The Summer job

‘God….when we’re leaving work I keep looking at her out of the corner of my eye sitting there next to me as I’m driving. I get a hard on.’

‘Yeah? Aren’t you a bit old for her, Vic?’ I replied.

‘I don’t care.’ He paused for a few seconds, playing an image in his mind. ‘You know, sometimes I think about raping her.’

‘What?!’

‘I think about just pulling the car over somewhere quiet and raping her.’

And so that conversation ended. We were sitting in a work canteen in the hot summer of 1992. I was 18 and this was a shitty summer job at a bottle packing plant. It paid £1.09 an hour. I had to pack thirty thousand coke bottles into crates every day. Me and my work partner held the factory record – one hundred and fifteen thousand bottles packed between us in an eight hour shift. We weren’t proud. It was back breaking dirty work, but when you finished each afternoon you were too tired to go spend the money, so things mounted up until the weekends. Then I’d get wasted for two days.

The plant employed around a hundred men and women. It was the last stop before unemployment made sense in all ways. The employees were either elderly, infirm, or had some form of learning difficulties that were, as yet, undiagnosed. Then there were the drifters and the chancers – too slack to get a proper job, or fired from everything else up the ladder so they eventually slid back down into this cesspool. Nobody laughed, talking was banned, and the radio played over the sound of clinking glass at a volume where you could never tell what was on.

Vic was about late fifties. He had a big belly and smelled like cabbages. The girl he had been talking about was my age, pretty, and unaware of Vic’s fantasies. This had been a tough conversation to be a part of. Afterwards I felt dirty, complicit in a crime. I went to the girl and told her to watch herself with Vic when he gave her a lift. She laughed, but I noticed her at the bus stop after work that day. She took the bus home every day after that.

Vic never managed to get his hard on near her. I was sure he’d die soon of a heart attack anyhow. It was the kind of karmic justice I thought only right in his case. Painful death for Vic, and the people who had filled the toilet walls with at least a thousand wiped bogeys, bits of shit and, a few times, long dribbles of sperm. There was no hope in that place. Everybody had given up theirs a long time ago. It was the way of things in an ex-mining town. Jobs were hard to come by and taking one as low paid as this meant swallowing some pride for many. And, if you aren’t careful, before you know it you’ve given up. I could walk away back into middle class safety and education, the others were doomed to wiping shit on the walls and talking about rape as if it were the same as playing football after work. There was no hope for the people who depended on that place to pay bills and put food on tables. Where was Orwell’s noble working class? Sure as shit wasn’t in there. These people were a step away from ripping women to shreds and eating the remains. Every morning I’d clock in and pray that I wouldn’t witness something worse than the day before. They were three long months.

I left at the end of the summer and went back to college sorer, slightly richer, but feeling sick to the stomach that I’d maybe seen a slice of the real world for the first time. And if that was the case then I didn’t fit into it. What had we come to as a society when we paid peanuts to people and put them into an unwinnable situation where they felt so out of kilter? Was every work place like this? Was my future heading in the direction of jacking off onto toilet walls? I was confused, but at least I had some spare cash. Two weeks after finishing my summer job I had spent every penny of the money I’d saved from working there on drugs and booze; a pathetic middle class boy. Some people would say that was a waste, but not me. I never had to go back to the factory and I used those two weeks to think of everything I’d learned about the real world. Those thoughts became, in time, a self fulfilling prophecy, a mantra of sorts. ‘No hope for any of us.’

 

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Cogito Ergo Sum

I never dream of being rich. Sometimes I think it’s because I’m happy with my poverty – less cash equals less ‘things’ and less stress. Less stuff means you have more time to think and feel that you’re alive. Cogito Ergo Sum, you see.

But enough about old French Philosophy and Latin phrases you can hang a noose on. These things aren’t helpful on the wide plains of life when a posse is closing in and you are riding a lame horse. Anyhow, Rene Descartes didn’t live for a single second longer because he realised he could prove his own existence. And neither will you.

I guess the real reason I never dream of wealth is that some day I’ll inherit it. The safety net is below me at all times. It’s an ugly truth and, actually, I’m not proud of it. But being crazy is easier when you go all the way – suicide attempts, symptomatic check-boxing, poverty, loneliness, alienation. In my experience you either go all the way in and accept the whole smorgasbord of mental illness, or you are derided by everybody. It’s easier to make snide comments behind the back of someone who’s half functioning than it is to mock someone laying in a pool of their own blood and vomit. Am I right? Of course I am. I’ve been there, I’ve lain there. Nobody laughed at my suicide attempts, but they were lining up beforehand to crack jokes. I suppose people got the proof from me that they needed. Didn’t make me feel any better either way.

