Wednesday, 31 August 2011

did stuff

phoned benefits people. found the c.a.b. people ahead of tomorrow's appointment. got hold of a couple of e-mail addresses. went to the bank with the death certificate, as they had requested I do. filled in forms to join surgery. even remembered to put out my recycling.

spending the evening writing rude things about the people of Belfast. good effort.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Biff, Bang, Poo

Spent last night in North Road, by accident, in the company of Mo and Paul, by accident. Was accosted in the street by Paul who dragged me into the house as I made my journey out for le pain quotidien. I had fully intended to return home and do some work...just something...some editing, some blog-bollocks, some actual writing if you can imagine. But the lure of beer, curry and watching "Deathline" in company was too much for me. So I bollocksed the biro and tucked myself in for the evening. I had forgotten how good the film was: fantastic music, brilliant premise, magnificent set-pieces, gorgeous camera work, positive and affirmative roles for black people (making it practically a one off for the early seventies!). And Donald Pleasance in his best ever role. He is extraordinary, alternately hilarious and terrifying...and he's the goodie! His tag-team with Norman Rossington (always excellent, always under-used) was as good as Waverley and Trout in the "Phibes" films. High praise indeed. From me, at any rate.

After that we watched "Upside Down", the embarrassing story of Creation records. Mo describes Alan McGee as "a first year student talking loudly on a bus about how wasted they got during Fresher's week" and she is on the money. I grew up with these records, idolising The Jesus and Mary Chain, The House of Love and My Bloody Valentine. And some of the music is timelessly great; "Some Candy Talking" still sounds like the best record ever made; "Loveless" sounds like no music ever made. But my god, the men who made these records were cocks and the man who enabled them the biggest cock in the cockpit. McGee, filmed in crisp black and white that flatters everyone else in the film, looks like a roasting pig in a series of ill-advised hats, his great long ears melting down the side of his head, his jowls ice-white under the camera's glare. He smirks and sniggers and boasts, recounting tales of mismanaging bands, companies, contracts and funds. He talks about all the drugs, the money wasted, the terrible records released (The Loft, The Weather Prophets, The Legend!, Baby Amphetamine, SLOWDIVE!). The way that he had to be bailed out by major labels when his luck ran out and about his own substance induced break-down. He is unapologetic. He deploys the famous, useless catch-all phrase that he and Bobby Gillespie have been bandying around for thirty years to excuse their juvenile antics: it's only rock 'n' roll - if you don't like it you're boring and square*. This despite the fact that McGee was in Biff Bang Pow; tubby purveyors of twelve-string jangle and Gillespie looks like the last boy picked for football; the type who pulls his shorts and pants down at the urinal on the first day of school. At least Gillespie talks a good fight, McGee comes across as a self-congratulatory, drugged up bully-boy; shouting into telephones and forcing drugs on his employees. Awful.

Paul and Mo on the other hand are delights. They will both be gone by the end of next week - off to Madrid to teach English as a foreign language. There are no jobs in Belfast so they've both taken the Enfanta's shilling and are away. It'll be great for them I don't doubt: sun, fun, actual proper jobs. I will miss them.

*actually I am both. That doesn't stop these men from being pricks.

Monday, 29 August 2011

A short history of people I'm taller than...

Genghis Kahn - 5'1", Voltaire - 5'3", Gandhi - 5'3", Charles Aznavour - 5'3", Mishima - 5'2", Balzac - 5' 2", Harriet Tubman - 5'0", Kant - 5'0", Lorenz Hart - 5'0, Thomas de Quincey - 5'0", Kristin Chenoweth - 4'11", Charlotte Bronte - 4'11", Glenn Danzig (!) - 5'3", Marquis de Sade - 5'3", Beethoven - 5' 4", Harry Houdini - 5'4", Mahler - 5'4", Bill Oddie - 5'4", Picasso - 5'4", Rodin - 5'4", Haile Selassie (Emperor) - 5'4", Rod Serling - 5'4", Stravinsky - 5'4", Berlusconi - 5'5", Nijinsky - 5'5", Roman Polanski - 5' 5", Sarkozy - 5'5", Stalin - 5'5", J.R.R. Tolkein - 5'5", Jules Verne - 5'5", T(h)om Yorke - 5'5", William Faulkner - 5'5.5, T.E. Lawrence - 5'5".5, Horatio Nelson - 5'5".5, Johnny Depp - 5'9", Robert de Nero - 5'9", Eminem - 5'9", Albert Einstein - 5'9", Sylvester Stallone - 5'9", William Shatner - 5'9", Lenin - 5'5", Lou Reed - 5'5", Bono - 5'7", Dali - 5'7", Bob Dylan - 5'6", The Gibb Brothers (not Barry) - 5'8", Hitchcock - 5'6", Elton John 5'4", John Keats - 5'1", Henry Winkler (the fuckin' fonz!) - 5'7", Paul Weller - 5'9", Napoleon Bonaparte - 5'6", Hitler - 5'9", Dirk Bogarde 5'8.5"

Dave Bowie claims to be be 5'10". What a load of bollocks.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Soup Song

There's a gale blowing outside and I've been soaked in the rain once again. The house is dark and the air smells vaguely of both peat and eggs. Seagulls are wheeling distantly over head and the trees are winding their bodies down; the sound is like a platoon of fat men marching across an endless plateau of crisps. It's August in Belfast.

