Prologue…

He stared at the façade of a broken family home and he remembered.

He wished, on some level, that they had never existed.  That he had never known who they were, that he had never been a father to three children and never been a husband to his wife.  He wished that his heart had not been ripped from his chest five years ago, as he carried their lifeless, charred bodies out of the back door and rested them all in a row on the wet lawn.  He wished he didn’t hear their screaming voices in his dreams, calling out for him, desperately needing his help to survive and knowing he was helpless.  So he came here at least once a week, to try to silence their voices, to mark a silent vigil with his own thoughts, and stare at a house that was disintegrating under the volume of memories it contained.

There was only the gaping eyes and a toothless mouth masquerading as windows and a door.  He knew that part of the roof had fallen into the attic, covering the old Christmas decorations and unused toys with tiles and rainwater.  The walls were crumbling, uncovering the autumn leaves turning to fiery reds and oranges through the walk through lounge and dining room.  The back wall had collapsed soon after the flames had died, leaving it all open to the elements.

Ray leant his shoulder against the lamppost he was stood next to and exhaled slowly, physically emptying his lungs to make his chest as empty as his soul.  He wished he didn’t remember this house as it was before.  He wished he didn’t remember it so intimately.  He wished he didn’t remember family meals, birthdays, Christmases, watching films together, random arguments about the bathroom rota.  It was as if every member of his family had left their imprint on every brick, each brick now falling back into the earth as there was no cement to hold it together anymore.  It was a shell of what it once was.  He was a shell of what he once was. He found his fingers had started to roll a cigarette without his brain registering what he was doing.  It was a comforting movement, something that was familiar.  The unrolling of the packet of tobacco, the sharp rip of the paper out of the tiny cardboard packet, the finger full of tobacco evenly distributed in the dent of the paper, the rolling into a tube, the licking of the gum, the rolling it again through his fingers to stick it all down.  It seemed as if his fingers were dancing, uncontrolled by his somatic nervous system.  It was a dance they could perform with his eyes shut and his brain dead.  As automatically as breathing.

He lit the end and sucked the fumes deep into his lungs, relishing the warmth it brought him from the chilly breeze whipping around him.  He glanced up and noticed a scruffy looking teenager approach him, gingerly holding a  pint pot of steaming liquid.  He presumed it was tea.

“My mum wanted you to have this.”

Ray stared at the steam, twirling into the autumn air.  He noticed the holes in his tracksuit bottoms and the dirt under his fingernails.  He vaguely recognised the face but not now, not in this time.  He recognised a boy, years younger, chubbier, smaller, playing with toy cars in his own back garden with his own son.  He didn’t recognise this almost man with fluff on his chin standing in front of him.

“Tell her thanks.”

He put the cigarette in the corner of his mouth and wrapped his cold fingers around the mug, glancing up at the house that contained the boy and his mother.  The body that belonged to the face was slowly moving away from the window now she knew that the boy had done what he had been asked to do.  She didn’t want to embarrass herself by staring at him and his still evidently raw grief.  But Ray knew she had done it before.  Before, he had put it down to the general paranoia he often felt when he stepped out, but now he knew he had been watched.  Literally, not metaphorically.  Which made a pleasant change, if he was honest.

“Can I have one of those?”

Ray dug into his pocket and handed him the tobacco, papers and a lighter.  The boy took them gratefully, a worried look quickly passing over his face.

“Shes not watching, is she?”

Ray glanced up again.  The window was still empty.  He shook his head slowly and watched as the boy knelt on one knee on the pavement, using his other thigh as a table.  Ray knew the resulting cigarette wouldn’t be perfect, but it would still be smokeable.  Most of them were.  He inhaled his own and took a sip of the tea, letting it burn all the way to his stomach.  He was grateful for the mild pain it caused, it reminded him to exhale.  He watched the boy’s clumsy fingers go through the same ritual he had gone through moments before, watched him stare at the flame for a second before touching it to the end of his cigarette and watched him blow the smoke out through his nostrils.  The boy handed the tobacco back with a cheeky smile.

