Messages from Brobdingnag

THE WRITER’S LIFE

A lot’s changed since the last time I wrote to you. I hope you’re okay. Wherever you are, I thought I’d write down what’s going on in my life, because I know you read my blog.

Brobdingnag

This is just a synopsis. I’ll write the chapters which led to it all another time.

Recently I’ve done a couple of things I’ve not been able to for a while: I had a day out with my kids (another chapter), and I visited my dad with my sister and niece (a further chapter). I’m having lunch with them all on my birthday weekend in May (another book, after the next two).

My life will become more enabled now that I’ve won my battle with the Department for Work and Pensions (the chapters I’ll fill in, now that I can write them). A recent tribunal hearing found that I’m entitled to the Personal Independence Payment I’d been denied, so I’ll regain my freedom and liberty. The machine didn’t cleanse me from its social ideal.

Dad’s fully-installed in a retirement home, which isn’t what anyone wants, but it’s the only place equipped to deal with him now that his dementia is in almost complete control. It’s a cruel illness which killed the man we know, even though he’s still breathing. It’s his birthday today, so I sent a card to his new home with a note:

Dear dad,

At 78, you’re like an old vinyl record, full of memories:

My very first memory is sitting on the front step of our old house, waiting for you to come home on your motorbike. You pointed to the chrome exhaust and said, “Don’t touch that.” I didn’t. You’ve always looked out for me.

When I was growing up, you’d read us stories. The real-life ones are where the most treasured memories are. You helped me learn.

When I was older, you’d do casual work with Mick, your friend from school. His son Kev was older than me, and I wanted to be a part of working with the men. You took me with you. I didn’t get paid like you, Mick and Kev, but the next morning you came into my room and put some change by the bed: “That’s for helping,” and gave me money out of your own pocket.

I remember.

Throughout my teens, you drove me and my friends everywhere. I’ll never forget dad’s taxis. You helped me with my social life.

You bought me my first bike, took off the stabilisers, then bought me a car. You gave me freedom. You gave me liberty.

In 2001, when I got stranded in America, you phoned my hotel, just checking in from 3500 miles away. Never far apart.

And when I was on the streets, you came and found me in McDonald’s, just to see how I was. You always made sure there was food on the table.

You used to tell us such simple stories. I write it all down now so we can remember together. You were always there for me.

Thanks for being my dad.

Mum and dad won’t be able to join us for my birthday lunch, as London’s a bit of a trip too far now for dad. I’ll take the parents out another time nearer to home but for everyone else, London is most central and I’d like to return to my spiritual home for my 50th. Seeing as I can’t avoid it, I might as well go out and write some more chapters.

Pinhead SSE31

First I’m having the lunch some thought would never happen, with my kids, my sister, my niece, my ex-wife, and the kids’ step-dad. In the afternoon, the young ones and me will be in and around London. When they’ve all gone home (about 6), I’ll pop back to ‘spoons to see if anyone turned up and waited. I’ll bring Marmite sandwiches.

I’ve not seen many people besides my real and adopted family since my alcoholic breakdown gave old friends a right to judge and condemn. Those who’ve kept in touch are welcome to come and meet the family. It’ll be interesting to see who walks in from outside, even if to just cure their own curiosity about whether you can have a conversation with an alcoholic over a drink in a pub, like we used to.

Octopus Motherfucker

For now I’ve got through a lot of what I’ve been unable to tell you, because the stories had no end. Some concluded, while others continue to be written. This was just a synopsis of how things change, and how social isolation can be cured.

Past future presents unwrapped

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Dad’s in a home, mum’s alone, and so am I. The Hoover, kitchen light, washing machine and Freeview recorder don’t work; the TV and DVD player are on their way out; and the typewriter (this laptop) is developing a mind of its own. My world at Christmas, a microcosm of the one outside.

Earth deflatedTalentHouse

Things develop faults over time, and when you don’t have the means to fix them, they break. This time of year is always difficult, for me and others like me. Finance and personal liberty would mend these things, they’d help patch me up, and maybe my dad, if I could see him more often. I have neither, and my mental health has deteriorated as the government’s social cleansing experiment continues. It’s been over a year now that I’ve been denied my independence, and still six months in the current queue for an appeal hearing.

My darkest future visions are now painted in distant bright lights, as the rise of a fascist state in the UK has come to pass. I don’t see anyone to tell them I told you so, and it’s all on this blog anyway. I saw the recent Tory election victory coming, and as I predicted, it was based on lies, just like Brexit.

