Those notes pinned to them nails

George Michael homeless

The history of the potting shed

THE WRITER’S LIFE

A question asked directly of me (and I assume of others) on Quora was, What made you realise you were a writer? I didn’t really have a lot of choice in the matter, and the enquiry gave me the chance to pot some history. When you’re feeling shit about yourself (depression does that) and have no-one to hand, sometimes you just have to go over it all again for your own benefit.

Alien smoking pot

They say not to dwell on the past and to move on, but I must never forget that my ability to travel forward in time obliges me to travel back every now and then, lest I forget. The penitent man in the eyes of God seeks forgiveness in a life of servitude in return for entry to heaven. The atheist with many more questions will forever carry the burden of guilt, but never seek the forgiveness of a deity made in another man’s image. So I write open letters to the other humans around the world, to whom it may concern…

Robot writingTechRadar

As a human who writes, I don’t fear redundancy by technology just yet. For now there’s enough pure humanity still detectable in our own species to protect (most) writing as a human interface, where the readers’ and writers’ gains are more about preserving life than getting paid for what we do.

Every writer will tell you a different human story (their own), and mine is probably as original as most. I started writing on the streets, like a budget version of Charles Bukowski. I didn’t so much realise I was a writer as happen to be one.

I worked in London in print for 25 years, from the days of hot metal and the trade as an art, to the digital revolution and print as technology. From corporate finance and security printing in the 80s boom, to working with design agencies in the West End, print was always an industry fuelled as much by alcohol as ink. Deals were done in pubs and bars, and a lot of people made a lot of money.

I went on to run my own companies, latterly home-based when I was married with kids. But the alcohol in that environment wasn’t the same lubricant it had been in the city. Eventually my drinking got the better of me and I lost everything in 2011: Home, marriage, kids, business.

I found myself on the streets and only then realised that anyone, no matter who they are, could be just one or two luck-outs away from there. I literally had nothing but the clothes I was wearing. I had no TV, radio or internet. I was cut off.

Being December, I’d seek warmth in McDonald’s after I’d got enough money together for a coffee. I could read the free newspapers but there was nothing else to do. So I begged some money for a notepad and stole some pens from a bookmaker, and the rest is quite literally history.

Becoming a writer just happened, but what made me realise I was one? I’d never had time like that alone with my thoughts, and the opportunity presented itself to get some of them down. Many went into the blog as I’d use library computers, and others became the foundations for short stories (some of what I experienced out on the road people wouldn’t believe, so it’s easier written as fiction).

I got back on my feet, but I’m always an alcoholic (albeit a functioning one) so I couldn’t go back to work. After all that, I didn’t want to. In some respects, I was happier on the streets just writing than I’d ever been in well-paid jobs. I’d rather not have lost everything else, but were it not for that, I wouldn’t have become a writer.

It’s about freedom and satisfaction with life (there’s no point being a writer if you’re out to make a lot of money). My alcoholic breakdown left a lot of scars (on me and others), but those who knew me throughout said that I emerged a better person (and a pretty good writer). I look at the world differently now, in a way no-one can until they’ve been at that all-time low.

I don’t know what I’d do without writing, when I have so few physical people around my in real life. It’s hard enough living with myself, let alone burden anyone else, so I address much of what’s real in fiction. It’s not so much virtual detachment as the only coping mechanism I have, when to write beyond the headlines would be speculation. So long as that remains fictional, there’s hope, because the real life news is that my dad’s health is deteriorating and my son is the same teenage lost boy I once was. I hope we all get better as I’m the Marmite filling in a generational sandwich.

The whole of my life, before and after the fall, is in my books and online writing, a mixture of fact and fiction, real and virtual. From Linotype print to the scars of the road, ink flows through my veins and written into my skin. My words on the page are as deep as the tattoos on my arms: my children’s names, in Helvetica typeface.

Nowadays I tell my kids, be the best that you can at that which you enjoy the most, because then you give the most and you get the most back. My dad told me something similar once, and I hope that one day I will. I know I have good guides.

I may not Douglas Adams

Twisted Shakespeare’s Sisters

THE WRITER’S LIFE

We all have things we wish to say, but which we keep to ourselves, fearing others’ reactions. But avoiding a clash can be more harmful than the conflict itself, certainly for the side bearing a burden. I’m a left-wing liberal social democrat, preferring dialogue for mutual understanding, over confrontations of anger which quickly degenerate. A third option is sometimes to walk away, perhaps to fester and make matters worse. If others choose to ignore me, I can at least write.

Mouth sewn shut

I’ve previously described my life as chapters. It’s been partly a coping mechanism, when I dried out and tried moving on from my accrued guilt. But the alcoholic label is permanent, just as the repentant alcoholic’s guilt complex is a life sentence. My latest depressive episode is ongoing, as much in my personal life has reminded me of the fragility of being. Many of my previous coping mechanisms are redundant, so this is a new chapter.

