RSS

Category Archives: Uncategorized

What I run about when I think I’m thinking about running

I started running about half a year ago. It hurts. That’s the main thing. I don’t do it because I enjoy the buzz you get afterwards, and I don’t do it because it’s made me lose weight, or gives me time to myself, or gets me out of the house in the fresh air. I do it because it hurts. It’s monotonous, and repetitive, and hurts. I do it because I’m trying to teach myself to get through the bit that hurts and get to the bit where it feels okay again and you can carry on and forget that there was a voice inside your head telling you to give up and go home – or you can remember that voice, and remember that you told it to fuck off, you weren’t ready to quit yet, you wanted to carry on. I run because it hurts, and you get through the hurt, and you learn about how much of the pain you can take, then you learn that pain is information, nothing more or less, and that you can treat it with the contempt of anything else you might be told by anyone, anywhere.

You run because you want to run. You don’t go anywhere and you don’t see anything. You travel from one place to another, through the place in between, and you pass by other lives on the way, or they pass by you, like passengers on a train watching you run, and you watch the train pass under the road beneath you and you keep your eyes up ahead, where there is only grey pavement and there is only the road in front of you, where there is more pain, and you keep going, because you want to, because you have to, because some kind of arbitrary measuring point in metric or imperial distance is up there, waiting for you, or some unit of time has to be clocked off.

There is music playing, though you don’t hear it. You feel the music in your body and you feel it playing around you. You hear the rhythm of your feet, tapping out the same sound and the same sound and the same sound and the same sound, and you feel your breath boiling through your chest and the spit whirling around your face, and it reminds you of a song you once heard, or used to play, and takes you to the place where you used to listen to it, or of the time when you used to play it, maybe a summer, 1996, and the room where you used to live, and the people you knew, and the people who were there and seemed so important and are now gone, all of them, some in the ground and some just to other places – they could be around the next corner, waiting for you, but they won’t be, and they’re gone forever, just like the memory you have of the song you heard, which is slipping away, slipping from your grasp, like your sweat into the wind. Keep running.

Run. I used to think people who ran were running from something, something they wanted to forget, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore; I think they were probably most likely running towards something. You’re always running forward, always making some kind of progress, always putting one foot in front of the other, if you’re not going anywhere it doesn’t matter, you’re always making some kind of change. Change is possible. Your muscles get stronger, your endurance gets better, your speed increases, your tolerance of the pain gets better. You get better at the thing you’re doing. Unlike so many other places in life, you can improve, you can do the same thing again and again and it gets better rather than stagnating; you can actually change and be better at something than you were before. You can be better. You can be the person you want to be. You can find something, somewhere, anything, where you’re able to make a difference to yourself. You can run. You can get through the pain. You can do it.

Then you retreat back into ordinary life, and you’re still the same person, and your progress can’t be measured, or if anything you’re getting worse, and other people judge you and find that you’re not good enough and that you could be better. People tell you when to run and stop. People tell you what you should be doing and they try to encourage you to do things you don’t want to do, or to be a different person so that you would do things the way they would do them rather than the way you would do them, not that they’re trying to tell you how to do anything, but don’t do it that way, do it this way. People tell you that you could be better. People tell you that you’re getting worse. People tell you that you’re letting them down. People tell you that, unfortunately, they’re going to have to use the word unfortunately, and then the rest of the sentence doesn’t ever matter, because you’re looking at yourself sitting in a chair in a room with the door closed and you’re looking through the wrong end of a telescope, and everything seems to be getting darker. Unfortunately.

But there is no unfortunately when you’re running. You just run. You get on with it. You get better all the time. The road keeps coming to you and you keep coming to it.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 17, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

You silly sods

I haven’t written for a while, but it’s been hard to. Don’t you find that when the world is collapsing into insane self-harming hatred around you, it’s hard to write anything that makes any sense to yourself, let alone anyone else? I do. God, I don’t know where to begin. Begin anywhere. So, I will.

