Animal Empathy

Yesterday, two men somewhere – Australia? – were attacked by a Fur Seal. Watchers on the shore say it was about five feet long and weighed eighty pounds. It had leaped out of the water and bitten one of the men on the upper arm as he sat on his surf board. He paddled to shore, trailing a bloody slick, and was rushed to hospital. The other victim’s surf board was mauled, but he escaped by kicking the enraged seal in the face.

In warm surf water, with Great White sharks around, surfers are merely recreational death stats waiting to happen. But sharks are meant to attack people, Seals aren’t. Sharks take no provoking to bite a human in half; they are all innate, calm, violence. Why did a Fur Seal try to kill these men? What drove a seal to such levels of rage?

At the bus stop this morning I stood for half an hour in the light rain. Drivers smirked when they saw me. There is no experience quite like standing on your own next to queuing traffic, waiting for a bus in the rain. Car drivers think you can’t see them. You are just entertainment. To them, I am a ‘bus wanker’. And I am a failure.

Anyone on a bus is forced onto it by circumstances. We all know bus passengers are at the mercy of one or more of the following – Age, mental illness, a drink driving conviction, poverty. We have no other choice, eh. It’s this supposed knowledge that caused many of the drivers today to look my way and laugh inside.

I stepped back from the road. They all looked the same in the cars anyway: evil. They were out to take bits from me if I let them. I began to stare right back. They were an ugly bunch. Businessmen drove cars that looked the same as their shoes, van drivers stored weeks of litter on dashboards, pensioners stared anywhere but at me. The noise – engines grating, brakes squealing, shit music – roared like a jet every time the lights turned green. The traffic flowed down the hill towards me like a sewer. It had sucked these fuckers out of their houses and jammed them into the current to wherever. Whirling eddies stalled and circled opposite the box junction. Foul shit, all of them.

The answers to the Fur Seal attacks came to me as I counted out the £2.40 fare in my hand: I was experiencing the same feelings as that poor Seal. I was zapped right into its brain. The Fur Seal was sucking fishing lines and plastic in the shit-strewn effluent that used to be sweet water full of fish. It felt ripped off and was tired of grinning, idiot, humans on surf boards, in boats, on the shoreline. It had put up with the supposed Master Race for long enough. Things were going to change. Down in the deep, the Seal made a promise to itself. Silhouetted up above him against the blue sky, a fat white surfer dangled his legs over the edges of his board and shouted to his friends about the girl he fucked last night. The Seal pushed up from the seabed, gathered speed, barred its teeth. Started the pay-back.

The bus pulled up. I walked to the open door, took a step up, opened my mouth, heading for the driver…


Supermarket Psychosis for Dummies

I was deep into the Supermarket – maybe a hundred feet from the entrance – right in the heart of the beast. It was busy. Grey-haired couples sloped by; arthritic legs and arms and weirdly angled heads, pushing shopping carts slowly but with purpose. Kids hung onto mums filling their silver wire vehicles with pre-packaged meals, chocolate and wine. Cheap wine; numbing the pain of the Saturday night marriage consummation re-run. Nowadays more extreme, but less satisfying.

Tired shop assistants handled the goods on shelving units stretching up into the sky. When two of them met, the conversation was solely about the whereabouts in time of their respective breaks. Shit work pays bills…only. Gossiping Pensioners swapped stories of recent ill health and death by the fish counter.

“He was only laughing that morning….   Shock to us all…  Doctor says I’ll have to have an operation…. Funeral… good turn out. Shame.”

The Tannoy cut the chatter with toned-down Nazi instructions for ‘all operatives’ to man the tills. Nobody moved in case they were sent to the front line and ground into chum under the weight of a trillion ready meals and gallons of cheap cider. The air turned to water. Faces moved along in symbiosis with the carts. Robot beings sent to watch me in the deep. I struggled breathing down here. They had to be avoided because the real powers on the surface were looking for me and guided these probes with their vehicles just to find out who was real. I was real. Yeah? No…get out.