I read inspirational quotes, some by great philosophers, telling me that the past was a lesson, that I should learn from it and move on. But that’s easy for them to say, when they probably don’t have chronic depression of my particular brand, and all the add-ons which come with it (and when most of them are dead).

My depression is compounded by living alone, interred by social anxiety, and where paranoia and guilt breed like bacteria in a Petri dish. There are plenty of opportunities to review the events of the last five years, and the many episodes which led to diagnoses of PTSD.

I can understand how others lapse (and I’ve come close), to escape a life of guilty sobriety as they previously sought to escape daily life. Some people I knew took their own lives, unable to deal with the constant voices; their own paranoia, and other people, who can’t forgive. My drunken years left marks on many, but most are reconciled. They’ve moved on, perhaps unaware that I can’t, but those who apply the permanent label continue to carve into my permanent scars.

I wish I could forget, but the only way to do that would be a gift to those who wish me ill. I’ve moved on otherwise, but I live the life sentence of regret. I won’t jump, as those who may otherwise push me might like. I’ll deny them their own selfish pleasure, just as taking my own life would be selfish on my part. These people are the enemy, not just my own, but of all whom I love and who care about me.

Chapter one was my life to 42, lived but not knowing why. Then my alcoholic mental breakdown left me with just a pen and paper, so I started to write chapter two. The third chapter started when I got a permanent home with a social landlord, where I’ve now lived for two years. I’ve been stuck in my mind, but I needn’t be in life. My humble needs of shelter and security are addressed, so even if it’s dark, I can write. Even if only a few read my words, at least I was heard. I live, even if some wish I didn’t.

I know there are others with these same toxins in their life, who can hold a mirror to these people, so they can see how deeply evil they are. Their lives are also lessons, when we who they look down on can rise above them. Because if you’re alive, they’ve lost. Then you can spend some of your living days silently taunting them, but not actually having to say anything: A real-life haunting. You’re just there, and it’s what they’ve been doing to you all along.

The blisters on my feet from walking around the issues others won’t address, I can turn into heat as I write the words.

The day I farted Stardust

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Two years ago today, I woke to the news of David Bowie’s further travels. Ziggy Stardust, the thin white duke, the cracked actor, Major Tom was a starman again. The news was delivered by text message from one of my best friends. Ashes to ashes, funk to funky…

Ziggy Stardust cover art

It was news I wasn’t prepared for. David Bowie was immortal (but of course he is, just like the rest of us). He was back with the stars he came from, exploring further (“Knowledge comes with death’s release…”). It was poetic that I received the news as I did. Short of getting a telepathic message from the Starman himself, my friend was the best sentinel I could think of.

We’ve been friends for the best part of 40 years, we went to school together, and on my 40th birthday, he gave me a very personal gift: Bowie in Berlin; a book by Thomas Jerome Seabrook, which tells the story of the three-year period when Bowie made some of his most intensely creative music. We grew up with Bowie together, and there’s an inscription inside the book:

To my old friend,

These three albums [Low, “Heroes”, and Lodger] struck a chord with us, when we were younger. I remember smoking, playing pool and hanging out, with Bowie in the background. ‘Soundtrack to our lives’: Let’s live to it again.

Your old friend, T x

Along with my hi-fi separates and my signed copy of Diamond Dogs, the book is one of my most treasured things. When I was ill, had my breakdown and ended up on the streets, my ex-partners looked after my belongings until I found my own place, for which I’m forever grateful.

At some point during that period of homelessness, I dreamed that I’d one day have a place I could call my own, with copies of my own books dotted around. It was a daydream, as I sat in McDonald’s scribbling in a notepad (I probably still have it, as I managed to retain most). I knew I’d most likely never work again, so I wondered, “What the fuck…”

I was street homeless for three months (in winter), sleeping in garages and on benches (and once in a bin). Then for six months I had the squat, and a further seven months of sofa-surfing followed, before I took the tenancy above the pub. After a year of suffering that landlord, I was offered the place I have now: a small studio in a quiet village, and with a social (legal) landlord. After my first year as a tenant, I was given an indefinite rolling tenancy. It’s the nearest someone who doesn’t own their own place can get to actually having one.

All of that covers a period now just into its fifth year, and all documented on this blog. As I’ve noted several times, I needed to have a base before I could really sort myself out. Conventional wisdom works the opposite way, but if you give a human shelter and take care of their basic needs (like food and warmth), the rest will follow.

The day between Bowie’s birthday and the day he left, has become a day of reflection. Last night, I sat and looked around my little place, thankful for all I have and all I’ve done, and for the guidance. Because if you believe in the universe, it will talk to you.

