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.