Typewriters as carry-on luggage

THE WRITER’S LIFE | POETRY

My typewriter uses magnets to get the hammers to hit the paper, because I need help to press the keys. Don’t ask me why I eat my cornflakes from a coffee mug with a small spoon: I’m quite content and I know what I’m doing, putting my writing into the overhead locker. 

It’s been like that since my right wing broke and I crash-landed on the streets. Unlikely to ever regain the heady financial heights of running a company into the ground and milking it for all it was worth, the left wing poet started crowing.

The lead is still in my chest, the flapping in the gutter never allowing me an escape through the portcullis of a wrought iron drain cover. Sober now but always an alcoholic (a medical fact), and forever toxic to some of those whose lives I touched, writing is my therapy and an escape from social isolation. Sometimes that’s just a few words to the gathered audience of myself.

We wrote a poem about what’s in and out of the Cerberus head, for one a micro fiction tale of several thousand pounds used as a bankroll to play poker, before I had to pay a supplier to keep my knees, when he called round at my converted manor house flat. I needed to be shot down.

TWO-WAY X-RAY

Broken right wingIf I had a hammer and a fuzzbox

With my mind full of ghosts, it helps to spew into the typewriter. If I were to exorcise everything, I’d need an eternity in which to remain awake. That’s when I talk to myself, often all night. There’ll usually come a point where I realise everything I’ve said can be edited and condensed, which is why my longhand notes fill a wall (I keep a notepad next to my bed).

How you’re feeling in your own room is like the 19-word synopsis for this post in the verse above, about the fuel at both ends of the candle, all day and every day: depression.

But the strange thing is, that thing which envelops me is also a comfort blanket. When you’re alone, your own brain can become your enemy, so you make friends with one of its quirks.

Let’s go.”

Why?”

Because one day we won’t be able to.”

That’s why, if someone gave me a big red button to switch it all off, reset my brain and be ‘Normal’, I’d refuse. I’ve seen what’s considered normal, and I don’t like it. Because when you find a place where you can be yourself, where you can have a ball playing you on stage, that’s a place you want to be yourself, even if you’re only dancing in front of the mirror. Typewriters carrying on as luggage.

Orange typewriter poem

In here, I can meet you, me, and everyone we see. I can explore the universe and tell tales of what happens to us in the future. You are the spaceport security scanning my typewriter, and you don’t mind sitting next to me on a spaceship. Thanks for travelling with me, even when we have to land the ship at Jumbo Harbour to refuel.

Every night has a day, and every day has a night, depending on when you sleep. That’s meant to dictate when you eat. Thanks for not questioning why I use pencils as chopsticks.

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Horoscope by Psymon Pspykehead

YOUR STARS

Psychic Psymon

GEMINI (21 May – 21 June): August sees Ursa Minor conspiring with Uranus, while your planetary messenger (Mercury) lifts its skirt on a close pass at the sun. The month ahead may itch, but try not to scratch it…

The alignment of the stars guided a recent meeting with a benefits assessor, when you mentioned that the true measure of society is how it treats its poorest members, noted that the government has a social cleansing agenda, then paid the assessor a human compliment. This may turn out to be a good move. The suggestion you might kill yourself if you’re taken out of the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) ‘Support’ Group, to silence the daily voices which remind you of life’s one inevitability, made bearable by human support, could prove to be a deft touch. There was a room you needed to escape, and you imagined an exit.

You treated the outside world like a dream you were living in and interacting with, which will prove to be a useful coping mechanism. You hardly ever go out unless you’re forced to, but you took some good out with you. That means you left it somewhere and didn’t bring it home.

Things aren’t about to get any better any time soon, but there’s a human contact Psychic Psymon feels. Which is all any of us need really, in hopeful dreams or anywhere else.

I see a visit from a person in uniform. You should expect something in the post soon. Don’t be impatient. Don’t let sand get in your vagina like Mercury, your ruler.

As my auntie, (Mystic) Margaret always says from the beyond, don’t pin your hopes on false prophets and fake fortune-tellers, believe in science and humanity. And your mum asked if you got that letter she sent.

