Traffic lights

POETRY

For someone who knows:

We’re in a traffic jam
Stuck at roadworks
My light is red
Yours is green
So you pass me
I watch you go
I want to jump the lights
Run into you
Meet you in between

But that would cause a crash
It would make a mess
I know another route
Out of sight
You know the way
Meet me there
You know
Which way to go
Turn to the right

Working Title

MY WORLD | FICTION

It’s good to be busy but with so much on, prioritising has become an issue: what a nice problem to have.

All potential paid work is with the editor, pending approval or redrafting; or rejection. The Paradoxicon novel is being serialised in the webzine for which I regularly write and I’m earning modest royalties. At the same time – paradoxically – the original is being revised by another editor, whilst I simultaneously work on an expanded edition and write a synopsis for a sequel, as well as a query letter to a favoured agent. It’ll take a while, so buy the original and get a first edition. I’m also earning royalties from COGS’ publication in print Therefore, I need to look at the – currently – unpaid projects in hand and therefore self-promotion. I can knock out a short story in a couple of days, so the background projects are jostling for position: further work on the first book, or the second, non-sequential one.

So I’d value opinions on a working title:

Bloodstained Knaves

Chapter One



A Note From Below

You’ve heard of underground publications, right? Why is it that everything “underground” is considered bad? Just because the very word suggests subterranean? Well it not only does but it is. What you’re reading came from underground, quite literally. It is the very definition of an underground publication. I wrote it, therefore it is published, albeit self-published. I wrote it underground; beneath your feet, where I live. The fact that you’re reading it means that it made its way out. You are reading an underground publication.



Beneath your feet: I’m lower than the shit on your shoes. If I were above ground, you’d probably look down on me, if you noticed me at all. But you don’t notice me because I’m underground; deliberately, where you can’t see me. But you wouldn’t want to, so I’m doing you a favour by staying down here.



We may be below your feet but if you ever took the time, you might realise that there’s more to us than meets the eye. But you can’t see us. Whether that’s by choice or circumstance is irrelevant.



You see, since we’ve been down here we’ve learned a lot. That’s partly why we’re down here. And there is so much down here you don’t know about, or probably wouldn’t want to know about. If you chose to seek us out, you would judge us. Among many delusions, you would probably assume that we can neither read nor write. You’d rather remain blissfully innocent of our existence. But you’re reading this: I wrote it.



You’re probably wondering who I am. Well, ask yourself another question: why are you reading this? Because you want to. You have the freedom of choice. Well so do we. We’ve chosen to stay down here and if you really want to keep on reading, you’ll find out why.

Chapter Two



The City Without History

The city was different now. Jess knew, yet she hadn’t seen the metamorphosis as she was living away at college when her parents moved here. She had no memory of how things used to be; only the photographs her parents had left behind. They were gone: her parents and their city.

There used to be public squares, parks and recreation areas. Now the city is just a square, with groups of buildings on each corner separated by wasteland. Work to rebuild the city is ongoing, with gangs of builders arriving at construction sites every morning. New buildings are appearing  at a rate of about one per week.

Every morning, Jess takes the same route to work, leaving her apartment in the residential quarter and walking counter clockwise around the square city, past the police station and jail to her office in the commercial quarter. Every evening, she walks clockwise past the hospital and back to her home.

The police station is lit but there is no movement inside or out, likewise the jail: two steel ghost ships, floating on an asphalt sea. There is no crime in the city. There are perpetrators of acts which would once have been considered criminal but they are no longer criminals under the New City Order laws. The police station and jail were temporary structures erected in the new city to quickly process those who broke the many laws hastily passed, then dropped. Disposable people were needed and the two facilities served as a processing plant: condemnation and abattoir.

Jess could take a bus. Buses run in both directions around the square. She could use The Loop; an elevated railway around the city. She chooses to walk because in doing so, she takes personal charge of her destiny without entrusting it to public transport and the passengers thereon. The underground metro rail system was abandoned following The Event.

Every morning and evening, a hand-written note protrudes from the same storm drain cover. Usually it’s just requests for food and water; pens and paper. The notes state that these items are to be left by the drain cover under cover of darkness. Jess obliges, purely out of curiosity in the hope that one day she may glimpse the author of the notes. She watches and waits but always has to leave her gifts where she placed them. By morning they are gone. Sometimes the note is just a friendly greeting or thank you. This note was different: it was as though it were attached to someone and not just some anonymous begging note. This had personality.

