We started late – at 10.10pm (not correct to the nearest second, but close enough for our purposes).
Actually, it started when I was getting the back of my train seat kicked for half an hour on the way here, but that’s part of the pilgrimage; a latter day trail to Santiago – well, Derby. DBT (Dialectical Behavioural Therapy) has brought me here. That and Borderline Personality Disorder.
Ten minutes late is ten minutes late however you look at it. We can’t go back – put that in your metaphysics pipe on a cold evening and puff on it for as long as it takes for your eyes to start welling up. Usually I’d be concerned I was ripping off all my Sponsors, but tonight is magic: there is a whiff of cosmic-tilting-planet fuckery and we get an extra hour as the clocks go back at some point in the next four hours. I don’t know what’s going to happen and I need to drink some more of this cheap energy drink to make sure the meds I’ve just taken don’t get lodged in my throat and make me the first hazard of the evening.
SO here I am with my lovely new friends. And it’s going well so far. But, hey, even YOU could sit in a room with me for twenty minutes right now.
Somebody none of us has ever met is about to turn up. He’s in on the thing too.
He’s here…. BANG BANG BANG on the front door.
And…he has two male Life Models (alive and fully functioning ones) with him. It’s too busy in here for them, so they are setting up in another room. There’s plenty of nervous excited noise in here. A lot of pre-race nerves, helpful at the start of anything. Get the adrenaline throbbing. Test the old veins.
A friend has clocked my stash of cheap energy drinks and now there is serious concern that if I drink all of it I may have a heart attack. One of the models has left the room, staring at all of us in turn, muttering “Okaaaaay………….Okaaaaayyy….” under his breath. I don’t blame him.
But we all know this won’t last. The joviality is good and it’s genuine – for now – but the clock is ticking and the deadline is not moving from 6am. Personally, I love and hate deadlines – Boxing Journalism has taught me that much. Three AM wake ups and early morning deadlines to catch the screens of faceless Editors everywhere, anywhere, means I know the pain of a creative (a-hohoho) profession. Everyone else here is an artist, and damn good ones, I mean really talented. I’m the only one doing something as stupid as writing. Their pieces created tonight are getting auctioned in a couple of weeks. Obviously no-one is going to bid for what I do. My Sponsors get a copy and that’s as far as things go. I can’t honestly say I’m sitting here thinking I’m equal to these amazing people – and they are amazing. Truly.
I’ve led myself on to a half-thought about trying to explain my/our/the condition, but I don’t think it’s late enough for that…yet. Plus, I don’t feel it would be anything other than patronising to the people sitting within twenty feet of me right now. No, I might return to that thorny issue when the mood is different: maybe somewhere around four am, or when the silence descends and things get serious. Who knows? I guess I’m going to find out, but we should get around to it really, after all, this is the elephant in our room; between us in here and us: me and you.
Seven hundred words an hour. Will that cut the mustard? Will it be a good and genuine enough effort compared to the others in here? More energy… – wait….no, the cheap drinks I’ve bought don’t say ‘ENERGE’, like I thought they did. They actually say ‘EMERGE’. What does that mean? Have I bought three litres of laxative? What’s going to emerge? Are my brains going to flood out of my ears like golden syrup?
A friend to my right has peaked too early with her Pro-Plus. Her hands shake uncontrollably. I offered her some ‘Emerge’ but she declined. SO…common sense hasn’t left us all, for now. Sometimes I despair at the constant false economies – why, in the name of Arthur C Clark, did I buy the cheapest energy drinks in the Co-Op? Sugar free or not, no good ever came of Pantothenic Acid (one of the ingredients). I don’t even know what it is, or where it’s meant to go; possibly not in a human stomach in the kind of amounts I’m planning on drinking this night.