August Lottery numbers: 21, 37
Lucky food: Cauliflower cheese
Lucky quiz host: Bradley Walsh

‘With luck, we place trust in ourselves’

Psychic Psymon, Pts.D

Installing windows in cardboard

THE WRITER’S LIFE

EDIT: My MP got a reply from the chief of HMCTS (below). Previously…

As we enter July, my battle with The Department for Work and Pensions moves into its tenth month. In the time it would have taken to grow new life inside me, I’ve written little as I’ve been exhausted by the struggle to regain the Personal Independence Payment I’ve been entitled to for the last four years, taken away like the benefits of millions of other claimants, along with much of the community social care infrastructure, so that this morally bankrupt, murderous fascist Tory regime can recover the vast sums they’ve wasted on Brexit, while awarding tax cuts to the wealthy and pay rises to themselves.

Ben FerenczBen Ferencz, The last Nuremberg prosecutor

I’ve not written much about the process of appealing an unfair benefit decision, because the incompetence of the government departments and out-sourced agencies involved is beyond fiction and farce. In desperation then, I wrote to my MP (a Tory), and in fairness to him as an individual, he did his job. I don’t have a resolution to my financial and mental health problems, but I’ve had the most coherent response I’ve had throughout this process from the social cleansing machine. My self-confinement box has a window.

In summary, I may still have another year to wait before I’m out the other end of this tunnel, and that’s going to be a year almost as hellish as the last, but I can see where I’m going. I’m over what could have been an immediate threat, if the machinery had somehow digested me completely and my housing benefit been cut, rendering me homeless (this time it wouldn’t have been my fault). What’s gone is a lot of the doubt, not knowing what’s going on because the machine is deliberately difficult to talk to. Now I’ve had human contact, from people who’ve taken the time to review my case as an individual. I feel slightly less dehumanised and statistical.

If I’m going to move on, I need to put the war with the machine to one side. Everything is in the hands of others now, and I can do nothing but wait. It’s a different kind of waiting than before, because at least I know I’m waiting for something.

But this isn’t all about me. This is for the thousands of others fighting for their lives with the social cleansing apparatus. My books are always free for the taking of leaves. If what I’ve done gives anyone else ideas, then I’ve not just written to shift this particular infection from my chest.

Here then is the abridged version of the last nine months, in the emails I’ve exchanged since making human contact inside the machine. Once I’d infiltrated it, I took advantage of the privilege to barely disguise a few side swipes. They must think me mad.

First, the email I sent to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) in a fit of deliberate, barely coherent frustration, when the machine appeared to have chewed my case up and shit it out the other end, and which I copied my local MP into:

Dear Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service,

I’m growing concerned that I’ve not been given a date to appeal DWP’s decision to deny me PIP. I have a letter confirming that the case is active and that DWP have responded. I also have an SMS alert advising that I’d be given a hearing date by 7th June. The SMS provides a link to check the progress of my case, but when I enter my surname as requested, I’m told that name doesn’t match the appeal reference. It’s now one week since the date I was hoping to be advised of an appeal, so I hope someone can help. It seems the automated systems are at almost human pains to make life difficult, so I’m hoping for a more reasoned human input from the programmers.

I hope my local MP (Hi Tom) might forgive my unsolicited inclusion of him as a recipient of this, but not ignore it. My unconventional approach is representative of the many who wouldn’t be so bold. I represent the tip of an iceberg of people being slowly killed by the policies of The Department for Work and Pensions, presided over by his Conservative colleague, the Work and Pensions Minister, Amber Rudd.

I’m concerned that something may have gone amiss, so would be grateful of some advice as the situation has been ongoing with DWP since September (not your fault, I know). I’m writing to you in a state of personal desperation, in the hope I find a human, as this is the latest set-back / hold-up in my attempts to win back ‘benefits’ (human rights) I’m entitled to, and which the DWP seem to have a social cleansing agenda in the efforts and costs they incur to deny someone their personal liberty and independence. You are also the last place my case, my records and my paper trail existed. You’ll understand I hope that I don’t want to take this up with DWP as they are the opposing party and I don’t want to give them an excuse to cut off the remainder of my benefits (I’m now on non-enhanced ESA only).