The first time it happened, all that Jess saw was a rolled up sheet of paper, protruding only slightly from the metal grille as rain water flowed around it, like a periscope tentatively looking for something above an ocean. The river of water flowing into the drain was as grey as the drain cover itself, broken only by white bubbles and carrying debris from the curbside. Bus and train tickets; cigarette ends and spent matches; lottery tickets and receipts; all carried like white water rafters on the river downstream.

On that first occasion, the rolled up sheet was just a protrusion into Jess’s space. White against grey, it was out of place. Jess had stepped into the road and into the riders, as though into enemy territory and pushed the tube of paper into the drain: a discarded sheet, carelessly dropped and washed by rain water into the drain cover but with it’s progress impeded by the iron portcullis which guarded the watery world below.

The riders are demons on wheels, risking their own lives and those of others, riding their cannibalised machines at far in excess of what used to be a speed limit on the roads. Now there are no limits, not even physical ones that the riders observe between road and kerb. Mostly they growl and roar along the edge of the road but occasionally they violently mount the kerb, screaming like human sirens at anyone in their way. Jess had seen walkers knocked down, the riders having no concern other than being paid for each delivery of human blood, organs and body parts. They are couriers; messengers to the devil.

If they had time, the riders would stop and pick up their fresh kills to be harvested for spare parts. Far easier were the jumpers: people made redundant, who had hurled themselves from buildings, rather than be dissected while still alive and without anaesthetic, to provide organs and limbs to the needy classes. The riders collect the roadkill and carrion, then ride pillion on their bikes with their cargo slumped over the handlebars.

A job in the city is something you hold onto for life, in more ways than one. Once a job is lost, invariably so too is a life. Jobs are never advertised.

Jess arrives at the building which houses her office and hundreds of others. Some occupy entire floors, or share with others: law firms, accountants and the offices of various trades, mainly allied to the construction industry. Most – like Jess’s – are single occupancy. There are no plaques on the doors; just numbers. What goes on behind those doors is open to speculation. Jess only knows what happens in hers. But actually she doesn’t. She knows what she does but she doesn’t know why she does it.

As the door onto the street closes behind her, the relative quiet in the building is somehow louder than the noise outside as the inside provides room for thought. The riders on the street and the pavement still growl, roar and scream. The other traffic provides a background hum, broken only by the air brakes of a bus travelling either clockwise or counter clockwise around the square city and letting out a mechanical sigh of relief as it disgorges its passengers. The screech of metal on metal from The Loop subdues as though being shut in a box as the door to Jess’s daytime concentration camp settles in its frame.

The elevator reluctantly collects Jess from the entrance hall, it’s doors opening slowly, like a vertical metal mouth yawning. She reciprocates by reluctantly stepping in. Then like a piston, the elevator quickly takes Jess to the fourteenth floor and yawns again as she steps out. Before entering her office, she takes in the view outside.

The city looks so different from up here: The Loop a model railway and below it, toy cars, buses, taxis and motorbikes; model people too. Where once stood high rise steel and glass office towers, now hastily-constructed concrete monolithic syringes pierce the clouds of dust which hang overhead, their rooftop communication antennae injecting propaganda into the ether for distant extraterrestrial civilisations to pick up, long after humanity destroyed itself. Welcome to our world. Put another way, this is our world and you are welcome to it.

Chapter Three



QED

Jess’s office is number 1442: fourteenth floor, room forty two. She’s been employed here all of her working life, since leaving college aged 21 after The Event, two years ago. She swipes her ID card through a reader on the door, presses her hand against a palm reader, then enters her office. Then she does the same inside the office, where she will remain for the rest of the day.

The walls and ceiling of the small room are painted white; the spill-proof carpet is grey: neutral decoration, just like her apartment. The walls are bare apart from a filing cabinet against the rear wall, a mirror hung above it and a clock over the entrance door. In the centre of the room is a desk and chair. On the desk is a computer and next to the keyboard is a pile of papers: the day’s work.

Every day a fresh pile of hand-written papers is waiting on the desk and she has just one job to do: type them up and send what she’s produced in electronic form to an unknown recipient. She knows neither the identity of the author, nor that of whomever she sends her typed versions to.

She’s thought about it before; questioned motives, been unable to arrive at a conclusion and just carried on with what she’s paid to do. She has a job and it pays: it pays well and she’s not redundant. A sum of money arrives in her account every month and she has no reason to question where it originates. She’ll wonder again. It’s easy for the mind to wander when the job is so monotonous: touch-typing at eighty words per minute with rarely time to pay attention to what’s actually being typed.

She has never been shown nor signed a contract of employment. She has no contractual hours, so works a stereotype, Dolly Parton day, nine to five: the same time that the computer is operational for. The work is always finished before she leaves the office and she could be at work for shorter hours but the self-imposed working day seems reasonable to her and hopefully therefore to her unseen employer. She doesn’t send an email; she just has a word processor with a “Send” button on screen. After typing, the original papers are filed in the grey cabinets.

