Boris and the Elephant

elephant-990w“When an elephant appears in the market, the dogs are not far behind.” – Nepalese proverb.

 

I used that proverb in an article I wrote for a major Sporting Magazine. I was trying to be clever – I’m doing that again now. I’ll fail, but it’s ok. Typing at this keyboard, with the bluetooth connection to my remote speaker blipping and popping in the background, makes me happy.

When the Brexit thing happened and the votes had been counted I couldn’t quite believe it. I always thought the British people had evolved a bit – or at least kept up with the rest of the enlightened non-religious world. I was wrong. We’ve gone backwards as a nation. We’ve regressed into racist clam shells on some beautiful beach we should be riding unicorns and frolicking in the surf naked on. It was a future we could have had, and I thought we’d attain without a problem. All we had to do was squash the ignorant under out stiletto heels, then get drunk on humane free-thinking manna. I don’t smoke, but I’d pictured myself with a fat cigar and a lot of Anarchist literature. thumbing around for the next steps to a better world. Boris had other ideas.

When he joined the ten thousand pounds a year Bullingdon club, there were plenty of cigars. There were many smashed up restaurants, too. But I still argue there is an important difference about where you stub out your Monte Christo number four. Personally, I wasn’t thinking about grinding mine out into a Polish waiter’s forehead. My opinions don’t carry weight, though, in the wider world. They don’t even hold sway in my own house: I have a home appointment this afternoon with someone who oversees my care and has the power to have me forcibly removed to a Mental Hospital if I say the wrong things. Yeah…my views are that unimportant to you.

But Boris was right all along. OK, so now he is shell-shocked and his next move is uncertain, but he has won. He’s like the fat kid suddenly beating up the tough kid at school with one lucky punch. It’s earned him instant unblieving respect, but carries with it the knowledge everybody knows the truth. It’s like winning the lottery by hand drawing the winning numbers onto your ticket in crayon. We know you’re a fraud.

Still, at first I thought Boris and his band of miscreants were akin to the Elephant in my proverb. But they aren’t.

The Elephant is noble, it is unparalleled in strength and a sense of innate purpose. It is wild, and sometimes it is driven into unpredictable rages at things like lightning, and small rushes of breeze through a savanna. An Elephant can’t fathom complex issues. It is untrustworthy around a fire, and is only ‘safe’ around most other animals when it’s in chains, servitude, beaten, broken. But that power…..eh?

The Elephant in the proverb, in my mind, is knocking the market stalls everywhere. It is creating unwitting, or provoked, or even unprovoked, chaos; unstoppable and uncaring for anything other than itself. Panic-driven.

No, my friends, Boris is no Elephant. He and his friends are the dogs: forever following the dumb brute of the popular vote Elephant through the marketplace of political ideals and manipulated public opinions. They are wolfing down the fruits of another’s mistakes and fear. And in this case, they will grow fat from it. The market will close and the Elephant will be tied up and whipped, but the dogs will move on happy and sated. This is a grim future indeed on our tiny island: where people are confused and selfish, and where the Elite will go to any measures to maintain that warped and self-serving status quo.

My CPN will hear none of this talk this afternoon. If the subject raises itself I will tell her I have no opinion on the matter. This is neither brave nor true, but there are places where Elephants are not the most powerful creatures, and where even a hungry dog will not go.

 

 

The Summer of the Gun

Hucklesby gun

 

“All the kids know where the guns are.” – Conventional wisdom.

 

The Huckle’s. Two boys – Ben, and Alex. Both older than me by a couple of years. They lived down the road from me on the Island. Their mum was a long-haired hippy throwback fifteen years behind the times. Their Father worked on boats and looked exactly like Captain Haddock from the Tin Tin comics. He even wore the same hat.

I was seven when I first met the Huckle’s. We’d moved into the old rectory up from them. It was a hideous Amityville type place full of ghosts and darkness and evil. I found secret rooms, and a huge mural in an attic room all about some secret society. Crawl spaces led to places half blocked off, and pillows, beard clippings in a paper bag, and a code book. Things from the dead past that a child could revel in if they weren’t already so scared of the living.

