Sunday, 18 December 2011

And so this is Christmas and I am undone...

I'm going to take a wee break from here for a while. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I'm well out of this year.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

This last month I've had a crisis in confidence about my writing, mainly because I read some of it and it seemed a bit shit. The one person I trusted to be massively right about everything, whose judgement I trusted, is gone. How does a mind like Kelly's just stop? Where do those thoughts go? What happens to the machinery of that one, unique, impossible brain? Some of her is in me, some of her in everyone she met, she was walking osmosis. But not enough. Never enough.

I'm sitting on my own in a comedy club. I'm two hours early because I was told it started at 8, when in fact that when the doors open. The first act, and I'm here for the last act, doesn't come on till 9. In front of me is an old Belfast Empire poster for a play called "The Black Moth". There is no significance in this. But I choose to see some significance regardless. The last thing in life you would want to be associated with are moths. But there you go - I don't suppose either of us get a choice anymore.

The wind was brutal on my way into town. I saw one of those pinky-party-cowboy-hats lying in the dirt by some railings, its string chin-strap snapped. Sometimes life is so tawdry and obvious it looks like a bad movie. The dog shit parked in the rain outside the job centre the next morning was much more like it.

The Empire is showing "Holiday Inn" and playing Jeff Buckley over the top of it as an appropriate patina of gloom. I feel the Bing Crosby looks, a miserable bastard in a sanatorium. In fact we're of a type: bell-shaped, short-legged Micks with big ol' noggins. He's better dressed than me though, an oily Kramer in a colourful panelled cardy, gull-winged collars and pleated slacks. I'm in my uniform: black shirt, jeans, Doc Martens. There are Nazi-boot boys with a more outré sense of style than me.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Some nice words from my friend, Kathryn.

Our friend, Kelly – the wife of my friend John – was an extraordinary person. Firstly, let me tell you now – somewhat shallow of me, I know – that she was a true Irish beauty, a knockout: long dark hair, a wide smile... But she also possessed an interior beauty. Witty, clever, eccentric, steel in her strength. She was genuine loveliness and true grit. And there in her eyes, something deeper again: the record of a pilgrim soul. We met her when she fell in love with John. They enjoyed marvellous interplay. John’s incredible sense of humour was matched in an ideal partner. They adored one another. But Kelly discovered, not long into their marriage, that she had cancer. She approached her illness with great dignity and courage. I remember her – kindly, but very firmly – swatting my emotion when we shared coffee and pastries one day. She had no time for such saccharin. A true fighter, she kept her paws up. But cancer is no respecter of love or value, and, tragically, in July of this year, Kelly lost her battle. The order of things seemed disturbed. It was incredible that someone young and utterly gorgeous and productive and so important to so many could be lost, and lost so ruthlessly. But it happened. I knew Kelly for too short a time. But she made a big impact. Such is the power of the rare person. You rocked, Kelly.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Stranger in a Strang land.

In Strangford. It's very beautiful, the sort of beauty that only the wealthy can enjoy. Or people like me enjoying a cheap holiday in other people's happiness. I'm here for the filming of "The Beautiful Silence", a fifteen minute short that I've been calling "a ghost story without the ghost" in the hope that it would catch on. So far it hasn't. The location is director Adam's dad's house and it is the second nicest house I've ever been in. The nicest, and that isn't really the correct word, belonged to a homosexual South African millionaire vintner. During my brief say there Vogue turned up to use his garden as a photographic location and Earl Spencer popped over for lunch. That's Princess Diana's brother. Who was, rather annoyingly, quite nice.

But Adam pere's pile is pretty impressive. For one thing it appears to be be four houses in one, like the Beatles' groovy pad in "A Hard Days Night". There is an ornamental garden on three levels, with a coy carp pond and a fountain. There are books on Chinese erotic art, statues of Saint Sebastian and the single largest collection of antique binoculars I have ever seen. (Though I promise to swing by the "Museum of Binoculars" next time I'm in Tring.)

It is the home of a well to do middle-aged Bohemian and as such my dream home. I will never live anywhere like it, of course. The appropriate accumulation of wealth should have started already and it hasn't. But hey, I'm a pretty hand-to-mouth kind of guy. It's the shortest journey after all.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

All apologies

A phone-call from a girl called Clare this morning. She assayed a sort of triumphalist bark "Everything has been sorted, Mr Higgins," and respond to non response by crumbling into meek contrition. My brooding, masterful silence is really foggy-headedness - I've only been up for ten minutes to put the bins out and haven't had a cup of tea yet. Still, it seemed to work better than my usual hand-ringing on-the-edge-of-emotional-collapse thing, as she offers me a whole range of payment options, whichever suits me.

I elect to go in. The cheque will be waiting at 11.30.

The flat-screen telly, subtitled and with the sound down, is showing one of those travelling-in-a-police-van-with-the-police-as-they-arrest-drunks-and-the-mentally-ill programmes. They used to show these things as three in the morning post-pub time waster on ITV twenty years ago. They are now a fit for the BBC1 antiques in the attic slot. I've never really watched one these things before but here, in the Job Centre, or whatever it's called, The Labour Exchange, the programme takes on an oppressive and, yes Orwellian, property. Poor people, it says, Dole scum, do not attempt to commit any crimes. You will be tracked down, you will be humiliated on national television. In the future only the innocent will have their faces pixilated. Their bodies, in an oddly puritan gesture, remain guilty as sin.

The chap behind the desk is a nervous type and apologise for the wait twice before I've sat down. I glower at him. I am terse, my voice a low rumble. I question everything he says, pointing out things on the form. I tell him the money's a week late. He apologises again. I tell him its a shambles and not good enough. He apologises again. I say, is this it now? Are there any more forms to fill in any more nasty surprises. He apologises again - even though that's not really the response I'm after. That's it, no more problems, plain sailing from now on. I laugh a hollow miserable laugh, like Byron looking in the window of Jones the Bootmaker. He apologises.

He hands me the cheque and I leave. Somehow I think I got played. I think they put their best man on it. Nobody died today.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Skip this one

I'm not sure there's any point in continuing to write about this. It's just every post. Not getting any money from the Job and Benefits office is now my full time career.

Sigh. So, when we last left them, on Friday, a sad faced woman was promising me a phone-call to confirm when/how/what was going to happen for my new "part time worker" payment status. You'll recall that they were supposed to pay me on Friday but instead sent me a new form to fill in which needed to be completed before they would give me any money. So I filled it in and hand delivered it, making sure that it had been completed correctly. I became very emotional, simultaneously furious and embarrassed, and on the verge of tears. The woman assured me that though she couldn't do anything on Friday she would make sure that sure that I was phoned as soon as a decision had been made. What decision, I asked? Is there a possibility that they were considering NOT giving me any money. No, no, it's just a formality. Well then the form has been filled in, as per your instruction, can I have some money now? No, I'm afraid you'll have to wait till Monday at the very earliest. Well...anyway...I go for an angry walk etc.

It's Monday morning. The phone rings at 9 on the dot. I scamper towards it. It's a recorded message talking slowly in a dead voice about a bank loan. It is not the JBO. The phone doesn't ring again. At half three I buckle and I ring them myself. I get through to a woman who asks me my name and national insurance number. She asks me what the problem is. She doesn't know anything about my case. It is the best kept secret in modern government. No wikileaks scandal here. I say I'm expecting a phone-call. She says what about. I grit my teeth and explain again. She puts me on hold. For five minutes. When she comes back she says I WAS meant to be called but the person who was due to do the calling didn't come in. Why could nobody else have called me? She ignores this and tells me that a decision has been made - I am now classed as a self-employed part-time worker. I tell her I know that already, where's my money? She seems slightly crest fallen as if her meticulous magic-trick had fallen flat. There is no money yet. The person doing the money isn't there. Well, I say, is there anyone there who can get me some money. There isn't. Can I speak to the supervisor. She isn't there. Can I have her e-mail address? I'm not sure I'm permitted to give out her e-mail address, Mr. Higgins. Isnt is a standard, governmental e mail address, I'm not after her private one. You can have mine, she says, and I'll forward it onto her. Well if I know her name and have the body of her e-mail address, surely I can just transpose her name onto your address and I'll have her direct e mail address. Er, please don't do that. You can ring her tomorrow. Surely, you mean she'll ring me, I say. If you like. What's your number? What? We have your land-line but we don't have your mobile. Do you have a mobile?

I hit the roof. I have given my mobile number about five times. The last time I did so being on the prior Friday. I start ranting like a mad man again and I'm periodically interrupted with her assertion that she "understands my frustration". I tell her she does not. She doesn't know the first thing about my life. She doesn't know anything about me other than my surname and national insurance number. And through it all, and at one point I stop even listening to what she is saying, pulling the phone away from my ear, I start to feel ridiculous. I start to think this isn't her fault. She's covering for someone else. She's doing the best she can with limited information and limited intelligence. I start to feel sorry for her.

And this is clearly wrong. I shouldn't feel sorry for her. It doesn't matter that it's not her fault. What matter's is that it is no ones fault. No one has done anything. Except, as usual, me. There has been no accountability, no one has apologised. Everyone has said this is somebody else's mistake but nobody has ever attempted to fix that mistake. So, tomorrow, a week after I've signed on, or whatever you call applying for money as a part-time worker, I shall ring them again. And no doubt become very very angry again. When I declared my self a part time worker I didn't think the work I would be doing would be begging for alms. But I'm doing a lot more of that than writing at the moment.

I may need to invoice them.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Friday, 2 December 2011

Back in the DHSS

There is a sign up in the Jobs and Benefits Office asking the patrons: "Please do not let children play unsupervised at the revolving door." Supervised play at the revolving door is fine, though.

Another sign says: "Benefit payment by cheque is ending! Payment into an account is our normal method of payment." Now, that's interesting. When I first applied for this business they asked me how I would like the money paid and I said into my account, providing them with my bank details. They sent me a cheque anyway. Of course that was in the good old days when they actually sent me cheques. Now they send me forms about boat owner-ship.

I'm eighth in the queue, waiting to hand in the form that they forgot to get me to fill originally and which is now stopping me getting any further monies.