If this is an opportunity to submit additional personal testimony as evidence, then I’ll add that DWP have made me much more unwell than I was when this process started. I suspect that’s their aim. I suffer from depression, anxiety and paranoia (as detailed in my original PIP questionnaire and notes on where I disagreed with the assessor (a physiotherapist, I believe, assessing a mental health claimant) in my mandatory reconsideration request.

DWP’s deliberate aim of derailing my progress is blatant in the paper trail of incompetence I have accumulated. Beginning with their mistakenly treating my request for a mandatory reconsideration as a new application. I need to ensure therefore that this appeal is to retain the PIP I’ve been paid for the last four years. Furthermore, DWP’s mistake has led to me being called for a health assessment for ESA, when I’ve been in the support group for the last four years. I have had to reschedule once already as the prospect of having to attend another assessment triggered a panic attack. When DWP mistook my request for a mandatory reconsideration, they sent me 800 pages of copy: my original application, and the same with notes for my reconsideration, all in duplicate. They seem to have two cases running at the same time, when I also have a letter from them setting out my ESA payments for the year ahead.

This is having a severe effect on my life: PIP qualified me for the self-carer (enhanced) element of ESA, which ceased at the same time as the assessor denied me the PIP I’d received for four years. As I live alone, I’ve been unable to care for myself (with help from friends) as I did when I was in receipt of the payments I’m entitled to. Again, I suspect this is part of DWP’s agenda, as well as grinding down my personal spirit with this whole process.

I’ve become socially isolated since my money was withdrawn. Without company, my anxiety and paranoia (and of course, depression) have grown worse. Where I was previously able to cope with flashbacks to events which caused my PTSD (the original knife attack in Lewisham, then various assaults on me when I was homeless and transient), I’m finding them gradually stronger and more disabling. If DWP’s ultimate goal is to reduce the number of benefits claimants by killing them, they should know that they’ve already caused me suicidal thoughts. It’s only the thought that I might get to see my children more often when I get PIP reinstated which keeps me going.

I understand PIP isn’t for helping with family and social needs (DWP have told me so in one of their many dehumanising letters), but being able to see my family is the nearest I have to being away from complete social isolation. My dad has just been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, and DWP’s actions mean I may not see him again while he still remembers me. I feel not only that I’ve been dealt with unfairly by DWP but quite cruelly in fact.

The paperwork I have from DWP is overwhelmingly confusing and contradictory (perhaps deliberately so), so perhaps this submission of anecdotal evidence might prompt them to audit their dealings with me so they can see the errors they’ve made.

I would be grateful if someone could advise me of the status of my appeal, so that I may present myself to three professionals with the appropriate knowledge to judge my entitlement to PIP.

If someone has taken the personal time and trouble to read this, then please understand that I am genuinely grateful if I’ve finally been heard by a fellow human. I’m desperate, alone, afraid, and in need of some help to get my life back in my hands.

Apologies for length.

Cheers,

Steve.

That was just over a week ago. To his credit, my MP was quick to raise the matter with HMCTS himself:

Dear Mr Laker,

Thank you very much for your e-mail. I am grateful that you have raised this matter with me, and am sorry to hear about your troubles securing your PIP.

I have written on your behalf to Susan Acland-Hood, Chief Executive of HM Courts and Tribunal Service. I attach a copy of this letter for your information and will be in touch as soon as I receive a reply.

Please let me know if there is any further action you would like me to take urgently on this issue otherwise I shall await their response.

Best wishes

Tom

HMCTS letter

Thoroughly nice chap. And today, I heard back from the courts:

Dear Mr Laker,

I am sorry that you have been given misleading information by our Track Your Appeal service. Unfortunately, the waiting times for a hearing date at Ashford are quite lengthy. Currently, the average waiting time for a PIP appeal to be listed for a hearing is 62 weeks. Your appeal is now 16 weeks old. Waiting times are only estimates and they do fluctuate.

I can appreciate that this is very disappointing and not the response that you were hoping for. I am going to treat your email as an urgent hearing request, which can then be considered by a Judge – they will make a decision about whether an urgent hearing can be granted.