I got soaked yesterday too but that was on a fun family excursion and I was sporting a pack-a-mac so it was fine. It was Stephen Mullan's last day in Ireland so the family made a trip to Gulladuff and we commemorated it with a walk up a Cairn that I forget the name of. It was great to get some exercise, some quality time with the Mullans and a look at the big stupid, Dali skies they have over here. The skies are too sky-ey; weird, fiddly bits of filligreed cloud, too nuanced and cleanly delineated to be real. The sky here reminds me of the hyper-realist matte paintings of "Black Narcissus", brilliant colours and crisp purple shadows where the sun breaks through cracks in the clouds, picking out the fields like a spotlight. It is very beautiful here. When the sun's out.

In the evening I treated myself to the only bottle of Meerlust Rubicon I've ever seen in Ireland. It was a delicious end to a day.

I've been feeling quite desperate recently and haven't been shy about it but I laughed a great deal on Friday. I had been moaning vehemently on Facebook* about the lack of available foods here, especially when it comes to seasoning my fancy-pants soups. I thought nothing of it, I rant therefore I am. But on my return from the head-shrinkest I found a very carefully put together package. It was from my old work colleague Jodie and contained: sage, oregano, shallots, some Bisto gravy granules (!), angel delight, marsh-mellows, two terrifying looking packets from Germany containing I don't know what and a Wham bar - with a note apologising for the inclusion of the wham bar as she knew the perilous condition my teeth were in.

I was delighted. The shallots are going into tonight's soup.

Once again I am reminded of the tremendous quality of my friends.

Dr. Who returned to our screens last night. The first one of the revamped series that Kelly won't have seen. These are the unexpectedly sad things that leap out at you when you least expect it. I didn't expect Moffat's shark vaulting exercise to have quite such an emotional undertow but you can be sure that he didn't put it there. It's all Kelly.

*I'm on Facebook strike at the moment. Well not strike exactly - I'm still reading what's going on but I'm not really writing anything on there. I was finding that I was spending four or five hours a day on there and really that' too much time. I'm stepping back from Facebook. I just want to live!

Saturday, 27 August 2011


I know you all think I'm stupid for persisting with the mis-spelled "Haggered" of the title of this blog*. Well think again people. If you do a google-search of the word "haggered" I'm the second most popular entry in all the shiny big world!

Second to a mis-spelled and inaccurately defined entry for "haggard" in Urban Dictionary, that is.

*To those of you who thought I was "doing something" and being "clever" no, bless you, I just spelled "Haggard" incorrectly. But thanks.

Friday, 26 August 2011

The Home of Happy-Time Hits!

It doesn't matter how bad it gets these songs always do the business, often for wildly differing reasons:

Pyjamarama - Roxy Music,
O my friends you've been untrue to me - Demis Roussos,
One night in Bangkok - Murray Head,
Pinball - Brian Protheroe.
Gourmandises - Alizee,
A Glass of Champagne - Sailor (it may be the way he pronounces "Champagne")
Head over Heels - Abba,
Spooky - Dusty Springfield,
In the Heat of the Morning - Dave Bowie,

Planet Caravan - Black Sabbath,
Kiljoy - The Czars,
Purple Haze - Dion,
Magic Fly - Space,
I Wanna be your Lover - La Bionda,
Pi - Kate Bush,
A Doll's House - John Barry,
Auntie Aviator - John and Beverley Martin,
The Lady with the Braid - Dory Previn,
Give me a little more time - Gabrielle,
Golden Years - Dave "second showing" Bowie,

The Look - Metronomy, (modern!)
Breathe and Stop - Q-Tip,
Boys - B.O.N.
L'Opportuniste - Jacques Dutronc,
Love Your Shoes - Furniture,
Biological - Air,
She's your baby - Ween,
Mississippi Delta - Bobbie Gentry,
Roam - B52s,
I was born to love her - Spain,
I was made to love her - Stevie Wonder,
You send me - Sam Cooke,
Being with you - Smokey Robinson,
I want more - Can,

These records were made a long time ago.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Finally rang the C.A.B., the D.L.A.* and the E.S.A. I've been putting off doing any admin for a long time but one of the joys of having to go and see my counsellor every week is that I need things to talk about. And doing stuff is one of those things.

The inland revenue sent a series of forms to fill in. A volume of forms. A codex. There's admin and there's just nail-pulling.

Today was my niece Rosie's birthday. I missed it. That's two for two so far. If I can forget Alec's I've covered them all! Really doing Kelly proud. At her sickest, her weakest, Kelly never forgot a child's birthday; or any one's birthday. I'm not fit to do things to her sandals (I forget whether it's to strap or unstrap - either way I'm not fit for it). I ring my mum because my sister has been staying in Basingstoke but she went back yesterday.

Have been watching "Big Train" in an attempt to cheer myself up but every other sketch is about being single and how people on their own are weirdos. I'm not single but I'm alone all right. The grey cat came into the house today for the first time since Kelly died. Usually it sleeps for hours in the spare room. Today it was in and out like a ninja cracksman.

Jesus, I'm tired of writing this shit.