“Cheers Mr Taylor, enjoy your tea.”

Ray nodded and watched him stroll away, with the swaggering gait of a teenager partaking in something illicit.  He smirked as he realised that the pure pleasure of doing something your mother wouldn’t approve of was as timeless as Shakespeare or Dickens.  Some things never change.  Even now everything had changed.  Now there were a lot worse things teenagers could be doing than talking a wander around the block to smoke.  Now, perhaps his mum wouldn’t care that much.

He sipped the tea again, and sat on the small wall behind him, placing the mug on the floor and resting his chin on the ball of one hand, causing his elbow to dig into his thigh uncomfortably.  He had never understood why this had happened.  There were so many unanswered questions that flew around his brain constantly, sometimes they made him feel nauseous.  He was never involved in anything untoward.  He used to be a plumber, he used to do jobs for anyone with the ability to pay or barter, he didn’t care what their political affiliations were, what their jobs were, where they lived.  It was never part of his job to care, so he didn’t.  He had friends and relatives who were actively involved, but other than a chance meeting in the pub, he never saw them.  Never made an effort to speak to them.  As far as he was aware, it wasn’t common knowledge who his brother was.  They had lost touch years before, they didn’t look alike and didn’t share a surname.  Who would even make that connection?

Ray was absolutely positive someone had.

His whole family burned alive and buried in the woods to send a message to a stranger.

DISSENT WILL NOT BE TOLERATED.

He muttered the words under his breath, rolling them around on his tongue, spitting them out on to the back of his teeth.

DISSENT WILL NOT BE TOLERATED.

Zoe Elizabeth Taylor   1971 – 2007

Mark Raymond Taylor   1999 – 2007

Rebecca Zoe Taylor   2001 – 2007

Logan Eric Taylor   2006 – 2007

He had buried all the important parts of himself with them on that July day.

DISSENT WILL NOT BE TOLERATED.

He took a long drag of the cigarette and flicked it towards the road.  He watched it as it smouldered in a pile of sodden leaves, finally going out.  He poured the rest of the tea into a watery, beige puddle over the wall.  They weren’t here anymore.  They weren’t anywhere anymore.  All he was left with was pain and emptiness and memories and the smell of charred flesh that never left his nose.  He didn’t even know why he came here anymore.  Nothing registered, nothing good, nothing bad.  He didn’t think he had any emotions left.

He stood, pulled his collar against the wind and marched purposefully away from the shell of his old life.  He needed to get back to where he subsisted now.  He needed something to make himself feel alive again.  He knew where that would be and what he needed to do.

 

On That Which Exists, Independent of Human Awareness.

I know you

Do you?

Yes.  Your face looks familiar but I don’t think we’ve ever met.  Unless it was a long time ago.  What’s your name?

Does it matter?

No, not really.  What do you do?

Does that matter either?

I suppose not.  Would you like me to tell you your name?

Please do.

Your name is Lucas Hemmingway.  With two M’s.  You get really annoyed when people miss out the extra M.

It’s not an extra M, it’s just how you spell my name.

I know.  My surname  used to be Abbott.  Two bees, two tees.  It used to annoy me too.  You are 41.  Your birthday is on the 10th July.  I remember this because it is the same as my husbands birthday.  You have been dating your girlfriend for nearly ten years.  You keep asking her to marry you and she keeps saying no.  Why do you keep asking?

Because I’m  eternally optimistic and I love being surprised.  One day, she might say yes.  Life’s a lottery.

The odds are about the same.

Which means there’s a one in fourteen million chance of it happening.  Slim, but still there.

You have one brother and one sister, they are both older than you.  Your mum lives in the middle of nowhere and your dad is dead.  You didn’t cry many tears over his death.

No, I didn’t.

He was…

Can we change the subject?

Please?  You don’t have to tell me the things that I already know about my screwed up family.

