The Grand Western

The Grand Western

I don’t remember
much of the days we spent together,
roaming a water’s edge,
watching black summer storms
rolling in across the ocean;

I remember Guitar Hero was my
seduction,
like clutching buttons too tightly
was a sign of things to come;

Guitar Hero was my seduction,
and yours was living –

how we envied the beautiful,
the semi-naked art, all wrapped
in shrouds abandoning their ghosts,

who needn’t humour,
nor lies to make themselves

– the tall room, too, I recall,
more clearly than your body;
the squat television set and the table I carried
to the centre of the room for us to share,
the smell of acrylic paint and glue
and ink all together with our sweat,
the sagging black seats,
tarnished and glittering beneath failing lights;
the white bathroom blinding
even through the heavy wood,
the swimming pool’s curve
and laughter as limbs made the water shake;

I remember being lost, one
street over –
and your voice panicking as I made
hazardous guesses
to find the right building
– I can’t remember what it was for now –

do you remember the journey up the pier;
along that mile of wooden cage?
do you remember that?

no, you wouldn’t;
that wasn’t you? was it? that was me
all alone, smoking the sunlight straight over water,
and remembering it all in the back room
of the Castle Hotel;
another home than ours,
in a different city.

Mesnes Park

Mesnes Park

How coarse the street-piano’s language appears,
how brutish and dumb
when spavined hands perform ugly
permutations in the air;
conjuring that beastly Autumn,
right before the rain.

Our summers came wet, too;
blistering light which made
eyes – more accustomed

to wooden candles at 2.A.M –
contract and convulse; the impudent clouds’ crossing
of distant mountains and crashing in amongst the true
beauty of our evening walks in the park.

We went in search
of beauty, beauty
that might explode your chest like an
obese heart and send the pure attack
of creativity through the tenuous ventricles and the ugly aorta
to the constant motion of your lips,
and the sadistic conjuring of fingertip callouses;
that finger-picking made your body mad,
like all the punches I’ve thrown make me
crazy.

I promised, in Summer, that I’d stop aiming for the throat;
when I never asked for any promises;
and give you no chains, our goldfinch red-faced
embarrassed, framed by your own human purity
meeting the angelic blood I’ve left on brick walls
like puzzle pieces
around Mesnes Park.

Or like those Tetris pieces, perhaps;
all lined up and orderly awaiting
the last fierce rage or late-night weariness
to clear the board.


I used to go drinking a lot. I used to sit in the covered spaces of Mesnes Park and empty whiskey down my throat and didn’t tell anyone. It became a regular thing – every week or two, I’d sit in the shadows when it rained or when the sun wrapped the park and drink cheap shit that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone.

I’d like to look back and say it was horrible. That I could regret any of it and wish I’d spent the time practically. Learning to code or something like that. But I don’t regret it. Given the chance, and a little sunlight, I’d go back to the Park three years ago and drink until the park swam and the laughter of children echoed even over the roar of my headphones.

If you’re looking for poetry, try out the recent Night Terrors. For prose, check out She Wore Blue Velvet or The Air Spoke. As always, there’re plenty of free eBooks on the left.

Night Terrors

Night Terrors

When Nox and I go panting

beneath, we
have asked the same black questions;

Who Sleeps Now, In The Hydra House?
Who Wears The Ugliest Chains Of Art At All?
Who Rattles The Bells Of Tinnitus?
Who Else Has Broken Their Teeth In Passionate Delusions?

Arrrrrrrhhh, you?
Is it you,
hanging in your silken slip?
You, my barbiturate?

Arrrrrrrrrrhhh, who can follow
that great shearing of love
in a look out the window,
and a panting on the pillowcase?

That I have screamed for angels! and asked:

Why Are The Mad Treated With Small-Town Philosophies?
Why Does The Shower Persist In Its Bitterness?
Why Must My Laugh Be One Of Such Cruelty?
Why Does My Heart Keep Breaking, All On Its Own?

And in your passing,
as it were – the passing of angels –
gave life to both the lily and the nettle;
life to the Caique and the worm impartial!

And Nox’s visions,
pale, dark you’s all,
trembling beyond finesse!

Those fragments creaked
and groaned
Beauty!

What fantasies, what mad passions do I dare reclaim?
And of what insanity? of what, sheer madness?
of what mad obsessions? of what consequence memory
breaking teeth
in the sleeping man’s throat?


