Stars

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“On soft Spring nights I’ll stand in the yard under the stars – Something good will come out of all things yet – And it will be golden and eternal just like that – There’s no need to say another word.”
― Jack Kerouac

 

Okay, technically August isn’t Spring. And I couldn’t see any stars, though I wanted to believe they were out there twinkling their approval, getting in on the moment like they would in a Disney cartoon. The light had already started to fade through the cheap yellow curtains at least half an hour before. Now the dimness draped the room in early night.

She was laying on the bed next to me. I was following the line of the curve from her waist to her shoulders with my hand. She was silhouetted against what remained of the light outside. I stared, trying to capture the moment in some fractured memory bank that wasn’t full of bad times. I couldn’t believe what was happening. Everything I’d ever experienced up to that moment meant nothing. The World could have ended as we kissed. Nothing mattered except being exactly in that single moment with her. Maybe, I thought, I really had earned it after all? I was in love. And it felt like I’d never been in love before. I’d missed out, or missed the point, yet here it was – complete and total desire and respect and admiration and a brand new feeling of a cosmic, chemical, soul connection that transcended anything I’d ever experienced: golden and eternal. Kerouac was right. There is no need to say another word.

Examine this

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Okay. Do you know how wrong it all was? Everything you did? Examine closely. It’s possible.

I suppose most of how we interact with life is down to simple causes, or beliefs.  We are simple creatures, however different we think we are. This is heavy stuff, and I might not be able to get my point across right now. There is not a lot to be said for typing on this keyboard at this hour after the medication I’ve consumed. Oh, and Therapy was cancelled today. But, hey, here we are.

Today is not about death, or hopelessness. It is about life. The most alive I’ve ever felt. The most emotionally exposed I’ve ever been. People with Borderline Personality Disorder are supposed to feel like third degree burn sufferers. We feel the slightest touch. And, mostly, it hurts. But not this time. Right now I’m at the mercy of something overwhelming and good.

There is a shift in my life. A palpable, touchable, event, person, emotion, that has driven out almost all other thoughts. Some might say it’s just down to Oxytocin, but I don’t believe in science. I believe in the look in somebody’s eyes, or the sound of something chasing you in the darkness. You can’t put that in a petri dish and make it grow into fungal lumps, measure it, or get a diagnosis to stick. There is no cure.

Like I’d ever want one.

 

 

 

Fine Print

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Someone told me that you should just write. Doesn’t matter what it’s about – choose the first thing that comes into your head. I followed that advice for years. Even sitting doing paid gigs for magazines/websites and PR companies. Mostly the advice proved to be good. Only one Editor refused to print something I’d written without ‘Major fucking changes to the way you are blowing smoke up the ass of the W.B.C.’

Today I’m finding it difficult. Really difficult. Worse than psychotic episode brain-freeze. Or gibberish. Shit, I liked the gibberish. Reading the ravings of someone deep into a paranoid belief the neighbours are all police officers makes for fun reflection when the dust has settled. I’ve written high, low, hallucinating, starving, puking, hungover, and when it’s been so cold that the olive oil in my kitchen has frozen. But not today. There is no coherent thought I can drag along on the back of. Well, there’s one, but it’s so consuming that I feel like I’m being eaten from the inside out.

My Psychologist and I argued on the phone about how I deal with this. She’s worried. Kept asking me about my propensity to self harm. Wanting to assess the level of danger. I could hear her typing things down carefully as I spoke. ‘No……honestly, for fuck’s sake, I’m safe.’ One answer like that is usually enough, but she must have asked me four or five times over twenty minutes. Same answer, same typing. Same thought, over and over and over. Same face, same smile, same laughter.

Music on now. Loud. Someone told me it’s all about grounding yourself in times like these. I guess it works, mostly. Maybe a quick prayer will help?

Okay, God, you fucking owe me. Let’s not argue about that, eh. We both know it. I’ve borne enough bullshit and hurt to last me from here until you high-five my hand warmly as I ride through those big gates on a Raleigh Chopper. Time for that re-birth you’re always banging on about in those pamphlets that come through my letterbox infrequently. Forget the gibberish about dinosaurs and homosexuals. That stuff isn’t important. You’ve lost your way a bit concentrating on things that don’t matter. Give me this one fucking chance to feel good.

