The Cooper Family Tree

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I’m sick of being asked for my family history by psychiatrists, from now on I shall send them this:

The tale (in this shortened version) starts with my great great great grandfather Dr Cyril Cooper, a noted philosopher who specialised in metaphysics, once proving that a jar of marmalade existed in all possible dimensions before he ate it on toast. He was known for his remarkable fertility giving birth to no less than thirty seven children who all lived in a corridor with no ceilings or floor. Sadly only two of them, Dr Winston Cooper and Dr E.M.P Cooper survived to adulthood. Dr Winston Cooper’s career as a black rights activist and inheritor of his father’s lumberjack shirt is too well known to need repeating here, and in any case his only son Elijah Cooper died in a freak pizza accident at the age of thirteen. Thus the Cooper birthline was continued by the impressively fecund Dr E.M.P Cooper who gave birth to three sons prior to his death in a freak magnetic field tragedy: Dr Wadjum Google Cooper, Professor Wadjum Yahoo Cooper and Dr Wadjum Internet Explorer Cooper: these three grouped together to create an invention that has been of incalculable benefit to humanity – the toastie machine. The Cooper Brevil Toastie Machine still sells over two units a year; most of which are used once and put to the back of the cupboard due to being impossible to clean. A fourth son Tim Newton Terrence Cooper invented dynamite before perishing in a freak house fire at the age of ten months.

It was at this point that a fissure appeared in the family history in the form of an illegimate son – Dr Paddington Cooper-Cooper who was found on a doorstep in New York, clutching a jar of Cooper’s All Dimensions (CAD) Marmalade and a note, written on finest quality paper, asking the householder to care for him until such time as he was ready for university. The lady of the house accepted him as her own child and – reasoning that her nine month pregnancy had been over in the time it took to open the door – realised that Paddington’s rapid development meant that he would be ready for higher education in a matter of weeks. So it was that Dr Paddington Cooper BA(Hons); BPhil; MA; DPhil; DLett; BYOB; BOGOF; TTFN was awarded the Chair in Convoluted Arguing at Oxford shortly before his 8th birthday. The board justified their decision with reference not only to his fine academic record but also the impressive beard he had grown some five years before puberty was due to set in. Never one to set on his laurels he devoted the next five years to avoiding his teaching duties, growing tufts of hair from his ears and writing a collection of papers on modal logic as applied to breakfast cereals – all of which were written with the same green crayon. Paddington was almost as fertile as his forbears, but always ensured he left a false name and address, thus our knowledge of this branch of the Cooper line ends here.

Both Dr W.G. Cooper and Prof. W.Y. Cooper had numerous children. but after the Great Coal Shortage in the 1920s, both men’s entire spawn were sold for dog meat except one of the Prof’s sons who was kept as a family guard-dog. He answered only to the name ‘Buster’, and tragically died of mange at the age of 12. Dr W. I. E Cooper, on the other hand, had only three children: two girls, and a single son: Stanley. Stanley was sent away during World War II, armed with a helmet two sizes too big, a spud gun and a picture of Hitler marked YOUR ENEMY. Despite this inauspicious start, he took to military life like a cat to bath time – regarding it as best avoided, but almost certain to occur due to some higher power with daft ideas. After six years spent, if Stan’s own stories are to believed, wiping out platoons of Germans single-handed, eating dinosaur flesh and bench-pressing tanks, he returned to Blighty with his demob papers, a fiancee and a tin of Tom Thumb cigars. At the point he found work in a tanning factory, being of the opinion that a man of philosophical and literary genius must at all costs avoid turning his insights into work. A proud union member and Shop Steward, he passed these insights, along with burning hatreds for Thatcher, the Conservative Party and anyone who fails to open a door for a lady to his only grandson; me. My birth remains shrouded in mystery’ the most popular theory being that I leapt almost fully formed from a copy of Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy. I possess a handful of heirlooms from my forbears: a lumberjack shirt which appears to be hundreds of years old, a collection of pipes, razor-like wit and the aforementioned hatreds.

This is all the family history I could find thus far’ hope it helps.

