The Almighty King of the Universe

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A kid was crying across from me in the narrow aisle. His sister sat and kicked the seat in front, throwing a plastic bottle repeatedly down onto the dirty plastic table, then looking up towards her mother who was too tired to do anything other than stare grimly at the young girl and nod her head in sleepy post-holiday travel tiredness. Dad still had his holiday clothes on and his fat tanned legs bristled with almost hairless goosebumps in the poorly heated railway carriage. He was dozing, cradling a third child and waking up with every rattle of the train as it slogged across the flat lands towards the coast.

The guy with the tattoo had got on the train in some featureless shit-hole where the houses seemed to barely keep above the water table, low and squat, hugging close like shipwreck victims. It was a place you left. Thankful for every mile of distance. I guessed nobody ever looked over their shoulder back towards the ditches and dykes and loneliness, no matter where they headed or whom they left behind.

He was young – maybe twenty – but his light ginger hair was thinning and he’d started to comb it forward in kiss curls that looked like the frayed edges of a threadbare mop. He’d grown a beard. Straggles of hair hugged over his top lip and into his mouth. He sucked on the mat of it from time to time. Hands flicked and pressed at a large phone. He was occasionally smiling, staring at the screen, fiddling with his Nintendo wallet. Black headphones jammed deep into small ears which seemed to be chiseled close to his head like a sculptor’s afterthought.

I watched him – taking a covert photo of the tattoo – while the train crawled past the rows of windmills, never seeming to make any progress. He adjusted his Tom Clancy “Ghost Recon” grey top, glanced around the carriage, then went back to stabbing and swiping at the phone, still smiling. Content. I wondered where he was going? If he even knew, or if he cared? I suppose it was unimportant. He was exactly where he should be. For that brief moment he was indeed the Almighty King of the Universe.

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The Blank Stare of Ignorance

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Tom Cruise doesn’t believe in Psychiatry. I guess most of his mates have the same view. The more I watched his hideously chiselled face gurning and grinning and staring like a psychic in a CIA goat-killing experiment, the more I hated him. Most of what he said sounded like first year Psychology gone wrong – like the famous Stanford ‘Prison Experiment’, only this time cash was changing hands and the agenda was more psychotic.

Fuck….I know it’s dangerous ground – going into Scientology – but stumbling on that interview really kicked me in the balls. So here we are. Yes, I believe I’ve made it apparent by now to you: I see a Psychiatrist, and I’m prescribed Psychiatric medication. I have them to thank for improving my quality of life. The meds help sleep, allay panic and fear, and give me an emergency button to press when the time is right. In short, they work.

I can’t vouch for Scientology, I can vouch for medication. One solution is measurable and has been developed by thousands of intelligent medical professionals, the other is based on the writings of a Science Fiction Author. And here is a brief snapshot into that author’s (L. Ron Hubbard) mind, where he waxes lyrical about Psychiatry. I imagine he was masturbating furiously while he typed this one-handed –

“A psychiatrist today has the power to (1) take a fancy to a woman (2) lead her to take wild treatment as a joke (3) drug and shock her to temporary insanity (4) incarnate [sic] her (5) use her sexually (6) sterilise her to prevent conception (7) kill her by a brain operation to prevent disclosure. And all with no fear of reprisal. Yet it is rape and murder … We want at least one bad mark on every psychiatrist in England, a murder, an assault, or a rape or more than one … This is Project Psychiatry. We will remove them.”

Okay? Getting the sexual tension? Me too. For the record, I’ve never been raped by any one of my five [5] Psychiatrists I’ve been treated by over the years. Nor have I been drugged into ‘temporary insanity’ or felt that any one of them was trying to do anything other than help me. Hubbard wrote the above statement on a memo in 1966, but the smell of it is still strong after all these years. I don’t like it.

But let’s not get too far off the mark. I guess you suspect a cult leader like Hubbard didn’t quite stick to his own proclamations, especially where getting fucked out of his mind on chemicals was concerned? Here’s what his son had to say –

“I have personal knowledge that my father regularly used illegal drugs including amphetamines, barbiturates and hallucinogens. He regularly used cocaine, peyote and mescaline.”

