Monday, 30 July 2012

Thursday, 12 July 2012

one year

Everybody says it seems like forever and no time since you were here. And they’re right; I can still remember how it felt to hold you, still remember the easy smile that you didn’t like. I remember those Spanish-by-way-of-South Derry eyes; laughing and alive. But it seems like an eternity since I last talked to you. And it seems longer since we laughed together. A longer eternity: a wet weekend in Belfast. I no longer live with you; I live with your stuff. But my love for you still lives within me and you still live within me. It’s not enough; it’s not nearly enough, just the faintest echo of you, the tiniest spark of your brilliance. But it is something. Something I can carry within me for the rest of my life, a little pilot light, guiding me

Sunday, 8 July 2012

I wish I could do all that photo-shop stuff to lend focus to my "Alien vs. Pedicure" joke

I worked in I.T. for years. None of my friends believed me: "No, John, but REALLY what do you do?". Eventually I became very mysterious about it: "I work in publishing" would be my tight-lipped response to innocent dinner party enquiries, followed by a thoughtful, masticatary silence, chewing with my mouth shut, maintaining eye-contact. Because my friends were correct: it WAS ridiculous. I do not have a clue. I just had to ask a stranger on Facebook how to find the settings on Google because I cannot, for the life of me, map the screen. I cannot intuit anything about technology at all. Give me a human head and I'll read it relatively happily, poking at mood swings like a moody phrenologist. I'm good at that. I can spot an "atmosphere", I can read a smile or the setting of a jaw. And I'm handy with a tub of Haagen Dazs at three in the morning. It's not really a marketable skill but if anyone is in the market for a gay best friend then I'm your man. Especially in Belfast. Twasn't always thus. These skills are hard won and I have the scars. I'm battle-hardened; galvanised. And I will admit that men are harder to read, there's a lot of bluster and macho bravado and when they go they really go. its not pretty, snot and hugging everywhere.I don't subscribe to advertising's notion of the modern male as an infantalised moron but if you do hug one in the throes of a crisis it is best to take the new mums precaution and drape a tea-towel over one shoulder: there will be an explosion of snot, a snot carnival; a snotice to cease and desist. But, as I was saying, computers? No...I had already crystallised long before I ever sat in front of one with any sort of purpose. I'd been all the way through school, college, university, the wilderness years of depression and unemployment. My first love came and went without my ever logging on. I managed, and I'm not sure how now, to get through my first few office jobs without recourse to using the machine that squatted on the desk in front of me. So I must have used a computer for the first time at about the age of 26, with my tail trapped in the door. Computers had always been there. As child all my friends had BBCs and Acorns*; even then I ran with a nerdy set. There were computer rooms in schools, projects to be done on them (I took a rather passive role in these). There were computer based projects at art college. I avoided them, as I avoided most things at art college, and was probably in the last cache of students who could possibly avoided their ubiquity. It was a conscious choice: I was a painter! The canvas was my screen, paint my photoshop. I had a romantic vision of myself lashed to the mast in a big shirt, a prize Turner. This was not borne out by the rather ordinary and desperate work I churned out while I was there or the increasingly depressed and drunken figure that I cut on campus. The other reason of course was sheer panic. These things sat squatting on your desk, staring you down with impassive cyclopic balefulness, an Olmec head with a keyboard attachment.They fucking terrified me. They still terrify me. I sit staring at one for twelve hours everyday like staring into an abyss that stares back, slowly filling me up, pixel by pixel. I have about three moves: typing, saving, attaching, sending. Four is about three. Anything more complicated than that and I phone a friend. *I'm sure some of them still have acorns. *snigger*

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Back from Gulladuff, after the blessing of the graves, including, obviously, Kelly's grave. I cry continually throughout the ceremony, while all around me are hundreds of people who are laughing and smiling and waving to each other. The priest has the temerity to praise god because it's not raining, tacitly implying that this same interventionist deity, thought it right and good that my wife should die a slow, agonising death and not lift a finger to help her, but he's worried about the priest's hair getting mussed. Afterwards I am unable to talk and have to wander off to gather myself. It's my brother's birthday. I text him the car on the way down to wish him a happy birthday. On the way back I get a text from my sister telling me to wish him a happy birthday. I text him again. There's no reply. When I get home I ring him again and leave a voice-mail. I get a phone-call from a scouse woman telling me I've got the wrong number. But I dont know if my original texts have sent or whether its just the voice-mail. I ring the number again but I'm too scared to leave a message. I phone my mum but she's not in. I facebook Edward to make sure I have the right number. I do. (he seems concerned for my mental health) Eventually, at half three I get a text from Barry. He's just received the texts. Gulladuff weird time vortex strikes again. Or maybe its god fucking with me. Because he can.
I'm in Strangford, guarding a chapel. I've been placed here by the charming and attractive daughter of the local Baron. I'm not sure how this has happened. She's a physiotherapist. A horse physiotherapist! The chapel itself is beautiful: compact and spotless, with the neatest flagstones and twin rows of of pews next to a rosewood pipe-organ. A three piece band are playing traditional songs on guitar, double-bass and echo box, overseen by a stained-glass Christ and a couple of his celestial cronies. My being here confers on me the status of "can-drink-for-free-at-the-hooley-tonight".I'm supposed to be handing out information to interested parties but my custodial predecessor has given all the cards away, so I smile benignly like a defrocked cleric at a succession of weather-proofed pensioners. I believe this family are the famed de Ros' whom local world's worst author, Amanda McKittrick Ros fudged an affiliation to by lopping off the superfluous "s" from her married name. You're foolin' no one, lady. The band are now playing "Lola" which is the most inappropriate song to play in church! (Though I'm not too au fait with Anal Cunt's canon)The Baron has turned up, making my being here entirely redundant. He is tiny, posh and wearing a beret: he gives good lord. Good Lord he gives good lord. He's circulating now like a hula-hooping tea bag, which is obviously the worst metaphor I have ever thought of. Jayne Trimble has turned up, flashing me a smile as though I was in some way important. I think she's "the turn". It certainly helps make sense of the merchandise with her name on it. I think I'm selling her merchandise now - I didn't sign up for this! The Baron has just told me that the chapel is rightly called a "Chapel of ease" because it's privately owned. One day I shall own my own church - THEN you'll be sorry!

Friday, 22 June 2012

Don't rain on my pomade

I wrote this a while ago but it's still as true today as it ever was. What fucking awful weather. I feel like I'm turning into Terry Scott: every time I poke my head out of the door I let out an exasperated howl: "JUNE...JUNE!" 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.