Oh…. I just looked up Pantothenic Acid on the internet. Checked the facts. I’m wrong. Without Pantothenic Acid I would be dead. So would you. Pantothenic Acid is a vitally important vitamin (B5) which humans need to produce hormones and to maintain their immune system. Seems like erring down the cheap aisle of spuriously branded energy drinks has guaranteed me life for the next seven hours at least. I suppose if we combine a custom-made Tupperware container and fifty gallons of ‘Emerge’ and seal ourselves in, in individual pods, we could all achieve a kind of immortality only the present Royal Family seem to have access to. Twenty four hours a day in liquid B5. Would that be enough to do the job?
NOTE – Consider coffee tables made of perpetually living volunteers in large caskets full of ‘Emerge’. Dragons Den. Ring Duncan Goodhew and Daryl Hannah. This could work.
Business will wait, though. To more important matters – like the slow progress I’m making. A thousand words up in an hour and a half isn’t going to make me proud; not when I can write well over a thousand words an hour on men punching each other in the face, when I’m pushed. Which is often.
A friend is putting together a music playlist right now to soundtrack our night but there is something wrong with the process. I’ve just heard the first ten seconds of around a hundred songs. I don’t recognise any of them, but that’s ok. These people will have to go to some extreme lengths to raise my blood pressure. You see, they are My People, my brethren, despite me being the oldest in this room by at least ten years. I have headphones but I can’t bring myself to upset my friends by being rude enough to put them on. Hey…that’s Borderline. No, it’s still not time to go down that path. Midnight hasn’t struck and the creepy double hour is not happening yet, though it’s on the horizon. And I’m nervous – very – about betraying the eight people in this room. I don’t know all their personal horrors and the trials they’ve been through, but I know enough to realise that I am not really worthy of being ‘The Voice of the Borderline Personality Disorder Sufferer’. I am the gatekeeper of my own story, but that is enough, surely, for anyone. These people deserve more than my cheap words hashed together. They need art, beauty, and someone with the ability and the sophisticated vocabulary to do them the justice they deserve. And, they do deserve. More than you know.
The music stutters…. Plays for a minute, then moves on to another song.
One of the Artists has just broken into an improvised song about a girl called Emily. Truly. Emily’s dad is an old friend of mine from a time before I didn’t have enough reasons to be in this room right now. I’m sure Emily is a cool kid. Her dad (Neil) was – still is, I’d hazard a guess. I wonder if she’ll laugh when she reads this? She should.
Long spaces at this point. Good for hiding sections before and after talking about Emily, and handy if you want to show her she’s in this piece, but save her from the rest of the nightmare. Midnight approaches. There is some metal music playing. Nu-Metal, I think. It didn’t last long. Skip skip skip skip. Track after track blurring into one frenzied mixtape of such appalling horror that midnight is the only time to listen to it. Bingo. Midnight. Happy New something… Don’t know what. I’m tempted to say ‘Happy new me’, cos the old one was broken, but I’ll leave the slushy sentiments for now.
Break Time. No. No break for you yet, Ben, old friend. You need to put more effort into this. Get the thing moving, stop getting bogged down in the clichés. Yeah, BPD (acronym pretty easy to work out, yeah?) is a bummer.
“I’ve been in a room where fifty people were being exorcised” – says a friend. We’d been discussing what I thought was the start of Tubular Bells coming from the powerful remote speaker on the other side of the room. I was wrong, and I still don’t know what the song was if it wasn’t Tubular Bells.
“There were people flying about,” she continues.
“What, like… really?”
“Well, they were more throwing themselves about, and talking in demonic voices, but you get the drift. Pretty awesome stuff.”