There. I told you this thing would be incoherent. But at least whatever being is tending the eternal campfire up there now has the fine print in black and white. Spiritual proof, if you will. Maybe you can write your way to anything if you let it just flow?

Nights of panic

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The house was on a new development. Mock Tudor. Hideous. I was only looking at it because my partner thought it was the right thing – the upwardly mobile thing – to do. She was bland. I guess that’s why the blandness of the little street appealed. All I knew was that it was bigger than the house we were living in. And I wouldn’t have to hear the neighbours over the road fucking in the summer with their windows open. Screaming up the hot night while I lay in bed not wanting to do the same with the woman laying next to me. Every time I heard them I imagined the kind of love and lust that was driving those screams and moans. It had never been like that in my life. Fuck those hot summer nights. We would breath heavy. Both of us knowing the other wasn’t asleep. Not touching in bed. Me staring into the gloom praying I wouldn’t feel a hand on me under the thin sheets. Having to make up an excuse.

But the new house was going to be away from all that. The neighbours weren’t going to screw all night and shout each others names into the stinking rotten Epworth air. This was a move upwards. Up Up, into the middle class. Two cars on the drive. Waving to grass-cutting middle-aged car salesmen across the way on Saturday afternoons. Pristine house. Glass of wine with Dinner. Better and better cars and sofas and holidays until the rest of my hair fell out and the pension cheques started dropping on the mat. Climbing up into the apex of fat mediocrity. Tense puckered kisses goodbye in the mornings, the limit of sexual contact. Thankful for it.

The house was owned by a single woman in her mid to late forties. I can’t remember her name but it was something like Crapper, or Merde, or some other shit-based reference. I remember laughing when I first heard it. She had curly brown hair and, possibly, an eating disorder. She was very thin, drawn, and her eyes had sunk right down into their sockets. I was shocked when she opened the door to show us around. And she was timid, really scared-looking. Mousy. Like she was about to run to a safe room and bolt the door behind her. She barely whispered when she talked. Something told me she’d seen something awful and couldn’t wash it away. I thought that’s why she kept the house so clean. The hallway and stairs had a brand new carpet, you could smell the newness. The walls had been painted cream and it looked as though the paint layers were thick and expensive. My partner loved the place, so after we looked round we went back to the estate agents and told them we’d offer near the asking price. I wondered about the new carpets in a new house. I asked what it was all about.

‘You didn’t see the news last year?’ she replied.

‘No..’

‘Her husband attacked her one night in the house with an axe. It was pretty bad. She was trying to leave and he was chopping at her as she was coming down the stairs into the hallway to the front door, trying to run. I heard she curled up into ball by the front door and he just kept on hacking. Someone next door heard the noise and called the police. She nearly died.’

‘Jesus!’

‘He got twenty years in prison.’

‘And that’s why the new carpet and the paint job?’

‘Yeah. You do still want to put an offer in?’

The sales pitch wasn’t the best I’d ever heard. But at least it was honest. Mrs Crapper, or whatever she was called, had only just come out of hospital and wanted rid of the place where she’d almost been chopped to pieces by someone she trusted. She wasn’t even living there any more. She’d moved in to her sister’s. She couldn’t face living alone. Being hacked at with an axe tends to change people.

So we bought the house, violent memories and all, and I set about cleaning the car on Saturdays, waving to the guy across the road. Losing more of me by the second. Disappearing into the middle of my life in a beige haze of nothing out of the ordinary. At least in the summer, with the bedroom windows open, the nights were still. Like they were in the marriage bed.

 

Fooled

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A long time ago – is two years a long time? – I used to write about Boxing. It was mostly always a paid gig, depending on the publication and the Editor, and the strength of the subject matter. Really though, when you lay the subject bare, there is only so much you can say about people punching each other in the head. I used to try and stay away from that sort of thing and aim for the off-kilter parts of the sport: the weirdness, the characters, the underworld, and the feeling of being covered with blood splatters while you’re sitting ringside watching the Doctor playing pool on his iphone instead of watching the fight. Nights of baying crowds, high on Cocaine and cheap booze, with me sitting next to the canvas with a notebook and pen, trying not to look the fighters in the eyes when they were getting punched senseless in the corner right in front of me. Some of them even whimpered. Say what you like, but you can see pain and fear when the punches rain in. I don’t care who they are, or how they tell a press conference about ‘desire’ and ‘courage’. I know Rocky doesn’t exist outside of a cinema screen. Just like I know that blood takes ages to remove from a white cotton t-shirt.