I wait a half an hour. I am seen. They fuck me over. I shout again.

Sitting in a pub called The Lonely Poet. it has an un-poetic clientèle, mainly old blokes in anoraks, but there Italian film posters on the walls and Dave Bowie on the jukebox, so it suits me. if you're going to advertise yourself as a pub for lonely poets you have to expect one to turn up every once in a while.

I walked directly from the job and benefits centre, still railing at them as I pound the streets in the drizzle. I'm looking for a dentist called cherry valley in a place called Gilnahirk. I have never been before but I have printed off and filled in their form and found out where they are on the map. The walk is between two and three miles and I'm angry enough to enjoy it. I fully expect to get lost as I always get lost. In fact I don't. I follow my route exactly and it is where I thought it would be . The fact that it is closed is neither here nor there. So it has an unadvertised half-day on Friday which is not mentioned on the web-site, so I will have to repeat this trip again on Monday. So what? I don't expect anything to actually go right or offer me the slightest convenience. I've been doing this shit for forty years. I know what to expect. What matters is that I've found it, and then I found the The Lonely Poet. I set out to do something and I did it. That is not nothing. In my life, that is something.

The best short story that I have ever written is now on Jottify, the new writing site that is rubbish. The story is called "Desire Path". I wrote it for the Guardian short-story competition where it came nowhere. But still I worked hard on it and was very proud of it. It is by some margin the least popular thing I have ever posted on there. I think I might take it down again. Pettily.

The Lonely Poet is an odd pub. It's a glass box with Flintstone-style period brick-work and Italian sex comedy posters on the walls. the beer choices are the normal local drops: Harp, Carlsbad, Smithwicks, but they also sell Hendricks' gin which is always the mark of a classy bar. In my mind. The place is starting to fill up with an after-work Christmassy crowd. I don't think I'll stick around for a second pint.
Sigh. Well I admit it. They were right. Declaring myself "self-employed" to the JSA was the stupidest thing I have ever done. They BEGGED me not to, but I knew best. What difference would it make? It's not like I've been paid or anything. What could they do me for? So, I filled in the forms. And they never paid me. I rang them, they found my cheque and asked me to come and pick it up. A week late. The next time I signed-on they asked me to come in a day early, so they could strike, so I did and filled in a load more forms. This morning, when the cheque was supposed to have been sent, they sent me another form asking me to fill in my name, address, national insurance number, which they clearly need despite it being on every form I've ever filled in (about twenty of them by now) and addressing every question to me "and my partner" as an extra dig in the balls. They needed to know whether I was a fisherman with my own boat and exactly what kind of farmer I would describe myself as.

I rang them to find out whether I needed to fill it in given that a) any relevant information required had already been given on my various other forms and b)I don't own my own boat.

I was told that not only did I have to fill in the form but that I wouldn't be getting any money until it had been returned and processed. Despite them having already paid me one weeks worth of cash with less information on my sea-worthiness. How long will that take? I ask. They didn't know, maybe by the middle of next week if I hand the form in personally. So I ask why wasn't I asked to fill in the form while I was already there, filling in the other forms? It was a mistake. A mistake made by another department.

So I shouted, gentle reader, I shouted and I was rude. And I hung up. And then I filled in the form. Again.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Many diminishing returns.

I'm getting nothing done. Time, which is a very precious thing, is wasting and I'm getting nothing done. Hamlet had nothing on me, but then he has the energy of a much younger man. Unless he's being played by David Tennant or John Sim, in which case he has the energy of an older but thinner man. Who has been in Dr Who.

Is John Sim a REAL John. Or merely an immersive, virtual-reality construct of a John, forever followed around by a glowing green diamond, like Gloomy Gus and his rain cloud in "Cheeky" comic.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A mad man in a box

I think it's finally dawned on me. She isn't coming back. I lay in bed last night, in our bedroom, surrounded by all of her things, staring through the darkness until the room seemed light and every detail was visible. It was raining outside and the wind rattled the windows, all the trappings of pathetic fallacy. I was simultaneously hot and cold, my stomach knotted. I was finally, crucially sober. I closed my eyes. I opened my eyes. The same inky shapes blotted back into view. The coat on the back of the door never became a hovering phantom, the clothes bursting out of her wardrobe came no closer, arrested like a frozen tide.

I miss her so much. If there were ever candidates for a "Ghost" style romance, thumb-deep in potter's clay, it would be Kelly and I. We were so in love. We had so little time. She died so quickly.

But there are no ghosts. And, if there were, this East Belfast house, where she spent two of the worst months of her life, would be the last place she'd turn up. She'd hang about the Ormeau Road or Gulladuff. Or Camberwell, where we were happiest, eating a curry and drinking champagne on New Years Eve. Watching the fireworks over the Thames from our living room window, holding each other.

I don't know why I don't dream about her though. I dream tedious, vivid rubbish every night, but I can never dream about her. I just want to see her again.

I'm left behind. Like her turtle picture. Like the boxes of hats and scarves. As empty as her shoes.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

oh and my editor has just asked me to re-write a piece I've written. I was proud of it. That's usually a bad sign. It's the shit I just knock off that people like.

My brother has had good news. It looks as if he's going to be published. He's meeting a man in the Groucho on Thursday. I'm pleased for him.

(and bitter and jealous. but pleased.)

Anything to declare?

Honesty is own reward. It's an unusual expression isn't it? There's not really anything positive about it. At best the "reward" part would seem to come from a sense of self-satisfaction about not being a criminal, as if the only thing stopping people from ram-raiding and cat rape is a thin skin of smugness that could break at any moment, like water tension, sending you down into the depths of vice and venality.

And it's not true, either, there is no reward for honesty. Honesty is about giving stuff away; handing back the wallet, returning the heiresses' finger.

I decided to declare the writing I'm doing. Now that I'm actually being paid to write, it seemed dishonest to not declare it to the JSA. People begged me not to do it, pleaded with me. One of them, surprisingly, was the chap in the Jobs and Benefits office, who looked me as if I were mad when I first brought it up and, as the realisation dawned that I was serious, took on the grey pallor of a man who has suddenly got a lot of paper-work to do. It's a look I recognise.

So, we waded through the admin, it took over half an hour, and at the other end I was no longer a job-seeker but a self-employed. Now, I was nervous. I've had the promise of money for my writing but no actual money yet. And when I get it it wont be very much. So I need my dole if I want to eat and occasionally I do. But the JSA guy, who was now my best friend, assured me that it shouldn't make any difference, whatsoever. So I left with a modicum of self respect. It was official: I was a writer, a pro. Even the government would back me up on that!

And on Friday no cheque came. And on Saturday no cheque came. On Sunday, well obviously, no cheque came, but on Monday still no cheque came. My declaration of financial independence, or at least semi-detachment, had been a balls. I phoned them. The woman dealing with my case (I was a case!)was at lunch. She would ring me back. She did. She had been off. Somebody had put a load of stuff in her in tray while she had been off, on top of my new info. It was still there but as I had rang her she would deal with it now. Of course, if I hadn't rang her it would still be languishing in her over-stuffed in-tray and I would be pressing my nose up against the butcher's window like the stray dog I am. The cheque would be ready at 2 if I wanted to pick it up.

So, my pointless honesty had cost me a phone call but saved the government the price of a stamp.

Oh, and the cheque wasn't "ready". I still had to take a deli-style ticket and sit there for half an hour watching a plasma screen with my back to the staff (presumably so they don't feel they're in a bar-less zoo). I was the only one there who didn't smell of drink. Which is odd for me, but it was early.

When my name was called, because of the ingenious seating plan, I had no idea who called it. So I toured up and down the cubicles asking who had called me until one woman, who never made eye contact with me, constantly staring over my shoulder and occasionally rising out of her seat, as though I were about to be attacked from behind, handed my bi-weekly stipend having given my passport a cursory glance (though she didn't bother to tally it with my face).

So much for my new-found self-reliance and self-esteem. I then went for a long walk and trod in a dog-shit for the first time in my life, as normally my poo-dar is very good, but that, at least, was comical. Not to me obviously. But to the gaggle of schoolgirls who saw me do it it was a hoot.

Little man, what now?

Friday, 18 November 2011

Old people and the young people they hate

The service industry is rudimentary in Belfast, the sort of customer care package you might you might expect in a Trappist gift-shop; silent, other-worldly and focussed on less trivial matters than serving food. The staff at Chicken Cottage are more interested in my spiritual diet than serving me salty, leg-shaped batter. And, frankly, so am I.

I'm in the Connswater Shopping Centre and I'm hungry. I'm test driving some new contact lenses from Specsavers and I'm looking good in an "I've had a wash" sort of way. Though I AM sweating. Connswater always makes me sweat so I spend the first five minutes of every opticians appointment here defogging my glasses and trying look as if I haven't just escaped from a chain-gang. They must think I'm as phobic about eye-tests as other folk are about dentists and Norns about lettuce.

Maybe it's the people you meet here. A trip to the Connswater is like flicking through the pages of a medieval bestiary, or checking the guttering on Notre Dame. Face after face looms out from under the strip-lights, a panopoly of scrunge-tastic Reidian sports: gummy, drooping, off-kilter, top-loaded, some with bits off, some with bits added. It's like a channel five documentary entitled "When Faces Go Wrong".

Heaven help me, I flee to Burger King, a counter-intuitive move at best, but I WAS hungry. And there was nobody else about to see my secret shame. That's not quite true, the staff were there. But again, that's not quite true either. They were there but they really weren't. Schroedinger's staff. I saw a couple of backs. A big fat lad emerged from the fryers, gave me a startled look like a rumbled cat, and snuck back in again. I craned my head around the side of the fryer but I could not engage. So I left it.

I moved over to "The Streat". The pun's not really working there because it's not on a street but in a shopping centre and the puns not really working there because there's nothing particularly appetising about streets. Tarmac? Dog shit? Litter? I can get that at home.

I ordered a "French Connection" paninni ( brie, bacon, far too much onion marmalade and something that may once have been spring onion but was now clearly savoury pot-pourri) and a large latte. I waited while the girl diligently set about constructing it from its constituent parts as carefully as if she were making a bomb in the back of a moving vehicle.