I picked up The Unfinished Literary Agency from my coffee table, and I had a flick through: It really is a very good book, of which I’m proud. It’s my fifth, published on the fifth day of my fifth year as a writer, and my shit don’t stink.

We can all be heroes, even if it’s just for one day.

“And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor.” (Five Years, David Bowie).

The Unfinished Literary Agency is available now.

Unopened, not unwanted

THE WRITER’S LIFE

It’s curious how things can turn out when you don’t plan them at all, like being homeless at Christmas, or a black cat landing in your lap. But then when looked at from a long-game perspective, it’s like the plans were there all along. Lately it’s been things in real life coming together which are freeing me up at a handy time to be writing. It’s like having atheist prayers answered, so that everything fell into place, despite Christmas.

Black heart gift

It was four years ago now that I tried the life of the tramp, and like Charles Bukowski, I eventually used it to write. The last few Christmases have been family occasions to a gradually greater extent, but with my mind still very aware of the rest of the world (including the homeless, near to our own homes) while most people shut themselves away in a family bubble.

The girl I wrote about a few weeks ago found some answers she wasn’t looking for, in places she wasn’t expecting. In another sci-fi story, she spoke as the last human, to animals and to technological beings, and her alien angels subtly intervened. She remains the Marmite filling in her family’s generational sandwich, and it’s a family extending far beyond pure blood bonds. But it turns out that it doesn’t matter who likes white and who likes brown bread, so long as they all like the filling.

For my part, I’ve finished The Unfinished Literary Agency, that being the second collection of short stories from my typewriter. It’s 17 new stories, some of which have appeared on this blog and been published elsewhere. Others are unique to the book, and there’ll be a further few bonus stories, re-imaginings and adaptations of old ones. The stories are complete, with just a few changes to make to one, to increase the effectiveness (offensiveness), then there’s just the publishing bit to do.

I’ve decided on the running order, so that the collected tales tell a longer story in the context of the book. Once the remaining compiling, editing and proofreading are done, I should have a final page count, cover price and publication date in about a month.

There are other stories coming out of the typewriter and there’ll be further volumes. With Christmas now available to get this next one out not in time for Christmas, I can concentrate more fully on my family and local history book. It’s a journey I’m enjoying, even more now because things have conspired to give me the space.

So at a time when others will be with family, I’ll be writing about mine, then when we all meet in January, I’ll have a new book. And when the kids come to stay with me at their grandparents’ house at Easter, the whole Marmite sandwich will be in another.

Christmas is a placeholder for many dark memories, and the roots of at least one of my PTSD diagnoses, but this will be the one which puts it back in its place. And you don’t need a date on a calendar to tell people you love them. 

I didn’t have to pray, and no-one had to get on their knees. Somehow, everything just came together, overseen by unseen alien angels. And it’s only weird if you make it that way.

The Unfinished Literary Agency ISBN-13: 978-1979983556
Silent Gardens ISBN-13: 978-1974367900

My previous books are available on Amazon, and can be ordered from most book shops and at libraries (for reference and borrowing).

The existential and identity crises of a suspect Starseed

DEAR DIARY

The more you embrace and engage with a thing, the more it will talk back to you, consolidating you as a component in something greater. We are all made of stars, and as I’ve become more connected with the universe around me, I feel more accepted, not so much by people (I don’t fully understand myself) but by the place in which I live. Yet I still don’t feel at home, despite being as secure as I’ve ever been personally. Medical science and human psychology put this down to my depression, anxiety (mainly social), paranoia, and PTSD by virtue of hangover, but as someone who questions, I wish to know more.

space-metal2

Knowledge is fear for some, but I fear little (heights and formal social occasions mostly, but not the dark, spiders, snakes, nor even death), because of my understanding of quantum physics and the eternal human soul. The only part I fear, is the actual transition, the mode of extinguishing this life. Hopefully, it’ll be quietly in my sleep, but I do worry about a traumatic death, yet I don’t fear what comes after, as I have a pretty good idea of what’s there. It’s just like wakefulness and sleep, with that transitory phase between the two being the one we never recall. Perhaps on the other side, I won’t actually remember how I got there. Quantum physics suggests that it’s simply the continuation of one parallel universe, when another becomes impossible to inhabit in my fleshy human form. In my new, ethereal ‘body’ (my ‘spirit’), I then have eternity to explore the universe, unencumbered by any physical restrictions. To me, that’s heaven. And yet to others – with less enquiring minds – being presented with all of knowledge would be simply overwhelming: It would be a personal hell.

I prefer constructive debate to blind argument, because no matter how opposing or polarising, I seek to understand the reasons for the opinions of others. If I can understand an objection, all the better to deal with it. Through debate comes greater understanding and further discussion. Alas, there are those who are too blinkered in their ingrained (and inbred) prejudices to debate. Deluded they’re right, or scared they’ll be proven wrong, they act rashly, and ignorance causes conflict and war. Our entire planet is teetering on a balance, where all of humankind’s endeavours could be used to discover and explore, if we don’t use them to destroy ourselves first. It’s selfish elitist greed vs. longer-term thinking. Naturally, I’m of the latter camp.