June 24th is a date that I’ve spoken about with a few people. I met a friend of mine over Christmas and he talked about how in our home town (which I left in 2002) the day after Brexit was an eerie, disturbing place to be, with union jack flags being flown with just a little bit too much. Something unpleasant had been awoken, or re-awakened from its slumber. Not in a good way, like the end of that poem about Peterloo. We are few, it turns out, and they – whoever they are – are many. Oh god, we’ve lost. We suddenly realised. We’d lost and they’d won.

It was the same here, in Bristol, even though “we” – who is we anymore? – voted to Remain. (sorry Remoan. Yeah, we’ll come to that in a minute.) There was a bin that I walked past on the way to school, and someone had burst it open and chucked all the rubbish inside around on the pavement and in the street, not for any reason other than they could. And so they did. Break a window to hear what it sounds like. Leave the EU because of straight bananas. Or too many foreign types. Or whatever it is this week. On June 23 I’m sure it was a high-minded technocratic Brexit designed to make the country better.

Whatever. It was fucking wrong, wasn’t it.

It was wrong, wrong, wrong, and things are going to go wrong, and get worse. The white paper I saw this week said I, and 64,999,999 other people, were hoping it would all be OK, which is kind of true – I hope it’s okay and not terrible, I’m not an idiot – but I kind of know it won’t be okay. It’s going to be a mess. A mess that a lot of us predicted. There’s no pleasure in being right; but it is going to be horrible. I’ve kept waiting for someone to try and save us, but it’s like the end of the Wicker Man – you think someone’s going to come and stop him from being roasted alive while the hicktown inbreds stand around chanting, thinking it’ll make their apples come back, but no-one does come, and that’s that. No-one did come to try and save us. The meek, feeble wet-paper-bag resistance of the flimsy, dying Labour Party, a handful of Lib Dems, and Cuddly Ken Clarke. And there: it’s gone. And gone forever.

We’re all meant to pull together, which is something the British are supposedly good at – Blitz spirit, up and at ’em, Vera Lynn, white cliffs of Dover, all that bullshit you get fed in history at school that deflects you from the bland, tedious reality of life in these islands, surrounded by unpleasant, selfish, spiteful racists everywhere who’d rather wreck the future for themselves and their children and grandchildren than have to endure the sound of a couple of Polish people chatting away in Greggs.

For fuck’s sake, how did we get here? It’s tempting to draw a line from Gordon Brown not being allowed to call a bigot – a stupid fucking bigot – a bigot, but we could go back further. Nick Griffin on Question Time. Endless racist vox pops on the news. Vile, foul-smelling individuals like Guido Fawkes and his horrible friends being absorbed into the mainstream. Nigel Farage. Christ! That cunt. A beaming smashed-bag-of-crabs face breaking through above a car coat, pint and cigarette. A little man, a dim intellect, a minor, miserable, sad little nobody, and yet there he is, in the golden lift – oh god, that lift, and him, the other one, the other awful man, but I don’t even have time for him yet – holding the hand of the most powerful man in the world, right at the heart of everything.

How did we get here? There’s been endless handwringing of course. Perhaps we didn’t listen to the Very Real, Legitimate Concerns of racists being really racist and saying and doing racist things, and maybe if we’d implemented all of their hopes and dreams for them, they might not have been so racist. Oh no, you mustn’t call them racist, it really upsets them and their Very Real Concerns, and if only we engaged with them and did everything they wanted, then everything would have been all right in the end. If only we’d given them more of a platform, and done everything they wanted, and been really racist, then we could have had our liberal non-racist utopia.

Oh, what balls. I’d counter that we listened too much. We nodded along too much. How many times have you heard a racist idiot say something really racist and think to yourself, I hope he doesn’t push his pint glass into my throat, I just want to get home and not die, or, I just don’t want to make a scene, or, I hate you and everything you stand for but I’d rather not discuss this now. That’s just as bad. We didn’t say enough. We didn’t do enough. We tried to listen. We tried to see things from their point of view. Idiots that we are. Do you think they, once, tried to see things from our side? Ever?