The odd thing about The Streat is that it had a staff of four: the girl doing the stuff, another girl tinkering with the coffee machine, a man who bobbed in and out without touching the sides and a chap who stuck his head around the corner like a meerkat in a baseball cap. None of them seemed to be doing anything at all, until the "French Connection" was plated (trayed). Then the other girl snapped into action. "Anything else?" she said.

"Well there was supposed to be a large latte as well," I said.

She shot the drone a look and the other girl dutifully put down her knife and came over to start on my latte. The entire transaction took just under ten minutes. That's a whopping E.T.A. for a sandwich. But I expect I'd still be waiting for the Whopper.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

It's always the stupid little things. Today, as I was transcribing an interview into a word document, I wrote the word "team" and the word document helpfully suggest that I might want to insert the words "Team Spigot" into the text. "Team Spigot" were Kelly and I, named for an Ivor Cutler book. We were as much Team Spigot as we were "Muggins".

There's no more Team Spigot. I'll never get to use the "Smells like Team Spigot" joke again.

I hadn't thought about that in months.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Finally got around to filling in the Housing Benefits Form I've been putting off for two months. I doubt very much that I'll get it. I'm not the sort of person who gets things. There is a pull-away section that I need to send to my land-lord. A nice bit of indignity there. And, of course, if I don't get any benefit I'm basically saying "toss me out into the snow, please, I can no longer afford to live in your house. Which is, in fact, pretty close to being true. They are also asking me if I am running a business from the property which has forced me to face up to the fact that though I write constantly, and hobble around arts centres and the like attempting to make people like me, no body seems particularly keen on paying me at the moment. I'm assured that this will change but less assured of when.

Is it "a business"? Am I fooling myself? I've spent two days researching a Belfast film company for an interview that will probably take another day to condense, to write up and polish. Three days work with little hope of payment or even, christ, a thank you. And people think I'm doing well. He's everywhere, he's always talking, always writing away.

I have nothing else to do.

Friday, 11 November 2011

We help light your way

It's 4 months to the day since Kelly died. I'm on the phone to Airtricity who want to take her to court for an unpaid bill of £86. You really do have to sweat the details.

I'm on hold while they cancel her account and invent mine. An aspirational Norn voice claims "we power sport, we power hospitals, we power transport, we help light your way."

Predictably they have nothing in place to deal with the death of a customer. Does nobody die any more? It is baffling how nobody can deal with the death of their customers. Do old people, at risk in the community, no longer use any services?

Miss you so much, darlin. You used to say that we were both shit at doing our admin. I'm proudly carrying on that tradition.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

They're the pirates but I'm all at sea!

Bristol Airport is fraught with tiny miseries. It's busier than Belfast. It's filled with ugly middle-aged couples drinking Guinness at 9 in the morning. The only young people here are the uniformly Polish staff who seem to be in a constant state of retraining at their stations meaning everything takes twice as long. My bus journey from the city centre took less time than it did to queue for my boarding pass. There were two other people in the queue.

The customs were pointlessly intrusive. One poor old duffer, frisked in his socks behind me, was asked his age! When did a head of white hair become a terror risk? Did they suspect he was illegally transporting the hair? Or that his frail dotage might be catching and could be used, in the right hands, to overcome the pilot? The date of his birth is freely available on his passport, which he must have shown at least twice to reach this point and, besides, what the fuck business is it of any ones in customs?

I'm sat drinking a pint of Amstell (yeah yeah yeah) in Bar Zero 9 listening to a jazz-hip hop version of "Imagine" hating random strangers for their Bristol accents:

"Would anyone loike a coffee?" "Oi wuz just thinking tha-a-at!"

Really. What is the point? It's not as if the Bristol accent is markedly different from my own. Oh but it fucking is! I don't sound like a cartoon pirate chewing a piece of straw!

Above my head the tannoy bombards me with increasingly desperate messages about missing passengers. From the sound of it they are missing presumed dead. I move away from the tannoy.

No sooner do I move than the announcements stop and a loose child appears from nowhere, running up and down screaming. He is eventually removed by a man who must be his step-father as he has certainly never had sex. The child is replaced in my immediate vicinity by a woman shouting breathlessly into her phone in her black beard voice. She finishes every sentence with the words "me hearties". No she doesn't.

The bar staff here at Bar Zero 9 all have the words "Gurt Lush" written on their backs. Given they're uniformly (hah) Polish it must be fucking mystifying.

I think I'm in a bad mood. Kindly ignore the preceding crabbiness.

sweat sweat sweat

They nicked my deodorant from me! I walked to the airport to travel to Bristol to see pals Mike and Row and Doug, Gwen and Eirlys who were travelling up from Basingstoke. It was a nice day, crisp and not raining and the airport is only a mile and a half away. So I took a stroll. I was ridiculously early. Having been burned on a missed flight some years ago I am now super cautious. But I kept up a speedy pace and worse a fancy woollen jacket and by the time I got to George Best Airport I was sweating buttocks. Stinky arses were tumbling out of my pores.

There is no way of transporting deodorants between countries. They are the most quarantined matter in the world. It makes you wonder how they appear in the shops because they wont have been made in Britain. Nothing is made in Britain. I assume then that they are being smuggled between territories in diplomatic bags. "Ah, ambassador, with this "Sure Man Invisible Ice" you are really spoiling us!"

What are they doing with this mountain of armpit sweetener? Where does it go? I don't intend to find out.

I suppose a Lynx bullet would work. But that's never going to happen. Taking the Lynx bullet is the desperate act of a desperate man and social suicide. "He was a loner, kept himself to himself - because he stank of Lynx Java. He had nowhere left to go - he turned the deodorant on himself!"

I'm in an airport cafe eating a cream cheese and bacon bagel because, hey I'm on holiday*, I can let the diet slide. I'm opposite a glamour girl. A dolly bird. She is about ten feet tall and wearing a leopard-skin print mini-skirt. Her legs are longer than I am. Her breasts look as if they should be borne by slaves. Her hair is black, sleek and volumised. Her nose is long and her eyes are large and slightly protuberant. She looks like a minor Kardashian. She is more glamorous at eight o clock in the morning than I have ever looked in my life, her hair perfect, make-up just so.

I was looking pretty good before my sweaty stroll but I arrive at the airport ruddy of cheek, floppy of quiff and damp of collar, unable to see through the visor of condensation on my glasses. She looks like she's just stepped out of a salon. I look like I've just stepped out of a saloon, wearing the contents of the spittoon.

I'm always impressed by women who look like they're going clubbing at 8 o clock in the morning and sustain that look all day. And when they do go out clubbing they look even better! (usually by wearing less clothing)

She walks past me. She's like a pair of step-ladders in denier tights. The slip-stream, the wash, of her perfume lingers for a full ten minutes. I sort of want to ask her about her life. I don't. I think I would be appalled by her answers.

Also, as we came into the airport, me walking some ten paces behind her, somebody wolf-whistled. She turned to see a red faced, white haired man in an elbow patched jacket, sweating profusely behind her.There was no love-light shining in her eyes.

*from what John? From what?

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

A Minor Tour

I'm on a farm in the middle of the Irish countryside, possibly in Clonfeacle,* which may be the most unpleasant name for a town I have ever heard. I am wearing waterproofs supplied by Chris and wellies supplied by a farmer's wife. They are slightly too large and the ground is soft from recent flooding, so every step is a tug of war between myself and the earth. At the moment I am winning but I don't fancy my chances against the elements. As soon as I put pen to paper the page is spotted with rain. It looks like a love-letter, never sent.

Chris has taken a photo of me in my all-terrain clobber, of course, as it is hilarious. And I suppose it is hilarious. I can't remember the last time I had a pair of wellies on but I suspect it may have been on a school trip to...actually, I don't know if I even had wellies as a child. I can vividly remember having some "bumper-boots" (Edward threw one into the English Channel. I had to walk home with one shoe from the sea-side)sandals, (I knew they were wrong even then) some crepe-soled pointy black things with a tricolor on them (I'd probably still wear them)some pointy grey suede slip-ons (which I probably wouldn't) and some naff white trainers (a proto-pub shoe). I even remember a money-box in the shape of a blue and white football boot, coincidentally the colours of Brighton and Hove Albion, my alleged team. But I don't ever remember owning any wellies. I know they were about because I've seen photographic evidence of my brother, Barry, wearing them. He is also wearing a plastic policeman's helmet in the same picture and maybe there was a comparative rareness between the two.

I'm here to hang about like a spare prick while Chris films a wind-turbine, some cows and a farmer. I went out last night and got drunk at the Century T.V. end of month booze-a-thon. As a consequence I have mad hair, pissy eyes and a frazzled demenour. I have also eaten a sausage and egg farl in a speeding car. I feel like I'm in the Sweeney. It's a grey day, there is little of interest going on in the sky as we try to film it. By the time we make it into the cow-shed however the rain is deafening on the plastic roof. The cows are unperturbed, ruminating. I find cows unnerving. They're too big and patient and docile, with steam constantly billowing from their nostrils. They must be furnaces inside. They stare at you, they follow you, but if you stare back they look away, lowering their heads. What do they think we are? The myth of the Minotaur starts to look very attractive. A man with the head of a bull would be a very handsome man indeed.

I'm now watching a farmer walking up and down in front of his cows like a general in front of his troops. Indeed he has pinned medals on some of them, right behind the ears.

On to the milking sheds! Again the cows are freaking me out. We are filming from a high gangway and the cows are lead into the milking shed by a tattooed giant with a broken nose and an apron. One cow spots us and stares us down. We both know that shower attachments are being clamped to her nipples, but she never breaks eye contact. In the back-ground Bobby Pickett's "The Monster Mash" is playing over the crackling tannoy system. It is genuinely odd. Sur-ruralism.

There's a toilet here with a picture of a toilet on the door. The word toilet is written on it too. I've never seen that before.

There is a fridge containing a box of "Combiclav: lactating cow, intra mammary suspension". If that wasn't disturbing enough it is stamped "includes four free leg bands".