*I thought this was something to do with Driving Licences. But apparently not.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Dorian Grey

The painter Tim Weir has been taking my picture as studies for a future portrait. It's done in half-light against the white wall of his living room. His flat mate sits in the corner playing some species of war game, the controls resting on his belly, terrified screams and helicopter rotor blades accompanying the action while he stares impassively at the screen.

I try and look natural. An impossible task at the best of times, I am an unnatural creature, but I'm aware that a 1982 catalogue pose is not what Tim's after, so I'm giving it a go. Tim combines the feeling of later Rembrandts with the chiaroscuro and lighting techniques of Caravaggio and the antebellum ruthlessness of a Bacon or Freud. My Nick Rhodes cheek-bone pimping isn't going to cut much ice with him.

So I attempt to look natural. And I'm not looking bad today - my freckles are out, my glasses are off and I won't be smiling. I look into the mirror before I go out - good eyes, nice skin, the hair, a punkified quiff in what I'm assured is a very fashionable platinum-grey colour. It looks raffish; out of the right side of the bed, for once. I begin to think of that self portrait of Durer that has been fascinating and exciting women for five hundred years. Move over Albrecht there's a new guy in town. And he doesn't look like the singer from Nickleback!

I relax into it as Tim snaps away, staring down the baleful eye of the camera's lens. The posing muscles kick back into gear and I strike a series of poses, all Egon Schiele angles and Francis Bacon screams. That gets me through the initial embarrassment and I start to pose seriously, imagining where the light is falling across my face, what kinds of shadows will be collecting, what will be picked out; how's the philtrum looking? I stare sullenly, aggressively, haughtily, I look away from the camera, down to the ground or up in the air like a medieval pieta.

Eventually Tim thinks he has enough and we stop. He asks me if I want to see the photos and I hesitate. In my mind I'm really expressing; my eyes are soul-mirrors communicating my sadness, limpid lasers boring a hole into the world's canvas and filling it with the wretched misery that holds my heart.

I don't get that. It's a gurning contest with the horse-collar missing. It's an Edweard Muybridge flick-book of a Bedlam unfortunate. It's a man in an electric chair. It's Morrissey live on stage, hit in the head with a pint pot of piss. Durer need not concern himself.

Should be a fantastic painting though.

P.S. I've tried to post a link to Tim's website four or five times but Blogshite, as usual, isn't having it. If you would like to see some of Tim's work, and I would recommend you would, stick the following: into your browser and have a good poke round.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Bloat Man's Call

I keep trying to cook things. It's easy to let things slide, to live off takeaways and stodge. Round my way it seems to be a way of life. There are four fish and chip shops within easy walking distance (one of them in a petrol station!). There are five or six Chinese takeaways, two Indians, three or four kebab shops, a couple of "diners" and one or two restaurants that describe their food as "real", which in local parlance means a fry-up in the daytime and an Irish stew at night, none o' that fancy shite the foreigners brought with them: good, honest, hearty cholesterol in a soda farl.

There are also a lot of fat people. Fat people eating their breakfast rolls, an entire cooked breakfast in a bap, in their cars. If you see a thin person they are either a) a gangling adolescent or b) an alcoholic. Everyone else has been gently rounded out like modern cars; no hard edges. They would be aerodynamically smooth if they tripped and fell down a hill, their faces flushed at the end of it from embarrassment not wind resistance.

And I am one of them. I wobble amongst them, padded like a madman's bedroom. I look like I'm four months gone. Four months gone in the head, at least. I walk a lot, I have a powerful jutting arse and legs like a ballerina, there's no problem there. But upstairs, chins sag like a melting Vienetta, tits tumble and my belly looks like dough dropped on a barber-shop floor.

Something needs to be done. I can't afford a gym and I can't run on the one-and-a half-legs that prop me up like a fucked Victorian camera. Diet seems obvious - fresh veg, fruit, grains. Healthy, nutritious stuff, adding grist to bowel-movements and de-furring the arteries.

They don't have that stuff here. Or if they do I don't know where the fuck it is. The onions are watery and "mint" is one of the staples of the herb garden. The big three herbs here are "Basil" "Parsley" and "Mint". I've no problem with mint in a Mojito, but in food? A pea soup? Trad lamb? What the fuck else? I'm sorry. I'm taking it out on mint.

But...the bread! The bread is so bad. My local "baker" doesn't even sell bread. Their stock model seems to be based on whatever Greggs does, plus some french fancies. Its all flakey pastry and processed meat and fondant fairies.

I mean I could go on...I could go on...I'll go on...

Another day where the petty triumphs are pathetic in the extreme. Up before mid-day: one point. Have a bath: one point. Clean the house: a point. Sort out recycling and bring the bins back in again: go on, have two points. Go shopping and come back with just wine and cheese: going to lose a couple points there, John (though not as bad as yesterdays ultimate bachelor shopping basket: lasagne for one, cheapest red wine in the shop, loo-roll and fabreze!).

Maybe a hundred words of proper writing done. Better than yesterday. That all got deleted first thing. Ah, well. I'm going to have my picture taken tomorrow - the battered old boat still has something about it!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Moth Death*

A plague of moths. Armoured moths that won't go down and won't stay out. I am haunted by Gerard de Nerval's poetical black butterflies. They are perverse animals (if you can call them that - they're made of dessicated shit) with long probing tongues and no sense of perspective. Edgar Poe included a Sphinx moth in his story "The Sphinx". The main character mistakenly thinks that the moth on a window is a huge monster. Much to his surprise, his friend points out that it is in fact very close and not on a hill in the distance.

