Friday, May 15, 2009

Mr Suit

A Look at the twat

A Off for his morning dump

A He’ll be in there hours, the c8nt
B: C5nt c5nt C5NT
A Better?
B No. Feel like sh5t L
A You don’t look too bad
A From over here
B Thanks, c5ntox

A Late one?
B Women stuff. Tell you later
A You’re never without a f5cking woman, how can you be having problems, you b8stard?
B Weird sh5t. Met her online. Married. Married to a doctor
A You win that one, surely - more of a future in IT, my friend
B Ha ha. Nah, this guy was minted. Proper harley st merchant. A surgeon. Anyway, history now.
A You never told me about this one, sounds good
B Long story.
A Tell me everything apart from the bits unrelated to shagging
B When I see you
A Done. Hey, did you hear about Accounts?

A Tone?


A Hello, Earth to Tony?
B Sorry mate, was actually doing some work there …
A Oh really? Well done, you. Medal etc. So did you hear about Accounts?
B No, wot?
A Redundo
B Wot????
B All of em?
A Apart from Cheesy
B F5cking suits
A I know
A All of snr management C8ntface, Farmer Giles, Cheesy, the lot of them were in Hitchcock till well after 7 yesterday
B Why hitchcock? It’s f5cking massive, there’s only, what, 5 of them, you can fit 25 in hitchcock they could have met in scorcese or even loach
A Ego I spose. There’s 6 of them btw – Leonie from HR was there too
B Oh yeah, forgot weebags. So what happened, were you around when they came out?
A Yeah, we were all working late on the c8ckinig Valentine special and they all came out and they said they see us in the White Horse when we were done
B Did you go?
A F8ck that. We didn’t finish till near 10 anyway. It’s all f8cked mate, they’re gonna outsource everything apart from IT
B C5ntface would do that to IT if he could.
A What, IT? P8ss off! CF will leave you guys till last, the whole place’ll fall apart without IT
B Wot about you?
A I’m amazed I’m still here – that any of the journos are still here. No one reads the content on the site …
B Yeah, but ad revenue! Editorial is bringin in the ad rev so your the f5ckin heroes
A Love your work
A I like this mutual bigging-up thing. Aren’t we great?
A Want to grab a sarnie?
B sorry mate, got a lunch meeting with the team
A Suit yourself
B if I was suiting myself I’d be f5ckin ykw from behind from 1 to 2
A ykw?
B you know who
A Ah
A Who?
B You know, the one from sales
A The one with the nose?
B Yeah but shes got a thing, you know - shes got something
A She’s a bit …
B Wot?
A She’s about fifteen
B F5ck off, shes in her 20s!!!
A And you, sir, are in your late 30s.
B So?
A Anyway aren’t you 40 yet? You’ve been in your 30s long as I’ve known you
B Its a long decade
A Ha ha.
B You must be in yours
A 41 mate.
B Jesus

A What?

B Your looking good on it mate.
A F8ck off
A Look out here comes CF again :-0

A Hey are you still having it with their laptops?
B Who told you that? And fucking don’t write it down you complete c5nt
A Relax, it’s only instant messenger, d8ckhead! You should know that, Mr I-freakin-T
B I know, but DELETE IT NOW

B Ok?
A Sure. Done.
B Thanks
A Just wondered if you were that’s all. Mate of mine needs one
B Cool. Talk to me later. See what I can do.
A Nice one.
A Look out, CF alert. Delete all!!


A Nice lunch?

A Tone?


A I know you’re at your desk I can see you there
A And you’re not on the phone
A You can run but you can’t hide

A Mate? You OK
B I’m getting canned
A What?
B Christopher c8ntface told me after the lunch meet
A Redundo?
A What? Genetically modified what?
B Gross misconduct
A Huh?


B Says he’s been keeping a book on me
A A book? What like a list of bad things you’ve done
A C8ck
B Cunt
A Is it right, is he justified???
B Some of it.
A Is it about the ykw?

B what?
A You know, the things …
A you were going to get for my friend
B No. Loo roll
A F8ck off!
B True
A He’s canning you cos of toilet roll theft??
A Yep
A Wiping your arse at corporate cost??!!
B Not funny
A Sorry
B CF says he checks the stalls before he sees me going in at COB
B close of biz – 6pm. Then he checks after. Got HR involved too.
A What about a warning?
B Says he doesn’t need one. He’s got some CCTV footage from reception of me stuffing one in my bag.
A Sh8te.
B Total

A He’s using it as an excuse …

A to get rid of you without redundo
B Wot a C8nt. I’m in with weebags in 5. She’ll probably turn my account off while I’m in there. They’ve already blocked my access to the IT database and the Intranet.
A Sh8t. This sounds like the f8cking Eastern Bloc, surely you’re innocent till proven guilty? What’s CF doing now?
B He’s in with weebags preparing for the HR exit meeting.
A Anything I can do?
B Dunno. Get a petition up? No one likes IT blokes tho, all geeks aren’t we?
A Let me think …
B You could speak to Farmer Giles
A Could do, he likes me right now.

A OK will do

A I’ll speak to Gilesy

A Tone?
B Yeah, sorry, that was CF IMing me, they’re down there now. See you mate
A I’ll speak to him, mate
B Yeah.