*we are actually in a place called Bumburb, I think. I shit you not.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Today is our third wedding anniversary. The leather anniversary, in fact. I should be commemorating our love with a book-mark or a pair of bondage trousers. I can only commemorate now. Three years is such a short period of time and yet it feels like an eternity. It starts with the happiest day of my life and ends with, well this: me, alone in the house we shared for just three months in Belfast. Alone and under siege from the remorseless weather, drumming, drumming, drumming, like a peevish Zulu nation. I miss you so much, Kelly. Today no more than any other day, the calendar is filled with pointed little dates now. I think of you every minute of every day that I'm not blind drunk or asleep. I don't need any leather goods to remind me.

Life is so very unkind. You asked for so little from the world and you received less. The fact that you never had any children seems to break some kind of cosmic law, there's a universe of wrongness there. You would have been a fantastic mum, as you were an incredible wife. All I ever had to give you was love, the cheapest coin there is. But you took it and you paid it back to me with no little interest! You made me the happiest I have ever been in my life and I love you forever, my sweet sweet girl.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Don't rain on my pomade

If Eskimos have forty words for snow, and they don’t, the people of Belfast have only one word for rain: weather. I’ve lived here for six months now and during that time I estimate that there has been less than a week of dry days. Rain doesn’t pour down torrentially every day, there’s no sense of it being “monsoon season”. But the rain does like to keep its hand in; usually a short burst, usually in the afternoon, usually on me after I have dragged myself from my pit, had a pot of tea, and finally have enough energy to leave the house. I venture out under beaming skies and return as though I’ve been through a car-wash, my hair flush to my scalp, my glasses a domino mask of condensation.

I’m not a meteorological expert. I don’t even know what the relationship between giant, dinosaur-clobbering rocks adrift in space and how the heavy the local precipitation is. But I bet it centres on Belfast. I don’t really know how clouds work either. They seem to react to stimuli like a nine year old Spanish boy at his birthday party; anything will open the flood-gates.

(I don’t know what it is about Spanish or Italian boys but they do seem to be extraordinarily lachrymose. Maybe nine is about the age that a Spanish mother stops breast-feeding and they realise that they’re never going to have it so good again. Perhaps that’s the age that their adult teeth grow in. Surely only a savaged nipple can compromise an Italian mother’s love for her bambino. Again I claim no special knowledge of relative dental growth in Southern Europe. I’m talking about clouds here!)

I should point out that the six months I’ve spent in Belfast included the summer months. I don’t know what the winter has in store for me, beyond discontent. But I imagine there will be some rain. Actually I imagine there will be nothing but rain. Some of Belfast is reclaimed marsh-land. A river, the Farset, flows under the City Centre and is perhaps responsible for the city’s unique bouquet, somewhere between a peaty whiskey and a four-egg fart. The rest of Belfast is permanently under water. If you were looking for a likely candidate for Atlantis I would quit Crete and the Greek islands and start dusting for a series of small walls in the North of Ireland. Except I’m not sure a brush would cut it here – bring a bucket and spade.

Say, at some time immemorial, a catastrophe occurred on the magical island of Atlantis. A tidal wave ripping through it and carrying a lump of blasted hyperborean rock across the waters till it nudged the coast of Glengormley, the impact pushing up the black, forbidding mountains that collar the city.

This would explain an awful lot. It would explain the Formorian characteristics of the local populace; skin as white as fish bellies, the piscine protrusion of those smoky eyes – like haddock on a duvet of ice in a shop window. The sort of mouths that fall open, naked without something hanging out of them: a fag or hook. Even the hair gel is wet-look, as if a constant reminder of drizzle was needed even indoors. They’ve dropped the gills and some of the webbing but that’s as far as it goes for Belfast’s aquatic apes.

I’m not from here. My hair sticks up in the air as a matter of course, like an afro designed by efficiency experts. It’s doubtful that it even qualifies as hair. It’s more like a pelt, the sort of thick grubby stuff hanging off a were-wolves’ arsehole. I need to tamp it down with aggressive hair-wax just to pass myself of as human. Belfast washes the humanity from my head. It bleeds into the gutters, flowing into the Farset.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Scotch and sober

Met up with the writer and Penal Reformer Andrew Neilson* last night, as he was in town to deliver a lecture to seven or eight malcontents in cheap suits. Andrew has melting brown eyes and the sort of honeyed Scots brogue that would make you want to take out a bank account with him. If he can't sell prisoner's rights they might as well be in an oubliette.

We repaired to the Duke of York, as the John Hewitt was drowning in character fiddle playing, and he sat with his back to the wall, his worried eyes dancing. It was a pleasant night and he's a nice man but I had exactly the wrong amount of booze. Returning home I spent the rest of the evening talking wildly, even angrily, to Kelly. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't do anything but blather away into the darkness. I'm very glad I had no booze in the house and I think that's a pretty good general policy.

Woke up early. Signed on. Bought broccoli. No dreams.

*his formal title.

Monday, 17 October 2011

It's cold and raining hard and I still have no heat. It is quiet though, the house sounds alive, rumbling digestively over the sound of the computer's fan, the occasional crackle of the pine-cones in the unlit fire-place, the endless driving rain.

I'm waiting...

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Marie from Ulster Bank calls me. I have filled in a further form and returned it to then signing where the paper is marked x and including what they asked for, a bank statement as a proof of address. Why I have to prove my address when they've seen my passport, marriage certificate and my wife's death certificate. She died intestate: why does it matter where I live? The thing I sent them, despite having my name, the date, the banks name and my bank details on it is not good enough. They need to see the full statement. I ask why? What does that have anything to do with any thing? They claim to want a proof of address, I send them a proof of address. The proof of address is not good enough. They want more again. She mumbles something about the government. I say that's not really an explanation. She offer to send me stuff out to me stamped and addressed as if the shelling out for stamps is the big issue here. I remind her that this simple scenario, something that their bank should be able to do every day because their customers must die every day, probably of frustration, has taken three weeks, during which time I have had to go into the bank twice and go through the same shit twice because they lost the file and endure upwards of ten phone-calls. Its beyond belief.

I cannot see this ever ending. I cannot see any closure ever. This Tuesday marked three months since Kelly's death and still this thing continues.
You know all that stuff that I should be doing? Well I don't want to do that. I want to do exactly whatever is the opposite of what I should be doing.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft

And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Went to see "the Painkiller" at the Lyric, which is a gorgeous theatre, with enormous impasto portraits of Paul Brady and Duke Special all over the foyer. Me neither. So a glowing review for the theatre; the play - not so much. The play was based on Francis Veber's 1971 farce "Le contrat" which became a film in 1973 as "L'emmerdeur", with Jacques Brel as a cuckolded shirt-salesman. It then became "Buddy Buddy" in America, one of Billy Wilder's worst films, and then again, back in France in 2008 as "A Pain in the Ass". So a fresh, untested property then.

It was...okay. It was very much like a 1970's French farce, men leaping through doors, losing their trousers, homosexuals getting the wrong idea about things; a silly sod triumphing over a middle class doctor. The physicality was impressive, Branagh getting most of the laughs for his over-played arseing-about; the gay room-service guy sweeping up the rest of them. It was just a bit...Rentaghost. (I should say that the audience loved it and it got a standing ovation - except from us three mardy-arses)

Afterwards we went for a meal at the Welcome Cantonese restaurant* where I had a delicious crab (all the better for not having eaten for two days!) and then we went out for a beer in town.

Belfast on a Friday night is an interesting place; "interesting" being a euphemism for "terrifying". There are a lot of drunk, near-naked children walking the streets of Belfast, pissing, vomiting and snogging, though rarely simultaneously. And incredible amount of screaming. Really everybody is screaming all the time. We (the "we", I should point out, being myself Dee and Chris, the pair of them kindly allowing me to ruin their date night. I should further point out that Dee was neither crabby or hungover at any point in the evening) went in and then immediately out of Laverty's (It was blaring "Dude looks like a lady" and there were no seats - I'm so very old!) and then on to Kelly's Cellars, where a little fey ginger boy befriended us by talking about sado-masochism and calling Chris a dead-eyed werewolf. Finally it was off to Muriel's which is decorated with hundreds of pairs of pants and was hosting a hen-party. We fled.

It was however a great night out. Thanks fellas.

*The Cantonese restaurant was called "Welcome". They don't specifically welcome Cantonese people - the service was fairly indifferent.

Friday, 7 October 2011


You never see a rich person with bad teeth. However decrepit they become, however their skin loses elasticity and peppers with liver-spots, however much their necks resemble a vacated ball-bag, those brilliant teeth leer out of them, incongruous as a car-bumper on a crab-apple. And when rich people die, and eventually even they die, they fill their coffins with the immutable additions they’ve made to their bodies. Dig them up in a hundred years, exhume the rich, and you’ll find a skull with a weave, two bags of saline resting on a rib-cage and a perfect gob smiling coquettishly up at you.

‘Cause we can do teeth, we human-beings, or near enough as makes no difference. Wigs are hilarious; plugs look desperate and breast enhancements can be comically obscene, but a big beaming smile, even one as freakish as Simon Cowell’s full-beam oral assault, is to be admired and envied. A white smile flashed freely puts people at ease. It suggests friendliness, openness and warmth. On another level it tells you that the person waving their pearly-whites around is trustworthy and materially successful and understands the value of good dental hygiene in a modern society. And on another, final level, it tells you that the person is not intrinsically evil. Because tooth decay is an early signifier of moral collapse.

Look at witches. Not the benign modern ones with their vague notions of an earth mother and their shop-bought spell-books, printed on purple paper in a font designed to look like hand-writing, no I’m talking about proper, fairy-tale ones; snaggle-toothed crones to a woman. Vampires are indicated chiefly by dental anomaly. Werewolves less so, but a toothless werewolf will never be the leader of the pack; if you cant rip out the hitch-hiker’s throat then what the hell are you doing in all that hair in the first place? You’re wasting your time. And if a toothless man is bitten by a were-wolf does he grow teeth? What about a toothless man with alopecia? Does he change at all? Or is he just sticking raw steak into the blender and howling at the light-fittings in his kitchen?

