Move on

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The garbage men worked slowly in the rain over by the interred ashes of Scunthorpe residents who never expected it to come to this. Industrial waste bins were full of decomposing flowers and water-smudged cards saying things like ‘God Bless,’ and ‘Rest in Peace.’

Nobody was resting here.

The overflow car park filled up while I sat in the car on my own fiddling with a chewing gum wrapper and watching the dirty white bin lorry and the orange men tending it like a fat silk worm. No-one looked happy to be here, not the garbage men, and not the mourners. From morning toast and into the only suit you’d need for years: orange or black. Dusted off and now here in this clinically manicured garden. The mainly elderly people in the other cars looked bored staring out from rainy windows towards where the funeral would take place. Waiting for the unscripted right moment. Short walk over at a respectable pace, men jingling keys and change in suit pockets. Heads slightly bowed as if they were afraid to look up.

At the building the tall brick chimney feathered out white smoke. Some gaps, then big clouds. Someone was being burned down in there somewhere. You hardly ever get to see this and you can’t take your eyes from it easily. Another service had just finished. Rain beat down the cloud until I thought it would cover the latest smear of black-clad mourners waiting under an asphalt roof in a kind of ‘Now what?’ moment outside of the exit. Awkward handshakes, the compulsion to smile and shrug. Grey and white hair and tottering footsteps. The only chance some of them got to see each other until next time, but somebody would be the one in the box with the fake brass plastic handles when this same crowd met next time. Bye. Bye.

The Hearse arrived on time but the flower tribute had fallen against the window and I couldn’t read it until the scruffy funeral guy slammed it back against the coffin. “Nan.” Not my Nan. My friend’s mother. I was there because I owed him. Some kind of tied respect that told me this would be the right thing to do. I felt out of place; detached. Like everyone else I’d seen that day knew a secret I didn’t. The smoke from the last cremation flowed out up into the Scunthorpe air. There were no birds. No weeping either.

The service was fast. Dumb prayers and pauses in the right practised places. The Vicar told us stupid lies about the woman. I stood at the back thinking she must have been worth more than the fact she used a computer and liked The Archers. What a life. What an end. No-one left quickly. We were log-jammed by the fear of appearing to leave too soon. Like the group before us, we lingered under the asphalt roof as the rain came in on the breeze.

Afterwards I hugged my friend. I knew he missed her. She’d gotten him out of more shit than anyone would ever know. Now she was dead I feared for him. The last safety net was gone. ‘Take care of yourself please mate,’ I said.

‘Listen,’ he said. ‘I’ll get some resin and we’ll get blasted, eh.’ He laughed hard, too hard for the rain and the crowd.

As I drove away the white cloud billowed heavily, bulging into the sky. That’s all.


Human Condition for all

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Station Schizophrenic. Cold. Middle-aged hipsters in the the ‘Real Ale’ platform pub at the train station. Richard Branson’s slick Virgin company trains look old and second-hand. They are dirty, too. Homeless men, two of them. One sits on his hands in the station right by a piano where an old guy is playing beautifully to no-one else stopping to listen. The other walks along the windy platform in electrician trousers. Ragged. Big grey dirty beard. I thought I was cold, but he knows it’s nothing.

Two Estate Agents. First one a piggy woman. Ogling the ticket inspector. Facebook messenger ringing out to the sound of false nails tapping on the glass screen. ‘Do you know what I mean?’ at the end of every sentence. Smoker-voiced woman; loud voice, carries like a sonic boom down the length of the train carriage as it pulls away from Sheffield.

Liverpudlian criminal. Thin and cross-eyed. Moving his lips as he reads the Liverpool Echo in front of him on the dirty train table. He picks out pictures of friends – they’ve done a series of armed robberies. Talks into a throwaway phone ‘Well, he’s a fucking grass anyhow. How did you fucking get caught like that?’ Laughter.

Young African man sits behind me. Piissshhh of Fosters lager. Takes long pulls on the tall cans. He’s wearing Hip-Hop black and red. Staring out of the window into the freezing grey rain of a North Lincolnshire winter afternoon.