But, ah, those sweaty nights. Locked in turmoil. Earning a crust, hating the sport, writing hours of endless gibberish with mock sincerity. Avoiding the fights in the crowd, sitting next to scantily dressed ring girls who were barely able to climb into the ring on heels you could skewer a pig with. The background soundtrack of wolf whistles, shouts of ‘I’d fuck you!’ and the drunken jeering when the round starts. Blood-lust. The smell was tangible. Testosterone, earnest machismo. Barred teeth and pumping fists into the auditorium air. One glorious, unpredictable, human machine. A combine harvester ready to go at a moments notice. Anywhere. For any reason. Mob rule pressure cooker release valve, ready to test the limits.

Some nights there was need for the security cordon around the ringside area. The fearless few always lost in the end, carried out by men in black towards back entrances and a lesson in the alleyway that would leave an impression lasting beyond the life of the bruises. Other nights I was left alone in relative quiet between gangsters and many, many handshakes and faces eager for me to write the right things about their boy. I almost never did.

When I got home after an event I was always shattered. Emotionally spent. Covered in sweat and tiny freckles of blood. I’d go and shower, leaving my face lifted up to the shower head and thinking about the meaning of all that violence. The swollen hands and noses, broken ribs, the money changing hands, futures decided in the half a second of lapsed concentration. Sated violent desire, hotel rooms, come-downs, ice baths. The spectacle of it all; steeped in history and evolution. Satisfying the crowd, but not me. I always thought everyone was being fooled anyhow. Nobody ever won.

 

Woe

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The chairs scraped on the tiled floor in the little back room in the big Georgian house. There was a blackboard on the wall chalked with Greek, sometimes Latin, other times French verbs. We always had about half an hour in there before we went into the main teaching room. This was a time to say hi to the other students (about eight of us) and practice the shit on the black board. The technique must have worked because there I was, ten years old, able to conjugate French and Latin verbs. The Greek was fucking impossible.

The place was for gifted kids. Man…..

-I can’t concentrate. I couldn’t back then, and I can’t today. There’s a recirculating thought zipping back around when I thought I’d given it the slip. Even a simple memory and a few minutes sitting typing is impossible. What the fuck is happening to me?!

I’m trying to avoid feelings of woe. Yes, I guess that’s the main issue today. But I’m not the only one.

The rain flooded out a big festival near here last night. Girls with smeared glittery faces turned up at the supermarket shivering and trying to reconcile that they’d gone past the point where festival mud had stopped being chic and funny. The headline band had cancelled their show. Up on the bleak hills of the festival site, open to the elements, 20,000 people are shivering in brown goo this morning. And no amount of ketamine will dry your clothes. Rumours of water being turned off in the showers, cars too deep in the mud to move by tractor, and roaming gangs destroying tents. Fear is apparent in the Twitter posts of desperate teenagers. No chance of walking home from that remote hillside. God, the nearest train station is 6 miles away down a road with no pavements, used by speeding articulated lorries from the quarry. No escape. They are all trapped like tadpoles in a jam jar.

I can’t think straight. There is not single chance I can write anything coherent today. I’m thinking of airplanes, sunny beaches, electricity, the solid thwack of a metaphysical arrow. Woe.

Wasted again

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I burned another incense stick but the smell of weed was overpowering. There were a couple of windows open, but I was sure that they only spread the problem down the backs of neighbouring houses. For some childish reason the whole thing felt naughty. Here we were, two middle-aged guys wrecked on booze, pills, and weed on a mild July night. Listening to music. Laughing. Talking about the old days. Passing the joints back and forth like we’d done a long, long time ago. I wasn’t mentally ill, and he wasn’t struggling with his past alcoholism. Neither of us had been through tough times. Not last night, anyhow.

