Monday, 31 January 2011

John Barry - 1933-2011

John Barry was married to the 21 year old Jane Birkin. He wanted her to cook for him and fetch his slippers so she shagged Serge Gainsbourg. The silly sod.

His theme from "A Doll's House" is one of my favourite pieces of music.

If it's Monday it must mean rejection

Another rejection from a literary agent this morning. Nothing unusual there except that the same agency had already rejected me some two months ago! They're queuing up to wash their hands of me at Eve White's!

Thanks Eve. I get it. I'll try elsewhere. You're becoming a pest. There are anti-stalking laws in this country, you know - let's not make this a police matter!

Sunday, 30 January 2011

"I've used up all my tissues, on more seriouser issues," - B. Boo. (born 1970, Kensington,)

It's been quite difficult managing to do all the things I have to do at the moment. Something had to give and, in the balloon debate of my life, I have elected to eject sanity as not wanted on the voyage. It was a luxury I could ill afford. Most of this week has been spent sleeping, rubbing my head like a distressed bear in an Eastern European circus, walking up hills, walking down hills, feeling wildly, terribly anxious and polishing my shoes. I've started waxing the soles so I can slide home from the shops: "Skating with the stars"? Skating with the shopping, more like it. With a couple of French sticks I can ski home.

Have been feeling the lack of privacy very keenly this week. I like to pad around the house naked, my wet bits swaying like air-dried meat hanging from the eaves of a ChinaTown restaurant. To paraphrase John Shuttleworth "I can't go back to towel drying now!" I like to leave the door open while I'm in the bath and listen to classic detective serials on BBC Radio 7. Or read aloud in a variety of fruity voices from Robert Aickman's "The Unsettled Dust" (variations of James Robertson Justice's blistering baritone if I'm honest - I may yet produce an album called "Songs in the key of James Robertson Justice" (Billy Ocean on backing vox))

Sorry. Lost in my own parentheses there.

So yes. I like my ablutions JUST SO. And unfortunately I've been unable to swan around in the nip owing to the continued presence of other people in the house, people who might be offended by the sight of my naked glistening body. Which would be most people, and don't I well know it, but in the alleged privacy of my own home? Surely some respite! A man should be allowed to free-ball in the chilly environs of his own back-kitchen or pantry.*

Which is not to say I'm not grateful for these visitors. They help a great deal with every facet of our splintering lives. But it would be nice, every once in a while, for Kelly and I to pretend we were normal people.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Everything in the flat is breaking. The phone doesnt work. Broadband and the internet wax and wane like moons playing peek-a-boo. The toilet flush hasn't worked for months and now the seat is falling off. The microphone in the computer has disappeared, reducing Skype to a sort of desperate mummery - a silent film filled with pantomime mugging and hand written caption cards. Lately the doorbell doesn't work, the curtains are falling down and today the kettle blew up. Given all of that it seems odd that most of our visitors only seem put out only by our not having a microwave!

I feed 'em! What do they want a pot noodle for?

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Speaking of cooking, I've finally been given my Mullan family "Secret Santa" present from Hugh Arthur, bearded Patriarch of the clan. It is a mustard yellow apron with the words: "John Best Son-in-Law Ever" printed on it.

I waited till Kelly and Kate had gone to bed before bawling my eyes out.



*I have a pantry. I dry my pants on it.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Friday, 28 January 2011

The lonliness of the long distance writer

Here's a piece wot I wrote for Belfast arts pamphlet "The Vacuum"** for their children's edition. No idea if they ever used it as they didn't see fit to furnish me with a copy, but they said they would use it and frankly I can't imagine that they'd have had anything better to use in its place. There were some drawings that went with it too but I'm far too stupid to work out how to post those on here:

The lonliness of the long distance writer


I am a writer of children’s fiction and as such I crave rejection. I’m lucky in this respect because rejection, and its boon companions: “futile endeavour” and “time not spent in the pub” are the natural and super- abundant reward for the unpublished children’s author.

A novel can take years to write, can frustrate, torture and embarrass. The sending of a novel out into the world is not unlike sending a child off to school for the very first time. The book is nurtured and shaped according to your values and aesthetics; polished and neatened for its first interaction with the outside world and then sent blithely off, in squeaky new shoes and without a backward glance, while you bawl inconsolably at the school gates. This is where the metaphor breaks down however, as unless something has gone disastrously wrong, you should have your child back that same evening, more or less in one piece and none too traumatised by the event.