Now some of my dimmer predictions are nearer: a more divided nation, the far-right enabled and empowered, increasing civil unrest; soon there’ll be riots, water cannon, curfews and martial law; eventually, the break up of the union, and the UK will be no more (it only remains the United Kingdom in a name that’s become an oxymoron). This has been a dark year; one in which I lost my brother-in-law, my next-door neighbour and at least two old friends; and the next may be bleaker still. Christmas is more a reminder than an escape for me.

Sgt Pepper 2019

Sergeant Pepper 2019, the first to feature iconic wildlife (The West Aftrican Black Rhino)
(Previously (2016): https://bit.ly/2PQPZ8q)

As I topped up on a couple of last-minute items in Tesco today, an elderly lady in front of me exclaimed to the checkout girl, “I can’t believe you’re working on Christmas Eve,” totally without irony as the young girl packed her shopping. You’re the reason she’s working dear. Go home.

The country is in a panic, as if a nuclear winter approaches. And it does under a fascist dictatorship. Staples will be stocked and wasted, while shoppers complain the shops are closed for a day or two, with little regard for those who work there, nor that they have families too. I envy them all, trying too hard to make it the best day ever with their loved ones, as it could be the last for all of us.

I have to remember there’s another world, just outside, where I was once drunk and I slept on the streets, and that my world is what I made it: one of mental poverty.

There’s a different place, a better one where my children are, surrounded by family, gifts and food. I’d like to think there’s an empty chair there, where I might have sat, at least in someone’s memory; at mum’s dining table, where I once did; and beside my dad as he has breakfast in bed; instead of a TV dinner alone.

Christmas in Britain this year is everyone trying to convince themselves that everything isn’t just falling apart. It is, and for many, it does.

Peace on Earth Header

buy-me-a-coffee

Pray the universe, dad to keep

THE WRITER’S LIFE | FICTION

After many months of not being able to write much about my dad, today I can. Until now there have been many open narratives, no closure and much speculation. Last night a chapter ended when I found out dad won’t be returning home.

Over the last few weeks, things have progressed steadily, while dad has deteriorated on the same undefined scale. The final diagnosis is that he has a kind of double dementia, a bit like having Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s living in your head at the same time, chipping away at your memory and sense of self. Either on their own would be bad enough, but there are two of them in there, vandalising the place. He’s at a point where he requires round-the-clock care, which my mum and his home carers can’t fully provide. It’s every family’s worst waking dream when they have to put one of their own into a care home.

Dad will never get better, and this move could hasten his demise. I wish I could have done more. I wish I could do something besides hope that he makes friends in his new home, rather than give up. I wish I could talk him out of it, if that’s what he’s planning. I wish I could swap places, or at least be there so that he wasn’t so alone. I wish I could turn back time. There’s a cloud stuck in my head, which is why it keeps raining on my face.

Kevin NecessaryKevin necessary

TIME FOR BED

I’ve been to my own funeral. I was there as they lowered me into the pit. There were people there. That was when I woke up and made the first jump. I didn’t mean to, I was pushed. Onto my death bed. Before I left, I wondered, will people visit my grave?

Now I found myself back in the hospital bed where I’d died, with no visitors. But when you’re buried in the ground, you have no way of knowing what time it is.

I asked myself what the point was, and perhaps explaining to myself why I’d died. I’d switched myself off in boredom and frustration at the loneliness. If I just go back to sleep, maybe I can get back there, to my own funeral.

It didn’t work. I went the wrong way. When I woke up, I’d reversed to the first night I spent in that bed in the care home.

I don’t know who decided to put me there, like some kind of monster which had to be caged, out of the way where I couldn’t bother them. They visited, but with me incarcerated, they got to choose how much of me they’d put up with. A bit like visiting a grave, when the occupant can’t come to you.

After they’d left on that first night, I slept, trying to remember how I got there, how I’d come to be in this new place alone, when I’d spent much of my life sharing a warmer bed.

The next day I woke up in that other place, but it was cold. I lifted the sheets next to me but there was no indentation of a person. My partner had already left. I slept and I tried to dream.

We’re never aware of the moment we fall asleep. When we wake, we may remember some of our dreams, but we can never recall the point where we fell. I dreamed I was running through a woods, then I tripped, and I forgot my dream. I woke with a start. My jumps were taking me back in time.

I remembered my mum tucking me into bed and dad reading me a bedtime story, then checking under the bed for monsters. He said they only hid under there because they were scared. How ever many tales he told at the bedside, essentially they were all this one.

The scariest thing is this final jump into the past, the last chapter before the light goes out.

When you die at the end of your life, you may lose your own memories but you’ll be remembered by others. It’s but a comfort blanket to think we’re only truly gone when we’re forgotten.