OK?

Where does that leave us?

I’m not sure. I was alright about this whole thing until I started to think about waking up staring down at my own vomit. The stuffing has been knocked out of me now. What was I talking about? Wealth…yeah that was it. Seems so fucking stupid in the scheme of what is going through my head at the moment. The screen is blurry, mind isn’t still, body is itching to move out of danger. Yet I’m still typing. Bizarre.

Medication. That’s the key here. This post has turned from something bad to something worse. That is the way of things, generally, as it goes. There must be a DBT skill somewhere at the back of my mind. Nope. Can’t think of it.

I need to go out into the sunshine. Take a moment to think. Ground myself in the knowledge I’m alive. I guess Descartes was no fool after all.

The Curtain

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‘Throw those curtains wide….one day like this’ll see me right,’ sing Elbow on my headphones now. Maybe those fools were in the clutches of a mid-life crisis, or perhaps they really believed what they were singing. Is there anyone out in the real world who has that level of optimism? And I don’t mean the schizoid weirdness Donald Trump lays on us like a piss-stained blanket. Does anyone really believe in seizing the day any more?

The mean-spirited weather has pulled back the curtain here, though. The sky is clear and blue and the jetliners cruise towards Manchester airport high up and noiselessly. There was possibly a glimmer of hope for the day until I stood waiting at the village bus stop in my sheepskin coat and old jeans. There is a special sign on the heads of all bus travellers. We are the poor, the mentally ill, or the aged. We travel second class all the way to somewhere appalling: shopping centers, town bus stations, housing estates, intersections, train stations. NO bus stop outside the mansions high on the hillside between my village and the local town. Not much call for one up there. Proof in point.

Across from the bus stop, past the queuing traffic and the smug eyes of the drivers watching me in the breeze and the diesel fumes, a beauty salon vomited out a customer. She let her piggy trotters carry her out to where she’d double parked her Range Rover with it’s private plate, and stroked her hair in the rear view mirror. Vast piggy face caked in thick make-up, framed by clouds of fake blonde hair. Fired up the engine, pulled out into the traffic and up the hill towards the big houses. Another weeks toenail growth axl-ground off, teeth whitened, fingernails painted pale pink. She was ready for the auspices of a weekend in the cosy eiderdown of wealth. It had been a long time since she’d snouted around in the mud like the rest of us, looking for acorns or the best part of a hidden corpse – never make enemies with a pig farmer. A pig can consume a human body, and the only recognisable trace shitted out are the teeth. Even the bones get chewed up and digested. Think about that next time you have the need for a discrete disposal of something that used to be alive.

The bus was filled with pre-opening-time drunks heading into town for the first morning thaw-out drinks. Red faces, tapping hands, shakes, sore heads, bad moods. I got off one stop before town so I could walk over the old bridge and see the river. Someone had written ‘Help’ on the wall.

In the supermarket the manager leered at women coming in, eyes following the asses of every female in a tight skirt. Quick few second blasts of sexual tension ramping up and up throughout the day. The customers tipped ready meals and cheap booze into wire baskets and served themselves at the auto-tills. And nobody was smiling.

Humans on the pavement outside, jostling and hating and barely conscious – mackerel in a shoal swimming to the spawning grounds. No sharks in sight, just the broken guy in the sheepskin coat wondering what it’s all about. Elbow may have opened their curtain, but they didn’t see the same view.

Vacancy.

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The New Psychiatrist was a Locum….

How hard is it to fill a £130,000 job? Psychiatrists must be rarer than diazepam prescriptions (which, personally speaking, I have access to) or so jaded that even a vast sum of money like that can’t pull them into an office for any length of time. What I do know is that it’s bad news for the weirdos out there who could do with some psychiatric meds and a friendly ear. In that respect I am truly blessed. I got lucky. Actually, no, I didn’t. At the start of this episode of treatment in my life I was assessed by a CPN and then waited nearly a year with no word at all…about anything. When I finally rang up and asked what was going on, the answer was ‘who are you?’ Then I got a letter saying ‘Thanks for being crazy, but we don’t even have the money to assess you any further, never mind treat you.’ Or very close words to that effect. I remember curling the letter up into a very small ball and throwing it at a wall in the dark gloom of my old cottage. I wasn’t even worth assessment… I reached for the tablet stash. Natural selection and all that. Afterwards I wrote to the head of the County Mental Health Services saying I’d be happy to mention his name in any suicide note. Manipulating behaviour (something I’d never done before, or would ever do), I know, but it got results. I was on treatment within a month. Magic, eh.