The main character was right all along.

The dragon that St. George fought was the now extinct Dragon Moth. The Lambton Worm was a large, flightless moth that lived in a well and was covered in razor sharp spines. The Kraken is an under-seas moth with many sucker dappled tentacles. If you hit the devil with a towel he leaves a brown smudge on your paintwork.

What do they want from me? Why are they here?

*slightly elderly hip hop reference there
Feeling quite worthless today. It's two weeks since I spoke to the bank, since I spoke to the C.A.B. and I have done nothing. I'm not even writing. Well not much. Songs, awfully, bizarrely, and they're some of the worst I've ever written. It's hard to maintain an ironic distance, my default setting, when I'm writing the sort of songs I inevitably have to write. Simple clarity and heartfelt feeling are very difficult to convey when Hallmark have bowdlerised vast tranches of human expression and experience, forcing me to try different things: so trite sentiment rubs up next to gnomish inscrutability and everything bursts its corsets, spilling everywhere, like shopping in the rain.

That sort of thing. Rubbish.

The proper writing, the writing about Kelly ( I've given up the notion of children's books at the moment), is barely happening. I absolutely have to do it. But it has become very hard recently. The first 12,000 words came in a torrent. But it's sputtered out to a trickle of grammatical corrections and deletions. The stories about Kelly's past that I was receiving from her friends has dried up too, promises reneged on, requests ignored.

I can't build her a statue, I can't dedicate a library or hospital ward to her. This is all I can do to commemorate her and I can't do it. But why not if I could do it a month ago? My usual solution, the only solution, is to keep writing but I always end up back on the blog, whining into the ether.

I like company, company is amusing and distracting, but I'm always slightly anxious because I feel I should be working. And when I don't have company the depression is too great for me to do anything useful. And I'm old! I don't have the time to fuck around.

It will come. If I just apply trouser seat to chair for long enough it will come. I will sit this fucking thing out.

Lionel Blair touches his nose and points.

Just read this set of lyrics on the musician and absinthe importer John Moore's web-site. I was intrigued by the man because Kasch on his visit over here gave me a copy of Luke Haine's new stink-piece "Post Everything" and the pair were once in Black Box Recorder, who had a hit over a decade ago.

Moore is an interesting figure. He was once the drummer in the Jesus and Mary Chain and when he left immediately formed an inept, cartoonish version of that band called John Moore and the Expressway (hopefully I'm spelling that incorrectly). After they disbanded (I remember they were on the Chart Show once and certainly looked the part) he was in another couple of dreadful bands before reinventing himself as a louche commentator on sport in The Idler as well as being modestly successful on University Challenge. Today he ekes out a respectable existence as a writer and makes music for fun like the rest of us have to. We have never met.

None of which explains the lyrics below. It's the last line that hurts the most!

Bohemian Jerk

I’m a middle-aged penniless Bohemian Jerk
A debonair decadent that won’t do to work
I’m a rich man living in a poor man’s skin
An old man’s body that’s preserved in sin

My head’s full of lust and my heart’s full of rage
I’m dating girls almost half my age
They don’t want much so they’re not disappointed
Just the wisdom of the age from this sage self-appointed
Just a few last drops from this Saint self-anointed

I’ve read all the novels and now I’m writing them too
At my time of life it’s what a man’s got to do
When you’ve soaked up, snorted up, sucked it dry
Drunk yourself to death but you still won’t die

I’m self-employed doing sweet FA
I’m a schedule D but I’m DOA
Still living on hand outs from my mother
It’s the only thing keeping me out of the gutter
But I’m going to be big some day, yes I’m going to be huge some day
There’s a whole lot of people going to know about me
From the CIA to the BBC

I’m rancourous, cantankerous, downright cancerous
I might be a wanker but I’ve still got my hair,
I’m argumentative, no incentive,
Because arseholes only need fresh air.

But you’ve got to give back to the young generation
Help da kidz to find their true vocation
Or we’ll run out of middle-aged bohemian jerks
Debonair decadents who won’t go to work…

And then who’d buy all the books from Oxfam?

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Good Grief!

I've been drunk for a month. This is mainly due to being with other people for a month. Other people are an excellent distraction from the horror of life (as well as being the main cause of most of it!) and I have been surrounded by some of the nicest. But I thought I needed to grieve. I thought I needed some time out to be just incredibly sad, to feel hollowed out, to communicate with myself on a physical, visceral level exactly what it is I've lost. Because it's everything. I can't stress the enormous, meteor-hits-earth-and-kills-all-the-dinosaurs impact Kelly had on my life. She changed me when I couldn't. I thought I had calcified at 18 and was slowly eroding from that point, becoming slightly less each year: older, slower, uglier, less funny, more desperate. That sort of thinking leaves you hopeless, helpless and venal. I thought my life was over and then suddenly it wasn't. It was an actual renaissance. I started to breathe again, I could straighten up. I walked tall (with a tall limp). My deepest fear is that I go back. That I become first-life John again, without her guiding influence, her moral stabilisers. Her transforming love.