The lights drew moths in through the windows, the music moved on, we sank more beers, smoked up a good fug, and I twirled on the old office chair at my desk talking rubbish over and over again about that one person whom I’d have preferred to his company right then. He was oblivious, rambling and starting to lose any coherent train of thought. I decided not to offer him any of my codeine and pregabalin. I’d taken some but, then, I am a professional. I watched him – eyes reddened, slurring his words, veering wildly from reminiscence to periods of semi-rage as we navigated our shared experiences. He took longer to roll the joints, got less involved in listening, and more in talking. His eyes seemed to have become smaller, like tiny red marbles, withdrawing into his face to escape the sensory overload that the cannabis and ethyl alcohol were laying down on his brain.

He over-ordered from the pizza menu and I rang the order in, mostly because I was the nearest we had to a public face. When the delivery guy turned up he was greeted with a cloud of blue smoke and a beaming smile faking innocence and trying desperately to get the money into his hand and explain, yes, I’d over tipped by a long way but to just take the fucking money and let me shut this front door for the love of God. Too much attention was already being garnered at the back of the house, what with the music and the stench, to have to fight a battle against the general public on two fronts.

He ate greedily, in the clichéd stoner way. I chomped through my shitty pizza only because I hadn’t eaten for almost 36 hours. It tasted of warm dough, fat, and battery acid. When he’d eaten two pizzas and some chips we sparked another joint up and sat back with full stomachs smoking into the night. Bottles and cans everywhere, music booming into the early hours down this quiet hillside. Two old friends. Wasted again.

Character Study in A Minor

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He was odd. I knew that much the first time I’d met him, before he even started talking. Today he was wearing a long duster coat and cowboy boots, white shirt open nearly down to his navel, blue jeans. It was 1990.

The kid had lived up the road from me for years but had gone to a public school rather than mix with the rest of us in the festering pool of genetic freaks, shared girlfriends, and poor educational prospects delivered at the local comprehensive. Now we were standing outside the smokers common room at the sixth form college in a nearby town. It was sunny. Dust blew along the old surface of what used to be a tennis court. He was a few feet away, chest puffed out so it looked like he had some form of spinal problem. Inane grin showing too many teeth, arrow straight, like a nightmarish Muppet or a horror film cyborg. His chin extended far in front of his face, not helped by a sight underbite. Flattop hair, buzz shaved at the sides, sloped downwards and mirrored the angle of the chin. I was studying him, watching him leering at a girl he was talking to. I could hear him telling her lies about having signed up for the Army, being trained in close combat. She was disinterested, took a cigarette out of a packet, and went to light it. Like a gunslinger, in a blur, he took a matchbox from a pocket in his jeans, lifted up a snakeskin cowboy boot, and struck a match on the sole. He flourished it at her cigarette. I guess she was too overcome with the ferocity of the gesture and the stares from the people around us to refuse. He waved the flame out and tossed the dead match onto the ground with too much effort. Now she looked embarrassed.

His voice was kind of mid-Atlantic. Gravelly, too. Cross between Clint Eastwood and Eton. The accent took a lot of effort, and he spoke slowly, considering the vowel sounds and the tone of the thing before saying the actual words. He was trying to portray a superior air. We were all beneath him. He was leering again, his eyes flicking down to her chest when he thought she couldn’t tell. Most of the other people on their smoke breaks had stopped talking to each other by now and some were openly laughing at him.

‘Hey, Alastair. Why do you light matches on your fucking boots?’ someone asked.

‘If it’s for a lady, then I have to make an extra special effort,’ he replied, grinning at the girl. My God, those teeth went on forever. I wondered how many teeth a human head is supposed to contain and if he had broken some kind of natural order of things. She took a step away from him, her legs unconsciously moving her away from danger; primeval instinct of self-preservation. He had the same look in his eyes that I had seen on nature documentaries: a shark heading up through the surf and about to open its mouth before the first exploratory bite; the adrenaline keenness and focus of an apex predator. Like a San Francisco harbour seal, stranded from the safety of its own kind, she could sense a shift in the atmosphere, she looked scared.

‘Err…thanks for the light, Alastair. I’ve got to run, I’ve got an art lesson in a minute.’

‘I’ll see you on the bus then, my lady.’ He looked pleased. Okay, so he had missed the target in his first rushed attack, but he knew where the prey would be heading and he was going to make damn sure he was ready for the ambush next time. On the college bus, no-one could hear you scream.

The clock ran round to the hour. People began to leave. I had a free period and was going to smoke some hash on the playing field, so I was in no rush. I sat down against the wall and checked I had enough Rizla papers. I looked up. Alastair was standing there, blocking out the sunlight.

