The appointment – I

I arrive early at the hospital unit, half an hour early. I’d taken the train, walked to the offices, worrying I’d be late. The building was nondescript, a bungalow amidst other bungalows. There’s a security intercom. I buzz, give my name, and the door clicks open.

There is no one about when I get inside. Three empty plastic chairs, the sort of chairs you get in secondary school classrooms, are in the hall. I sit nearest the door, take out a book, wait to be seen, conscious of the clock on the wall opposite. I hear every movement of the second hand.

After a few minutes people walk past, carrying bags or files. There are nods, murmurs. I read the same sentence three times. Awkward. Not going in. Names merging one into another. I turn back to the start of the chapter.

And I hear every movement of the second hand.

Someone else comes in, a woman, younger than me, brown haired. She smiles. I mouth a hello. She is seen within minutes, leaves about ten minutes later.

I sit.

Every movement of the second hand.

Then my name.

– Hi, would you like to come through now?

Her office is large, computer on her desk, next to the keyboard an A4 notepad, narrow feint. Her chair is set at a height that looks uncomfortable. She perches. Fidgets in between writing notes.

I sit in a chair with is back to the window. I cross my legs, tuck my foot behind my calf, and fold arms.

– Sorry.

She looks. Makes a note

– I have the referral from your GP here. It was

She looks at the letter clipped in the file.

– ah. Ten months. Oh. I’m sorry there’s been such a delay. We’ve had, mmm, staffing issues. Some retirements. Lack of legacy planning. You know?

I nod. I know. It’s familiar. Such things happen across offices, across sectors.

– Are you off at the moment?

I nod.

– Three weeks past. I’d kept going and kept going but I was struggling. Things that had been fine became difficult.

She makes a note.

– Overwhelming.

She looks at me. I glance to the door, edge down in the chair, arms folded tighter.

– We can go through the things your doctor, Doctor

She looks at the letter clipped in the file, reads the name aloud.

– We can go through the things he identified. Of course with the time some things might have. Anyway, I can ask you questions or you can talk, tell me in your own words how things are, how you got to here. We’ll cover everything either way, so it’s for you really. Which do you?

Which do I?

– I’ve been in counselling for around twelve sessions. Could I?

She writes a note, gestures.

– It started last year. I was on a train. The GP described it. Well, it seemed too dramatic. I thought it was too dramatic. Too strong. But as it’s gone on, I think he was maybe right. Maybe it was. But the word suggested something explosive, a bang.




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It is about power.

It is about asserting that power and making the person the power is asserted against feel weak, whether that weakness is physical or emotional.

And the attacker, the (let’s call him what he is) abuser, he (and it’s almost always a he) knows that the person abused may not, often will not, tell because they are ashamed, or guilty that they didn’t, couldn’t, stop it – no matter how old they are – or fear that they may not be believed, or fear that by talking they may damage their career, that possible futures,  may vanish, or fear that awareness of the abuse will hurt those close to them, or fear that by telling they will relive the ordeal, that by telling there are some who will take the opportunity to define them by what happened.

And if the person abused does not speak is it their fault? Are they responsible for everything after? Those who are quick to blame the person abused for their understandable silence appear oblivious to the existing guilt, the trauma, the way they live with the incident for months, for years afterwards.

And those moments of asserting power, those moments of violation, of violence are gone quickly. Does the abuser lie awake at night remembering? Does he lie awake revisiting the moment?




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National poetry day

There came a point where you reached a stage of self-awareness as you read the poetry that you scribbled on A4 narrow feint lined notepads, the words spidering halfway along each line, those words scrawled in the half light, those words attempting to translate the sharply felt anxieties of the teenage crush, that crippling moment of being tongue tied when the object of your adoration bumped into you in the corridor, the realisation that the boy in the year above with the earring and the place in the school football team was kissing her in the doorway of the newsagents as you walked home. The clumsy rhymes and tone deaf experiments with meter gave way to free verse that was simply chopped up sentences, with arbitrarily placed line endings. And did the occasional allusion really add anything? Pretentious? Moi? It was no ode to a nightingale. It was not even the song of a crow. You know that the emotions are real, that the attempt to convey the emotions was sincere enough, but it was not good. You know that because you read the good stuff, the hard stuff – the irritatingly printed collecteds (two or three poems to a page – no space to breathe, not enough whiteness of paper to let you think) and the Chatto and Windus and Faber hardbacks gathered in the school library from the 50s not just the starter kits passed round in the class room. Sure you’d had a quick taste of Larkin or MacCaig, but eventually that wasn’t enough. You had to go to the special room in the library, eventually that secret section of the bookshop where customers waited until no-one else is there and took the books off the shelf and flicked them open, standing still as they read, hearing the silent music. You’d read the artists, those who expressed a thought or feeling you’d had in a way that explained to you, and others, what you thought, what you felt. Images stuck with you. Lines. Stanzas. And reading the good stuff you knew that what you wrote failed those tests. But you knew, you still know that what you read touches you, takes your heart elsewhere, and with the work you loved, you still love, best you empathised, and understood yourself a little better. You shared Nina Cassian’s rejections, and the broken love affairs. You felt the numbness of the depression as Plath came across the sheep in the fog. You’re on the plane with Walcott coming into land. All those years ago when your teacher urged you (as gently as you can be urged) to stick to short stories and fiction you (occasionally) ignored him. You wrote poems sometimes, self-indulgent – your wife, years later, calls them. They’re still not good. You’re still aping the styles of those you love. But you kept, keep, reading. And you would have a less rich, a less full life without the poets.