I get back home. My eighty-five year old neighbour has died. It was, age aside, a surprise. A fall. Overnight in hospital. Dead the next morning. Her son told me the news as I was unlocking my door, trying to hold on to my baggage in the rain and get inside. He usually has a bad stutter, but not this time.

Inside it’s dark. Turn on the heating. Sit in a chair at my desk. Slump and weep for a moment.

That’s Entertainment

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The island would have to be fairly decent sized. The fantasy calls for at least a hundred acres of jungle and beach. It would be too much to hope for some kind of weathered volcanic peak, bright orange magma bubbling down in the crater. All it’d need would be for the island to be inescapable. Sharks patrolling a knife sharp reef, big breakers, no chance for a dugout canoe or a raft to get far from the beach. Maybe gun boats, searchlights, the ability to launch a helicopter from my nearby private yacht – the operational centre of things – anchored a mile or so off shore and packed with every comfort known to man.

There would be a requirement for observation towers, high, with night vision cameras, giving 100% coverage of the island. Nowhere to hide. The pictures would be beamed to the yacht, where I would be sitting comfortably on a white sofa, drinking Cuba Libres, and taking just the right amount of amphetamines to stay awake so as not to miss a second of the show.

Okay, this kind of production isn’t going to be cheap. I’ve budgeted several million pounds for starters. When I begin to factor in things like the introduction of Tigers and King Cobras, and the amount of LSD I’d need to periodically poison the water supply, that total will rise. I plan to have enough money in reserve to cover those kinds of running costs. A Euromillions lottery ticket practically guarantees safe financial management of the project. I’m not worried. There will be enough surplus for cocaine, Louis Roederer champagne, and Dodo eggs. I may grow fat and lethargic, but my heart rate will never drop below 150bpm, especially if I’m watching the screens when the Tigers have been released from small boats onto the white sandy beaches by teams of animal handlers brought in from all the Worlds best Safari Parks and worst Romanian zoos. With the almost constant increased cardio load I may well live to be a hundred under such circumstances.

The island, as you’ll have guessed by now, is to be inhabited. The population will be unwilling, at first, but at bayonet point there are going to be few arguments… Here are the contestants –

  1. A Walter Mitty dog walker who I went to sixth form with. He tells people he is an expert at survival. I think it’s only fair to see just how far his bullshit is going to stretch when he’s being chased, purely as a source of meat, by the other contestants.
  2. Bez from the Happy Mondays. That drug-addled clown can’t dance his way out of this one.
  3. Pete Tong. Now, I don’t know much about Pete. He might be a lovely guy. His face, though, is what is putting him on the island. He looks likehow I imagine Satan would if he was off out to your local Town’s shittest night club to play records standing behind a wallpapering table.
  4. Wolf, from the shit 1990s TV show ‘Gladiators’. I didn’t like his hair, his claw pose when his name was announced, or his roid-rage eyes. He might be, God I don’t know, seventy [?] now, but I think his brain would still be enraged enough from the years of human growth hormone abuse that he’d be super-aggressive if provoked.
  5. Iain Duncan-Smith. That shitbag is to be a ‘special guest’ on the island. He’ll arrive after the others have formed a loose coalition based on fear. He’ll be pushed out onto the beach strapped to a wheelchair, chained to a rabid, blind, hyena. Anyone who has ever been a victim of his benefit system reforms can have this episode beamed into their homes for free.
  6. Jean-Claude Van-Damme. No explanation needed.
  7. That twat from the ‘One Show,’ on BBC1. I don’t know his name. I don’t want to – unless, by law, I’ll have to have it carved on his tombstone after his liver is eaten by the others. But I’ll make the correct lines of enquiry when that happy day comes.
  8. Jeremy Kyle. That fuck-pig will jettison out of a high speed aircraft over the island wearing a Kevlar suit – like a modern day knight. The suit will make him invulnerable to almost everything except disease and drowning. In a strange twist to his rotten life, he’ll pray for someone to talk to by the end because there is no chance of assimilating with the other freaks on the island. He really is that popular. If he doesn’t starve to death, and if he is the final contestant left alive, he is to be thrown into a pit of lie-detector failures from his show. Even Kevlar won’t save him then.