The Huckle’s were outdoors types. Their house was white painted wooden boarded with a large garden full of honeysuckle and trees and places to build bases. We dug a trench and started a tunnel towards my house a hundred meters away. We got about two meters before the tunnel was set up for a home by too many creeping animals to make further work viable. Large spiders in the dark. Maybe demons, too. But we had lots of other things to do, anyhow. We talked of girls, climbed trees, stole apples from large gardens on the street, walked the beaches, dug more trenches, and played detectives in their house – using flour for fingerprint recovery and always locking up someone innocent. The innocent should suffer. It was more realistic that way.

Ben was the younger of the two and he was a Bear Grylls type kid – all fake energy and mock fearlessness. Alex – three years older than me – did more sitting and thinking, but he was still pretty decent with a gun-elastic catapult and ball bearings. He could hit the roofs of houses that seemed to be a mile away – thwack…..PING. Their parents never minded what we did, even that night when me and Ben threw a great pile of leaves into the windscreen of a car heading up past my house; the driver screeched to a halt and chased us down the road. I got away, but he caught Ben heading into his drive. I think he gave me up, but I wasn’t punished, mercifully. Yeah, their parents were cool.

The three of us were playing with another older neighbourhood kid – Adam – one summer holiday afternoon; just hanging about the Huckle’s house and messing about with a small vial of gunpowder that Alex had in his bedroom. We were laughing. Then Adam said something to me – that I was weak, which was a bad thing to tell me  – and I chased him out of the room and across the landing. He ran inside Ben’s bedroom and slammed the door shut in my face. The solid wooden doorknob hit me just below my right eye. When I started getting up off the floor I knew he was in trouble. The pain gave me license to free up the rage I always struggled with back then. I opened the door. Adam was laughing. I let him have it, everything I had inside from all the days and nights of terror at home – scared into a whimpering wreck. No, Adam, I wasn’t weak, you motherfucker.

By the time the Huckle’s Mum dragged me off of him I’d knocked out four of his teeth. She took him into the bathroom and put his head over the sink but the blood was pissing out from so many places, and all up the wall, that she moved him to the bath. His head drooped over the edge and the blood ran and ran. He sobbed. I watched it all from the doorway. He had it coming.

His parents complained to mine. I thought I was in for a hiding, but I had a huge black eye from the doorknob and that kind of watered down what I’d done to Adam. It was self-defence anyway, right? That was my story. It worked. Adam wasn’t seen for a few weeks – I’d busted him up pretty good. Word got round. I wasn’t proud but it all blew over. The sun got hotter as July turned to August.

On a cool August morning, me and Alex were alone in their house, sitting in the living room and wondering what to do that day. The weather promised no drama off of the sea and we knew the Island’s treasures were totally available to us. But that day we weren’t in the mood to travel far. When you’re young, exploration is almost as good if you did it with diligence close to home – got to know the nooks and crannies. And there were plenty. Next door was the holiday home of Sir Clive Sinclair – home computers, shit electrical vehicles, beard, newly rich on the back of the computer boom. His daughter stayed there a lot and she used to walk a pet goat up and down the street on a lead. It lived in their overgrown garden, so we were thinking of letting it loose – it was good, lazy fun – but Alex changed his mind and told me he had a secret. “Yeah?”

In the corner of the room was a seaman’s chest – old, gnarled, patina’d up from a hundred Oceans and the hands of porters somewhere were the sun always shone. He opened it up and told me to come over. It was full of papers, a dark blue wool coat, and…there…. “What do you think?”

“Whoah…that’s amazing! Is it real?”

“Yep…got the bullets too.”

“Wow!”

The gun was some type of old revolver, and it was loaded. Alex waved it around then aimed it at something outside. “I don’t think I’m allowed to shoot it,” he said.

“Pity.”

I wanted to touch it, but Alex put it back and made me swear not to tell anyone. “My Dad says that it’s there to stop the bad people from hurting us. It’s not a toy. It’s our secret, right?”

We went outside and played in the trees. It was a beautiful day. At tea time I went home and sat at the little desk in my bedroom drawing pictures of guns until my father came home in a bad mood and started shouting and screaming downstairs, smashing something up in a rage. Terrifying. I hated being a child.

I dreamed of that gun for the rest of that summer. I had plans for it. Early September I was alone in the Huckle’s living room while Alex went out to take piss. I didn’t have to think twice – just headed right for the chest and dug down into it looking for the gun; a way out of being terrified my whole home life; salvation in a second; every problem I ever had would be gone tonight. I would be trembling for the last time. Yes, yes….I could make it all ok.

