Monday, 31 October 2016

Under the bed...

There was something under the bed. I don’t think it was there when I was in a cot, but when I moved into my ‘big boy’s bed’ there was always something under it. Of course I was told not to be silly, but I knew that I wasn’t being silly at all. 
There was something under my bed and it was waiting to get me. I was as sure of this as I was that Father Christmas would tumble down the chimney on the 24th of December each year and sneak into my room. There was something under the bed. My bed.

At first the thing under the bed was Andy Pandy. I knew he was there even though I couldn’t hear his bells jingling. There he was in his blue and white striped costume with that blank expression and those glassy vacant eyes. Was he a clown? I didn’t think so, and the way he trapped Ted and Looby Lou into his basket each night made me wonder what he was doing to them in the dark. I used to cry myself to sleep hoping that he wouldn’t do the same things to me.

After a while Andy Pandy became the Wicked Queen in Walt Disney’s Snow White. She used to lie motionless, deadly silent and clutching a poison apple as she waited for me to fall asleep so that she could force it into my mouth and down my throat. Sometimes I used to wake up choking knowing that she was standing above me, her black horns making the shadows slither across my bed. Of course it was just a dream, but she’d be back the next night waiting under my bed for me to fall to sleep again. ‘This time, this time,’ she would whisper in my mind.

When I started going to Sunday school gentle Jesus meek and mild came to lie under my bed surrounded by rotting fishes and mouldy bread. He was bleeding from holes in his hands and feet, his head was scored by thorns and blood flowed from a deep wound in his side. I used to pray to him from the safety of the covers, hands clasped, praying that he didn’t answer me in the dark. He didn’t seem very meek and mild to me as he dripped blood onto my bedroom floor and performed miracles in the tomb beneath me. He stayed until my parents agreed that I needn’t go to Sunday school any more, mainly because since I’d been going I’d begun to wet the bed. Of course, it was the holy Jesus who pissed in my sheets - another miracle - and not me.

Over the years I knew lots of beds. Beds of girlfriends, beds of wives, beds of mistresses, hotel room beds; even a hospital bed for a while and every time there was something underneath them waiting for me. Maybe I was being the ‘silly’ of my childhood, but the progression of vampires, ghosts, monsters and zombies were always there and waiting for me to lower my guard so that they could come out and get me.

All the big stars were under my bed at one time or another: Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Christopher Lee with a stake through his heart, the creature from the Black Lagoon. Later it was Regan with her spinning head and green vomit, Pennywise with his slash of a smile, a black eyed Japanese child that looked like a blot; and there were others. Once I taped a couple of sticks together to make a cross as I absolutely knew that Nosferatu was patiently waiting among the dust bunnies on my bedroom floor. Even the decaying bath woman from the Overlook Hotel was a regular guest and would rot away under the bed in my room.

Over the years I must have had just about every evil and badness possible under my bed stalking and staking me out. Not once did they venture from under the springs whilst I was awake and not once did I have the courage to lean out and look at what was there. I just knew that something - some horrible thing - was beneath me and waiting. Even on the hottest nights I made it my habit to keep my feet and hands inside the covers just in case they reached out and pulled me down into whatever dark hell they came from. On top of my bed I was safe. Underneath was another story and not one with a happy ending.

All my life they’ve been there, night after night. I can’t remember a time without them. They’ve stayed with me long, long after Father Christmas went away. Sometimes – the really bad times - they’ve been actual people and not monsters from fiction at all. They were the real monsters, the bullies and teachers and bosses, even an ex-wife for a while. My father turned up every now and then, Adolph Hitler, Charles Manson, Myra Hindley, and once there was a suicide bomber strapped to the bed frame under my mattress. I convinced myself that I could hear his vest ticking, but of course none of them ever made a sound, not even a breath, but they were always palpable in the blackness of my room no matter where it was.