The whole experience could last a good few months, unless there’s some form of mass suicide pact or the animal handlers can’t recall the Bengal Tigers when needed. Depending on how much fun I’m having – likely a lot – I could probably stretch it out for them for a year or more; giving food parcels, rudimentary and experimental health care, and blasting loud music from the towers to ensure they remain at peak levels of paranoid sleep-deprivation and alertness. I’d need a companion to enjoy it all with, of course. And viewers to consume the experience from the comfort of their own homes at £30 a month. Entertainment like this doesn’t come along very often. Be ahead of the curve. Book now.



Late Win

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My house is old. People say it’s spooky, and the deranged say it’s haunted – especially the back bedroom with its stone mullions, dark furniture, and view out across the hillside to where the ghost impressions of lead mines are all lumpy and moon-like. Poetic, eh.

  • ah, I thought as much… As soon as I start typing about the dead, things were always bound to go weird. A magpie. Large. Blue/black feathers contrasting pure white. Big beak, large eye, barely four feet away on my window as I’m sitting here right now pounding these words on my Advent keyboard. I knew it. I was stupid to rile the dead.

But these things have been forced upon me.

My 85yr old neighbour says the person I bought the house from died in it. I knew someone had died because it was purchased through probate from the original owner’s sister. I just didn’t know the back bedroom was the place ‘Vicky’ took her final breaths in. My neighbour says she was visiting with her to provide comfort barely half an hour before the cancer won and she slipped away. She’d told her not to be scared, though Vicky said she felt overwhelming fear. “Where else would you choose to be and to die?” my neighbour had said to her. I don’t know if those words helped her. They wouldn’t have helped me.

In terms of how nice it is around here, I guess some people would choose it as a palliative environment. Maybe I will too some day. I’ve never given it much thought.

I never really think about Vicky either. But I got a letter addressed to her today. It looked important so I opened it. She’d won the Premium Bonds. She’s been dead for over six years.

I wondered what she’d have thought, what her reaction would have been? If she’d have leaped up and down or run straight to the pub and punched the first person she saw. People handle good news in different ways.

And now I’m thinking about Vicky – the woman I never met, but who spent her last moments upstairs in my house, in her house, with her sister and her friends, laying in bed and scared of dying. And I have a letter to write to the Premium Bond people to tell them the news. The money is not destined for the occupant of this little stone cottage. That was all something that maybe should have happened a long time ago, when the going was good and before liver cancer made an innocent woman die in terror. The cosmos – chance, fate, biological demise, the choosing of a set of random numbers in a computer – always seems to get its kicks. And that, my friends, is no bad lesson to learn.



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.



Robert Pamperin was eaten by a Great White shark off the coast of California back in the late 50s. His last words were to his dive buddy, shouted at the surface: ‘Help me!’ Then he was swallowed. Imagine it. That is a moment in time imprinted forever on the two people who witnessed it and lived to talk to the newspapers about the ‘thrashing’ and the ‘crimson water’. I have tried to kill myself four times but even at those points of emotional distress I’d never pick Pamperin’s method of death. Not in a million years. Which is why suicide attempts, in my case, were selfish and weak. I sought a slow trip into unconsciousness, then respiratory collapse, followed by a gentle stopping of the heart. An easy way out with no jagged teeth and no thrashing. Cowardly. I know Pamperin didn’t commit suicide, but you get the point.