They, of course, the sorest winners in the history of anything, are entitled to call us “Remoaners”. These people who did nothing but moan about everything – everything! – for the past 40 years are now even angrier. You’d think they’d be somehow less angry, since, you know, they actually won, but no. They’re angry that people aren’t rolling over and dying, or that some people still refuse to accept that a glorious future of selling jam to China, privatising everything, destroying all worker rights forever and impoverishing everyone except the very rich. They’re angry that anyone else should be angry. They’re angry they won. They didn’t want to win. They wanted to sit on the sidelines and snipe away, forever, muttering under their breath. But enough stupid fucking mutterers managed to get together, and they only went and won. And now they just want to run away, probably to some villa in Spain, and hide.

And we’re left with this shit. It doesn’t get any easier, does it. I think it’s making me sick every day that I sit around and think about it. It seems to deepen the further you walk in, like you’re stepping into the sea… and then, all of a sudden, there might be a shelf of sand, and we’ll slip below the waters, and be forgotten forever. Good God, what did we do? It doesn’t matter about the why anymore because there’s nothing we can do to change what’s just happened. We aren’t going back in. We’re stuck on a polystyrene island, floating off into an inky black sea, and we’ve turned off the lights and we don’t want anyone to save us. Except. Except him.

Oh no, him. But that’s for another time.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 4, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Paul Daniels dies live on TV

The year is 1987, and we’re five years ahead of the controversial transmission of Ghostwatch, the Screen One drama about Michael Parkinson being possessed by a man called Pipes who had his face eaten off by his own cats. Paul Daniels is about to die live on TV.

This, for me, is the true Halloween highlight from the archives. A surprise that came from nowhere, a live magic show with a deadly escape to finish it off. Surely they wouldn’t… would they? But they did.

Hard to know where to begin, but let’s set it up. Paul Daniels got massive audiences in the 1980s, absolutely huge and by today’s standards unimaginable, often in the tens of millions. At the same time, he was a love-him-or-hate-him figure, a petite and balding man from Middlesbrough of no conventional attractiveness who was a gift for lazy impressionists and comics alike. The magic show was perhaps on the decline by this time, but Halloween 1987 was going to embed it in the memories of all who saw it.

You should see the above clip in the context of Daniels’s usual performances, where his fast and effortless patter and showmanship, perfected in a career spent honing his craft in small theatres and working-men’s-clubs, shone through. You might not have liked him – not a lot – but he was slick. But this performance is anything but, and it’s on purpose.

All the umming and ahhing from Daniels isn’t just the demands of live TV – he was used to delivering his act without retakes. He’s getting it wrong on purpose, creating a kind of edgy, nervous tension around his performance. There’s a sense that he doesn’t really know what’s going on – he claims not to know how much lead shot will set off the trigger on the device that might just kill him, for example. He’s messing with our minds. Hang on, is Paul Daniels really going to do this? He doesn’t look ready. Is he going to be OK?

“Now this is very dangerous,” begins Paul, after bringing up Harry Houdini, someone who famously nearly perished during his escape attempts, “I have to warn you this can go wrong.” He then goes on to instruct anyone of a nervous disposition to switch off. What’s going on? Why has he said that? Daniels’s act was never about “this can go wrong” – he was always in charge.

Daniels introduces the maiden itself. A real torture device? A genuine instrument of killing? Pretty sure none of those are still around. But we didn’t have the internet in 1987, we just had to take him at his word. It certainly looked the part. It looked bulky and like it could do you some damage. Very heavy, he claims. It certainly looks heavy. You see a strange hooded figure at the side of the stage. What’s he doing there? This whole show was filmed in an old castle to enhance the Halloween theme, and to make it as creepy as possible. A hooded guy in a monk’s outfit, what’s that all about? The lighting is perfect. Dim, oppressive.

Paul rattles his wand on a couple of spikes to show you they’re real. The guests have inspected it, he says. Well then how’s he going to get out? He shows you underneath. He shows you people round the back. It’s all one camera shot and it never cuts away, even when he claims to be showing you round the side, which you never actually see. He shows you the door slamming into the iron maiden. It looks and sounds like a real thing, not a prop. “The door weighs several hundredweights,” says Daniels. You’re starting to get a bit worried for him. That looks like it could hurt someone.