There are two small rooms off from the main one: a kitchen with a microwave oven, a kettle and a sink; and a bathroom with a toilet and wash basin. They are nondescript, of the same decor as the main room and merely functional. She makes a coffee, sits at the desk and notes the time on the clock above the door: two minutes before she can start. She looks at the computer screen: blank apart from the reflection of the mirror on the wall behind her.

Most of the documents Jess is given mean little to her: lists; columns of numbers; reports on mundane subjects; minutes from meetings. Each is apparently one part of a greater whole. Today is no exception:

Post Holocene 4/5



1a. Law:



Judge

Chief of police

Rank and file police officers



1b. Defence:



Army



1c. Medicine:



Surgeons – general

Nursing staff



3a. Construction:



Builders – general

Bricklayers

Electricians

Plumbers

Carpenters

Foremen

QED: quod erat demonstrandum; “Which had to be proven.”

Chapter Four



A Fresh Delivery

The sound of a siren is rare in the city. Accidents are rarely attended, the dead and injured instead being collected by the riders, sounding their own vocal sirens.

When an ambulance speeds through the city it pierces both visibly and audibly. A white, sonic knife through the metal fat of traffic clogging the city’s arteries and preventing a heart attack. Vehicles move aside, engines idling briefly as the ambulance passes, drowning out all other sound.

Jess treads the usual route home: familiar, yet changing almost every day. Today a new office building has been topped out and a coffee shop has appeared on West Street, nestled between two building sites. The construction workers form a fluorescent yellow snake in their high visibility overalls as they wait for buses. They will have downed tools at five O’clock and are now headed home before the city shuts down for the night.

Jess’s day ended as her office clock ticked to five O’clock and her computer shut down. She’d already filed the day’s hand-written papers, swiped out of the office and wondered as she walked home about the QED paper she’d typed and sent to its unidentified recipient: which had to be proven. What had to be proved? It was written in the past tense: how was whatever which required proof, proven?

As Jess approached the hospital, the ambulance had overtaken her and was now parked outside. Two paramedics wheeled a stretcher down a ramp from the back, quickly turning the stretcher and rushing through the automatic doors of the hospital. Then two riders arrived, bearing cargo. Finally, a car: black, like all ambulance chasers.

The sounds of the city subside as Jess nears the residential quarter. It’s as sudden as ever, like being followed by a blaring beat briefcase and the carrier turning down the volume out of consideration for someone approaching. In less than an hour after Jess leaves work, the city is almost silent.

Then the sound of paper on metal, like the gentlest fingers on a nail file. The daily note:

Should I continue?

Atheist, anarchic puritan

MY WORLD

I have certainly concluded that my religious and political views are based in atheism and anarchy respectively. A Puritan though? Certainly not as defined in the traditional, religious definition of the word; more a New Puritan, as defined by the writing manifesto by Alex Garland et al, published by Fourth Estate, prefacing the All Hail The New Puritans collection of short stories c.2000.

My writing, like my thoughts which my writing conveys, can rarely adhere to all of the articles in the New Puritans’ manifesto because of the very nature of my writing in general. I am capable of writing a piece of fiction which adheres to the New Puritan manifesto in its entirety, have done so and been published as such. More typically though, I need to say everything to everyone at the same time. It avoids too much repetition and that’s why I’m a writer: I have the ability and means to share my thoughts, on this blog. But I need to practice and market more coherent writing.

Thoughts are something I have many of at the moment but the Puritan needs to exclude those thoughts from his mind in order to concentrate; to focus. For now, those thoughts are breeding in my head and in my hand-written notes. Chief among my many thoughts is that if you care about someone but they simply will not or cannot speak to you, you have to stop caring in order to preserve your sanity: minimum words; quite a lot of impact in that sentence. That’s what writing is about: make people think. Show don’t tell. I simply don’t have the time any more to care for anything other than what I am developing and those within my closest inner circle. They know who they are.

So as well as these blog posts becoming less frequent, they will most likely gain a greater brevity. General musings I shall share more with friends, confidantes, the girls and social media, as dictated by circumstance. I need to concentrate on keeping blog posts focused. In time, they may become more frequent, simply because I’m writing in a more focused way and have more time if I’m not rambling with writing and thoughts. I-megaphone and I-earpiece at the same time.