Like Hubbard Snr a little more now? Me neither, and I have taken almost all of the drug menu listed by his son, so I should feel a sense of kinship. But then I’ve never tried to get people to part with their cash by feeding them stories of Aliens coming to take their souls to a distant planet. Only somebody really screwed out of their mind on a vicious cocktail of hallucinogens and cocaine would a) write the kinds of things he did and, b) think people would believe it. I watched stars form into the face of a great celestial dog once, but that wasn’t because I was finding the secrets to the universe, or having some kind of divine human insight into what it meant to be alive, I was just fucked on LSD.

Yes, I realise you can interchange some of the Hubbard-strength weirdness with some of the rantings in the Bible (and other religions) but no-one ever really set out to write themselves a spiritual fortune like he did. Most major religions are equally hilarious in parts, but that’s not through design, it’s through ignorance, or the lost myth of human experience told around campfires stretching back into the eons. They never began as cash-cows, even if that’s how a lot of them ended up. Scientology is different. It wanted your cash right from the start.

So where does that leave me and Tom Cruise? Well, he’s pretty much as insignificant to me as I am to him, and that’s the way I’d like things to remain. One of us is deluded, and the other has psychiatric problems. I guess that makes us more alike than I thought when I started typing in the candlelight, waiting for the stars to come out.

Cash

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The car was one of those big four wheel drive things you see a lot around here. I don’t know the make – maybe a Volvo, or a Mercedes, I wasn’t looking too hard. But the thing was brand new. Shiny brand new. Status symbol brand new. Jet black. Bet the inside still had the new smell. I heard that some companies study the ‘olfactory experience’ of their new cars. I don’t know why. Don’t want to think about it any more than you do, in the same way I don’t want to think about my Singapore-based neighbours who, right at this moment as the fingers press down on this shitty red keyboard, are talking to people with clipboards on the land overlooking my home. Okay?

She was probably in her late twenties, maybe younger. It’s hard to guess the age of someone with cash. She had her hair bundled up on her head in the fashion of today – it’s a look that says ‘I’ve taken no care at all to look like this,’ but in reality has probably taken at least half an hour to get all the messy parts in the right places. That and the eyebrows, plucked and darkened to a point where my mind always sees the image of John Wayne Gacy dressed as ‘Pogo the Clown’. His last words were ‘Kiss my ass.’

She made it to the cash machine just in front of me as I slogged across the petrol station forecourt. My knee was hurting. I was limping a little. Rucksack on, walking boots, scowl. I wanted to get some money out to do some panic buying in the Co-Op attached to the petrol station. Despite the scowl – low sun, big eyes – I was feeling good. She hopped out of the drivers seat, leaving her little child in his seat in the passenger side. The car was blocking access to a couple of the pumps. It was entitled to because it was large and expensive. Money like that pulls rank on anyone with a shittier car. It’s the unwritten rule: money maketh the woman/man.

I slowed down as I got to the cash machine. She was shielding her other hand as she punched in the numbers – 7832. The security action didn’t work, I saw the magic code without even trying. Then she pressed the £50 request on the screen, neglecting to check her account balance. Big car = no need to see the details.

The machine processed her request and then came back with a message I’ve seen a few times in my life – REQUEST DENIED. INSUFFCIENT BALANCE. I thought the machine was fucked again, like it always seems to be since the local bank branch shut down and caused the physical withdrawal of money to become a problem on my hill in the middle of nowhere. ‘Fuck,’ I thought, ‘I’ll have to slog into town and check my balance and hope there hasn’t been a run on the other machine.’ Was it drinking season yet? Why was everyone emptying the cash machines? Without the financial teat in the wall I’m screwed.

She put the card in again and stabbed at the buttons. Lesser request this time – £20. Same message. She glanced over her shoulder and saw me ten feet away trying hard not to seem interested. She turned back and put her hand down in a slapping motion onto the machine keyboard, then went back to her car. I walked up to the machine fearing the worst – it was empty, or some North Korean hacker had finally broken through and fucked up the Western World by disabling the use of the fiscal nectar distributers in the great, superior, World of the White terror. I typed my pin number in, waiting for the same denial. I was wrong. The money lolled out like a fat tongue. When I turned around she was sitting in her car watching me. Her eyes were on the small notes in my fist. She put her head in her hands then jammed her phone to her ear. The kid started to scream.