Not for me. Not at this hour. This big old building in the centre of Derby is creepy enough without the added pressure of obsessing over the paranormal. We have a swift discussion about how the film The Exorcist wasn’t really scary. I can’t comment because I’ve never had the guts to watch it. Hideously pathetic, Ben. Again. OK. The male models are ordering pizza. That’s a good enough change of direction, unless Freddy Kruger delivers pizzas in Derby. But it’s thrown the track well enough to stop the impending ghost stories – and we were only a moment away from the start of that kind of nastiness. I used to think I saw ghosts from time to time when I was a teenager, but I realise now that those shadowy figures weren’t paranormal, just a manifestation of a blossoming mental illness. Still, the edge has been taken off right now by the pizza order. The models are nice guys, with great timing. I suppose after keeping a pose for two hours – which they have, rigidly – you develop a sense of timing when the time is right (hohoho…the gags are starting….but they will be nipped in the bud/arm, and scrotum, before they ruin this thing further). Which reminds me: I need to read it back now to see where I’m headed.
– I’m headed nowhere. That’s the apparent gist, on read-back. Just utter drivel up to this point. Must press on, though. People are creating great things in front of my eyes in these early hours, and some of them will have found it difficult to even be here in this room tonight. I need to get things together; find a tone; a theme.
Politics on the stereo now. Some song about fracking. Political singers all have the thick accents of bad actors. Ingratiating. Grating, too. Remember that, Ben, you ungrateful bastard, when your house is disappearing into a vast cavern created by sucking up thirty million litres of shale oil that used to support the weight of your old home village. No amount of mimicked rustic local-yokel dialect will ever sound grating under those circumstances – not if they are cleaning oily sludge off your dog then chaining themselves to a pipeline in support of a cause you hadn’t cared about ten minutes previously.
Brain starting to either feel the time, or the ‘EMERGE’. Might aim for the headphones. Politics eases into some Eurodance on the stereo. What Hell have I signed up for? Don’t want to upset my friends, though. Fight the urge. This is the least you can do, Ben.
Holy mother of God! The fire alarm!
Someone was using a blowtorch to fire molten bits of paint across the room. The canvas had started to smoulder. BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP. A friend points out that there aren’t any responsible adults here. You got that right, Sister. I’m no more responsible than I am a Walrus, and I’m not the only one like that in this stormy sea. It’s ok. Things are quickly brought back to calm again and nobody is hurt. We aren’t destined to burn tonight. Back to the Walrus pull-out.
IS there an animal as weird as a Walrus? A ton of rampaging blubber with tusks you could skewer a five hundred pound diabetic on, which turns pink in the arctic sea, but changes – by witchcraft – to brown on land. What could compare? A peacock? A wolf on one of those cheap “Spirit of The Wolf” fleeces? Choose your spirit animal right now. Right now! Not that I know what that means or what the purpose is, other than to elicit fear from the spiritually unwary. NO spirit guides in here. Let’s steer clear of that stuff, or I’ll spend the rest of the night too afraid to go for a piss.
The canvas isn’t smouldering any more. WOW! What a metaphor! Some time tonight I’m sure I’ll figure out what it means.
We’re quietening down now. People are deep into the art that’s being created. I’m sitting here a fraud, bashing out on this laptop. Goes with the territory, though. All that self-loathing and self-doubt. You have all touched on that feeling at some point, I’m certain this is true. Thing is, I’m guessing most of you have not tried to cut yourselves, never mind attempted to end your life. Whoah! That’s the kind of closing statement for this piece I was aiming for. I’ve peaked too early. But there is a morbid message behind all of this medicinally and sleep-deprived nonsense. Ten percent of us – Borderline – die by our own hand, statistically speaking. Some experts say that figure is higher (more like thirty percent), but few will go lower than ten percent. Pretty serious stuff, eh. I know I shouldn’t be here. The same sort of perverse luck that stopped us all being burned to death a while ago in here, left me waking up half hanging off a bed and staring at a pool of my own vomit one Monday morning. I can think of better things to see, but I suppose a pool of vomit on that occasion could quite easily have been a tunnel with a spurious white light at the end. I’d been unconscious for over twenty four hours. There were a lot of pills involved; plenty enough to do the job. It wasn’t the first time either, or the last.
Yeah, despite me not knowing the terrible details, these people around me right now are familiar with that last paragraph. They know it intimately. The minutiae will be different, but the theme will remain a constant – which makes me sad.