The reason for this narrowing of tunnel vision is paid work finally coming in. A feature I wrote recently for The Guardian newspaper has been accepted for publication and I will receive payment for it. The immediate upshot of this is that I’m in contact with the features editor of said national publication. This means many things, besides my piece being published: I gain exposure; I have a gateway; I have contacts. My editor and I are due to speak further tomorrow, at the start of what really is becoming a working week for me, albeit one which doesn’t observe conventional working hours or practices: just like me then.

The piece which has been accepted for publication will gain me a commission payment. I am not a salaried staff member for The Guardian but I am a freelance writer and I have other projects in the pipeline for this particular employer / customer. Most of all, it’s recognition. I am a professional, published  writer: undeniable fact, backed up by proof upon request. I write horror and science fiction for a webzine; my short stories are published in a print periodical magazine; I have published a book: I receive royalties on sales; and now I write for The Guardian and get paid for it.

The Guardian is just so me: independent, not afraid, controversial, inclusive… GMG is not owned by shareholders, nor at the whim of a media mogul with political ideals: it is owned by its readers and writers, of which I am now one. They are the idealised anarchists and atheists of the media world in my mind. Puritans more in the old definition. Being able to write for The Guardian is like being a documentary maker for the other media bastion of public service: Channel 4. I am a writer and I will soon be paid for doing what I love: conveying what’s on my mind with the written word. I’m accountable to an editor but I am largely uncensored; I have freedom of choice and opinion, even though both may sometimes be controversial. I’ll devote as much time as usual to these posts but they’ll be less meandering and more self-contained by subject.

I lost what could have been a dream life, went through a nightmare but gained a dream I wouldn’t previously have imagined: contentment and a personal place of belonging. Back to work tomorrow, doing what I want to do.

What have I chosen to do with my Sunday evening? I’ve chosen to work. I’m writing. The rest I shall keep to myself, including anything to do with teenage girls, which I’ll write about another time. Just one thing: Yazoo strawberry milkshake on breakfast cereal instead of milk is munch.

Over there, stands my angry angel

MY WORLD

Angry Angel is a track from the rather excellent album, I Megaphone, by Imogen Heap, which I’m listening to now. It’s an album which evokes fond memories for me, as it’s one of many I used to listen to with the love of my life which could have been. In fact, Danielle introduced me to Imogen Heap and therefore indirectly to a few other artists now in my music collection. I’ve found Amazon’s recommendation system based on previous purchases to be quite intuitive and often the artists it introduces me to are little-known and therefore available for little cost from Amazon resellers.

The lyric, “Over there, stands my angry angel…” is particularly evocative for its parallels, because the old me – the angry one – is somewhere else, and I lost my angel because I made her angry. Indeed, I’m writing less of this blog because I don’t have as much to complain about, now that life has dealt me some fairly good cards, even if life now is modest compared to what it once was and could have been. Most of my ire nowadays is inwardly directed because I detest the person who ruined so many other lives and simply left them behind and moved on: I hate my old self. Then again, I’ve rebuilt bridges with most of the people I alienated, proving nothing of me but demonstrating that there are some truly loving, patient, forgiving and understanding people who continue to play a part in my humbler, new life.

Sobriety breeds inward reflection and I can understand why many alcoholics don’t recover, for the temptation sometimes to drink and block it all out is sometimes almost overwhelming. But I resist. I have other means of self-medication now and I’m much more focussed on the one thing I’m recognised as being pretty good at: writing. I was no good at being a father, a husband, a fiance, nor of running a business or my life in fact. But by all accounts, I’m quite accomplished on the writing front. By my own admission, my writing has improved considerably since I sobered up. I don’t doll out hatred and vitriol in here so much as write the material which is more likely to advance me. My daily writing output besides this blog is around that of my inspirer, Paul Auster: between one and three pages. But that’s of final copy, which reads well and has every word serving a purpose whilst being relevant to its neighbours. The input which goes into producing those pages is often ten times the final product. I know, because I’m a writer and like actors, we rehearse: drafts. Even this blog is redrafted to an extent, even though it’s my throwaway writing. So even this will only ever be a partial representation of the notes which I write as I plod along, wherever I go with my notebook and pen. I’m on Volume Seven of the hand-written notes and besides it, I only retain Volumes Two and Six in physical form. The rest were left, lost, stored or stolen. So this blog is edited highlights. If anyone finds or retains those original note books, hold onto them: you never know. 

So my days have become more structured and the working day is usually pretty constructive. Like most writers, I don’t observe the Dolly Parton day and my working day typically starts at around noon, running until about 3am with breaks for food and TV. And the writing is of the kind which is more productive in a commercial sense than the blog. Since my last post, I have made amendments to The Paradoxicon for its serialisation in Schlock webzine, COGS has been published in print: “Morally troubling; brilliantly written…”; I have four short stories in progress and have made further inroads into my second novel. As a result, I’ve been quiet on the social front, the only welcome interruptions being in the fine form of one of my girls. Is it strange that one of my closest confidantes is a seventeen year old girl? To some it is but they don’t understand me like she does. She is beautiful in body and mind; she chooses to spend as much time with me as she does because we relate to one another and her company is never anything but an absolute pleasure. She’s here now in fact, watching TV while I get on with what I call work. She is truly adorable in every way and as her adopted dad, I am so proud of that little lady. If only her real dad were to look at her as I do, he might see the flower which she has blossomed into. He might feel better about himself.

Sometimes I can’t write in honest, transparent prose because some of the relationships I conduct are still frowned upon as being inappropriate by those who would judge and some of the latter read this blog. An actual judge – a County Court one – reads this blog, as does at least one barrister, a magistrate and the police. Often I write in code, to let others know what is going on in the lives of others who they may only have contact with via me; or I write about people who read this blog by making them characters in my stories. One such work in progress concerns a girl, imprisoned in a relationship when she longs for another and her jailer is someone whose anger I recognise because it’s the same as the irrational wrath I used to exhibit when I was drunk towards those who I now know I wronged. In the story, the protagonist longs to run away with her suitor and wishes she’d known him before it all went wrong for her. Alas for her, such an existence is made impossible by the object of her affection. He feels for her as she does for him but he may not allow his heart to over-rule his head because although he is transient, the place he’s in is too dangerous for her to be a part of. But he too wishes to be away from the situation, with someone else. Because the one who our heroine has reciprocated feelings for, carries a candle for another. There’s a twist of course but it’s one of the works in progress. I keep a note pad next to the bed.

When I’m asked what I do, I say that I’m a writer. It doesn’t make me a living and the royalties remain miniscule but my prolificacy is all promotion and marketing, in the hope that I get noticed and picked up. I’m qualified: I studied with The Writers Bureau and mentored for The Royal Society. I’m published online and in print. I am a writer and although my life is humble, I enjoy what I do. I write novels, short fiction in the horror and sci-fi genres; I write poems and recipes. The most recent of the latter was in response to a request made of me in my capacity where I wear a different hat: that of chef. A friend had cod fish cakes and asked for a recipe which was a departure from the usual accompaniments. So from my signature dishes, I suggested serving the fish cakes with baby new potatoes in butter, asparagus and a poached egg on top of the fish cakes, the whole dish drizzled with balsamic vinegar. By all accounts, it was delicious but then I knew that already as it’s one of my signatures.  

Although my working week is now better structured to be more productive, my weekends haven’t changed as there was no need to fix that which isn’t broken. Saturdays and Sundays are still spent reading – and researching – The Guardian and The Observer respectively and often I’ll pick up on things which will give me ideas for writing. Therefore, I have a pile of newspaper sections and clippings on my writing desk most of the time. My reading is usually to some background music and this weekend, I’ve dusted off some contemporary classic albums. I prefer the process of discovery in music but those old favourites still have a place. It feels almost ironic listening to such albums as Jagged Little Pill by Alanis Morissette; Nevermind by Nirvana; Sugar’s Copper Blue and God Shuffled His Feet by the Crash Test Dummies, one of many great Canadian exports, along with Alanis, The Connells and Men Without Hats, among others on the music front. I also regressed back to the eighties and my punk era, with From the Cradle to the Grave and The Feeding of the 5000, by The Subhumans and Crass respectively.

I was a punk in the eighties and I still am, for punk is not just about the music: it’s a frame of mind; an ethos, just as anarchy, which much of punk is about, is a political – or anti-political – mindset. Regression to those days is something I’ve been doing with my doctor. Despite the previous intervention of various medical professions, the root of my depression and other mental health issues most likely came from a single, catalytic event, until recently unidentified. Strive though I did, I could not hit upon an event which changed everything. And there it was, staring me in the face all along. The kind of thing that hits you like a house of bricks which has been swinging above and in front of you all along. I used a literary device in The Paradoxicon, which caused face-palms among my readers when they spotted it, as it had been there right in front of them throughout the book. This was one of those moments: my fatal accident in December 1986.

Those who know me will know of the incident. Some knew me before it and still do. If they think back, they ought to arrive at the same conclusion as me and my doctor. Although I’ve always been a bit rebellious, prone to boredom and to kick off, I never really went off the rails. I went through the teenage phase, got into trouble, played truant from school, got bored; my – officially measured prior to grammar school – intelligence a poisoned chalice back then. But I was mentally as stable as my peers. I had a privileged upbringing on a country estate in the midst of a private woods; I had and still have, the best parents. What went wrong? My psychologist in London has always maintained that the gifted are more prone to mental issues and that I am a classic case in point. I would concur but also be more inclusive. My psychologist said in consultation that I had proverbially lifted the top of my head off and was so fascinated with finding out what made it work inside that I couldn’t stop questioning that which I strove to understand but never fully would. I needed to understand but I couldn’t: something else I covered in my book. The Paradoxicon is full of parallels and it was in December 1986 that the top of my head actually came off.

I’ve written a piece for The Guardian about this experience. The article is in the editing process at the moment but pretty soon, I should be a Guardian contributor, as well as a reader and member: I’m a writer. For those who don’t know of the experience, don’t try this for yourselves:

This happened in December 1986, when I was 16 years old. It was my last day in my first job, working for a charity in Tonbridge, where I lived. My boss had taken myself and two colleagues for leaving drinks at a pub opposite our office, on a busy A-road. The speed limit on the road is 30mph but this was often ignored by drivers.

Several drinks later, we decided to head back to the office. It was mid-afternoon on a sunny day and although I don’t recall events from this point, the human memory being selective, the sun was apparently dazzling our view of oncoming traffic on the opposite side of the road. What follows is from the several witnesses present.

In my inebriated state, I decided to make a run for it. According to the medics who would end up treating me, had it not been for the relaxing effect of alcohol on my muscles, my injuries would have been far worse. If I hadn’t been drinking though, perhaps I might not have managed to get hit by a car.

I ran straight into the path of car which was travelling at 60mph on the opposite side of the road. The initial impact shattered my left femur and the extent of that particular trauma was to become clear later. The impact of the collision forced me over the bonnet of the car and partially through the windscreen. I broke my left shoulder on the windscreen post. My momentum continued, over the car, into the air and back onto the side of the road I’d crossed from, breaking my right shoulder. I landed immediately in front of a second car travelling in the opposite direction. The driver braked but the car had already hit my freshly broken leg, so the braking of the vehicle effectively ground my leg into the asphalt. I was skewed around on the tarmac and one of the rear wheels of the second car ran over my head. Apparently there was a loud “pop” sound as my skull literally burst.

The driver of this second car was apparently hysterical, convinced that she’d killed me: she almost had. The police were on the scene by now and they had to smash the driver’s side window and prize her fingers from the steering wheel, before getting her out of the car so that they could move it and gain access to me.

I looked like roadkill: my left leg had suffered both a compound and green stick fracture. The femur was in five parts and the longest of those had been pushed up with such force that the bone was protruding from my buttock. My left knee  had been pushed halfway up to my hip. The fracture to my skull ran from just behind one ear and around the front of my head to the other ear. The top of my skull was flapping loose, like a hinged lid. That’s when I died.

I went into cardiac arrest, in the middle of the road. My company’s first aider was on the scene by now and administered CPR. As she did so, the ambulance arrived and between the paramedics and the first aider, I was pulled back to life.

I was taken to what was then Kent and Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells and rushed straight to resus. There I was placed in a medically induced coma.
Meanwhile my parents were at work. They arrived home to find a note from the police asking them to make contact. My parents called the police and two officers were dispatched to their house to break the news. The police offered to drive my parents to the hospital but my dad is somewhat set in his ways, doesn’t accept lifts and prefers to drive himself. In what was perhaps a sign of the times, the police offered to escort my parents to the hospital under blues and twos while he drove his own car. I can only imagine what that must have looked like, as my dad sped through town with a police escort. Circumstances aside, it must have been quite a hoot.

My parents walked straight past me at the hospital, my injuries having rendered me unrecognisable. A doctor took them to my bedside and explained what had happened. My leg had been re-set to the best of the trauma team’s ability but there was a chance it may need to be amputated. My head injury was of the greatest concern as until I was conscious, there was little way of knowing if there was damage to my brain. I was bloated, bruised, bleeding and broken. Fortunately I’d not sustained any internal injuries.

The accident had occurred on a Tuesday and I regained consciousness on the Saturday, five days later. The first thing I remember was being asked by a doctor to identify those gathered around my bed. I recognised my parents and a couple of friends: I could see and I had long-term memory. My head was heavily bandaged; my left leg and both arms were in traction. I had no recollection of the accident as it was explained to me what had happened. Apparently I’d received no fewer than eight blood transfusions and it had been touch and go for a while but I was now stable, albeit in a critical condition.

Losing the use of both arms can be somewhat inconvenient and I was unable to feed or clean myself, nor do very much else besides. I was almost totally reliant on others.