I also worry that I'm not grieving properly. I don't know how you do it. I can get by very well around other people, laughing and joking, smiling fondly at all the stories people have of her (you would, they're good stories!). I've asked people to send me them, people who knew her years before me, people who knew Kellys that I never did. I love these things.

But alone I can let it in. I can feel the loss, the enormous, head-in-chest pressure of her absence; like a dinghy inflating on top of me, clobbering me to the ground, pushing the air out of me as surely as it draws it into itself. All it takes is the pulled toggle of a thought. Is this the right way to do it? Should I be doing this? Cathartic pain seems intuitive but, as Q.I. has consistently shown me, everything I know is wrong. Surely everything I feel must be wrong as well.

The Kubler-Ross Model (or the "the five stages of grief" as it's popularly known) is largely bollocks as far as I'm concerned. Even its own literature describes no real set order to the stages and that you may experience several at the same time. i.e. Like any other emotional responses to anything that might happen to you. It can be sophisticated, contradictory and not easily attributable. And in any case the model was intended for people with terminal illnesses coming to terms with their own mortality, not for those that they left behind. More interesting is George Bonnano's "Four trajectories of grief" which I shall now nick whole-sale from Wikipedia:

Resilience: "The ability of adults in otherwise normal circumstances who are exposed to an isolated and potentially highly disruptive event, such as the death of a close relation or a violent or life-threatening situation, to maintain relatively stable, healthy levels of psychological and physical functioning" as well as "the capacity for generative experiences and positive emotions."

Recovery: When "normal functioning temporarily gives way to threshold or sub-threshold psychopathology (e.g., symptoms of depression or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)), usually for a period of at least several months, and then gradually returns to pre-event levels."

Chronic dysfunction: Prolonged suffering and inability to function, usually lasting several years or longer.

Delayed grief or trauma: When adjustment seems normal but then distress and symptoms increase months later. Researchers have not found evidence of delayed grief, but delayed trauma appears to be a genuine phenomenon"

Seems to me that you do not want either of the last two! Sleeper grief coming and nudging you in five years time with a "Wake up! Time to cry" seems almost unbearably cruel.

I don't know what my emotional life has in store for me. And it seems that nobody else does either. I'll just have to get on with it.

Follow that, cabbie!

I'm a non-driver in a country where that counts as a disability. As such, like the elderly, the mentally ill, the "quare", I rely on the taxis and buses that Belfast provides, when I'm not out wearing down the bouncing soles of my Dr. Martens. Never had a problem with a taxi. On the one occasion that a taxi turned up late it was because a series of bomb scares had closed most of the major roads. Which is a pretty tidy excuse. They also provide me with valuable local insights; I now know which of the local bars are "Cougar-towns" and that "If you cant get a woman in there you don't want a woman!" Useful stuff for a man visiting his wife in hospital! So I'm ashamed to say that I made one of these delightful and informative men cry last week.

I was visiting my counsellor in Ards hospital which is about ten miles outside of Belfast and in the country. ( I say the country but it has a big fuck-off shopping centre in the middle of it!) In the cab the driver starts prattling merrily away and, apropos of nothing, asks "Is it the missus you're visiting in hospital?" And I, equally unexpectedly, blurted out "No I'm afraid she died a month ago. I'm going to see my counsellor."

It hung in the air for a moment and then came a volley of sobbed apologies from the rear-view mirror followed by a sustained and clearly very difficult silence. I began to feel very bad. Clearly of the two of us he was the better man. He was being cheerful and friendly in what is, after all, a "people" industry. Whereas I had effectively exploited my wife's death for fifteen minutes peace and quiet. And while the Month's mind was still a very recent event and jangled all manner of things up in me, there was no need for it. My only consolation is that this is itself a very Kelly Mullan train of thought!

Bus drivers though...pricks. To a man. Even if that man is a woman and sometimes, Belfast, it's hard to tell and that's not because your bus-drivers are well known for their teasing androgyny! A Belfast bus is an ouroboros - it often looks as if its back-end is driving!

Yesterday I got on a bus from the centre of town. My usual bus of choice, the 4A, author* of such amusing puns as "Time for another 4A into town" etc, was not available. I chanced my arm and went for the number 18. I was fairly certain that I had been on it before and that it had at least approximately in the direction that I wanted to but to be honest, and I know it's not very P.C., all buses look the same to me. I asked the driver "Excuse me, does this bus go to Ballyhackamore?". The driver gave me a brief, dry eye-bath and emitted a non-committal grunt. I tried again. "Excuse me, where does this bus go?" He actually rolled his eyes! I don't think I've ever seen anyone do that in real life. And then he said to me something that no bus driver, even the studded leather gauntlet wearing ones in South London, have ever said to me. He said:

"This is the number 18 bus. Do you not know where the number 18 bus goes?"

I was so surprised by this that I actually laughed. "No," I said. What I didn't say was "Have you checked the accent mate? I'm not from round here and I don't know the number 18 bus route but what has become clear through your evasive passive-aggression is that neither do you!"

That's what I didn't say. What I did say was "Does it go to North road?" He agreed that it did and Kasch and I lumbered up the stairs where I fumed silently for the length of the journey home, much to Kasch's delight.

*obviously I am the author of these puns.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Months Mind

I don't think I know how that is spelled. Does the mind "belong" to the month? Should it be possessive? Should any of us?