I’m going quite mad now, I think. It is a controllable, manageable madness. I am drinking less and smoking less and thinking barely at all. I am able to work all day without thinking about my liberties and freedoms. I am able to satisfy myself, if only temporary, with driving a little too fast and drinking too much coffee. I am able to sleep quickly most nights, and wake up wholly exhausted.

I think I am becoming too distant now. I think I’m losing something, but I’m not sure what. I’d show my work, such as it is, to people I know but I don’t want to. I don’t want my depression to be taken seriously; I want to remain fodder for endless jokes. I don’t want my hatreds to be revealed, but will content myself to rant and make bitter smiles blossom into joyous ones. I don’t want me to be seen everyday. It’s important, I think, to keep hiding who I am in some small, dark place where only I can see me, and talk to me, and let me out occassionally to masturbate my ego.

I’m glad I’ve never shown my work to the people around me. I’m afraid it’s all shit anyway. I don’t want to watch people I know pretend to care about every idle thought; every mad desire. I want to stay quiet, and secretive, and let my figure be a lonely one in the bars and pubs, in the cafes I frequent and slip whiskey into my coffee. I’m glad, I think, and ashamed, that my depression has turned into nothing more than a tag I can use, to drag foreign eyes to read the exhausted notes I play.

I’m sorry for being so unhappy all the time. I’m sorry that the noises I make are so ugly.

She Wore Blue Velvet

She Wore Blue Velvet

For Unrequited Love

The ceiling is covered in paintings, with no theme or substance or style but woman, and they flow down the walls like all of history from the caves of Africa was melting into this one little alcoholic furnace in the heart of dead industries. The staff are dressed as American rock stars, and Gene Simmons carries a couple of bottles across the floor and makes wide, soulless, voracious eyes at the women he passes.

Her eyes are glued to the television; Alexander Armstrong laughs at something a celebrity said, and his eyes flash and invite her to laugh with him but she can’t hear him. The TV is muted in favour of music and conversation, which rolls around her and about her and doesn’t touch her like she touches the bottle of wine, standing an inch from her hand and barely a foot from her other, which curls around the glass only heartbeats from her lips.

Her heart beats.

She doesn’t start, but twitches her eyes every time the door opens and the pale blue-grey light appears as a block within and behind and against the far wall; she twitches each time with the expectation of a grimaced smile; she had been rehearsing that smile in the mirror of a flat she shared with a fat laugh behind a clipped goatee.

The door opens and her heart beats and he walks in from the miasma of blue and grey and into the mess of art and drink and candlelight, red-faced at the pulsating wind which rose from the stone pavement outside. He moves towards the middle of the room, checking the smaller, solitary tables for one, or two, or three, and almost misses her on her large table beneath the television. She raises her glass and tries to repeat the practiced grimace but it comes out from behind her lips like a smile and he sees her and smiles back – she pretends to ignore the spasm of horror that cuts across his features.

She has a wolf tattoo on her left shoulder, and dye damaged hair and the scar of a lip ring and he sits down with old scars running up his wrists and raised white flesh from metal belt buckles leaving a web across his back and she knows they are there. They both know about both of them and she once decided to let her wounds breathe, where he had bound them up and let them fester and rot until the poison flushed out of his body one night, asleep and alone on a bus that roared and spat into the wet air alive with iron bacteria.

He is thin, haggard, with rings under his eyes, in a suit with the top button of his shirt undone and the tie loosened until the noose hangs halfway down his chest like he is being marched towards the gallows in relative comfort. The red electric light and the candles on the tables are invasive, and they creep through his shirt until it is nothing more than a filter and a blur and she can see the outline of a logo emblazoned across a white t-shirt – it looks like a heart, she thinks.

‘Hey you,’ he says, and she says ‘hey you.’

He stares down at his fingers as they work at the two buttons holding his jacket closed, and pulls it away from his shoulders and hangs it over the back of a chair – not next to her, but taking care to leave an empty space between them.

She looks at the empty chair and he smiles and says ‘for the ghosts’, and her heart skips a beat, even as her eyes wrinkle in mockery.

‘Did you know,’ he runs a hand through his hair that is so much shorter than she remembers, ‘that almost a third of people in this country sleep naked?’ As his lips close around the questions mark, he almost seems to wrinkle up, shrivel, like he had been waiting for years to say that and as it left his lungs it took parts of him with it. After a few moments as a broken thing, he inflates himself again and smiles at her, like he would smile if he had tears in his eyes.