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She gives you a pad of paper.

– There’s a pen if you

You have your own. The ink flows easier from your rollerball.

– We’ve discussed writing.

You’re half listening now. You know. You’d tried. Sat down and tried. Have spent years sitting down trying to write. On trains. In cafes. In libraries. Last time you sat was at the weekend, the cursor flashing on a white screen. Single sentences. Sometimes just individual words. That’s all you’ve managed.

You take the pen. You begin. Sentences are short, clipped. It reads like a police report. All in the past tense. Distancing yourself. Until halfway down the page it becomes present tense, and you smell the smells, that sharp stench, and the hairs on your arm prickle as your breathing speeds and you slowly try to take control of it. Counting. Breathing out for twice as long as you breathe in. You fidget, you feel tears on your cheeks.

Present tense.

The sentences break down. Lose grammar. No structure. Eventually your writing spiders across the page. Individual words. Just words. Full stops.

“I hate”

Three, four times.

“I hate”

New line.

“I hate”

You look at the shape of the words on the page, don’t reread. Two long paragraphs. Now, single sentences occupying only a third of a line and you see the structure of each. Questions.

“Why” did this?

“Why” did that?

“Why me?”


You stop writing.

I start to cry.

For you, then.

For you.

For me.

I cry.

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The Spielvogel moment

and so twenty minutes or so into our sixth meeting I said to her,

– I realise what I’ve been doing. I’ve been talking about not talking. When I’ve talked about her, and our weekly chats, and that night when I left after she… Well, after she trusted me so much

She nods.

– and about that year in that house, all of it. It’s been about not talking. About building up to talking and not being able to, because something happens, because someone says something, or it feels wrong, or because I can’t. Because I just can’t. … And it hit me. I was talking to my wife about this at the weekend and telling her that everything was about not talking, about not being able to talk. Everything. All of it. It’s all been about that. That I’ve spent weeks with you talking about not talking. About distraction. Circling it. I realised. And I’m good at it. It’s well practised. I’ve spent years not talking, about learning how not to talk. About avoiding conversations. I mean people know. You know. But it’s just enough, just enough when people need to know, when it’s unavoidable. And I don’t talk, and I can digress and divert and not talk for ages. It’s a skill. An art. I do it exceptionally well. I’ve had to. I’ve had to. To not talk.

I turn away from the corner of the room I had been focusing on and face her and she nods again, and she tells me she had wondered how long it would take me to realise that.

And I know then that this is the Dr Spielvogel moment. That from now we may perhaps to begin.


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Talking again

You ramble.

You know what you want to say but you ramble, avoid it.

Talking is difficult. Talking about talking is difficult. It is hard work. And so you distract.

A bit about work, about now, about the past. And your eyes flick left and right. And you ridicule the stages of familiarity, those desperate days, student days, where conversations moved from where you went to school, to what subjects you studied, to favourite books, and favourite films. You sneer. The innocence of freshers week: the notion that a friendship can be built on happening to like the same book, happening to like the same film.

No one liked your favourite film. Pretentious? Moi? You know. You know the scene. Humiliated he left for home, ran the sink, and

And she questions. Gently. Sometimes repeating you. Sometimes not. And you stop looking at her. And your eyes flick left, flick right. And still. And you look at the corner of the room. Unoccupied. No seat. No table. A bare wall.

And you are elsewhere.

You recognised her, eventually. Brown coat. She was wearing a light brown coat – nearly knee length. And you bumped into each other crossing the road. And soon after you stammered that you were hating it, that you couldn’t stay, that you would give up. And she?

You start to stammer. Odd. Now infected by then. Time bleeds. You stammer. You have started to stammer.

Slow down.

“I knew her, a little. We’d talked. A little. Sports day. We’d both avoided it. And we’d talked.”

Yes, two years before you’d told her about him dying, and about the crash, and about the hills, and the windows, and the trees. And you’d talked. And so when you bumped into her, literally bumped into her, hand waving apologies gave way to the awkward exclamations of not quite familiarity, names asked as questions. And then affirmation, recognition, and soon, so soon, picking up a conversation from two years before.