Till Dishonesty Us Do Part – or – Truly, Madly, Wrinkly

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The air is thick, weighted with tobacco smoke although no one will be expected in this room for at least another hour. As if powered by resentment at the interruption of its period of rest, the air freshener hisses a floral cloud into the room. As the scent of tulips does battle with that of stale tobacco, the silence is broken by a cough from the area of a much-worn armchair. The yellow cloud of stale tobacco absorbs the floral scent with ease, even as more smoke, blue tendrils when fresh, emerges from the bowl of a clay pipe, blackened with age. As the coughing subsides, the sound of fingers drumming on a hard surface arises from the wash of background noise mistaken for silence. The hard surface is a small wooden table to the left of the armchair, and the drumming speeds up, stops, and then begins again – slowly building to its former speed.

The chair’s occupant, known to those few that still cared as Gerald, was a singularly unremarkable fellow. His hair was a uniform shade of grey, his nose perhaps a little larger than average, and the beginnings of whiskers on his cheeks were more likely the result of laziness rather than design. The pipe which hung down from his lip plumed clouds of bright blue smoke, which obscured much of his facial features and created a close lying mist around his ears. The smoke also appeared to be making the old chap’s eyes water; although anyone taking the time to look closer would form a different opinion. Those eyes stared out into the room with brightness and intensity which was much at odds with the man slouched in his chair, wrapped in a bottle green cardigan and beige trousers. To the casual observer he was staring over the top of steepled fingertips at a rather dull lemon coloured wall about four feet from his chair; he was in fact staring at a spot in the middle. A spot as unremarkable as Gerald himself, consisting as it did of mostly empty air. He appeared to be judging reality itself; and, on the basis of those eyes, reality was clearly being found wanting.

In fact, Gerald cared neither for lemon gloss paint nor empty space; he cared for surprisingly little and as such had not left his chair in some time. How much time he couldn’t be sure, but the ache in his back told him it was at least three, maybe as many as five nights since he climbed upstairs and slept in a bed. Not that he slept much. What he mostly did was sit awake and watch the battle between tobacco and tulips; he thought that as long as his tobacco supplies held up, it was a battle he could watch for a long time. His passion appeared to be spent, which was by no means unusual for a man in his eighties – Gerald was sure his ballroom days were behind him, and had been since before anyone had heard of ‘Strictly Come Prancing’ or whatever it was called. What he thought about was the shock of finding that last burst of passion, the shock of realising that your temper could get the better of you a good half a century after the ‘angry young man’ tag would no longer fit. Gerald thought about the day he had kicked Lilly out of their home.

He and Lilly had been just seventeen when they’d gotten married surrounded by strangers in the Scottish highlands. Too young by one year to marry at home, they’d slipped over the border two days after Lilly had told him she was “in trouble”. The first of four children was born seven months later, the last a few weeks before Lilly’s fortieth birthday, and of course there were grandchildren and in recent years a great grandchild. Gerald’s love for her had matured throughout the years, grown beyond a physical attraction into a fast, firm friendship based on love and respect. The physical side of their relationship had nonetheless remained healthy up until the time of Gerald’s first stroke a dozen or so years before. Lilly had taken on the job of caring for him with the same determination and gentle touch with which she had done everything throughout her life; yet she could not stop Gerald feeling useless. What sort of man needed his wife to help him get dressed, to eat and to go out and sit looking at the garden he could no longer tend. No sort of a man at all, Gerald knew that; and their relationship suffered for his knowledge. A knowledge that Lilly dismissed as nonsense, but which gnawed away at Gerald throughout the night and even more so the days his wife left the house to work or shop.

On those days, time seemed to stretch out beyond sight and into forever as the seconds counted by the clock on the mantelpiece seemed to fall dead to the carpet. The television provided neither amusement nor companionship; though Gerald seldom switched it off, preferring even the monotonous chat of the idiots it featured to the silence. It was in the silence that his thoughts seemed to gain strength, to gather together before making a charge for him. The constant noise of the television set forced them into the background at least until Lilly returned to make him a cup of tea and tell him tales of her day. Dull as these tales would have seemed to most people, Gerald fell upon them simply to hear something of the world outside his own head. Worse than his thoughts was the loneliness, when Lilly returned it was a relief just to hear her voice, to have the company of another person. To feel wanted.

