Sunday 10 July 2016

Episode 42: GO HOME!

You know me. You followed me around the country. You loved me on the TV when I had you in stitches with jokes about my penis. You followed me in the tabloids, you supported my charitable works. Then you didn't. I don't know why. You just stopped. Now, I have people who love me again. So much that they made me their mayor. This is my new story, From Under Dark Clouds.

It would have been so easy, a forth ticket. Go back to London. The tabloids would pick my bones cleaner than a bucket of bbq ribs. But if I could just lay low for a while, they would eventually tire of it, start picking on someone else. I could turn the whole experience into a show, start touring again. Maybe. I could go stay with some friends in the States. Do some tearful tea-time chat shows about my exploits at the hands of the cave-dwelling Europeans. Get a guest-star on a soap or some Netflix series. Fuck! If Piers Morgan could get a gig over there. Might have to stay away from the bible belt but that’d be no loss. It would all have been so easy. Relatively.
The message crucified to my office door was unambiguous, it said GO HOME! And the ink had made a sticky pool on the carpet. The messenger would not be missed by anyone who wasn’t already missing him thousands of miles away.
I was sitting on the steps sucking the calm out of another cigarette when Jude arrived, he touched my shoulder as he passed to Roni who showed him inside.
Socrates pulled up next, followed by the police. He started at me, I swung a thumb over my shoulder and told him to see for himself. As he passed I grabbed his sleeve.
“Have you got any…”
He looked down and grunted. “There’s a couple of bottles in the trunk.” He looked at his watch and walked away.
When he came back out he snatched the bottle from my mouth. “I need you sober!” I disagreed, no one needed me sober, much less me. I tried to take one last deep swig but the old bastard won, the strength to fight him was in that bottle.
“There’s a fucking slant nailed to your door!” I should have been offended by his racist slur but truth was the guy nailed to my office door did appear to be Chinese, Asian of some sort, but more importantly dead and beyond caring about any other word to describe him.
The police came out in a crackle of radio and started running yellow and black tape across the entrance.
I heard them snigger,”Yellows. Blacks. One less!”
They finally ejected Jude and Roni before sealing and went back to the squawking of their radios.
Someone told the officers to call an ambulance. “Too late! Chinese takeaway, send a fridge and the cleaners.”
Socrates was still holding the bottle and my mouth was arid for it.
The staff began to arrive but a police cordon sent them back home. None of them were too eager to argue but a crowd had begun to gather, many of them holding phones and cameras in the air. One of them I recognised as the ruddy-faced Englishman from the Town Hall towers riot. Bad news travels fast. My secretary broke through and ran to me, she was no athlete but she looked good when she ran.
She pulled the flight details from her bag and asked if I wanted her to call the wife. I did but I would have to do it. My hand fell to my cigarettes before my phone so I lit and sucked hard before tapping her face on the screen.
She didn’t know what was going on but she would before the flight. I had to be sure that she would leave. I told her I would call her mother to pick them up at the airport. Greek mothers are a force to be reckoned with. She made me promise to follow after. I promised, then repeated after. I couldn’t decide whether I was being brave or stupid. Fortunately the plain-clothes arrived and I didn’t have to choose.
We gave our statements in an unsullied end of the building, an English-speaking officer had been brought in for me, Roni and Jude. Their memory cards were taken after some protest. We were left with a uniform at the door.
Socrates had not been confined to the room, he’d arranged for a couple of the boys to go up and take care of the wife. I asked if we should get a police guard. He laughed, “I’ll send some boys up, they’ll be safer.”
Roni and Jude were being very supportive. They kept asking me how I felt and what I was planning to do and who I thought was responsible. I really needed to talk to Dr Alex but we had to keep a lid on this as long as we could. The less people knew, the better and I had Roni. She was quite the sounding board. The more I talked the better I felt. You know, it wasn’t me nailed to the door. The wife and the boys would be on a plane to London soon enough and the police would get them, after all this was a threat on a major political candidate. This could even swing the vote. In a few short months, I could be running this place. That would show them.
Jude yelled “Oh yes!” from the corner. I knew he was behind me.
I mused out loud over the idea while idly tapping through my facebook feed. The same last-night party pictures, inspirational memes and coffee cups. Roni ummed and ahhed and absolutely-ed. I liked and shared some of my campaign videos. Replied ‘thx’ to some kind comments. My phone continued to ping with interest. People were liking what I stood for. The fact that I’d rattled the fascists had to be a plus.
Jude leaped to the window and yelled, “Roni, camera!” I jerked up from my phone she didn’t have to ready her tool, it had been trained on me. How much had she filmed?
The stretcher coming out of the main doors of the town hall was covered with a white sheet that did little to obscure the gore of its load. The arms protruded from each side. The rectangular shape of his peddler’s tray lay flat on his chest. The same tray that had bore the message painted in his own blood, ‘Gamoto soy sou!’ I FUCK YOUR FAMILY! I could pick out every detail under the sheet, still seared in my eyes but the face had gone. All I could see now were my own features in place of his.
The legs of the stretcher folded as it entered the back of the blue van then dropped again as it was pulled back out. Some commotion began, arms waved. One of the crew walked away waving his palms in clear rejection. Jude sniggered and Roni echoed. A police officers stood forward and grabbed one of the arms as he thrust the stretcher hit the back of the van but the arm was now parallel with the body. He did the same with the other then thrust an open palm at the ambulance crew and walked off.
The man who had until recently been crucified to my office door was probably from China, well known in the low-rent neighbourhood for peddling smartphone cases and selfie sticks as well as cheap plastic toys that were popular with the kids. He would never be reported missing. Anyone who could have known or cared would be more interested in protecting their own safety. Anyone back home might notice the cheques stopping and never learn why. Just one of nearly 1.4 billion people who would quickly be replaced.
I had to get home, I had to see my kids. I had to see someone who cared if I lived or died. I ran out of the office to tell the officer that I would be leaving, with or without their sayso. The door swung open and bounced off the wall. The corridor was empty. Through the window I could see a lone squad car, the officers were nowhere to be seen. The ambulance had taken the peddler off to be forgotten, the crowds had dispersed.
We took Jude’s rental up the mountain. He was getting used to driving in Greece and no longer made a big show of stopping at amber lights but we arrived to an empty house.