With your manuscript (solicited or otherwise) you can wait up to six months for any kind of a response. (Though most publishers and agents pride themselves on a three month turnaround) And when that response arrives it will be two or three lines of blandly discouraging guff on letter-headed paper with a looping signature in blue biro.
It may sound tired and jaded, and indeed it is, but my advice to any aspiring writer is: know someone. A friend of the family, a college mate; a de-frocked priest who owes you – anyone who can help you stick your head above the paper parapet. You may not rise to the top of somebody’s teetering slush pile but you will leap like a ticklish salmon over those manuscripts that come without a recommendation.
And there are going to be a lot of manuscripts in a children’s publisher’s slush-pile. This is because everybody thinks they can write a children’s book. Children are idiots, they can barely read! They’ll settle for any old rubbish: a bee with non-stick legs,* a giraffe with whip-lash; a bulimic cow. Stick it in a moralist framework with loads of faux- na├»ve illustrations and you can herniate your postman with massive royalty cheques.

It’s at this point at I become sickeningly idealistic, so readers of a cynical disposition may wish to look away now. I believe that the best books are children’s books. The best children’s books are full of uncertainties and subversion; little upsets and tiny revolutions. They should be about assessing preconceived values and puncturing facile assumptions. Good children’s fiction is about ideas in a way that almost all adult fiction isn’t. Most adult books are about women shopping and men blowing things up. No books are more beloved, more stark and strange than those you read as a child. None are as closely scrutinised, as learnt, as those you read in your teens. As an adult you don’t have the time and you don’t have the focus – you’re too busy worrying about weight-gain, downsizing and the accumulation of tattoos. A child is a perfect reading machine and to be a children’s author is a privilege, not a right or a fore-gone conclusion. Unless you’re Geri Halliwell.

But unless you get out of that in-tray and not into the recycling it’s never going to happen. Now I’m not saying that publishers are going to throw your manuscript into the recycling. They won’t. And that’s not because publishers are massive eco-squanderers (though they DO get through a lot of trees!) It’s because most publishers won’t accept unsolicited submissions at all. The first defence of the publishing industry, and most people’s only point of contact, is the Literary Agent.

These are the men and women with the address books; literary hustlers who know what sells and who to sell it to. They also have a lot of advice, much of it contradictory and all of it involving a lot of rewriting.

My own book “The Improving Parents”, an everyday story parental oppression and childish revenge, caught the eye of several agencies when I sent out the standard submissions package (three chapters, a letter of introduction, a synopsis and an embarrassingly brief description of my publishing history) and they each asked to see the complete manuscript. None of them have subsequently seen “The Improving Parents” as the 100% solid kid-nip it clearly is or offered me piles of cash. But a few were interested enough to give me notes, advice and actual constructive criticism. The criticism would have me construct the narrative in completely different ways: if one liked the “knowingness” of the dialogue, another asked me to tone it down. If one thought the chapters were rambling and unfocussed another thought them gnomic and tight-lipped. If one was a fan of Eric the protagonist another would prefer his friend Freya. It was all wildly inconsistent and I was wildly grateful!
These people don’t have to do this; I’ve had enough tersely polite notes describing “a lack of enthusiasm” (this is publishing speak for “it stinks like ripe brie in the toe of a work boot”) for my work to really appreciate time spent actually discussing it. They aren’t paid for it; they don’t necessarily stand to gain by it: it really is because they see something in the work. And any advice is good advice; if you have a clear-eyed notion of the value of your work and there is a good idea at the centre of it, then you can bend and stretch it in all sorts of directions. One passing remark from an agent allowed me to re-imagine the entire story, adding narrative twists, layers of meaning, new characters and literally doubling the length of the book! This extra work has made the story a much more viable commercial proposition and made me more confident about sending it out into the world.

So in conclusion: it’s a shitty business, don’t even try and don’t queer my pitch!

*Actually this one’s pretty good – I’m using it.





**I actually had to learn how to spell vacuum before I sent it in. They don't see the human cost.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Running up that road, Running up that hill with no problems,

I'm fat. I'm a new kind of fat. In my twenties if I got fat (it was some sort of 24-hour viral fatness), I would stop eating and drinking for a couple of days and would become nice and smooth and flat again, like ironed linen. I barely ate in those days anyway and my own life-saving vanity took care of the booze. People call vanity a failing but if it wasn't for my vanity you would not want to sit next to me on an international flight. As it is I'm so small and grey and inoffensive you wouldn't know I was there. Indeed I have been plumped as a pillow before now; not the only time I've been neaded in the middle of the night. But perhaps slightly less than flattering.

These days when I find that I'm fat the fat stays put. I'm swaddled in the stuff now; I can feel it slapping me as I walk down stairs: I can feel it biting hungrily into my trousers. So I've taken steps. I've given up the booze, I'm watching what I eat (last night I watched myself eating almost an entire haggis) and I have taken to walking home from work.

I work in Swiss Cottage and I live in Finsbury Park and my chosen route home is of the "scenic" variety via Hampstead and Highgate, so it's a fair distance; about five miles by my reckoning (It may be less but in my mind it is definitely five miles).