Then tonight it changed. Tonight, for the first time I heard it breathing. I can hear it gently wheezing away now. I don’t know what it is and of course I don’t want to look. Sleep is impossible as I listen to that quiet breath. What’s under there this time? Is it a werewolf or a porcelain faced doll, a bloated and bleached drowned child? Maybe it’s the corrupt remains of a zombie, or even a demon from Hell. ‘Don’t look, don’t look’, I tell myself. But the breathing goes on and on, not getting any louder but becoming more maddening with each breath in and each breath out.

‘Don’t look, don’t look, don’t look.’ I tell myself over and over. But of course I do, carefully leaning out, I do. I don’t know how or why I do this after all these years of hiding away from it. But carefully leaning out, I do. Maybe the breathing makes it more real, a living thing; or maybe it’s just that after all these years I’ve had enough and I need to know. Anyway, I shuffle myself to the edge of the bed, desperately clinging to the covers to stop me from falling, and I look beneath my bed for the first time that I can ever remember. It is dark in there, but I think that I can see something in the darkness.

And yes, there it is, this thing I have been so scared of all my life. It isn’t a vampire or Jesus or a ghost or a bloody mouthed clown, it’s not a livid corpse or a possessed child; it’s not anything like that at all. It isn’t even Andy Pandy. I look into the eyes of the thing hiding in the dark beneath the bed and I see what’s been haunting me for so long.

It’s me. It’s me under my bed. I am the monster that I’ve been scared of for all this time.

I begin to move, stiffly crawling out of the blackness and onto the bedside rug. I stand and carefully climb under the covers to lie quietly beside myself. It’s cold, but there’s nothing to be scared of; not any longer and I can’t hear that breathing any more. We are quiet.

Time to sleep.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

On immortality...

Not only do I spend a lot of time trying to work out who I am, I also spend a great deal of time trying to work out what I am. Of course I look at myself in the mirror and see my face and recognise myself. I have a body which I move around in and heart, lungs, and other organs that keep me alive. But is that who I really am?

If I let myself detach from my body then I know that whoever I am is really in my head. It isn’t my body, or my organs that makes me. They are collectively just the machine that allows me to move around and stay alive.

Although I understand that I wouldn’t exist without them and that it would be hard to paint, write down my thoughts, or play the drums (not that I do) without them. I also know that I’d never have got started on the road to me without their support because I was once not much at all. But is that really so important now that I have become me?

My senses are useful of course. They allow me to develop myself and I often wonder who I would be without sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. But I don’t believe I wouldn’t become me without them. I’d just be a different me and now, after all these years as myself, what more are my senses going to tell me? I know what wine and steak tastes like, how it is to feel hot and cold, I can recognise the smell of bread and blood, I feel the difference between rough and smooth and pain and pleasure, I can distinguish between traffic noise and music, even  hold blue and red and yellow and green inside my mind. What more of the physical me do I need? Perhaps its job is actually done and I have enough sensual data accumulated and really don’t need any more.

After thinking about it a lot I become increasingly sure that currently I am a small grey lump of mainly water residing inside my head. A rather sloppy me that my body has allowed to develop. I know this because I can feel myself inside there behind my eyes. I know this because my existence would not stop if I was moved out of this body and into another body, or even downloaded into a machine somehow. I would still be here. It would be different, but I (the real I) would still exist.

I’d look different, feel different, and if I was inside a machine I’d have to find new ways to get around and communicate, but I would still be me. It’s the electrical activity – my thoughts and memory banks, my knowledge and experience - that makes me who I am and not my legs or hands. It isn’t even my brain. My brain is simply another receptacle positioned inside my body where I reside currently.

I have come to the possible conclusion that I am basically, and inevitably, is simply electrical energy. And if that is the case I wonder if that is what that rumoured ‘soul’ is. And if that is the case then will that ‘soul’ energy remain after my body has crumbled and left me unsupported? And if that is the case will I need my brain forever in order to exist or can I exist outside of it?

It poses the question: am I actually immortal? I’m in no rush to find out, but maybe everlasting life isn’t such a ridiculous idea after all.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

A question of fish and birds...