A Ayt?
B Hello mate
B How you?
A I’m good. It’s all good J
B Meaning?
A It’s all sh8te, of course
B Of course.
A It feels strange to IM you without actually seeing you
B Likewise. A fucking relief
A F8ck off – and don’t swear on my time, fella
B I can swear all I like now Im freelance Bugger piss fuck wankface tits
A Ha ha. How mature
B How is cuntface?
A Please Tone, don’t mate - use the numbers, I’m sure they check on stuff like that
B Mate, it’s IM – instant messenger is a webtool, it’s on the fooking web, IT can’t trace it, the only thing is if they look at your screen while your doin it and you know that won’t happen cos you’ve got a desk that faces the corridor so you can see them coming. You can see CF from 100 metres, walking in that stupid way, what is it again?
A Baboonish
B Yes.
A What’s it like then, working for yourself? It was years ago I was freelance …
B It’s genius. I’m literally sitting here in nothing but my pants
A Cheers for that. Enduring image
B No, really, I am!
A I believe you, I believe you.
B Ta for talking to Farmer Giles, I owe you one
A It was fine, I think Cheesy miscalculated his outsourcing budget so there was a bit going spare. Glad Gilesy made sure you got some of it
B Well appreciated. How is he, anyway?
A Have you picked up any other work?
B What about Gilesy?
A Sorry, got out of synch there
B Yes, a bit
A What?
B A bit of work
A Oh right
B I’m actually earning only slightly less than I was when I was there full time – and I get most of my work done in less than a day and a half!! RE FUCKIN SULT
A Jammy. Just don’t tell anyone else that. In fact, don’t even tell me, I don’t want to hear it.
B I spend most of my time in chatrooms
A Are you back on those?
B Never off em mate – totty city, there’s some desperate housewives out there
A Bit dark though isn’t it?
B Dark as you like if you fancy it that way
A Are you still doing that thing … what’s it called?
A Yeah – what’s it stand for again?
B fear seeking.
A Don’t know how you have the bottle
B That’s the name of the game. I like taking risks
A Yes – like stealing laptops
B Correcto
A And looroll
B Whatever.

B So how is my new bezzie mate?
A Who?
B Giles Farmer, our esteemed MD
A Oh right. He’s still nominally in charge but CF is after his job you can tell. We’re getting corporate directive emails from both of them one after the other saying the same thing.
B Interesting. Talking of emails I got a handful from a certain man with a face like a c5nt to ykw in sales
A What, the teenager?
B In her 20s
A Whatever
B CF’s shagging her
A No. Really? How do you know?
B (tapping nose) I have contacts, my friend
A Shit
B Deep shit …
B … if the incriminating evidence should fall into the wrong hands
A Hmm. Hang on let me think (scratches temple) Someone in IT went, at your behest, into CF’s Sent Mail folder?

B Wouldn’t like to say

B Yes.

B A correspondence of some foolishness.
B That’s a bit girly, only girls write that
B Better
A So what sort of stuff?
B “Fucking you over Giles’ desk was the most creative project I’ve been involved with at ----”
A Sense of humour? Surely not from CF?
B “Your anal virginity is mine. Meet me in Kubrick on Tuesday night …” Etc etc
A Argh!!! Nasty. Suppose it’s a free country, though
B Not on company time, it isn’t - and using the MD’s office as a fuckpad, pretty sure that’s a no-go in the Contract of Employment. Contract 2 in question is CF’s marriage one …
A Didn’t know he was married – blimey, who’d marry him?
B I know
A Good stuff though – get it in fast because not only could we do with a laugh here, but it looks like CF is about to ‘outsource’ editorial now,
B Relax, Gilesy’s being matey with me – he’s been in touch about me looking after some archiving project so I can slip it in casually.
A Cool. Listen, I got to get back to work, Tone - meet up soon?
B Sure thang, think I can fit you in
A Ha ha
A OK, I best go, CF is starting his afternoon wander
B Ooo ooo, I’m really scared!!!
A Talk to you later.
B Hey cuntface, are you reading this?
A Tone, he’s b-lining it to my desk, stop typing, Im not gonnna beeeable to erass
B Hey Cunty! Not sure how I should address you. Mr Cunt? How do you spell it?
A Hi there, I’m not at my desk right now but I’ll get right back to you on my return

B I think it’s spelled C U N T
A Hi there, I’m not at my desk right now but I’ll get right back to you on my return

B But let me Google it to make sure
A Hi there, I’m not at my desk right now but I’ll get right back to you on my return

B Yes, yes, I was right …
B Hi there, I’m not at my desk right now but I’ll get right back to you on my return

B Also, I Wikipedia’d you and there was much referencing to a certain style of walking, a swinging of arms and a rolling of shoulders that can only be described as baboonish or possibly baboonesque
A Hi there, I’m not at my desk right now but I’ll get right back to you on my return

B Are you reading this, cuntybloke?
A Hi there, I’m not at my desk right now but I’ll get right back to you on my return

B How’s your wife?
A Hi there, I’ve just popped out for a moment. Will get right back to you on my return

A Hello Tony, I’m here now
B Hello? – get you, mr formal

B Cuntface gone now has he?
A You mean Chris Frobisher?
B Who else there has got the face of lady’s frontbottom?
A Well, that’s your opinion. No, he’s not gone yet. You’re talking to him – how can I help you?


Sunday, March 30, 2008


I’m swimming in the Fast lane. I’m pretty good, got all that crawl stuff off pat. They told me to do something physical every day, but I never thought I’d get to this level. Quite an achievement really, although looking at it another way, it’s just swimming pointlessly up and down, backwards and forwards.

Whoever named the lanes at this pool must be in charge at Starbucks too: there’s no Slow lane just like there’s no Small cup size. The Fast lane is where you swim if you’ve got functioning limbs. The Medium lane is full of pensioners– 100 metres of sagging flesh, female paunch and pated crawler. Brian celebrated his 80th the other day. He’s been coming here for so long they hung blue balloons for him over the shallow end. Despite his age, he still insists on swimming in the Fast lane. His a miserable old bastard but I can’t help liking him – not a sentence passes his lips without a tucked-away swearword: “Facking Ada, those showers are freezin’!” he bellows as he re-enters the changing area, a paper thin beige towel just covering his gut and genitalia, “My bollocks are disappearing inside me!” It’s all about the plumbing - his and the building’s. The pool’s so old that the skylights are still blacked out from the Second World War.

But I like coming here. It gives a structure to my day. I need a structure, a regime. I get here every day around 7.30, get changed and take the plunge. The last bit never gets easier, the steeling yourself for the icy rush of emersion. Sometimes it’s a pleasant surprise, a bit warmer than usual but I always scream silently underwater as I kick off against the tiles.