To this end, and to keep me happy and motivated as I sweat uphill in an overcoat, I have procured stout and durable walking shoes (ox-blood Doc Martens) and an i-pod.

Here are the things I listen to:

1) The Visitors by Abba - This is Abba at their most miserable, and being Swedes Abba excel at misery, but here they are paranoid and rambling too. I once played this in a shared flat and was advised to turn "that techno shite" down.

2)Spacewalk by Momus - Am I really the only person happily bouncing around London while listening to a fey misogynist singing about taking e to squelchy retro-futurist acid? Yes I am. Obviously. A fox ran out in front of me while I was walking past Hampstead Heath and listening to this and in a freaky "Antichrist" moment seemed to join in with the "we're in the basement, we're watching baseball" line. Then suddenly it was gone. I don't know what this means.

3)Manu Chao's Clandestino album - Anything off this record is fine, even the one with the cackling old woman and the Space Invaders noises. Which is all of them.

4)White Belts by The Make-up - Probably the newest song on my i-pod. I've just checked and it came out in 1999. Ah well, I dont suppose I've missed much. This is brilliant, snake-hipped, cack-handed funkiness.Great for vaulting country stiles, which I never do.

5)Blood Embrace by Superwolf - This makes me want to kill everybody in my path.Features a clip from the film "Rolling Thunder".

6)Buckingham Green by Ween - Hilarious and anthemic. This is the story of "the child of eye" and his various encounters with royalty. The part where Dean (or Gene) Ween intones "Summon the Queen!" and the martial drums start is equalled only by the wind-machine epicness of the multiple consecutive guitar solos.

7)Differences by unknown - A curio in my collection (but then aren't they all): a hard rockin' number with psych keyboard interludes, it details the differences between homo and heterosexual culture in easily digestible vignettes. Straight men, it would appear, are interested in tinted windows and V8 engines and "Having" "It"; whereas gay men would like to know where you got that top from. That's when they're not introducing themselves to naval officers. As true today as it never was.

8) Les Petits Boudins by Dominique Walter - Rocking bit of hand-me-down Serge misogyny disguised as a scuffley skiffle. The lyrics tell the plaintive story of how it is easy to fuck plain girls as they are grateful for it. Mercifully we've moved on as a society since the sixties (except Danny Dyer). Nowadays even plain girls aren't grateful.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Nun's Chuff

No booze for three weeks now. Sorely tested in the week by the arrival of Kelly's ex-boyfriends mum, an unreconstructed Glaswegian hippy (she knew the Humblebums!)with still flaming red hair and a thoroughly old fashioned lust for life. By the time I had got home from work she had been entertaining her way through a bottle of brandy, snapped the g string on my guitar (hours of bawdy fun with that one!) and was attempting to download karaoke songs for me to sing with her. Within five minutes of arrival, before the steam had lifted from my glasses, I was duetting on "Hit me with your rhythm stick" with a drunken middle-aged woman I had never met before. The brandy was winking stickily at me throughout. Later, when I walked her to the station, arm in arm, she confided to me that she had always considered Kelly to be her "dream baby". It was a tearful farewell. And then I got chips.

The last third of the brandy is still in the cupboard. That's at least two stcky fingers.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Bodyswap

My new children's book will be Bodyswap, the boy who was 84 by L P Howarth. Cracking title.

The Thornthwaite Inheritance

Well I've finished "The Thornthwaite Inheritance" by Gereth Pea Jones. Described in the Sunday Times as "Blackly comic, with its compelling cover and all the fun of taking sibling rivalry to a fantastical extreme, this book is surely material for a film"

No it isn't. "Black" or "Dark" have become publishing watchwords; a way of specifying certain tropes: jokes about death, modish emo-subculturalism, victoriana, bad taste and/or general offensiveness without having to apologise or make any disclaimer. Much of the time however it is used to advertise what isn't there. This book is an enjoyable romp through an old dark house in the company of two resolutely untroubled teenagers. Once the murder attempts on each other abate, and these are referred to not seen, Lorellei in particular, starts going swimming and horse-riding and reading romance novels and mooning around after boys. There's nothing much that Charles Adams or Edward Gorey would recognise here! The book seems oddly old fashioned; from it's literal three act structure to it's family of retainers, the orphan servant girl, the musical ciphers. At times it's like a cross between a Victorian melodrama and the world's most sluggish French Farce. The last 60 or so pages contain the most lengthy and sustained exposition I've seen in any media, with the stern faced and tight-lipped staff suddenly yapping on relentlessly. Windows are being thrown open all over Thornthwaite Manor...there's not a dusty, cobwebby corner left.