I open another ‘EMERGE’ and the friend to my right says, laughing, that technically I am self-harming. I can’t argue. It is vile stuff and it tastes like melted batteries. As a joke I’ll tick the yes box again in the ‘Self Harm’ section on the daily diary card I have to fill in for my Psychotherapist, and watch her reach for the net. Hohoho, ‘You don’t have to be crazy to work here….blah blahblah.’ Krayzee. .. Shit, every time I see one of those signs I want to do something terrible. In fact, just thinking about them makes me want to go and do something terrible right now.
The goddamn clock has gone back. It’s the freaky double hour.
No-one has freaked out yet. There is still plenty of time. And it could happen. Really.
I’ve stopped looking at the word count – lie. Two and a half thousand. Pitiful. I feel like I’m walking through tar now.
I’ve just noticed there is a camera high up in a corner of this room. And a sign on the door says“CCTV Cameras in Operation”. Why? I covered up the camera on this laptop as soon as I got it. Cameras are not our friends. Hooray….paranoia. Later than I thought it would show, but here we go… (Do NOT hide under a desk, despite the temptation). A friend just said she once stayed awake for almost two weeks straight: causing her to think she was being followed by Badgers. I was chased by a Badger once. Or was I? Nah, I’d been ok. The Badger had been real enough, diving out of nowhere and humping itself along like a water-filled goatskin bag with venomous teeth. I’m pretty sure Badgers aren’t venomous, despite what DEFRA and the people in Barbour jackets and Hunter wellies say. That night, my Badger looked a serious animal with serious intentions. Life was better preserved – mine, anyway – by getting out of the creature’s way. It kept on down the road and disappeared across the traffic lights and into the night, where Badgers belong, and I don’t.
The fucking clock isn’t moving. Is it moving? Check, properly. Yes, it is moving. These treacherous energy drinks are overriding the medication. Kurt Vonnegut explained time as simply being caught frozen in Amber, or not. Which is perfect. The soundtrack for the past half an hour has been ‘Disney’ songs. We’ve danced, from time to time – me, from my chair. But Kurt didn’t dance, not in those meat mines. Dancing was pretty thin on the ground in Dresden the day after the fire-bombing. Tell that to the Grandkids at bedtime… Disney and mass murder. Uneasy bedfellows, unless you’re a child in Palestine right now, I guess. People really do get desensitised to horror. What a repulsive thought at this time of the night – or at any time at all. Simply wretched for humans to purposely hurt each other for uncertain and skewed gain. Who decides who wins from death? Pocahontus? Her Disney incarnation is singing from the stereo right now, and she’s as good as anyone to answer that question. As good as me, anyway. I feel like a stuffed Owl.
Bad trip, that one. I’ll get off it.
The clock has actually stopped. No, really. The red seconds hand is pumping limply up towards the ten and bouncing slightly short. It’s three in the morning. Nothing has slowed down – except my brain. Pregabalin or codeine? Codeine, I think. It won’t help the brain speed, but it’ll stop me worrying. Faithful old Codeine.
Somebody take my third litre of EMERGE away from me. For the love of God.
My brain is on fire.
But it won’t last.
This liver damage might.
Shit, I’ve started writing Haiku. Nothing on earth should have got me to that point. It’ll be poetry next.
The last poem I wrote was almost twenty years ago. And, as piles of clichéd crap go, it was large, and stinky. I can’t remember what the whole pathetic mess was about, but I know it ended up in a book somewhere. Three of them did, I think. Awful. Truly awful. I ‘composed’ – hahaha, I am a wanker – them when I was working at HMP/YOI Wetherby. A real shithole of a prison. Bad memories of batteries whirled in socks and connecting on the backs of unprotected skulls in the morning sunshine. A sickening sound and profuse bleeding every time. Followed by shouting, an alarm, the sound of heavy boots worn by heavy men, then dragging. Much dragging. What hope did anyone have of reform in there? None. People exited those rusty fences with nothing but contempt for everything and everyone, and they lived it all again, and again. In….out……shake it all about. Ya do the Prison Cokey and you…..