Destination

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Never pry into someone else’s life – especially a stranger on a train. This is a sound doctrine and it has served me well. But something about this young guy made the huge phone shine its messages on the screen like a beacon from the seat in front of me. I couldn’t help myself.

I’d seen him on the platform – red short trousers, heavy make-up, silver high-heeled shoes, the points of his blacked in eyebrows almost impossibly sharp. Like a catwalk model. Hip thrust to one side, the universal uneven stance from every red carpet minor list celeb event you’ve ever seen.

I got on the train first. It was just luck that he ended up in the seat in front. Then he held up the huge phone and that’s when I saw into his young life.

Some guy was messaging him, telling him he was the owner of a ‘multi-million pound company’, and asking if ‘she’ was available next week.

‘Yes, darling.’

‘Will you be wearing an on point outfit?’

‘Of course.’

That was the limit of the thing. Nothing really. Just some young Asian man making ends meet. Turning a trick who was so deep into his fantasy that he was starting to concoct a backstory for himself involving wealth and success, almost like he was trying to justify payment for the services rendered. His money meant more. The kid might even work harder if he bought the millionaire company bullshit. It was worth the risk.

The train stopped again after a few minutes. The young guy got off, clattering down the platform, chin up high, on point.

The next guy in the seat was a businessman. He laid out a laptop and got to it. Very important man. Time too valuable to waste. Life more grey than his hair.

When I left the train at the end of the outbound journey I knew I’d be back on it soon enough, deep into the canned lives of everyone on those tracks. Chugging slowly along. Gambling with the proximity of the next person to take a seat nearby.

The return trip was worse. A football match between two local sides was happening that afternoon and the train was so full that I was left standing up against the luggage rack, listening to heavy talk of fights and fear, beer cans being opened, men trembling with excitement you don’t often see on a train. Everyone pressed up close to each other, laughing, banging on the windows at stations when a pretty girl appeared on the platform. Police officers in front looked bored, constantly on the radio; seen it all before. An hour and a half I stood there staring grimly out of the window, waiting for someone to single me out as not being a member of the same shitty tribe. They didn’t bother. I was thankful for it. As the train rolled into the opposition’s town the mood started to turn ugly. People were pushing, lighting cigarettes, starting the first bent over steps of Liam Gallagher walks. It was a bad scene. They swaggered out of the train like a pack of Lemurs searching for fallen fruit. Good times. Bad postures.

I walked up the hill in the sunshine. Travelling is okay, I thought, as long as the destination is worthwhile.

Solstice

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You can’t believe the sound a pool ball whirled in a sock makes when it connects with a human skull until you hear it in person. A dull thwack, gristly, mixed with the sound of something heavy dropping into hard butter. There’s a sense of give. And then the sound of someone falling – which they almost always do. A face first plant into a floor, broken nose into the bargain. Followed, depending on the drivers of the situation – hatred, payback, random violence, kicks – with the running steps of the attacker, disappearing around a corner or into a cell.

I’ve heard all those sounds. Never caused any of them, but I was there. I saw the blood too, and watched the bodies being carried away.

But that was all a long time ago. The tiny gravity of half-kilo pool balls doesn’t play on my mind unless I let it. I only thought about it today because the Queens Speech is up and running. That, and the bizarre terrorist attacks taking place over and over again with the same kind of common implements: vehicle, bottles of water, kitchen knife, fists, and shouting. As a great man once said ‘Nobody owns life, but anyone who can pick up a frying pan owns death.’ Death is easy once the cause is established and the medium figured out. We all have access to it. We can all be sucked down by the emotional gravity that’d push even a parish priest into a vicious blood lust.

But that’s not today. Not for me, anyhow. It’s the Summer Solstice. The interplay between vast gravitational celestial bodies, whirling around, too fast to comprehend. Days shortening until the end of December. Passing back round like a huge pool ball in a cosmic sock. Dependable, finite, march of Time. Moving too heavily to stop or change pace, even though sometimes I’d like it to.