I count the lengths as I do them. I do 40 now. When I started, I was just managing 20, then pretty quickly I got up to 30 and I’ve been on 40 now for … do you know, I can’t remember. Seems like about six months… Maybe a year. No, must be more than a year, more like two… three?
40 is a nice round number. I know a couple of guys here that do more – one does 60 – but that just seems like showing off. So what? I could probably do 60 if I wanted to. Some of us have got other things to be getting on with.

The first 15 or so are easy to count – harder to do, mind, but easier to count. I’m concentrating on warming up and I’m full of energy. Once I get into the teens I usually start thinking and that’s where I lose track of the numbers. Sometimes I’ll get to the end to the end of a length, adjust my goggles, turn around and, boom, I won’t have any clue where I am – 17? 19? Maybe I’m over half way there.

So I have to concentrate on numbers as well as all the other things like breathing regularly, making sure I’m going in a straight line, avoiding bumping into strangers coming the other way. You could say it was like life. Like life, only with more chlorine.

But here’s my secret. It’s what’s got me to this level – not much of a secret really but it worked for me. I count off the lengths in years! On my tenth length, I picture myself at that age - playing with my Action Man, cycling over the muddy fields near where my grandparents lived; 14, thinking about Francis kissing me at her party, the feel of another person’s tongue in my mouth. OK, it’s simple, not much of a secret - and to be honest, it used to work better than it does now. It used to be a way of focusing on keeping going, but now I just can’t stop. And, as I said, I start losing track of the numbers because I’m thinking back too much. Like my life, the first seven or eight lengths are a blur; I’m just adjusting to the pool, seeing who else is in my lane, trying to wake up. But once I hit 11 and then get into the teens, I start picturing things that happened to me.

At length 13, I see school; greasy-haired Mr Houseman, pigeons flying through his open window in his geography room, him attacking them with a wooden pole - one of those things with a hook at the end they had to open high windows. He went at it with such venom that it was obvious he thought they were out to get him, Alfred Hitchcock style. And there I am in the Chemistry lab, waking up when Dr Patel shouts my name; “copper sulphate!” I shout back – which turns out to be the correct answer to the question I never heard. And there I am just sitting about with my friends, listening to records and playing guitar – I play and play... The blues mainly. I loved the blues. I can’t stand it now – it’s boring isn’t it? Twelve bars, blah blah blah. But at the time I could play it all day – and people, girls too, they would listen and clap and say how good I was. That was the last time I remember being happy.

I smoked quite a bit in those days – dope, I mean. I only smoke cigarettes now. Loads more than I ever did back then. With smoking I feel like I’m the last man on earth with 20 Marlboro; no one else I know has kept it up. You know the old joke about giving up smoking being easy? I give up every week! Boom boom. That’s me, though, I try to give up every week. They say schizophrenics smoke more, but I was a chimney before I was mad and now I’m better I’m still puffing away like a train.

Once I hit the 20s, I’m really in my stroke. I’m covering ground like I’m a well-oiled lap-machine. Funny, because in my actual 20s, I was a total fuck-up. Most of it, I don’t remember but some of it is crystal clear – like it happened a few moments ago. Everything changed really quickly.

I was in the second year of university, doing English. I’d managed to get through to the Sixth Semester, mainly by just smoking dope and talking bollocks. I went on holiday with some friends from Uni – backpacking round Europe and somehow I managed to lose them. And that’s when it started.

It was all true. I was certain of this because the voices were very believable. I trusted them. They told me all kinds of stuff. But the main thing they let me know was that it was me, who had given those songs to Robert Johnson. I came up with them, I wrote them, they came from me.

Every music fan knows the old story about blues guitarist Robert Johnson. How he met the Devil at a cross roads in the Mississippi Delta and exchanged his soul in return for his talent. I don’t believe it, personally – I mean, just because he has a song about hitch hiking across the Delta in the 1930s doesn’t mean he really met the Devil and sold his soul. Besides, the whole Eric Clapton thing about him being the most influential blues guitarist of all time is bollocks. Anyone who knows the blues, knows that Son House and Lonnie Johnson were there before him. Anyway, who cares?. The point is that after all these years, all that influence, it was revealed to me that I had somehow been responsible for giving those songs to Johnson. It wasn’t the Devil at all. I know, I know… it doesn’t make sense now. But it did then, and some days, I still believe it. It’s not so hard to believe is it? Not because I’m called Robert – that would be silly – although that’s always the first thing people think. The explanation is most likely that I’m reincarnated. That must be it. The voices make it – sorry made it (John, my Community Psychiatric Nurse, or whatever they call them now, would have a word or two to say about that!) - the voices made it seem so plausible.

So now I’m on lap 22 and I’m thinking of what happened next - ending up in Paris, busking on my own and living rough on the streets. All I ate for a month were those spicy red sausages they sell there, Merguez, they call them – and chips, loads of chips. They say that fried, fatty foods aren’t good for schizos and maybe my diet did make the delusions worse but personally I put it down to the nutters that I was hanging out with at the St Michel Metro. One woman used to drink her own urine - said it was good for her fucking TempĂ©rament. Like I say, nutters.

By this time I was getting scared. There were people out there who didn’t like the fact that I was responsible for Johnson’s songs. After all, a lot of people want to believe that Cross Road Blues, Hellhound On My Trial and Me And The Devil Blues were written about his deal with the Devil. Maybe they thought I was the Devil. The urine drinker did. And now I had six voices and one of them was Johnson himself. Talk about ungrateful – even he didn’t like it. He’d say things like,
“Boy, you claimin’ you gave me ma song? Shit! Thassa Goddamn lie! I got ma song from ole sain Nick hisself and don’ you forgit. You bedda watch yoselve, y’hear? …” There were other voices too, a couple of them were Gods, or said they were Gods. These were really scary because if I said anything bad about them, or even if I thought anything bad about them, they’d know. I’d catch myself doing it and bite my lip.