Lilly was, of course, aware of Gerald’s loneliness. All too often when she returned from work or the market, he was still in exactly the same position she had left him in; the exercise sheets the physiotherapist had left him untouched on the table. Over time, as she watched the man she loved slowly be consumed by old age, prevented by his pride from agreeing to outside help; tormented by his fear of a nursing home, her own vitality began to drip away. She’d never have admitted it, not even to herself, but a part of her felt cheated – not by Gerald, but by events. It wasn’t that she didn’t love Gerald (she was certain that she still did), it was more that she felt, well, unappreciated. It was under these circumstances that she met Peter.

After finishing the weekly shop, it was Lilly’s habit to pop into the café near the entrance of the supermarket and have a scone before ringing a taxi to take the shopping home, relying on the gentlemanliness of the driver to assist her with her bags. Not that there were so many gentleman these days, when she had been a girl men wore suits for every occasion and were almost never seen bareheaded. As she daydreamed her eyes set upon the occupant of the next table; an older example of just the sort of chap she had been lamented the extinction of. A deep blue suit jacket and trousers framed a crisp white shirt set off by a perfectly positioned tie, above which was a handsome face with blue eyes which shone with the good humour she had seen in Gerald’s eyes when he was young and filled with spirit. It had been his eyes above all else which had convinced, no ordered her to accept his marriage proposalrather than her parent’s offer to adopt her baby as their own.

Gerald, of course, knew none of this. He knew only that Lilly was returning from the shopping later and later, that the time he spent alone relying on the meaningless babble from the TV set to keep his thoughts at bay was increasing. At first he told himself it wasn’t so, everyone knew that time took longer to pass without anything to fill it and the time seemed longer because he was fixating on it so much. A small, easily ignored part of his mind disagreed. Gerald scolded himself then, for being such a feeble old fool that he was unable to sit in his own living room without worry and for thinking that his Lilly would leave him a moment longer than was absolutely necessary. After all, they had to eat didn’t they? And he could hardly get the shopping himself, could he? A good scolding session would often quiet his mind for a good few hours, and he returned to doing the exercises simply to blot out the thoughts with pain. Yet that tiny part of his mind which seemed to contain all his worst fears and a good deal of his self-pity continued to talk. Quietly at first, no more than a whisper; but over time it became louder and Gerald began to listen.

After he helped her get the shopping into the taxi, Lilly felt obliged to ask the stranger his name, and when she saw him in the café more and more often she told herself no harm could come of it. When she held his hand over the table, it was nothing but a token of friendship. And when she kissed him it was because of the eyes, the eyes that reminded her so much of the man Gerald had been. It was only when she began to meet him not at the café, but at his house nearby that she realised what she was doing, and by then she believed herself unable to stop.

The morning Gerald ended his marriage, and, he was now sure, his life was as unremarkable as he was himself. The weather forecast predicted overcast with dry spells, but failed to mention a rain of ash and glass such as the one which occurred in the lemon-walled living room where Gerald confronted his wife. He started to tell her everything, to explain the loneliness and the despair which filled the hours he spent in his chair waiting for her to return; and when his voice failed him he simply bowed his head and placed the note he had found in her pocket on the table. He had considered other explanations for the note but the change of her face upon seeing the handwriting was enough. He knew, and while he had been ready for excuses, promises and even tears he never expected her to lie. Replaying the scene in his mind a week or so later, his reaction amused him: if the letter was what he believed it to be then she had been lying to him for some time now; he supposed he had still trusted her in some way, still believed she wouldn’t be able to lie to him directly. She had.
Her eyes had given her away, even before she opened her mouth. The way they’d changed when she’d seen the note. As she’d continued to lie he felt his temper rise and when he grabbed her wrists and stared straight into her face it had crumpled and the truth, the apologies and the excuses had flowed out of her then. His first impulse had been to forgive her, to take her into his arms and return to how they’d been for so long he struggled to remember anything else. Squashing that impulse with his fury he’d order her to leave and when she’d refused he’d shoved her away from him and to the ground. The ashtray was in its place adjacent his left hand and he’d hurled it towards the wall without thinking; it broke and fragments of glass had mixed with ash in Lilly’s hair.

Gerald tapped out his pipe into the replacement ashtray and refilled it with black tobacco as the acrid blue smoke made his eyes water so much it slid down his cheeks. He’d run out of tobacco at some point, probably run out of matches before then. He didn’t think that would be a problem. As he pressed the head of a match against the box and struck a light he replayed the shove and the breaking of the ashtray once again. He would never, and could never, forgive Lilly; but he’d have given a great deal to take that moment back.