What does any of that mean? Not much, I suppose, except I am valuing being alive at the moment. Happy that I dodged the worst orbits life aimed at the weak spots. Feeling re-birth, the circular way of things.

Problems

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A day of mixed problems of varying seriousness and effect.

Firstly, my 85yr old neighbour is living in a perpetual state of stress because someone’s bin got vandalised yesterday. It took ten minutes to calm her down. I stood in the howling wind and rain in a pair of shorts and t shirt outside her door as she took her time telling me the fine print details. By the time I’d told her to go back inside and ring me if she was worried, I was soaked to the skin. I just know this isn’t over. I am completely at her mercy right now. There is no reasoning with someone that old. The only solution is to hide and ignore her shouting over the gate for me. Which, of course, I will never do..

Later this morning I got a text from my GP asking me to ring the surgery. It took all of five seconds for me to realise they are trying to kick me off of my codeine prescription. The dosage is poxy – 15mg four times a day – but it’s enough in these days of opiate paranoia to become a blip on a doctors radar. I’ve nursed that prescription for years. And I always only ever use half the prescribed dose, meaning the time between repeat prescriptions goes a long way to proving my ability to maintain a sense of restraint and control over the codeine. This doesn’t seem to have got me very far. A week on Friday I’ll know for sure, when I’m deep into an argument in a doctors room with some poor sap who knows me less than you do. I’m not knocking their obligations to a patient with codeine, diazepam, and pregabalin prescriptions – it’s just common sense – but justifying the codeine is going to be tough. Truth is, it’s genuinely needed, but this won’t go far in the cold light of the surgery on Friday. Ever tried to prove pain? It’s tough. There is another little withdrawal looming on the horizon. And freshly opiate-free synapses hurt. Trust me.

The General Election is tomorrow. I won’t be doing my usual drunk/medicated vigil in front of the tv screen into the early hours, shouting at the screen and pledging my allegiance to Satan if only he’d suck back the souls he rented to the Conservative Party candidates. It’s an exercise i recommend, especially if your neighbours can hear you at 4am on your tenth Red Bull and vodka, wired up to the political mainline like an electricity sub-station. People who hear that kind of behaviour never want to engage you in conversation about politics ever again. But I’m driving for four hours at 9am on the next morning so I’ll just go to bed and grind my teeth until the savage dawn awakens the next chapter of Austerity, Cuts, and Right Wing death squads. What the fucking hell have we become? It’ll be a fast and dangerous drive because my mood will be terrible. There is no chance that Labour will win. Anyone living in hope is delusional. People in the UK are either rich, hideous, and scared, or poor and too apathetic to rise up and care about how many times they get kicked in the balls. And the latest terror attacks have rubber-stamped Theresa’s victory. The majority want someone punished and they want it done with excessive force. Doesn’t matter who, just as long as they aren’t White and we don’t get to see them putting out the flames on their children’s backs. Jeremy Corbyn is too empathetic for this country of revenge-hungry beasts. We are at War. And Jeremy admits he wouldn’t press the button. It’s just common sense, and I applaud him for it, but the average voter doesn’t want to hear about taking backwards steps; about being weak; the chance for peace. They want blood and for someone to guarantee they can live their life on Facebook without giving a thought to anyone else other than clicking ‘Like’ on a random acquaintance’s holiday photos. X-Factor, Dance-Off, Bake-Off, Fuck-Off TV, rammed down semi-alcoholic throats at the end of long boring weeks in a dead end job, hating everyone. It’s the British way.

Jeremy will lose. Maybe not by a crushing defeat, but by enough for him to walk away into history as the man who should have proved the UK had some sense of hope for the future, if only enough of us had had the guts and the brains to stand up for peace.

Problems, eh. You’ve got yours and I’ve got mine. Right now it’s time to put Kurt Vile on the stereo and try to calm down. Maybe smoke a joint. Let it all pass. I mean, these are dangerous times. Someone like me doesn’t need to add their own foul twist on an already evil brew. By Friday morning we’ll all know just how fucked that brew can get us, and the hangover is going to take an eon to shift. Maybe it’ll never leave us.

Know your place.