When the ultimate villain of the piece is revealed he soliliquises like a Bond villain on sodium pentathol: I had to shut the book to shut him up.

This book does ultimately remind me of two films: a club footed, club tongued version of "Clue", with perhaps Graham from Coronation Street in the Tim Curry role. But more annoyingly it reminded me of the horrible ending of "The Breakfast Club" where Molly Ringwald's ginger princess gives Alley Sheedy's goth oddball a make-over and *gasp* she's pretty underneath all that hair - pretty enough for blue vested and tawny haired Emilio Estevez to notice. This is of course an utter betrayal of everything we've seen in the last two hours of the film. She shouldn't have to change her look and if she does she should definitely not be flattered by the attentions of Emilio Estevez . What's Anthony Michael Hall? Chopped liver? At the end of the book Lorrelei turns her back on her murderous heritage, wants to read more romance novels and get into computers and worst of all is still interested in Adam Farthing; the preening liar who has been fingered as the worst sort of bullying cad throughout.

That's pretty dark, man.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Stress Cure

Waiting to see an Occupational therapist in Canary Wharf. As stressful as any encounter with a mental health facility in London, and I presume, the world. I arrive to meet my "occupational therapist" whom I have never met before, at the Reuters building where I am challenged twice on the way to reception by an unecessarily hands on security guard (a woman, you sexist!). I then queued only to be told by the receptionist (a man, you sexist!) that as an employee, with an employee's magic I.D. card that i could just go straight in. I toddle off again, proffering my card, to be told that my I.D.is the bad sort of I.D. I find myself back in the receptionist's queue again.

My occupational therapist doesnt actually work in the building and only occasionally uses it as a base. she cannot therefore be telephoned to alert her to my presence. So I ask the receptionist to e-mail her. I have no idea whether he has done so. So rather than billow around the ninth floor like a quintessense of dust in the air-con, on the look out for somebody I have never met, I sit in reception and wait; shivering under the glare of the security guard's baleful eye.

I'm on a cold marble bench by the revolving doors. Everything is habitat beige. There is a tanned and cheerful man of middling years standing behind a podium like a Maitre d. I'm unsure of his function but he seems happy enough in his work. Everybody else, the little people trailing in in trainers, their work shoes in their handbags, seems cowed by the enormity of it all. The place needs a fucking tapestry or something; soften it up a bit. Throw cushions. Bowl of wax fruit. Instead it has an enormous plasma screen pumping self aggrandising Reuters bollocks silently across the south collonade; and unending succession of tanned patrician faces; often on split screen if they're reporting from both Washington and Basra.

I hate it here. They hate me right back.

It's 9.27. i've been here half an hour. I'm in the right place, on the right floor, at the right time: this may be the first time these things have ever come into allignment at the same time! Call Justin Toper. Regardless, I'm on my own.

Why is occupational therapy always such a balls?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Lord John views the body

I'm researching "books for young people" to find out what makes them tick. I tried to get some of Andy Stanton's "Mr.Gum" books from the library but the popular bastard is all out. I have nominated him as my personal nemesis and shall not rest until I crush him. Well, I may power nap - just so I'm on top of my game.

So the book I have taken out is "The Thornthwaite Inheritence" by Gareth P. Jones, popular author, or so I'm led to believe by BLOOMSBURY ("get 'im!) his publisher, of the "Dragon Detective Agency" books. I'm a hundred pages in, or rather I have completed the first "Act" (it's in, unsurprisingly, three acts)and it tells the story of text-book emo twins who stall their attempts on each other's lives as adventures unfold around them in their big spooky house. It's written for the 10-12 year olds, the golden range, and is a whopping 263 pages long. Girl.Com (my one-stop-shop for cultural commentary) said this:

"A delightfully twisted and humorous gothic tale for fans of mayhem, mishap and misadventure. Ideal for both boys and girls with a flare for the mischievous and an appreciation of deadly whodunits."

Now. It's alright. The chapters are short. Information is supplied on the Thornthwaite family from a cast of family retainers (so unfleshed out they resemble a burns unit!)the twins are pleasant enough and there are a series of incidents and enough winks and tears to make you imagine revelations to come; allignment pacts to be drawn and withdrawn and everything may not be what it seems. But it's pretty slow. The characters are thin. At the beginning of the book we learn that Lorelli and Ovid (the twins) have been attempting to kill each other for thirteen years but once they agree a truce Lorelli seems like the most unlikely person ever to try and kill her brother: she reads romance novels and moons around after the accountant's sporty son. The retainers retain, defined by their jobs, and the ancestors are wicked droight de seigneur types from the get go. The murderous set pieces are a bit dull and a bit too easily resolved - a lot of jumping in and out of lakes.