The locum Psychiatrist was bland, well-informed about my treatment plan, and said all the right things in all the right places – anyone earning that sort of cash should do. She stared intently, asked me questions, and told me off for non-compliance in medicine taking. Naughty. Slapped wrist. I’m minimising the problem, which isn’t fair to any of us. Generally my risk level has increased since I started Trauma Therapy last week. They (CPN, Clinical Psychologist, Psychiatrist) spoke that morning about me and decided this was the case. They wanted that risk to diminish. Who wouldn’t.

I’ll see my Psychiatrist in a few weeks – she’ll still be there, she told me. Then a new one starts and I’ll have to explain the terrors of my life all over again to another blank face who’s heard much worse a hundred times over. Pathetic old me, hauling myself up the hill in the rain dressed like I’m going into Hungerford with a grudge and couple of automatic weapons. My pilgrimage for wellness is breathless and always under the gaze of mocking motorists. ‘Shouldn’t he be at work?’ ‘I wonder who that freak is and where he’s going?’

Me too.

New Psychiatrist Day.

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Raining again. The filthy birds are using the feeder way too much. It’s beginning to be a one-way relationship. I feed them, they peer maliciously at me. They are useless and don’t do anything like tricks, or talking, just fix grim stares. The wildlife around here behaves like it’s auditioning for a Hitchcock movie.

But all of that doesn’t matter because it’s raining. The fucking grim, grey, wet, shitty weather default for the Dales. I read somewhere that this area is the second most visited National park in the entire world (after Mt Fuji). On summer days I can believe it, but the tourists would be crazier than I am to be here now. This is suicide weather. It sucks all the good out of a soul.

Today I have to walk in this pissing rain up and down an almost vertical hill to the next village. I have to meet my new Psychiatrist. This will be the third one I’ve had in a little over a year. The local NHS can’t keep its staff. The going rate for a consultant Psychiatrist is around £125,000 a year yet still the job can’t stick on someone. Maybe we’re (the local crazies) too much to take? Which might be true but if I had to relocate here from the South I would bet my medication that the fucking weather has something to do with this turnover somewhere. Listening to people’s crap is hard enough, try doing it all day and then sitting in a traffic jam up a hill in the rain for an hour on your way home, stuck behind a tractor/horse/traction engine. What would it take for me to do my Psychiatrist’s job? A lot. I’d ask for a speedboat and a set of matching duelling pistols for starters. And a set of diamond encrusted ear plugs for Client time. Jesus… those poor fools in Psychiatry. All that power and responsibility, and for what? To get wet like me under cold, grey skies.

I’m a little nervous when I meet a new Psychiatrist. They have the magic power to turn the next time I see my girlfriend into a shouting match through a Perspex screen. Nobody wants that kind of scene. And no-one likes drooling down themselves through enforced medical intervention. You think you’re strong, but they have access to meds which can turn you into a whimpering baby within seconds.

No. Today I will play the game. Wet as I’ll be. We’ll get on and I’ll smile a lot and nod approvingly at everything she has to say. I will comply with treatment plans and I’ll say thank you a lot.

This, I’ve found, is how you remain free to feel the wetness of rain, instead of watching it from inside a reinforced room with no sharp edges.

 

(Picture copyright Charles Schulz)

Trainspotting 2

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Trainspotting 2. The lucrative sequel.

I watched it at the weekend in a small ‘indie’ cinema in the next village to where I live. The first movie – a seminal work by all involved – was excellent. It described perfectly for me how opiate addiction felt. OK, so it blurred the lines on the acquaintances involved in a heroin habit (heavy drug use brings few friends), but by and large the overarching chaos was well represented. I enjoyed the first movie. I hoped the second would mirror my own change over the past twenty years. I wanted it to hold my hand.

Seeing any film about drug use in a small cinema in a middle-class area is a big mistake. I’m guessing, like I shouted at my partner half way through the film, I was the only opiate abuser in the whole cinema. They were so disconnected from the film and the sheer horror of what they were laughing at that the whole thing was just reduced to an exercise in middle-aged chic. There were guffaws when ‘Spud’ tries to kill himself because he’s just so sick of his shitty life and his unbreakable addiction. Hilarious… Thigh slapping from some people as they howled. Had they come to the wrong movie? Had I?

I left at the end feeling sorry for the characters – all of them – and for the twenty years I’ve wasted since the first years I wasted; lots of waste in my life. The film was ok, not accurate, but it left me feeling the sort of empathy with the characters that I had twenty years ago. We were all older, alive, and still grappling with the consequences of actions we’d taken back when Britpop had, thankfully, died. I expected a theatre full of fellow travellers on the path, but all I got were sneering voyeurs. Being poor, addicted, hopeless, is not something to be crammed into a fishbowl and pointed at, yet an entire audience managed to do just that.