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Sunday 26 June 2016

Enough is Enough

On 23rd June 2016 Great Britain made the historic decision to break a 43-year relationship with Europe. A relationship that has never been without its issues, Britain is an island nation and never truly felt part of the continent.

Both camps, Brexit and Bremain campaigned on "fear and loathing", half-truths (I may be being a little generous here) and statistics (see Disraeli's quote).

But one truth remains, a democratic referendum took place and the outcome, while close, was clear 52% of those who cared enough to be heard said that enough was enough.

Now panic has set in. 

  • Crazy talk of London becoming a separate state.
  • David Cameron has stepped down
  • Talk of Britain being a fascist nation
  • Blah
  • Blah
  • Blah

All of this is a distraction from two key points.

  • Britons have democratically decided
  • The decision needs to be made to work

And here is the main point that needs to be understood.

Any U-Turn now wold be a white flag to the EU (read Germany). Any buckling now would be a sign of weakness that would forevermore be regretted by a Britain that would be forced to slowly but surely assimilate with the technocrats of Brussels under the watchful eye of Merkel, Shauble über alles. Did the British petition for surrender during the blitz?  

The fear-mongering continues but we need to put some of these fears into context.

Britons will still be able to work in Europe. 

Those who have the skill sets that are required around the world will still be welcome to share those skills for the benefit of the host countries. This happens around the world irrelevant of EU or non-EU.

Europeans will still be able to work in UK.

For the same reasons as stated above with the only difference that there will be more of a supply and demand basis. In other words, the skills required will be allowed and those that are adequately covered by the local workforce will not. 

Britons will still be able to travel freely through Europe.

For those of you who can remember travelling through Europe before before Schengen, which of course UK never joined, will recall that there was limit trouble crossing borders, no special visas. In fact, there are many countries around the world that accept Britons without any pre-arranged visa.

British companies will still be able to trade with Europe.