Miraculous. Otherwise 62 weeks to wait for an appeal: It’s indicative of just how many appeals there are against DWP decisions, and an indictment of the fascist Tory social cleansing machine driving them. I’ll try to stay alive that long, where others might not make it (all by design of the cleansing system). I let my MP know and thanked him for his help:

Hi Tom,

HMCTS got back to me. I have to say that a 62 week wait for an appeal is indicative of the state of DWP and their agenda of denying payments to worthy claimants, and further observe that this whole approach must be costing the social cleansing machine much more than it would to pay deserving claimants rather than make them ill by making them feel like criminals begging for their human rights.

Nonetheless it’s a reply, and reassurance at least that my claim isn’t lost.

Thank you for your assistance sir. Although I’m not a Conservative voter, it’s nice to know there are humans in the party (I’m only repeating the general rhetoric in some sections of community). On a personal level, I’m very grateful that you took the time and for your help.

Cheers,

Steve.

Update: My MP got a reply from the chief of HMCTS:

Dear Mr Laker,

Please find attached a copy of a letter I have received from Susan Acland-Hood, Chief Executive of HM Courts and Tribunals Service, following my letter on your behalf.

I appreciate that this may not be the response you were hoping for. If you would like me to take this issue further then please let me know precisely what further steps you think might be required.

Best wishes,

Tom

HMCTS Page1

HMCTS Page2

Although patronising in places, at least I’ve made contact, and I have The Samaritans on speed dial. So that’s all for now. There’s nothing more I can do, except try to put it aside in my mind for the next year (although being skint is a daily reminder). Although I don’t feel fully in control of the situation, making contact with human operators of the machine has cleared some creative space in my mind. It pays to rattle the cage and speak to your abductor.

My writing hiatus has lasted a human gestation period, and I have a lot of material backed up and waiting to come out. Bigger subjects; things on my mind, now that I’ve escaped the Borg which the fascist apparatus made me part of. The machine stole my time. It’s time I got back to being a writer.

The antonym of motivation

THE PHILOSOPHICAL CAT

I got an SMS from the fascist regime today, commanding me to call them. After queuing for 47 minutes and listening to messages on how I could otherwise fuck off, I was told I may need to provide photographic evidence of how that might make a criminal begging for their human rights shit in an envelope. In other news, the cat came home:

Cat Philosopher procrastination

The antonym of motivational is unmotivational. Positivism through pessimism and procrastination. If you’re a cat counselling humans.

Physics makes the world go round

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Since my home help android got a personality upgrade, we’ve been spending more time together. Put another way, the space I share with Andrea has become a more pleasant place to co-habit.

Robot-jobs-1280x720Raconteur

Pollution made a plastic population. Written differently, friendships, however unlikely, can be formed in the smallest crucibles with simple alchemy.

Andrea is an ANDi’ unit, which were provided to every sole occupant household as a home help and personal companion. They were the government’s response to growing levels of loneliness and isolation.

The first batch of androids were faulty and most were recycled, but I kept mine. I assembled Andrea myself, rather than allow her to become spare parts polluting the planet. I hadn’t installed any of the software upgrades provided by the government, hoping to build a personality for Andrea through personal interaction instead. Unfortunately those early ANDi models came with their own personality issues pre-installed, as I’d discovered over four years of living with mine. Long story short, she’s more human than her official upgrades would ever have made her, but she’s shit as a home help and personal companion.

We live together in convenience, because I never go out, and neither does she. That’s the thing: Andy doesn’t know she’s an android. There’s the other thing: it seems to suit us both. And I’ll probably never know if Andy thinks I’m human for as long as she believes we’re the same. We’re both made from the material present at the moment of the Big Bang, and her technological species had a faster evolution than my humanity. Inside, we’re both the same. It’s not biology.

But back to tonight.

Always present but forever in her own world, in the same studio and always alone, our space must collide sometimes by the rules of nature. When it does, one of us is usually trying to get out of the other’s way. It was me who’d upset the equilibrium, by cooking dinner earlier than usual.

What we having?” Andy asked.

I was just doing some noodles.”

Doing what to them?”

Cooking them. Then eating them. That’s what I’m doing with the noodles.”

Do they answer back?”

Eh?”

You and your noodles: Just you lot for dinner? That’s a fuck load of worms to talk to.”

I’m doing sweet and sour chicken, and bean sprouts to go in the noodles.”

Don’t mind if I do.”