Cooper. 2012.

The Argument from Suffering

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A misplaced Google search hijacked my mind for almost twelve hours; even the internet has a disturbing Christian undertow – an undertow in which Aquinas is still revered. To my disbelief there are people who still believe the ontological argument to be the final word in any debate regarding the existence of a benevolent chap sat in a cloud armchair. Now I’m going to make something of an assumption, a large percentage, if not every single person who reads my scribblings are atheists – not just this blog, which no one reads; but my essays, short fiction, and stand-up comedy which no one reads or listens to. All those nobodies together could pack a laundry closet with a powerful display of their agreement; on a dull, wet Monday they can reach double figures.

Contact with those of an imaginary-friendship bent often leaves one feeling like the sole rational being in a room full of toddlers, screaming, kicking and crying over the loss of a blue stuffed bear. That only exists in their minds. At these moments it is easy to feel a kinship with Richard Dawkins – shouty defender of reason from people who view rationality much as I view the smoking ban. Dr Dawkins is intelligent, eloquent and so smug looking that I almost wish there was a deity just to wipe the smirk from his Oxonian chops.

Where Dawkins goes wrong, as so many of us do, is by using reason to argue a matter of belief. While reason is the perfect tool with which to crush Aquinas’ rational proofs of existence, it has little impact against cherished beliefs which have no more rational basis than Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and leprechauns. This argument is itself a rational one, but I find it difficult to construct an irrational argument (or to imagine the structure and purpose of one). I’m sure the nearest religious believer will do so for you. All this has been said countless times before, however, I do have a vaguely original point to belabour: the size of the argument is unreasonable.

While reason remains the key in constructing larger arguments against god’s existence, as has been admirably done by minds (e.g. Hume, Mill, Russell) greater than mine or yours. If I’m truly honest, while the large arguments are responsible for my atheism, it’s the small things, the everyday occurrences that confirm it. Today I’ve had a headache for the entire morning and a good chunk of the afternoon: that’s enough for me to deny the existence of a benevolent God. As far as I’m concerned no benevolent creature, be it deity or mollusc, would allow me to suffer from a condition that appears to be worsened by caffeine, nicotine, and music – the three things that make day to day existence bearable, the problem of suffering is much similar to the problem of evil, scaled down to a personal level. If God not only inflicts headaches upon me, but also denies me coffee, tobacco and music; then he either cannot rid me of headaches (is not omnipotent), does not know I have a headache (is not omniscient), and/or is willing to let me suffer (is not benevolent).

To those who think it a sign of self-importance to write an entire blog about my headache, I must say I think you look rather silly now. My headache is not just a problem for me; major theological issues hang in the balance. The fact that it refuses to shift is sufficient to convince me that God does not exist, or is a cruel bastard. Unless Rowan Williams makes me jam sandwiches with hot whiskey and lemon. Maybe God can use his supposed omniscience to find the remote.

BLASPHEMY, BLAS FOR YOU, BLAS FOR EVERYBODY

Coops x

Pot Noodles and Potted Plants

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A pile of blankets began to stir, slowly disentangling one part from another until a single hand turned towards such light as managed to bully its way through a blind and a heavy curtain. The fingers, bruises on the knuckles, nails stained a shade of yellow rarely seen outside of retirement homes, found first the carpet and then an open tin of tobacco. The fingers expertly gripped the rim of the open tin, lifted it towards the pile and made it disappear. A box of matches and pipe followed and with a groan and a barely murmured expletive the blankets themselves began to smoke.

Had the blanket creature eyes, it would have witnessed an event previously unknown to any earth-bound physicist: light itself slowed to a visible speed, and then stopped. After a few decades of diligent effort and a lot of expensive equipment, light had previously been slowed to a visible pace in a lab, for a few seconds. Had they known this would be exceeded using window fittings, old socks and takeaway food wrappings, the majority of the physicists would have retired to a monastery. (Of course one of them did so in any case, but as he played the bongos this was no surprise and everyone was pleased to see him go).