And she?

“She saved me”

You don’t look. You don’t want to see the reaction.

But one night a week became something to look forward to. A meal. Something when you weren’t eating. She knew. Eventually you tell her but she knew you were not eating. Had you lost that much weight? Or was it the demeanour, the mournful demeanour?

“That’s a strong statement.”

“She did.”

She did. In retrospect you know she did. She persuaded you to stay.  And you’d talk. And you’d share stories of lives and loves, or the lack of loves. And talking became important. Some nights you’d stay late, catch the late bus – trapped in a crowd of blue haired women clutching handbags exiting the bingo hall. Some nights later still, needing a taxi. But you didn’t mind the expense because talking mattered.

And you start to talk about talking, and your eyes prickle, the sharp heat of tears, and the words stop, and you’re truly, madly, deeply in full Juliet Stevenson mode – reach for the handkerchief and

in her kitchen you are ready to trust someone more than you have trusted anyone when she tells you there is something she needs to tell you and you listen and you know she trusted you and you want to hug her and tell her that everything will be okay and that it changes nothing but you don’t move and you don’t speak and you sit not knowing what to do with your hands and

Through tears you stumble out, “She told me”

And you didn’t move. You sat there. You sat there, silent. Not knowing what to do with your hands. She trusted you and you sat there. You didn’t move.

And you sit silent. You look at the wall. You don’t move.


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She sits in front of the window.
She always sits in front of the window.
The curtains are open, and while the entrance to the gravel driveway leading to the building sits on a main road the view from the window is of the large hedge which shields the garden and the grounds.
She sits in front of the window, her back to it, a small table with files and papers to her right.
You had a choice of two chairs. One is in the corner of the room, diagonally across from her chair. You do not sit there. Instead you sit by the wall, between you and her a small coffee table, leaflets on it, black leaflets with bold white type. You use the top one as a coaster, so the cup of tea, strong and made in the cup, does not mark the table. There is a box of tissues. There is always a box of tissues.
You talk.
Between the silences you talk.
Between the silences, those moments where you are present but no longer in the room, smelling the kerosene, the stench, the sweat stained stench, of alcohol, hearing the whispered voices, seeing the windows, the orange sheets on the hill, the mirror, you talk. You sit there and talk. She can tell when you’re not there, sometimes lets it go. Sometimes she asks. But you don’t have to answer. Most of the time, just now, it is easier not to answer.
You don’t always mean to end up where you end up. After a couple of weeks you realised that preparing and thinking about what you are going to talk about did not necessarily help. You’d guessed you would be in the kitchen – looking out of the back window at the tree, at the house, that window, but you couldn’t tell that you’d be in a garden, grass taller than you, the hand opening to reveal a frog, a vibrant green frog. And you worry that that matters, that these routes, these detours to avoid, that she can tell, that she knows, that she is working out what it means, that she is doing this with every word, with every gesture. And so every time you become conscious that you slip from “I” to “you” you note it. You tell her.
She makes a note.
“We’ll come back to that”.
You nod. You will.
You will come back to it.
I will come back to it.
I will come back.


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EXCLUSIVE: No actual leak measures up to the ideal leak for which I yearn

It’s the middle of the night (again) and I’m back into bed from a relaxing leak. I’m not prepared to say which leak of the night because the problems between bearded Booker prize winning novelists and their prostates are not for everyone to follow on the Instagram or the tumblr. I am still trying to decide whether I have broken my jinx with leaks and enjoyed myself. I think I probably haven’t. On the plus side, I didn’t, sleepy-eyed, drop my phone into the bowl this time. But I was, again, woken in the early hours by the urge. At this age the flow doesn’t come sweeping every day like Niagara from the mountains. And as I’m not on holiday I didn’t have to listen to a twenty something leak bore telling everyone over breakfast how fast and uninterrupted his golden arch is.

So what was on the minus side? I suppose the leak itself. For some reason, no actual leak I take ever measures up to the ideal platonic leak for which I yearn. This could be because of a fleetingly beautiful leak I had as a child. We were just driving by. My father never liked stopping the car, but some way from a service station and in a relatively deserted part of Manchester, at my insistence he did – just long enough for me to hide among the bushes, quickly go, and come skipping back to the car. It seemed a vast leak to me, ending far, far away and whispering the impossible relief that only the other side of a leak can promise.

A leak in the bushes proves the leaker’s prowess, but also somehow bears his hopes, and is more suggestive to me than any leak cast carelessly over the boat side into the sea. A leak is more mysterious than the ocean. Think how fascinating the idea of a leak monster is. One of those insects you read about that swims up the flow and embeds itself in you. Scares the willies out of me, I’ll tell you. There are doubtless far stranger and more menacing things under the sea, but the sea is not our business as a leak is (in more ways than one!). What’s in a leak is mysteriously still part of us.