Does the US not trade with Europe, Does China not trade with Europe? Agreements will need to be renegotiated but if British companies work on quality and competitiveness, British products and services will still be in demand. The world's students will still come to study. Airbus wings and engines will still be made in Britain. 

The markets.

London is and will remain a world financial centre. The London stock exchange and Deutsche Börse entered a merger to protect themselves from just this eventuality. Fear-mongers are talking of it moving its operation centre to Frankfurt but the trading floors will remain. The markets are profit and confidence driven. If British industry continues to innovate, invest and give returns on those investments, the markets will be happy to trade. A slightly weaker Pound will improve exports while stimulating consumption of domestic products over imports. What we have seen over the last few days of turmoil has been a risk averse market in both Pounds and Euros keeping them fairly level pegging. If a Trump presidency does the same for the Dollar then the three major index currencies will balance at traditional levels (just saying).

The Economists.

There is no precedent for Brexit, this has never happened before. A major economy leaving a trading bloc on this scale. Any predictions are based on theory and what any economist or trader will tell you is that the world economy is not an exact science, it is based on human behaviour.

And it is with this that I will close. Britain needs to get working on making this work! Nobody really expected this but plans are in place, strategies have been drafted. 

I lived and am still living through Greece's show of strength and subsequent capitulation after last year's Athens spring. The EU does not play cricket.

Stop whining and vilifying the democratic process. There will be difficulties and challenges but this would not be the first time and we are still here after those battles. We will prevail only AND ONLY if we are decisive and not divisive. We need leadership and to rediscover what we capable of in SPITE of challenge.

The Sword is ne'er keener than in battle's midst! 

Keep it here for my ideas on how the EU's recent behaviour has qualified our decision.

Tuesday 31 May 2016

The Lobster: A Crop Of... review

Yes, I know I've been very quiet for some time but this, I just had to share with you.

About five years ago I was recommended to watch a film, now this happens all the time but this film was Greek. Despite Greece being my chosen home, I don't watch Greek TV, I love (...loved) my Top Gear, Dr. Who, IT Crowd. Few in the world do it better than the BBC. I love British music (been mainlining Radiohead's new one lately) and I ride a Vespa, which we allow the Italians to make but is STILL British! And, I love British films, we have more astounding actors than anyone, full stop. Anyways up, I conceded to watch Dogtooth and I was spellbound. I couldn't remember a film that had resonated for so long after the closing credits. It is an allegory of the Greek family, society and even the Google globalisation. I was stoked when it was in the running for a foreign language Oscar but it lost to some Danish film (I think) and that, I thought, was that. 

When I heard that Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Fillippou had made another, this time in English, I chaffed at the bit to see it.

The Lobster is about a man, David who is ditched by his wife for another. Bad enough, but this is a society where singles are not tolerated. David is taken to an asylum where he has 45 days to find a partner or be turned into an animal of his choice (yes, it is that weird) David chooses a lobster and Olivia Coleman's Hotel manager congratulates him on his unusual but informed choice. Accompanied by a sheepdog who used to be his brother he tries to find a perfect match. Other men fake nosebleeds and other flaws to connect with the women but David chooses a sociopath and things don't go well. he finally runs from the asylum to join a group of 'Loners' who are just as dysfunctional as the society they live in.

The cast is jewelled with prime British talent like the aforementioned Olivia Coleman, Colin Farrell who rejects his Miami Vice good looks, Rachel Weisz, who can't help being gorgeous, Ben Whishaw, who was brilliant in The London Spy and Ashley Jensen who I loved in Extras. But it wasn't just Brits who made the scene, John C. Reilly who rarely puts a foot wrong and Greece's own Angeliki Papoulia.  However dazzling the cast, they only served as elegant brush strokes on Fillippou and Lanthimos' canvas of macabre observation and wit. Their clipped, metered dialogue shades cinematography that looks like it was filmed on a Poloroid instamatic. Many promising directors take a huge dump on the rulebook only to fall into line when signatures fall on the Hollywood chequebook. This has definitely not been the case with these two, The Lobster is as bemusing and beguiling as Dogtooth. Just think Nolan's Memento, Fincher's Fight Club, Arnofsky's Requiem. What do I know, I couldn't even tell you how much weight De Niro gained and lost for Raging Bull!