Friday, 15 June 2012

I'm sat in the Old Dairy waiting on Doug. My abiding memory of the place is drinking copious cups of tea and waiting to find out whether Kelly would see me. During her steroids induced manic episode, the Christmas before she died, I was exiled to south London as my continued presence in the house was upsetting Kelly, making her anxious. After some days I was told by Kate that I would be allowed a short visit and, desperate to be allowed back home, I was early. So I went to the pub to drink tea and write. But I only managed the tea; sickened with nerves the pen froze in my hand. There are stories like this linked to everywhere in Finsbury Park and Camberwell. Though at least all the Camberwell memories are happy. I was never happier in my life. I don't expect to be again.
Well it was "Blossom" that finally did it. I was keeping it together but "Blossom" set me off. For reasons too complicated to list here I find myself back in Finsbury Park, the absolute last place I want to be. And it's "Blossom"'s: Kelly's hairdresser, the woman who Kelly would impersonate every time she returned, delighted by all the things that had gone on in the shop, Blossom, the woman who cut off Kelly's hair in preparation for her chemo, and who did her hair for free when there wasn't enough hair to warrant a proper cut. That was the one. I broke down in the street. I should never have come back here, it's a ghost town. Attempting to meet Doug and Edward. My phone has just died. There will undoubtedly be fall-out from this. At this point I can only guess its size and shape.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Day trip from London to Letchworth Garden City to see Laura, Stew and the kids. It is idyllic. We chat, we have salad, I have beer. The children style their hair so they can look like me. Rose and Alec show me their drawings. They are peppered with the usual sort of inspired insanity that adults might aspire to and can never achieve. They are both banal and full of wild conjunctions of things. Cats and crocodiles appear regularly but the cat is wearing leg-warmers and there's a cow crushed beneath a milkshake. And then there is Alec's unique story telling style. If he draws a planet with stink lines steaming off it which he labels "Planet Smell" you could be forgiven for imagining that you were looking at Planet Smell. No, says Alec, when I ask him if indeed it is Planet Smell. It's not a planet at all but a cold sun that people can walk on. But does it smell, I ask him. No, it stinks. So why, I ask him, isn't it called Stinky Sun. Because it's called Planet Smell, he counters with perfect logic and and a triumphalist hand clap. One nil to Alec. I'll see them again soon. They are touring the country over the summer and will be in Belfast on the 26th August. Better push a broom round the place.
The film was made. I've seen the rushes and virtually every shot came off. The scenes seem suffused with light, the camera dancing with Arthur, out star, following him, shadowing, reading him. It is a duet between the observed and observer. Sometimes the lines are literally, as well as figuratively blurred, and Arthur seems to engage the camera, become its confederate. His face is astonishing: open and wide eyed with a perma pouting bottom lip and a huge acorn-cup of hair. The camera loves him. He is a gift and deserves one in return. We'll pay him in Wii games. We shot everything on a tight shots list in two days. On occasion we were ahead of schedule! I actually do think we have a film: a short, sweet, good-looking film. It is exciting.
I've eaten an awful of cheese and wine since I've been here. Jess and Simon are consummate hosts and play convincingly to my many weaknesses so I've eaten little else. If I was here longer than a weekend I would be dead. Their baby Esme, recent, still has that new car smell, is about the cutest baby I've seen. Huge brown eyes, a ready grin (she smiles with both teeth) she also has an easy going and moderate temperament. She didn't get that from her mother. Last night saw a convention of the grand order Red Alsations, surely the last one ever as two of us have now moved to different countries. All of the boys looked great, thinner than ever. Truly we were the indie Sigue Sigue Sputnik ( with Rene from Rene and Renata on vocals). Ian was his usual quiet, handsome self in a pair of extraordinary vulcanised jeans and biker boots, disappearing as the night drew on and the loud-mouths got louder, leaving only his Cheshire cat grin. Ben and Martin both seemed far more confident, swaggering almost, in a careful, diffident way. Martin has grown his fringe out and batted away Jess' assertion that all of her friends found him attractive with practised modesty. Ben had been preparing a compilation album of Red Atlas materiel, even going so far as to remix and add instruments to the tracks. His sleeve, based on marble end-papers (the type you find in plush, elderly hardbacks) were inspired: conferring on the Atlas an appropriate literary fustiness. I liked every thing about the album: the title ("Everything thing is permitted...but you need a permit"), the liner notes (which I wrote and no band member, bar Ben, will ever read) to the colour scheme and finally the music, which I finally get. We were actually a good, tight muscular little band that made interesting noises and had good lyrics. Who knew? We drank a lot of wine and beer and we laughed a lot and then, finally, I suppose we broke up.
So the, Finsbury Park and its ghosts. It doesn't seem to have changed much but then again I dont feel inclined to investigate it too closely. I feel raw, unpeeled. A picked apart mollusc, ready for the pickle jar. I haven't ventured too far, just the route from Jess' house to the train station, but everything is suffused with Kelly's memory, the memory of the life that we once had and that now neither of us have. Though I can at least claim that my lifelessness is figurative. Finsbury Park, as I say seems unchanged. There is building work going on but then there was always building work going on. I can see the famous mosque now from the train platform. Could I always see it? Just being here is hard. One day I'll be able to come back here and enjoy it; the memory of our life together, the walks, the parks, the restaurants and cafes. But if this journey has taught me any thing its that I'm still a long way from fond memories. I'm still here. I'm still living this.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Thirteen Pieces of Gum.

Start making our film tomorrow: "Thirteen pieces of gum" is go. I'm quite excited but its going to be extremely hard work - we've been quite ambitious! I'm first A.D. Which means I'm the buffer between the Director and the cameraman. I'm a nag basically - I fully expect to be the most unpopular person set - typecast again, eh. Should be brilliant.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

John's not mad.

Have been re-reading some of my blog entries, spurred on by the kind words of kind people, and I thought I should say something about the rather skewed version of myself it portrays. A lot of the posts are written in extremis, as a kind of cathartic exercise. When I'm out, whistling, with the sun on my face and new freckles budding like shit-brown daisies, I'm not writing a blog. I'm doing stuff. I may even laugh. Not smile, I never smile. And not because of any Morrissey-esque affectation but because my teeth used to frighten children, horses and postmen. They are alright now but I still hide my mouth when I laugh, like a character from "The Mikado". So, it's a bit one-sided: 1) I'm not that fat. I'm fatter, certainly, than I was as a stripling youth, but hell we all are, you're just not as vain as I am. You're probably not that bothered. I still have a thirty two inch waist...unfortunately it's around my neck. Ithangyew. I met my friend Eunice for the first time in real life about a month ago and she was expecting this wheezing Falstaffian figure: Orson Swells. She didn't get one. No, I look okay. Just better in the flesh than in photos. There's a sort of Francis Bacon smeariness to my jaw-line in photos that I've been assured is not there in real life. 2)I'm not necessarily an alcoholic. I am, for instance, not drinking, drunk or hung-over right now. I do drink too much. But then everybody does, if you drink at all. Unless you subscribe to "mumsnet" in which a single glass of wine at the end of the day will solve every single problem that you have. 3) I do sometimes sleep. I have bouts of insomnia but they are not constant. Nothing in my life is constant. I can't even rely on insomnia. Who can you trust and why would you want to? 4)I am not constantly depressed. I go for seconds, sometimes minutes at a time without crushing black depression pressing down on me like a leaden night. Black butterflies? Black jump-jets, more like it. And jump they do. 5) I am not suffering from Witzelsucht. Actually, I can't vouch for this one as I haven't seen a neurologist, but I think the condition is a mild and manageable one if I am. Witzelsucht is a set of rare neurological symptoms characterized by the patient's uncontrollable tendency to make puns, tell inappropriate jokes and pointless or irrelevant stories at inconvenient moments. The patient nevertheless finds these utterances intensely amusing. It is associated with small lesions of the orbitofrontal cortex. If I have ever made a pun or told you a joke it was in an effort to entertain and amuse, not as a neurological imperative. I was trying to make you happy. As for finding "these utterances (and I resent the term!) intensely amusing" I can assure I have never found any thing I have thought, written or said remotely amusing. I'm like my own "Bright Club" audience. Right. So there you go. Let's see if this thing will let me have paragraphs. Otherwise it'll be another monolith of text, like a literary version of a late period Scott Walker track. I'm cow punching, Daddy.