OK, so I lived and, I suppose, forty little white tablets and a load of alcohol can have the same results as a ton of marine animal with serrated teeth and a vicious blood-lust, given the right circumstances, but one way equals savage misadventure and other is simply pathetic. In the jaws of too many opiates and benzodiazepines there is no screaming, or panic. You just eventually close your eyes and drift away. There is nothing you can do. No shouting for help, or gouging at the beast’s eyes with a diving knife. You just accept the choice you’ve made and are thankful for it.The rest is up to fate. In my case, the first three times I hadn’t taken enough medication to kill me – though it did damage my liver – and the last one I survived because I threw up when I was unconscious, after ingesting enough meds to kill two or three people. I’d made sure that time, so I thought. And when I woke up, 36 hours later, and realised I was alive, I sobbed that I was such a failure I couldn’t even die properly.

Is there a moral here? Is there anything of value at all? I don’t know. I guess I can safely say I’ll never put myself in the position where I can be eaten by a shark, but that’s not a moral choice, that’s just a preference. There’s not enough control in the final seconds of being consumed by an animal; too many vague parameters. And, speaking postmortem-wise, it’s better to be slumped on a sofa than be shitted out the ass of something huge and hard to capture. People/family need closure even if you’ve got yours when the hammer dropped and the lights went out for the final time.

I won’t be swimming off the Californian coast today, or any other day, but my own pathetic, selfish, Great White shark attack could be at any time. I have the meds (my shark) and the soupy sea of a mental illness. It’s just luck or the random direction of a blood slick in the current that decide when the jaws bite down.

Take care out there all of you.



And here I am. Sitting at a long Dining room table while, twenty feet away, my chemo-bald mother is lying on a sofa in the weak winter sunshine. She’s poorly. Cancer can do that to you.

It’s true what they say: you never expect your parents to grow old. Right now I’m realising that time is something none of us has a lot of, not even that freak Trump. Billions of dollars give him the edge over my Mother in terms of hair, but he will forever be unable to lay down on a sofa and know in his heart that he’s always tried to do right by those who needed it most. My mother, on the other hand, can.

The journey down here wasn’t as bad as I thought it’d be. I can thank my prescriber for that. Many meds maketh the man, or something like that. They do in my case. I swear by them.

I’m out of ideas right now. Writing ceased for the time being. The tank is empty, taken up with caring for a sick parent I guess. Too many trips into the past, and horrific glimpses of the future; my Mother’s, my own, yours. The sunlight is on her now, in her dressing gown, sick and weak, lighting up the terrifying truth of how all things come to an end even though you don’t want them to.


See ya at the Gun Store..

There were times I am retrospectively thankful I didn’t have access to a gun. Lots of times. In fact, those occasions haven’t stopped. I have sat in utter rage, resplendent with tremors, grinding teeth, clenched fists, tense muscles, and wished I had my finger on a trigger and a quick route to someone’s house or place of work. Then there were the other times when I was just so very sad that I wished I had a .45 pointed at my head. Boom. All hurt gone forever. Whichever way you look at it, firearms are something which wouldn’t have enriched my life in a positive manner.

But I heard yesterday that Trump signed a Bill making it easier for people like me (people with mental health problems) to go out and buy a gun in America. Why did he do that?

I thought about the answer to that question this morning but I can’t fathom an answer which isn’t about Satanic Cults or some warped attempt to ethnically cleanse the USA. Nothing made sense. Guns on streets tend to kill folks when wielded by normal people, imagine the scene if a hundred thousand pretty mentally ill people all had an M16. Blat blat blat on every street corner, or lonely bedsit, or simply in a living room while the kids are asleep upstairs; one small sentence hastily scribbled on the back of a shopping list to explain why to the people who would want to know.

Trump has enabled a lot of death with that one signature. I can almost feel the death creeping over the Atlantic and oozing into my pores right now. It’s gun metal gray, and it stinks. The whole thing reeks of Eugenics.

I guess at my worst I’d have been on several killing sprees if I’d have been able to get away with them, and I’m positive my brain would have been blasted onto an off-white ceiling leaving rich hues and dripping bloody stalactites. I’m serious. Big things happen with collapsing mental health and guns. Ask a history teacher. They are one of the worst combinations imaginable. Much worse than macaroni cheese and sausages. They are a recipe for grief and death. Guaranteed instant results every time.