I don’t like to think of the voices anymore. I don’t get them now and it’s uncomfortable even just remembering what they were like. But you see – it was all real, I mean, it was serious – the voices inside my head and the people in St Michel - they wanted to cover up the truth. I had to go incognito, I had to pretend it was nothing to do with me. I tossed my acoustic – a six hundred quid Martin, a present from my parents for getting into Uni – I tossed it into the Seine and got out of town. I think I was followed but I lost them and managed to get to the coast and get on the ferry without too much hassle. To be honest if I couldn’t have got the ferry I would have swum the Channel.

Just swum into someone coming the other way. Shit. Must concentrate… Probably their fault not looking. I only swum diagonally a tiny bit. And they made some comment about how I should stick to the Medium lane at my age. Bloody cheek, I’m still in my thirties, no … forties. Anyway where was I…23, 24?

By 23 I’m back at my parents house. I don’t go back for the final year and finish my degree but no one seems to mind. I’ve only told a few close friends and family my secret and they seem to be cool with it. My friends at home are pleased to see me back but when I tell them about my secret they aren’t as impressed as I think they’re going to be – and none of them tries to argue with me. They just act all weird. Fuck, if someone had told me what I knew, I would have said, “Are you out of your mind? What are you talking about, you nutter? Robert Johnson died in 1938– what the fuck are you on about?!”

But none of them say that. Almost all of my friends nod as if they know what I am talking about and say things like, “nice one, dude, that’s cool” or “Are you sure?” to which of course I say, “Yes, it sounds mad but it’s true – incredible isn’t it!!” OK, so I may have lost it a bit, it’s true, but they – they are the real losers, what are they thinking?

So gradually, I end up seeing less and less of them. I can’t be arsed – it isn’t like they’ve ever done anything great so why would I want to hang out with them anyway? Some of them I do carrying on seeing. Like Chris.

By this time I am spending most of my time at home on the sofa. One afternoon my mum comes in and says that my friend Chris Connell has popped over again and would I like to see him. I think at this point I may have been not talking to her because she had said a few things about the Johnson thing and I think she may have been passing on information to them about my whereabouts. Whatever the truth was, I decide that it’s best simply not to talk to her.

So when she says Chris is round I just nod and made a gesture for her to show him into the front room. Chris is a friend from school and we haven’t been that close but now he is coming round quite regularly. Fuck knows why, I’m finding him a bit boring to be honest.

So he comes into the room and does his usual handshake and “How’s it going?” routine and he sits down and starts asking me about my day. The fuck? I think. I’ve been sitting here not watching the television screen and working my way through 20 Marlboro: what about you, Chris, what have you been up to? I don’t actually say this, I try to be polite: he asks me what I’ve been up to, I tell him I’ve been thinking, you know, done a bit of reading…
“Oh really? What are you reading right now, Rob?”
“Just looking at some books…”
Actually I have been doing some reading, I’ve been reading dad’s paperback of Nostradamus and not understanding a word of it. I have been hoping it might tell me about what is going on.
“Dickens, Austen… some of the greats you know, ” I say. Then one of the voices pops up and says something really funny to me, like – Chris is one of the great arseholes. I start laughing to myself. Can’t help it. Chris doesn’t seem to notice.
“Good. Good for you, Rob.”
“What about you? What are you reading?”
“Well, I don’t have a lot of time for recreational reading as I have a huge pile of stuff to get through for my finals this year. So right now I’m reading a lot of RD Laing, he was a Scottish psychiatrist, quite important…”
“Right,” I say, bored already.
Then it dawns on my what he’s just said, so I say, “Are you a doctor, Chris?” I’ve never really asked him about what he does. It suddenly occurs to me that he isn’t here for my scintillating company…”
“Well, I’m studying psychology at Goldsmiths.”
“So you are a doctor… ”
“Well, not really a doctor… I’d like to get into… The thing is I want to help you. I know you’re suffering at the moment and …”

I don’t let Chris go on. I’m ashamed to say I hit him. I’m no tough guy, but suddenly all my energy is there and I really let him have it. Thwack! Like they say in the comics. I only hit him once but he is on the floor and has a bloody nose and is clutching his face.

After that I walk out. Just leave the house. Can’t remember where I go. Just walk and walk. Listening to one of the Gods telling me I’m the Devil – that it was me all along. This explains it all, I think, that’s how I managed to give RJ all the tunes, because the person that met him at the Cross Roads was me all along.

After this, Chris stops coming round. And mum is a bit more secretive – passing my movements on to the voices I think. They’re definitely onto me I think. Sometimes they make me do wild things – like I had to put glue in all our locks one time, and another time the wallpaper in the kitchen needed covering up so I got some paint out and did a pretty good cover up job… Other things happen too. I can’t remember a lot of it and to be honest I’m glad I don’t. Eventually after trying to speak to dad about his involvement in passing on information and getting into a bit of a … a bit of a fight, I suppose, everything in our house goes quiet. Mum doesn’t want to talk to me. Dad shuts himself in their bedroom. And I sit in my room and smoke cigarettes.

And the next day they are all there – Police, Ambulance, Social Worker. It’s like bloody Trumpton. I try to do a runner but they use force and I get sectioned up right and good. Mum in tears, dad upstairs pretending it has nothing to do with him. I’m angry and upset, then the joker voice cracks another one and I’m laughing again and probably looking totally mad.

What am I on now, 25? Probably more like 27 or 28. I’m quite tired doing it today. Usually I’m wide awake at this point and heading for 30. Today seems to be taking longer. I am thinking more today, it’s true. Maybe I’ve swum more than I thought… End of the last length, I had to take a short breather and the Life Guard was pointing at me, making a gesture, as if he wanted me to go the Medium lane. Fuck off, that’s for the geriatrics, I’m still in the prime of life! So let’s call it 25 and take it from there. Whatever happens it’ll be plain sailing for the last ten lengths.