Monday, 28 May 2012


I did a reading at Belfast Bright Club last night. It was an unusual experience. Here is what I read. Despite my claims there is not one part of this that is autobiographical: Dark You’re going to hear a lot of stories about “darkness” or “the dark” tonight, some erudition and insight, thoughts that have value and a weight of knowledge behind them. I won’t be doing that. I’ll be doing something else, something worthless and trite. These people will be attempting to impart some of their hard-earned knowledge so you go away improved and better than you are. I’m sort of the opposite of that. You may become slightly damaged. So come on: let’s just get through this. So, what is the dark? Is it merely an absence of light? Or is it something tangible, something in and of itself? A kind of cosmic dry-rot; inky fingers expanding the infinite night of space and bleeding into our lit world, cupping each object that it meets, lending it weight and gravity? It’s the first one isn’t it; obviously. You’d be a fool to think otherwise. Scientists now claim that 83% of space is comprised of a mysterious “dark matter”, though they cannot properly explain what it is or what it does. They just know it’s there, which sounds oddly like an act of faith for a rational scientific brain. But then they also seem to think that space is pale green and that the moon smells of gun-powder, so what do they know? For the record: space is black and the moon smells like a fucked fridge. If you’re looking at darkness then you’re looking at a solar eclipse. It’s a freakish, centre of excellence for darkness, darkness where it shouldn’t be, pressing in like an old woman with ten tins of cat-food in the queue at Spar. And at her time of life you’d think she’d want to be getting a more balanced diet. Cause that stuff just goes right through you. There have been four solar eclipses visible from the south of England, where I’m from. Viewers in Northern Ireland had their own programme. So what I thought would be interesting would be to look through my diary and see what I was doing on the occasion of those four eclipses. Well you never know. We were excited, we were hungry for eclipses. It was 1996: Brit pop was massive and there was a fresh-faced young labour government just around the corner, and everything was infused with a sense of purpose and renewal. I was 17 years old and breathless with excitement about the anticipated darkness at noon, as I was much given to quoting from Arthur Koestler at the time. I wouldn’t do it now: he was a horrible man! 12 October 1996: Dear diary, the woman in the tuck-shop smiled at me today. I couldn’t bring myself to make eye-contact with her and I’m sure I flushed violently. What is it about her? The waxy crackle of her laminated apron? The peroxide wisp pushing through her hair-net, like a new bud? The way her front teeth cross over, like chaste and virginal legs? I don’t know. When she gave me my change there was a pube in it! A lady pube! Could this be a love token? Apparently there’s an eclipse on today but I didn’t open the curtains so I missed it. I have been wanking for so long that both wrists feel like glass and my cock looks embarrassed to be seen with me. My balls are as small and pale as aspirins. I have put the pube in a locket along with her stolen I.D. card. As god is my witness I WILL learn Polish. Was I ever that young? The next eclipse occurred in 1999. This one was particularly special as it featured in an episode of Eastenders. If you recall, Ian Beale had grown a small moustache and had hired a private investigator to follow Cindy, his ex- wife, who was up to no good. Ian and his moustache proceeded to have an affair with the detective who was played by Clare Grogan out of the pop group “Altered Images”. Do you know, from this distance, it seems faintly ridiculous, but I assure you, for people living at the time it seemed all too real, disturbingly so. Let’s have a look in the diary and see what I was up to: 11th August 1999. Off to Cornwall to view the solar eclipse to its best advantage. Still limping from a pissing contest that became all too literal and very hands on. I still maintain that I am the best white rapper in Surrey. My words are bullets and my lyrics are fists, though they were ineffective on this occasion as Chris had kicked me in the balls. It’s hard to spit rhymes when your nut-sack is in spasm. Sandra didn’t speak to me the entire way down in the car so I put my sunnies on and listened to a French pop mix-tape. By the time I got to Phoenix she was raging. She chucked me out of the car and I had to get the train home from Yeovil. It was, literally, as if the sky had gone black and, though I missed the actual one, I did suffer a total eclipse…of the heart. There are fully seven exclamation marks after that last sentence. It was an awkward period in my life. The next eclipse was on the 29th of March 2006 and I was twenty five years old and trying to make it in the buzzing metropolis: Belfast. Those were wild times: I’d passed my librarian’s exam with flying colours and it seemed that the world was my oyster. Better than that in fact because I’m actually very allergic to shellfish, my oesophagus closes over and I start to choke which is why I have to carry a medical alert propelling-pencil with me wherever I go. My greatest fear is that I might, one day, accidentally ingest a bit of whelk and be found by an illiterate. And that’s a very real threat in Belfast. I wonder what shenanigans I was up to in 2006 when, and let’s not forget, I was definitely only 25 years old. Dear online- blog. (I’d moved with the times) Life sure moves fast in the big city and if you don’t stop to smell the espresso every once in a while you’re going to miss out on an awful lot of shoddy public art. I’m working at the Fogarty, Bogle, Lundt advertising agency, in the graffito ratification department, which is a big deal in Belfast. When does an inept painting of a Bambi-eyed man in a balaclava stop being a fucking eye-sore and start being an E.U. sanctioned world heritage site. This afternoon we were brainstorming a third thing to write in the dust on an unclean car after the perfunctory “clean me” and the lyrical “I wish my wife was this dirty”. Steve assayed “my other car is also cocooned in shit” but we thought that was a bit route-one. The search continues. There was supposed to have been an eclipse to day but I missed it as I was wearing sunglasses. Indoors. At night. Shouting urgent sexual threats, into a mirror, dusted with cocaine. I am a golden god. This next part is not actually an extract from my diary but comes, unexpurgated, from notes made by my psychiatrist in session. She didn’t tell me she was making them and when I challenged her she told me that she used them as answer-phone messages to make her doctor pals laugh. I don’t think they were laughing with me. The date was 4th January 2011 and I was a sober, single thirty years old and living the life of a carefree bachelor in insecure housing. “I’m not really sure my mother ever truly loved me. It was the little things: the forgotten birthdays, the emotional distance. Leaving me on the steps of an orphanage in a wicker basket with a note pinned to me: I was thirteen years old; it was a hamper if anything. It still had laundry in it. The orphanage didn’t want to know so I walked home and she beat me for losing the bed-linen. I was a sensitive child; I picked up on these things. Fair enough, children get lost in the super-market, but every week? For four years? That’s starting to look like carelessness. When she put the camouflage leggings on and did her make-up with a burnt cork I knew I was in trouble. My father was also distant. Not emotionally, he just lived a long way away. Two bus-rides. Who can be arsed? He told me he was in oil but it was only years later that I found out that he was actually a portrait of the Duke of Clarence. He had a glazed expression. My mother said he was my father but he could have been framed. I think all of this has coloured my relationships, though I am rather more hopeful about my latest girlfriend, Mr. Bobo. She was my imaginary friend as a child but we just sort of drifted apart. We met again at a party recently and the old spark was still there. She had come with some other guy as a terrifying acid flash-back but went home with me with me. There was an eclipse that night, a supposed portent of doom, but I have a good feeling about this – this time it’s for keeps. So, the solar eclipse. A bad sign, a harbinger of doom, an unholy portent. Our ancestors ran screaming from these manifestations of god’s ill favour. The very word “disaster” means “evil star”, which may or may not be relevant. And yet, as I think I have proven conclusively, on almost every occasion that there was an eclipse, I was having a wank and nothing bad ever came from that. Good night.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Fear and Loathing in Belgravia

So I've heard that some people are worried about me. Nobody has told me that they're worried about me, they are stealth worried, but never-the-less, worry not. At the moment my mental well-being is in ascendancy. This is because my physical well-being is in decline, it's the kind of necessary dualism that makes sure everybody gets out of bed in the morning, even though, if you think about it, you're only going to die in the end any way and the best you can hope for is to shuffle of this mortal coil with some dignity, not with your trousers round your ankles searching for a loo-roll. So, like I say, I'm on the up. Physically though, oh dear: night sweats, day shivers, a brutal hacking cough, expelling gobbets of semi-solid sputum the size of 50p pieces with the waxy consistency of potato pulp. Makes you wonder how a man like me can go on. But on and on and on I go. Oh, and I haven't seen a doctor about the suspected hernia, suspected at this point only by me. Truly I am an idiot. A cough and a hernia are great bedfellows. Went to see the Undertones, the Monochrome Set, the Lawrence from Denim film "Lawrence of Belgravia" and Dylan Moran over the weekend. All gratis of course, thanks to Joe and Romy, or I couldn't have gone at all. There was some shouty, macho posturing argument about Lawrence in the pub afterwards, the consensus being that he was being exploited for cheap laughs by the film with cut-aways, sharp editing and his stone-faced and dour Brummie delivery. I didn't feel that at all. There are many things you can say about Lawrence but he's not stupid. A quixotic lunatic with a world view that hasn't significantly changed since he was 18 and a sense of entitlement that would see him well through the preliminaries on "The X Factor". But not stupid. In many ways I felt a terrible kinship with him: this shuffling, ghostly figure, ludicrous in shades and a rotting baseball cap, writing his terrible songs that are never-the-less, beneath the farting synth-voices and clever/silly lyrics as perfectly constructed as any of his Felt songs. In the pub somebody trotted out the truism "If you haven't made it by the time you're forty, give up". I didn't start till I was forty. You go, Lawrence. First pensioner pop-star. Why not?

Friday, 11 May 2012

Ten months

It's now ten months since Kelly died. The 11th of each month brings its own special difficulties. I seem to have fallen into a depressive pattern, culminating on the 11th of every month. Though next month is her birthday and the following the anniversary, so it will be interesting to see the impact that those variables have on my mental state. Morbidly interesting no doubt. I haven't been to the doctors. As predicted. I meant to go today but couldn't drag myself from my bed. A rare lie-in as I continue to sleep badly. I'll go on Monday. Can't wait.

Monday, 7 May 2012


I may have a hernia. I had a hernia before and it felt vaguely like this odd, scrunchy discomfort. It's come from nothing, of course; I've not lifted anything heavier than my head off the pillow. It may be nothing, some sort of groin strain or a pulled muscle, I have been doing a LOT of walking recently. But these things are never nothing. Nothing is nothing. When it comes to the failings of the human body, in my experience, it is always worst case scenario. I'll leave it till Wednesday and if there's no obvious improvement I'll drag my worried ball-bag to the doctors. I mentioned this plan to a friend and received the knee-jerk response of "typical man" as if postponing the pleasures of confronting a be-gloved stranger with my denuded cock for the possible diagnosis of a strained muscle was a ludicrously cavalier approach to health-care. Not that I could go to the doctor today anyway as it's a bank holiday and the surgery is closed. It riled me. I am many things, most of them rubbish. But I'm not a typical man.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Photo finished

I run screaming from cameras. Really, my backside is my best side, it's better this way. My dad would never allow himself to be photographed when I was growing up and I just assumed that it was some sort of Irish voodoo, that the flash image would simultaneously steal his soul and forbid him from ever finding his pot of gold. And he needed that pot of gold, by the time he was my age he had four kids, all under ten years old. But lately I've been getting more than an inkling. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to square the rugged, ornery trawler man, with a sloppy, sideways smile and a freckled weather-beaten face that I see in the mirror with the bandy legged jowly clown who acts as my photographic stunt-double. I walk miles each week, do and yes this is hilarious, sit-ups each morning, watch what I eat and drink (recently) and I can feel the changes: the tightening of the skin, the relaxing of shirts that I once wrapped around me like I was lagging a boiler. And yet in every photo there he is: Ronnie Barker with his head on fire, plumes of grey smoke billowing up from that grand canyon at dawn forehead. To be fair I look all right from the hips down, if you dont mind the slight detour of my dog leg. But I look like a man in an old fashioned cartoon who has been fleeced in the market and forced to walk home in a barrel. I dont think like this until someone shows me a photo. So no more photos. I'm depressed e-fucking-nough.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Spine of the Times

I wake up with a bloodshot eye. It is the second bloodshot eye in a month. It is the other eye this time, the right one. I wasn't pleased the last time and asked around. Luckily I was at a dinner party with a phalanx of physicians. They seemed to think it was fine, just a bit of conjunctivitis, so I was mollified (and relieved, the best layman's diagnosis was early stage diabetes! Which might have worried me if I hadn't had a blood test two week previously)But to wake up with another one, a month later, looks like worrying coincidence. I do the worst thing you can do- I look it up on the internet! Amazingly, it's not too bad. They're all saying it's a burst blood vessel. I will not be looking into this.

Besides, I'm more worried about my back. I have pain, and be careful this is complicated medical language, in the hingey bit at the base of my back. It's on the right side, and relates therefore either to my writing hand, and I have been writing a lot lately with all the sliding, bad posture that entails, or to my bad leg as I have been walking on it a lot recently*. Either would be bad news for me as the former is supposed to be supplementing my wealth, the latter my health. It would be a fucker if I couldnt get fit because my attempts to get fit left me too unfit to get fit. There is nobody to shake my fist at, the sky aint listening. I shall shake it at a mirror.

Oh, you men of stone.

*I have been walking on both legs. I feel I should point that out, I dont just hop about Belfast. Though if I did I would use the other leg, the good leg.

Friday, 20 April 2012

five days with no booze and I've walked 40 miles. Oh, and no delicious meat, bread or butter. Still fat, though. rats.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Have been reading C.S. Lewis' "A Grief Observed". It's his own grief he's observing, his nose rather pressed against the glass. His wife, the writer Joy Gresham, died of bone cancer after just four years of marriage. It's numbed and raw in turn, shot through with his trademark Christian apologetics. In fact he takes no comfort from his religious beliefs: "go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.” Surprisingly, he didn't lose his faith, which because I suppose it is just faith, abides without proof. I found an ugly emotion in myself while reading the book: I was pleased that his religion couldn't help him, I wanted his bafflement, his loss. Because I have no faith, no metaphysical big brother kissing my grazed knees better and telling me I'm going to be alright. I've looked for it, I've tried to will it into being, I know the subject and I've put the hours in; I was an altar boy! But it's not there, I'm missing the god gene, the most selfish gene of all. The selfish genie.

His grief is not like my own. He is punch-drunk, concussed. He was dead himself within three years of Joy's death. I don't think I'm about to die, except by the slow, assisted suicide measured out in convenient pint sized units. Mine is an angry grief, it gives me energy. It stops me sleeping, it makes me work for the first time in my life. Yesterday it was nine months since my favourite person stopped being here. In the first few weeks after her death I wrote about 20,000 words about her, a stream of consciousness about how I felt, the pain, the bewilderment, the dislocation. I wanted to remember the pain. Well, I still feel that pain. There is nothing to remember. I stopped writing because the book was all about me. It should have been about Kelly. I'm still here, boring and annoying everyone, she's gone and I really, really miss her. The odd thing is that I now know people in Belfast who never met Kelly. It seems insane that there could be people in this city who never knew her. I think maybe now is the time to revisit what I've written, to see if it has any value, whether there's any of her in it.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Finally dreamed about Kelly. The dream was an odd mash-up of "The Big Lebowski" which I watched for the first time in a very long time last night, and a cautionary tale about the perils of skateboarding. There was a running parallel story about a punk rock singer having shattered both knees by trying, like Icarus, to half-pipe too high. But mostly the dream was Kelly taking me to places I had never been to and introducing me to interesting and fun people that she knew. There was never any sense that she was dead. It wasn't acknowledged in the dream at all. We were just walking around and she was showing me her city, rather as she had done six years ago. It was a snap-shot of how our lives might have been. It wasn't sad, it was just lovely to see her again.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Putting the writer in H Writer; Haggard.

It's been pointed out to me that I haven't updated this blog in a while. So here I am updating the blog. I had a birthday. I'm a year older. I feel ten years older but I suppose I'll never have to go back to being 40 again, the worst year of my life.

It was a quiet affair: I cooked Duck Montmorency for family and friends, and drank some wine. It was necessarily sedate. These people had jobs to go to in the morning. Spent the morning strolling around Stormount with Kelly's family and Maggie the dog, who took it upon herself to display a previously not hinted at death-wish, hurtling with a clang and a yelp into an electricity meter and, through successive bouts of self-harm, bleeding prodigiously from her drooling mouth. She looked as though she had just savaged a kindergarten group before limping off back to the lab like Zoltan: Hound of Dracula.

The other big news is, I suppose, the publication of my book. The "sort of" publication of my book. I finally released the damn thing through Jottify and the next day Jack, the Jottify boss, contacted me directly, asking me if I wanted to be the flag-ship publication for Jottify's first sortie into the world of direct sales. Or rather sales from somewhere people might have heard of.

I've sold twenty five books on Jottify. That may be the glass ceiling. I suspect I've sold many more on Amazon, as the book, briefly, went top ten. I was unable to maintain that position however. Which was fine. I have, at this point, no way of knowing how many books have been sold or how much money I've made. Who knows: I might be a hundredaire!

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Just one more thing

Kelly loved Columbo. Columbo engaged with her on almost every level: he was a crumpled and creased outsider figure; a committed pacifist who never carried a gun. He was a working-class stiff who tussled with the upper classes and consistently out-performed them, dazzling them with a dizzying intellectual gavotte, turning on a dime with a tasty kick-flare and a “just one more thing…”

Then there was his clear lack of interest in materiel possessions: his shit-brown European car, his antiquated rain-wear, the perfect blue of his five o’clock shadow. Hell, any time is shadow time for Columbo, I doubt he even had a watch. If he did it would be one with only sentimental value, an elastic strapped piece of junk that required a slap before coughing up a grudging “Tock”. The tics were model’s own. It would have been given to him on an early date by his invisible wife and won on a Coney Island ring toss or shooting gallery, in preference to a kewpie doll. He would never part with it.