I pulled the wool coat from side to side and dug in every corner. It had gone.

We went outside and threw stones at the Sinclair’s goat. It seemed the right thing to do.

 

 

Brethren

“Good week?”

“Nope.”

“Me neither.”

“Oh.”

Silence in the waiting room. Six people sit on plastic chairs looking up from time to time at where a clock used to be on the wall. One person is gouching, another is wishing she was. Sometimes so do I. There are many scars on the arms of the people in the room. We try to avoid looking at them, and into each other’s eyes. Most of us are looking at mobile phones into lives that are so completely outside this hospital as to make this all seem like being taken on board a UFO.

We are the chosen few. Taken. But here we are, for good or ill.

“Done your homework?”

“Fuck that fucking homework.”

Silence. Someone nods in either approval or understanding, or maybe just so she feels more connected to the rest of us in the room. She really doesn’t have to, but perhaps she hasn’t worked out yet that we are more connected than she realises.

The windows have locks on them preventing a quick escape. To get into the building I had to press a buzzer, get viewed on a CCTV camera, then a thick re-enforced wooden door is remotely unlocked with another buzzing noise, “Come in, Ben.”

Are we that damaged? Maybe. No, not maybe: yes…yes, we are? I know that to even get on the programme we’ve been assessed as being at the apex of need and diagnosis. Psychiatrically diagnosed, Psychologically diagnosed, Personality Disorder tested… We all scored very highly. We’ve tried to die; can’t fit in; don’t function as we should; don’t think normally; see/hear things; get out of our heads from time to time. I suppose we are members of a very select club.

Someone laughs at something on their phone. She isn’t sharing it with us. She doesn’t have to, and we don’t need her to explain why. We barely know each other, but we’re bonded by horrific common experiences and mental symptoms that would make the average person do exactly what we all did to try and get rid of it all. In that respect we’re as normal as anyone out there in the sunshine. A Therapist opens the waiting room door. “All ready?”

We move into the Therapy room and sit in a circle. For two hours, in this Psychology department, in this Hospital, at this point in our lives, we have Brethren.

 

Old Friends

Spring 2013

Sitting with an old friend – a childhood friend I used to think was like an older brother, who’s now a recovering addict, recovering badly – in the May sunshine at a pub table next to an extractor fan dripping with grease. He’s happy because the beers are in, and the hot weather gives us both a legitimate excuse to suck up some alcohol.

I see his eyes dart towards the codeine packet as I pop one open, and his whole face becomes a yearning picture of need. He’s a flowerhead searching for the sun and something, anything, to pollinate the serotonin stamens of his fractured brain. Out of the empathy of one addict to another I popped another couple from the silver foil and offered them to him. He took them quickly and, as if to prove his familiarity with the vintage, stuck them on his tongue for a while, taking in the repulsive bitter taste full-flavour like a badge of honour: I’ve been there, my friend, I understand.

What slow rush there was, if any, wasn’t discernible over his manic chatter. He moved from subject to subject in a single sentence…to fill the air….to entertain. The hours pass like this, in sunburn and laughter.

In the end, when the jokes run dry and his heartache has left just a small residue of mirrored pain on both our faces, he lets me break in and speak. And, thoughtfully, he listens, even seeming to understand and accept my words. He’s the sinner to my jaded Priest. The sun starts to go down and we walk up the hill to my home. We drink more, smoke some Weed, then fall asleep in our respective rooms.

The next day I take him to the train station. He shakes my hand, sweating for another beer on the way back to Sheffield. The last view I have is of him rolling a smoke outside the glass doors of the ticket office, cutting it fine for the 11.08, calmer than before we had spoken both our words in the sunshine. He would relapse spectacularly a month later; was I and that one May day, and the sun, and the memories, and the tie we both have to getting high, responsible? Would we ever be ok?

Spring 2016

He’s been clean for nearly two years. We don’t see each other any more.

Pseudo-Hallucinations et al.

Rule #1 – NEVER tell your Clinical Psychologist that you think you’ve met Jesus.

 

It’s raining again. Been raining for two weeks almost without stop. Nah, before there’s any talk of a depression cliche, I’m not feeling depressed. Just weird. Pseudo-Hallucinations apparently, again.