Aged 25 I’m sectioned in some Victorian place. Chock full of mad people but I don’t care, because I’m pretty busy in my mind at that point – I’ve got voices coming out of my ears. I wish I could remember more of it because there’s probably loads of funny stuff - what you might call anecdotes. All I remember is boredom. Sitting around with nothing to do all day except wait around in the ward for the next indifferent meal and watch TV. There’s never anything on anyway. I spend a lot of the time on my bed staring at the walls, staring at the ceiling literally watching paint dry. They’re always painting the place because it’s falling apart. They’re painting over the cracks - a cover-up job. When they painted this swimming pool the smell really took me back – that was the exact smell of where I was. The others aren’t bothered by the smell or the roof leaking or the boredom. One night, it’s raining hard and I am woken up by water dripping onto my face. I immediately think they’ve found me, I panic and try to escape.

Have you seen that film One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest? Well, being in a psychiatric ward isn’t a bit like that. For starters, there are no mates to be had in there. They’re all really mad. Rockers and moaners in the common room fidgeting on the orange plastic chairs, gaping at the TV screen At least the ones in the movie were kind of chatty mad, you know, laughing, gurning, talking ten to the dozen. Hardly anyone says a word while I’m there. Not even the nurses. Most of them probably don’t know much English anyway, they’re all from foreign countries. I did meet one fella in their who I liked – Dave. He was much older than me and was quite at home in the place – said he’d been in worse. We used to smoke fags and talk about the Blues – he was a big Lightning Hopkins fan. After a few weeks, I told him about my involvement with Robert Johnson’s songs. He was well impressed.

I must be near 30 now. The lengths aren’t going as easily today. Come to think of it, it was a bit like this yesterday too. Not so much slow as… well, slower. Not like the years that took me to 30, they whizzed by. I don’t remember anything. I was on the cheapo antipsychotic of the day, Stelazine, and pretty strung out. Read up on the symptoms yourself, it turns you into everything you’d expect people with a mental illness to be: dead eyed, stiff-backed, dried mouthed and jittery. I was back at home, meals cooked for me, dad off work with stress, mum coping barely. I had no interest in anything really and joined the ranks of the TV zombies watching anything and everything. I don’t think the 90s were that great for TV but then again, it just could’ve been me. I didn’t wake up until the 21st century.

I keep it quiet at first but one day I stop taking the drugs. Almost immediately I feel fucking amazing. What was I doing living under this weight of zombified existence? I am free, I am alive! Mum even says how well I am looking. I do look well – and I feel fantastic. Even have a chat with dad, who opens up and tells me how worried he’s been about me and how good it is to talk. Talk? I’m chatting away like a bastard. One afternoon, I go out with mum to the Arndale Centre to help her with the shopping.

She goes off to post a letter or something and I’m alone and surrounded by shoppers. Bit like that film Night of The Living Dead – you know, the one where they’re in the mall, surrounded by zombies. I am the only one alive in there, wake up you losers! I find myself in a record shop. Remember them? I’m sure it wasn’t long ago there used to be one on every street. I look for them these days and they’re not there anymore. They’ve all gone. Anyway, I’m digressing.

So I go in. It’s not that I want to buy anything, I couldn’t be less interested in new music. It’s just that record shops make me feel safe - connect me with the past, back to the time before ... you know. That’s the thing about pop music that everyone misses: it’s always been about nostalgia. I mean, apart from Oxfam and the like, what other high street shops are full of ancient history? I tried bookshops, to find books I had read and see if the cover would take me back to when I was normal. But Catcher In The Rye aside, they always change the covers. But if you went into any Virgin or HMV and looked in L, you would find all Led Zeppelin’s albums looking just like they did on the day of release; look in B and you’ll see the beautiful Klaus Voormann artwork for Revolver, Peter Blake’s Sgt Pepper art and that photo of four blokes on a zebra crossing. There was a permanent reassuring landscape there: mountains and fields with the Rolling Stones in the background, Doors, Dylan and Hendrix to the left, Simon & Garfunkel, Sex Pistols and Steely Dan to the right.

I go straight for Blues section, to see if I can find some of the covers that will send me back to my days of sanity. I go to J and look for Burt Goldblatt’s classic 1961 artwork for RJ’s King of the Delta Blues Singers – you know, the painting of the black guitar player sitting alone on a straight-backed chair set against a terracotta background. As I clack through the plastic, past Blues Ballads and Jumpin Jazz by Lonnie Johnson, Shoot That Thang by James ‘Super Chikan’ Johnson and The Soul of a Man by Bind ‘Willie’ Johnson, my heart sinks. It’s not there. Instead there is something called Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings. I know the photograph on the cover – a smiling, squint-eyed Johnson wearing a hat. But I don’t know this album. I look at the back, shit, it came out in 1990! I had completely spaced it. What have I been doing? I look at the songs, nothing new but still… this new album … is it something to do with me? Of course it is! My head roars. I give the guy behind the counter some notes and race out of the shop.

I find mum, get home and put disc one into my ghetto blaster. The moment I hear the songs again, it all comes back. The feeling of playing the guitar, the sensation of a bottle neck slide on the fretboard, thumbing the bass notes, shimmying up the top E string… I wallow in Kindhearted Woman Blues and Dust My Broom… I sit listening to the badly recorded strumming, the high-pitched, plaintive whine of Robert Johnson’s voice.

Then I hear another voice. It’s Johnson’s too but it’s talking to me. He’s pledging vengeance on me, like some Southern Baptist preacher at a revival, all those Mississippi slurred vowels, changing to high-pitched aggression. I can smell him – I recognise the smell, it is definitely him – stale sweat, sweet and smoky – the smell of Southern cooking and bodies dancing. Johnson is on about his reputation, how his bad eye had got worse since I’d popped up… I try to convince him that he’s dead, ask him what he’s doing in my head… but one by one the other voices creep back: the two Gods, the joker, an American-accented woman, maybe Johnson’s mother, and the sixth voice, a terrible voice, a voice which I recognise but can’t understand. I try not to think bad thoughts but the Gods know that I’m thinking about them and now they’re on Johnson’s side…

“Stop!” I shout, “Fuck off!” I keep on shouting. Mum comes up and asks what is going on. I just swear at her, tell her to get out, that it’s nothing to do with her; what help could she be anyway? These are huge powers, there’s nothing she can do to stop them. Then the joker makes me laugh, says something about RJ’s bad eye and I can’t stop myself laughing. All the time I know I’m going to have to pay for it. The God’s have taken sides, they’ve changed allegiance, they can hear everything and they’re probably taking notes. “OK OK OK.” I plead. They’ve told me what I have to do…

I’m nearly at the end of my laps. It’s always like this towards the finish. I don’t like the mid and late thirties, it was a bad time and it’s always painful to go over it – even when I’m in control like I am now, prime of life, body in perfect unison with the water. I open eyes and stare through misty goggles at the tiles beneath me. Someone’s black hair floats midway between me and the bottom of the pool. I imagine swimming into the hair and it getting stuck on my face. I shudder and think of something else…

I know who the sixth voice is; it’s the Devil and it gives me the lowdown: I must destroy everything in my room, everything from the past. Only then will they leave. I don’t ask questions, these guys know what they’re taking about. I light a cigarette, inhale deeply and begin my task.

I start by emptying all the drawers on my desk – pens, dusty bits of stationary, A4 stacks, notes from when I was a student, a pile of pornography – when was the last time I looked at that? I throw it all in the middle of the room. Next I tear down the posters that are blu-tacked to the walls of my room – pictures of serene mountains and wildlife, my favourite record covers Beatles, Hendrix, Clapton… some women. They all come down. Next up, my clothes, I open all the drawers in the chest “they have to go” says one of the Gods. So onto the pile they go. Every time I find more things – books, records, cassettes, bedding, guitar strap, washing things, desk, chair – every time I find something, the Gods announce, “that has to go.”

I am covered in sweat by the time I finish my pyre. The word pyre is in my head from the beginning, maybe it is something that RJ said “Build me a pyre, sinner!” or maybe because it reminds me of the other word, the word that rhymes with it.

After the fire brigade have been and put it out. The three of us sit in the garden in silence. My parents have arranged to section me I know. And sure enough towards the end of the following afternoon, after 48 hours of me sitting burning through Marlboros in the garden and my mum and dad silently picking up debris and washing bedlinen and clothes, the Holy Trinity of Police, Social Worker and GP arrives. It’s a fair cop. I said that to one of them and laughed. He smiled back, I think.

This time I’m in a modern hospital. I become a User again. They call us users because we’re on drugs, but legal ones, you know anti-psychotics
I’m on newer, more expensive drugs now, which make me less like a zombie but more aware of what a shithole I am trapped in. Still, the voices gradually all saunter off and after a lot of time I get out, breathing fresh free air again.

It’s the breathing that makes all the difference. At first I try and try but every time I put my head face down in the water, I feel like I am going to drown. And then to have to remember to lift it up every three strokes, just sort of swerve it to the side… it’s impossible! It’s Noah who teaches me – my CPN, my nurse. He suggests I learn to do the front crawl so I swim properly and focus my energy. Haven’t seen him in years although I do still think about him a lot.

Eventually I get it, I get the knack and I’ve never looked back. Although actually, you do look back when you go for air every third stroke. Your head sort of tucks under your arm and you find that you’re seeing the froth of water behind you.

I’ve lost track of the lengths now. I think I was 36 when I got out of hospital, so doing 40 lengths is about where I am now in age. 40, yes, still young really – my life ahead of me. Although, if I’m honest, I’m a little in the dark about that – I could be a year or two older than 40. I mean, things change so quickly Anyway, like they say, you’re as young as you feel! I’ve lost count of the CPNs I’ve had. They’ve got a new word for it now, not Community Psychiatric Nurse, something else, which I can’t remember. Everything’s new. I wouldn’t be surprised, if I woke up and discovered people were flying to the moon for their holidays. I don’t really follow the news but I saw someone’s newspaper on the bus the other day and there was something about China being the richest country in the world - richer than America! And water rationing in Europe. At least there’s no shortage of water at the pool.

I like to swim my final length underwater. It’s a tradition of mine, plus it’s good exercise for my lungs. So I dive down right to the bottom of the shallow end and scoot like a fish along the pool floor before continuing with underwater breast stroke. After about half a length, I remember that I tried to do this yesterday… and the day before, I think. And I never made it – I had to come up early. Perhaps I can do it today, come on …come on. I carry on, urgently stretching my legs out to kick away the water. No. Can’t make it. Before panic sets in, I swim vertically for the surface. Quick! I hadn’t realised how low down I was … how far down ... how deep. I reach the surface, gasping for air and spluttering, then swim feebly to the wall bar at the deep end. The same Life Guard from earlier waves a patronising finger at me and says, smiling, “I told you about that yesterday, Rob, you shouldn’t still be doing that at your age…”
Piss off, you spotty teenager, I think, but I smile meekly instead. Got to let these guys think they’re in charge, haven’t you?

On my way back to the changing rooms, I pass 80-year-old Brian, “Facking ell, you and me against the world, eh Rob? All the other old cunts are in the Medium!” he says, the old bastard, slapping me on the arm with a blue-veined hand.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Feeling Called Love

I read a review in the NME. Actually, you know what, it was probably more likely a feature in one of mum’s magazines or the Sunday papers. It made it sound like the most amazing thing ever: angry, violent people, loud guitars, swearing, big tunes… The review, or whatever it was, read like a thriller. By the time I’d finished reading it I felt like my life had changed. No more Airfix modelling, no more bike rides with my brother or helping mum out with the shopping. And no more pretending to like stuff I was supposed to like. Before I even heard a note, I was hooked. I felt cool just knowing about it.

I was thirteen and the closest I’d come to cool was two years earlier getting asked by Sonya Murphy at primary school to be her partner at the school disco. I think she asked me at the last minute because she didn’t have a partner.
“Make sure you wear Levis,” she said.
I nodded, grinning and said, “Yeah, definitely.”
Back at home I asked mum for Levis.
“But you’ve got some jeans already, darling.”
This was useful information because I wasn’t sure what Levis was.
“I have to have the Levis though, mum, please!”