I waded through the soupy water and pushed a cart away near the first signs of land in the vegetable aisle. “Fucking hunters,” I caught someone say. It was me. I was talking to them all as I passed their hideous raptor faces. Gripped my basket tight, then dropped it by the exit. In the car park the sky came down and I had to sit by a low wall to stop my head hitting the ceiling of the world. The cars coughed and wheeled around the narrow lands beyond the cash machines, searching for the unwary. Faceless drivers hunched over under the weight of the demonic orders they’d been given. It was all just a matter of time…

Light closed in.

When I opened my eyes again the sky was back to normal. A woman stopped to watch me sitting there, looking homeless and out of place right outside the Church of The Eternal Supermarket. I was just a heretic, not fit for prayer in the Temple. Best way.


“Never go on trips with anyone you do not love.” – Ernest Hemmingway

Let’s take that as read, eh. I was told a similar thing by a green-dreadlocked girl once, right as she handed over two tabs of acid. They were my first. She made me promise to share the experience with someone I cared for and trusted. I didn’t. I took it with a friend who would have given his eye teeth to screw my girlfriend at the time, and wouldn’t have taken a moments pause before he got to business. I knew this, but it was still a good trip anyway. I’m a believer in the right approach to psychoactive drugs. You take them by the horns and let them know who’s boss. It’s that, or they ride you like a whipped horse.

I’ve never had a bad trip, LSD-wise. My brain is wired for it, I guess. So, maybe Ernest got things wrong? Or was he referring to something else? Hemmingway was a Colonial, animal-butchering, ape. Acid can’t have ever wormed into that brain. It would have been a waste. Electric Convulsive Therapy, yeah, but not acid. Choose your poison, I suppose…

He didn’t mean acid. Obviously.

I’ve been on plenty of trips (physical) with people. I’ve mapped igneous features in Arran in the pissing rain, honeymooned in Madeira, holidayed in Marrakech, and slept rough in a wood outside of Colchester. They all share a common feature: considering the company,  I’d have enjoyed them better on my own.

Marrakech is a hot place full of rags and dust. I was thirty two. It’s hard to get booze, easy to get hashish, and even easier to be arrested or run over. I bought booze from a man who delivered it to me in the Riad in brown paper bags at three times the UK price. I’ve made less covert drug deals. I drank it all on the roof terrace, under the stars. My companion moaned about the temperature of her beer and about why I wasn’t a go-getter. Even drunk on holiday, she’d cut right to the bone about some shit she saw as changeable in me. More booze; an easy, dependable plan. She always went down to bed early, leaving me up there watching meteorites coming out over the Northern Sahara and thinking of ways to put her on the plane and stay forever. Or maybe bury her out there in the desert where even the sidewinders wouldn’t find her.

I got hit by a car doing about four miles an hour in a Souk in Marrakech. I had a bruised leg. The car lost a headlight. Nobody claimed. The place was perfect. It needed someone like me to appreciate those subtle differences that only mean something to people who want out of the drudging, failing, West. You don’t always have to fit in.

Early evenings I’d walk about the Medina hoping to be robbed. I went down all the darkest alleyways, got lost on purpose, moved entirely off the tourist circuit, wanting the thrill. Nothing. No-one even spoke to me. Groups of men would see me coming and move off inside of thick oak doors. I was easy prey, but then I’ve never seen the inside of a Morrocan prison. Some deterrents are better than a switchblade, or the prospect of a right hook from a fat, bald white man in shorts.

In the Jemaa el fna, boiled goats heads sat on dirty plates, steam and smoke cast thick clouds over the locals and the few tourists. Story Tellers told lies to wide-eyed boys. Dentists pulled at dark mouths with bent pliers. Pick-pockets moved in the crowds with quick hands and easy smiles. Twenty Watt bulbs rang in strings and tangled over the food stalls. High on a stool, I ate a dinner of small snails from a filthy bowl while the locals watched and laughed. I tipped him too much. The snails tasted like bits of rubber and they looked like fecal matter floating in a sewer. It was a shit meal, but a great night. She was back at the Riad.

At the airport as we left, she was frisked intimately by a female police officer. Right in front of everybody. Hand down the pants and fingers searching the private places. She looked uncomfortable for the first time I’d seen since we’d been together. Small joys and all that. Karma works in the most mysterious and wondrous ways, I’ve found.