When my CPN told me that what I saw was ‘Pseudo’ I got angry: shit….you mean to say I’m making this awful stuff up or, worse, it’s not quite weird enough for you? I was wrong. Of course, as was explained to me over and over by my Clinical Psychologist, they are hallucinations which appear during moments of stress. I suppose I’ve been under some unholy stress recently.

And I don’t see hallucinations of Jesus – never have, despite asking for him several times when the tablets have been lined up, or the noose completed and tied. He never showed, and I think it’s safe to conclude now that I’m not religious. For me, the pseudo weirdness is mainly Bigfoot. That great hairy man-face staring at me from the treeline, or just a knowing [KNOWING] that he’s out there watching, waiting. But I covered all that in a previous blog post. And I don’t want to stoke that fire this morning. Anyhow, Built to Spill are on loud in the background and I am not expecting to have any drama today – gate is locked, doors are locked, curtains may get closed soon. The world is far away.

I had told my Psychologist that I thought the guy I met the other day was Spiritual. If someone had told me he was an Angel I’d have believed them, but they didn’t. All people said was “Thank god you didn’t invite him into your home and feed him.” Tough, hard sentiments from the world towards this Pilgrim I’d met in the meadow behind my house who’d spent 43 days living wild with no money, just to explore what Freedom meant. Inspirational stuff in the sunshine, but even now as the rain is coming down….yeah…I get it; you either ‘get it’ or you don’t.

“Take the blue pill,” I told my Psychologist. “And I don’t mean Viagra.”

She laughed.

“Take a look at it all: what everything is about. Then you’ll know why I thought he was Jesus..and why people disgust me.”

“Ben, are you telling me you met Jesus?”

“Maybe. Just don’t lock me up.”

She stared for a few seconds. Outside the bushes moved…

 

 

Pilgrim

He came across us behind my house in the nature reserve – a place untouched by chemicals or insecticides or anything that resembled anything other than nature. Ever. It’s beautiful up there; all cowslips, orchids, meadowland; the most divine place you could imagine. Me and a fellow BPD friend had gone for a walk and were sitting in the sunshine, on a bench in the flowers, listening to the birds and watching the butterflies. We’d been talking for twenty minutes about our past suicide attempts, the pain of life, the future. We wondered if we had a purpose in life. We were lost and we were chained to our diagnosis. We knew that much.

He walked up the steep slope on the old miners path that leads across the nature reserve and on through the Peak District, up towards the Scottish borders if you stick on it long enough. He had a small orange backpack. I guessed he was barely twenty five. He smiled at us: a real smile. Something I don’t get often enough, and especially not from strangers.

“Hey,” I said. “You look like you’ve walked further than us.”

“Ha.” He walked over to us, still smiling. “You could say that. Actually I’ve been walking for forty three days now.”

“Where?”

“I started at Lands End and I’ve been kinda all over. I sleep in the wild….I just….walk the land. It’s a sort of pilgrimage to freedom.”

We talked more, and he told us he hadn’t eaten for four days, had traveled the whole time with no money, and only accepted food if it was offered. He was possibly the most serene person I’ve ever met. Totally lucid, totally calm, and completely happy. I said I’d run and get him some food but he declined, saying he’d walk another twenty miles over the hills today and see what it held for him. I told him Freedom was something I’d always looked for. He seemed to get what I was saying because he took some time to look us up and down and come to a decision.

“Do you mind if I give you a little piece of paper with some things written on it?”

“Not at all.”

“It’s just I don’t give them out to everybody….but you two…” he tailed off.

He reached into a waterproof pocket and handed me a small square of paper. It fluttered out of my hand in a sudden warm breeze and I reached into the wild flowers to pick it up. He smiled at us, then said, “Meeting you has been nourishment for me. I wish you both good luck on your own travels.” It felt like a blessing.

Then he turned and walked up into the top of the meadow and was lost to sight over the brow of the hill. We looked at each other in the sunlight.

“What just happened?”

“I don’t know, but if someone came along now and told me that was an Angel, or some weird shit like that I wouldn’t argue with them.”

“What’s on the paper?”