So if I don’t understand something, when learning more about it might help me to do so, I will question, interrogate, read, research, listen and learn. With my depression and anxiety – although those are perfectly good labels for the medical profession – I want to learn more about them, to better understand them, so that we can co-operate rather than fight. Seeing as it’s all going on in my brain, that’s a place where I’d far rather host a party than a riot.

I’ve written before on this blog, of how my alcoholic descent into nothingness (having nothing and being nothing) somehow woke a previously latent lobe in my brain. It wasn’t an epiphany and it was a gradual process, but as I sobered up, I started thinking about the bigger things. With no possessions and nothing to do, there were few distractions. Life on the streets was shit, but it was where I met humanity, when their own humanity is all that people have left. I lived in a world without money, but it was also one without government. And I lived in a squat, where social anarchy prevailed. Seeing life in an orange glow of Sainsbury’s Basics, with all veneer stripped away, allowed me to see life’s roots.

Maybe I was just appreciating life, in a way I never had, but in a way which was the norm for everyone else. But as I became more and more in touch, I saw members of the public (the name homeless people use to describe the superior social classes) for what I’d been before: automata. Freed of responsibility, I also found freedom of expression. Obviously I eventually became a writer.

Since I’ve been friends with the thing in my head, I’ve questioned those labels placed upon it; mental illness, for want of anything better. But that’s such a general and inexact term, for what I’ve found can be used as a gift. I’m disabled through mental health, yet it’s that which has expanded my mind, with all of the self-improvement (or delusion) which comes with it. I recognise my brain, not as unwell, but as something which has things which make it unusual. And because of that, it interests me, so I’ve interrogated it.

Yes, I talk to myself. And yes, I smoke weed. It’s pretty obvious I’m pro-cannabis, because I’ve found it to be so helpful in calming my anxiety and broadening my mind, hopefully improving me as a writer. When I think existentially, I don’t see a world which others have always seen, and which I missed because I was drunk; I see a greater picture now, which the automata most likely never will in their distracted lives.

I try to place myself in some sort of pan-position, because it’s easier to understand that which you can look at from above or outside. It extends to politics, where I’m obviously left-wing, but I see more in social anarchy than conventional liberal socialism. I’m comfortable with my gender alignment (male), and I present as a heterosexual, but I identify differently, in my recognition of five gender types, in line with Native American beliefs, before the invasion and brainwashing of the Pilgrim Fathers. The five genders are male, female, two-spirit male, two-spirit female, and transgender. Although I’m not homosexual, I appreciate the aesthetics of the male human body, just as I do the female (artistically, rather than erotically: I’m a writer). I’m in touch with the feminine side which all humans have within them, but not a transvestite, although I do dress slightly effeminately sometimes. So I identify as two-spirit male, but I have two-spirit female in me as well. As such, I identify personally as pan-sexual (it’s more embracing than asexual, which is contextually inaccurate anyway).

I’ve been called (affectionately, I think) an alien (and many other things, less affectionately) in the past. With this in mind, I set off to find out more about me. I didn’t send off a DNA testing kit, I researched some of my thoughts, feelings and theories, and some of that research was in forums on the dark web. Apparently, I could be a Starseed, which I liked the sound of, so I researched some more. Probably the most accessible article I found, was one called What is a Starseed and how to find out if you could be one, on Learning Mind. Keep a mind as open as mine, and humour me here:

Star Seeds are beings that have experienced life elsewhere in the Universe on other planets and in non-physical dimensions other than on Earth. Star Seeds may also have had previous life times on earth.”

That comes from the Sirius Centre of Ascension, no less (yeah, I know). But before I dismissed it as the Sirius Centre of assumption and blind faith, or of condescension, I kept an open mind and read further (and the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation is real, after all). And I must admit, I could relate. Obviously, one can apply any old bollocks to human traits, but it’s no more bollocks than the bible or a personality quiz, and fits better with my scientific mind, validating, vindicating and verifying (or at least complementing) my universal appreciation based on quantum physics and maintaining an absorbent mind.

From the Learning Mind article, I learn that Starseeds are highly intelligent beings (I’ve got an IQ of 147: Does that count?) that come from far-flung corners of the universe, when previously I thought I was from Catford. Starseeds are advanced souls (well, I’m in touch with mine) who have wisdoms humans cannot comprehend (which goes some way to me not being able to work myself out fully). Starseeds are not aware of their true identities (pan-gender and pan-political aside) but have come here to help mankind evolve to the next level of higher consciousness. So I figure that’s what I’m supposed to do. And I do already, especially with my ongoing counselling of young people.