But I digress; in society bad teeth are the externalisation of an internal malaise. It makes sense; the mouth is one of only three entrances to the body and therefore a far more effective “gateway to the soul” than the eyes. The other viable options, the vagina or anus, are also traditionally portals of disease and also treated with fear and horror. And of course there is the vagina dentata. Various cultures have stories about women with toothed vaginas, frequently told as cautionary tales warning of the dangers of sex with strange women and to discourage the act of rape. I’ve yet to hear a story of toothy anus but surely there’s scope for that in the modern world. Unless you count the Sarlacc pit in Return of the Jedi which looks like nothing more than a big chewy bum-hole.

But I digress…again.

I’ve lost another piece of tooth. Over the last five years my teeth have been blasted like a quarry. I keep expecting to find Tom Baker dragging his scarf over the rubble of my gob; a BBC location scout camped out permanently in my philtrum. Do I get a credit? It’s lip-service, at best. I had a clean bill of health just six months ago. Fillings were re-filled, teeth were whitened. It was no longer the dazzling object of my youth, where I couldn’t smile outside at night for fear of being smothered by confused moths, but it passed muster. I felt I could use it once again for the purposes of charming rather than propagating nightmares in the young. It didn’t last. It didn’t last the day. On the way home I left a filling in a cheese soufflé. The front tooth’s veneer fell victim to an onion ring. Later it broke still further tackling either a boiled egg or a banana. These are not the traditional enemies of the crown (hah!): the egg, the banana, the soufflé. No steaks, toffees and French bread for me: this is the diet of a man who has had to make sacrifices for his teeth, only to have the quisling little bastards leap suicidally into soufflés! Souffles! Who loses a tooth in a soufflé?

I suffer from bruxism. That’s the ugly scientific term for teeth-grinding. It means that every night, and sometimes in the day unless I catch myself, I grind my teeth into shingle. As a consequence I have to wear a gum-shield in bed at night, like some sort of erotic pugilist.

It’s my own fault. These are monkey teeth; practically the same mouth cutlery that our hairy ancestors had to make do with and certainly the same gob furniture that Cro-Magnon man had to suffer; gnawing through half-cooked mastodon steaks and smacking each other round the chops with big sticks. No wonder they didn’t live past thirty. I have and therefore I’m wandering around with some serious built-in obsolescence. Who knows how long science can keep me alive for? Alive and paying for teeth. Am I being paranoid? Have I gone Jim-Corr-conspiracy-crazy or is it not likely that the drug companies are keeping people alive for longer because they’re in cahoots with the dentists? While they’re sugaring your pills who’s feathering their nests? The same people who are filling your teeth. It’s not hard to believe in the evil of dentists. The sterile smell, the powdery-latex gloves, the masks, the weird swivelling and reclining chairs, the smell of your teeth burning as they drill into the bone of your skull – they’re monsters. When they give you the mouth-wash at the end, the mouth-wash that you dribble out of the side of a gob that feels like someone has parked a sofa in it, it may as well be Jim Jones’ Kool-Aid.

And that’s why I do my smiling in the rain.

Bank Rupture

So I'm off again, in a moment, in the eternal driving rain, to try and sort out the bank once and for all. Marie, at the Maghera branch, was as good as her word, at least, and the forms duly came but I will once again have to go trotting into town with me pass-port and death-certificate and wait for them to find a way to fuck this up.

I also found out, by chance, that Kelly had been paying for contents insurance on a house she hasn't lived in for five years. I'm not sure what the legal position is there, I suspect the money is gone forever, but I'll have a go at getting it back. Running into walls is my job now - no wonder my teeth are falling out of my head.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

So I attempt to close Kelly's bank account. I ring Ulster Bank and ask them how I go about it. Go into town with the death certificate and an I.D. and that's all you need to do. I do this. They say they'll write to me. They don't. I wait two weeks. I ring them again. I say "You were supposed to write to me". They don't know why. I explain. They say the person dealing with that is in a meeting, can she phone me back the following morning. I say fine. They don't ring the following morning. I ring them, again, in the afternoon. The person who was supposed to talk to me has been on the counter all morning and hasn't been able to call me. I say well why did she say she would then? The woman on the phone says I dont know, can she phone me back. I say no, I dont want to talk to her, I'm talking to you now, can you not tell me what's going on. She says can she ring me back. Sighing, I hang up. She DOES ring me back. She tells me that the chap I'd spoken to in the branch has been off ill. I shrug on the phone. So what, I say, I was dealing with the bank not with some guy. There must be a file, I signed a lot of forms and they photocopied all my I.D.s - there must be a file. Someone else can deal with it. Oh she says, so you've signed the forms already? Yes, I mentioned it previously, that's why I went in to sign the forms. Oh I didnt realise, she says. Can I call you back. She DOES call me back. The bank have lost the forms I've signed. You're joking, I say. I take in my passport and my wife's death-certificate, allow you to make copies of them, and you lose them !

She says the only thing to do is to go in and repeat the procedure. I hit the roof. I fly at her like Mussolini from the balcony, or like George Costanza, whose line it is. I tell her there is no way I'm doing that.

But the stuff is lost. Sick boy has hidden the stuff so effectively I know I'm doomed to go through the whole procedure again. At the end of the call she asks me I bank with "Ulster Bank"? No I bloody well do not I say. Right enough, she says.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

I'm becoming bitter. Other people's success is really starting to bother me. This is ugly stuff I know but circumstance forces me into this position. Even when I think I have lost everything I find there is still more to lose.

What a mess. And still it rains. I went for a walk to lift my mood. In Belfast in the rain I can barely lift my head.

And I grind to a halt...

Losing chunks of tooth as I just have always makes me depressed. They are a permanent, or semi-permanent reminder of the impermanence of life, a ticking death-clock, a memento mori (molari?). And I don't need those reminders. I live alone in a house stuffed full of reminders.

But I was depressed before this. The days have been getting noticibly longer, the energy that had been fuelling my writing, my exercise, my ideas, has depleted. I've sat in front of the TV for the last two days passively watching good French films and tapping away at my computer. Updating Facebook, answering e-mails, updating the tedious and useless but-I'll-try-anything-at-this-point Jottify. Anything but writing.

It doesn't help that it has been raining solidly for the past two days while London has been experiencing an unprecedented Indian summer. It doesn't help that my therapist thinks I'm fixed or cured or no longer hovering over the cutlery drawer with a glint in my eye, and is no longer bothered. It doesn't help that I feel utterly unable to gain recognition anywhere for any part of my work.

And of course I am missing her. What is the point?

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Flat. Low. Went into town today. Couldn't think of anything to do. And there was no one to do it with. Came home. Tidied up. Made some food. No texts, no e-mails, no voice-mails. Listened to "The Woman in Black" on the radio. Sat down in front of the computer. Did nothing. Watched an episode of "The Prisoner". Stared at the computer. Did nothing. The grey cat came in, mooched around for a bit and left without a word. Checked Facebook: brief exchange about crisps. Another brief exchange about the Green Lantern. Checked my e-mails. The phone rings twice, both recorded messages about the miss-selling of loans. I listen to Hancock on the radio for about ten minutes. Another two readers on "Jottify". I don't write anything. I miss my wife. Life is so boring without her. I open a bottle of wine for the first time in two and a half weeks.

The wine is boring.

Welcome to Dumpsville, population : you!

I think my therapist is breaking up with me. And after I've been feigning madness like an art-school Hamlet; coffin riding, splintered fingernails full of dirt. The time between our sessions is getting longer and longer and today she asks me "How do you feel about the counselling?" meaning "I think we should see other people."

I've grown accustomed to these hour long philibusters,it's great to vocalise my pain and not have to worry that the other person is having a good time. Except now I'm starting to. Maybe I should change the act a bit.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

I done wrote a theatre review for Culture N. I.

Reviews THEATRE REVIEW: Cooking With Elvis
'It’s like looking at the workings of a pocket-watch that is singing doo-wop and shifting furniture'

Updated: 27/09/2011
By John Higgins It’s a real shame that that the Bruiser Theatre Company’s production of Lee Hall’s Cooking with Elvis is so very good. I have in my critical arsenal seventy five insults but only fourteen compliments. I’m afraid I will be using all of the latter in this review, and possibly borrowing a few more from high-minded friends.

Cooking with Elvis tells the story of an Elvis impersonator (Stephen Beggs) cut down in his hip-swivelling prime by a car accident and left in a permanent vegetative state. He is cared for, after a fashion, by his alcoholic and anorexic wife, Mam (Jo Donnelly) and Jill (Nuala McGowan), his food-obsessed 14 year old daughter.

Jill narrates the drama, introducing each scene with glittering eyes and a rictus grin. It’s this insistence on the reality of an audience that is the frame-work for the piece.

Cooking with Elvis was originally written for radio and the audio cues have been kept, keenly trumpeted by Jill. The character describes the action of each forth-coming scene with unnatural glee.

It’s a great conceit to use Jill as a human title-card. She announces the action and allows the play to be as dark as the subject matter dictates, while maintaining a joyful lightness of touch.

It also allows for the mechanism of the cast breaking character to rearrange the set between scenes, scat-singing all the while, regardless of the emotional content of the preceding or following scenes. Thus Elvis is able to leap from his chair and belt out Vegas-karaoke versions of his hits, complete with Karate moves and a trade-mark guttural “Thangyewverymuch.”

The other two characters in the drama are Stewart (Shaun Blaney), a dim baker with a nice line in stolen Black Forest gateau and a propensity for stripping to his pants, and Stanley (Stanley) a small, inanimate tortoise.

Stewart is a would-be lothario whose idiocy and sexual incontinence lead him into trysts with all of the cast members. Barring Stanley.

The scene where he chummily decides to give Elvis a 'helping hand' is one of the comic high-lights of the play. It is beautifully judged by Blaney, who gives the scene just the right level of pragmatic bonhomie. Stewart, you feel, would flourish in a prison environment.

Stephen Beggs delivers an increasingly paranoid and apocalyptic King. At first content to describe his interest in burgers and capes, concerns about erectile dysfunction lead him into visions of 'sodomites rutting in the cornfields' and Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love.

His emergence from a fairy-lit cupboard, like a be-quiffed Mr Tumnus, next to the rutting bodies of his teenage daughter and the lodger, is another richly comic moment. The lovers provide cooing backing vocals between thrusts.