Others will live on who’ve lived their lives with us, but I won’t be remembered when I’ve forgotten the people around me. When life ends the way mine will, I’ll regress to a time and place where I never existed. It’s not the loneliness I felt in hospital; it’s a bed without me in it. And no-one to read a story, no beginning before the book is even opened.

Memories become visions of the future when you’re living life in reverse, but I can’t see the future. I knew I was never going home. Like a baby given up at birth.

They think I didn’t feel anything, but this is how it feels.

I’m alone and I’m afraid.

And so an ending is written, a few words carved in stone. My story is here, hiding under the bed, in the ground beneath your feet, the wind in your ears, and the memory of when we’d only just met.

© Steve Laker, 2019

So many opportunities at the beginning of life, so few at the end. So much discovery in the closing chapters, when there were few clues at the start. We learn as we live, and even though my dad’s hardware is defective, I hope his memory will be stored on some device out there. Maybe he could plug himself in, so that me and him can keep talking.

For all of the most important things, the timing always sucks. Waiting for a good time to quit your job? The stars will never align, and the traffic lights of life will never all be green at the same time. The universe doesn’t conspire against you, but it doesn’t go out of its way to line up the pins either. Conditions are never perfect. ‘Someday’ is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you.”

-Timothy Ferris

Potted picnics on speed dial

THE WRITER’S LIFE

A young friend of mine recently reminisced, pondered and rued on Facebook: Where are the guys who call to ask how your day is, if you’ve eaten, and what you’re doing later?

I thought about that in a bipolar writer way, both the poet and the horror author, in my potting shed, where I write, and where I keep my tools: A pen and paper, the typewriter, an axe, a spade, a hoe, and packets of seeds…

THESE THREE WALLS

Headphones2

Second verse, same as the first, as we fear the ringing of the phone.

Dark poetry – or verse with more than one interpretation – is a medium I’m enjoying, as I’m finding I can do as much with it as a good twist in the tail of one of my stories. My dad’s been deteriorating over the last few weeks, so writing about what’s going on in my life is difficult and without resolution.

Monkey Black heart Said and done

Dad was a gardener, usually tending the ornamental garden of a very large house. The house also had a kitchen garden, which is where dad seemed happiest, raising vegetables for the table.

There are many moments in life when I remember dad finding me: When I helped out on a gardening project and he paid me out of what little money he got; when I was stranded in Chicago after 9/11 and he called me in my hotel room; and when I was homeless, and he came and found me in McDonald’s. A man of few words, he never needed many; I just knew he was there. Now he’s much the same.

Then there was him, mum, and so many friends when I got knocked over exactly 33 years ago today, when I was 16 and spent several weeks in hospital, like my dad has lately.

In the school holidays we didn’t go away much, but running around that country estate where the gardens were dad’s, I always knew where to find him. Whenever an argument had kicked off in the confinement of a summer holiday family home, when it felt like my mum and sister were ganging up on me, I always knew where to find dad, in the potting shed.

I can’t find dad now, and he’s as lost as I was back then. The generations are reversed, and now I know how I made him feel when I did weird things, or wouldn’t be held accountable for the things I did.

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On the other side of the sandwich, it’s my son’s birthday this week. I designed my own card:

Cow Car Nothing Worth Doing

I had it sent to me first, so that I could add a personal message:

I don’t get to say this as often as I should, but I’m proud of you and the young man you’ve become.

I’m hardly the model father, but I’m proud to have you as a friend as well as my son.

You are not doing it wrong if no-one knows what you’re doing

Three generations, all with their own deeply personal space; each in their own potting shed of the mind; one in a garden, one with a typewriter, and one with a computer; each of them rarely picking up the phone. I know both slices of bread which hold the Marmite sandwich together are there on a platter. I hope the other two know that the other two are too.

And in among all this, my mum phoned me at 4 O’clock this afternoon and I was in bed. I answered, woke up, and she apologised for waking me. That’s how things are. I didn’t get the chance to explain I’d crashed out in the afternoon because I’m up at this time, writing, because I can’t sleep, thinking of dad. And there’s the other side of the family, besides the mother ship; the jam sandwich of sister and daughter, all on the same plate as the Marmite.

Family picnics, and those with friends who are mi familia: Somewhere, someone is glad you do what you do, even if it’s only you who bangs on about it to yourself. It’s a personal and human sense of family survival.

Where are the guys who call to ask how your day is, if you’ve eaten, and what you’re doing later? They’re there, in their own place, wondering if they should call. 