Say “leak”, and down in our unconscious something stirs. But what? I’m still trying to find out. And with this prostate I’ll tell you it doesn’t always make for a successful sleep.

Will this do? Who do I invoice? Can I go back to writing novels now?

[syndicated to The Guardian and all newspapers publishing Booker prize winning novelists]

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Desert Island Discs – IV

“…and your fourth record?”

I could check when the radio repeats took place, but it feels like cheating. I’d heard Hancock before but I’m not sure how or when. There had been cassettes at the library I’m sure, the old BBC logo on the cover. And there were some repeats on the television in the early evening. Prime time black and white repeats. Of course it wasn’t unusual to encounter black and white broadcasts at the time. There was Bilko, of course. And Channel 4 had showed the Beverly Hillbillies and I Love Lucy and The Munsters when it started, and in my head they were all in black and white. I loved Bilko. The careful construction. The characterisation. And Silvers. Oh, Phil Silvers. So sharp, so quick, never looking out of control. Even in The Court Martial as poor Private Harry Speakup is drummed out of the army Silvers improvises around the chimp reaching for the phone. Unflustered, masterly. I bought my granny a compilation of Bilko episodes, and never saw her laugh as much as she did when the chimp was making his way through the various tests before being sworn in. She laughed and laughed until tears left trails on her cheeks. Thinking about these shows sends me down youtube trails where I end up in old American What’s my line episodes, skipping from blindfolded guess the celebrity round to blindfolder guess the celebrity round.  And there were black and white films on regularly. Every Friday night used to have an old Rathbone Sherlock Holmes or a Charlie Chan film, and Laurel and Hardy and Harold Lloyd regularly appeared in the holiday schedules. And Christmas wasn’t Christmas without the BBC2 presents of RKO movie seasons and another late night view of Cat People. I can’t remember what was in the black and white repeats but remember picking up VHS recordings of The Missing Page, The Lift, and The Blood Donor. And after catching the radio repeats one Christmas – starting with, of all things, The TV set – not one of the great episodes, and not with the perfect radio cast (Griselda Pugh in the person of Hattie Jacques was some way off at that point) – I went out and started looking for Hancock audio cassettes, and years later the CD box sets of the radio series. There is something special about the radio series. It is perfectly cast – Hancock’s delivery and pauses are a joy but Sid James and Bill Kerr were my favourites: the wide boy and the hopelessly naïve colonial. And Hattie Jacques is imperious – businesslike, flirtatious, a counterweight to the others. And of course Kenneth Williams through snide voice or others.  And the writing is wonderful. One liners built from character or situation, characters so well defined, so well inhabited, that even sighs can generate laughs. I could have picked a number of episodes. I love the pretension of Hancock (anticipating The Rebel) in The Poetry Society, Fred’s pie stall, the guest appearance of James Robertson Justice in Last of the McHancocks, Hancock’s retreat from society and Sid’s cash in in the Wild Man of the Woods, and the perfection of Sunday afternoon at home. But I’d choose the episode I listened to more than any other, a TV episode. I’ve bought Twelve Angry Men in various formats, repackaged and rebundled. As a single cassette with The Lift, as part of the Hancock’s Half Hour 3 double cassette, on VHS, on DVD in the single series, and then in the box set, and latterly in MP3 form. I love each part – the courtroom sequence, the toing and froing with the judge with Sid egging Hancock on, the jury scenes with Sid’s vote switch, Hancock’s speech, the slow act of persuading the jurors to change their votes, and Hancock’s final switch back. “Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you?” The Corsican brothers comparison “and I say we’ve got the good one”. “He said he thought they were teddy boys”. On and on. I still laugh through it, waiting for each pause, the slight stumble (deliberate or accidental?) between wife and life. Few half hours have given me more pleasure. And so my fourth choice – Hancock’s Half Hour: Twelve Angry Men





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Thought for the day

Earlier today while I was still crying after telling the stranger I had first met twenty five minutes before about the bodies as I sat in the room and felt myself simultaneously elsewhere hearing and smelling and seeing the covered stretchers in the neighbouring garden, and the body in the tree at the foot of the garden, and the occupied airline seat, arm lolling by its right, in the window at the rear of the property, and the orange blankets dotted around the hillside I was glad to reflect on the words of Piers Morgan and be reassured that as I have no military background and am just some normal punter I clearly can’t be suffering from any form of that over diagnosed post traumatic stress disorder.

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Desert Island Discs – III

“…and your third record?”

