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


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.

Boiling an Egg and Dying Inside

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It is most unbecoming of me, but I must begin this, the first of what will be at least weekly blog posts, with a tawdry confession.  Already I have been dishonest. The title of this missive is only half true and, as the mathematicians among you will have realised, this means it is at least half false. A minimum of 50% of the very title you see at the top of this page is untrue; all I can do is ask your forgiveness and pray that our friendship can recover. Confession time: I don’t own any eggs, and thus cannot be boiling one. I’m sorry. I realise a large proportion of my potential audience were only reading this for the egg and I must now relinquish my hold on your optical nerves and minds. The tile is not, I hasten to assure you, complete bunkum – I am dying inside.

Somewhat paradoxically I continue to hold that the illness is not terminal, not a “sickness unto death,” and furthermore I grasp the potential cure in my hand at this very moment. The illness is the spiritual tapeworm known as depression; the cure a fountain pen.  It is my aim to banish Kierkegaard’s “sickness unto death,” Churchill’s “black god” and my spiritual tapeworm by writing. Why a spiritual tapeworm? It burrows throughout my insides devouring enjoyment and pleasure – I propose to tempt it out with a treat emotion, tie it at one end with inspiration and crush it with the mallet of creativity.  The metaphor is undoubtedly a grotesque one, but to use any other kind would be to belittle the grotesqueness and pain caused by the problem; and worse, the power of the solution. I have seen firsthand the destructive potential of the tapeworm, its ability to crush, dissolve and devour all in its path leaving behind an empty wasteland. On the other hand, I know well the awesome curative properties of the solution – its ability to strangle the tapeworm to replace it with the warmest and fuzziest of feelings. Emotions which cannot but seem trite when put into words and which nonetheless form the basis of the finer points of humanity.

‘Moodswings and Roundabouts’ is a title I’ve used on a number of occasions (it derives from a Wildhearts box set) and may require a spot of explanation. I… the correct word escapes me, I suppose ‘suffer’ will suffice for today, from bipolar disorder. The symptoms of this disorder are well known, not least through the work of Stephen Fry, and need no rehashing from me. It seems that the phrase that most accurately describes my experiences is, quite simply, ‘Moodswings and Roundabouts.’  This eloquent phrase is also the title of a memoir which will see the daylight when a) I get it into reasonable form b) a publisher accepts it and c) it actually achieves publication.  In my current state of mind I believe this will occur at the same moment I change my name to ‘Backwards Fred’ and wander around with a leg for an arm and an arm for a leg. In order to continue my self-medication with creativity I have begun this blog.

It is now necessary to return for a time to the metaphor of the tapeworm. I have a marked tendency to fixate on ideas, and although some may feel that this one has been bled dry, I’m determined to wring the last few droplets. The parasitic nature of both physical and spiritual tapeworms is identical, feeding from the host and leaving them exhausted. The need for nutrition of the soul is often overlooked, but is just as vital as for the body. It is these nutrients of the soul/mind that the spiritual tapeworm of depression steals; worse, it tries to prevent them from being replenished. Both tapeworms can lay dormant for long periods of time, then take from the host in small amounts – unnoticeable but slowly building until the hosts defences are destroyed. When did you last hear someone discuss tapeworm? Never. People seem to have little compunction to discuss their illnesses, the more painful and prolonged the more they are discussed, but not tapeworm. Too shameful, too embarrassing and it just sounds silly. So it burrows away deep inside, continuing to take and take – the symptoms never showing to anyone but the sufferer. Here, even to a fixated idea-wringer like me, the similarities end. Parasites rarely kill the host even if left unchecked; they require a constant supply of food and finding a new host is a great effort. Depression kills. It continues to take until there is nothing left then the host often dies – and without acknowledgement, treatment and attempts at prevention it is much more likely to do so. Most people with depression rely on two treatments: ‘Ignorital’ and ‘Fuckital’, neither are a long term solution.

Creativity is everything depression is not; uplifting; positive; helpful; and creative (obviously). Creativity is often the product of bipolar disorder and depression, although to me creativity is the opposite side of the bipolar coin, the side I hope the coin falls upon each time it goes into a spin. Every light in the dark, rose in the thorns cliché is true when used to describe how I feel when the depression lifts and I manage to achieve even something as fleeting as these few pages.

Just to add further weight to my argument, I can manage to look out of the window now, which would have been impossible earlier. Such is the power of creativity I may even be able to make it to the shop and purchase nourishment for the body – although no eggs so I’m still dishonest as to the title. My thanks to Petersons of Dublin (pipe tobacco suppliers), Tamasyn (for putting up with my moodswings and roundabouts) and to The Almighty Bobbu (when this gets online it’ll be due to his techie expertise). In any case this is a blog not an Oscar acceptance speech and my music has stopped.