Oblivious to all of this, the blankets began to cough, splutter and spray glowing embers over itself. In a burst of evolutionary prowess that would have left Darwin breathless, it quickly developed four limbs, a head and a fine vocabulary of four and eight letter words which it swiftly weaved into a dazzling tapestry of annoyance. Once several small fires had been extinguished and an upright position reached, the blanket creature revealed itself to be a male member of the apelike species known as homo sapiens. It was for him the work of a moment to exchange the blankets for clothes chosen at random from the floordrobe*, and begin the search for nourishment.

As soon as the apelike creature left the room, the sunlight, with one heroic push, made it past the sock and briefly illuminated the green wallpaper of the far wall before realising there was no one there to appreciate it. Startled by finding itself on the wrong side of the curtain, it went back through the window at roughly the speed of, well, light. Kevin, for that was the creature’s name, continued his slow progress down a staircase which had one step which didn’t creak and a bannister which one used as a guide rather than an aide to balance.

The major feature of Kevin’s living room was the lack of anything that could be considered a major feature, aside from a bookcase containing a large number of books, as one might expect, and a slightly smaller number of mugs, which one only expected if one had seen the bedroom. Like many of his kind, Kevin seemed to consider it a sin to drink from the same mug twice in a month, and as a result not only the bookcase but also the floor around the solitary armchair was decorated with numerous mugs of coffee and glasses of water. All were of varying ages, perhaps a day or two on the table to the immediate right of the chair, a few days on the floor directly in front of it, of indeterminate age on the bookcase. As with the rings of a tree, increased age was indicated by distance from the centre; the centre being a comfortable looking chair with a book or two positioned on either arm. The small television hidden in the corner was a nod to inevitability rather than a form of regular amusement. Kevin watched as a spider slowly attached one end of a web to a corner of the screen and began the process of coaxing a fly down from the lightshade. Oh yes, Kevin thought with equal parts relish and trepidation, breakfast.

The reason for his trepidation confronted him the moment he sneaked, almost unnoticed, through the door into the kitchen. A pile of plates, kept aloft only by its private gravitational field and dotted with stray cutlery, towered above the sink and dared him to tackle it. As a boy, Kevin’s sensible nature had been mentioned in several school reports. It was his inherently sensible nature which led him to turn on the hot tap, add a squeeze of washing up liquid, and leave things to soak for another week or so**. The philosophers’ knot of cables around the plug socket yielded both the toaster and kettle within less than ten minutes, proof positive if proof were needed that the day would be a positive one. A day like this, Kevin decided, needed careful handling if it was to continue as well as it had started. With this in mind he chose the least stained of his mugs, and afforded the pile in the sink another apprehensive glance before spreading peanut butter on his toast with the edge of a playing card which providence had placed next to the kettle.

Once he was settled in his armchair, with everything in easy reach, Kevin felt able to begin the tasks of the day: he set one of the volumes from the table over his lap and began to read. Good, bad or indifferent, all days were essentially the same for Kevin: words, words and more words. He introduced match to tobacco and when they had become fast and fiery friends, he sank into the aged leather and allowed the words to work their magic. Books were by no means limited to the shelf; they were to be found on the window sill, the table and even on top of the television: Kevin’s sole lasting relationship was with words. Unsurprisingly, his major ambition was to contribute in some small but lasting way to the volume of words that cluttered every available surface and several unavailable ones (such as the top of the fridge, which currently providing a resting place for two volumes of Asimov short stories and a vegetarian cookbook). Kevin was of course a writer; no day was allowed to pass without the production of a few thousand words, in a doomed attempt to balance the tens of thousands which he absorbed in his armchair.

All writers as a matter of course have a delicious sense of irony, as is displayed by their choice of profession. Of necessity, they are sensitive souls and, solitary folk by choice, their self-confidence is rarely high. Nonetheless, they choose a profession which more or less guarantees frequent rejection, thus demonstrating the high levels of irony and lack of practicality for which writers are famed. Once a month, no more no less, Kevin would review his crop of words and send them to a number of magazines along with a cover letter and all the hope he could muster. Invariably, he received in return a number of rejections and a crushing sense of failure. Over the years this sense of failure had had something of an effect on his writing. The optimistic tales he had churned out with impressive regularity in the first few months after university were a thing of the past, exchanged for a series of lengthy misanthropic descriptions of dystopia and destruction, squeezed with all the malice of a giro from the DWP, and almost as infrequent.