Some people think I don’t like music. That’s not quite true. I listen to it, occasionally. But it is not central to my life in the way it is for others. I can go for weeks, sometimes months, without going out of my way to listen to it. But then there are a few days where I’m working to the accompaniment of an orchestra or band or solo instrumentalist (background accompaniment – usually familiar enough from days past that I don’t notice it). And then weeks more can pass with no desperate need to hear a tune. And as it’s not important to me I don’t know much about it, have huge blind spots. So bands and songs can be mentioned by my wife, or by friends, and I have no idea who they are. My wife likes Aztec this and Deacon that and the band names can be uttered and she can sing or play the songs with increasing frustration as I shrug my shoulders and offer no glint of familiarity. Other things stick in the mind. For example, I worked in a clothing factory one summer holiday, in a fish processing plant another, and in both cases was exposed to the Radio 1 playlist for the summer which played through every room from clocking in to clocking off.

In growing up there was never the urge to go to concerts. I went to the theatre a few times, and when I ended up doing my degree in Edinburgh spent time going to watch stand up comedy. But the first live music I went to see (through choice – by which I mean, not the desperate attempts to avoid pipe bands during my home town’s local gala festivities) was an opera. I’d heard James MacMillan’s Confession of Isobel Gowdie in the proms one year and saw that he had an opera (Ines de Castro) playing at the Festival theatre. My then flatmate and I got tickets, went along to watch. Among the first people we met was one of our former lecturers. He looked askance.

“What are you doing here?”

We explained, unnecessarily, that we were there to see the opera.

“Are you sure?”

We exchanged looks.

“It will be very difficult.”

I enjoyed it. Without any expectations or prior experiences the experience was visceral. The tuning of the orchestra gave a tension.

I saw a few operas – La Traviata, Die Zauberflote (you know? the one with the songs offof Amadeus), and Aida (oh poor poor Aida, a bizarre version which at one point involved some very strange goings on with car parts being transported across the stage for reasons that were not immediately apparent, and on reflection suggest that somebody had spiked my lemonade).

And as I stayed in Edinburgh over festival times ended up going to the jazz festival a few times. I saw Humphrey Lyttleton and his band, Tommy Smith with a jazz orchestra in a tribute to Gil Evans, and Jacques Loussier and his trio (an evening where each improvised piece of Bach (and that night Vivaldi) was greeted with a short red jerseyed man leaping to his feet arms aloft as if he’d scored a late winner at Hampden).

And out of festival time I saw Jan Garbarek and his quartet a couple of times, and Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Jazz Center Orchestra. Each of the names was familiar from my CD collection. Marsalis was an entertainer – engaging the audience, introducing the band, and the tunes. Garbarek was austere. Silent apart from his tenor or soprano saxophone. He was leonine, his hair swept back from his forehead, his eyes slowly checking the hall, then back to watching his fellow musicians. His playing was exquisite, seemingly effortless despite the speed of some solos. I could not work out how his fingers moved that quickly, couldn’t work out when he was taking a breath. For someone with a reputation as austere, as cold, his music had a passion driven on by Marilyn Mazur his percussionist – who moved with every sound. Her performance was physical. Compelling. Arms flexing. She was like a boxer, or a black belt martial artist. Seeming to use all of her weight with each punch of the drums.

I have a few albums by that quartet but the two performances from that night that stand out were Witchi-tai-to and Her Wild Ways. The latter was a showpiece for Garbarek and Mazur. Unfortunately, there are no live albums of the Garbarek/Mazur/Weber/Bruninghaus quartet. But when I hear the Rites And Twelve Moons albums I am reminded of the two nights seeing them.

So my third choice: Jan Garbarek group, “Her wild ways” from the Rites album.

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Desert Island Discs – II

“…and your second record?”

I wasn’t planning to choose this, but thinking about the first choice sent me towards this.

At school I worked on Saturdays and one or two nights a week in a small shop. Weekends were spent marking time by noting the visits of the little old lady from round the corner who arrived three or four times daily for quarter bottles of vodka. Each purchase was apologetic, her voice cigarette cracked. “Sorry son, I’ve had visitors and need to get something in”.

The work was not difficult: stacking shelves, changing prices, arranging orders, serving on meat or fruit and veg counters or at the checkout. And people were, for the most part, friendly. When stacking shelves I had to move packaging from a store at the rear of the shop, and move the detritus – cardboard boxes, packing cases, and trolleys into a store at the side of the shop topped by a clear plastic roof which gave it the feel of a greenhouse.

I had finished school. And in that final year had achieved things what seemed a lifetime (three or four years) had been spent striving for. But achievement was disappointing. I remember the emptiness in the car journey following one success. Was that it? Was this what we’d got so worked up about? I sat in the front seat, my one vivid memory of the day an animal carcass on the road. Its ribcage framed by meat, blood red, leered. When I got home I headed straight for my room. Cried.

I had a university place. I was biding time, trying to build some money up for the months ahead. And so I increased my hours at the shop, having worked intensely at school to do as well as I could.