I got drunk afterwards. And I tried hard to believe this is where my tie to the movie franchise ended. There will be no Trainspotting 3 for me in any form – empathetic, or otherwise.

 

Feathered friends

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I’m just typing this for the sake of typing. Spent the morning reading Jack Kerouac, listening to Charlie Parker, Metallica, Primal Scream, and reading the depressing news that is ever-Trump. He’s a verruca on the sole of every foot.

It’s raining today, and colder. The birds have started shitting in the meal worm feeder I’ve stuck on my window near my desk. There goes a Robin, darts in, evil glance at me, eats, turns, watches for predators, shits, leaves. Pretty much sums up life at the moment.

I’m waiting for my girlfriend – we’re going to a tiny cinema up the hill tonight to watch the new Trainspotting movie. I am tempted to overdo my meds; seemed the right thing, on the face of it. But on reflection it’s  a crappy hipster thing to do: just trying to tie myself to the last movie by virtue of getting fucked up. I’m balder, fatter, more tired, and haven’t learned a fucking thing in those twenty (20?) years. We’re going with two of her friends – one of whom is a schoolteacher, the other an insurance salesman. They are pretty decent humans. I must remember that nobody wants to hear about the time I spent a week in a Belgian forest with Tyson Fury and his extensive family. Or that I met serial Killers in jail. Or that sometimes I wish I was dead. It’s been a strange life. Too much to explain, even if I wanted to. Laugh in all the right places, that’s the key. Then spend the rest of the time trying not to disassociate, or feel bad for being alive.

Right, that’s enough. I’m beginning to wonder what the point of this blog is? I know it’s self-indulgent, but does it serve another purpose? Is it the last will and testament of a fucked-up old man? A manual of how not to do things? Is it a diary, or a train-of-thought diatribe consigned to the ether, with no readers, for no good reason?

BAM – the fucking Robin slams into the feeder, evil intent, trying to frighten me – it succeeded. My fingers reached for a brass candlestick on my desk. The birds are relentless today. Anything could appear next, harassing me, laughing at me sitting here at my old desk in the cold in an old jumper, scowling at the screen. My fingers are freezing. I am out of ideas. Will this ever end?

Round One

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The first Trauma therapy session was a mixed bag. I like my Psychologist – she’s very intelligent, empathetic, and doesn’t mind challenging me when she thinks it’s appropriate. It’s a good therapeutic relationship. She’s excellent at her job. the problem is not with her, it’s with the subject matter. For an hour yesterday I reeled off a few examples of things which happened a long time ago; shrugged them off like nothing, like I’ve always done. They are stories which I won’t go into right now but the script will be familiar to many. They fall out of my mouth like an alcoholic telling a room about the time he last got drunk. It was easy. It’s always easy, and yesterday felt no different while I was going through the details – actually saying the words.

My Psychologist stopped the horror stories at the end of the hour and asked me what I was going to do afterwards. I told her I felt like getting drunk so I didn’t have to think about what we’d just talked about. That, or take more pills than usual. I had a headache and I was telling the truth. I expected a tut and a metaphorical slap on the wrist, but she stared at me for a few seconds then said: ‘This therapy is not an intellectual exercise. This is about feeling and how you feel in the time between sessions. Now, it might be the case you feel awful, but you need to sit with it and watch those feelings with the mind of an inquisitor. Why do you feel like that? Got it?’

I got it alright. But I walked out of the hospital and into the sunshine feeling pretty good that the process had started. I felt positive. The world was going to get better. I got in the car and tried not to think about what we’d talked about for the past hour. I would drive to my girlfriend’s and enjoy my evening with the family, path to healing started. The good feeling lasted about twenty minutes. Then a cold, unfamiliar type of anger began to rise up from the inside of my chest, stone-faced, primal. I could have murdered somebody, anybody, if they gave me the slightest reason. The coldness of it shook me. I stopped at a garage and bought booze, knowing I hadn’t got my psyche right to do what my psychologist asked and just watch the emotion. Things were too far gone for that. Medicine was needed. Under the counter. Off-prescription charts. Safe old obliteration.

At my girlfriend’s home I felt safe, but there was an inner something that had woken – one of the old monsters I’d shut away for many years. He/it was back. I marshalled it into it’s box with some beer and codeine and locked the gate. I didn’t want to feel that old hurt. There, in plain sight for the first time, was a glimmer of the root of the thing.