But there was also something in Columbo’s methodology and the easy, lengthy sprawl of the episodes. They are glacially slow and, significantly, front-loaded. The murder takes place at the beginning of the show, in camera. There is no “whodunit”, no mystery, just the slow attrition of a blue-chip stock-broker or the sinking of a captain of industry. Columbo’s approach is to instantly and magically latch onto the murderer and just hassle them for two hours. He is a “Detective de Cons”. Deflating hauteur is his chief weapon; he flaps the unflappable and he ruffles the feathers of swans. He is always spookily, uncannily right and we know it – we were in on the murder! This puts us in an unusual position; we start to sympathise will the murderer. This seems strange. The killer will be stiff-backed and arrogant, superficially charming and eloquent and invariably played by Patrick MacGoohan (in fact he only appeared in four episodes but if you do ever catch one on TV, by chance, which is always the best way to watch Columbo, it’s always one of his. Or the one in which Leslie Neilson gets killed under a pier, by, I think, Robert Culp).

What you’re watching is a programme that is nominally about a policeman named Columbo but in fact the structure conforms to that of a traditional comic double act: McGoohan’s suave, clubbable persona is continually undermined by Falk’s ego-pricking bits of business. The average Columbo film, and they’re all average in a non- pejorative sense, is a long form episode of Cannon and Ball, the golfing smooth and crisply slacked tripped up by the crumpled and shabby.

Each episode starts with “the plan” where we are shown the bullet-proof sophistication of the ruse; nobody ever dies from having a tin of paint dropped on them from the top of a step-ladder in Columbo. The plans are delicate clock-work procedures, each interlocking cog neatly placed and always exquisitely far-fetched. This is obviously necessary. There would be no point in Columbo pitting his wits against a shit murderer. This is why, counter intuitively, they never hire hit-men, despite being busy and having the means to do so. These murderers are hands-on alpha males, even when, especially when, they are women. They are also routinely convinced of their own genius. In a job interview situation they would, when asked about their faults, cite perfectionism and an inability to delegate. (One plus would be their excellent time-keeping!) So it is deeply upsetting for them when, after a single meeting, Colombo latches on to them, following them around, contriving meetings, waffling on about his wife, wearing them down. You can tell exactly where you are during an episode of Columbo by the antagonists’ forced smile beneath a Vaseline smear moustache, or how kinked their straight pink partings have become and how much their eyes dart, nervously. Columbo is the beating of a tell-tale heart, his mere persistence unravels them, makes them question themselves; they fall apart in his hands like a sick pet.

Columbo is like The Fall: always different, always the same. And it was this disinclination to fuck with the formula that Kelly so loved about the show. When she was depressed she could sit back and watch the narrative unfold as smoothly and slowly as rolling out pastry. It is two hours of certainty, where the bad guy gets it and the little man lords it over the gentry in every episode for thirty years. Even Scooby Doo can’t compete with that level of consistency. Maybe MacDonald’s can. This security blanket snuggliness was only one part of her, her music taste turned to free jazz as she was no longer interested in verse/chorus repetition, she wanted to be excited and surprised by music. But Columbo represented something else to her: it was somewhere between a power fantasy, an idyll and a duvet.

She loved it and I loved her for loving it.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

An advert I endorse...

So it seems that I alone can see the adverts on here. Probably some sort of booze-related, itchy-skinned gremlin. That's okay then. I'm used to that. However, here is an advert...well...for me!

The Narwhal and other stories.
By guysmiley
Price: £2.99

This portmanteau of stories deals with the unknown, of the howling chaos that we insulate ourselves against, with our mortgages, our satellite television packages and our celebrity cellulite obsessions. John Patrick Higgins’ occultism is never hidden. His monsters are on the street where you live: doctors, business men and work colleagues; grey-faced invisibles and quotidian killers. These are paranoid tales where the ultimate fear is that of being found out, of being taken to task, of not getting away with it. There are no soft landings for his protagonists; the best that they can hope for is a stay of execution, a phone-call from the governor that never comes.

In “temp” the titular office worker discovers exactly how far his new company will go to stay ahead of the pack.

“The Narwhal” presents us with a city boy who pays a heavy price for both his vanity and his giant, robotic penis.

In “Something old, something blue” hapless club comedian, Jimmy Gemini finds that an accidental death propels him to the top of his profession.

“The Rum Barbers” sees a library book on sympathetic magic used in a turf war between two South London hairdressers.

All of these stories find people attempting to use a power that they don’t understand and suffering for that ignorance.

In “Ding, Dong, Dell” an interior designer discovers the bones of a child under the floor of a stately home that she is refurbishing.

And “A Cup of Cold Sick” remains a disturbingly literal title.

There is a morbid uncertainty at play, a notion that nothing is yours and that everything can be taken away from you at a moment’s notice. And you won’t know why because you don’t know the rules.

John Patrick Higgins makes every day feel like your first day at big school. He throws you in the swimming pool with your shoes on. Here’s to that sinking feeling.

- Guy Smiley, North Hampshire.

This ebook is compatible with almost all ereader devices including the Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle and Sony Ereader

Word count: 19,882

Download a free sample of this book

Click here to submit your review.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

For Fucks Sake

I'm not sure I can continue to write on here if these adverts are going to carry on appearing at the top of my posts. It's somewhat off-putting. Blogger is remarkably shit any way, but this looks very much like it might be a parting of the ways. It's unacceptable.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

8 Months

It's 8 months since Kelly died. I spend most of my time constructing weak puns on Facebook and going on crash diets. Actually, that's not true. I'm fiendishly busy. I'm writing three books, I'm illustrating a book for somebody else, I'm making films, I'm doing a theme tune for a film (that doesn't even want it)and I'm still writing reviews and doing articles for local magazines. I'm even attempting to network for the first time in my life. And I'm not that bad at it.

And it's all just to fill up the empty space at the centre of my life. I can't believe you're not here. I can't believe you dont exist. I look at your photos and see that terrible vibrancy, that vividness, that urgency. I can't believe it's gone. I miss you so much, darling. It's nearly a year since I last saw you. Astonishing.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Bacchus against a wall

I drink too much. I don’t drink as much as I used to drink, which was quite a lot; but I still drink too much. There’s no joke here by the way. There’s no pull back and reveal: look! It was too much camomile tea or chicken soup! No, its booze; delicious, tasty booze: wine, beer, gin, brandy, whiskey. Those guys, my old gang!

And what times we’ve had together! Remember that time I missed the last bus, walked home and got mugged inside my own hall-way? Classic! Remember when I fell into a bin and it became wedged on my arse at a house party, humiliating my then-girlfriend? I am legend! And then there was that time I decided to stick to red wine because beer was making me fat but then drank so much of it on an empty stomach that at some point on the journey home I managed to break a finger so badly that it took a year and a half to heal and yet neither I nor my two drinking companions had any idea how it happened! Truly I am a prince among men!

Of course it’s not all top laughs, there are some down sides to drinking too. I’ve been leafing through these back-issues of the Lancet and I’ve got a couple of bones to pick with those drinks manufacturers! Looks like I’ve finally found the reason for my muffin-tops having muffin-bottoms and why my tongue has 5 O’ clock shadow. And there seems to be some sort of causal link between my lower back-pain, bulbous red nose and bibulous eyes. It turns out that my shaking hands and string-vest memory can be traced back to a cheeky little glass of red! It all seems so woefully out of proportion.

And that’s only the obvious signs: there’s brain damage, hypertension, lung infections, cirrhosis, internal bleeding, chronic kidney disease and impotence, all either all ready going on or just about to kick off. I’m a ticking time-bomb of auto-destructive self-annihilation, a Chinese New-Year of shit-brown and cancer-black fire-works, just waiting for the touch paper to be lighted. There is no option to retire.