‘You know, Ben-boy, drugs are bad for you. They make you weak.’

‘Fuck off.’

‘The women prefer someone with class. Someone who can operate at maximum performance all the time. Drugs just slow you down.’

‘Really…’

He fidgeted a bit, like there was some kind of internal struggle going on behind the crazy look in his eyes, then grinned again, pirouetted around on one of those high cowboy boot heels, and walked slowly down towards his GCSE retake class.

Le Sourire

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Heart beating hard and fast. 2am. I kicked off the duvet, stared at the ceiling again, and tried to focus my thoughts. I could almost see the feeling in the air above me, all around the dark room, moving just that tiny fraction out of phase with everything else. You could squint and maybe you’d catch it for a second moving quickly out of the corner of your eye or right ahead of you disappearing, fading quickly into the stone window frames. If I didn’t know better I’d have said it was a spiritual intervention or message. Religions have started on lesser foundations.

And over it all, that feeling thumping, cossetting, working deep inside against the grain of everything I’ve ever known. Call it what you want. This thing has power.

When I finally woke up, the sun had started to aggressively pound into the hillside, a dog was wailing, and my head moved quickly through the gears from early waking numbness up into that feeling again. I couldn’t have stopped it if I tried. I took my meds, swallowing them down with cold water, and went into the bathroom. I looked in the mirror over the wash basin. My eyes were red, I looked old, fat, ravaged by years of bad experiences. I told myself this was only a dream. No-one could really be that crazy. I soaked my face, grey beard and all, in the sink and lifted my head back up to the mirror. Nothing had changed at all except the water running in great globules from the straggled edges of my face. Then I thought of those images stored in my brain from the night before, the things that were said, looked once more in the mirror, and couldn’t stop a smile.

 

Where were you?

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Only God knew why I was in that farmhouse with a head full of acid. I’d been up for two nights – the first at a party with a girl, talking into the early hours, no sleep at all, smoking, cadging drinks, trying to hold it together and get our heads down in a little pink bed (which broke). After the party I’d gone home, showered, met some friends and bought the acid. The next night had been wild and crazy in a small house in another village. And for the first ever time LSD had caused a proper hallucination – a great starry dog face looming out of the night sky down at me. I’d taken some more at midday, watching tv all afternoon, laughing. Now I was coming down slowly from the trip in this farmhouse. People mooched about in the big rooms, a door was off its hinges.

The farm was owned by the parents of two twins a year younger than me. We were all at the same sixth form. They were crazy. Always fighting with each other. Really punching hard, smashing things around the home, there were fist sized holes in doors. The parents had gone away and they’d regret it when they got back.

Three or four kids were rolling joints in the kitchen, and there was talk of some amphetamine arriving soon. I was beginning to feel good again, more in control, but they saw through me and, like most morons who never understood LSD, began making weird faces and doing strange gestures with their hands to provoke someone in the early stage paranoia of a trip. I grabbed a joint and told them to chill out. The hash tasted sweet. I took long tokes, watching the blue smoke collect up high near an unmoving ceiling fan, some shit music drifted through from another room.

There is a point in a trip where you cross from total madness into a serene, calm, phase. It was the best part of LSD for me. I felt in touch with the way of things; the Cosmos; whatever greater being was tending the campfire. The come-down was beautiful every time. I always tried to string it out for as long as it lasted, make the most of things, lie down in a cornfield and watch the clouds, or put some great music on and watch the cars pass by my bedroom window. Sometimes I’d walk out to the Church and sit on the low wall and look over to the nearest town. Even the smoke from the steelworks there looked beautiful. Everything in a come-down made sense, you just needed to have the capacity to accept what the acid was telling you. Go with it.

In the farmhouse the mood was beginning to shift. People were drinking heavily out of whiskey bottles and getting macho. We were heading to a crisis point and if those other poor saps couldn’t see it then more fool them. I had been smoking for a couple of hours and now it was time to leave before the place exploded. I took a back lane home as dusk began to soak up the light. By the old air raid bunker I sat down and watched the Scunthorpe streetlights turn the horizon into a vast orange blob. The last parts of the acid were leaving my brain. I’d stay and sit it out up there. The warm night hugged tight.