For people who are not Irish, or are not affiliated or might not even be Catholic, the "Months Mind" is a Mass said on the monthly anniversary of someone's death. In fact Kelly's was on the 10th, so just nudging under the month, but that's not really important. What I didn't know was that it was going to be a kind of weedy hench-man of the wake. I haven't really written about the wake on here and at some point I probably will but for me it was a protracted torture, a series of bafflingly, and to the wary eye of the outsider, unnecessarily cruel events. And more of a marathon than a sprint.

There was a Blitz spirit in the Mullan home; a notion that we need to get through this. There are traditions that need be up-held and once again the tea-urn comes out and everybody for miles around turns up and eats neat, triangular sandwiches. I can see how this might work or may be of some comfort if you are aware of the tradition and are used to it, indeed expecting it. I am not and find it odd and difficult. It seems strange that I should be at a commemoration for my wife where nobody knows who I am. But, actually, once I'd girded my loins, it was fine. The family were delightful as always and Mike and Row being over was a joy. It's always good to see her life in London represented in a way that I feel that I can no longer do.

It seems much longer than a month and yet I think about her every moment of every day. I think more about her now than when she was alive, I'm sure. It's all I can do.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Some others do 'ave 'em.

On my third night of not drinking Mike and Row arrive for Kelly's "Months Mind". I'm on the Camomile. We'd watched an episode of "Keep it the Family", Mike experiencing a Proustian rush at the "London Weekend Television" logo and the general squonking-sax brilliance of the theme tune, (Row marvelled at Robert Gillespie's "irreverent" performance and welter of dad-gags). We were just about to put "Dead of Night" on when the lights went out. We wandered around, using our phones as torches, checking to see if it was just us but no, it was a general power-cut, everybody's lights were out. We had a tube of lavender flavoured t-lights but a quick rummage through my drawers revealed no lighter and no matches. And yet again an electric hob proves absolutely useless.

But we needn't have worried the lights came on after ten minutes. Unfortunately that mean't that every electrical device in the house reset itself, including the burglar alarm that I didn't know existed. It started emitting a small beep so we went to investigate and discovered it required a four number pin: a pin I didn't have. We started randomly pressing buttons, attempting to rend some sense from the mystifying hieroglyphics. Obviously it didn't work. Then something that sounded like a car alarm went off. It wasn't a car alarm, it was the outside alarm going off, ringing round the Mews. I run to the cork board looking for any information that the landlord David had left us. There is some stuff about the boiler and a gnomic post-it note about starting the cooker. But nothing about an alarm. We dig around under the stairs looking for a way to turn it off - the alarm is an add-on to the lights. Mike trips the switch and we are plunged into darkness and the alarm goes off - inside the house. We realise, with mounting horror, that the outside alarm is still ringing. We re-trip the switch and the lights come back on. I ring the land-lord. Can't get him. I ring him again and he answers sounding groggy, but not put out. He doesn't know the pin number either. He rings Michael, my next door neighbour, who lived in the house for a while, and of all of us has the best chance of knowing the code. I come back into the living room and the police have arrived.

They are very keen to inform me that they are here for security reasons - nobody has made a complaint - the power-cut has set off alarms all over the place. They fanny around, making me take all of the stuff my cupboards, poking at the fuses, requesting a screw-driver I don't have. The other one hangs back, prodding at the alarm. David rings back. Michael, the next door neighbour, is in Canada. And doesn't know the code either.

The police leave. We are left with the alarm and no way to shut it off. The doorbell rings. I assume it is a furious neighbour. It isn't - it is David the landlord in his shorts. He thinks he left the pin-code in the cutlery drawer (!): he hasn't. I try the lower drawer, still full of Kelly's drugs, nothing there either. He takes an executive decision and starts sawing through the wire into the alarm. Alarmed Mike asks if I have any rubber gloves. I say "I do, but you're not going to like it," thinking that the only rubber gloves I have are Kelly's scary monster hands. David doesn't give a shit, he carries on sawing through the wires with his keys. The alarm stops. Down stairs; there is another one upstairs in my bedroom, the bedroom that is unchanged since Kelly left to go into hospital. It is a tip and this is the only time my landlord has seen it. He doesn't care and starts sawing away. The alarms are off, bare wires hanging out of them.

David leaves, offering his condolences on the door-step. I decide to have a glass of wine.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

I have no one to tell me the correct way to respond to the riots in London and be bang on, absolutely right in every part. I miss my wise, funny, clever wife.

Tori sends me photographs of Kelly that I have never seen before. She looks young and strong and gorgeous in a toga with a laurel wreath or on the basalt steps of the Giant's Causeway with a paper cup in hand. She looks as if nothing could ever hurt her. Misleading.

Finally managed to ring MacMillan CAB and the bank after putting it off for a fortnight. Oddly the bank were the more helpful of the two, though both offered to send me out forms. I love forms. If there's anything likely to provoke my tears it's detailing the precarious financial situation you shared with your wife over the phone to a stranger. I'll be a week chiselling the baked-on snot from the phone. The bank lady was crying by the end of the call as well. I don't know whether that's professional or un-professional but it did make me feel better.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Portrush stained

Kelly had arranged to meet up with her University friends at Portrush on the Antrim Coast. She died rather surprisingly quickly in the end and didn't get there but the girls decided to go anyway as a way of commemorating her and Dee and I went too, as her representatives on earth. We had no children, as they all did, but brought along Maggie the dog in her capacity as both hairy baby and tireless child's plaything.