There are few things to thank modern politicians for, but living in a country where guns are hard to come by is one of them. Small mercies and all that… But this is the UK. Today in the US people with mental health problems already have a gun and some of them will die, or kill others, or both. Now the future is much worse for the Nutters, and the innocent bystanders, thanks to Trump. But we’re only the loonies, after all. Heading straight into Hell. See ya’ll at the gun store.


The Fabulous Gemma Funk


Picture by Mary Shepard.


Thomas Funk was high. It was his birthday. He lay back on a park bench in the most private part of the big city park. The sun had already come up. He was still drunk and still drinking. The drug buzz had died down to a wavering trickle. Next would be the awful boredom and the hatred of feeling how he felt without chemicals. He knew it was coming.

By then Thomas hadn’t been Thomas for a while. On and off he’d been Gemma. Fifteen years switching between the two. Hormones, a tit job, shrunken balls the size of peas, long hair, then short hair, then back. She was Gemma right now; said she always felt like Gemma. So, let’s call her Gemma from now on. It is what she would have wanted.

I met Gemma as Thomas – she was struggling with the hormone suppliments and trying to live as a man again – in a hospital waiting room. She was nervous, sweating, gripping her arms tight across her chest to try and hide the breasts. It had worked as far as I was concerned. She’d strapped them down and all I thought was that she lifted weights, or was just an oddly built gay guy, neither way mattered. She didn’t say hello, or smile. I was in a bad mood. Things were serious in the world out there. That day I was being forced to talk about how I felt about personal things, shitty self-indulgent crap. It seemed stupid when bombs were dropping on kids in the Middle East. Too much for me. Overload; terrifying. I was hating every human being who sucked life out of the air. A horrible default position to be in. Meet me some other time, eh, it’s better for all concerned. Gemma kept glancing at me across the room like she was keeping her eye on a snake. I reckoned it was fear that finally drove her to speak.

‘You in here for the group too?’


‘Do you like chemicals?’

Weird question, and I took it that she was offering. ‘No, not really. Acid, perhaps, but not all this shit knocking about now. And I’m not a coke-head either.’

‘I love them. It’s my big problem right now,’ she said, smiling.

She didn’t maintain eye contact. She also didn’t speak again. Just fidgeted more, sweat dripping down her face and staining her blue t-shirt. She tried to cross her legs but her shorts were too tight and her thighs were too large. It upset her, she sighed and tapped her feet on the floor, jigging her knees up and down to high bpm music in her head.

The others turned up and ignored us both. I could tell she hated them – it was mutual by the look of things. Always the outsider, even in here amidst some of the most outside people going. I guess it’s what drove Gemma to the chemicals and to defend her point of view with the cattiness she managed to spit out when the group got started. Backed into a corner the woman was dangerous, softly lisping, arrow straight to the point. She’d tear all of us a new asshole. I took a warning and never needed to ask for one again. I didn’t need someone with a venomous tongue fucking me over when I was telling secrets in there. She was just doing the same as me I guess: protecting herself when she was at her most vulnerable. Don’t we all.

She left the group after a few sessions. Said she was moving to London. She didn’t. She took the time out to turn full time into Gemma again, ‘For good this time.’ Her social media was all glamour, champagne, Gucci shit, blonde hair, fabulous, fabulous, darling, darling, darling, mwah mwah. I was happy for her. She made it onto the telly. She looked like she was enjoying things for the first time in ages. I felt for her. I don’t know much about myself, but I do know I am comfortable with the gender I was born with. Small mercy, maybe, but a good one as a foundation. The unimaginable thoughts Gemma must have had….well….I can’t really begin to understand, so I won’t try to do her a disservice.

On the park bench, the daylight was growing stronger. She was alone. She closed her eyes.

She was found like that a while later. It was a busy park. Someone stumbled over the fabulous Gemma Funk, slumped and silent and not breathing. Too far gone to save. She had killed Thomas after months of working it out. Now it was Gemma’s turn. No chance to think it through this time.