Best delivered by Brian Blessed

POETRY

Sometimes people play a greater part in another life than they ever realise. And we regret never telling them. I needed to write. I needed to get out what I was thinking, about my own mortality, and how I might express myself when I say farewell to a departed friend. Poetry seemed the best medium for a return to nature, and in my head it’s recited by Brian Blessed…

Moth Effect Poem2

Safe journey mate. For every push-up we didn’t do, there’s a daisy to do one on in the afterlife. Gordon’s alive, in the world of missing persons x

A decade in a haiku trilogy

THE WRITER’S LIFE

Since the good ship Simon set sail, I’ve been going through some old family photos on Facebook. Never one to shamepost pictures of my young adults when they were kids, the memories are nevertheless contained in the ten years I was married, when Mountsfield Park and Manor House Gardens were my 100 Aker Woods. The young ones are pure Catfordian, from Kentish and Irish blood, and that decade in the London Borough of Lewisham is where I learned Japanese and wrote 51 syllables…

WHEN WE WERE VERY YOUNG

Lollipop

THEN WE WERE FOUR

Dinner lady orange

I’LL ALWAYS MISS YOU,” SAID EEYORE…

Ambulance police

…to Piglet and Pooh, Kanga and Roo.

You can take the poet out of Catford, but that Two-tone cat will never stop scratching me.

catford se6 cat poem

The Apoplectic Apologist

THE WRITER’S LIFE

We can only apologise to the past, and the most difficult person to say sorry to, is you…”

CharlieBrownSnoopyOnDock

Yesterday was one of the occasional ones out with two young friends (they’re 14 and 12 now, so they’re not my kids, they’re young people), and we were back to the familiar stomping ground of Milton Keynes. As ever, it was a very pleasant day, spent in good company, with intelligent conversation. But something played on my mind throughout, and now I feel deflated because it’s too late to go back and change it. Like much of my life then, full of regrets over things I’ve done and live with the guilt.

This was something I hadn’t done, but which I’d said I would. No promises were made and no undue pressure was applied, but there was something I should have done and didn’t, and although no-one’s told me so, I feel I let people down. Paranoia has always lived comfortably with its depression and anxiety siblings in my head.

Apologies don’t always come from the natural apologetic. There’s regret and there’s sorrow, and there’s two types of that: saying sorry; and bearing true remorse, meaning it when you say it. When paranoia has a habit of knocking you around, it’s difficult to accept having an apology accepted, because the guilt lives on, feeding on your guts. I can’t accept forgiveness when I can’t forgive myself. It’s just the way my mind works.

This latest episode revolves around my brother in-law, Si(mon); actually my ex, because he’s divorced from my sister, with whom I’ve been estranged for several years since my alcoholic breakdown, and we only recently made up (thanks to intervention from the mothership, who pointed out that you’ll never see someone’s a different person if you avoid them). I hadn’t made a promise to my sister, but I’d said via our mutual mum that as I was in London yesterday, I’d try to pop in and see Si.

Si’s not well, in a high dependency unit at St. Thomas’s Hospital with malfunctioning kidneys. He’s unconscious but can hear people talking to him. When I was asked to leave the family home six years ago, Si was there to give me a hand. When I sobered up and called my sister after two years of not talking, I was glad Si answered. Lovely bloke, likes his custard, doesn’t judge. I was going to visit him, to talk to him, to thank him. The worth of my words is subjective, but I’m good at talking to people in tough spots. My dad (who has Parkinson’s) says likes talking to me, probably because I speak to people as I always have, paying little regard to any ailment inflicting my audience.

The plan was to spend the day with my young co-conspirators, then visit by brother by another mother when I got back to London. On the way up to town, my mum phoned me and said my sister would very much appreciate the gesture on my part, to visit with Si. As we’ve only recently patched things up between us, I was quite moved that my sister placed a value in me, hopefully now able to see the good in her brother which I lost through drinking and verbal abuse towards others. I couldn’t not visit Si.

I had a pleasant lunch with my young friends, while we made future plans. The eldest is interested in poker (the analytical mathematical odds aspect which makes up 70% of the game, not the 30% which is luck), so I’ve promised him a trip to the poker room I used to frequent when I was a semi-pro, at The Empire Casino in Leicester Square, for his 18th birthday. The younger one wants to go to a West End show, and there’s no-one I’d rather make my next trip to the theatre with. They’re promises I intend to keep, unlike the one which slipped away as I travelled home.