There was a lot of ball chucking on the beach by Barry's amusements and later on there was much drinking of wine, expired beer and alcoholic ginger ale. I was no replacement for Kelly. I lack her presence, her vibrancy. Even at my best, and I am far from my best at the moment, I couldn't really compete with her charm and immediacy. And I never tried either, happy to bask in her reflected glory, watching her work the room, delighting all comers. So while I am attempting to continue her ministry on earth I'm not really up to the gig.

It was an odd experience looking back over the pictures of lost and gone Kelly's that I never knew. She was protean and I had no idea. I had assumed that before she met me she had always looked like she did when she met me. But no, there were dozens of Kellys, all subtly different, all over the shop. It just serves to remind me what a ridiculously short time I had her for. And it it makes me jealous of people who knew her longer.

Friday, 5 August 2011


Find Kelly's copy of "Mess: the manual of accidents and mistakes" by Keri Smith. It's a notebook designed to stimulate artistic ideas along the lines of "Create a series of thumb-prints as a basis for drawing other objects" or "1. Alter this image by damaging it. 2."Find an interesting way to repair the damage." That sort of thing. I pore through it, looking for Kelly evidence, but it is depressingly empty.

There a couple of doodles of my own face and photograph of a staid sixties style business gent with the caption: "This man looks like he needs to let loose a little. You might want to help him out, a new hat, some glasses, facial hair perhaps." He has been given a familiar looking quiff, eyelash and philtrum combo. There are a few colour exercises and hearts rendered in brown and blue. At the start of the book, where it states "Write your own intro" she has written:

"I am creating messy art works because I am vain and wish to be admired and I want something to stimulate me to get up in the morning"

There's something emblematic about that statement. Kelly could be vain and did want to be, and was, admired. But its the creepy creeping depression of the second part of the sentence that gets me. She did need a reason to get out of bed. There were days when there was nothing she could do at at all and drawing and scraping and scribbling were a way of proving she was there, that she could have an effect, that she could move paint and ink if nothing else. Later in the book she alters the text of a page of text by scratching out certain letters. Her finished text reads:


I miss her so much.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Death of the Moth by Virginia Woolf

Moths that fly by day are not properly to be called moths; they do not excite that pleasant sense of dark autumn nights and ivy-blossom which the commonest yellow-underwing asleep in the shadow of the curtain never fails to rouse in us. They are hybrid creatures, neither gay like butterflies nor sombre like their own species. Nevertheless the present specimen, with his narrow hay-coloured wings, fringed with a tassel of the same colour, seemed to be content with life. It was a pleasant morning, mid–September, mild, benignant, yet with a keener breath than that of the summer months. The plough was already scoring the field opposite the window, and where the share had been, the earth was pressed flat and gleamed with moisture. Such vigour came rolling in from the fields and the down beyond that it was difficult to keep the eyes strictly turned upon the book. The rooks too were keeping one of their annual festivities; soaring round the tree tops until it looked as if a vast net with thousands of black knots in it had been cast up into the air; which, after a few moments sank slowly down upon the trees until every twig seemed to have a knot at the end of it. Then, suddenly, the net would be thrown into the air again in a wider circle this time, with the utmost clamour and vociferation, as though to be thrown into the air and settle slowly down upon the tree tops were a tremendously exciting experience.

The same energy which inspired the rooks, the ploughmen, the horses, and even, it seemed, the lean bare-backed downs, sent the moth fluttering from side to side of his square of the window-pane. One could not help watching him. One was, indeed, conscious of a queer feeling of pity for him. The possibilities of pleasure seemed that morning so enormous and so various that to have only a moth’s part in life, and a day moth’s at that, appeared a hard fate, and his zest in enjoying his meagre opportunities to the full, pathetic. He flew vigorously to one corner of his compartment, and, after waiting there a second, flew across to the other. What remained for him but to fly to a third corner and then to a fourth? That was all he could do, in spite of the size of the downs, the width of the sky, the far-off smoke of houses, and the romantic voice, now and then, of a steamer out at sea. What he could do he did. Watching him, it seemed as if a fibre, very thin but pure, of the enormous energy of the world had been thrust into his frail and diminutive body. As often as he crossed the pane, I could fancy that a thread of vital light became visible. He was little or nothing but life.

Yet, because he was so small, and so simple a form of the energy that was rolling in at the open window and driving its way through so many narrow and intricate corridors in my own brain and in those of other human beings, there was something marvellous as well as pathetic about him. It was as if someone had taken a tiny bead of pure life and decking it as lightly as possible with down and feathers, had set it dancing and zig-zagging to show us the true nature of life. Thus displayed one could not get over the strangeness of it. One is apt to forget all about life, seeing it humped and bossed and garnished and cumbered so that it has to move with the greatest circumspection and dignity. Again, the thought of all that life might have been had he been born in any other shape caused one to view his simple activities with a kind of pity.