Jo Donnelly, as the booze-addled English teacher mother, gives a performance of astonishing range. She veers from a jelly-legged seduction of the hapless Stewart to a dark-night confessional, threading her fingers through the spokes of her husband’s wheelchair.

Nuala Magowan has perhaps the hardest role as Jill, the food-scientist and focus for the drama. She doesn’t have the funny lines that Mam gets or her father’s karate kicking set-pieces, yet she’s on stage almost constantly.

She is her own Greek-chorus, from the opening strains of 'Also Sprach Zarathustra' to the rousing last notes of “Amazing Grace”. Magowan is well up to the task, delivering a sure-footed and energetic performance.

Lisa May directs with a hand so firm she could have baked it in vinegar. The choreography is neatly done and the sets dismantled and rebuilt between scenes with astonishing efficiency. It’s like looking at the workings of a pocket-watch, but a pocket-watch that is singing doo-wop and shifting furniture.

The sets ingeniously fold and slide, producing doors from flock-patterned dividing walls and staircases from kitchen units. They have the beauty and simplicity of giant origami, a perfect illustration of Bruiser’s ethos: “minimal set for maximum impact”. Like Mam the machinery here is very well oiled.

If I had any misgivings they would lie with the play itself. It’s a bit slow to start, the resolution is fairly contrived and unconvincing and Stanley the tortoise’s story doesn’t really go anywhere. If you’re going to put a tortoise in a play you are going to need to make that tortoise work for you!

The self described 'glib epilogue' ends the performance with a truly rotten pun, but this is not so much acknowledged as celebrated. Mam and Jill scowl out into the audience, daring them not to laugh. And there’s still 'An American Trilogy' and appropriate pyrotechnics to come. To end on an awful pun of my own, this production was performed with some truly amazing grace.

Cooking With Elvis is touring throughout Northern Ireland during September and October. For more information, see Culture Northern Ireland's What's On listings.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

The Play

It was actually good. I hate it when they're good. What do I have to write about now? The goodness of the play. Bah!

Writer, writing

Am off out to review a play tonight. "Cooking with Elvis" by Lee Hall, famous writer of "Billy Elliot" but this appears to be a very different kettle of cheese, routinely being compared to Joe Orton's work. I'm doing it for Culture N.I. and, oddly, it's at the end of its run rather than the beginning meaning that my opinion won't sway anybody in any direction.

Which is fine.

The Postman rang my doorbell this morning and in my eagerness to open the door I snapped the key in the lock. It fell apart between my powerful fingers with ridiculous ease. Two boozeless weeks of careful eating have turned me into a superhero. A superhero locked in his house. I had to ring a crabby and hungover Dee Mullan to come and let me out. If I hadn't given her the spare I would be stuck in here still, starving to death, and admiring my slender figure.

The postman was delivering a DVD of "Stewart Lee : 90s Comedian" as my desperate man-crush continues to the extent that I'm currently writing a piece slagging him off in a fair imitation of his pedantic stage manner. It's a twisted love letter really. He is basically my avatar in an immersive* video game called "Look at what you could've won".

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Adventures in tape

I'm flat broke. To the extent that I have actually signed on. To the dole. When we first moved over I applied for a carer's allowance. It took two months to process and Kelly died within three weeks, so I rang them and told them to stop it. I didn't realise that after the initial payment they had placed a stop on the account and I hadn't received any more money anyway, and they didn't tell me at the time, and they didn't tell me when I rang to cancel it. Later, at the C.A.B., I found out that they are supposed to pay you an extra two months after the death of the person you are caring for. And, of course, me being me, and exhausted by the thought of ringing people and going through the same information AGAIN, I let it slide. When I finally got my shit together to sign on, weeks later, filled in the forms, including the part in which I said I had previously been receiving a Carer's Allowance. Went to the interview, was seen by a total of four people, was advised what I needed to do to qualify for the money (write a little book about all the ways I've looked for work, come in to the job-seekers and use their machine to find work, look it up on their web-site etc ). I spoke to my bank earlier in the week and they advised me that no monies have been paid. I asked them to send me statements about my banking activity since we moved. I was paid an arrears lump-sum from the carer's allowance people on the first of July and since then nothing. I ring them up. They tell me they have no idea why the payments have stopped. They tell me that I'm definitely entitled to the money but they can't issue it and they don't know why. A man named Cormac is going to ring me back. I ring the JSA. They tell me that it's right that they haven't paid me anything at all. The reason is that there is an ongoing problem with a Carer's allowance. The Carer's alowance is the big swinging dick of benefits, it tramples everything in it's path, despite actually being less money than the Job Seekers Allowance (we value our carers far less than those robust and fearless job-seekers in this country). I say I haven't had any money for two months from the carer's and anyway it was on my form for the JSA, why did nobody mention it then? They say they don't know. I say well do I still sign on, given that I'm not receiving any money? They say Oh yes, you have to sign on - it will effect your benefits. But i'm not receiving benefits, I say. But you will, there's arrears money coming to you from the carer's allowance. But I don't have any money now, how am I supposed to, say, eat. Their hands are tied. JSA guy, Darryl, is going to look into it and phone me back.

Cormac the carer calls me back. I'm definitely entitled to the money, he says. But he doesn't know when I can have it. The problem stems from whom I was caring about: Kelly's disability benefit claims were all made in England and Northern Ireland, despite DEFINITELY being in the U.K., has a different internal claims system which has screwed everything up. I appeared to be caring for nobody. But I made MY application in Ireland, I say. How come it initially went through? He's not sure but he's very adament that the money WILL be mine. At some point.

Darryl JSA rings me back. He solved everything! My carer's allowance will be coming through immediately. I say I've spoken to Cormac the Carer and he doesn't know anything about it and reckons it'll be twenty four hours before he does. Darryl sounds momentarily vague. No, definitely sorted. The JSA? That'll be sorted too, by the end of the week.

And it will. Because I am so fucking on it by now. I will not stop. And they'll pay for these fucking phone-calls as well.

Monday, 19 September 2011

May have just lost my the last chance to hear her voice. Her Dictaphone was flashing "battery low" so I replaced the batteries - and have apparently wiped all the previous recordings in the process. I wasn't ready to listen to them and picked up the Dictaphone by chance during my frantic cleaning today. If the low battery had wiped out messages it would have been bad enough. But it looks as though my usual mechanical stupidity has done it. I wasn't ready to listen to them and now I never will. I don't if there was even anything on there, of course; but now I'll never know.

I'm so sick of being a fucking moron.

Poor Diem

I'm still on a lifestyle revamp: I don't drink every night now (just Friday's and Saturdays - that was a rationalisation from not drinking at all. You can't not drink and still network - people look at you oddly). I have cut out bread, butter, red meat, wine and beer ( I drink gin and slimline now!) milk, fat and sugar. I eat fruit and some sort of variation on Turkey stir-fry. I walk at least two miles a day, even when it's raining. It has had no obvious effect at all. If anything I look fatter. Never-mind, once I am certain of my un-waged credentials (I have my first two weekly drop in on Wednesday! New bug, I hope there's no hazing ceremony) I shall join a gym. I already have a gym-buddy a 2o something artist friend of mine: it's like the man and boy love club over here.

I have got things done today. I phoned Kelly's bank about her account. I had already done the joint account stuff two weeks ago and two weeks is about as long as it takes to get me motivated to do things again. They're phoning me back as they don't know their own "closing-your-dead-wife's-account" procedure. You would think it would come up occasionally. I then phoned Hotmail about giving me access to the e-mails in my account. Little know fact about Hotmail accounts - if they aren't used for six months they close them down. I've had to go all the way to America with this - all of my correspondence with Kelly from when we first met is on that account. I have to have it. They're going to e-mail me within "24" hours. I also tidied the bedroom. This had three separate effects: I could see the floor again, I wept bitterly having to engage with all of her things ( a Christmas card where she refers to herself as "my girlfriend", her many wally socks, just things...just everything) and lastly I found my passport. This means that not only do I have some i.d. but I can also get off this rock if need be. In a hurry. When they find out the truth about me. I also found a lot of clothes that I thought I'd lost - some of them even fit me!

So that's my day. I also watched "The Spy in Black" and wrote five hundred mean-spirited words on being fat in order to try and get published somewhere over here. That's what they're crying out for: middle-aged men be-moaning their spread.
Another dream from Kelly. This time it's a phone call to tell me that she loves me and that I love her and she's on the train to Preston. She tells me in passing that she's been watching the film "Sideways". My brother Barry had been on the phone when Kelly rang and I put him on hold while I took Kelly's call (my dream phone is rather more sophisticated than my actual phone!) Suddenly I can no longer hear Kelly but Barry's on-hold sighs and mutterings. "Left to rot over here," he says. I press the call waiting button to tell him I'm talking to Kelly but something goes wrong and I lose both of them.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

My heads full of you today, darlin'. Went for a walk along Lagan Meadows where you used to wander, sketching tree-stumps and falling over in bogs. Then I submitted stuff to the Vacuum, the way you used to. I read the pieces that you had submitted and I became both angry and proud and something else which I can't quite put my finger on. Angry because they're so good, as good as anyone; better than anyone. How did nobody notice? It doesn't make any sense. Your voice sings off the page. The pieces are whip-smart, funny, passionate and compassionate, full of one-liners and clever bits that take a couple of goes to get and are actually worth getting. You were really good at this. Why the fuck did nobody ever pay you for it? The report on Miss Belfast I can almost touch; it was written just a couple of months before I met you and it's the same funny, clever, beautiful girl that I found squatting on children's furniture in a house-party in Basingstoke. You were brilliant. You're my Miss Belfast. As well as being the fastest girl in Gulladuff, no contest.

Watched Xander and Anya almost get married on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" but had to turn off when an excited Anya exclaimed "I get to spend the rest of my life with my best friend,". It doesn't always work out like that. *

Watching that silly bitch with the speech impediment talking about Georgian living rooms. I quite like her. You would have hated her. Good.