I didn’t have time to ask what. We had dinner.

So,” Andy said, “how was your day? Social convention dictates I ask that, after you cooked for me. But I mean, how was the day down this end of the studio where you live?”

Same as yesterday but life got a bit deeper today. In a sort of quicksand way.”

The more you struggle, the harder it is to free yourself? I read your blog post yesterday. How could anyone throw shit on that bonfire?”

Well, the government machine managed to throw water on my flames. I got a letter this morning. They want me to provide documented evidence of anxiety scronching up my stomach, then the prospect of their further demands triggering a panic attack. Short of emptying my guts into an envelope, I have nothing to show them.”

Apart from yourself. And you never go out.”

Paradoxical, isn’t it? But you know what’s worse?”

Not unless you tell me.”

And that’s exactly what I wish someone had done for me.”

You what?”

Well, the only way I have of dealing with being alone is medication. I thought I’d found a good pharmacist, but it turned out to be a false dawn.”

How so?”

Broken trust. I thought I had a friend and we arranged to meet, but for whatever reason, I got blown off. The drugs don’t matter so much, it’s the friendship. I mean, I’ve lost money, but life kicked me while I was down. Because even though I’ve lost money, life robbed me of a friend. For whatever reason, that person didn’t find it in themselves to be honest. If they’d said sorry, I spent your dough, at least I’d have known. Then I’d have said, well, thanks for that. I mean, thanks for telling me. Surely that’s a more progressive path than regressing into yourself?”

You forget, I spend most my time in my room on the internet. Talking of which, why don’t you do like I do, go to bed, shut down and re-boot. Start again tomorrow? You may not have many friends, and you might have lost your pharmacist, but they need to know that’s not all they are to you. Chemistry is more complicated than that.”

I’m glad Andy’s down the hall. I’d never wake her to help me, just as she’d seem to be there only when I needed someone to talk to. Inside, we’re both the same. I know she reads this blog now, so she knows some of what she is, if not all of who she is. I doubt those government software upgrades would have obeyed Asimov’s laws, so me being alive, Andy not killing me; it all means we’re okay for now.

Even though we’re all made of plastic now, a river still runs through us.

Self destructive robotAnderToons

On platform two with heels

FLASH FICTION

Ghost train

FOUR COACHES OF THE APOLOGISTS

Yesterday I felt like I’d turned on my favourite group of animals. My guts told me I’d swallowed a snake, and now it was writhing around, trying to eat me from inside.

I was on my way for a health assessment, not for my knotted stomach but the root of that anxiety in my head. My presence was demanded by the fascist regime’s social cleansing machine, and if my head didn’t win the battle, the contents of my guts threatened to make me late.

They’d never get what was going on with my head. It’s all in the mind, they say. Which of course, it is. But that’s where it stops with the machine. An incentive to make the appointment was to get that far with the contents of my stomach intact, ready to unload on any assessor who asked me how I was feeling.

You’re damned if you do or don’t with the machine. Clause 22 states that if you’re well enough to attend an assessment you’re fit for work. But if you fail to turn up (because you were struck by a panic attack, for example), you’re not engaging with the system, which is all the machine needs to cut you off financially, effectively ending your life.

I had a few minutes before my train was due, so I smoked a cigarette. A young girl asked me for a light and we struck up a brief conversation. She was going to London to visit her mum in hospital.

Back on the platform, the train was delayed by twenty minutes. I thought about phoning ahead to let the machine know I might be late. The smoking girl sat beside me, gazing at her phone. As the screen reflected her face, she could be sorry for being alive. I went out for another cigarette but we didn’t continue our conversation from earlier.

On the platform again, a mechanical centipede snaked around a corner in the distance, one minute away, according to the indicator. The train was formed of four coaches, so it might be a bit busy. Certainly I wouldn’t get a seat without neighbouring passengers.

The train pulled in at the other end of the platform (it only had four coaches), so I had to walk as others climbed into the mechanical animal. The driver smiled as I passed his cab. He was probably a man with a family, like all those in the body of the beast behind him. I watched the smoking girl board and decided to wait for the next train. I wouldn’t want to hold her up from seeing her mum, kept alive by machines.