I grew tired easily, drained. I was flat. Simple things took an age. And then one night I couldn’t read. Concentration gone. Letters would dance on the page – I knew they were meant to make up words, and that words were meant to make up sentences, and that sentences were meant to make up paragraphs, but the letters moved. They would not stay still. I panicked. Reading was my being. Being unable to read, unable to write, would leave me as nothing, as no-one. I was heading for a degree in law where I expected to read a lot and I had forgotten how to do it.

The next day at work I collapsed.

I was in the store in the side of the shop. It was a sunny day. The plastic roof, the clear plastic roof, did its job. The room was hot. I was taking apart boxes, folding them to force into the giant bins. And then I wasn’t.

One of the women who worked there had noticed I’d not been on the shop floor. She brought me round with some water. I went home.

A few days later I was diagnosed with a post viral illness. I was not to go back to work that summer.

Ordinarily, having time meant a space to read. But I couldn’t. The words had stopped dancing but I couldn’t concentrate. I read and reread pages, forgot the top of the page by the time I got to the bottom.


So I hid. Day after day I hid.

I could feel nothing.

I could do nothing.

I was worth nothing.

I wanted to be better, and to be better I wanted to feel. I would mark myself with a pair of compasses, needles, one night a blade.

I could not feel.

I could not


I was in my room a lot. My mum would come in trying to cajole me into life. I lay there. Flat. I kept the radio on a lot during those days. I worked through the channels. Lots of Radio 4, Radio 2 for the sport. And I ended up on radio 3.

In my head I associate getting better with the Proms, but it may be that if I checked the schedules I would find that the relevant thing was on in the middle of the day, or late at night.

It was the first time I had heard the Rite of Spring. The presenter spoke about the opening night. And the music started. And as it went on I felt every drum beat. They reverberated through me. I could feel the drum beats in my heart.

And I wanted to live.

So my second record? My second record is Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

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Desert Island Discs – I

The Desert Island Discs list: plenty of us have one, ready to go, just in case the call arrives, “We’ve run out of celebrities, and famous scientists, and diplomats, and broadcasters, and authors, and artists, and musicians, and most of the nonentities have had a go already, and following the introduction of a lottery system based on close scrutiny of the electoral roll we’re delighted to say that you [insert name here], yes you have been selected as the next castaway on desert island discs.” And so lots of us have a list, a putative list, comprising records we love or that remind us of certain things and certain people and certain events.

And then you start thinking about it, about trying to explain the choices and suddenly feelings kick in other than sheer enjoyment – sentiment, love even.

I started writing a variant on this some time ago, my list a series of audio dramas and comedies with a couple of pieces of music primarily because that’s what I listen to, and yet trying to explain I found other pieces shifting to the front of the list – pieces with stories, pieces accompanied by the gentle melody of memories. And so this list, the list that follows, is no longer the eight favourite pieces it was originally intended to be. It’s more and it’s longer than it was meant to be – so it’ll be a bit spread out over a few posts.

“…and your first record please?”

Well Kirsty, we didn’t have many records in my house when I was growing up. My mum and dad had a collection of Christmas albums – Andy Williams, Perry Como, Mario Lanza – and an eclectic range of other records. There were the soundtracks for various musicals (South Pacific and the King and I) and some Scottish ceilidh music (light on the fiddles, they weren’t keen on fiddles). But they weren’t played, at least not as I remember it. Perhaps when we children went to bed the strains of “Shall we dance?” reverberated around the living room. But the only records that I recall being played in the house were the Christmas records for a period of a few weeks annually, coming to an end on twelfth night.

So music was not something that I heard much in the house, and when I remember growing up I don’t remember music. But what I do remember is listening to comedy shows. The local library in my home town had various cassettes from comedies. There was a Yes Minister cassette, both series of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Not the Nine O’clock News, Hancock, The Goons. As time went on I bought each of these, but in those teenage days I recorded them – a bulky tape to tape radio cassette recorder sat fat and squat on my window ledge. I played some of them so much the tape was chewed up by the cassette player, a pencil of just the right diameter sat on the window ledge in an Argentina World Cup 1978 pink glass ready for recovery procedures.

I’d remembered my mum and dad watching Not the Nine O’clock News when I was in bed in primary school – laughter coming from the room beneath my bedroom. I am not sure on first listening whether I understood the political content, but the National Wealth Service bidding for the hospital bed, the General Synod’s Life of Monty Python, Gerald the gorilla, the trucking song, the Moseley song these things made me laugh – even when I had no idea what was being satirised, what songs or song styles were being parodied. And I learned the scripts, practised them, tried to get the voices right, tried – most important – to understand the spaces, the beat in the delivery that converted a line that made you smile into a line that made you laugh. The first choice then takes me back to those years: the Not the Nine o’clock News album, Kirsty. And I’d like to hear Gerald the Gorilla from that.

“..and your second record?”

Another time, Kirsty. Soon, but another time.

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The questionnaire


35 – 44







Yes, in January


Although recommended by the GP no







Yes, 20





The aftermath of the disaster



Once, 20 years ago.

Not since

No No No No Yes No



Yes, not eating







I am not sure

Phone or email

She does

They don’t



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It’s an old house, big, looming behind a large hedge, at the end of a gravel drive. Each footstep crunches. A shadow appears behind the door, opening it as I reach for the doorbell.

We exchange introductions. She knows my name, of course. I sign in, and I am shown into a waiting room, containing two sofas, tables, but no magazines. I can’t sit. I pace around looking at the leaflets, the press cuttings pinned to the noticeboard. I’ve been offered a drink. And there’s a water cooler.

But I can’t drink. I feel sick. It’s been a rush. A phone message two days ago suggesting there might be available appointments, a call yesterday arranging one for tonight. Tonight. Too much of a rush. I’m not ready.

There is a large plastic box containing toys on the ground. Dolls.

I’m not ready. I’m not


I turn round. A door with “Staff. Private” closes behind her.

“We’re upstairs.”

I follow her to the meeting room. There is a table with four chairs.

“Where would you like me to?”

“You choose.”

Is it a test? One chair has its back to the door. I’m not sitting there. I want to see the door. I need to see the door.

I sit.

She sits opposite me, takes out forms briefly explains that she will outline the terms of the confidentiality of the meetings, and the limits of that confidentiality.

It’s familiar. And reasonable. And I look around the room.

I’m not ready. I’m not

I can feel her looking at me

“and just some preliminary questions so we can ensure you have the appropriate support. And of course we have to do a risk assessment so I apologise if some of the questions are intrusive.”

I’m not ready.

“I can ask you them, they’re quite tick box. They won’t take long. Or you could just tell me why you’re here, what you’re hoping for from this.”

Well, I want to be



“So, would you prefer me to ask the questions or just to talk?”

I nod.


I nod.

She lifts her pen.

I look to the door, reach down and grasp my calf.

She is staring at me. I can feel her staring at me.

“I. Well, I want to be well.”

“Okay. So, let’s begin.”




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Of IPGL, conspiracies and conspirators: the mysterious case of the letter to the Electoral Commission

Over the past couple of days on the twitter following the publication of a letter to the electoral commission by former MP and current candidate, Roger Mullin, the tag #torydirtymoney has been appearing in tweets. Despite being debunked by BUzzfeed’s James Ball, and being dismissed by the electoral commission, the tag has a life of its own, and stories continue to be circulated on various websites and by tweeters and by politicians and journalists who should know better (including sophisticated electoral gadget operator Jeremy Vine, and TV’s Robert Peston from Peston on Sunday with TV’s Robert Peston)

The basis of Mullin’s complaint is first, HSBC loaned money to a company known as IPGL Ltd which was, according to Mr Mullin, “in some financial distress”; and second, the money was (in the words of Mr Mullin) “Laundered” into COnservative party donations. Among other things Mr Mullin suggests HSBC should have notified donations made by its borrower to the electoral commission.

The financial position of IPGL Ltd is dealt with by James Ball in his Buzzfeed piece, and can be checked with a review of the IPGL accounts. This was not a company in “distress”. The 2008 accounts and 2009 accounts show the company made a loss in each year. But, with plenty of collateral available (the company had over £1/4 billion of net assets) the company reported that it consolidated various existing HSBC debts into a £200 million loan with HSBC in October 2008 and arranged a repayment schedule through to 2011. The debts were being repaid (and total indebtedness to HSBC being substantially reduced), while the donations (amounting to just over £1million over the two financial years to 2008 and 2009) were made. As James Ball notes, the company returned to profit in 2010 and remains trading today. For a company in financial distress (as suggested by Mr Mullin) that’s a very quick recovery – particularly when the company was paying back tens of millions of pounds of debt. Perhaps then the reality is that the premise of Mr Mullin’s complaint is flawed. There is no indication the company was in financial distress. A group of companies, containing investment companies, made an operating loss at the height of the global crash. This is not a surprise. It happened to lots of businesses. And it happened to lots of businesses that subsequently recovered. There is no story here. The continued propagation of it seems conspiratorial. One would have expected a journalist of Robert Peston’s experience in financial and business journalism to have carried out basic checks of the accounts before sharing a story which seems to have a flawed foundation.

Disregarding this though the other basis of Mr Mullin’s complaint is itself startling. He appears to argue (and my apologies if I am misrepresenting him) that somehow HSBC retains responsibility for the way in which the money loaned to IPGL Ltd is used. This seems to be the only basis for his argument that HSBC had to report the donations made by its borrower to the Electoral commission. To a property lawyer this analysis is bizarre.