*Needn't have worried - Xander bolts from the altar and queers the whole pitch. Good old "Buffy"!
Can you get fat on grapes and bananas? I'm craving bread. French bread.The unkindest bread of all.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011


I'm on a thing called Jottify which is a new web-sitey thing for budding, or in my case rotted on the vine, writers. My comedy-cold-war-spy-mythological-circus novel "The Rain of Terror" has been posted on it. It is routinely being beaten in "follows" and "likes" by Dr Who fan-fiction and "comic" verse. Worse than this is the fact that my brother, the estimable E "O" Higgins, is the run-away success of Jottify, out-classing everybody and receiving uniformly fawning praise, with comparisons to Susan Hill and a "like" from Stephen Fry!**

Please drop by Jottify and show me love! I need positive reinforcement. He's younger and faster than me. Looks like this link doesn't work properly either. Cut 'n' paste it please. Sorry.

**What won't Fry do?

P.S. check out Edward's too. It is actually very good.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Watching the Sarah Silverman Show. It's the best show on television. Though I don't think it's on television any more. Just putting that out there.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Stone Killer

Day one of new health regime a partial success. Woke early, did some rather good writing, washed up, went for a lengthy walk, bought healthy foods and cooked them. Consumed no wine. Admin, sadly, remains untouched. But it will still be there tomorrow.

I've made a commitment for two months to exercise, eat good food and drink far, far less, with the notion that I should lose a stone in that time. I've written it down now so I will look like a prick if I don't do it. So good.

Tree's Company*

Sorry about yesterday. Wild variance in tone on this blog isn't there?

Kelly would have loved today because her favourite thing in the world was the sound of the wind moving through trees and it is blowing a gale down Massey Avenue which is where I've chosen to walk today. I'm reminded of the Parkland walk we used to take as often as possible back in Finsbury Park. Like most of these places it's an abandoned train-line running up to Alexandra Palace and used chiefly by joggers and people on bikes, with dog-walkers and romantic strolling couples coming in a poor third and fourth respectively. But there was a specific spot, just north of where we lived, where a cross-winds used to catch in the tops of the trees and the traffic noises subsided and we could stand there holding each other listening to the wind in the trees and living solely in that moment.

Massey Avenue is a decorous place, the Hampstead of Belfast, large Victorian mansions nestle, cheek by jowl, with aggressively new mansions. It's where palm trees and two-car garages go to die. But it's the trees I'm mainly interested in, especially as the tip-touching canopy of green is keeping most of the rain off. I'm pounding these green streets as part of my plan to lose weight over the next two months (a fort-month). It's part of my general plan to become better. To do something with my life. I really have nothing so I have nothing to lose. To paraphrase either me or Bobby McGee.


Sunday, 11 September 2011

18 ways I'm missing her

Missing the long, hand-held walks over North London hills or South London parks, walking until the anxiety relaxed its grip and we could go to our home,
Missing her voice,
Missing her wit and the smile she didn't like,
Missing her eye rolling, her thigh slapping; her kicking legs,
Missing her walk.
Missing her skin.
Missing her hands.
Missing the mole on her right cheek and the occasional straggling eye-brow.
Missing the black fire of her eyes.
Missing my long black-haired sexy wife,
Missing my short red-haired noble wife,
Missing my best friend,
Missing the tears in bare-walled hospital side-rooms where every hope was crushed and all we could do was cling to each other,
Missing holding her,
Missing knowing I wont have to finish a sentence,
Missing her style,
Missing being so very, very proud all the time.

Missed her death.

(today was the two month anniversary of her death)

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Feel like a new name.

Am tired of John Patrick Higgins; old muffin top, hobbledy-hoof. Feel like a new label. Perhaps a direct transliteration into Spanish: Juan del Feugo? (Higgins means, in Irish, "Sons of Fire")

Or something camper and more fun: Donny Mwah!

Or a literary name? Hmn. No one is ever going to beat Umberto Eco. It's a joy to say his name. Tommy Ovary? Benedict Chung? Marjory Cakebread, Pontious Litesout' (a Dublin writer from the thirties!) Rupert Hartford-Evans, Robin Pinch, "Evens" Stevens, Derek Lanyard, Derek Wolff, Martin Crecy, James Grenthel,

More Irish? Peadar O' Bleadar? Brendan O' Gunns, Josie James? Mick Tick, Aloysius Merichrissmus, (another Dublin writer), Patsy Boyle, Niall Faile, Colm An Paper, Benny Hannon, Samuel Buckett, C.S. O' Hastings,

French? The old favourites: Jacques Tacky, Jean Maljean, Huey Clos, Leon Si, Patrick Homerton, Gaston Gastoff, Guillaume Homme, Jaques Vache, Alain Deman, Terry Ennui,

Cool Rock 'n' Roll moniker? Hard Man Humble, Second Stage Lensman, King Stink, Higgs Bosun, Duke Hum Drum,

Martin Amis? Whoreson Drab, Gaz Ebo, Keith Antihero, Tracey Victim, Martin Amis, Guy Aching-Smallpiece, Russell Leeks- Musselwhite, Tony Pratt, Katie Thicklegged - Prostitute, Anna Log, Ian Actor,


Thursday, 8 September 2011

I am no longer ready for this jelly.

I'm starting a diet. I will also be finishing it. And, in two months time, I expect to be a stone lighter. Watch this ever decreasing space.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Went to the Belfast Literary Festival 2011 tonight. I don't know anything about poetry but I like the way it sounds. I was keen to see University Hall as I'm seeing Les Mystere de la voix Bulgare there in October and wanted to check out the acoustics. It was also free because I'm, like, super-connected.

I needn't have worried about the acoustics. The Ulster Hall is a fantastic venue; a small, intimate, high-ceilinged chamber with a giant organ dominating the stage. Led Zeppelin played here in 1971 and the set up must have been very much the same! I'm programme-less and note-less, so this is a thumbnail sketch, at best, of what I saw and, inevitably, there were two further problems: Irishness and the fact that these people, reading out these poems, tended to be poets. Poets, by their very nature, are half tramp, half social-inadequate and all over the place. I don't think any poets would be offended by that description; they are a gentle folk, given to ironic distance and profound self-awareness: they know they're oddballs, fringe-dwellers and carriers of sexual disease. That's why Byron was described as "Mad, bad and dangerous to, y'know". And it's this shambling, dissipated, shirt-tail-not-tucked-in persona that means they're not always the best public speakers. You wouldn't go to a power-point presentation presided over by a poet and expect to learn about your company's core values. Though you might learn a little something about yourself.

The other difficulty was the Irishness. Now this I cheerfully admit is entirely my problem. If you're an Irish and you grew up here, amongst cultural certainties and shared ideas and a shit-load of mountains, this evening would have been a walk in the park for you, a gentle stroll around the arboreum, a gay canter through the courtyard. But I'm not you, I'm a big thickie who knows nothing about the city he lives in; its geography, its cultural and political history or why an "Ulster Fry" is any different to any other fry.* The upshot of it was that, because it was a specifically "Belfasty" event, a lot of the poetry was tailored towards Belfast. It was a Shibboleth-fest.

So what I'm saying is that I didn't know any of the poets, understand any of the references or pay to get in. I'm keeping the Belfast literary scene alive!

The evening was compered by Glenn Patterson, dapper at fifty in the Paddy Kielty manner, and oozing charm in an electric blue suit. He's a neighbour apparently though I haven't seen him in the Bethany Fish Bar.

Most of the Belfast Group were present; Michael Longley, Ciaran Carson, Frank Ormsby and Paul Muldoon. Representing younger poets were Leontia Flynn, crowd pleasing and understated with her quirky titles and nervous delivery, and Sinead Morrissey, whose rhythmic, head-bobbing attack pushed her vivid imagery into every corner of the room, pressing her words onto the audience, her own rapt, un-read, word-perfect performance becoming an incantation. The effect was quite astonishing.

It was peculiar that after delivering this charged exciting performance she had to sit on stage while Colin Bateman read what seemed to be an entire first chapter of one of his books. I'm not a fan and, while it was mildly amusing, Morrissey's** effect was still resonating electrically around the room for the first few minutes of his blather.

I didn't know what to make of Longley. He looked venerable, of course, in his big Hemingway beard and pink Uncle Albert face, but his poems seemed like long lists of things made poetic by his delivery. Ciaran Carson was introduced with words "Ciaran Carson has the distinction of being the only Ulster poet to date..." There was a long pause here and then a list of his accomplishments was read out. But I think I preferred my version. Carson elected to read a short prose piece and then sang, unaccompanied, an Irish air. He was immaculately dressed. Owen Mccafferty, a play-write, decided to read out a lengthy piece of prose about a man buying two scented candles. It might have been my favourite thing; humorous and desperate in turn but never "dark" in its tedious modern sense; there were no extremes, no polarities. It presented a life, in a city, that is fag-ash grey, stepping gingerly over a tacky carpet, working out the complex mathematical probabilities that are the natural precursors to getting a round in. He showed us a world where buying a scented candle to burn up the smell of beer farts and cigarettes represents a liberating act, because the money spent on the candle could have been used to buy more booze.

Muldoon was excellent, bracing himself at the podium as if the sheer power of his words would knock him down if he weren't clinging on for dear life. It wasn't quite like that. He introduced a poem about glow-in-the-dark cauliflowers with a quotation from the National Enquirer. His halting, Mary-Robinson-President-for-life delivery was slightly off-putting and I'm not sure live readings are a natural home for either him or the poems, but enough jarring ideas came skittering through the fug to keep the interest and to prompt further investigation. Also he has Dulux dog hair which I like.

That was my first ever literary festival and it felt like my first ever gigs in London: wandering around, thinking that everyone was cooler than me and that they were all poets and in the know and anyway I wouldn't know Paul Muldoon if he came up and was allusive and pedantic to me. It won't last. I'm older now and I'm a clever swine. I'll be running next years.

* I think it may have something to do with a soda farl.

** And it's not often I say that!

The Madness of Don Juan

Reading the sort of things that I write on Facebook I can only conclude that I'm going slightly mad. Endless rambling observations of the minutiae of my life, tripped up by clauses, parentheses, addenda, foot-notes and appendices. It isn't communication, which I suppose it must appear to be on the surface, as it actively discourages discourse; I'm already answering my own up-dates, colouring them, mucking about, lampooning or subverting the content. What is it for?