Sometimes I wonder where my silly thoughts come from. It doesn't take much to set my mind galloping off into the distance. Today it was a feather which set my thoughts in motion to make this odd little poem thing. It was a compulsion. I had no choice in the matter. Perhaps it was the honking of the geese. Anyway, Make of it what you will, I have.

A question of fish and birds

I found a feather on the path,
Dark blue, run through with shimmering petrol.
A feather from a passing bird,
A creature that flies,
Not a fish.
It made me question:
Where is this bird now?
If I searched the skies could I find it?
Why did it leave me this feather?
Birds pose more questions than answers,
But the fish came first.
So where did the feather come from?

Monday, 17 October 2016


As an old friend of mine reminded me recently, 'we have all lost people', and yes I expect most of us have. The way people leave us shouldn't make any difference I guess, but somehow dying in your sleep at 100 doesn't seem as bad as having life snatched away in a senseless and needless accident.

I spent this morning at the coroner's court in Manchester. Not a good day for it as the court is in the Town Hall, and today is the day that our Olympic champions are welcomed home. The aim of the hearing was to determine if Joan, my mother in law, was killed as a result of being knocked over by a woman on a mobility scooter - as she claimed when the incident happened - or as a result of her falling and then lying about the collision as the hospital (Altrincham General) have claimed for months now.

Gaynor and I have had quite a time of it recently. Firstly there was the incident itself and the police investigation, followed by the news that as there is no legislation at all concerning mobility scooters and that there was nothing they could do. Then, just a few days after Joan's operation to fix the hip that was broken when she was knocked down, there was the massive stroke that followed, a long ten week semi-comatic demise, a month delay with the funeral whilst awaiting reports, the funeral itself, meetings with the hospital to discuss the 'investigation' they reluctantly undertook, and today - some eight and a half months since it happened - the inquest.

There was certainly a mobility scooter at the scene, although with no CCTV or witnesses who saw Joan being struck, it was Joan's word against theirs and of course Joan is no longer here to defend herself. Joan however had repeated her story to various members of hospital staff and to me by phone from the floor where she lay just minutes after she was knocked down. The police also indicated in their report that they believed the incident to have happened and this, along with the statements of several hospital and ambulance staff concerning what Joan told them at the scene of the incident should have been enough.

But it wasn't for the management of Altrincham General who claimed that the incident never happened and Joan just fell over and then imagined or lied about being hit by the mobility scooter.

Joan was only at the hospital for a routine hearing aid check. We'd seen her the day before and she was her usual self - a bit grumpy but able to do more than most eighty-six year olds could. That is the thing you see, the thing that won't leave me: there was nothing about to bring Joan down in the immediate future and then...

There have been times over the last few months when I have been so despondent I just wanted to give up. There have been other times when I have been so angry - not least of all by my inability to make a difference - that I have lost it completely and there have been more than a few times when I simply found myself crying

Even the fact that the hospital have eventually agreed to have CCTV on that area, have doors automatically open so that there would be no need for anyone to hold it open as Joan was doing when she was hit, to have patients on mobility scooters transferred to wheelchairs on admittance to the hospital, have their staff retrained in order to be able to deal with accidents (yes, in a hospital) and to make it clear that patients should not be allowed to bring dogs into the building because this woman had a dog on her scooter. Even after all of that it could not make up for the clear statement from the hospital that it never happened and the mobility scooter was incidental to the 'fall'. Either my mother in law was lying or deluded it would appear.

As you can probably tell I could go on for page after page with this. Well, I've been living it for months. But I won't. What I will say is the coroner looked at all the evidence, questioned all of those involved or at least had statements from them to hand, looked at photographs of the area the incident happened in and decided that on balance Joan WAS knocked down by the woman on a mobility scooter. The force of the collision pushed Joan forward causing her to fall to the ground and break her hip. This obviously led to her needing a hip operation despite the risk of coming off the blood thinning drugs she was taking, and it was this sequence of events that caused her to have the stroke that led to her death.