Consider the following situation. Bank X lends money to A. The money loaned becomes the property of A. As A’s property, A has the power to use and to enjoy the property as A wishes. Bank X has a right against A to get the money paid back. But short of express provision in the loan agreement Bank X is not responsible in any way for what A does with the money. The “money” is no longer Bank X’s property. Bank X has no ongoing property interest in it (unless provided expressly – in Scotland this would not be possible). So if A borrows money for a specific purpose and uses it for a different purpose the bank will only have a remedy against A as an express term of the contract. And that remedy will be to demand repayment of the loan – the bank cannot simply assert that it still owns the money previously handed over. Similarly, if A goes and buys drugs Bank X has no responsibility for that purchase. The police will not come knocking on the door of Bank X to arrest the directors under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Why then, accepting the logic of Mr Mullin’s argument, would Bank X incur liability to the Electoral Commission? If Bank X is not a shadow director (whereby the debtor company is used to acting in accordance with their instructions) Bank X has no responsibility. Creditors do not generally have liability for the actions of their borrowers.

A review of a basic student book on banking law, Ellinger’s Modern Banking law, ch 17, sees a discussion of instances where lenders incur liability. These include negligent advice by the bank to the borrower, the bank bringing a loan facility to an end too early, the bank incurring liability as a shadow director because it tells the borrower what to do, and environmental cases – where banks can incur liability if it causes or permits pollution or enforces a security and takes possession of the property. The environmental liability arises expressly in statute. If the statute was silent there would be no liability because the default position is the lender is not responsible for the actions of the debtor.

Mr Mullin’s letter proceeds on two assumptions: (a) IPGL Ltd was in financial distress; and (b) that HSBC has responsibility for what the borrower, IPGL LTd, does with the money loaned. Unfortunately for the conspirators IPGL LTd was not in financial distress; and HSBC has no responsibility for the actions of its debtor.

If people are wanting to look at issues regarding expenses in political contexts there are a variety of other stories that can be looked at. But this story is a non-story.


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Reflections on today’s earth shattering news from Downing Street.



















Stop playing short term tactical games and do your fucking jobs.

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The Modern Sisyphus

Turns out that the contemporary punishment of the gods is to force a large chunk of the population to vote over and over again in referendums they don’t want reducing complex questions to binary choices – neither of which adequately reflects their views – while politicians get paid flipping great wadges of cash to pass the buck to people thereafter interpreting the reductive binary choice in a way that bears no necessary relation to the motivations of the people who vote.



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a meditative reflection on the state of contemporary domestic politics

sod it.

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Why I am responsible for that bloke everyone is talking about

A long time ago I had no idea what the world wide internets was and so me and some mates had a look around for football manager jobs we could apply for using pseudonymous email addresses while we were chatting about things that had been on the television twenty or thirty years before and so after being shown on-line videos (which had just been invented by the youtube) we invented rec.arts forums and abusing people on the interwebs by using the insults based on old television characters.

Now of course back in my day rec.arts was an insult where I came from. If you went in to a pub and said to a man with a pint in front of him “rec.arts” he would have hit you as soon as look at you. But “rec.arts” it was, and the information about production dates for old episodes of Juliet Bravo, and updates on what happened to Joe Beck’s bike, always made the experience worthwhile.

Anyway, our time posting on these forums and entering arguments with strange Canadians convinced that all new programming in their preferred genre was funded by people from Canada certainly made us better writers as this post that you are reading now on this site proves. I mean look at it. See, how fluently I use sentences now. Admire my punctuation, the way I can slip easily from a long sentence using lots of clauses (and sub-clauses) before stopping. Producing a new sentence. Short. It takes years of writing on the rec.arts forums to be able to master an entire paragraph comprising one sentence. But those days certainly improved our writing style. Imagine how bad my writing was before that!

Anyway, in the heading to this whimsical look back at people that I have met and the early days of the internets of thing I mentioned the person that everyone is talking about. Well, he also contributed to the rec.arts. And he really honed his skills there by randomly sending abuse to people that he had never communicated with before on topics unrelated to the topic in the heading. Most people ignored him. But some responded including [insert name of celebrity people will have heard of. Fix this later lads].

And that abuse of [celebrity] led indirectly to Boaty McBoatface, the violent attacks in Sweden this past weekend, and the re-election of Robert Mugabe. And I feel responsible for that. Because if it hadn’t been for me and the rec.arts Juliet Bravo community abuse on the internet by narcissists would never have been invented.

But enough about him. Now that you’re here you will appreciate how valuable this blog is. And content as good as this can’t just be given away. For as little as 75 pence a week you could give me money and I could spend it on making my writing and this site even better. And if you want to give more then send me your bank details and I’ll withdraw an appropriate amount.

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