Handing over his jacket and bow tie, Daniels gets strapped in. He tells his assistant and wife, Debbie, to leave the room completely. Why? That seems odd. It’s all designed to unsettle you. Something’s going on here, but what? You haven’t worked it out yet, but you’re starting to get nervous. “Aren’t the rattle of chains on Halloween wonderful?” he chirps, as he gets locked in by two Georgian footmen. But he has to warn you again. “I mean it,” he says. “This can go wrong.” He’s telling you again what’s going to happen, but you don’t believe it yet. “Don’t move out of your seats if it goes wrong,” he tells the audience, like it’s a safety briefing, but of course there’s probably another reason for that. It ratchets up the tension just another notch.

The escape attempt takes 10 seconds, which is one reason why it’s so transfixing. The clatter of lead shot into the cup. The slam of a catch. Part of the paper door concealing Daniels gets ripped. Is he? But too late. And bang, the door shuts.

Then, silence. One of the hooded figures looks around, as if to say, what’s happened? What’s gone wrong? The camera shot finally changes. A hand-held camera wanders around alongside and behind the iron maiden.

You’re waiting, you’re waiting. He’s not behind it, where is he? He’s going to pop up with a big grin in a minute, surely? Then the screen fades to black and a voice, firm but authoritative, says “Ladies and gentlemen, Please leave the room in an orderly fashion.” Wait, what? The end credits are running over a black screen. How…? But…

Right at the end, Daniels pops up again. Ah, he’s OK. Standing there with a barn owl. “This was recorded yesterday, and all I can say is I hope the last illusion goes well!” And there’s a cheeky wink, and he’s gone again. But… is he dead or not?

Trauma. Did I just see someone die on live TV? Why wasn’t the continuity announcer worried about it? What just happened? Did it really happen? We had to wait until after Monty Python’s Flying Circus (I believe it was Sportscene in Scotland) to find out. That was a half hour of terror. Were we going to go to a grim-faced newsreader telling us about how Paul Daniels had died, and how we’d all seen it at home, and how we felt terrible about it? No. Up popped Daniels again, next to the iron maiden we thought had killed him, telling us he was perfectly OK. Oh, the relief.

It might seem really strange now but, looking back, you could only really get away with this sort of thing, including TV magic without some lummox traipsing into the comments and spoiling it for you, before the internet. You just had to take on trust what you were seeing. In so many ways, this Halloween shocker provided the platform for Ghostwatch to go and do even more amazing things with it a few years later (- Sarah Greene slammed into a cupboard, seeing a ghostly man with bleeding eyes in front of a curtain, or did you? There was no way to rewind -) when it led to dozens of angry letters and a promise that, no, the BBC would never be naughty like that again. It was all thanks to Daniels paving the way, and doing it with style.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 31, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Everywhere I go I feel it

Sometimes it would be nice to take your brain out and wash it under a tap, then stick it back in. Sometimes, in a dream, I can just exist. Call it depression, call it mistakes, call it some kind of damage: it’s there, and it is part of me. It took time to make peace with that knowledge. For years I hoped it would, or could, go away. I don’t think it will.

It’s like having a silent, bleak passenger, a parasite that sucks all your confidence and joy, and poisons you from the inside. It takes and it gives nothing back. You carry it around, and you feel it wherever you go, whenever. Sometimes it fades to the background, and becomes part of the general hum – you can get on with the business of living, which isn’t easy anyway. Other times, it grabs you by the eyes and tries to drag you down to roll in the mud.

Depression is a cunt. It lies to you and it hurts you. It tells lies about other people and it hurts them too. You’re responsible for everything you do, but you don’t want to do some of the things you do. You want to be better, in every way. You want to be a person who isn’t sick; you want to be a person who isn’t so shameful, wasteful, pathetic. You just want a chance, any chance, to see what it might be like to have a crack at life, a fair chance, without this invisible, heavy film soaking into your skin. But that is not your life.