I urge you to see both Dogtooth and The Lobster. What I know of Greeks is that they have an opinion on most things but few have the eloquence and wit of Lanthimos and Fillippou. Once you have seen them, I want you to make me a sincere promise that if they make a film that makes sense with one viewing you are to send them packages of FRENCH feta cheese until they get back on track.    

Tuesday 15 March 2016

If literary characters had representation...

The freezing drizzle fell heavy on the fine balance for my morning run in the mountain. A warm bowl of porridge was so much closer, so much… warmer. My laptop sprung into life without any such reservations and pinged Facebook updates at me, the weather, breakfast cereals and the internet were now joining forces against me. I didn’t stand a chance. I shut down the distractions and went to perk some coffee. Scrivener took me to the cliffhanger where I had left my characters dangling. Waiting saviour, solace or slaughter but I had none. The cursor blinked and blinked. My heart began to sync with it but no word, no letter came.
finally my characters huffed and stomped off to their trailers, chiding me over their shoulders as they left me alone, “Call us when you got something interesting to do.”
It’s a good job literary characters don’t have representation. Their trailers cost me a few keystrokes but the rewrites were endless. I made the mistake of giving a protagonist a shrink once and he’s still harping on about improving relations with his mother.
“Yeah! I’m going to update my facebook status.” My fragile, sympathetic heroine spat. I’m glad I don’t give her many lines, she’s an awful actress. Everyone knew she was going back to his trailer.
The cursor is still winking.
The bit parts start getting shifty.
I look at them and they look back at me. I could build you into a love interest, an evil nemesis, a cyber-borne virus.
“Ok, great! But get on with it. We took a day off Lidls for this. It may be minimum wage but it’s a living wage.”
The other mumbles something about a double shift at Nando’s.
This isn’t the first time I’ve hit a wall. You know what it’s like. What’s that face for? You know what ‘The Block’ feels like, hanging in the air above a huge abyss just knowing that falling would be preferable to hanging. I grit my teeth and began larruping the keyboard but the closest to a word I can get is q-w-e-r-t-I.
I’ve had this before. I got past it. I revisited an old post to benefit from past wisdom.
Fuck! Even I’m goading myself from the past. All I need now is for my late Grandma to call me and point out what a useless hack I am. She was published long before me and deserved it more. She lived through a world war, I barely made it through a consumer spending slump.
It’s simple, all I need to do is write, that’s what my past self tells me.
Inspired by my bullying self, I roll up my sleeves and resolve to write. Write anything and see where it takes me. I get back to scrivener just in time to see the bus leave, taking my remaining material off to a double shift at Nando’s.
Sod this for a game of soldiers! I’m going to lounge on the sofa and watch Stewart Lee slag off rich people with a cup of herbal tea…

…and a bacon sandwich.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Episode 41: A message from beyond the grave