And the language: "The buzzing of bees swarming towards Lorelli and Adam sounded like and aeroplane flying low overhead."

Inspired.

I have recognised, based on this book and this book alone, that my language is too ornate, too gilded. I need to flatten my metaphors, strip-mine each paragraph and throw the stuff that I think is gold away: it's fool's gold. I need to stop trying to impress people with cleverness or make them laugh with jokes - the story is the thing. Also my set pieces are too gnarled and whorly; I use too much imagination. While the book is described as being full of "wit" and "whimsy" it contains neither. Purposefully, I think. What it does have is a well worn narrative rut, Tim Burton emo-lite protagonists and a series of distinctly non-fatal death traps. I'm only a third of the way in though. I'll see how it fares.

I'm glad I did this though. Very interesting.

Monday, 17 January 2011

"What you've done is set up a false opposition" "I do apologise"

I've had a complaint. My blog is not as good as my wife's blog. It is informative but dull; it does not sparkle like Kelly's. I don't disagree: my wife is an excellent writer, too good for the rag she works for.

But then again, I'm not in competition with her! This is a classic case of the construction of a false opposition: why pit mine and Kelly's blogs against each other as a sort of gladitorial contest? Other blogs ARE available and our's share very little in terms of style, content, approach or intent. Kelly's blog is full of well argued, lavishly tooled editorial essays; each illustrated with photos and trailed with commentary from her adoring public. It's like the be-bylined think piece in a glossy Sunday periodical. Except well written. And funny.

At best, or most poncily, you could call mine "pensees". It's gonzo thinking, a stream of consciousness reflecting the fact that for much of the blog's life I didnt know where I'd be living or what I'd be doing from one day to the next. It's very personal and reveals a lot about how I feel in charged, emotional language (swearing). It has its own gritty impasto; it's just slapped at the monitor. And while it deals with emotional truth it isn't really for public consumption. Which is why I, like Disco Stu, dont advertise. It isnt a magesterial state of the nation address: it's a desperate man writing down the horror of his day to day existence before sleep, depravation or chemical cosh rob him of his faculties.

The memories burn like an elephant on fire.


* * * * * *


That said I had a lovely weekend. Met Jess and Si for dinner in le Petit Auberge in Islington on Friday and Saturday saw us meet the East Dulwich Enormous at Tate Britain before me and the lads went off shoe shopping. Got some smart ox-blood D.M.s. Pinch me.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Gandhi's flip flop

Oh and two week sans le booze. Not even feeling it anymore. Kelly tells me that giving up drink for a month is a sign of alcoholism; a pathetic way of proving to oneself that you are not a drunk.

I tend to disagree given that surely a really good sign of being a drunk is being drunk all the time. That's how drunks express their drunkiness - by being drunk: it's in the job description.

The Cure

Some of Kelly's cure and what the various side-effects are:

Capecitabine - nausea, loss of appetite, tiredness, weakness, back/joint/muscle pain,headache, dizziness, trouble sleeping, temporary hair-loss, diarrhea,

Lapatinib - Back pain, diarrhea, dry skin, indigestion, mouth sores, nausea, redness and tingling in hands and feet, tiredness, trouble sleeping(!),severe or persistent cough, tiredness, shortness of breath, yellowing of the eyes or skin, unusual bruising,

Zopiclone - drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, headache, irregular heartbeat, changes in vision, slurred speech, loss of memory, incordination, confusion, depression,

Clonazapam - clumsiness, dizziness, slurred speech, blurred vision, diarrhea, increased thirst, trembling and shaking,

Depakote - back pain, blurred vision, diarrhea, drowsiness, nausea, headaches, weight gain, emotional problems


I particularly like "emotional problems"! There's a shocker.

This doesn't even represent the full amount of her medications, or the full list of side-effects and doesn't mention the radiotherapy or the various other intrusive procedures she's been subject to.

It's no exaggeration to say that my wife is a fucking hero!

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Am thinking of writing a new book

That's right - another one. I don't know when i'll get the time to write it but I have had the ideas and preliminary notes have proved very useful and workable. I'm not sure if I'll be revealing details on here for a while but it's good to keep an iron in the fire. Especially if you like hot iron.

Bang!

Back to earth with a bang.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The Weight of the World (hanging over my belt buckle)

Have just come back from the doctors. I needed to change from East Dulwich to a Haringay medical centre to garner the sweet, sweet psychological reinforcement I'm due...in about a month. They managed to spread this over two visits. On the first I filled in various forms giving my various details and answering various questions on my ethnicity and medical history (very concerned over whether I might have glaucoma for some reason). Then I had to come back a week later for a go on the "The Pod". Today was Pod day!