I never doubted Joan for a moment and despite someone getting away with almost murder without so much as a caution and the hospital trying extremely hard to cover it up, the coroner has recognised that my mother in law was telling the truth all along.

And that may have to do.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

I'm a poet...

Today is National Poetry Day, so today I've promised myself not to write any poetry at all; not a single stanza, not a line, not a single rhyme. How hard can it be? After all, I'm not a fully paid up member of the National Union of Poets am I?

Of course to really qualify as a poet you need to live in a remote cottage in the Lake District, suffer with consumption, have an addiction to opiates, and be in an ill-defined relationship with your own sister. Do all of this and you just might find yourself wandering lonely as a cloud, or at the very least being investigated by the police. But not me. I am a poetry free zone, at least for today.

Deep inside all of us I think we have an inner poet scribbling away in some dusty corner of our psyche. How many times have you had one of those ‘I’m a poet and I didn’t even know it’ moments? We’ve all come out with something like: ‘Don’t get the hump, but I’ve broken your bicycle pump’, or ‘I think I’ll pass. Go stick your egg custard up your arse’. Inadvertent poetry is just one of the risks we take every time we speak and who knows when (and with what) our inner poet will strike next?

Sometimes I think that my inner poet is messing with my mind. I often find myself constructing sentences which overly rhyme when I'd like to write something that doesn't rhyme at all. It's like living in a pantomime of rhyme; a curse in verse to be so coerced. It's perverse, subverse, I wish it could be reversed. I rehearse, but it only gets worse, and I get terse when the rhymes won't disperse. So instead, in them I immerse. Perhaps I need a nurse, maybe a hearse, before I drown in this rhyming universe.

Sadly I’m a pretty good rhymer, I’ve always had a bit of a talent for it and at school once won the junior poetry prize for a poem about macaroons. Of course said macaroons were all eaten by baboons under the light of the moon which looked like a balloon in June in Rangoon and was eaten with a spoon during a typhoon which was very opportune. But I still think it that I deserved the fountain pen which I received as a first prize.

By the way: I lost that pen, can’t remember when. I put it down, on a day out in town, and when I went to pick it up, couldn’t find it again.

Poetry, poetry everywhere and not a rhyme for it. No matter how hard I try I can’t find a single word to rhyme with the word 'poetry'. Oh, there are words that come close, but no actual rhymes. The closest I can think of is ‘coquetry’ which is a very fine word if you are a seventeenth century metaphysical poet, but not exactly ‘down with the hood’ to us latter-day wordsmiths. Yes, Poetry (leaving aside coquetry) seems globally, knowingly, potently, notably without rhyming potency and is totally, woefully, maybe unknowingly, without a decent rhyme… supposedly.

Anyway, although I'm not going to write any, why don't you write a couple of lines of poetry today? We all have at least a little poetry inside us, even if it does mean unleashing your inner poet to do his worse.

Happy National Poetry Day.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The autumn people...

As a boy I loved the change from summer to autumn. The lengthening of the nights and the winds that seemed to spring up from nowhere smelling of fried onions, rotting apples, the sea, damp earth. I'd walk home from school in the half light kicking at the dry brown leaves and trying to catch whatever music was in the air. Sometimes it was the cawing of a parliament of crows, other times the jingle of wind chimes. Once I heard the sound of a calliope machine, or it may have been a hurdy gurdy, in the distance. Either way it sent me into a cold shiver, the shadows suddenly seeming deeper and darker and I ran home as fast as I could. Autumn is the time of the autumn people you see, and you don't want to get tangled up with the autumn people.