The article goes on to say that I didn’t know about my mission until the time of my ‘awakening’ (I’d been drunk). Again, it all sounds a bit quasi religious and spiritual, but there was that slow non-religious dawning I wrote of. These awakenings can range from sudden and intense, to serene and barely noticeable. Seeing as mine was propelled by weed and not fuelled by alcohol in the latter stages, mine would be one of those, if indeed that’s what it was.

Whilst no one really knows where Starseeds come from, their purpose on Earth is clear, the article asserts. Mine wasn’t at all clear to me, before the age of 42, and even now, there are things I remain unsure of. But apparently I’ve come to usher in a new dawn for mankind; a new spiritual awakening, that will raise the consciousness of the whole planet. It sounds a bit grand, but that is what I’d quite like to do.

Starseeds are (apparently) naturally empathic and intuitive, and have a fascination with science and astronomy (true, and many things besides, like what makes those work too). They are naturally drawn to subjects that include the universe, space exploration and discovery, and they believe passionately in life on other planets. Well, I am, and I do.

Then the Learning Mind article offers 30 things to look for:

Are you a Starseed?

  1. You have always felt that you don’t belong here.

  2. You have a fascination with images of the Earth.

  3. You believe you have travelled from Earth and may think you have been abducted by aliens.

  4. You feel intrinsically different from everybody else.

  5. You don’t feel at home here and could imagine living on another planet.

  6. You have a deep resonance with the universe and sometimes pray to it to get a wish granted.

  7. You are fascinated with science-fiction and prefer to watch TV programmes or films that feature this subject.

  8. You feel out of place and prefer to spend time alone.

  9. Large gatherings of crowds bother you and make you feel trapped.

  10. You prefer to live somewhere there is plenty of open space.

  11. You often feel as if you have higher morals than other people.

  12. You always see the bigger picture.

  13. You have an innate sense of empathy that can be overwhelming at times.

  14. You feel as if you can fly and often have dreams where you are travelling above the Earth.

  15. You feel trapped in your physical body and feel as if it is holding you back.

  16. You feel as if you are incredibly special and have some sort of mission to perform.

  17. You have had a paranormal experience.

  18. Animals are drawn to you and you understand them intuitively.

  19. Even at a young age you were questioning rules and regulations and may have been rebellious as a teenager.

  20. You instinctively know if someone is lying.

  21. You are spiritual but not in a religious sense.

  22. You are a good listener and people often come to you for your unbiased opinions.

  23. Sometimes you feel overwhelmed by the problems in the world as they make you feel helpless.

  24. You have incredibly vivid dreams that are full of colour and imagery.

  25. Strangers often tell you their deepest secrets and problems.

  26. You have recurring dreams about space travel and aliens.

  27. You suffer from social anxiety.

  28. You might find life a struggle as you try to find your true purpose.

  29. You have always been an old soul.

  30. You feel that the rules of society don’t apply to you.

With one or two exceptions, I can relate to each to varying degrees (I’ve written about some on this blog). I don’t believe I’ve been abducted, but it may be that that’s by design. And I feel younger than I ever did, but Starseeds come in three different flavours anyway:

New Starseeds’: Those who just arrived here and not had that many lifetimes on Earth (I don’t remember any: see above).

New Age Starseeds’: They’ve been here for many lifetimes and are here to help the planet achieve a higher consciousness.

Old Soul Starseeds’ that have lived hundreds upon hundreds of lives on Earth and are at the end of their journey through space.

Based on what I know, that would make me a noob.

All Starseeds are here to share their knowledge, wisdom and assist in the ascension of consciousness in individuals and in humanity. Their mission is to help humans understand that earthly problems are immaterial and there are much more important lessons to learn about spirituality and attaining a higher level of consciousness. Whether you believe in Starseeds or not, they are here to shine a light on humanity and are powerful beings that want to propel us to the Golden Age of inspiration, love, creativity and advancement.”

You get me?

It’s a bold claim and one I make light-heartedly, mindful of the ridicule it might attract. But I smoke cannabis and I wear my heart on my sleeve, and this is my blog, my story. It’s said that there’s a fine line between genius and insanity, but I’ve not been sectioned yet.

I don’t place myself alongside other thinkers suspected of being not-of-this-planet: Albert Einstein (IQ upwards of 160), Stephen Hawking (160), Garry Kasparov (190), and I’ve only known my own IQ since I sat an invigilated exam last year (and I have the piece of paper to prove it), so my continued enlightenment feeds that. I’ve been guided most of my life by the Starman himself, the man who fell to earth, and who said that knowledge comes with death’s release. I have no immediate plans for release, but my mind has plenty of capacity for expansion in sobriety and cannabis.