Once I filled in the same forms as last week, they had lost them, I was introduced to "The Pod": a computer with a sleeve attachment for taking your blood pressure and a scale for weighing you. I went through the questions (again glaucoma heavy, to the point that I've become quite paranoid, trying to catch glimpses of my eyeballs in car hub-caps and on the chrome parts of fridges for the corneal petrification that is the hallmark of glaucoma. Or something. I've not been that bothered to actually look it up on NHS Direct).

It was all fine until I got to the scales and the Body Mass Index. I'm five nine and a (very important) half but I rounded it down to 5'9". Fatal mistake. I was expecting to be over-weight; I've piled on the pounds over the last couple of years due to a number of things: learning to cook delicious foods, trying to write novels in The Noble pub; yet another broken leg. But this leap-frogged over the main-body of "overweight" and landed just the right side, JUST the right side, of "obese".

Now I reckon I've lost about half a stone since Christmas which I'm certain would have landed me comfortably (and you can imagine that it IS quite comfy) in obese-land. So this is me; sober, healthy, eating well and walking five miles everyday and I'm still just shy of being Mr Creosote! And I've never been in Greggs in my life!

I still have a month to go before counselling and when that day comes I want to be metally ill and FABULOUS! No sweets till BEDLAM!

Monday, 10 January 2011

You'll never eat lunch in this town again quite so reasonably!

This weekend was a triumph and not just because I had two free meals! Although mainly that, obviously. Kelly's friends Emma and Francess decamped from Belfast allowing her to up her game magnificently. We were due to go to the British Museum where Emma had once worked but, for reasons of Francess not wanting to go, we opted instead for a visit to London's fashionable cell of dissidents Stoke Newington. We hopped in a black cab that had four quid on the clock before we left the rank owing to the fact that the taxi rank is in the bus station and there were throngs of hobbling red and white twats failing to be kettled by the loitering be-tabarded police, as they made their way out of the Arsenal shop and off to the Emirates Stadium.

We took a slow loping route around Stoke Newington's one-way system, like a piece of tainted pork circumnavigating the lower instine: noisily, in fits and starts and at no little cost; the route negotiated by our driver also negoiating him out of a tip.

What is there to do in Stoke Newington? Well, it looks nice, there are lots of pokey little shops to poke around in. We trudged through the higgledy-piggledy cemetary speculating on the meaning of the veiled urns that adorn every Victorian coffins. (the urn it turns out is fairly self explanatory; it has ashes in it like modern urns. Except tea-urns. Which aren't true urns at all! The veil represents "the mortal veil"; a gateway through which you must pass from one state of existence to another. Like those coloured strips of plastic hanging from the door frame you used to get in old-school betting shops or pornography outlets).

We went to the "Three Crowns" for lunch and then off home, walking all the way to Finsbury Park! The longest distance that Kelly has been able to walk for a month. I thought she would be exhausted but no, she was up and at 'em for the next set of visitors on Sunday.

Mike and Row came up from East Dulwich laden with delicious treats from the unjustly not world famous Franklin's store. (Franklin's is the restaurant where Kelly an I had our first date and where I proposed and is therefore "our place" - they have a shop now selling poncey delicacies to the yummy mummies of the South and delicious Earl Grey with blue flowers to me!)

We took them on a walk up to Crouch End (the East Dulwich of the North: full of jobbing actors and women with prams the size of 4 by 4s; prams that are, in fact, 4 by 4s!)and ate at Banner's. Kelly had wanted to go there for years but it had always been packed ( and of course I was never keen as it is notoriously child friendly and I am, in temperament if not in practice, child hostile). Well the gods, damn them, were smiling on us and we got a table and sat down to a pleasant meal in a rather nice place. I asked for my lamb burger to be rare and when it arrived I was introduced to the concept of Lamb Tartar: it was practically raw. That said I ate it and it was delicious.

Actually that was a really nice weekend. At last. Hooray.

Ascetic Acid

I have no vices left. I don't gamble, smoke, take snuff, dog around after women or burn down churches. I don't over eat or over spend and, with the gentle purr of my mother-in-law's snoring wafting in from the living room, I haven't even had a wank for a while.

Matt Talbot, an ex-alcoholic found dead in a Dublin street in 1925, is being offered up for sainthood. As far as i can tell this is for two reasons: he stopped drinking and after he died they found that his body was bound with heavy chains; his way of mortifying the flesh, a lovely old Catholic custom.

As far as i can see I'm an anklet away from sainthood.

My mother, incidentally, is advocating the sainthood of Matt Talbot and has professed an interest in Kelly being Matt's first miracle. ( you need three, in case the first couple are just fluke miracles) Why she would want the sponsorship of the patron of alcoholics and self-harmers I don't know.

But hell, we'll take what we can get. And we do, regularly.