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The kid was screaming in her pushchair. Really letting loose. High pitched. No words, just the air-splitting. I drew level along the path. It was a beautiful place. The father turned to me and said, ‘Morning,’ then shrugged his shoulders and sighed, nodding his head towards the screaming.

‘Good fun?’ I asked. He didn’t answer.

It took thirty seconds to walk to the corner of the viewpoint. It’s a popular place to scatter ashes but I couldn’t see any fresh ones down below. And no new flowers. Down the trail the young girl was still screaming. Dad had had enough. He leaned his face right under the cover of the pushchair and screamed back, inches from her face, ‘SHUT UP, POPPY. JUST SHUT UP. NOW!’

It did the trick. She stopped at once. Adult aggression had overridden whatever reason she had for screaming. She knew her place in the scheme of things and now she understood that adults are big, powerful, and threatening. Would Dad forever be a symbol of hurt and hate? She could see rage, twisting his face as the spittle flew from his mouth. I’d seen it at her age, too. Many times.

I walked the usual route from the viewpoint down the incline and back along the canal. The crowds were out but most of the people I said ‘Hello,’ to as I walked along didn’t answer me.  At the end of the canal, tourists grouped like muted bees around the car park. Pastel shades of mail order outdoorsy clothing everywhere. Kids paddled around in canoes. Ducklings floated around near the rushes. Typical Bank holiday scene from any English beauty spot. Solitude for the masses. I sat outside the café in the sunshine. Drank a diet coke. Took some diazepam. Thought about why I’d had an urge to kill myself yesterday. Two women at the next table talked about ‘Immigrants’ being The Problem. They were wrong.

The Midnight Monster

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It had been a bad night again. Not down to the meds this time. I think I’d fallen asleep around 11pm, laptop still on next to the bed. The air was hot from a day in the heatwave. The stone house had retained the warmth and was releasing it slowly, cooking me. A dog barked, waking me up. I kicked the duvet off and lay there on my back, naked, the dog barking and barking out the back somewhere. The thing wasn’t happy, wherever it was. There was aggression in its voice.

Behind my house is just miles of countryside. Probably ten miles in a straight line from my back door to the nearest house in that direction. It’s quiet, and sometimes you can see the Milky Way up there, and those fools in the Space Station. Noise around here means you should be alert. Noise doesn’t herald anything of any good out here. You learn to take notice of sounds when the nights are usually deep silence.

From over the hill the sound of Sheep baaaaaa baaaaaa, bleating and concerned. I got up and looked out of the window expecting to see a flock of loose sheep behind my house, or the pack of Wolverines chasing them. Nothing. I scanned around but the place looked still. Getting back into bed, I grabbed my Mag-Light torch, and wondered if it was worth going downstairs to get my axe – kept by the back door in case of emergencies – but I reckoned I needed more evidence and reason before I introduced a large sharp steel blade to the night. I turned off the laptop and fell asleep.

3am – I was woken hideously from a dream about riding Bill Gates around a Horse Track. Something had let out a yell outside. The dog barked again, scared, yelping. Silence, then a terrifying scream, something so cutting and bizarre that I reached for the torch without thinking. No animal I’d ever heard could make a noise like that. There it was again. A high pitched, blood-curdling shriek that sounded like it ended in a laugh. I lay there, heart beating faster, waiting for it to yell again so I could judge how far it was from my home and, more importantly, my open windows.

I thought of Bigfoot. Shit, he’d be able to climb into my upstairs windows without much effort. I imagined myself being dragged outside like the Skyscraper scene from King Kong, naked, flailing weakly as I was carried off into the night. No point worrying, I told myself, things will take their course as they always do. I waited until it was starting to get light. Nothing. No more screams, no more barking. I sensed a change outside. Birds were starting to sing, the darkness ushered out by the promise of another fine day. I got up and drew back the curtains knowing whatever had been terrorising me had gone. I was right. A beautiful dawn, orange sky, green trees, dewy grass, monster-less. I had survived another attack. In calm, rational, early morning serenity I made my way downstairs chuckling to myself at how stupid I’d been. Light makes even the worst coward braver than he was when he couldn’t see what was coming. Was any of it even real? When you have a psychotic mental illness that question is one you ask yourself a lot. And you learn to appreciate how much of a target you are. There are many monsters out to get us, real or imagined. In the dark there is no difference between the two.