In the end I arrived in the school hall: wallbars folded flat, disco lights flooding the parquet floor blue then yellow then red. I tried to see where Sonya was in the gloom. Girls and boys were already dancing together, Bye Bye Baby sang the Bay City Rollers.

“They’re not Levis, they’re….Wingfield!”
“Yes, I couldn’t get my size in the shop… I’ve got some ordered but ...”
Sonya glazed over as I fumbled with obvious lies. Mum simply hadn’t bought me any because she couldn’t afford them. Then Sonya wandered off with Lucy Slater to get a paper cup of Coke. Later I was sitting on the wall bars, self consciously hanging my arms over the bar behind my head like pictures I’d seen of film stars – angsty and sensitive. Sonya will notice how she’s hurt me and take pity. Last thing I remember that evening was sitting alone on the wallbars, watching her snog Darren Fletcher. The DJ was playing Fernando. If it had been later in the 70s, it would have been Winner Takes It All.

And now it was later in the 70s and I had another shot at being cool. This was a record that was frightening; it was more than a record, it was a statement. When I mentioned it to Robert, my best friend, he said he’d heard of it too. His sister had bought one of the group’s singles. I could go round to his and hear it after school if I wanted. Other kids in class knew about it too. The group who made it were making headlines in the sort of newspapers mum never got at home. There were playground rumours about the songs on it – some with swearing so bad that it almost never saw the light of day, one in particular that made the band get dropped by their record company. Dropped? What did that mean? Dropped like a stone in or like a teacup on the kitchen floor? Or was this a meaning of the word that I didn’t know yet, some exotic thing I was yet to discover. And of course, something my younger brother Price discovered when he was dropped 30 years later by his best friend Ollie.

I had never bought an actual LP before. I’d bought a few singles and had inherited a few old LPs from my mum and her boyfriend. But they were from a different age. Ancient songs that said nothing to me at all. I had no idea of how much these larger, grown-up discs cost; three, maybe even four pounds? Back in my bedroom I checked the shoebox on the shelf above my headboard – almost five pounds in three notes and many coins saved from my birthday and a visit to my great aunt’s a few weeks before. Would this be enough?

By now some of the song titles had been passed around in the playground during lunchbreak. Angry, violent, sexy. I repeated the titles to myself like a mantra. I sang versions of them to myself imagining how the actual songs would sound when I got the record. If I got the record. It was no sure thing I would be able to get hold of a copy. Was I old enough? Maybe there would be some law stopping me being able to hear it. It certainly sounded like an X film.

All this and the record didn’t seem to have come out yet. I went to the local record shop. It was near Robert’s house – overlooking the Heath. The man in the shop had something in his beard, which I couldn’t take my eyes off while I was talking to him.
“It’s out next week, son.”
“What day?”
He told me the day. And told me what time the shop opened. I could tell he was being sarcastic. There was a poster with the artwork of the record on the wall in the shop. I stood staring at it. It was beautiful.
“You going to stand there all day, son, or you going to buy something?”

The day the record came out was a school day. Robert and I ran back from the bus stop across the Heath. We arrived at the shop, panting and out of breath. I had the money from the shoebox in my pocket and would have happily given it all to the bloke with the beard behind the counter.

“You sure you’re old enough for this, son?” he said.
My heart leapt. He wasn’t going to sell it to me…. I knew it! I was only 12 and he knew it.
“But I’m 18!” I said, aware of my voice cracking.
“Yeah, and I’m as black as Trevor Macdonald.”
“But… but…”
“Don’t get your knickers in a twist, son, I’m only joking… That’s three pound ninety.”
He’d put the record in one of his red and black paper bags and was holding it in one hand. The other was open and outstretched towards me. I filled it with notes and silver coins.
“Jesus,” he muttered, looking down.

Robert had to go off and do something with his stepmum. He seemed strangely blasĂ© about actually hearing the record – his older sister had played him the single a lot so he was acting a bit superior. To be honest though, I was glad I could unwrap and play it all by myself. I wanted to be able to smell the disc itself, to study the label, to read the writing on the back, and to play it again and again. With someone else there I knew I’d feel self conscious and not be able to fully enjoy the experience.

Price wasn’t home yet – he’d probably gone round to his friend David next door to play Action Men - and mum was still at work. I rushed to my room. My heart was beating as I removed the record shop bag to reveal the album cover. It could not have been more desirable – no picture of the band, that would have been giving too much away – a simple font on bold colours printed on matt cardboard. I was already impressed with the idea that less was more. I didn’t want the glossy, girly pop packaging that I’d seen on some of the record albums that boys from my class brought into school sometimes. I turned the sleeve over. To my slight disappointment there was very little on the back cover – just the names of the songs in the same sort of font used on the front. I read each songtitle slowly and carefully; four of the titles were already familiar to me – indeed so were the tunes and extra words I’d invented for them. I really hoped the band’s songs were better than the ones I’d had to invent. I slipped the inner sleeve out of the outer and again felt a tinge of disappointment that there was no songwords page or manifesto or something to help me find a way into the record rather than just doing what I was about to do. As I dropped the needle onto the vinyl plastic, I knew I was on my own, I would just have to find my own way.

The first song started up. It was one of the song titles I knew and had invented my own tune for. The song was immediately much better than the one I had come up with. Much, much, better. A lone, loud guitar, quickly followed by the sound of marching drums, handclaps and more guitars. The voice came in like nothing I’d ever heard – just like the things I’d read in mum’s magazine and heard in the playground – angry, sneering, violent, yes – but full of melody and sweetness. Like Abba but without any of the bits that girls liked – it was the sound of being a boy, of being 12 – no, of being 13, 14 – grown-up. IT WAS BRILLIANT.

The next song came on. I didn’t recognise the title and it wasn’t quite as good. The voice was just as powerful but … the tune wasn’t as strong. When the third song came on I realised what the previous one had missed – background singing. The background singing on the third song was amazing. I sat and stared at the front cover, feeling the rough cardboard under my fingers.