Just a note on the weed:

If ever you’ve been smoking cannabis and you’re doing some dishes, bear this in mind: If you try to move the mixer tap from side to side by holding onto the water coming out of the tap, it will not work. This is not to say cannabis is bad for you, just that you’re in touch with the quantum universe and shouldn’t operate machinery.

Missing persons outside my comfort zones

THE WRITER’S LIFE | DEAR DIARY

This story begins with me sitting on a bench, much like I did in my homeless days, when I wrote many of the stories in my anthology. But I wasn’t homeless this time, just out of my comfort zone, away from home and on my way to see my kids in Milton Keynes. Now that I have what every human craves – a secure base – being away makes me somehow paranoid that I’m going to lose it. It’s an irrational fear, but it’s firmly nested in my own insecurity. But then some not entirely unexpected things happened, as I began to plot a new story in my notebook, about a cat from Catford.

Catford CatCatford: This writer’s spiritual home

First, was a phantom train. I plan my journeys to Milton Keynes well in advance, bearing in mind Network Rail’s rather splendid work on London Bridge Station, Thameslink, Crossrail, and HS2, all of which have affected my journey via London. In the midst of many weekends of engineering work, there was what appeared to be a new or ad-hoc service running into Victoria from my village station. I’d had plenty of time to ease my paranoia about this unknown quantity, by simply walking to the station and asking a human what was going on, rather than trusting everything to a website. But anxiety and paranoia prevent all but the most necessary of brief outings, once every day or two to Tesco, two minutes away, and the monthly trip to Milton Keynes via London. The latter is exhausting, and only possible because of what awaits (my children), but it’s at least a known quantity, so I’m able to plan, but for that ghost train. Long story short, in the month since I last travelled, the timetable has changed. And so have the fares (albeit, not much). I needn’t have stressed, if I’d followed my own advice and checked. Me, who believes that being an optimist or a pessimist makes no difference to the outcome (because it doesn’t), but the optimist has a better time leading up to it (because they do). Welcome to my world, and the idiosyncratic way my brain can work.

It was mainly that unnecessary (and ungrounded) fear which kept me awake on Saturday night, so that by the time I went to bed at 3 o’clock on Monday morning, I’d been awake for 44 hours. I normally roll in at about 3am, it’s just the way my body clock has settled. It’s said that when your day isn’t dictated by anything much, a natural sleeping pattern will emerge. I struggle to understand what’s ‘natural’ about mine, when sometimes I simply can’t switch my brain off, even at 3am, and even with prescription sedatives. It’s the time of day truly in the twilight between the last and the next. At 2am, the previous night is still unwinding and straggling home. At 4am, early morning workers and services are waking up. But at 3am, the least happens, but not in my brain. In there, 3am became eternal.

So I dream lucidly, which I’ve been writing a lot of lately, as I’ve embraced it in favour of fighting it and trying to get some actual dead time sleep. My sleep seems to be more subconscious than unconscious, in that zone between wakefulness and proper REM sleep (where ‘They’ exist, in The Paradoxicon), and where I’ve found that I can take some degree of control of my dreams. If I’m getting all spiritual about it, I’ve learned that it’s like talking to the universe (from this blog). And that can be complicated and confusing, but better to embrace it and learn from it, than to fear it and flee. In the same article, I wrote of how others think the universe talks back. When it’s explained in the way I wrote that I get it, it makes sense at least to the superstitious and those who believe in luck and guiding spirits (and to an extent, me). Some would call these universal interactions signs from God, but I’m an atheist. ‘God’, extraterrestrials, a higher intelligence, the universe: they’re all interchangeable. I’m a scientist, not an agnostic though, so I appreciate ‘The force’ as that of the universe. I certainly witnessed messages and signs on Sunday, as I deliberately set out to look out for them (they tend to be only as obvious as necessary, sometimes not even occurring to the less observant).

The first interaction came early on, as I boarded the train to London. There were two particularly unpleasant, well-to-do looking people on the platform. It is said that one should not judge a book, and I’m an advocate of that, as I don’t wish to be judged for what some see as my cover. But I believe it’s fair and accurate to base an initial general opinion of someone on the newspaper they read. And in the vast majority of cases, I will confront potential conflict with dialogue, to encourage debate, so better to understand an opposing point of view. But this vile couple, probably in their 70s, were reading The Hate Mail on Sunday, and the Sunday Pun. I was quite prepared to change seats, carriages, or trains to avoid them. But they travelled in First Class, like the fascist capitalists they are. The universe had stepped in, and saved at least one life.

The train journey to London is quite pleasant when all runs smoothly, with full-length, on-time trains, as was the case on Sunday. Then it’s 50 minutes into London Victoria, via the Bowie lands of Bromley and Brixton, and then past my favourite London structure, Battersea Power Station. On Sunday, the journey was even nicer, albeit ten minutes longer, as engineering works diverted my train onto a different line for a leg of the trip. I was jotting notes in my journal, and happened to glance up to see Catford outside. Having lived there for ten years, SE6 is where my heart still beats.