There are ways to get help. There’s no use fighting it on your own, although only you can fight it. Everyone wants to help but no one can. And you have to accept, at some point, that you are trapped alone, even when you are surrounded by other people – sometimes especially when you are surrounded, that’s when you feel most alone.

That’s just everyday life. Sometimes, making it from Monday to Tuesday is an achievement. Sometimes, making it from 9am to 10am. Just mark out the time. Little victories. I’m still here. I’m one minute further away from *that thing, the thing we don’t talk about* than I was earlier. Each keystroke is one more second. Each moment is a moment you got through. Each day is a victory. Each breath a hope.

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Articulated

Back in therapy, for the first time in six years, and it’s getting somewhere, I think. I like the beige, comforting room with the double door; the mantelpiece with the clock that I can’t see; the window that looks out onto a hill where I can see lights from other windows, a set of traffic lights and a plane wheeling overhead. But I like having that space, that empty space – the space that exists between you and another person – the space where words can go, and you can fill the air with a thought.

I know it doesn’t work for everyone but I think it might be starting to work. It’s like walking down a long, curved corridor, and somewhere down the corridor there might be a door, eventually, though you can’t see where you’re going because of the curve, and all the floors and walls and ceilings merge into one great arc of space, where you know you are moving forward, but you don’t know much more than that.

I’m not a talker. I don’t like talking. But I need to. Like I don’t like running, but I run because it gets me something: pain, which is good; and burning fat, which is good; and a place where I can’t stare at my phone, which is good. I don’t like talking, but I talk because talking gets you to somewhere where you want to say what you want to say. Each pause brings you closer. If you’re always filling space before someone else speaks, or asking questions, it’s never going to change anything. You have to define the world around you, somehow, by talking, and if you don’t do it, you’ll never know; it will remain always undescribed, always unknown, or known only in a way that seems familiar or simple or safe, and maybe not the place it actually is.

My daughter describes the world through talking, though she only has a few words. She makes the sounds into music, and tells the world what it is. As soon as the words come out, they become what they are, and they tell her what to say next. She sees and speaks, unafraid to say the wrong thing or to get the words wrong or that someone might interrupt or talk over her; she speaks because it’s the joy of creating the world around you through the sounds you make and the things you say. She talks because she can, because she has to, because she does. I watch, and I learn, and I listen, and I copy. Your world is the people in it, and the love they bring. Your life is the music of the words. Listen, but always speak.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Pick fruit

Can’t get a job? Pick fruit. We’ll send all the foreigns back home to pick their own fruit. Now you pick it. Can’t pay your bills? Pick some fruit. Take back control. Make some jam. Jam is great. Exports are great. Great Britain. Export the jam to the French, they love a bit of jam but they’re too stupid to make their own jam because they’re foreign and French and smell. Pick fruit. Pick fruit to make jam. Take back control. Go and pick some fruit. Want a job? Tough. You can’t get one. There aren’t any left. Pick some fruit. Go and pick fruit for chuckles and buttons. Take an apprenticeship for nothing. Pick fruit. Be a fruit picking apprentice. Great British fruit picking apprenticeships, available now. Don’t want to pick fruit? You get nothing. You lose. Good day.

Look, it’s not our fault that your pension doesn’t exist, or, if it does exist, is going to be destroyed very soon. You can’t have one. You can’t have one because we’ve got them, and we’ve got a triple lock, because we’re special. We were born when we were born, and we deserve better things than you, and we bought our houses when there were jobs for life and we could afford them, so we deserve them, and you don’t, so you don’t get them. It’s not our fault if your parents weren’t born at the right time, or didn’t do as well as us, because we did, and if you didn’t, tough. Have a grammar school instead.

Well, not for you, obviously. Not for your children, probably, because you can’t afford the coaching and if you don’t have the right advantages, you’re not naturally ‘bright’ enough in the first place. But it’s fair because it’s social mobility. I mean there isn’t any evidence that they improve social mobility, but people want them, because they like to think their children are all above average intelligence and deserve it, and as we know, people get what they deserve, and if they don’t, they don’t deserve it, and that’s that. Have a grammar school.

