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The doors to the barn were open. Inside, the dark was hardly troubled by ten or fifteen candle lanterns. Perhaps a hundred bodies moved to turgid pop music. Someone whoooped. It was hideous. The local yokels groped and drank, shuffling, stomping, shouting above George Michael. Mating calls in the gloom.

Across the road, four young boys lay on the earthen flood barrier on the bank of the River Trent and watched, and drank vodka from a stolen bottle. I was one of them. The clear summer night was being sullied by the shitty sexual drama below. We understood hardly anything about sex, but we knew the men inside wanted it. You could almost smell the desire. Farming folk, and the youth of the countryside churned up the evening like silage. They were ruining the night for us but we couldn’t take our eyes from the scene.

After an hour or so, vodka warmed, we watched a young couple leave the front of the barn for the long asbestos side and more dark. He dragged her skirt upwards as they kissed. She tried to stop him at first. We wanted her to stop him, he was rough, demanding. Shit…he was raping her. She gave up and let him hulk over her, unzipping his fly and thrusting it in. He turned her around and she let him, but it looked to me that she was limply just letting him get things done as soon and safely as possible. He came, throwing his head back, in no time at all. Shook his cock and did his trousers up, tucking in his farmers shirt. He slapped her arse, she was still facing the wall, and went back inside to a loud cheer from beery friends.

We watched her stand and put her hands up high against the wall for a moment and bow her head. Then she turned and walked down the road towards the dim lights of the nearest hamlet.


Flaming Jail


Christmas in a South Yorkshire jail is grim. I know, I worked in two of them at different Christmases. There were few laughs on the ground, but plenty of rain. They are cold, sad times. True, the Hooch manufacturers profit at Christmas time in jail, but then so do the prison doctors.Hooch blindness is not a myth. Nor are Dear John letters instead of presents.

But one young man was not thinking of the cold. He had other obsessions. Fire and freedom.

Dave was twenty. He’d been inside for a few years. A sickly looking kid with black hair and skin that looked like it had never seen the sun. Even compared to the normal jail-white skin tones he looked pale. I liked Dave. He was quirky, fun even. Just a little strange.

One period between work end, picking up a shitty sandwich, then lunchtime bang-up, Dave appeared at my door on the Wing. He asked me for a sheet of paper and said he wanted to draw a picture over bang-up. I knew he was inside for arson, but one sheet of paper wasn’t going to burn the place down. I gave him a piece. He smiled.

After bang-up, Dave came walking into my room. He had the paper in his hand. ‘Here, I’ve drawn you a picture.’

I took the paper. It was a child-like drawing of a large old house, with flames coming out of its windows. Inside one of the rooms you could see at least one person struggling to get out. ‘What do you think?’ he asked.

‘Errm…good, Dave. Tried drawing something a bit less fire-based?’

‘No. I love it.’

‘Out of interest, Dave, just how many buildings did you set fire to?’

‘Over two hundred. Mostly sheds, but quite a few abandoned buildings and stuff.’ He changed his accent to Irish. ‘Oim, errr, I’m in the IRA.’

‘No you aren’t Dave.’

He left the room. I took the picture and put it in a cupboard. In that job you never knew when little pieces of information like that could lead to some unsolved murder. I didn’t see Dave until the next day. He was waiting for me when I came onto the Wing. ‘Hey, Man! Ireeeee.’

‘Hi Dave. Aren’t you meant to be Irish?’

‘Nah, Mon, I is Jamaican. Always have been. Just getting to my roots,’ he said in a thick patois.

‘You taking the piss, Dave? Because if you go around talking like that on here you’re going to get your head kicked in.’

‘I is fine, Mon.’


A month later, Dave was sectioned and moved to a secure hospital for treatment and incarceration. His discretionary life sentence with a five year minimum tariff (look it up), now usurped by a mental health order. A year later I heard he’d been released. Deemed ‘safe’.

‘I heard Dave got out,’ said another lifer. ‘He was a clever motherfucker.’

‘Clever?! Why?’

‘He planned all that mental shit years ago. He told me all about it. Good luck to him. I might try it.’

‘Jimmy, you killed three people. I’d forget it if I were you.’

He thought about it for a minute and looked around to check that we were alone in the large room before staring at me. ‘I can always make it four,’ he said.