I read it slowly. And when I’d finished I couldn’t think of anything more calming and reassuring to say to two people with BPD sitting on a bench talking about their own horrors. It was as if he’d been sent from some Karmic place to tell us the Gods will make everything ok. I didn’t know his name, and I’d never see him again. He wasn’t selling anything, refused money from us, and food, and his face was the most serene picture of total love and acceptance I’d ever seen. Without a doubt, this was the kind of spiritual experience that entire religious movements are built upon.

I read the words on the paper aloud. In the sunshine they made sense. In the context of our journeys they made sense. They just made so much fucking sense for every reason. For a brief moment, the pain had gone, replaced by something much, much better.

Here are those words –

“I am a wanderer, a pilgrim. Walking without money and only the few items I carry, sustained through the kindness of others. Unaffiliated with any group or organisation and free from any teaching or dogma, I share a simple message as I walk, an encouragement for courage, an invitation for inquiry.

What is freedom? Can it be willed, gained or lost? Is it in wealth, possessions or circumstance? If so what happens when these things change? Is freedom a thought, an idea or an experience? Is it in the past, future or the present? Is it of the world within?

I challenge you to bravely meet life in each moment, willingly and gratefully meet hurt, joy, love, loss, pain, pleasure or whatever life offers you and know that which is free in meeting it. That which is beyond the conditions of the world, that which is always free.

Rather than a destination or a goal, freedom is a way of being and is always ours to choose regardless of history, race, gender, or personal situation. I invite you to make this choice, exploring, shedding and transcending the prisons and limitations we have created individually and collectively and coming to know that which is always free.

Thank you for your kindness.”

Freedom. Isn’t that what we’re all searching for?

Good luck to all of you, on all of your travels and with all of your searching. We/YOU deserve to find freedom. We’re all, just simply, pilgrims on our Borderline Personality Disorder path. And we can find a beautiful destination. Love to all of you.

The Gravedigger

Half an hour into a forced Career Guidance appointment, brought about by poor GCSE results, I knew I was fucked.

“Our computer program really gets to the root of what’s best for you, Ben. Can I call you Ben?”

“No.”

“Errrr….a…ha ha ha.. Well, Ben, here’s the result.” He ripped the print-out from the dotmatrix printer in the corner and handed me the thin paper page. Top recommended job = Gravedigger.

“Gravedigger?”

“It’s an excellent match for your answers.”

There was no hint of a smile. The guy was completely serious. I nodded, watched his mouth move, and didn’t hear a sound. I didn’t know it at the time, but twenty years from then I’d be sitting in a room in a building next door trying to explain to a Clinical Psychologist why I had just tried to kill myself. Perhaps that IBM computer knew more than any of us.

I walked out of the reception and took the bus back home. On the bus an old drunk started talking at me about his time in the Merchant Navy. He hadn’t ever been in a war, and he told me he regretted the fact he’d never killed anyone. Dutch retrospective courage is the worst kind. A guy I barely knew from school was across the aisle from my seat telling his friend about how he’d just started as a mechanic and how he’d soon be buying the fastest car for twenty miles around. High, proud, hopes.

I got off in my village and walked to the pub. It was the middle of a Tuesday afternoon. I sat with the terminally unemployed and unemployable, and the elderly men who loved to talk about when they had more to do than drink themselves into an early grave. All of us were washed-up in the smokey room and it suited. A young guy in the corner was lying to anyone who would listen about having been a rich Architect who had lived in Vienna. The landlord smoked a cigar and spoke in whispers of barmaids he’d fucked around the back without his wife knowing. An old man told a tale about the sodomy he’d witnessed in the public toilets not far away. I laughed, even when he said he’d “pissed on them as they bummed each other”. I’d gone in there for sage wisdom from the elders of my tribe….what was I thinking? Nobody really understood anything at all.

I walked home the long way, across the play area and through the church yard. A freshly filled grave lay by the end of the cemetery wall -“NAN” in large gaudy flowers, and a few blurred messages on tiny white cards that had all gotten wet last night in the rain. Two of my friends had been laid to rest in this cemetery in the past year: one dead from a motorbike crash, the other from a diabetic coma. I’d gone to both funerals. I hadn’t enjoyed them. Now here they were, fifty feet from someone’s Nan. Sharing the only place they’d ever be forever with total strangers and a semi-regular gathering of stupid religious bullshit and tears.

I went and looked at their graves.No, I couldn’t have dug them.