This week's ear-worm classic is Bry Ferry's version of the Everly's "The Price of Love". There's a "handsomeness" to the guitar riff that is very satisfying but it also has, Bry being Bry, castanets, a trumpet solo and Ladybirds style backing vocals all over it. I love the old arrivest fool!

Monday, 5 September 2011

The Starfucker General

Just found out that the keyboard player in my old band is now a respected art film director. That's a bit depressing. Two of his films are showing in the "Festival at Queens" here in sunny Belfast. Don't know whether I shall attend.

I last met him in the Dublin Castle in Camden about ten years ago (this was about five years on from the Italian-House-Indie-Madchester-Shoegaze demos we had made together in a shed in Farnham. His secret weapon was an ancient keyboard called "The Jen" which couldn't play a proper melody but could be used to make all manner of farting lava noises - it made us sound a bit different to the rest of the shambling Rickenbacker wobblers around at the time.) We had both, independently, turned up to see the same Japanese Psyche-rock band. He told me he was living in a squat in the East end and was in a band called "Suture". We were going to keep in touch but didn't.


Sunday, 4 September 2011

I don't normally stick me film reviews on here. But this is an epic. What a film. I give you DEATH LINE.

There is a consensus on the Big Three of British Horror films. They are, in reverse order, "Blood on Satan's Claw" "The Wicker Man" and "Witch-finder General". While they are all excellent films, each sharing a sense of rustic dread, an arable 'istory if you will, (though the binding cheerfulness of the Summerisle community is a million miles away from the cruel, blasted heaths and sheep-like peasantry of "Witch-finder") I have problems with each of them.

"Blood on Satan's Claw", the least well known of the three, has an extraordinary plot, incredible music and a fabulous cast. It suffers from having a very confused second act and a protracted, lip-smacking rape scene. "Witch-finder General" is certainly an excellent film in a lot of ways, not least for Vincent Price's "you'll wish I was camp again" performance. But unlike a Dali painting I find it a hard watch, it's too cruel, too bleak, too nihilistic. I like a bit of fun in my 70's horror romps and this, like the similar but weaker "Cry of the Banshee", is unrelenting in its depiction of man's inhumanity to woman. The Wicker Man is brilliant; the soundtrack beautiful, the plot hilarious and Chris Lee is hot buttered charm all the way through. It's my problem really; I've just seen it too many times. There was a point in my life where I was watching it on a weekly basis. Nothing holds up to that level of scrutiny, not even the very worthy remake starring Nicholas Cage.*

The major problem that I have with these films is that I don't believe that they are the best of 70's British Horror. I wouldn't ordinarily pitch perfectly worthwhile and clearly unrelated films into spurious competition with each other, and if I do so now it is because my favourite 70's horror is so over-looked. Even Gatiss and Rigby ignored it on their otherwise laudable exploration of horror cinema on BBC4. That film, as you may have guessed if you've read the above title, is DEATH-LINE. And it is a pip!

Death-line starts like no other horror film. We are introduced to what sounds like a stripper's anthem played on a mini-moog and a spare drum-kit. The music accompanies a colourful blur with what appears to be a smudged keyhole in the centre of it. As the camera gradually focuses we see it is the bowler hatted silhouette of a man staring into the window of a Soho peep-show. We're a long way from Summerisle. The camera blurs in and out as we follow the moustachioed perv around the porn warren, neon signs in red and blue deliquescing like lava lamps, the unnatural Formica yellows and greens lending the streets an indelible verisimilitude. This is Soho in the seventies. It could be nowhere else.

Having completed his circuit, to no obvious end, our saucy salary-man makes his way to Russell Square (bit of a walk) where he propositions a young woman and gets a knee in the knackers for his pains. Wheezing, as well as dealing with the crushing sense of ennui that comes with a blow to the under-carriage, he suddenly realises that things can get a lot worse than a kick in the balls.

On the last train home come Alex (David Ladd) and Patricia (Sharon Gurney - last seen in the Corpse where she play's Michael Gough's daughter. In real life she is his daughter-in-law). He's a deeply unpleasant American student and she's a woefully soppy English one. As they step over the body of the businessman these credentials are quickly established: "Patricia, in New York you walk over these guys!". Patricia insist that he goes to tell the guard and he does so, grudgingly, telling her to stay with the body. She doesn't want to be left with it a follows him awkwardly up the stairs like a beaten dog. They find the guard and then a policeman. But when they return to view the body it has disappeared! So they look like dicks!

Cut to the offices of Inspector Calhoun (Donald Pleasance); a ranting, unshaven lunatic in a misshapen hat and soiled raincoat: he's our hero! It is the next morning and Calhoun is going about his day; blaming tea-bags on "Indians", fishing said tea-bag out of his cup with a biro or a dart, bollocking a female officer and confiding to his assistant "I fancy 'er". While all the "business" is going on he has been listening carefully to Detective Inspector Roger's retelling of the incident on the platform of Russell Square. It seems the bowler-hatted perve was not without influence. He is James Manfred O.B.E. a big shot (Calhoun pronounces it "shit") at the Ministry of Defence. This rings a bell with Calhoun as he remembers another person going missing at Russell Square. He brings in the hapless Alex for questioning and accuses him of being a thief. As a parting shot Calhoun barks "Get yer 'air cut!" at the sullen hippy and gives him a look of such malicious joy that it's impossible not to like him.

Next comes one of the truly remarkable scenes in British horror and for my money in all cinema. After a brief expositional detour with Clive Swift, where he explains that in the 18th century an Tube tunnel collapsed on the workers who were digging it (men and women) and the bankrupt, morally and otherwise, Rail Company left them there to die, the camera works its way through the glistening bowels of the abandoned tunnel. In what seems like one glorious tracking shot we move past dripping masonry to the empty eyes of the half-dead Manfred, propped up beneath the hanging corpses of other half eaten victims, Manfred's certain fate. The camera continues its unblinking journey through more rotting viscera and piles of rubble until we come across "The Man", a shuffling Neanderthal figure and his dying and apparently pregnant sister-wife. Hugh Armstrong, the actor who plays "The Man" didn't work as an actor for another ten years after "Death Line" and after that assayed roles such as "Jun Priest" in "Beastmaster" or "Station Officer" in "Minder". This is baffling. His performance as "The Man" is a towering achievement, turning a shuffling madman role into something sympathetic and sensitive, quite a performance considering he has to communicate his entire emotive spectrum through straggling hair, a thick beard and a single line of dialogue! How the Oscars missed this astonishing turn I will never know. It's like they had something against murderous, incestuous, subterranean sub-humans in low budget British horror films! After this sentimental introduction to the Man and the Woman, the camera continues its journey, through piles of corpses, fallen family members arranged in neat stacks, each commemorated with stolen jewellery arranged on their chests. The distracted sobs of the grieving Man abate and what we get now is a dumb-show of the tunnel collapse story, from the pounding of pick-axes on rock, to the tunnel's collapse, to the screams of the condemned. It is told beautifully in sound, effectively negating Clive's thumb-nail sketch, the cold eye of the camera drifting onto salient details, the sign for the abandoned "Museum" station, the illuminated hoops of tunnel walls, the forbidding pile of rubble that sealed the fate of those trapped behind it and then the camera lifts up, like a departing spirit, and out into the still familiar Russell Square tube. People tell me I like bad films but that scene, with its economy, technical accomplishment and nagging suggestion, can compete with anything in cinema.

Calhoun and Rogers nip round to Manfred's flat, Calhoun helping himself to booze and breaking into his locked drawers ("suspicious bastard") until Chris Lee turns up as a patrician M.I.5 enforcer and warns them off. Calhoun isn't having it!

Alex and Patricia break up, but bless her, she can't last five minutes on her own and pitches up back at the flat with a bottle of chianti and her mascara running down her cheeks. She still continues to use the tube, late at night, alone, as if nothing odd has happened.

The Man attacks and kills three London Underground workers, one of whom might reasonably be called the most Cockney man who ever lived. This is his day in his own words. "Yesterday? Let me see, ah. Got up 11. Had a nice day in. Got up 11 o'clock. Ham, eggs for breakfast. In the afternoon went to the pictures. In the evening I saw that bird. What a sort, what a performer I tell ya! Lovely...hey!". He stops there to get his head kicked in by The Man.

Calhoun and Rogers go to the pub and get pissed for no reason at all. The scariest thing in the film is Calhoun pissed. As Rogers plays pinball in his over-coat, Calhoun mercilessly harangues the bar-man, his mood swinging like Benny Goodman in a gibbet, alternating pissed joshing "Are you aware that it is an offence to sell alcoholic beverages outside of proper drinking hours?" with surly digs "What's the matter with you?" "Where'd you get that coat? Are you aware that that is stealing by finding?" to apoplectic ranting "The Queen? Indeed god bless her. AND DON'T YOU SMILE WHEN YOU SAY THAT TOO! Are you aware that her gracious majesty is over there, over-seas, working the far flung empire, helping to keep the world safe for the likes of...flogging her pretty little guts out, so you can live in a democracy? Look at this place, a knocking shop!". This scene doesn't move the action on or have any bearing on the film at all really but it's my favourite scene and by far the most frightening. Calhoun is the sort of raging repressed lunatic you feel could do anything!

Late at night, on the platform, Alex and Patricia become separated. The Man drags her off to his lair immediately. The police find blood on her handbag. The abductor is suffering from acute anaemia and plague! Calhoun knows he's onto something very unusual indeed and the film spirals into a desperate man-hunt before The Man can kill Patricia. Or eat her. Or worse.

Actually the film gets bit lost here, there are no real surprises and, while the suspense is ratcheted up, Alex gets most of the screen time so inevitably some of the tension is lost. David Ladd's performance as Alex is both wooden and sullen, like a teenage wardrobe on holiday with its parents. But it's not his film, it's Donald Pleasance's film, in a role I would have liked to see him play again and again. An alarmingly hairy police officer hands him a file and says "Anything else sir?". Without looking up he replies with gravitas, "Beards".

It's the way he tells 'em.

*kidding! Alright? KIDDING!