I slept on the train back to London from Milton Keynes, as usual. I don’t tend to sleep the night before I meet the young ones, a conspiracy between my anxiety and circadian clock. I woke at Euston and went straight to the Victoria Line, as is my usual underground habit. I’d forgotten I was meant to go to Waterloo (to the hospital), not to Victoria (for a train home). I needed to get back on the tube, onto the Northern Line, which was part-suspended. The Bakerloo Line then. Then I realised at the ticket barrier that I didn’t have a Travelcard, just a return from home to Milton Keynes, which allowed me one cross-London journey. Then I got stressed. I wasn’t panicked, but I was anxious (it’s like being followed, but before your mugger attacks). I couldn’t leave with a guilty conscience but I couldn’t cure it by staying there. So I gave up on myself, and that’s when I let everyone down, when I decided to just get on a train and go home.

I was tired (no excuse), I was broke (ditto, could have walked), and I was starting to have panicky thoughts (not unusual). Funny thing is, I’d have walked miles for shelter when I was homeless and skint, but the streets are where most of my PTSD originates. Nevertheless, I broke a promise I’d made to my sister after so many years of estrangement, and I’d left a very sick man alone, when a simple act of human contact might have helped him. I got on the train feeling selfish and alone, full of guilt, revolving around myself instead of a hospital bed. I was a coward. I was afraid to see my friend looking frail, and I should remember that when I’m on my own death bed with no visitors.

I haven’t phoned my sister or our mum, and they might even be surprised I’m beating myself up so much, when I hadn’t promised anything. But I’d made a promise by proxy, to a fellow man and kindred spirit, and I feel as let down myself as anyone has any right to be disappointed. My biggest fear is being seen to revert to type, when once all I’d wanted to do was get home and drink. I wanted to get home, to escape the situation and to sleep.

I fretted for the rest of the night, over telling my mum and sister about this. I chose to write it down, in the hope anyone reading might understand. I went to bed at my usual 5am, ending a 39-hour shift unbroken by sleep apart from that nap on the train.

Today I feel just as bad, truly selfish, like self-absorbed. That guilt joins all the others which trouble the mind of an alcoholic, all day and every day after they’ve sobered up. It’s a life sentence I live with like the alcoholic label, while I refuse to get drunk to numb and lighten my mood. I think I’m meant to find some strength and reassurance in that, and I suppose it’s better than not waking up like I used to and not knowing what happened the day before. I feel like I did yesterday, but not the day before that. But I feel like I did when I didn’t visit my dad in hospital. I couldn’t afford the travel and I remembered my dad the last time I’d seen him, when he said my words were helpful. I feel the same very time I have to leave my two young friends. I feel cruel.

It feels like I’m losing parts of my past, much of which I wouldn’t mourn, but that which I treasure is being taken. After I patched up so many differences, I’m pushing away further chances to get better. I don’t blame anyone for not phoning me, when I find talking to myself so difficult and confusing. My mental illness means I’m always sharing space with a kind of anti-me (I’m very anti me at times).

I’ve paused writing on my family history book, Silent Gardens. The original purpose of the book was to help dad remember things, but I feared not finishing it before he forgot, even though reminders of the past would engage his mind. I felt I might be tempting fate, my anti-Midas touch turning everything to shit, when so much of my past has eroded.

I have few people to talk to (and I make it that way), so I’m glad I can write. I’m miserable alone, perhaps karma for the way I’ve left other people. Even if it doesn’t all make sense, it makes sense for me to get it out. It’s like someone else hitting me, to save me time beating myself up.

All I had to do is say sorry, but that still doesn’t solve the paradox, when saying it doesn’t take the feeling away. I’m not looking for anything, least of all sympathy and understanding, when only I know how I feel. “How you doing?” Read my blog.

How can I lift the guilt? How can I stop feeling sorry for myself? By apologising to myself? We can only apologise to the past, and the most difficult person to say sorry to is you, when you are unwilling to forgive yourself.

I wish we could go back to the old days, when we had so much time to talk but we rarely did because we didn’t need to. The cruelty of life, inflicted on those trying to live it; the human condition.

You’ll get over your apologetic apoplexy,” is something I’m only likely to say to myself. Although I’ll have an unexpected upswing in mood at some arbitrary point, when something random and beyond my control happens, I don’t know when that will be. It’s the paradox of living alone in your head with depression and daily confusion. If you apologise for what’s to still to come, you’re probably a sociopath if you’re talking to someone else. I can only apologise to myself for whatever the future may hold.

All I need to do is keep talking to myself. Despite being a sci-fi writer, I find looking forward difficult. Or maybe I’m just paranoid. Sorry about that.

Snoopy3

EDIT: Simon passed away today (Sunday, 25th August). He’s survived by his mum and four children. Safe journey brother x