After a couple of weeks, I was stable enough to be transferred to a normal ward: an orthopaedic one. My leg was still in traction but my arms were free, albeit in plaster but I could do things for myself. Including smoke a cigarette. In bed. In hospital. Another sign of the times.

A specialist reconstructive team had been brought in from East Grinstead and concluded that my leg was viable. I then had a choice: remain in traction and therefore in hospital for up to eighteen months, or have an operation to pin my femur back together. I’d never had major surgery, nor a general anaesthetic, so the prospect of the operation was somewhat daunting. Faced with the alternative of a lengthy stay in hospital though, I opted for the surgery, which meant I would be out in around three months.

The surgery went well and I now have a metal plate running the full length of my left femur, with 14 nuts and bolts running through it. Almost 30 years later, I still have a scar which runs from my knee to my hip. My skull knitted itself back together and both shoulders healed well.

Three months later and I was out of hospital, on crutches and with my leg in plaster. I was later fitted with a caliper to enable me to walk whilst not putting weight through my leg and promote some degree of muscle retention as I would be non-load bearing for some time. Six months of physiotherapy followed and almost a year to the day after the accident, I was pretty much fully recovered.

By now I’d turned seventeen and I took driving lessons. I passed my driving test and was in the market for a car. Scanning the private ads in the local press, I spotted what appeared to be a bargain: a Ford Escort at what seemed to be a very good price. I went to view the car with a mechanic friend: it all checked out. I asked the seller why the car was so cheap. He replied that it had been off of the road for over a year, as his wife had had an unfortunate incident in it and hadn’t driven the car since. The owner reassured me: I knew where he lived, I had his phone number and if there were any issues with the car, I could contact him within a reasonable time and he would reimburse me. I thought nothing of it, bought the car and drove away.

A few weeks later, on a sunny Sunday, I decided to give my car a full valet, inside and out. I washed, dried and waxed the outside, vacuumed and dusted the interior. It was as I was dusting the dash board that I happened to lean over the steering wheel and noticed what seemed to be nail marks carved into the reverse of it. Then it hit me, as the car had before.

I called John, the seller and asked him if the unfortunate incident he described his wife having happened on Pembury Road in Tonbridge in December 1986. He replied in the affirmative.

I asked him to let his wife know that the boy she collided with was okay and that it was an accident not of her making.

It doesn’t excuse my behaviour but in recognising that perhaps my accident was life-changing, I may find closure to an extent. We’re talking almost thirty years ago and I recall the cognitive assessments which were conducted at my bedside: I recognised the people around me. That was it: case – and head – closed; stitched up. Neurobiology has come a long way but has a great distance still to travel if we are ever to truly understand what goes on under the lid.

I didn’t keep a diary back then and I was advised against keeping this blog latterly, but it’s been recording my thoughts in this very public document which has helped me to understand myself. I’ve read back on posts from over a year ago and seen myself change. I imported my old blog from the turn of the century into this one and was reminded of myself in my late twenties and early thirties. In some respects, I’ve changed. In others, I never did, in recorded history. I’m glad I left this indelible mark. This blog is being included in a future exhibition by The RSA: I hope it helps that I wore my heart on my sleeve. I did that throughout the writing of my book: having re-read it several times as I revised it for serialisation, even the author was punched in the face by some of the subtleties and parallels included – frankly – so brilliantly. My readers agree and if The Paradoxicon is my legacy, I’m proud of what I produced, for in that book,  I have said all that I’m likely to ever need to say: it just needs working out.

In reality, I died when I was sixteen. Perhaps that’s why so many of my friends are of around that age? I never grew up but they will and then I’ll lose them. Like depression, life is a self-perpetuating thing. It’s the big red button question: would I press it to switch it all off? No.

I wish I could somehow confront the one over there: the angry angel. But love and hate are the same thing, albeit personified in different people and I’m finding it hard to face both, when they hate me but their love for me keeps me alive. On recent social interactions, it is evident that I still exude charm. I’m open and honest with all that I meet, trying to move them on for their own safety but still they come. What have I got that is so irresistible? Whatever it is, I’m me: always was; still am and always will be.

My poem about passing on – “On The Platform” – was half-read at a funeral of a friend’s mother: my friend only made it half way through my verse because I invoked emotion in him: job done as a writer but perhaps not in application.

At almost midnight, the working day as I observe it reaches a break point, although the note pad will always be with me. Music has also accompanied me through this little journey so far: after several technical interventions because the music didn’t sound quite right, the solution to the problem as interpreted by my over-sensitive ears was in fact a problem with those very same ears, having become used to music reproduced through inferior means of delivery. The hi-fi separates and speakers have literally and physically sunken into their new home: the kit is seriously heavy in weight. Like me, the sound system has settled into a new home and the output is smooth and rich, even at lower volumes.