Good Therapy is powerful, so they say. This, I now believe to be true. Where it ends is still a mystery, a bit like a Prizefight or a Primal Scream record. This is just the start, chillingly. Already I feel punch-weary. Round one to the past.

 

Open the Gates

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Let’s go.

Time to sit at the keyboard and type out something. It’s cathartic, ok. This is purely for my self-indulgent benefit. Isn’t it always: everything we do. I mean, even Mother Theresa got a kick out of the happy faces in her hospitals. Yeah, I know, Theresa had some supposedly dodgy financial dealings and some say she lived in luxury most nights when the Nuns robe got tossed on the marble floor. What’s that saying about power corrupting? But you can’t deny she felt good saving a life. Who wouldn’t?

OK. This is jumbled up again – don’t know the reason. I’m starting my first Trauma Therapy session in two hours. This is process I’ve not really been looking forward to, and it’ll last at least a year. My Clinical Psychologist has warned me that we may fall out, I might start to hate on her, and that I may feel more suicidal than usual. I guess I’ll cross those bridges when I come to them. I don’t have many other choices if I want to get well/normal/stay alive.

Yesterday I got drunk again; kind of crept up on me like one of those imaginary Big Cats people believe they see in British Woodland. Nobody expects to see a panther around here, and those that do are mocked. I join in with the laughter even though I sometimes see Bigfoot. One person’s cryptozoology is another’s psychiatric diagnosis, I guess.

But enough about terrifying animals lurking in the shadows. Talk like that will get us nowhere on this fine morning. It is the start of spring, the wild garlic is beginning to scent up the riverbank and the change in heat is palpable outside. There is a new feel to the dawn today.

Trauma therapy is moments away and it is possible the process will change how I feel about today/tomorrow/yesteryear. The whole thing could feel like being attacked by something large and unfriendly; I know the mind has a way of keeping dark beings behind close doors. Where they should be – or where I’ve learned to zookeep the worst of them. I try not to feed them but now they might actually be released from their cages to wander freely over my psyche, biting, shitting, roaring. Who knows?

When the gates open I won’t be ready, but I’ll be waiting anyway. What choice do I have.

Graffiti

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Banksy is a millionaire. He’s earned it. Anyone who can creep about at night on city streets scrawling things on buildings without being mugged or having their ears cut off by a PCP addict deserves some kind of reward. OK, I like his art work, I like his commentary on the Human condition, and I would guess we’d probably get on. Fair enough? But art is art, and shit graffiti is just shit graffiti. For street tagging and spray painting to become something other than pointless it must have a point. Yeah?

I live where the air is clear, the skies are high and the people few. And today I hiked up onto a view point about twenty minutes from my house. It’s beautiful up there. But now it’s covered in graffiti. It’s not art, or even well rendered. Here are a few selections of large-lettered pearls now smeared on that ancient rock formation –

“HELLO YOU CUNT.”

“UNIT HAS NO FORESKIN”

“I’M MOIST”

“FUCK”

The list goes on. I walked back down the steep scree face feeling old and angry. Then I remembered something. I did a very similar thing many years ago. At the time I thought I was being clever, arty even. In the village where I grew up, me and a girl I liked (Lynne) spent one late night writing things like ‘SATAN lives,’ and ‘Come to SATAN,’ all over shop windows and the windowsills of houses on the main street. It was funny at the time, even made the local paper. People talked of Satanic cults in North Lincolnshire. The Vicar sweated for a few weeks. There was a palpable sense of fear in the air. Fun, eh.

So who’s worse? Am I coming from the same place as the author of the stuff on the rocks? Neither of us are Banksys, or have any artistic talent, but we both had our say for all to see – crass as it might be. His message is no less valid than mine.

I enjoyed the evening me and Lynne defaced those few shop fronts, but it was more about spending time with someone I liked than the actual vandalism. The words were stupid. Teenage actions can go any place, skewed or straight line. Youth is all about grasping the moments while you can, and if you can’t find those moments floating in space then you make them. Action equals reaction. It makes complete sense to me and it always will.

No-one died as a result of my silly messages. And Satan didn’t show his face. Peace returned. Lynne and me hardly saw each other afterwards. Our graffiti was washed away and forgotten by everyone except perhaps the nervous owner of the cycle shop, who would always wonder what Satan had to do with him and would mention the episode from time to time. Everything eventually faded, like the paint up on the rocks will. But the sentiment and the action remain in the brain of the graffiti maker forever. For whatever reasons, for that brief moment, like me, he/she was the ruler of the world.