‘You come straight from work?’

‘Yeah; everyone else has gone to that new place down the road, you know, that erm Marty’s, Morty’s place – between the scaffolding?’ She shakes her head. ‘I’ll show you it at some point, it’s quite nice in there – kind of this shabby Americana; I mean, it’s meant to be shabby, it’s still pretty posh for ‘round ‘ere.’

‘Sounds nice.’ She sips at her wine.

‘Yeah; I had an old fashioned there the other night – it was, I dunno, lime and pecan flavoured or something like that. Friend of mine had something called She Wore Blue Velvet.’

Tell me you love me, her heartbeat beats, tell me you love me like you did in your skin.

‘So, what’re you up to these days? You doing anything?’

‘Yeah; I’m still at that bar, not too far from yours, actually.’ She looks at him then, for the first time, and he sees her flashing ice blue eyes like a distance peak emerging from a broken plain of sheared ice and dead creatures with white fur and he feels a spike of anger in his gut that rocks him. He lets it roll up in him, he savours it, he swallows it like she swallows the last of her glass of wine; he realises he’d never been angry before – not really, not with her or with him or with anyone.

‘You still working on your art?’

‘Nope; I wasn’t very good anyway.’

He catches himself preparing to say ‘yes you were’ and managed to turn the reaction into a cough. She looks back at the television screen through narrowed eyes. The wine has blurred the air, and each breath is like a desert spreading along her lungs and across her throat – she can feel the sand between her teeth.

He stands up and goes to buy a drink, and she watches him as he moves, as he leans over the bar, easily, and talks to the girl dressed as Joan Jett; he has one foot resting on the metal bar, which runs alongside the counter, and his other taps the floor in time with the drumbeat of conversation and life – she realises that he’s grown up over the past few years; grown up without her, without the need for her; in the space between those flickering moments where she’d seen him on the train, or he’d seen her on a bus or in a taxi as it rolled passed, he’d grown up and her heart beats.

Halfway across the town, a baby that looks like her screams out its hunger and, when it’s been fed, it howls out is fear and its rage and its misery and is soothed by the touch of her sister who can’t see the thing as human at all, just some wailing tumour in a blue shirt; a weight on their lives. The bearded laugh hasn’t come home from work yet, and she thinks about calling her sister and letting her know how late he was, but she doesn’t; she just watches the pale thing in its cot, and listens to the cars that pass by outside.

He comes back with a drink and she fills her glass again and holds the bottle in front of the candle and squints at the liquid inside. It’s almost empty.

‘I don’t know where it’s all gone.’ She says, and she doesn’t mean the wine.

‘Me neither.’ He takes a sip of his drink.

‘What’s that?’

‘Just a jack and coke.’

‘Ah.’

‘I hate this show.’ They watch the television for a few seconds, and he lets his brow furrow and draws his upper lip back a little, like he is snarling in disgust. He holds it just long enough for her to see and it disappears. He likes to be seen to hate things, secretly – she once heard him say that hatred was a manifestation of love.

Tell me that you hate me, she thinks – tell me that your love was always that; tell me it was a cruel, cruel joke; tell me that you’re incapable of love.

‘How’s your brother doing?’

‘He’s good, yeah. He’s fine.’ She blinks. ‘I haven’t seen him in a while.’

The conversation beats more like his heart then hers – irregular, filtered through the noise only occasionally. But the way they occasionally looked at each other, the way their bodies angled so far apart and yet in the same lines might have convinced an onlooker that their conversation was in-depth and heartfelt and it was they who made the mistake, they whom stopped paying attention for long periods of time, while his drinks multiplied and her bottle found itself a partner.

The television played reruns and called it news. Outside, someone gives a homeless man a twenty pound note and asks him, begs him, not to judge the drunks too harshly; he promises not to, through broken teeth and rotten gums, and still scowls as they spend their money on beer and vodka and thick liquid which doesn’t taste of anything but the morning after.

‘Did you know I had a kid?’ She says, not so much to him, but to the air itself.

‘I’d heard something about it; yeah. Boy or a girl?’

‘It’s healthy, and well looked after,’ she smiles, ‘it’s going to be a chubby kid – it’s never going to want for anything. We’ll see to that.’