You know me. You followed me around the country. You loved me on the TV when I had you in stitches with jokes about my penis. You followed me in the tabloids, you supported my charitable works. Then you didn't. I don't know why. You just stopped. Now, I have people who love me again. So much that they made me their mayor. This is my new story, From Under Dark Clouds.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my term of office as mayor, it’s that I have no idea what I’m doing. Fortunately, I’ve also learned that I’m not the only one. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the only ones who do are the ones who’ve never tried. As for running an entire nation? Just look at the people running yours.
I have, however, been trying to find out.
You pay your taxes and the collectors give your money to the suits and they build roads and schools and hospitals. It was a simple formula that had worked for centuries. But, there were so many varieties of this plan. You encouraged people to pay people to make stuff so they had money to buy stuff then you taxed everyone to make money to build the stuff that no one wanted to build, like schools and roads and hospitals. You could then lend people more money to buy more stuff so more people are needed to make stuff so they can buy much more stuff and they also have to pay people to keep check of the people who borrow the money. Then you can turn a blind eye to the taxes from the people who make it all happen and more will come and pay more people to make more stuff and sell it around the world. But, you still need to build schools and hospitals and roads. This was free market economics and many argued that it was a perfect meritocracy because only the best makers would sell stuff and only the best debt-collectors would have money to lend.
The trouble here was, that for ages now nobody was buying much of anything and so they didn’t need to pay anyone to make anything and the suits had nobody left to tax. But, they still had to pay back all the loans they’d taken to build the schools and roads and hospitals because they’d never quite got the hang of making people pay their taxes and when they did, they had shared it amongst themselves to buy shiny cars from the Germans. The answer was clear, they borrowed money to pay the loans and keep the suits in suits and shiny German engineering. I was sure it was much more complicated than that but I was fucked if I could see how.
Then there was another way. On top of all the stuff people didn’t want to make, you took over making the stuff they did, sold it and made all the profit. Then shared it with the people. This was called Marxism and a few places had tried it with varying levels of failure. But why? Surely if you can run an entire country, making some washing machines and self-assembly furniture would be a doddle, right?
Then I stumbled on this guy called Jacques Fresco who had a totally different angle on the whole game. He has a vision which had been his life’s work and now he was pretty old so he must have worked out many of the kinks. He called it “The Venus project” and I was sold. It was a no-brainer. Of course, he was having some trouble selling it to anyone with a country at their disposal but I couldn’t see the down-side.
Eventually I got hold of Karaletsos, he’s an arrogant prick but he lectures at LSE so he must know his beans if he’s teaching my people how to count them.
“Listen, if you called to explain your nurturing tax-man strategy, you are wasting your time— and mine. I’m a very busy man.” He may be but he was intrigued enough to answer my call.
“No, on the contrary, Mr. Karaletsos. I’m looking for counsel.” I knew that appealing to his vanity would pique his interest and It did. “Your New Democracy chap proposed a more-of-the-same strategy but what do you think is the way to turn this country round?”
“More austerity? Bullshit! There is not an economist who is not on the Eurozone payroll who subscribes to this. This will only serve to degrade economic sovereignty in the peripheral Eurozone economies, ultimately resulting in a federal Europe.” I wouldn’t tire you with the exact content of his diatribe, even if I could remember half of it but it sounded pretty grim.
“So what can we do?” I asked.
“Nothing!” He left a pause that I could only fill with oh dear! “The more-of-the-same policy, as you put it, is just kneeling to the inevitable!”
He launched into a history lesson. “Adam Smith thought of macro-economics as a machine. Each action having an equal yet opposite reaction. Marx was one of the first to understand the political aspect of the science. He just got the language wrong. You see, economics is a language with laws as the grammar and tax as the lexicon. Marx thought that people would appreciate the common purpose and work as a community.”
“But they didn’t?”
“They didn’t. You see, people don’t want equality, they want better, so the language gets lost. Communism has to shout, louder and louder to be heard. Capitalism whispers. It lets you keep your money and your freedom but you do as you are told.”
“So tax is the language?”
“If I want to reduce the healthcare budget, I can ask you to give up smoking, that it’s bad for you. You ignore me! I use the law to ban smoking in public places and increase tax on cigarettes, you listen. Those who don’t, bridge the gap in my budget. A dialogue.”
“So what happened in Greece?”
“Well, Greeks don’t listen to anyone, they are always looking for what they want to hear and so many different, private dialogues began which confused the communication.” He laughed. “Here in Britain, you listen, you comply. We do not!”
I tried to ask for a solution but he was already back on a roll.
“Free market economics, Milton Freidman. Let the market alone to find its equilibrium, unencumbered by governmental bureaucracy. Survival of the fittest.”
“And if we were to take money out of the equation?” I asked. “It strikes me that there are plenty of iPads and houses. There is no shortage of them. But money, that is a problem. What if we did away with money?”
He huffed, “Please don’t be so naive! You are talking about barter. Have you not listened to anything? A state would lose its lexicon, there would be no dialogue.”
“No.” I contested. “A resource-based economy.”
He groaned and hung up.
I was sure there was something I was missing but no one could tell me what it was. The idea kept me awake half the night and I promised myself to get to the bottom of it as soon as I got the the office in the morning.
I was first to arrive at the town hall with Roni in tow. There was no ambiguity in the lexicon of the note pinned to my door. Roni threw up on her shoe, still holding the camera up to the door. I slumped against the opposite wall and slid down it without taking my eyes off it. I said Roni’s name as a question, she answered to confirm that were both seeing it. The clock on the wall tocked then seized, a moment on the rack.
I pulled out my phone, scrolled down the contacts to the police, stopped and scrolled on to my secretary. I started down the hall then went back to pull Roni along with me. I tapped the contact. The police could wait.
My secretary answered, perky and willing.
“I want to fly— I want tickets for my family. Today for London. As soon as possible!”
“And you, Sir?”
I dropped the phone to my waist, gripping it in both hands. I turned my head to confirm the truth still nailed to my office door. Roni was pacing back and forth, her phone to her ear, her lips moving. All I heard was my pulse thumping at my eardrums.
“No— not me, I’m staying.”