 

Polar opposite

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‘Out of the blue and into the black, they give you this but you paid for that.” – Neil Young

Strange start to the day. I dreamed that Mark E Smith had died in the early hours, then my drunken neighbour’s headboard started to knock on the wall again. Another alcohol-fuelled masturbation alone in the dead of night.

Then the news this morning: a team of women are about to walk to the South Pole. This is an incredible feat and worthy of either praise or derision. They’d dressed them up in little pink jackets like the female gang from Grease. It didn’t suit them. They were doing two hours of training a day in Norway; a  group of female British army soldiers, all organisation and clipped speech with few vowels. The reporter looked cold, but out of all the questions he could drill down to, all he wanted to know was how they’d go for a crap out there in the snow. I’d never considered it.

“We build a little wall, then a hole,” one of them said, “then we scoop up the poo in a bag and carry it with us.”

What? Had I heard that right? Three months of scooping up your shit into bags and then carrying it along like Santa until you finally get rescued. What happens then to the shit? Jesus Christ…. These things play on my mind. Eight women pulling sedges full of their own shit is not an image to stay with you if you want to enjoy your day.

I imagine that the realities of walking for months in a blizzard are worse than the magical story sold to the participant on expedition sign-up day. Polar Bears and nuclear submarines are in the north, leopard seals and UFOs in the south. And always the freezing cold. Nobody needs that kind of challenge. Not me, anyhow. There is no fun in sleeping outside where the wind howls and where a thin layer of nylon won’t stop nature if she really wants your blood. The frozen wastes are littered with the bodies of goofy explorers who tried desperately to prove they weren’t failures in life, generally. I have the edge over them in that respect: I realise I’m a failure and I can accept that fact. It’s knowledge like that which has kept me alive so far and out of the jaws of an eight hundred pound Polar Bear.

The day is breaking now. Dawn is here. I’ll be walking today, too. No shitting into a bag for me. My walking is prescribed by my Psychologist. It’s a time honoured way of creating the right chemicals in your brain and of not dying from apathy. I’m sure there’s plenty of research about it somewhere. What’ll happen today is anyone’s guess. I’ll start out with good intentions and, if I’m not careful, I’ll end up trying to have a fight with anyone and everyone, or hurting myself. The least that could happen is carrying my own shit behind me – which, of course, metaphorically speaking I do.

The savage owls have stopped screaming in my garden, the sun is up. Might even be a nice day. Walk carefully out there, my friends.

Passionate debate

She was wearing stockings. I could see the tops of them as she crossed her legs up high, drunk. The short dress was skewed from a bad rearrangement following a trip to the toilet. Across her shoulders a small fur stole hung off one side and exposed a black bra strap. Her hair was messy curly and looked like it’d had recently seen the ruffles of an overzealous lover.

He sat the other side of the small pub table and spoke loudly, gesturing his hands like he’d watched too many politicians and was trying really hard to expand his power base purely by hand signals. He was winning. The small party around him listened to his slurred words. She ran a stiletto up and down his leg as her husband watched out of the corner of his eyes from another table.

“We are in control of the country now. Let’s just get the immigrants sorted out and we’ve done it all,” he boomed. She swooned a little under the weight of the booze and the prospect of a fuck with a sense of purpose, from someone who was going places. Her hand moved under the table towards his groin.

Next to them at this post-meeting Conservative pub crawl, four older members watched the foulness in front of them and nodded approval. The immigrants needed stopping. They would lower the tone of the whole fabric of British society if they were given half a chance. Where would family values be when people were having sex in the streets and homes were being invaded by heroin-addicted squatters? Thankfully, they thought, all that was a long way away right now. What we had here was the cream of the crop, spilling gin and tonics and cheap lager on the scrubbed tables of a backwater pub high on a hill – non-white patron count = nil. This was the future.

Her husband finally had enough of watching his wife fondling the local Conservative Party council candidate. He stood up, told her she was a whore, stumbled out of the pub and rapped on the window outside. “You fucking bitch,” he yelled at her, then zigzagged off into the night.

Much was decided locally that evening, including my solemn oath to never enter politics.