Tuesday, 25 October 2011

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

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

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Don't rain on my pomade

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Scotch and sober

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

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

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

*his formal title.

Monday, 17 October 2011

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

I'm waiting...

Thursday, 13 October 2011

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

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

Monday, 10 October 2011

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

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

Saturday, 8 October 2011

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

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

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

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

It was however a great night out. Thanks fellas.

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

Friday, 7 October 2011


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

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

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

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

But I digress…again.

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

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

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

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

Bank Rupture

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

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

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

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

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

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

Saturday, 1 October 2011

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

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

And I grind to a halt...

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

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

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

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