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Friday 19 February 2016

Would you like people to be nice to you?

So, it’s about 7.30 in the morning and I’m heading down the mountain for an 8am appointment. The twisty-turnys are a little petulant this morning due to a generous frosting of dew so I gingerly pilot the Vespa, making full use of my lane to soften the bends. Then in my mirror I spot a shiny white X5 BMW. Any closer and he’d need lube! Now, I’ve been on two wheels since I’ve been on two legs and I’m not about to be intimidated by four wheel drive. I keep my mind on the task of keeping both wheels pointing down. He’s itching to get past but the blind turns keep sending oncoming traffic that could easily give him reason to abort any overtaking manoeuvre right onto my day, my medical insurance and my Vespa’s pristine curves. I hold my ground. Then after the thirteenth bend (yes, I’ve counted them) he floors his Bavarian tractor, nearly clipping me with his fully-automated door mirror. He honks and gives me a mountza (an open hand thrust in the direction of the insultee, rather like the middle finger you may be more familiar with) through the back window. I sent it right back. About a kilo later I catch up with him at the lights where his tractor is stuck in a queue of traffic along with the proletariat. I slip in next to him and tap on the window. And this is where my morning lesson really begins. He’s a mousy looking guy, completely at odds with the brawn of his wheels, no bigger than my eldest pre-teen son. His son was in the back seat. I asked him what his problem was, I was pissed off and probably showing it. He lisps in riposte that I had the problem and I should have pulled over for him to pass. So this weaselly arse in designer gym clothes is telling me that his right of way is way more right than mine and I’ve got my toe on the centre stand ready to dismount and charge. The child in the back seat keeps me from venting profanity but I’m getting ugly. The lights go green and he makes off, still adamant in his righteous behaviour and I start doing the maths of ramming his SUV with my Vespa and fortunately make the right decision.

I relayed the story to a friend and he began to tell me about his Dad. Before his death he insisted on driving but did so at his own pace. He regularly acquired a tail of disgruntled motorists all in a hurry to be nowhere in particular. He told me that he kept this in mind when stuck in irritating road situations. Yeah! So the dick up my arse on the slippery winding road should have been more charitable to me! “No,” he said. I should have been more charitable to him.
Ok, So how many of you are buying this? I wasn’t.
He told me that if I had said sorry, but the road was pretty slippery and I was just trying to stay alive a little longer (without the irony that I’m projecting through the keyboard right now) he might just have seen me from behind the mist of all the problems of his morning. The anger would have been defused, the defences would have dropped and maybe an understanding achieved. Not to mention a valuable lesson for the son in the back seat (did I mention that I’m a teacher? No maybe not the best of times to bring that up). My mind went back to nearly ten years ago when I was involved in a near-miss on a cross junction. We rolled down our windows and I gave him a piece of my mind. He left and the car behind stopped in my path and the driver asked, “Would it have hurt so much to say sorry?” I still remember how humbled I felt.
We all want to live in a more understanding world where people consider others. We all want to feel that others see us yet we continue to vent our frustrations on those who have little to do with its cause. If we are going to turn these situations around, we need to disarm our opponents and open a window into the life which is so similar to theirs. Turn opponents into momentary friends. It’s easy to stay angry when you are met with anger and bile but difficult when met with understanding and charity. The guy in the Bavarian tractor would have passed this anger off onto someone else but he could just as easily have been given a pleasant surprise and the beginning of a whole new day.