Friday, 7 January 2011

The Leopard of Lime Cordial

Oh and if a week sans booze doesnt seem like a lot ask yourself this: when was the last time you went for an entire seven days without drinking any alcohol. Points off for tee-totallers,infants and Richard E Grant.

But you do get points if you've ever socialised with me.

Whether or not I choose to never drink again or to drink only on special occasions I havent decided. A Suntory single malt yamazaki would be tough to turn down, gift givers, but it may happen.

To be a drunk would be such a fucking bore. And so OBVIOUS.

Sobriety? That's the talk on a cereal box

Well i've been living back at the house for some time now. A sobering week for many reasons. For two reasons. There are really only two uses of that word. I haven't had a drink for a week. I haven't advertised it - the resolution will not be televised - but I am obscurely proud of this less than Herculean feat. I was drinking quite a bit before the new year and for quite a bit before that. Not in a way that i thought was damaging, but in a way that was joyless; habitual, dull. I was bored of being drunk, bored of being sat in front of a telly with a loaded glass of Tesco red in my hand night after night. Bored of brushing stained purple teeth and tongue; bored with the clinking embarassment of the recycling. im was building a fortress of solitude out of empty bottles, a crystal cavern where the drunken stuporman can do his sulking.

So I stopped and, disregarding a couple of wobbles, its been pretty easy. The puff has disappeared from my cheeks, the white has returned to my eye (does this mean I'm more likely to get shot?) and money doesn't seem to be flying out of my wallet any more. Just the moths. Like the olden days.*

Less fun is the sobering conversations I've been having with Kelly. She is very clear-eyed on a lot of things and without wishing to go into too much, or any, detail she has given me a lot to think about. She's quite the smarto. And i'm quite a tool.

* or the Beano

Thursday, 6 January 2011

The Old Diary

The next morning everything has changed.When i awoke i was back as the fat controller again. While we'd planned for Kelly to draft a complaint letter in time for her oncology appointment my brooding masculine presence (!) was now an irritant. the old complaints flooded back in: I had frightened her, she didnt trust me, I had hurt her with the violence of my words and we needed to see a third-party counsellor. It was as if my apologies, my acceptance of these transgressions, my willingness to do anything to fix the problems in our marriage had been forgotten and, in fact, a new scenario in which I had not only done all these things but then, point-blank, refused to apologise, to do anything to help and laughed melodramatically before sending our hungry marriage out into the snow, had been built up over night. We were exactly where we were a week ago.I sighed, fatally. Kelly had been policing my breath for weeks now, every sigh blowing up like a depth charge in her ears.

I was banished again. I am writing this from the impersonal and poorly soundtracked pit of the Olde Dairy. Still on the Earl Grey

Where the heat is

Kelly calls me into the bedroom on my return and we share a lengthy hold. She looks exhausted; her eyes dull and hooded, but she smiles beautifully and kisses me. She wipes my foggy glasses clear on her hat.

I am very gentle in my speech and manner; in the way I move. She begins to talk and despite nodding off mid-sentence she is lucid, self aware and, above all, listening to me. I am cagey and uncontroversial, hovering over egg-shells, but she is finally talking to me and pleased that i am home. She has no concentration, she is all over the place, but her drive is extraordinary; forcing her eyes open, charging back into consciousness. I have no idea why she is so resistant to sleep. Later that day she will attempt to download software onto the computer, dozing between key-pad presses, still wafting me and my sub-par computer skills away as I offer to assist, convinced that she could do it better, even if it means typing with her nose or a headwand. One constant throughout has been her conviction that I am utterly useless in ever sphere excepting cocktail party chit-chat. It's something i'm coming to believe myself. But i can do foot massage and so we end the day rubbong her feet with peppermint oil by lamplight, radio six suddenly sensitive, playing Ella Fitzgerald's "Bewitched, bothered and bewildered" and Ray Charles' "Midnight".

Even then she fights the drugs, resisting sleep, drifting off for minutes at a time before resurfacing, refusing to allow the light to be turned off, refusing to lose the radio. So i sit on one hip ploughing through Robert Aickman's "The Fetch", each page a ten minute slog, while waited for her to rest.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Communication and Breakdowns

I gave up drinking on New Years Day. That night I suffered a booze-free, sleepless night for the first time in a very long time. My stomach was seized with dread; the familliar pressure accelerating and hollowing out my breathing as I grip the pillow.

Not in a funny way.

It is fear of the future; it's not knowing what happens next: I've had it all my life.

Yesterday i was allowed back home under the proviso that i arrange my return in advance and ring ahead once I reached Finsbury Park. I can no longer text for the following reasons: Kelly finds it hard to read texts as her vision remains blurred, either from the medication or brain damage and secondly because she put her mobile in the tumble dryer and it no longer works. So i'm down to one line of communication left. They implement a code for me, a sort of stone aged caller i.d. - I have to ring a specific number of times so Kelly knows it's me. On the three times i do it Kate answers anyway.