A further treat was provided at Victoria Station when I alighted from the train, as a load of Pullman carriages parked up on the adjacent platform. Unfortunately for those privileged enough to travel in those on Sunday, the steam locomotive was out of action, so they got a diesel engine instead, which for me was just as nice (I like trains).

A quick trip through London’s light blue vein (the Victoria Line), and I was at Euston, where I’d hoped to meet a street girl called Zoe.

I first met Zoe five weeks ago, as I was smoking a cigarette outside Euston Station, and she asked me for a roll-up. I was happy to oblige, because I can’t roll for shit, so she rolled them both. It was obvious the young lady was on the streets, and naturally, I can empathise, although I submit that it’s far worse for a lone and vulnerable female. So we chatted for about ten minutes, about life on the streets and the world at large. That’s what it’s like out there. You find humanity in people who are only there because, for whatever reason, their lives fell apart, and most are judged as having brought it all on themselves. Trust me, it’s no-one’s greatest wish, and it’s not something people deserve. I know that addiction can transcend all other needs, I’m an alcoholic (sober now, but always with Alcohol Dependence Syndrome on my list of doctors’ diagnoses). When you’ve been there, you form a bond with that community, and it’s one which you can only get if you’ve been there, as others would confirm. Trouble is, few people ask them. There’s a deep human connection with someone in that situation, past, present and future. Lest we forget we are human.

I left Zoe to catch my train to Milton Keynes, leaving her some money and a promise to meet her four weeks later. As far as I was concerned, she could spend the cash on whatever she needed or wanted, I can hardly preach about feeding an addiction, and I wouldn’t. If a can of cider or a joint helps her to ease the fear of the streets, so be it. She’d asked what I do. Seeing as I’ve got used to it now, I told her I’m a writer. I don’t know of many occupations which illicit the kind of intrigue or amazement in people that being a writer does, and it had been just such a ‘WTF’ moment as usual. She asked me what I’d written, and I told her. She was especially intrigued by the concepts behind Cyrus Song, so I promised her a copy when I next passed through Euston, four weeks from then.

Come the time to plan ahead for the usual (routine, after 18 months) trip to see my kids, two weeks ahead, I checked the National Rail website. Unfortunately, the Sunday I was due to return to London was one of those when multiple engineering works conspired together, to make the journey all but impossible. Even if I was prepared to change trains five times and trust all connections, I wasn’t going to make it to Euston at the time I’d said: about 10.30. So I put a request out on Facebook, asking anyone who lived or worked in the area to keep an eye out for Zoe, as she’s regularly around Euston Station. It was a simple message to say that I couldn’t make it, but that I’d be there the following week (I’d checked that I could, aboard that phantom train at the top). The message was shared a few times, and I placed my trust in social media and humanity.

Was I being presumptuous or having delusions of importance? Did I consider myself so special that this girl would make the effort to meet me again? Who the fuck was I to foist a copy of my book on her, like some self-important evangelist giving a starving person a bible (‘Gee, thanks. This looks delicious’)? Well, she’d asked for the book, as she said she liked to read, as I did when I was out there. It’s the only affordable distraction. But again, I’ve been there, and I know what it’s like to crave human contact, and to have so little that you pin your thoughts on some distant promise. I remember how nice it is to have a ‘member of the public’ (because most homeless people don’t value themselves as such, and neither does much of society) simply give you some time, to talk and listen, not of your life and your problems, but of hopes and dreams. Invariably those people are financially generous too, but the monetary is not the greatest value the homeless place in their contact with others. Anyway, I couldn’t make it, and when I arrived on Sunday, I’d had no confirmation that she’d got my message.

Before setting off with the book, I’d looked on what3words, to find Zoe an address. The concept is the brainchild of Jack Waley-Cohen, Mohan Ganesalingam and Chris Sheldrick:

what3words provides a precise and incredibly simple way to talk about location. We have divided the world into a grid of 3m x 3m squares and assigned each one a unique 3 word address.

Better addressing enhances customer experience, delivers business efficiency, drives growth and supports the social and economic development of countries. With what3words, everyone and everywhere now has an address.