It was the best job I ever had.


Jeremy met me.

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On the short ferry trip back to Mull I spotted him. Gangly, travelling on his own, red dreadlocks curled up around on his head like a woollen hat. At first I couldn’t place him, but I edged nearer and saw he was wearing a jacket with his band’s name on “The Levellers.”

I kind of liked The Levellers a bit. So I made conversation. He was a decent guy. Fobbed me off nicely, laughed at something I said and eventually we stood there in silence, side by side, leaning on the white rails and looking into the blue water. We left the ferry apart but when I got into my car I saw him sitting there with his rucksack waiting for the bus. Fuck knows how frequent the busses were out there, but it could have been days. I braked the car in a cloud of dust near where he was, put down the window and asked if he wanted a lift across Mull to the mainland ferry. He thought about it, looked at my stupid boy racer car, then through lack of will said ‘Yeah, ta.’

There it was: me driving, my wife in the back, and a trapped rock musician in the passenger seat. I was appalling. For the entire hour I was a joke. We talked about heroin, his reason for being on Iona (he was on a yearly spiritual retreat. I guessed it was some form of 12 step hangover from a rehab he’d completed some years since), and about the awesome tattoo on his needle scarred forearm. I talked at him for almost the whole hour. He winced from time to time at the shit coming out of my mouth. I couldn’t blame him. I searched for a Levellers cd for him to sign (he told me he did all their artwork), but it wasn’t in the car. I tried so hard to get him to like me but it had the opposite effect, he was repulsed. I just couldn’t control who I was.

I drove too fast on beautiful single track roads that would have been enjoyed better by him if he’d taken that bus. Horrible. Dust rose up behind us like we were on a rally.

I pulled up at the ferry port and he got out. ‘Thanks a lot,’ he said.

‘When you play near me, can I come and say hello?’

He paused. ‘Yeah, that’s fine. Just find me and I’ll tell them to let you backstage. Bye.’ He left and went over to a bench. He was too early for the ferry by an hour and a half. The bus was timetabled to match up with the ferry. Now he had some time to kill. But I didn’t, I screeched off up the road with the stereo on full and my wife staring out the back window.

I’ve never seen The Levellers play live. I couldn’t face him remembering me. I have a chance to go soon. Perhaps time will have been kind.


A Borderline Christmas



I meant to write about the things I shouldn’t have done in my life. It was going to be a tortuous and sometimes violent list, including such lowlights as: heroin, getting married, and attacking a guy at the front of a Steven Malkmus gig. Not a lot of laughs there, but then, reading my blog must be like self-harming in a way. Speaking of which…. nah…probably best not to go down that line because I went back to the razor blade recently. Plus I’m on my own for the rest of the day and night and I’ve got access to a lot of booze and pills. Bad idea all round. Time to change the tone of this thing.

Soon enough it’s going to be Christmas.

Will that do?

I’m guessing it won’t. I have bad memories of Christmases stretching back into the 1970s. Sometimes it feels like they weren’t even the earliest ones either; I got to live this crap well before I got born this time. Cursed, I guess. Stuck with it.

“What would life be like without this?” a Psychologist once wrote on some paper and gave to me. It was the last time I saw her before she gave up being a Psychologist and went travelling. Ironic, predictive, and telling I suppose. At the time I thought that scrap of paper – pinned up in my house – was a tiny key to a big lock. It might even cancel out the reincarnation curse if I could find the answer. I haven’t worked it out yet, but I might.

Instead of what I have done, maybe it’s all about what I haven’t? I mean, I’ve worked with serial killers, addicts (been one, too), counselled rape victims with their bruises shining out at me, seen the dying, and the dead, seen violence you probably won’t ever get to see (if you’re lucky), and I’ve been involved in all of the horror of a life with BPD and too many lonely nights. These things aren’t helpful. They’ll never be helpful to anybody at any point. My partner says I’ve been in the dark too much. I think she’s right. It’s no eureka moment, but you get the idea. And so do I.

No, today is all about the love of a good woman, the little tree she got me – it’s the only Christmas decoration in my house – and the hope drawing in from tomorrow. Yes?



Dripping wet

It rained up on the moor across from my home. I was dressed, in the words of my partner – “Like Michael Ryan about to walk into Hungerford.” I’d been taking the five mile ro…

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