I had the chance of a job out there – overseeing a few Riads – but never took it up. I’d be on my own, but eventually I’d meet someone and there’d be another journey into incompatibility, and mutual loathing. The end was always the same. So I stayed put. At night sometimes, I’d dream of acid companionship. Safest trip of all.


Dressed for Suck-sess

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My latest Psychiatric Assessment landed through my letterbox yesterday. My initial response is to get frustrated before I even open the obvious NHS envelope. I always want to rip the paper up before I’ve read the words. I see the image of a huge rubber fist bounding out of the envelope on a powerful spring. Every time. Nothing good ever comes from opening a Psychiatric Assessment. Personally speaking.

I’d been hiding from the Meter Man all day since he pounded on the front door in the morning and pushed through his card. I know the design on the card is meant to confuse and reassure in equal hateful measure. It’s a trick of the psychologically-graded Corporate trade. But my Meter Man always strays away from the script; he writes his own messages “I’ll be back tonight,” or “PLEASE….I really need to gain access.” One time I caught him trying to scale the seven foot gate at the back of my home. The battle always ramps up. Yesterday was an opening shot in the latest one, by someone with more powerful friends than I have.

The Psychiatric Assessment was the usual shit: “Objectively angry…. subjectively aggressive…. paranoid strongly held values…” Nothing to see here. I laughed off his assessment of my appearance – “Reasonably kempt ” – and filed the papers in a tray on a sideboard marked “Brown Mushrooms”. He was right about most of the stuff he’d said, as usual. But he wasn’t on the mark with his assessment of my appearance. Old clothes, ragged, crumpled, straggly beard. He was just being kind. Maybe that’s because he’s leaving next month. Or maybe he just has low standards. Or, just maybe, he’s telling the truth? Hard to tell with these people. They are always dressed better than me.

As it got dark I lit the three candles on my brass candlestick. It’s harder for people like Meter Men to see me through the window in the gloom. And mirrors don’t work as well. I popped out some tablets. Sipped at some Heineken. The Meter Man would be at home sharpening his arrows, preparing. He would saddle his iron war-pony and regain his strength before setting out on the plains of my small village with dreams of my scalp.

Next morning I closed the curtains and waited for the banging and pleading once more. It had been a tough, mostly sleepless night. I looked in the mirror for the first time in ages. Nah, the Psychiatrist was wrong. It’s hard to be kempt when you’re hunted.


Trump and Me

“Donald Trump is a fool.” Is that the right term? I thought about that question a lot last night when I was an hour into a good-natured argument with someone about the limits of excusable ‘stigma-shielded’ behaviour.

Is Donald ill? I don’t know the answer. I have pretty major suspicions, but I can’t be sure enough to bet heavily on an outcome of any psychiatric tests. That’s the crux of the thing: he really could just be a racist, misogynistic, ignorant, fool. But what if he was mentally ill?

I don’t know about you, but I am mentally ill – that’s what people with lots of letters after their names tell me. Doesn’t matter who it is, their gender, or what country they grew up in, the result is always the same after I answer their questions. In fact, they don’t even have to overtly ask me anything, so it goes. A few minutes talking to me and it’s apparently obvious to people well trained in these matters. But I don’t know the things they do. I didn’t even know I was screwed until they opened my eyes to the overdoses, the drugs, the cutting, and the punching, the anger, the hallucinations and hopelessness. And don’t forget the perpetual emptiness. They didn’t even have to dig into my past. When they eventually got around to that rotten barrel it was rubber-stamped so hard that I woke up three weeks later. I was so stupid for not realising it all. Man, I could have run for Office if the net hadn’t dropped…

But back to Donald. For arguments sake, let’s give him a personality disorder diagnosis of, say, Anti-Social and Narcissistic personality disorder. Ok with you? Let’s imagine – stay with me – that it’s a nailed on diagnosis. The man is ill. He looks to get help this week. How does that make you feel about all the hurtful shit that’s come out of his mouth over the past eighteen months? Better? Worse? I mean, after all, he’d be ill….yeah?