……get beaten senseless in the showers.
Hooray for Four AM soapboxes. And lovely lovely Codeine. But we’re getting far off track. Too far for me to genuinely think I’ve earned the one hundred and eighty pounds of sponsorship from fifteen wonderful people who made me happier than they would ever believe. You might think that’s stupid, or that I’m sitting here wrecked and tired and vulnerable – and those things may all be true, come to think of it – but my overriding feeling right now is one of love and thanks. You all came through for me, even though most of you haven’t seen me for over twenty years. I suppose all you know of me is the gibberish I post on Facebook, amalgamated messily with the vague memories of a young man with long hair and a bad attitude. Yet you still donated/sponsored. You did a good thing.
The amount of money was superfluous to the sense of support I got from those fifteen magical people. I wasn’t kidding when I said it made me cry. Hating myself is easy, but you gave me something else, another view: the man I used to be, the man I could have been, and the potential of what I might become. Heavy stuff.
Lighten the tone. Please. I’m simpering and whimpering. It won’t do.
Tiredness has passed. Man alive, there are some ace pieces of art in this room right now. Biased, maybe, but this is true.
If dawn rose now it’d be both apt and pretty cool.
Is three and a half thousand words enough? I have not left this seat for eight hours, other than to use the toilet. Nor have my hands left this keyboard – except for grabbing at that shitty drink or my meds. I suppose I could have typed faster and really gone to town with a train-of-thought essay on Indo-China, or on Irish Travellers and the question of why I spent a week in a Belgian forest with gangsters – ten thousand words of pure mental breakdown – but this is truly all that came to mind. Will you be angry? The BPD says ‘yes’, you will, and you will hate me and never speak to me, or remember me kindly. And if I give that thought a free reign it will run and run and, eventually, I may find myself staring at something that will kill me. I may even pick it up. I have been known to use it, too. Skills, man. That’s what it’s all about now. Thoughts like those are cut off at the pass like an expertly laid ambush in a shitty cowboy movie. Where John Wayne has his racist ass handed to him, on a badly made oversized Dream Catcher, by every Native American who was ever passed up for an acting job in favour of a blacked-up white guy.
See…..pure drivel. Let me off the leash for a few minutes and I start exploring the latent racism of old Movie Stars. Another few hours and I’ll be wading in to Bruce Forsyth, and then where will the world be? Better, my friends. You can be sure of that.
The hours haven’t been tough. Even in the quiet time around three AM, simply being in the same room as these brilliant people has given me an immense sense of calm and comradeship – patronising, maybe, shit….shouldn’t I really have come up with something better for all of them than a badly worded cliché about silence in some BPD ether that none of us understands? But there are very few people I can say those words about. My wonderful missus is one of them, she’s my main reason for being alive. And…..well……that’s it. Rare moments indeed and they are worth filing away somewhere where I can get at them in a tight spot – total recall in full chromatic, cinematic, I-Max, colour. Better than any tablets. I should know, I’ve had them all.
We are drawing to a close. I did my part and kept my side of our bargain, to whit: I did sit at this cursed laptop from ten PM until six AM (including the pointless extra hour due to milkmen, or farmers, or some other odd reason I don’t understand) and I typed. Unfortunately the result isn’t up to much but I put the time in. You should have seen me. I wish you had. I want you to have been proud. But then, this was a ‘Members Only’ evening. Your participation would have meant you’d have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, with all of its attendant horrors. And I wouldn’t want that for any of you. Genuinely.
Tomorrow is today. I still haven’t found a metaphor for a burned canvas.
What is the lesson of tonight? Is there one? Yes. It’s pretty important too, but simple. At one time there was a chance I may never have said the following, but those bad moments are getting fewer:
I am alive. I am alive.