I won’t be pulling aside to let an impatient schmuck pass, I will expect him to do what I always do on the twisty-turnys, hang back and wait for the straight. I won’t resist the urge to tap on the window of someone who has put me in danger. I will not desist from giving them a piece of my mind but I will invest in my environment by making sure that it is a better, more constructive mind that I share.

Wednesday 6 January 2016


The two female voices above my head gently volleyed their subject back and forth. Short strokes passing turn to the other, neither the questions too probing nor the answers too comprehensive, like a heartbeat. Systole. Diastole. One of the voices was my wife, I think, but I wouldn't swear to it, neither was overly-concerned. The slow regular metronome beeps of the heart monitor seemed to punctuate their conversation, each beep a bullet-point of my life waiting for details to justify its existence.
I first became aware of my condition, as it were, one day at Frinton-on-sea or Southend or somewhere. Charlie, my youngest, was splashing in the water, emitting shrill giggles of pleasure. The wife was beside me, sunning herself behind huge dark lenses. The wave rolled in and lifted him before pulling him down. I saw it all happen, even watched for a while, like a YouTube video.  The events developed behind a sheet of glass. Running, mouths open, arms flailing, a limp child. Then I had to drive. Fast. The wife’s mouth was wide open, her eyes streaming. I focused on the road. At one set of traffic lights a Citroën pulled up beside us, the new one with the windscreen that goes up over the roof. I was involved with the campaign. Fabulous visibility if you want to look up, otherwise it was like driving a greenhouse. The hospital carpark was quite empty so we found a space in no time; it’s the little pleasures, eh? They took the kid in really quickly, say what you like about the health service but there’s nothing like a four-year-old with purple lips to get them in action. I took the opportunity to go out and check my emails.
When the doctor came out he said it had been touch and go. He was still pretty shaken up but he would be fine. I could have told them that; the waves had shaken him like a martini. I was probably relieved. The tide had taken him quite deep and he had taken in a lot of water. I knew then that it was the first time I was aware of it because I knew that it wasn't right, something was missing. I realised that I should have felt something but I couldn’t focus on what it should have been. I looked around and did my best to emulate the faces of the people around me. There was a buzz in my pocket, Facebook. I told myself it wasn’t important and checked the faces of my wife and the doctor before pulling the device from my pocket; a puppy meme. Puppy memes are the new cat videos. Their faces changed but I couldn’t mimic this look. Something had changed. I still remember the events but I couldn't tell you what it was.
That night the wife stayed with the boy in the hospital and I took the remaining one home. I explained to him that mummy wouldn't be coming home for a few days because his brother had nearly died and mothers like to be there when these things occur. He took it quite well, but why wouldn't he. I ordered pizza and let him play on my tablet until long after his bedtime.
When the kids came along life changed its soundtrack from laughter with friends at the pub and cosy nights of quiet bliss to noise. Crying from the baby, screams from the wife. I tried to make things right. I bought teething gels, employed babysitters, bought her lingerie but the lingerie gathered dust, the nights out were spent waiting for a crisis call and the baby continued to scream.
I started to live a permanent state of fury, losing my temper for reasons I couldn't explain. The wife told me I wasn’t being sensitive enough to her needs. I could have argued that I was too sensitive to her frustration. Love amplifies pain. When someone you love has forsaken happiness for obligation, the only viable act of self-preservation is detachment.  I started drinking to muffle the pain but that just made things worse. Alcohol allows you to say things that an otherwise active part of the brain would filter. The same part of the brain that is wholly underdeveloped in bigots and zealots and people who speak too loud on public transport. Thing is though, once things are said they cannot be unsaid and women collect pain, like dogs collect fleas ready to be shared on contact.
Our childless friends stayed away. Babies evoke jealousy and sympathy in couples but mostly a fear of contagion.
My days became a cycle of flying cutlery, apologies and a cold back growling 'fuck-you!' before snoring back into the next loop.
Work required one-hundred and ten percent. The wife demanded undivided attention, the kids needed complete care. I got what was left.
Thankfully, the fatigue brought with it a warm muffled haze of exhaustion. The pressure of work became a haven, the relationships were similar but at least I wasn’t supposed to care about any of them.
I think in the beginning it was a conscious thing, I actually turned down the volume and the more I did the more it stayed down. 
