encounters between Martha and James often pass me by although when I write them down in this journal it seems so obvious. James explained it to me.
“No, we stumbled upon the moral of Aesop’s fable about the fox and the lion.”
“Oh, familiarity breeds contempt?”
“It fits so much of life at the moment, so what of it, Martha, it must fit an anecdote of yours.”
“Yes, naturally, but the question I was getting at was when we say familiarity breeds contempt we usually mean we are not appreciating a potential joy rather than not appreciating a potential danger.”
“Yes, indeed when I said it earlier I was talking about potentially missing out on the joy of your company.”
“No need to go overboard, would you prefer a tale about missing joy, or about missing danger?”
“Oh joy, of course, it is what we need.”
“So. A few weeks ago I talked about Leo and Bea, over at the booth. They are on opposite sides today, perhaps appropriately. They worked in the same company for a few years, the last several months of which they had desks next to each other. Leo was promoted, and the first day at his new desk he said hey to Bea, probably, and she said hey to him, and congratulations on the promotion. They are, of course, reasonable and, indeed, polite people. The conversation did not spark, probably because he was too busy getting to grips with a new more responsible job, she was not in the same department as him so they didn’t actually work together. And soon they were familiar with each other and the contempt settled in. Neither of them made an effort to uncover any potential joy which, as you know from my last tale, they undoubtedly found to such an extent they decided to have a child together.
“Well the first step in the change was Leo got a new job. New jobs are always a wonderful time, self esteem is high and there are no new complex tasks to bring you down. So Leo the Meerkat suddenly popped his head up from his desk and started to appreciate what was about him, including starting conversations with Bea. And they got along well, as colleagues, must be added at this point. One of the things Leo expected to miss out on was the marketing jolly, that was in the days when team building exercises were held in middle class holiday resorts out-of-season. As it happened his manager decided to take him anyway as they couldn’t find a replacement for the sessions he was due to lead. Online marketing, did you imagine he was an online marketer? Well, he has the looks for it, doesn’t he?
“One of the quirks of this holiday resort was a nudist Tuesday in the indoor swimming facilities to encourage local visitors out of seasons. The company knew this and planned sessions on the Tuesday afternoon and evening but these sessions specifically excluded Leo. He was not welcome in their planning sessions. Bea’s department were scheduled to observe the Tuesday afternoon session but they had no real input into the meeting so Bea’s slightly older best friend hit on a plan to do something she had wanted to do for a long time, visit a nudist resort. They made their excuses and promised to make it as soon as they could before slipping into the swimming area. They were warned they may meet naked people, and a hooter would sound fifteen minutes before the pool must be cleared. If they wanted to swim in a swimsuit later they would need to leave and return, with apologies, but that was how the management wanted it. They picked up towels, stripped in an empty changing area, showered in an empty shower area and waded into a nearly empty pool. They decided to float along the river.
“Leo had also decided to swim in his free time, but he was surprised by the nudist afternoon session. He dithered but decided it would not matter as all his colleagues would be in meetings. He hurriedly stripped, wrapped in a towel made his way to the pool without taking the expected pre-swim shower. There was a group of people at the far side of the pool so he decided it would be safer to drift down the river. He dropped his towel a little away from the others and quickly waded into the water. He might be a fine looking man but he was not used to baring it all.
“He found floating down the river quite pleasant and was rather surprised to hear his name. In a jacuzzi for about ten people was Bea and her friend. After the obligatory aren’t you supposed to be in a meeting and don’t tell, there is no point in us being there and shall I join you and I was wondering where the river ended, Leo found himself watching Bea’s friend stand up, showing off a rather fine pair of breasts with the droop of nature, then stepping over the overflow area letting Leo snatch a glimpse of a nicely trimmed snatch. Bea was a little more coy, she swam to the overflow area before sliding on her tummy over the smooth surface giving Leo a fine view of her ass as she dipped headfirst into the river.
“The river twisted a little before leaving the building. The water still warm but the air was cold. It ended at a plunge pool, Leo swam over dipped his hand in and exclaimed it is freezing. Well it has to be done, Bea’s friend said, she hauled herself out of the water and jumped in oh oh oh. And out again, her nipples showing exactly how cold the plunge pool was before she was back in the warm river. With a you going to do it and a I don’t know are you and a should we do it together they were both clambering out of the pool. Bea’s friend suggested they walk round the plunge pool as then it would be easier to jump back into the river. It was a bit wicked of her as it meant they had to swim across the plunge pool, though it wasn’t wide it was wider than just turning about and getting out. However, they did not work that out so Bea’s friend got to see in their full glory the naked couple reach for the other’s hand before leaping into the water. It is quite a thing to watch a penis as fine as Leo’s rise and float down to the water, though less of a thing when moments later a rather colder member is making its way back to the warmth.
“As it happened, the hooter went off then and they started making their way backup the river. They took their time becoming more accustomed to their nudity, floating on their backs, diving playfully under each other, flirting outrageously for naked colleagues. Bea’s friend was the one who encouraged the behaviour, purposefully floating spreadeagled, starting the underwater leapfrog game, exploring her boundaries. Bea and Leo were clearly enjoying themselves both showing signs of being turned on.
“When they got back to the main pool the other guests had gone but Leo hesitated with a I can’t get out like this. Nonsense was Bea’s friend’s reply and no nonsense was her response. She stepped back, reached underwater, grasped Leo’s hard on and led him to the showers. Bea followed with the towels. She was about to pass them by and head for the lockers when her friend called oh no, you hold this while I get the showergel. She passed Leo’s hard on to Bea and left the shower area.
“In less than a minute she was back in time to see the couple kissing under the shower, Bea against the tiles her one leg hooked about Leo’s hip, his hands below her bum, lifting her, her hips thrusting forward, releasing one hand from his neck to reach between her legs and they were fucking. Bea’s friend retraced her steps slightly, gave them a minute before calling sorry I took so long to find it. And she found them flushed with pleasure. Barely noticing her as they shared the showergel.
“Now all that would have been quite a something to miss out on if they hadn’t taken a step away from familiarity breeds contempt.”
“Yes, quite. However, there is one thing that puzzles me, I don’t recall either Bea or Leo working at HB, and I am sure I would have remembered them.”
“Oh, I have worked in numerous companies over the years.”
“Yes, it appears so.”
“And on that note, I am dry and shall be leaving, you staying for another?”
“Yeah, see you next week.”
I am a little concerned about James turning his phone off.