I gave up smoking with comparative ease because I never really liked smoking and held a cigarette like a fey Gestapo officer. I was never any good at it. So while in terms of sheer tonnage I was a heavy smoker, two packs a day at the height of my death-wish and more on a Friday, it was simple to give up because it was so unpleasant. I timed it right too – I gave up the January before they brought the smoking ban in, so I’d be comfortably established as non-smoker by the time of prohibition. Wise, or so I thought – in fact it meant that when my smoking friends, and that’s all of them, needed to go outside the pub for a crafty lungful, Muggins here was left behind as table monitor, fending off all-comers while my friends laughed, chatted and socialised.

Booze is different, though. Booze I love. I like looking at it in a glass, in the light; dark as a Homeric ocean. I like running a little of it over my tongue and the pretentious faff of trying to extricate a tang of chocolate, grapefruit or pencil shavings from a glass of fermented grape juice. (Never say it tastes “a bit grapey”. For one thing it can be easily misheard.) I like the bubbling bonhomie of a relaxing evening with friends and the way it takes the edge of anxious social gatherings amongst enemies. It is social lubrication, a badge of honour, a measure of worldliness and panache. If you look at drinking through the bottom of a glass it seems to be a tremendous cultural boon. Booze manufacturers now ask you drink their products “responsibly”. Aye, and there’s the rubbing alcohol. I don’t much care to stop.

Something magical happens at around the third glass: Dion Nice-Arse arrives to get the party started, regardless of occasion. Planning a children’s tea-party and need someone to vomit on the bouncy castle? You’ve got my mobile. Tea dance at the vicarage and you need someone to crack open the communion wine? My card. Art aficionados, perhaps you’d like someone to fall over a table of drinks at your private view? I have a taxi on speed-dial. You can throw my trousers in the cab after me. Yes, once that third glass has been poured I am in the grip of a panic that somehow the drink will run out and I’ll be left alone with my thoughts or what passes for them. It’s no way to live and something must be done. Quite apart from the physical damage I’m doing to myself and the psychological damage I’m sustaining from regurgitated self-disgust, I can’t afford it. I’ve been cursed with expensive tastes. In a way it’s lucky I’m poor. If I were rich I’d be a smiling, purple corpse by now. Barney in a coffin.

I’m currently in self-imposed exile from the Land of Cockayne. I’ve rationalised that you need a glass in your hand in order to network effectively, people run scared from mineral water guy, but I’ve rationed the amount of glasses in my hand. It is baby steps as it ever was: clumsy, staggering and holding onto the walls.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Valentine's Day

It's been a long year and a somewhat hazy one and so I don't remember what I did last Valentine's Day. It was Kelly's last, though we didn't know that at the time, as the doctors were still saying that she could have another ten years. Doctors.

I imagined that I'd cooked a fancy meal, like the Fancy Dan I am, or else we had gone to "Season" on Stroud Green Road, which rather became "our" place in our last year in London.

I look back on this blog to find out what life-hugging, no, LIFE SWADDLING, things I was doing while I still had her in my life. The Feb 14th entry is a short rant about my broadband not working. There's not even mention of Kelly. The 2011 calender, which I've kept, and which as a record of my last seven months with her would be the first thing I'd save if the house caught fire, tells a slightly different story. Kelly had been to the "Museum of Everything" with Anna Asheton over the weekend and demanded that I go with her again for the the Peter Blake curated show. The exhibition contained glass cases of stuffed mice and squirrels in various tableaux, dressed in the manner of Disney characters (clothes on top, bare bums) in school rooms, scrumping apples, fighting duels. The reason that this was so amazing is that I had told Kelly about a tiny museum opposite the ruin of Bamber castle that I used to visit as a child, which had a stuffed animal exhibition. This was it. When the museum closed the collection was broken up and Peter Blake had bought up most of it, inveterate collector that he is. Kelly had remembered this and brought me here without telling me. That's romance. Not complaints about your internet provider.

Re-reading the stuff I wrote on her back then I'm surprised by the energy, the anger, the jokes. I wasn't sleeping at all and I was drinking a hell of a lot* and yet, I'm bouncing off the page. And there was a lot going on. And it's all because of her. She was so funny and clever and crabby. She kept me on my toes. It was like trying to keep up with the smartest kid in the class, it made me try harder. The stuff I write on here now, the endless complaints, the hand ringing, the howl-at-the-moon why-why-whys: it's rubbish. It's nonsense. Thee was something pretty great in me for a while. But it wasn't innate and it died with her. I miss her so much.

Love you, darlin'

*plus ca change.

Friday, 10 February 2012

No jokes jones

Life is hard. That's a truism and a cliché. But surely it isn't supposed to be this hard? I've come to the conclusion that it is me. I must be doing it.

This week I received a letter from a company called "Premium First" (or more properly Creation Correspondence Finance Ltd, they appear to be in a period of transition). Except I didn't Kelly did. It appears to be some sort of insurance finance agreement. They're asking for about £90. I have no idea what it is for. But there are account details so I phone them up and explain that Kelly has died. I hate having to do this. The feeling are still very raw and articulating it makes it very difficult. However, most people, on the phone at least proffer some sort of social nicety, an "I'm sorry to hear that" sort of thing. "Premium First/Creation" don't bother with that sort of nonsense. For the first time ever I'm met with silence followed by an "And how can I help you?".

That got me on the back foot, slightly. I've been on the other side of those phone-calls, not for this company, but for other insurance companies. There is a social contract there, it is a social situation of sorts, whereby, if you're a human being and someone tells you that someone that they love has died you blurt out a pleasantry. You can't help it, as insincere as it is. It's a human response. It's also good business practice, especially in an insurance company.

So I was somewhat wrong-footed. So I carried on. What is this for? I cant tell you. Why cant you tell me? We only claim back the money, sir. We aren't the insurance company. So what you're saying you want £90 but you wont tell me what it relates to or who it's for? It's Data protection, sir. We can't tell you. Well how are you going to get your money? Kelly is dead and doesnt have any money. Are you going to sue her? How do we resolve this? Could you send us her death certificate.

So you're saying that you are asking for money without telling me who you are, what the money is for, you're asking me to send you my wife's death certificate and my incentive to this is to pay you the best part of £100? Why would I do it? At this point the chap terminated the call.

I received another one this morning. Still addressed to Kelly. The amount outstanding has gone up to £111. I ring them again. Again no information, the data protection act quoted, no record of my previous call and when I ask to speak to a supervisor the call is terminated again.

So, am I obliged to pay this? Do they have any legal standing? Can they sue a dead woman? Do I have any relationship with this company at all?

Does anybody know?

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Another day, another letter from the Housing Executive, another form to fill in, this time they're demanding two months of banking transactions. Not sure why they didn't ask for this two months ago...

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

More complaining. Not that it matters

So I've started receiving letters from an insurance company addressed to Kelly. Excellent. They are demanding a payment of £86.43. I have no idea what this is for. I ring them. They tell me that they cannot give me any information. But I still have to pay them. They will only speak to Kelly. I say that's not going to be possible as she has been dead for six months. They still refuse to tell me what I'm supposed to be paying for. I ask them the type of policy, at least. They don't know, they only collect the money on behalf of another company. I ask them the name of this other company. They don't know. So I ask them if they don't know what the product is or who is supplying it, how do they know I owe them any money? Because the machine tells them that I do. So I say that's not really good enough. £90 is a lot of money, I'm not going to give them any money on their say so. Give me some information and maybe we can reach an agreement. They quote the data protection act to me. We reach an impasse. An impasse of swearing and hanging up.

I've come to the conclusion that death must be a rare and freakish event because every business I deal with has no idea how to deal with it. Trying suing her then you fucking morons, see how far that gets you.

The dentist won't fix my front teeth because they cant find a special NHS number that I'm supposed to provide. It turns out that my English one doesn't work over here. So I have to get a local doctor. I go through a battery of tests, fill in the forms, get an always unflattering B.M.I. and get registered. And later I ring them for the magic number (and for blood test results which are now, worryingly, four days late) and then I ring the dentist and quote it back to her. It is the same number that they already had. She's going to look into it for me.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Well the nurse promised to phone me with my blood test results if I was dying. She hasn't so I guess I'm not dying. Though my cholesterol is rather high. Time to ditch the cheese and wine diet, methinks.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Up all night again. I haven't been sleeping well since Christmas. It's not even useful time because I put in the hours on the pillow, lying there in the darkness, staring up at the ceiling. I could use these hours, I could use any hours. But to attempt to do anything else would horribly compromise any chance of getting some sleep. Even booze doesn't seem to work.

I'm clearly going mad.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Don't even try

In my local JSA, as I assume there is in all JSAs, there is a person called the Decision Maker. The Decision Maker doesn't like me. The Decision Maker has just stopped my dole. Again. Another week without money. The reason is because I went home for Christmas. To see my mum. At Christmas. I had, on the last occasion I signed on filled in a form to say I would be going back to England for Christmas. This was sent away to the Decision Maker and I was sent on a surprise, unadvertised interview with a man who wanted to ask me about my progress and who was very sympathetic when I ranted at him for the best part of half an hour. During that time my original interlocutor reappeared, said the Decision Maker had okayed my holiday, merry Christmas, and got me to sign a form.

That was what happened. What in fact should have happened is the following: the interviewer should have sent me to another part of the building where THEY would have given me the form, asked the Decision Maker on my behalf whether I was allowed to see my mum at Christmas, on approval they would have torn the first three sheets of the form off and given them to me as they contained relevant information, carefully explained that the day after of my return has now become my de facto signing on date and, latterly, sent me a letter once again explaining when I was due to sign on in "clear" and "concise" government prose i.e. rococo gibberish but with the dates clearly high-lighted for ease of use.

Of course, I only found this out today. After my claim had been cancelled, after the fifteen forms I had filled in. After two more twenty minute waits in empty rooms listening to the staff talking about their lunches. After another two philibustering performances that have me railing against the ineptitude of the JSA staff always, without fail, meaning that I suffer, that I'm the loser. Meaning more forms, more pointless meetings. She rang the Decision Maker, describing me as a "very angry Mr. Higgins, I'm sure you are already aware of him" - which instilled confidence in me that I would get a fair hearing from The DM. He cancelled my claim but I was then told he had no choice, given that I hadn't turned up on the appointed date ("but nobody told me to!" "I'm sorry about that!") and hadn't contacted them within five days ("but how was I supposed to know that, I received no letter!" "I'm sorry about that.") he had to close my claim. So why is he the Decision Maker, if his hands are tied? Surely he's just the Rule Follower and has no autonomy whatsoever, I suggest. We don't make the rules, Mr Higgins, we're in the same position as you. I look at her behind the desk. She has a job, she will be paid. Unless she spunks her entire salary on more tattoos, she will probably be able to pay the mortgage she undoubtedly has. We are not in the same position. I let it go. The fights gone out of me. I've been incensed for an hour and it's not fun any more. I leave with another loo-roll of bumf and an appointment to reclaim on Friday afternoon that I'm assured will take an hour.

Today is the 6 month anniversary of Kelly's death. I had intended to say something about her here. But the poison of tawdry quotidian life has stolen in and robbed me of any poetry. I'm going down to Gulladuff, by bus, today. To see High and Kate and to see her grave. I've never gone by bus before and was hoping to get all my thoughts in order. To be fitting. But the dull spark of fury clicking behind my eyes like a fucked pilot light is because of something as stupid as dole money and not about the monstrous injustice of her dying.

I didn't sleep again last night as I could think of nothing but her. How she looked, how she smelt, how she felt. The eyes and the head movements that I occasionally see flashing for an instant on the faces of her family. Just a moment of Kelly, then gone. I miss her mind more, I miss her thoughts, I miss her quickness, her smarts. I miss thinking that I must, finally, be all right because she liked me. I miss her not being around. And I have done every day for the last six months.

I love her so much, uselessly. Because she's not around to love me back.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Read All About It.

So I'm extra-ing. I'm in a room that stinks of menthol with a couple of sad faced middle-aged guys (middle-aged even by my standards). My role is "office-worker-diner" and I fully expect to be making tedious small talk over a glass of cold tea. Some of the other extras have turned up, they have brought "costumes". I'm glad somebody is taking this seriously. Actually EVERYBODY is taking this seriously. They all look flustered and terrified and they never stop running about. They tend to be quite thin. This is quite weird.

The actress has turned up. She's a bone thin red head and is gracious to everyone, bobbing around smiling and grinning at all the extras. Actually everyone smiles at me. This is because I have grey hair, a good suit and I'm chatting to Susan the producer. I look like I might be money! I'm not.

Aidan Gillen turns up. I'd forgotten he was in this but there he is strolling about with his famous face on. He's in the Wire! He's in Wake Wood! I've seen him performing analingus on a minor in "Queer as Folk". He's pretty charming. In fact everyone is. They're all really nice. It's not like the movies at all.

The bloke next to me, an extra WITH A LINE, won't stop going on about "Withnail and I". None of the other extras have seen it.

My dining partner turns out to be the casting director in a guise. She is a woman called Jude. Every time we go out of shot, which is often, we are very peripheral, I'm stricken with a need to say "now you're Jude the Obscure". But I don't because we are miming speaking to each other. Well I am. She pisses herself laughing every time the cameras roll. It's a great ice-breaker.

There are about twenty takes of the one scene that I'm in and everyone fluffs every line every time. I expect they can do something in the edit. The extras don't even really appear to be acting. I expect that's difference between acting acting and movie acting. Certainly they're playing "small".

The drama certainly escalates after I leave. The next scene is a car accident and the venue for the shoot, for some reason, is a notorious loyalist South Belfast enclave called "The Village".* There is trouble. Gangs appear, rocking the vehicles, ripping off wing mirrors, putting through windows. The trouble escalates and several of the extras are beaten up, one of them so badly that the last thing he hears before losing consciousness in the bin he has been dumped in is "leave him I think he's dead."

I never see this side of Belfast. Maybe I've been lucky. There were the Short Strand riots just after I moved over and then a short spate of bloodless bombings,(not bloodless in intent, mind). But generally I feel safer in Belfast than I did in London. So this sort of fucking idiocy is always a useful, and timely reminder that there are still blood-thirsty, indoctrinated morons out there willing to cut you to pieces on the trumped up charge of your religion. A film company brings a camera crew to your place, so what do you do? Wreck it, kick the shit out of it, make sure they never come back. It's not as if Belfast, dying on its arse and useful mainly as New York's stunt double, needs the film industry.

If Game of Thrones fucks off this year, you clever bastards, what will you watch on your hooky plasma-screens. Morons.

*This was an unbelievably stupid idea, however. What the fuck were they thinking?

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Flight into Terror! (via Manchester)

Return flight delayed. Infuriatingly instead of information being flashed up on the screens regarding the boarding gates or the purported new estimated time for departure there are just the words "relax and wait" running repeatedly along the bottom of the screen. It makes me want to do neither of course. But then I am heroically goadable.

The flight is ultimately delayed by over an hour and is the most turbulent that I have ever experienced, seeming to drop from the clouds to the earth in about three minutes. As we land the plane fills up with the smell of burning SOMETHING.

Behind me on the plane was an annoying noisy family from central casting or a lazy BBC 3 comedy : the dad was a bald Scouser with bruised cheekbones and the mum an emaciated Essex girl like a carrot stick in Prada sunglasses. Their kid, Rhys or Reece or Rheace or Reice, in his flat-cap and gillet combo, moy macho, Rhys, had a peculiar high-pitched whine, an exact tonal cross between estuary squawk and Pudlian screech. And he didn't stop talking. His everyday speech was like an hysterical tantrum and his hysterical tantrums, which he was inclined to in the manner of a Victorian spinster receiving some mildly diverting news, were pitched on a level with a dog's fire alarm. He screamed all the way through the, admittedly wobbly, descent, which helped the experience immeasurably. Luckily I'm very good in these "Act of God" scenarios. It takes a broken toilet or a frozen computer to spook me. And speaking of toilets it transpired that Scouse dad can't work one, as I discover from the toilet cubicle he has just vacated. There in the toilet lies the fruit of his sentimental, sing-a-long guts, bobbing like driftwood in the Mersey. Cheers la!

When I alight from the plane I find that my connecting flight doesn't exist.

I question the bloke in the customer service booth (bored, with a hairdresser's haircut).

"You just have to wait till it's up on the board," he says, rolling his eyes and stifling a yawn. He doesn't actually. But he may as well have done. Go with it: he yawned in intent.

A flight to Belfast appears finally but with a completely different flight number to the one on my ticket. I expect trouble - trouble is my default setting. I ping the metal detector at both airports. I don't know why. The pins in my legs? The tube of Zofirex in my pocket? My silver hair? In Southampton this wasn't a problem: a man frisked me, including sticking his thumbs in my trouser waistband and quipping "It must have been a good Christmas!" - the cheeky bastard, he was twice my size and had a fucking moustache. But then I was on my way.

In Manchester I had to "adopt the position" in another x-ray machine and send my shoes off on a little journey of their own without me. Then they "tested" my little bag of "fluids" again, because I was proper dodgy. The test turned out to be a middle-aged woman scowling at the bag for a few minutes before handing it back to me with a look that said "you win this time!"

My flight is due at 18.45. A sign flashes up saying "next info at 19.00". I read this as meaning that the flight is delayed. Though they aren't saying that, the fucking cowards. There's no announcement, no apology, just the promise of fresh information, fifteen minutes after we were due to take-off.

We eventually fly at 8.30. On the plane the captain reveals the reason for the delay, as well as the hurried descent and the intense smell of burning - the plane from Southampton had been hit by lightning! It was also the plane I was due to get to Belfast, which explains the three hour hangover at Manchester. My journey from Basingstoke to Belfast ultimately takes 10 and a half hours.

Flybe toodle-oo.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Turd Uncle

Met a lot of people over Christmas and everyone was nice to me. Maybe I should be nervous. There will come a point in the future when people won't be instantly kind but I shall be flabbily used to it by then. I feel like I'm being fattened up for something. Cruelty will come as a surprise.

The first person I met, other than mother and brother Barry (we went shopping around an un-recognisible Basingstoke until mum wound down like a clockwork toy and we had to take her home) was Tori and I had an ace time laminating things with her and the redoubtable Arch. Next Kasch drove down from London and I took him on a long and filthy walk in the pissing rain out to Old Basing, where his endless whinging and carping ended as soon as he saw the original civil war brick-work. Show Kasch a bit of proper, manly engineering and you have him on side forever. Later we met up with Tori again and danced until dawn. A staggering feat for a man in his forties.*

Edward arrived in Basingstoke on the 24th like a drunken, bellowing Santa who had left his sack of toys on the train and was convinced it was someone else's fault. It is his standard approach and he rarely deviated from it.

(In the interest of fair-mindedness I should add that while I often saw Edward drunk over Christmas he was often very amusing, never more so than when he was showing me East 17 videos in the kitchen at three in the morning. In fact I have rarely laughed as much as I have over those few days.)

Christmas day and it was time for me to cook the second Christmas dinner. Barry and Maria and their son Thomas and her mother Martha arrived for dinner. It was good to see them, though it was hard work getting through dinner, looking at them with their pleasant fruitful and successful lives, in a room with my wedding picture staring down from the wall. Envy is not a nice quality but there was little I could do: I'm fated to be a "funny" uncle.

Boxing Day was more of the same. Doug and Gwen popped over with Eirlys and their present - a book of locations for films made in Britain and Ireland (startling fact: Superman IV was made in Milton Keynes, a fact that Christopher Reeves (described oddly as "Superman's alias)blamed for the film's lack of success). They know me so well. My sister Laura, her husband Stew and their two beautiful children Alec and Rose turned up as a dizzying ball of colourful, well-dressed energy. And once again dinner in the dining room under the smiling face of my beautiful wife on the happiest day of my life, a geologically distant five years ago, was difficult to get through. There is a lot of talk on her (still extant) Facebook page about how her friends and family feel guided by her love and her strength and I am jealous of those people too. All I feel is an aching physical lack, and her continuing absence is thrown into stark relief by the lives of every body else, who have got on with their lives because they've had to get on with their lives - there are people depending on them. I'm the only one who has the luxury of being completely alone. The only one with nothing else to do but miss her. The only one not to feel her as a sort of mystical sat-nav. I feel nothing but her absence, a huge punctured hole in my life. Which is not to say I didn't love seeing my family. I'm only intermittently a selfish wallowing prick. But I still measure myself against Kelly and find myself wanting. She would have loved to have been here and given those the kids her nurturing unadulterated love, not the mealy-mouthed, conflicted and wary love they get from me. I'll do better. I remembered all three birthdays this year. A first.

The next day was an all-dayer. Family friends the Cummins arrived with new edition (alarmingly five years old) Patti, and then Jess and Si, en route to Cornwall decided to spend a night in Audley Wood Lodge specifically to see me (check my friends!) and show off their tiny two-monther Esme. Who was well worth showing off and resembles a bonsai cutting of Jess. I left there to go directly to the Bounty, to witness my first Basingstoke bar fight, and meet up with an old school friend Robin and his fiancée Katya, who have been living out in Spain but have, rather fashionably, failed to get a tan. I haven't seen Robin twenty years but barring a bit of extra lagging on the pair of us, and an alarming Pampas growth on my head, very little had changed. Except we both seemed to be a bit less ridiculous. We were joined by Doug, Mike and some dentists and fun time was had by, if not all, then certainly me.

The 28th saw a delicious if outrageously filling Colombian meal at Barry and Maria's delightful new home where we were joined by Ange and Phil and THEIR two princes Mani and Remi. After dinner a brief meeting with Tori again and home.

And at this point I feel like I'm fixin' to die. I cannot wait until January 1st so I CAN FINALLY QUIT DRINKING.

There's still New Years day.

*and yes, you may well find a "staggering feet" pun here, if you wish.

Christmas happens.

Three hours in Manchester Airport. That's the bar then. I line my stomach ahead of time with a bacon and brie bagel and a latte served in a bucket. Which I sorely need as I have a Christmas dinner and whiskey hangover. This was the first of two Christmas dinners I am due to cook this year. It was supposed to take place in "Tyndall Towers" but given Dee's sudden outbreak of what was at first dismissed by her dismissive French doctor as "an allergy" but which later turned out to be Hand, Foot and Mouth disease, we changed the venue to Paddy's house and burned Dee in a trench in the back garden. Dinner went well but it was necessarily a "sausage-fest" - all men barring my delightful sister-in-law. When Cormac turned up with his French girlfriend it was like somebody had sparked up a fire in a neolithic cave. She was like a penned sheep for the rest of the evening, bless her.

So I'm in Manchester Airport. Belfast-Manchester-Southampton-Basingstoke is not an obvious route to take home but in my defence it was not my idea and that I feel I was rather tricked into it by Flybe. It has been noted, pricks. I nearly lose my door-keys in customs black plastic trays as someone runs off with it while I'm replacing my shoes. I have no spares, having broken the other in the lock in a rare and pointless display of super-strength. It would have made for some interesting first footing on my return.

I've only ever been to Manchester once before and I don't remember why I was there and who I was with. In later years, specifically at the end of the nineties when it would have been fashionable, I claimed to have gone to both The Hacienda and Dry Bar. This was not true. I had certainly sat outside the Dry Bar but I never went in. And I never went within the sound of gun-shots of The Hacienda.

Not much people-watching going on at the airport. There is a girl with a dragon tattoo who looks like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The tattoo is on her flat and not unattractive stomach and when I speak to her, she is the chief suspect in "operation key-theft", she is revealed to be English. Figures. I've discovered where all the best looking girls in Belfast are: at the Airport, waiting to go home.

On the plane now, boiling hot and sat next to a man reading the Daily Mail and eating chocolate biscuits. I fear we are not destined to be friends.

There is a light winking on the wing of my plane. If it was on my cooker I'd be worried but as it's on the wing of a plane I reckon somebody has it covered. I try not to think about what's going on when I'm flying through the air on the plane. It makes me a very confident aeronaut. Looking out the window you really have to be quite impressed. Say what you like but the world looks very neat from up here. Talk about order from chaos - do we know how to parcel off land or what?

My plane appears to be called "Kevin Keegan". WTF? As they say.