I arrive at the flat not knowing what to expect. My keys still fit the locks which is encouraging...

The Hipster Imperative

The three of us are in the house. It is very hot, more suited to the flesh of orchids than humans. When i come in from outside my glasses are fogged for a full ten minutes. Kelly and Kate are coughing from either end of the flat; Kate busy doing nothing and Kelly the dor-mouse from Alice in Wonderland, nodding between sips of soup.

I returned yesterday having spent New Years at Doug's house. The "Rising Damp" film is on and I'm anxious for Gwen to hear the revamped disco theme tune with lyrics by Eric Chappell that are so trite that he must have tossed them off during the recording. But the siren scream of the capricious Eirlys, their daughter, sounds just before the credits roll and I witness the underlit seediness of the credit sequence alone.

I wonder, now that i'm nearly 40, whether this hipster imperative; the need to discover and celebrate obscure rubbish will ever stop. I had already been trying to impress with clips of "Yor! Manhunter from the Future" (there's so much wrong with even the title of that film!) specifically the dead bat hang-glider scene and an early seventies power trio called John B. Tiger with their song "We are the tiger bunch". They were German, had afros and all their songs seemed to be about tigers. Ha fucking ha. What a total waste of time.
Kelly doesnt want to move back into the flat until we've had relationship counselling. I'm happy to do this if it means she comes back to me. She has gone from the flat to a respite house to the hospital to my mum's house in Basingstoke. Each of these has been for a duration of approximately three days. I expect her to move on again before the weekend, though where she can go I don't know.

Monday, 3 January 2011

If it's not brain damage then it means that the cancer is still there, squeezing her brain and ultimately sure to trigger new seizures. If that happens it means two things:another course of mania inducing steroids and that the radio-therapy has done NOTHING. And, in fact, it could mean another thing too; that Kelly refuses further treatment because she was right all along and that her quality of life would have been much better without all the "treatments" she's received over the last 18 months. She would not have been harrowed, her soul destroyed, her mind scrambled and she could have enjoyed her life without encountering the failings of the world: the mendacity of the law, the inequality,cruelty and institutionalised ineptitude of of British health care and my own failure as husband, lover, protector and human being. I had hoped she would never find out. But a crisis has no secrets.
Kelly's eye-sight is getting worse. Whether this is permanent or not I don't know. She can no longer text or, more importantly, read a computer screen. This seriously compromises her plans for the future but what worries me more is why her vision is blurred. The timing is extremely sinister as it has taken place on the exact day that she has stopped taking the steroids. This was the big day, the day that the steroids which were, to a large extent,contributing to her mania, were finally finished. Finally she could have a chance at getting back to normal (her mood stabilisers arent due to kick in for weeks). But Kelly's known cancers are pressing on her opceteral lobe; the area responsible for sight. The steroids were to reduce the swelling in the brain tissue around the cancer, which had been the cause of the seizure. The radiotherapy was supposed to pummel the cancer into submission. While also causing some slight brain damage.

Brain damage is our best option.

Private Enemy Number One

Christmas morning and I get a text message (I've taken to sleeping with my phone). After an extremely bad coughing fit Kelly has called an ambulance and had herself admitted to the Whittington Hospital. Amazingly, by sheer power of will, she manages to stay in the hospital for three days despite the staff repeatedly saying that there is nothing medically they can do for her. This is not true as they manage to at least ward off the symptoms of her choking cough which Kelly has been convinced will kill her in the night. She is relatively happy there despite the ineptitude of some if certainly not all of the staff.

She is certainly more happy with them than with me.

Nothing

There seems to be no level of care between nothing and strapped howling to a ward bed in Haringay. There is a good case for saying that there is no real mental care available, nothing, at least, until you blow up and then there's a ward bed and a ton of after the fact drugs; a chemical cosh to calm you down. And then you're off out there again until the next time you cant face it any more. Kelly is a blisteringly intelligent woman with a strong interest in social issues and a lot of savvy friends and a large and motivated family behind her. If she has been ignored, if she has had no treatment, if she has nothing then what happens to most people with mental illness. What chance do they have?

This is how mental health treatment doesnt work: Kelly is in the throes of an unusual manic episode or rather a classic breakdown triggered by recent, awful events but also by the effects of the steroids she has been taking to avoid seizure. This is a known side effect even in people with no known history of mental illness.

Her three options are: do nothing, spend time in a respite home (effectively the same as doing nothing but in a different room) or I could have her sectioned on a ward with the seriously distressed. She hasnt seen a psychologist or been prescribed any drugs.

There is nothing: she's not mad enough.