When the song stopped I became aware of activity outside. My brother was home. As the fourth song started, I got up and locked the door. This was my discovery, I wasn’t going to share it with him. Not with a seven year-old.

Once I had got over the shock of the sound of the record. I was able to listen to it all absorb more and more. By the time I had got to the end of side one – with a song that ended on just the singer’s voice, really close up, repeating the same word – I felt like I really understood it. I was still a bit scared – for a moment I thought the disc was programmed to do something weird with the needle, like destroy it or something to match the power of the songs – but I was beginning to relax into it.

As I turned it over, I looked at the grooves on Side 1 and smiled. I knew them. The label seemed out of another time and place. The design on it had nothing to do with the radical content on the disc or the art on the sleeve. Somehow that made it even more exciting, as if the group had kidnapped the record company.

Side Two was even better. Perhaps because I was familiar with the voice or just that the songs had more background singing. I found myself singing along with each chorus the second time it came around. By this time, Price was knocking on my door.
“What are you listening to? Is it one of mum’s records?”
“No. Go away!”
“Shut up!”
“You shut up! Can’t you hear? I’m busy!”
“Oh Sam! Come on! Let me in!”
“It’s not for you. You’re not old enough…”

And so on. In the end, like he knew I would, I let him in. He didn’t like it. I almost found myself trying to persuade him it was great, then I realised he wasn’t interested. He liked the idea of the swearing on it and he laughed at the rude words. But no more than he would laugh at The Two Ronnies or Benny Hill. Before he left I made him promise not to tell mum that I had the record.

In the end he left me with my new love. I put it on again and this time concentrated on the words. Once I’d played it through, just concentrating on the words, I played it again and sang along. When mum came up to say supper was ready I realised I must have been listening to it for about three hours.

Fortunately, she didn’t notice. She just asked me how my day had been. I gave the usual answer and followed her to our kitchen where Price was already sitting waiting to eat.

And so life continued. Except it was different. I played the record before I went to bed at night. I played it in morning when I got ready for school. I talked about it in the school playground and other kids who didn’t use to talk to me began taking an interest in what I had to say.

After about two weeks, I agreed to lend Robert the record. I had been wrong about him that day, he’d really wanted to come back to mine and hear it but he couldn’t. Now he’d been back to mine a few times to hear it and he wanted to borrow it. He said he’d lend me another record that people were talking about that his sister had.

So we swapped.

For a week I lived with the other record. I liked it, in some ways it was better than my record – the songs were better thought out, there were different instruments on it, not just guitars and drums. But I missed my record. And after four days I just wanted it back.

At school on Friday morning, he gave it back. Loads of kids in our class had never seen it before and took it in turns to handle and stare. That night I put it on. It still sounded great – although there were two unfamiliar clicks on Side 2. I later found out these were where Robert’s sister had played it to her mates and they’d scratched it. “You hardly notice,” Robert said, but I did every time. It was like touching bruises – I’d forget about them then WHAM! there they were, sore, painful and upsetting.

But after a while I got used to them. Blemishes I could live with. Maybe I played the scratched tracks a bit less. And after a while, I played that side a little bit less than the other side.

Weeks went past and I began to hear more records. Boys at school were buying other albums – as we now called them - from newer groups and they all seemed exciting. It was a class craze, like calculators or digital watches before. I was listening to John Peel too. I checked in mum’s Radio Times to see what time it was on and it said 12.02. How annoying, I thought, just while I’m at school. So in half term, I tuned in to hear the show and the first track that came on was great. Then, immediately after it, came the new song from ABBA. No, this couldn’t be John Peel. And sure enough it wasn’t – it was someone called Simon Bates who had an insincere, boomy voice.

I checked the Radio Times again – there it was: 12.02, just like before. Then I realised – it was twelve o clock at night time – really late. Wow. That made it even more exciting. So I tuned in that night and struggled with a lot of noisy things and reggae. Urgh. Guiltily, I almost wanted to hear Simon Bates instead. But no, I kept listening because his voice was wonderful – like Barry Norman only slightly edgier. And the next night I listened, he played some songs from groups I knew.

It must have been about two months after I’d bought the record that it dawned on me that I hadn’t played it for almost an entire week. A whole week – unheard of! I went upstairs and got it out of its sleeve. But even as I did this I felt I was going through the motions. The idea of hearing it was not that exciting, to be honest. I loved it, I really did but…

As the needle went onto track one I tried to remember the first time I’d heard it – the excitement, the anxiety. Now the aggressive drums, the searing guitars sounded a little bit… well, polite, predictable. And when the singer’s voice came on I just took it off – I didn’t want to spoil it. I wasn’t in the mood. It wasn’t the record’s fault, it was mine. I just didn’t fancy it.

A few days later, Robert was round and we were playing records. I felt really grown up having just turned 13 and just sitting in my own room drinking tea and eating Digestive biscuits with milk chocolate on. He played some new singles he’d bought – I didn’t like all of them. One of them was even reggae! I thought he was trying to be cool but I didn’t say anything. We then played a couple of albums I’d got for my birthday, only one of which I liked. I thought if I played the other one enough I might grow to like it. Then we played some of his sister’s records, which were really scratched but kind of cool because of that.
“Yeah, she really likes to party, my sis. She smokes dope and everything…”

I’d heard songs about dope and they’d been writing about it in the NME, which I now read every week. Most of my bedroom walls were now papered with its pages too – apart from a couple of areas that still had James Bond girls up. Anyway, I knew about drugs. The group who’d made my album were taking them – I’d read this in the NME too. And they’d just split up. Terrible really, they were just getting going. Something to do with heroin or the singer not wanting to do it anymore. Robert asked if I’d listened to them recently. No, I said. Shall we play it? I got it down and we admired the sleeve and talked about which songs we liked best and why. But in the end we just didn’t need to hear it anymore. I’d heard it so often. I just didn’t feel like it. There were other things to hear, anyway.