‘Who is the guy you’re with now then?’

‘You don’t know him. He’s funny, he’s kind – he’s got a beard and a beer belly.’ He laughs, and she glares at him.

‘Sorry, it’s just,’ he rubs his eyes with the palms of his hands, ‘he’s the polar opposite of me, then?’ She frowns at him for a little longer and, suddenly, like a damn breaking, she starts to smile as well, a smile that turns into a giggle which grows and matures into a laugh. He watches the television, watches two men in suits gravely talk about the last steel factory in the country closing down, and her laughter slowly breaks down and she starts to cry.

Once, he would have rushed to her side and tried to held her as she shuddered until she pushed him away and backed away and carried on crying, leaving him raw and ragged and helpless – he lets her cry and watches the television suspended from the wall and surrounded by the dripping dregs of art.

He says he’s going to the toilet; she doesn’t respond. In the bathroom, he digs his nails into his palms and stares at himself in the mirror – strange; he always feels tears well up when he looks at his own eyes. He steps into the cubicle and locks it behind himself. The walls are covered with graffiti, and he feels inspired by the curving lines that form broken scripture – he puts two fingers deep in his mouth and starts to gag; he feels his heart beating around his fingertips; down his throat, and he tries to reach for it; like he could pull it out and show it to her and say “you see?” and then he could fall to the floor and buck and twist the last moments of his life away with her name on his lips.


This is another short story I wrote years ago. I was younger then, bitterer, perhaps. I kept mistaking my bitterness for romanticism; that was the problem. I kept mistaking my unhappiness for sensitivity. If I could go back, I’d probably tell the younger me to stop searching for happiness – tell him that it isn’t on the cards. Tell him “you’re just a bitter bastard” and it’s probably save me a lot of grief.

I’d tell me to find pleasures where I could and to stop worrying about being happy, all the time. If I could take back all the time I spent trying to be happy, I would; it’d have left me with more time to write, more time to play video games and get angry and calm down by reading – more time to sleep, and enjoy sleeping.

Forgive me, I am maudlin tonight. If you want to read something with a little less of a negative slant, you can always check out some poetry, like Swearing in Italian or prose, like The Air Spoke. For a non-fiction slant, there’s always Swimming Against Themselves. As always, there’re plenty of free ebooks you can take a look at, if you fancy.

Sometimes

Sometimes

Sometimes, we kneel in the shower with the pressure
and the heat turned up as high as they can go. We let our music play from our mobile phones
and hear the tinny, hollow sound reverberate from the grey-white tiles. We let the heat
and the sound
and the fury of the moments steal our breath away
and make our skin steam
and we kneel there until the muscles
and tendons in our feet
and legs cry out for us to move. We let our hair run
and create bars, a prison cell, in front of our eyes. We blink until the water spills down like a shroud across our faces
and make us blink in agony.

Sometimes, we stand in front of the mirror
and close our eyes
and listen to the water slapping against the towel
and the tiles. We close our eyes
and concentrate on the cool air, dressing us naked
and making our skin rise.

Sometimes, we take disposable razor blades
and hold them against our arms
and there’s a way that we can cut it that doesn’t break the flesh but shears the skin. Invisible; agonising; everything we ever wanted.

Sometimes, we confess
and act on our confessions
and the mists clear
and we want to be exactly who we are. We try to explain
and see revulsion, blankness
and disinterest in the eyes of our audience
and shut off the valves of our personality. We retreat
and lock up the gates behind us
and glance through the iron bars which rust in days
and remade in moments.

Sometimes, we turn out the lights
and search for the memories of all the men
and women we’ve loved. We look for their memories on the backs of our eyelids, for the faces of people we’ve never had the chance or the inclination to love but we can feel their skin in our hands like their own. We picture legs
and eyes in the lights of gas-lamps
and the red strobes which gives even the drunks the chance to look sober
and spit vomit from their lips
and still have the chance to pull or be pulled.

Sometimes, we force ourselves out of bed before our alarms
and stand, naked, in front of the window
and look at the small streets in the small towns in the small countries in the small world, filled with small people or lost in miniature cities grown to an impossible scale. We punch out at the walls on either side
and dig our nails into the wallpaper
and lean forward until the moonlight dawn casts shadows behind us to make us look like we aren’t alone in our beds. We throw on clothes that don’t fit us
and walk down the stairs
and across the hall to the silent rooms lit by the red of a muted television. We step onto the cold tiles of the kitchen
and look across the terraced gardens of a terraced life belonging to our parents
and their children too; not to us.

Sometimes, we sit on our laptops
and phones when everyone else is asleep
and watch old adverts on reruns. We spend our time learning what we hate
and why we hate it. We watch conversations develop between people we don’t know
and long for them to realise that they love each other.

And,
sometimes, we sit there
and do nothing at all; just let our eyes make patterns that don’t exist.


I’m trying to slow down on my drinking now. It isn’t doing me any good. I don’t enjoy it so much anymore; I just end up ill all the time, still completely lucid, just clutching my stomach. Maybe it’s what I’m drinking – I need to get back into cheap wine, into sheer rotgut that makes me sleep. I’m not discerning enough for the whisky I’ve been knocking back the last few… some amount of time.

If you enjoyed the above, there’s something wrong with you, (everyone’s brain is allowed to misfire on occassion, right?) but you can always check out more poetry or prose, if that stakes your fancy.

The Air Spoke

The Air Spoke

She places her cigarette on the edge of the desk and watches it smoulder. The sunlight catches the smoke in its hands and makes it gleam and it seems to fill the room around her. Last night’s wine still lies where it had been spilled, now a stain on the sheets of paper that cover the cheap, old wood of the table. One hand is warm on her thigh, but the other beats out a restless tattoo in the air. She stares into the mirror on the other side of the room, just a few steps from her. It is a beautiful thing, with a gilded edge only slightly marked by years of movement around the halls of this cheap hotel – the glass looks fractured, with several large frames running through it that remind her of her grandfather in the hospital bed.

She tries to piece together the fragments of the night before; tries to reorder the images like the glass.

Light.

A hundred thousand lights of a hundred, hundred colours, flickering out their mad neon desires into the darkness. She remembers beautiful Asian women, half-naked, weaving in the doorways of sand-blasted buildings. She can still feel the heat of it all, like the very air was filled with sweat.

“It used to be like a drug,” she tells the mirror, “every breath I took was pleasure. The air told me I needed to be here.”

There was a smoke-filled room; there always was. There was a gritty kind of half-light that fought with the bitter workings of the incandescence, that curled up against the jukebox like a lover, that spat and snarled at the one-arm bandit on the bar. There were men, men in shirts and men covered in mud and men with their hair slicked back like car salesmen – men who licked their lips and tried to order cobra whiskey but couldn’t get their words right and were jeered out of the bar by the owner. There were women too; old women in the corner and quiet women sat huddled together and the owner’s daughter who kept making these flashing eyes at her and biting her lower lip every time she ordered another glass of wine.

When there were more than four empty glasses on her table, and her lipstick graced a pair of cigarettes arranged in the central ashtray, one of the men came over. He tried to speak in English, then Mandarin, then Spanish, but she ignored him. He went away after she lit another cigarette, telling her that she was the most beautiful women he had ever seen.

She took out her camera and caught a picture of the table, with its wine and cigarettes and old stains and scars. She noticed that the owner’s daughter had perched herself on the bar, and that her legs were dangling in the background of the shot –  two long streaks in the haze; like bullets that had been fired underwater.

The air still speaks of lust, and hope, and potential – she doesn’t believe it anymore. Her bedclothes move; a long leg pushes through them slowly, deliberately, toes curled in on themselves until the whole thing looks pointed. It accuses her, accuses her of a thousand things; accuses her of wasted night and labyrinthine days; accuses her of pride, and rage, and lust; accuses her of decadence and desire. She stands, slowly, and feels the foreign sun on her naked skin. She casts a long shadow in the small room.

She hears the village come alive outside her window. The bicycles rattle across the uneven dirt and the wasted footsteps stagger to work. She doesn’t listen to the birdsong anymore; it’s all about the living. The bed moans. The old wood whimpers. She steps to the fragmented mirror. Half a dozen pieces of her look back, her thighs glitter darkly at her against the light and tell her she is alive. Her stomach, catching the curve of the sun like the crescent of dawn over the moon, tells her she is alive. Her breasts crackle with a thin web and she remembers the hints of them in a polaroid hidden in an old friend’s attic; they tell her she is alive. Her face tells her she is tired, broken, spread across the room like pages torn from her notebook.Hotel Room lit with blue light

Te ves como una diosa.”

She can’t tell if it comes from the bed or the mirror or the paper or the spilled wine or the smouldering cigarette. For a few heartbeats, she wishes it was the air, that the wet breeze cut through the building in such a way that it remembered her and loved her and knew that she existed, that her heart beat.

She feels warmth, and sees a smooth hand appear on her shoulder. It trails down, along her arm and to cover her breast and it splits in the mirror. A pair of lips touch her shoulder blade and the body pushes against her. The hands are hungry, and damaged and they break with her body when they cross the frames.


Another thing I wrote years ago. It might have been a part of the old experiments, where I’d stay up all night and try ot have something completely finished in the morning. It was something different than I’d be working on before. If I remember, I enjoyed writing this, enjoyed just letting the words play out on the page without caring about any narrative development really. It’s what I love about poetry now; that I can just let my fingers play, follow the words, and try to find beauty.

Anyway, enough artistic shit. If you want to read any other prose, there’s always Like Ravaged Porcelain or you can check out some of the novellas I’ve written over the years, like Mychandra or The Burden, all completely free.

I’m going to a poetry/prose reading tomorrow night, hosted by the amazing up and coming writers at the Salford Writer’s Journal. If you can, head over and check out some of the poetry and prose that they’re posting.

Swimming Against Themselves; George Orwell and Albert Camus

Swimming Against Themselves; George Orwell and Albert Camus

By February, 1944, much of the worst fighting of the World War II was already over. The month before, in January, the Soviet forces had managed to finally expel the German occupation of the city of Leningrad, ending one of the longest and most brutal sieges in modern history, and the Allies had made major advances on Italy, ending with the horrifying landings at Anzio.

The following year, 1945, the Allies entered Western Germany whilst the joint Soviet-Polish forces entered Berlin itself. By the end of April, both Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler were dead, the Reichstag seized and the war itself almost over. It is essential to know that this is the background, and the global environment, to the infamous meeting between two men who were, arguably, two of the greatest minds of their time.

George Orwell and Albert Camus: The Meeting That Never Was

George Orwell and Albert Camus had arranged to meet at the Deux Magots café, in February of 1945.  Despite their differences, perhaps even, in some small part, due to them, they were certainly two of the most unique and interesting literary and politically-conscious figures of the time. When these two are addressed together, they are largely noted for their differences. It is easy enough to compare the two based on their antimonies, but their similarities are in no way less interesting.

Their personal lives are largely the main area of concern when it comes to comparison between the two. The two of them were working towards something similar, but certainly through different routes, from impossibly different starting points. It might even be worth considering the two as polar opposites in everything but thought. The lifetimes and work of the two can be viewed as an inversed mirror image, pointing out the flaws, doubts and inherent truth revealed in each man and their bodies of work.

Moving Towards an Ideal: Cigarettes and Shapeshifting

As anyone interested in either literary figure will tell you, their incessant cigarette smoking was almost a hallmark of their lives. Looking at this habit shallowly might lead someone to deduce that the two, perhaps, had the same nerves, the same addiction and even developed the same habits to their lifestyles. However, looking at the evidence a little closer will reveal something much more profound and certainly more interesting when we try to nail down the history and personality of these men.

George Orwell’s CigarettesEdited image of George Orwell smoking and typing

Orwell would roll his own cigarettes. Now, that in of itself isn’t too telling, but when you consider that he used the cheapest British shag tobacco he could get his hands on, this becomes much more indicative of his personality.

Here was an officer, and educated man and a literary figure, smoking the same kind of tobacco as the poorest of the proletariat would choose, the same tobacco as smoked by the lowest ranking Tommies in the British armed forces. This comes as a clear indicator as to his political viewpoints, as well as with whom his sympathies typically laid – even if we were to ignore his body of work.

Albert Camus’ Cigarettes

Image of Albert Camus smoking Camus, meanwhile, coming as he did from a poor background and only managed to achieve an education because of his natural aptitude for it (as can be seen from his semi-autobiographical works including The First Man), always felt like an outsider.

He was desperate to be seen as part of the literary, cultures intelligentista of Paris, in much the same way that Sartre was. So, when he smoked, he ignored the kind of shag his family would have smoked in Algeria, and instead chose to smoke Gauloises, a particular brand of pre-packaged, unfiltered cigarette which was particularly popular throughout the French artistic community.

What did Their Cigarettes Mean to Them?

Both of these men chose their cigarettes carefully, as a direct contrast to their past and upbringing. For Orwell, his tobacco was a way to show solidarity with the British working class, in stark contrast to his fairly comfortable middle-class upbringing, his public-school education and even his role in the Imperial Police force.

Camus, meanwhile, was looking to escape his working-class origins and find comfort in the literary scene of which his favoured cigarettes were an important part. They could both be said to feel uneasy in their worlds, having had to shapeshift from their upbringing and even their natural forms into something that they actually want to be. Their cigarettes were both an ingredient in their shapeshifting. To some degree, they could be said to hold this transformation together; a daily reminder of their ability to shift and change as required.

Camus’ and Orwell’s Consumption

Both Orwell and Camus were afflicted by tuberculosis in different ways. Orwell himself was, naturally, a sickly man by all accounts. His entire life, he was plagued by vague illnesses, aches and pains which seriously impacted his view of the world in negative ways. It is hardly a surprise that he became, by all accounts, something of a pessimistic person to be around, and it is clear in many cases that his attitudes were heavily influenced by his myriad illnesses. Although it is not presented in the clear way that Camus presents his illnesses, Orwell’s entire attitude is – at times – indicative of someone suffering from a thousand minor ailments, illnesses and irritations.

Camus, as I just mentioned, was far more overt in the role that his physical health played in his literature, philosophies and his entire outlook on life. Although ruggedly healthy as a young man, blessed with the natural healthy physique so common in the poor Algerian community at the time, when he was 17 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. This diagnosis then went on to have a long-lasting effect throughout his life. For example, he often refused to go swimming with Simone de Beauvoir due to fears over his failing lungs. It was much more overt in his literary musings and prose style than that of his counterpart in this case.

His description of the almost fugue state that Meursault inhabits in L’Étranger bore a high level of similarity to his early descriptions of the symptoms prevalent from tuberculosis, of which he would have been intimately familiar. Of course, without the balance of Camus’ overriding absurdity (to my mind, I can’t recollect a single instance when TB created a mindset in which murder, even murder with something of a racial component, seemed appropriate).

Camus and Orwell Meeting Their End

It is almost ironic that the two should meet their ends in such alternative ways. Albert Camus, diagnosed with consumption at 17 and obsessed with the concept of his own illness throughout his life, would escape the clutches of his sickness whilst Orwell, who spent his life blatantly refusing to acknowledge even the concept of his own mortality, should succumb. It is hardly a surprise that the illness killed Orwell, ill through much of his life and certainly having suffered much throughout the Spanish Civil War, his time in the Imperial Police and whilst Down and Out in Paris and London. In fact, I would be confident in arguing that it was Orwell’s illness which gave his ultimate work, Nineteen-Eighty-Four, the desperation it possessed and reinforced the hopelessness which permeates the entire novel.

Camus, despite his twenty-year obsession with his own illness, was fortunate enough (if we are to measure fortune in such ways) to avoid the agonising end that Orwell met with some years previously. Albert Camus was killed in an automobile accident which he could have easily avoided. In fact, he had a train ticket in his pocket which would have enabled him to avoid the car trip altogether.

If only he had elected to travel with his family on the train, rather than rely on the skills of his publicist behind the wheel, he might have gone on to finish The First Man, his semi-autobiographical work about his childhood in Algeria, or his incomplete posthumously published novel A Happy Death. Perhaps it suits Camus – his death; to have something so normal, so mundane take away the life of a prolific philosopher, writer and essayist must have been preferable to the wasting disease which wracked Orwell’s last days.


I hope you found this interesting, because I certainly did. I’m leaning towards writing more small stuff like this, just covering interesting little parts of people’s lives which might otherwise go larger overlooked. There are a few sites which have mentioned their connection in passing, but I thought it might be worth going into a little more detail about it.

Anyway, if this isn’t really your type of thing, go and check out some of the *cough cough* poetry *cough cough* that I’ve uploaded before; A Red Dress, Bluebird and A Very Gentle Suicide aren’t too bad.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a little more prose-based, there’s my recent short stories Battery Tea-Lights and Like Ravaged Porcelain. There are also a load of free novellas you can check out on my Smashwords page, if you feel so inclined.