And it’s that social element which is one of the most important, because the system is being adopted by national and international address databases. The upshot of this, is that ‘everyone and everywhere now has an address.’ Having an address is essential to gaining some sort of foot back into humanity, because with an address, you can apply for a bank account and for any benefits owing. I came up with what I thought was a radical plan to solve homelessness, a universal basic income, financed by a social tax on personal data. But for as long as such a solution is a slow political plod in the distance, and while attitudes of the homeless deserving their lot are still only too common, those people remain downtrodden and forgotten. They wouldn’t be human if they didn’t crave a base, somewhere of their own. While that’s just a plot of land or a park bench, that place can be used as an address, recognised as such, and allowing those of otherwise no fixed abode to make a start on rebuilding their lives. It would take a particularly humanitarian postman to actually deliver a letter or a parcel to these three-word addresses, but there’s nothing more practical to prevent such an act of humanity, as to deliver something to someone who has a place where they belong, even if that address is a tent. Traditionally, the homeless have made use of the charity afforded by most churches offering to serve as a postal address (for the purposes of bank accounts and benefits etc.) The what3words system gives more of a sense of belonging, even if that’s a patch of concrete, grass, or woodland.

So I found Zoe an address, assuming she’d be unaware of what3words, and in case she needed it (as I didn’t pry into her personal affairs any more than she was prepared to tell me in confidence). Then I waited at engine.dice.cheek (her place) but she wasn’t home, and she didn’t return in the 20 minutes I could hang around. Of course, she may not have even remembered we’d met, let alone arranged to meet, but I thought at the time that she would. Equally, she might have been housed. But although I try to remain optimistic, I know what it can be like out there, so I just hope she’s okay.

I’ve kept Zoe’s copy of the book (I can’t give it to anyone else, even if I wanted to (I don’t), as I’ve signed it for her), and I’ll take it with me next time I’m passing through, in the hope that I can find out she’s okay. And if not, the months after that…

The final leg of the outward journey has coping mechanisms in Virgin’s Pendolino trains (The tilty ones: I like those) to Milton Keynes. I was amused for a moment, by a young lad, seated on the other side of the aisle with his parents. Probably about my own son’s age (12), he was saving family numbers in what I assume was a new phone. My own kids are fortunate to have both sets of grandparents still intact, with my parents and my ex-wife’s being ‘nanny and granddad,’ and, ‘nanna and grampy’ respectively. I didn’t catch the train boy’s paternal grandparents’ names, because I was so enamoured by the nans’: ‘Nanny’, and ‘Granno’. Granno: The images it played out in my mind were many, based only on the genius of a family who call one of the parents’ mum’s ‘granno’. My social anxiety and paranoia are eased when I witness such human thinking.

I met the kids at Milton Keynes, and there was no foreword, no caveat, nor addenda from their mum and step dad, so we were free to gallivant. First, to the pub (with the full knowledge of mum and other dad, because I can do that now, even with kids in tow) for lunch: a ‘spoons, so a known quantity. The food, company and ambience were fine, but it was in the pub that things unravelled a little: I paid cash for lunch and drinks, and my change was 43p. Can we see where the problem is? The three of us ordered exactly the same as we had the last time we were there, but something had reduced in price by a penny. Because the change last time was 42p. It wasn’t planned the last time, and even though I keep an eye out for 42, it’s not an obsession, apart from ‘mild’ OCD. But there was now an imbalance in the universe. Salvation came later, in the unlikely form of McDonald’s, when we later went for frappés, and ours was order 41.

Shopping and further gallivanting kept us busy for another couple of hours, then it was time to leave. I always get the most painful separation pangs, when I give the kids a hug, and we descend to our respective platforms to wait for trains in opposite directions. I’m in the habit of just walking away and not looking back in those situations, I just have to keep going. ‘Trains pass at high speed and can cause suction on the platforms,’ the signs read. Sometimes I look at my kids over the other side of the rails, with their mum and other dad. Sometimes I just spend some time in the gents, then sit against the wall, far from the platform edge. I like trains, but I don’t want to play with them any more. But I did get a little reassuring sign from the universe, when my 16.41 train was a minute late: It’ll be okay.

The return journey is a reverse of the first, but lighter of wallet and somewhat heavier in shopping and heart. I stopped for a while at Euston to smoke, but still no sign of the person who lives around engine.dice.cheek.

I get home and I’m exhausted. I used to commute to London every day for 25 years, but nowadays, even a leisure day is mentally tiring. It’s the best day of the month, the one spent with my kids, and with life all rather good for everyone now. But when you have depression, you may have all of your wishes granted, yet still there will be times. It never goes away.

I’m home, I’m dry, and I’ve worked hard to get better. I smile, but I can never be complacent. The reminders and the guilt remain, including those who still judge but lack the confidence for confrontation.

It’s life-long, every day, and it’s personal. The Catford cat looks down, watching over the people and frozen. I miss my kids, and I apparently deserve the pain. The only way I have of exorcising even some of it, is to write it down.

Thanks for listening.

Zoe is probably in her mid-twenties, about 5′ 3” and slim, with blonde / ginger frizzy hair. She’s often around at the front of the station, in the retail square. It’s always nice for a homeless person if someone speaks and listens to them. Human contact is what the lonely and lost crave the most.