The Autumn People

The autumn people are coming to town, wrapped in the folds of their autumn gowns, leaves made maiden and dust made men, the autumn people are here again. They blow with the wind and settle in shadow, feed on dreams no sleep left fallow, a scarecrow here, a ballerina there, dark autumn people everywhere. And some form as children and others as old, and each has a heart which beats with cold, a kiss for the girls and a trick for the boys, the autumn people enjoy their toys. Tom Scarecrow and old Mr Pumpkin Head, a doll with a pin and a mouth of dark red, a squaw, the clown, a fortune caster, an angel with flesh of grey alabaster. They smile in dark alleys, play under the moon, they skip, flit, and fling to another tune, watch them at your peril as they entrance, with the spell that binds to the autumn dance. Then up and away as a leaf in a storm, sucked into their revel from dusk till dawn, a cock to crow will stop their play, as the autumn people fade away. And after they’ve gone and they’ve stolen your fun, you’ll still be here but you’ll be no one, a used dry husk, an empty bottle, a grey broken moth that will never settle. So when those autumn people come to town, don’t be fooled by the grinning clown, stay away from their dark, don’t be drawn to their light, just leave those shades in perpetual night.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016


I think it’s how people remember you when you are no longer there that is the measure of a person and their life. The talk around the teacups after the funeral can be very revealing, even moreso the things that are left unsaid.

I listened on the radio to the tributes to Terry Wogan last week. It seems that he was universally loved by just about everyone who had anything to do with him. It’s hard to believe that he was as nice as people say he was, but although it is hard to believe I for one believe it.

You just had to listen to the man’s radio show to know that here was a truly good humoured, kind, and pleasant natured person. Oh, you could hear the devil in him sometimes but it wasn’t a malevolent devil, it was more a mischievous imp. His voice oozed sincerity, his eyes were always twinkling and you knew that he was usually smiling even though you couldn’t see him on the radio. I can even forgive him The Floral Dance these days, seeing it for what it is, just a bit of fun and not a serious attempt at pop stardom. It makes me smile anyway.

Sir Terry Wogan should be made a saint. No I’m serious. He seems to have bought more joy and peace to so many people just by talking happy nonsense in the mornings. He even made me laugh out loud and if that isn’t a miracle then I don’t know what is - and then of course there was his charity work. I’m sure that Terry had his moments. He must have got angry occasionally, had a few dark thoughts, maybe even got a bit down sometimes, but if he did he didn’t let it show and I certainly haven’t read or heard about it. The closest I remember Sir Terry 'having a go' was when he presented Eurovision - he was a genius with the cutting comment. 

Odd isn’t it? I never met Terry Wogan, nor did I watch his TV shows and I came to Radio 2 in his second incarnation as the breakfast show presenter, but even so I feel this genuine warmth for him and absolutely know that with his passing that we all lost a special friend. Yes, I know it’s corny, but it’s also true. He did feel like a friend as I drove to Scarborough for yet another pointless meeting. He kept me company and entertained me with his drivel, and what special drivel it was. I never really thought of myself as a TOG, but I guess I was all along.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Funny money...

I have seen my first plastic fiver and I’m really not sure what I think about it. Maybe it’s all those years of carefully handling grubby, worn through fivers or maybe it’s because they remind me of the plastic notes I had in my play till when I was a small boy.

Whatever it is though something doesn’t feel quite right to me.
It could be the see through 'Her Majesty' or the holographic five pounds switching between the ‘five’ and ‘pounds’ like a schizophrenic price tag. I used to get toys that did that in crackers at Christmas, a square of plastic that when you moved it a little turned Tom Cat into Jerry Mouse. Of course it could be the gold Big Ben (yes, I know that's the name of the bell and not the clock tower), parliament is one of those things that rarely glitters and certainly isn’t gold. I’m not even very keen on the picture of Churchill nor the motto ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat’, shame as I was really wanting some dosh rather than a little work and some bodily fluids.

The blue-green colour is nice - I may paint our bedroom to match it – but it feels a little to smooth for my liking and it won’t crumple of fold and there’s no way that you can easily make the Queen’s arse by carefully folding around her chin and her neck, a sad loss to small boys everywhere. No more funny money.

Of course it could have been worse. They might have come up with a plastic five pound coin - only a matter of time I guess - and I’m sure all our other notes will soon follow. Who knows we really may end up with plastic coins? Well at least they would be lighter in your pocket and purse. I’d miss the clink as I avariciously count out my huge piles of pound coins though.

Progress eh? When will it ever end?