When I look back at my life (I’m old, but not in a wise, elder-of-the-tribe way), I can easily remember some of the awful and hateful things I’ve said when I’ve been really ill. I’ve threatened strangers in the street with violence for tiny reasons that made perfect sense at the time, I’ve said the most atrocious things to people I’ve known well. I have punched men who didn’t deserve it. I was untrustworthy in my beliefs and my view of life when even slightly psychotic – still am. From the outside, to the unknowing, I was/am a monster. But I’ve got that diagnosis to frame it all; hang it all from (no pun intended). Plus, I’m in treatment. Donald isn’t.

Officially Trump isn’t ill, so I guess we must treat him accordingly. He’s running for the Presidency of the United States of America. He’s condemning Muslims, Women, Mexicans, the Poor, and anyone who is from a demographic he perceives as weak. He’s a predator.

Trump is out there in the world, undiagnosed, free, on the cusp of putting one of his tiny hands on the Armageddon button. And millions of people (right this second the polls suggest 42% of Americans are intending to vote for him) support his version of the future. They forgive the bile that’s been spewing out of that tiny orange mouth. My supporters can be counted on one hand. Genuinely. I’ve deserved it. I’m officially unwell. There are pieces of paper in large files which will tell you just that. But it’s completely fair. I got caught. Trust me, it wins you no friends.

It’s the oldest rule going – crazy is ok, until you really are crazy. Crazy is as crazy does. It’s defined not so much by the behaviour, but by the reasons behind it. To diagnose is to confine all errant talk and action to simply…’mentally ill’. I guess that’s the real root of stigma: diagnose and be damned. It’s why Trump still has support. He’s dodged the silver bullet, and the white coats. He is free to spout his crap until his eyes roll back in his head like a shark’s while he’s chewing off Miss America’s left breast. It doesn’t matter if he’s the most dangerous man since Ted Bundy. It’ll all be brushed under an expensive carpet anyway. Until you’re caught, you’re free, right? Especially true for the poor. It is very hard to get a psychiatric diagnosis to stick on someone getting out of a private jet they bought themselves.

Trump and me? – One of us is aiming high, with hope. The other is Travis Bickle.


Hallucination music to dance to


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Woke up to the music again. 3am in my small bedroom, headache, eyes focussing on the spiral dark swirls in the air.

It had been a blue sky day. Couple of beers in the afternoon. And some tablets. Or vice versa.

I reached for the water bottle and slugged on it until my mouth didn’t feel as dry and poisoned. The dark demons watched. The music played.

When I first started hearing the music – about a year ago – I thought it was my neighbour watching his tv. The sounds were muffled and far away, just a deep bass beat at a sharp staccato tempo. Bit like a shitty Drum and Bass track. But my neighbour is nearly seventy years old and the only noise I ever hear from him is when he comes in at 12.30 every night and throws himself, drunk, into his bed. I sometimes hear the gentle rhythmic banging of his head board as he masturbates. I lay and wonder who he’s thinking of.

But then I started to hear the music outside of my house, in other places. Unmistakeable. I hear it almost every day now. My Psychologist and Psychiatrist say the music is a harbinger of bad times or a direct response to stressors. They ask me if I know enough about it to know it’s not real. They ask that a lot. I answer them with ‘Yeah,’ but sometimes it’s hard to tell. The sinister jukebox in my head whirls on free plays in the early hours and I go with it from time to time. Keeping in touch with reality is hard when the music hums along in the pitch dark. I wait for the voices, but they don’t show too much. Their first weapon is that bass. They only talk when things get even stranger – and, yes, that’s possible.

Auditory hallucinations rip up what you thought you knew about yourself. They conspire and prey on you in weak and vulnerable moments. You are powerless. I sometimes marvel at it, but mostly the experience is repulsive and terrifying. I always feel like the music mocks me, like I’m one dance away from clapping for invisible flies. Eternal private dance. Weirdest of the weird.

This morning. Fog outside – real this time. Cold Autumn air. It’s quiet. Sore head, more tablets. NO noise except from my stereo speakers. It’s 4am. I’ll stay awake all day and bet on sleep tonight like an idiot at a casino wheel – too drunk, too many wrong decisions. Sounds of vomiting from the marble stalls, needles and crushed cans thrown down in the parking lot. Laughter and screaming, neon lights and the sound of living. Vacuous, dull muzak, all of it.

I hear something.