Have a blue passport. Have a nice blue passport, like the good old days. Have a Blue Peter style competition to choose the design, although it’ll be the Queen, because what other way to remind you that some people deserve what they have and other people – worse people, people like you – don’t? Maybe we should get her a new yacht, to show how much she is loved, while everything else swirls around the toilet bowl, just to rub it in.

Because all you want is to get rid of the foreigns, you’ll do anything. You will accept any hardship. You will be worse off and you will like it. You will suffer and you will say thank you, like the serfs you are. You don’t want back those libraries we closed because we said that austerity was the only option, only we just realised – sorry! – that it wasn’t, but we can’t undo that now. The important thing was, we kept the right people wealthy and didn’t touch any of that. You might even get pounds and ounces back, if you play your cards right. And now our troops can torture and kill with impunity, just like the Good Old Days when the Empire ruled and grateful foreigners allowed us to ruin their countries. We certainly showed them – and now we don’t want them over here.

Enjoy your bright new future. Control back. Immigrants gone. Blue passports. Fruit picking. No jobs. No life. No benefits. No welfare. No libraries. No hope. But you can feel slightly warmer inside, knowing that for a few glorious minutes, we Took Back Control. We won.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on October 4, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Where does your nice bit ever be

Louis Theroux’s Jimmy Savile documentary last night on BBC2 provided a moment that jumped out of the television and grabbed you round the throat.

Speaking about her abuse at the hands of Savile and her own grandfather, survivor Sam explained why she tried to think about the happy times she had with her abuser. “Where does your nice bit ever be?” she asked, if everything was to be tainted by him. Childlike words, yet so articulate. Why allow the abuser to claim every memory?

“I never said to him, don’t, because I knew he could.”

You try to minimise things, at first. You try to imagine it might not have happened. You’re angry that it happened. Did it happen? Maybe it didn’t really happen. Maybe everything else was OK though. Up until that point, it was fine. Afterwards, it was fine. Maybe if you can just isolate that one event, it makes it fade. Maybe you should, because it means you own the memory, and not that other person, and maybe that’s how it should be.

That’s why the lady from Stoke Mandeville kept the Lego Savile head in her shed; it’s why she kept a discreet shrine to Jimmy on her Welsh dresser; it’s why the former PA said that she couldn’t believe the accusations. You do what you have to do to make yourself be able to live.

Theroux himself, up to that point painting himself as some kind of well-meaning idiot, one in a long line of people to have been “beguiled” by Savile, had been trying to look at why he had failed to spot that Savile was a predator, why so many people had failed to spot the signs.

Angrily, Sam said that Theroux had been “mugged off” in his documentary, and that he had been groomed himself by Savile. Theroux, in the moment, disagreed, but I don’t think he ought to have done. He was used by the abuser, not in the horrific way the other victims were, but used for a purpose. Savile saw something in him that he could use. I remember the first documentary coming out at the time, and the rumours I’m sure I’d already heard about Savile being a paedophile, an abuser, a dirty old man, whatever you want to call it.

Theroux was an enabler, of sorts, though only a minor player, a mediocre enabler of evil in the great scheme of things. Others knew about the accusations and suppressed them; other brave victims came forward, and were dismissed. Savile needed those enablers more.

And then, too, throughout the whole documentary, you had the sense that everyone was trying to confess. Theroux, despite his denials, was trying to confess to being an enabler of Savile. The victims who had come to him with a half-story, and another he met, who’d told a radio station half a story about meeting Sir Jimmy – up to the point where he’d committed a sexual crime – had wanted to confess. Savile himself was always trying to confess to what he was. Leave anyone talking for long enough and they will tell you; you just have to try and see what they’re saying, through all the words.

True, it’s easy to look back and see it as more obvious than it was, but to some people it was obvious. Some people were vocal, and were ignored or dismissed. Some people were overwhelmed by power, which was created by others who enabled the abuser to commit his crimes. It’s those voices you have to listen to, even if they aren’t telling you something you want to hear.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 3, 2016 in Uncategorized