Presently, I shall knock off. I miss the luxuries once afforded me by cable and satellite TV but Freeview is fairly expansive in this country, and sating of most appetites, including my own curious one with the inclusion of another Canadian import in the schedule of the Quest channel: How It’s Made: I like finding out about things.

We’re cool in Britannia and so am I. We could be better, as another writer for The Guardian pointed out when he were allowed by the only newspaper which is truly independent to have a voice and make a valid point of the opposition in Parliament: in my opinion, this is brilliant because of its potential for realisation. If only we thought more; wrote more; questioned more; did more:  Imaginative ideas that could help save the Labour party, by Charles Leadbeater. Great writers think.

As the closing credits of this post roll, I’m listening to the soundtrack to Electric Dreams. The eighties: great music, movies and a defining decade of life, as some of us know it; some of us never want to leave because we never grew up.  

Sometimes I have to question something before I write it but invariably I write it anyway. So like the Guardian reader and writer that I am, I shall quote an anonymous source in no context and leave great minds to work it out: “Sweetheart, I love you…”

I’ve changed. Some voiced concerns to me that sobriety would change me: it has, for the better. I don’t think anyone misses the angry one, least of all me. I still take risks; I’m still considered to be funny and there’s no questioning my intelligence but most of the anger has gone. I’m still the character but a nicer one than I was. The regrets and the self-hatred are a life-long burden which I must carry.

What went wrong was me. I took too many wrong turns at the junctions given to me.

I still struggle and over there, stands my angry angel.

I just didn’t think,
I’d had too much to drink.

Writing the impossible

MY WORLD

Many challenges face the writer. Getting a good agent and getting published aside, the workaday process of writing a story logically begins with the idea for the tale. Thereafter it’s viewpoint: is the story told in the first, second, third, or other person? Next, tense: present or past. The setting; the time period. Then follows researching, writing, usually to a prescribed word count, re-drafting and submission.

The greater, overall challenge though is empathy with one’s readers, whom one may not see. The written word is a very powerful thing, in the right hands. It can create and destroy; it can invoke emotions… The writer needs to be able to empathise with his audience, so that his style of writing invokes the same emotions in his readers as it does him. Sometimes a writer has to write about that which disturbs him, so that he may have the same effect on his readership. We’re not actors but us authors are artists too. We play to our audience and if we wish to make them laugh, we can. We can also make them cry and we can scare them.

I have personally been asked several times to write pieces for people or situations. Often this is a private affair between me and the commissioner but some of my published stories and poems were also requests. Some sought relief, others hope; at least one sought revenge. In every instance, I have invoked emotions and often evoked memories, to the desired effect. I’ve created people and places. Sometimes I destroyed them. It is said that a good writer plays and stays in your mind.

Today I needed to write something for someone else. It had not been asked for but I felt compelled to write and express my feelings. Words are my greatest personal tool. I’m a reclusive, depressed alcoholic, prone to episodes of anxiety and paranoia. Words are my way of communicating; of recording and broadcasting my thoughts. It’s easier for me this way and it saves me having to repeat myself – “RTFB”.

I wrote a short poem to a friend with whom I went to school and therefore grew up with: kids of the 80s, the greatest generation. We were at school together; we commuted many miles, drank many drinks and shared good times. When one part of that generation in your life goes, it leaves a big hole.

My friend is not well. He reads this blog. We went to the same grammar school. We were privileged to be there during “The Barn”‘s iron rule as Headmaster, dictator, drill sergeant, fixer and all-round Top Cat: El Capitan. Thus we share a dark and gallows humour. So in writing to my friend, I realised that there is no point in sending a Get Well Soon card when he won’t. Similarly, there’s no value in all-will-be-well sentiments when it won’t.

So, where my inspiration who is Paul Auster is pleased with one or two pages of final copy at the end of a working day and I myself aspire to the same, today’s output was minimal but I hope worthwhile. For in this I have tried to convey togetherness and hope, while at the same time not shying away from the issue. To do so would be sentimental and in denial. So this is from me to him:

On The Platform

Standing here, look back,
on the story so far.
The past and passed.
Your life a stage,
filled with loved ones:
The Assembled Cast.
And smile.
We’ll be there,
in just a while.

We’re moving onwards,
in this life
which knows no end.
To new adventures.
Safe journey,
dear friend.
Like a wave from a train.
We will see you.
Again.

I’m pretty sure I told you mate but just in case, I did pass your note to The Barn: the great man smiled.

A good writer is on your mind. Always.