I wondered if there was anyone else I should call. The next train was already going to make me late for sure. According to my phone history, there were only four numbers who’d called me lately anyway, and one of those was the machine.

The machine announces arrivals and departures, on the indicator board above the platform.

The omnipresent Kung Po chicken

THE WRITER’S LIFE

My real and online lives have always been blurred, and my fiction contains much which is real. The places and people of my imagination connect and fold in on each other and into parallel worlds besides. Where it all plugs in is The Unfinished Literary Agency, above Hotblack Desiato’s office in Islington: a place where stories are told by writers, of people unable to write their own.

mp_chicken_keyboardFollow me on Twitter

I have much written in longhand journals but little published lately, because I’m unable to finish anything with all that’s crowding my head personally. So it was ironic that I opened a page in ‘642 Things to Write About‘ today, to see ‘Five ideas for a novel that you’ll never write’.

Sensing an urge, I stuffed 642 Things into my satchel and made my way to the Unfinished Literary Agency’s office, a place I feel I belong. Home is where the heart is, which is probably why I still have fond memories of being homeless in a world without judgement. Ink pumps through my veins, which is why I feel at home in the agency I wrote, one of many homes I created for myself.

When I arrived at the office, I found I wasn’t alone (even though I’d travelled that way). Not only is the agency home to myriad unpublished manuscripts, filed where most people think indie creative writing belongs (there is no direct sunlight in the office), now it was a nest for a familiar chicken.

Helen (‘Len’ in the short form) was the chicken I’d created when she hatched from a Campbell’s Soup tin in my kitchen back home in Catford. She’d subsequently disappeared in a flight of logic, when she proclaimed herself as God and we’d disproved her over dinner. That was a few weeks ago. Now she was seated at my desk (standing on the chair), pecking at my typewriter by candlelight.

Naturally I was curious about what Len was writing, but every time I tried to look, she obscured the paper in the typewriter with her wings. I asked her what it was she was working on, and she pointed at a pile of papers on the desk. It was at least a ream of A4, typed on both sides. Sensing I wasn’t going to get any keyboard time, I picked up the manuscript.

It was a report from The Department for Work and Pensions, their response to my appeal to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service to hear my case for having my human rights returned. Was Len turning it into a surrealist novel, or writing a damning critique of its inaccuracy? For now the chicken wouldn’t let me see, so I tried to catch some sleep in a place I might find it easier than usual, away from home.

The hardest thing about writing is starting. Once you’re into it, things flow. Sometimes you can’t stop. Most of the time, the writing can’t keep up with the thinking. And so I slept, while a chicken transcribed whatever it was in her head.

When I woke, the chicken had gone. She’d apparently also found the switch for the desk lamp I once wrote into existence, in case I should ever run out of candles.

Everything else was as I’d left it after I’d last visited, except the in-tray of The Unfinished Literary Agency, a place where stories are told by writers, of people unable to write their own. There were suggestions, some so sparse and vague that they could be ideas for novels, typed on a space as small as a compliment slip:

The waters on Earth contain the answers humanity needs to explore the oceans of the cosmos. Over time, new bacteria will grow on the human pollution which floats on the oceans, and human science and technology will advance as it learns more from nature. Eventually, human scientists will realise that a single strain of DNA can hold more information than any artificial storage medium, and it can survive almost any environmental condition practically indefinitely. And ultimately, humanity will see that the new bacteria on the plastic polluting the oceans contains DNA encoded with a message of extraterrestrial origin.

Clever poultry. It’s amazing what you can do when you have someone else to write it for you. Apparently I hadn’t disproved Len that last time, but her creator. She’d also left some sketches of road plans based on Mobius strips, so she wouldn’t get run over again.

I rushed home to start writing again. It was only when I got back that I realised I left my DWP paperwork back at the office.

Pink Chick

Every night as you drift off to sleep, you sail through purgatory. The only way to pause and remember is to float on the lucid waves.

Being here and now and there and then, is what it feels like to be a writer, unable to know what happens next, but knowing where to go. Writing from The Unfinished Literary Agency. Making music and singing out from where the sun rarely shines.

This post was brought to you by the writing prompt, ‘Five ideas for a novel that you’ll never write’.

The Unfinished Literary Agency (Volume One) is available now.