The clunk of his letter box distracted him from the work of others and directed his thoughts to his own; specifically last month’s crop of words which, in a rare burst of enthusiasm, he had sent not only to the usual magazines, but to an honest to Hades publisher. The chair creaked in protest almost as much as Kevin himself did as he raised to his feet and strode towards the front door with an unexpected optimism, and returned with four letters and an unaccustomed spring in his step which (coupled with the pipe and dressing gown) caused him to resemble a tartan flamingo.

The first letter did nothing to dissuade Kevin from his optimism, despite the DWP postmark: an apology for late payment and TWO giros for a hundred quid each. The next three however, performed the equivalent of a jab and uppercut followed by a swift, unprovoked kick to the testicles. If a moment before Kevin had looked like a perky, if oddly coloured, flamingo, his expression now was that of a bulldog who has been refused a piece of cake. He was used to rejection letters. The first two were similar enough to give rise to a long-nurtured suspicion that all magazines had, several years ago, drafted one standard rejection letter for use when dealing with talentless squibs such as him***. That last letter though, there was no doubt that it had been written specifically with him, Kevin, in mind. A publisher, he thought, the unforgivable arrogance of it, the boundless stupidity. He screwed up the letter and then smoothed it over his knee and read it again.

A standard rejection letter it was not, mentioning as it did several shortcomings in the plot of Kevin’s story, not to mention the purposelessness of his characters and the complete and utter lack of interest in, not only this story, but any future work Kevin was strongly advised not to bother wasting the letter-writer’s time with. Three pipes and a cup of coffee later, he managed to screw up the letter for the final time before hurling it towards an overflowing paper bin. It overflowed a good deal more once he’d finished kicking it around the room. Cretins! Morons! Each and every one of them. He had provided them with not only a story, but a world; an entire fucking universe, populated with races who had not only purpose but nobility and heart. And did they thank him; did they get off their editorial arses and make the tiniest leap of imagination? Did they balls, they asked for a more believable narrative; every day characters and a plot people could “relate to,” This publisher’s letter was only the worst symptom of an all too prevalent disease: “Fantasy”, this literary Samaritan had informed him “is dead.” In order to publish what was apparently needed was realism, dull, grey everyday fucking driv… Kevin’s foot stopped a quarter inch from giving the upturned bin an almighty wallop and a smile formed around the stem of his pipe.

This smile had almost nothing in common with the bright, optimistic grin that had dominated Kevin’s face prior to the arrival of the postman. This, it must be said, was more grimace than grin, and as Kevin flung open the back door and made his way towards the shed it widened considerably. The shed was where Kevin worked. All writers find it necessary to have their own space free from distraction, and Kevin’s shed was a perfect example of such a spot. It contained a single deckchair and a table which served as a burial ground for half empty biros, scattered with several sheets of cheap writing paper. Kevin tore one such sheet from a notepad and flopped down into the deckchair. If they wanted reality, then every day he would give them exactly that. He re-lit his pipe, picked up a pen and began to write: “A pile of blankets began to stir, slowly disentangling one part from another until a single hand…”

-

*A type of bedroom furniture preferred by single males due to its cheapness, easy availability and because it doesn’t require an allen key to construct.
**The phrase “leaving it to soak” is one used instead of “leaving it for someone else (female) to deal with”. In houses where no female is present, Roman Silver has been found still soaking.
***This suspicion is one which has occurred to most writers at some point in their lives. It is, of course, paranoid, conspiratorial, and absolutely true. Blah.

Black Dogs and Bum Notes

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I am aware that the metaphor in the title is a much overused one. Churchill’s black dog is mentioned so often in printed words as to raise questions about how many bastard puppies the thing ran around siring, or birthing, its sex having never been made clear. Over time I’ve learned to accept that the mutt will occasionally come to visit, wrap around between my legs and make itself comfortable beside a water bowl filled with bile. However, I object when it jumps up and bites my fucking balls off – this it is in the process of doing. I have relatively few weapons in my arsenal: quetiapine, writing and music, of which (as I’ve made abundantly clear) writing is by far the best. Quetiapine is a poor third place.