I worked in marketing and I was very good. Advertising requires a finger on the pulse, an understanding of the Great British consumer. Empathy. I had that in spades in the beginning, I always knew what people wanted but as the time went on, I lost it. I used to be able to walk down the high-street and pick out anyone from the crowd, I could tell you their drivers, their desires and where I could seduce them into sales. Then they became faceless mannequins, units of consumption. Curious thing was that I got better at my job. When you strip down all the frilly edging, people just want. They want new stuff, they want what you have, they want what you can’t have and they want more. I, on the other hand had trained myself not to want, not to need.
As the kids grew up, the wife grew old and I wore my ties a little tighter. When they went to school she went back to work. After bedtime stories she told me about the flaws in her colleagues and I did my best to say the right things before she left me on the sofa to wait for the alarm to signal the beginning of another cycle.            
The room is empty now, just me and the slow regular beep of my existence. I open my eyes, a slight change in light but little else. I remember events in spartan detail, step by step like history revision notes. Some of the events bleed into others but mostly just bullet-point information.
Work was still going well. It was me that came up with the “Buy these biscuits, they’re better than the cheap ones!” campaign. It became a cult classic, people said it was post-ironic. I couldn’t see it myself. A big faceless company wanted to sell more biscuits so we got some celebrities to tell them to do it. Simple. 
My trips to the doctors began after an incident one Sunday, I could tell you the time and date as well but that would be showing off.
The kids were protesting about something and the wife was trying to out-protest them when a blue Hot Wheels car came flying over my shoulder and landed with a plop in the chip pan. I first looked down at my shirt, one of my favourite Fred Perrys. Then an explosion of tears from the youngest boy and the realisation that the car was bobbing around with the potatoes, slowly sinking. I plunged my hand in and snatched at a potato but eventually grabbed the car, its plastic pieces were a little soft but it appeared undamaged. Fortunately, the screaming stopped. I turned holding the toy in my outstretched palm to see the wife and kids staring. I couldn't remember them looking at me like that before. No yells, no demands just silence. I followed their gaze to my hand and the car. The oil was running down my arm and dripping from my elbow onto the floor. I had saved the car and now she was going to bounce on my balls for a couple of drips on the kitchen mat; fucking typical. The eyes followed my hand as I put the car down on the table. I remember thinking that some of the red paint had transferred to my hand but it was blue. The black plastic of the wheels had begun to harden on my fingers, some had fused. I looked up at them all and offered an empty apology and intention to replace the bloody thing. The Fred Perry would come right in the wash.
All feeling evaporated like sweat replaced by a refreshing anaesthesia. Food and sex lost their flavour and watching films and reading books was an indifferent waste of time but I found myself absorbed by documentaries so it wasn't all bad.
At some point walking became an issue. My relationship with the earth became tenuous until one day I took a tumble down the stairs. Some bones had articulated beyond normal tolerances and one was making its exit through my forearm. Getting up had been impossible. I pulled out my phone with my good arm to pass the time. The kids started playing video games in the living room the moment they came back from school. I was reading an article on the Guardian online about interest rates when the wife got home. She made a terrible fuss. The kids were sent next door to the neighbours. I didn't get to finish the article.
The ambulance crew kept asking me where it hurt which became a bit of a pain. They seemed to be a bit preoccupied with huffing, calling control, huffing some more and asking me where it hurt again. I managed to finish the article before we arrived though.
That began my residence of the University hospital as an object of interest and research. The doctors were a little baffled, they tried dozens of cocktails of drugs for the pain; to cause it. They gave me so many cat-scans that I felt like I was stuck in a drain.

There were so many theories, acquired congenital analgesia, late-onset autism, early-onset Alzheimer’s, Asperger’s. My favourite was one who believed it to be a rare bowel disorder that had caused my pain receptors to overload, I actually laughed. Because as the beep turns to a long flat tone, I don't give a shit.                          
This is the second part of my Love and Marriage Trilogy a dark and harrowing study of what it means to survive the til death doing us part. 

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From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY