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Jon Talbot

A Self-Portrait

For me, the content of a self portrait depends entirely on the day I attempt to write it.

As a rule, for example, Fridays are rather different experiences from Mondays, and I feel rather differently about the world in February than I do in May.

So for the record, it’s a Monday morning in March, in a library but this is an amended version of a Friday afternoon in January, in a pub. Not just any pub but my pub. And I feel differently about the world when I’m in the Albion.

My mouth, as it is quite often these days, is firmly shut. I am living a quiet life, rather contemplative. Quite a relief in many ways but there are many people I miss. I think ‘heaven’ is a wonderful idea – I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about what it might mean to you. To me it would mean having all those I’ve ever known and cared about simultaneously around. We would do lots of things including going to the pub a lot. The pub bears a striking resemblance to the Albion except there’s pork pies and home made pickled onions as bar snacks.

My love is a long way away but not spatially. I think a lot about physical space. Much of our existence takes place in a series of extended corridors but we are barely conscious of it because the spaces we notice are psychological rather than actual. Her space is proximate but far away from mine. Her corridors cross mine but each is unaware of it. In my heaven we would be in bed eating digestive biscuits but because it’s heaven, there are no crumbs.

I am not sure what my aspirations are any more. For the time being I have mostly stopped wanting to save the world. I don’t think I know what I know any more. It’s not that I don’t know wrong from right but I certainly don’t know what’s for the best, like I used to. Outside the predictable world of theoretical physics and BBC dramas, the world is a lot more arbitrary than I used to believe.

I think my uncertainty started in South Africa. All the things that appeared so right, so certain from the UK, didn’t look that way at all over there. It made me think about a lot of other things ‘I knew’ and I realised that really, I can never be sure of knowing anything. What seems the case today can look very different in a week’s time.

Finally, I have enough money and it’s a marvellous feeling. But I also have a feeling akin to constant toothache, low level and nagging. A lot of British people have it: that’s why we like moaning. Sometimes I feel like the man in Paul Auster’s ‘Oracle Night’, who simply walks away from his life. I think it’s funny the way in this country people’s ideas of escape are often tied up with house ownership – buy a property in the sun and somehow you’ve escaped. My own ideas of escape are less concrete but completely unconnected to acquisitiveness: escape for me would be a renunciation of all the things which encumber and enslave us. To me freedom means not having an address.

It is a few days later (Friday) and I’ve re-read this. I bumped into an old friend last night. She is a lot more stressed than me. We both think she has too many things in her life. In the last few months I’ve ditched a lot of stuff, so I am calmer. I have stopped doing ‘save the world’ things and, for now, am more interested in saving me. We both see the difference. We agree to meet again in six weeks time but I will see her at the wedding…

It’s now a few days after the wedding, several weeks after the foregoing was written. The wedding was a strange mixture of dog lovers, bikers, artists, aunties and uncles. A heavy metal band played very loud Motorhead covers so I retreated to a quiet bar and spoke to the staff. I met someone I already knew and saw her in a new light…the world shifts very gently again.

Jon Talbot

I’ve attached a picture. I don’t have many pictures but this one represents for me a sense of freedom and escape. In the picture I am a long way from home, just about as far away as it is possible to get. I am among people I do not know, staying in a place where I am unknown. I will remember some of the people I met for as long as I live. I remember the air and the feeling of being enveloped. I remember the reef, the people going to church, the huge fruit bats, the gentle ‘goodnights’ in the soft half light, the drunken politicians, the shops with names like ‘Sun sun sunny shopping’, the red brown earth and the little boys in dug out canoes. It’s a very happy time for me.

May 2005