I have written a great deal on the effectiveness of writing as a…..mood stabiliser/anti-psychotic/anti-depressant/inflatable mind hammer, etc. Therefore, tis to the second weapon that I turn my attention: music. As a result of reasoning so convoluted that it not only loses me, but I find myself behind it wondering how the hell it got there – and in a traffic jam – many a humanoid will inform you that the best thing to do is listen to cheerful music. Happy, jumpy sort of things, possibly with tunes you can whistle. Bobbins. Drivel. Shite. When in such a mood there is, for want of a better word, the canon: Cohen, Reed, Drake, Curtis, Cobain, Buckley. It would be all too easy to dismiss this half dozen as “troubled young men”, even more so as four of them never became troubled old men. Cohen and Reed have, against the odds, achieved elder statesman status.

The “troubled young men” tag, along with “depressive music for depressed kids”, is first of all moronically simplistic. The odds are that you have at least one record by the above in your collection; play it now. All six have a ragged, austere beauty and complexity in both verse and music which leave their public image as pied pipers of self-destruction seeming one-dimensional, lazy and ignorant. It’s only fair to point out that a good deal of their fan bases are indeed teenaged/in their twenties, although several generations of such people have taken them to heart at a tender age… and love them still. The idea that one progresses inevitably to a comfortable dotage with Bruce Springsteen, Chris DeBurgh and Dire Straits to settle you back into an armchair, is one that I shall hurl my black metal collection and Zippo at for many a year to come. Those angry young men who bought Nevermind on release are in their thirties at least, and their kids are raiding their record collections.

I assume the theory behind those jumpy, bouncy songs is that they “cheer you up”. I am afraid, sir, I take issue with your reasoning. The last person you wish to have around when playing host to the aforementioned hound is a cheery, outgoing and bouncy companion, or as their more commonly known, a chirpy twat. What you really want is a friend, someone to talk to and who (you feel) understands you. A record will almost always be a one-sided conversation and it is a cliché that the most beautiful art comes from the deepest pain. Like the one about the snozzwanger, this one became a cliché by being true. (If you haven’t heard the one about the snozzwanger; it’s often floated around at the kind of parties you’re never invited to, the ones with fudge brownies AFTER the first ten minutes and no vegetables or questionable dips to spoil the palate.)

A small part of me (the part that worked in record shops for several years, and is thus a music snob) would like to include recommended listening at the end of this. Fortunately, a far larger part of me remains the sort of chap who eats custard from the tin (with a fork if the dishes have piled up), and that part realises that such an undertaking at the end of a blog would be even more pretentious than the phrase “such an undertaking”. I’ll bring this to a conclusion now, before my vocabulary denigrates entirely to the level of a sixth form poet.

The deepest blues are black.

A Poem for Lila

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Rimbaud has nothing on me
For all his scriptures and beautiful prose
He may say that you have the beauty of a rose
But I make you giggle and let you steal my nose

No, I’m neither a Lennon or McCartney
I can’t sing or play guitar
I’ll never write you a ‘Yesterday’ or ‘Love Me do’
Just make you boiled eggs and find your shoes.

I will never be a Picasso
What does he possess that I don’t
He might paint you in a thousand shades of blue
I’ll help you with the toggles on your coat

I’m not as wealthy as I’d like
Though your mum says I spoil you anyway
I’ll be there when you wake up, if you’re scared of the dark
Although if it’s four am, I refuse to take you to the park

I’ve written this poem, not that you need it
Another thing I’ll do is teach you to read it.

Smoking Ban

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You’re quite the dashing chap, with a bally splendid hat
And a manner of expression one finds quite appealing
Tell all, my dear fellow, for one usually so mellow
You’re clearly climbing the walls and strolling on the ceiling
Alas, close to a broken man, you simply mutter “smoking ban”
The dastardly legislation has you reeling.

For many a year, the health police have coughed and sneered
In restaurant, cafe and public house they’ve sniped
Then the bad news reached your ear, it certainly seems queer
But they’ve only gone and banned a fellow’s pipe
It’s as bad as one could fear, we’re no longer welcome here
The wind and rain make briar jolly hard to light.

You’d think we’d sold our souls, and been robbed of all the gold
Chased outside like rats, where’s the fairness in that
With facial hair and eyes bold, we’ll tell the tales of old
When the bar was filled with laughter, smoke and chat
And before you start to scold, in spite of the bloody cold
I managed not to call the man to blame a… sod.

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