After a time, tired by his dancing apparently, he settled on the window ledge in the sun, and, the queer spectacle being at an end, I forgot about him. Then, looking up, my eye was caught by him. He was trying to resume his dancing, but seemed either so stiff or so awkward that he could only flutter to the bottom of the window-pane; and when he tried to fly across it he failed. Being intent on other matters I watched these futile attempts for a time without thinking, unconsciously waiting for him to resume his flight, as one waits for a machine, that has stopped momentarily, to start again without considering the reason of its failure. After perhaps a seventh attempt he slipped from the wooden ledge and fell, fluttering his wings, on to his back on the window sill. The helplessness of his attitude roused me. It flashed upon me that he was in difficulties; he could no longer raise himself; his legs struggled vainly. But, as I stretched out a pencil, meaning to help him to right himself, it came over me that the failure and awkwardness were the approach of death. I laid the pencil down again.

The legs agitated themselves once more. I looked as if for the enemy against which he struggled. I looked out of doors. What had happened there? Presumably it was midday, and work in the fields had stopped. Stillness and quiet had replaced the previous animation. The birds had taken themselves off to feed in the brooks. The horses stood still. Yet the power was there all the same, massed outside indifferent, impersonal, not attending to anything in particular. Somehow it was opposed to the little hay-coloured moth. It was useless to try to do anything. One could only watch the extraordinary efforts made by those tiny legs against an oncoming doom which could, had it chosen, have submerged an entire city, not merely a city, but masses of human beings; nothing, I knew, had any chance against death. Nevertheless after a pause of exhaustion the legs fluttered again. It was superb this last protest, and so frantic that he succeeded at last in righting himself. One’s sympathies, of course, were all on the side of life. Also, when there was nobody to care or to know, this gigantic effort on the part of an insignificant little moth, against a power of such magnitude, to retain what no one else valued or desired to keep, moved one strangely. Again, somehow, one saw life, a pure bead. I lifted the pencil again, useless though I knew it to be. But even as I did so, the unmistakable tokens of death showed themselves. The body relaxed, and instantly grew stiff. The struggle was over. The insignificant little creature now knew death. As I looked at the dead moth, this minute wayside triumph of so great a force over so mean an antagonist filled me with wonder. Just as life had been strange a few minutes before, so death was now as strange. The moth having righted himself now lay most decently and uncomplainingly composed. O yes, he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am.

The Moth-man probably

Terrible night. I spend the day on my own, but for butting neighbour, and do a fair amount of writing. It's rambling, shapeless and repetitive but it's well over the ten thousand words and I feel like I have barely scraped the surface of what I want to say. I will be scratching away at this for some time but it is, if nothing else, a labour of love.

I don't drink. A mistake as it turns out. The moths have been flocking into the house again. As I went to brush my teeth I thought I saw a figure in the mirror as I turned and looked it was not a figure but an enormous shit-brown, dirt-caked moth. This thing had weight. I'd need a shovel to take the fucker out. I err on the side of caution and slowly open the window and turn off the light, closing the door behind me, reasoning that with the temptations of the real world outside my bathroom would seem very slim pickings to your average moth. I don't know what they eat (children's breath? bad dreams?) but I'll wager they wouldn't thrive on a diet of toothpaste and pubes.

I go back to the bedroom. The moth is there; black as a keyhole on my pale curtains. Quietly terrified I trot back to the bathroom. The mirror moth is no longer there - it has somehow passed through the door and into the bedroom. I've had enough of this and crack at it with a towel but have no impact on its armoured shoulders. It lifts listlessly into the air - and down the back of my bed. I wait to see what happens. Moths seems to have taken on a peculiar significance recently and this Moriarty moth, this pumped up dinosaur moth is now my mortal enemy. But still it's three in the morning and I have guests coming later. The moth does nothing. I clamber into bed and attempt sleep. Sleep doesn't come. I toss and turn. I stare wide eyed into the darkness of the room, watching the accelerated diurnal lights of the cars move across the ceiling. Then I hear it; a crunching, rustling sound, like someone unwrapping a toffee during the quiet part of the film. It's moving! Is it eating? What's it doing? How can it weigh that much that I can hear its movements? How can it way that much and fly? Is that why it's walking now? Is it still growing, growing under my bed?

I leap out of bed and go and sleep in the spare room I had prepared for Jess' visit. I'm asleep by 6 and given to dreams of dread and oppression.

* * * * * *

Jess doesn't come in the end. She arrived at Stanstead feeling sick and anxious and as if she were going to faint and then goes straight back home again. Which is clearly the right thing to do - the baby has to come first. And frankly if I'd had the brains to work out she was seven months pregnant I would have put her off completely! Seven months? That girls a nutter! Take care, Jess. Or better be taken care of!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

We are not a -mewsed*

I'm door-stepped by my next-door neighbour. There are days when I'm a prisoner in the Mews - they're always out there, hovering, and my every social interaction gets more and more desperate, more and more inadequate. A gobshite all of my life I find myself orally constipated. The neighbours have been lovely, sending notes of condolence, Michael next door putting my bins out and offering me lifts all over town. But I wasn't expecting one of them to come round and ask me about Kelly. So we stood blathering on the door-step for twenty minutes until I started crying and she cried off. That's clearly the trick - get the tears out early and they'll leave you alone.

We ended up talking about the wasps in her garden stinging her grandchildren. Bless her she's a lovely woman but...

These cancer research adverts showing weeping old men sat on their sofas aren't doing me much good either...

*see even the puns are suffering

** Gah. Should have been "Pun time is over". Damn you spirit d'escalier!