He was the defining person in your life.  The person who you didn’t want to become but didn’t want to disappoint.  The person who you adored but hated.  The person who destroyed your family, but the one person who you never directly blamed for it.  All the guilt you carried around about it nearly destroyed you too.

I’m sorry, like I said, I know you.

You don’t look familiar at all.  Considering all this information you seem to know about me, I would have thought I would have remembered you.  When did we meet?

I don’t know.

We must have met for you to know this.  Nobody knows this.  Nobody breathing anyway.

He died five years ago this Halloween, didn’t he?  Your best friend.  The man who you told everything to since the age of twelve.  He slit his throat in the bath while everyone else was at a party.  Even though his phone hasn’t been in use for all this time, every time you get a new phone, you still program his old number into it.  Both his flat and mobile numbers.  What was his name?

Paul.  That’s my brother’s name so we used to call him Heys.

Why?

You probably know why.

Yes, I do.  What about the numbers?  Why do you do that?

You probably know that too.

Yes, I do.  I know more about you than you think you know about yourself.

Okay, what’s my favourite band?

Metallica.  Your favourite Metallica album is the Black Album, because you have a theory that everyone’s favourite Metallica album is the one they grew up with, the one they released when they were getting into their own music at about ten or eleven.  Paul’s is Master of Puppets, by the way.

I know.  Favourite film?

Mad Max 2, The Road Warrior.  But you have all three films on all available formats, VHS, DVD and a Blu-ray copy too.

Favourite comic?

Transmetropolitan.  You have a half sleeve tattoo of Spider Jerusalem.  You read most things that Warren Ellis has written because of this, and you have most other comics that Darick Robertson has drawn.  You recently bid on and won a piece of original artwork.  It cost you three thousand dollars.  You will hang it above the TV, between the Indiana Jones poster and the bookcase.

Would you like more?

Ok, I was at a gallery opening last week with my girlfriend and she made a joke that I thought was hilarious and nobody else understood.  What was it?

Somebody you were talking to mentioned that they had quite a bad temper and were easily riled.  Your girlfriend joked that she was the female version of Trevor Phillips from Grand Theft Auto Five but with better personal hygiene.

Were you there?  Did you here that conversation?

I wasn’t there, no.  But I heard it.

How?  How do you know?  How did you hear it if you weren’t there?

I know because those are my words.  It’s the same way I know what you both look like without you standing in front of me.  I know what makes you cry, I know what makes you laugh, I know your love and your hates, I know your family histories and your futures.  I know what you look like clothed, naked, asleep, awake, smiling, frowning, upset, angry and calm.  I know everything about you.  Things that even you don’t know yet.  I know them.

I know them because you are not real.  You are a fictional character I have invented.  You are a name on a page and thoughts in my head.  You are nothing more.

I’m sorry.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have told you that.

No…it’s…

Look at it this way, it’s only my perception of the situation.  It’s not like I can persuade you you don’t exist in reality.

Why don’t you try?

Ok.  Google yourself.

I wont find myself.  I don’t use Twitter or Facebook, I don’t have a Tumblr account…

But this is the internet age.  Even if you don’t, other people do.  They might be talking about you, so your name will appear somewhere on the internet.  Try it.

What did you find?

Pictures of people who have my name but aren’t me.  People who have a similar name to me but aren’t me.  People who have names that are nothing like mine.  Lots of pictures of Taylor Swift.

So what you’re telling me is that because I don’t exist on the internet, I don’t exist in reality?

There is an argument for that.

Which doesn’t hold up.  Lots of people exist in reality and not on the internet.  Most people over the age of eighty I would imagine.  And what about the right to be forgotten?  How do you know that I didn’t apply to Google to take my name off their search engine?  Perhaps I didn’t want my private life splashed over Google images, forever.

It would still be on the internet though.  You can remove your name from a search engine, but your footprint is still available on each separate website.  Ok, try Bing then.

There’s even less on there.

Look, how about you think of it like this.  We are all the lead actors in our own films, only seeing things from our own point of view, the internal narration that we give our lives giving the only plot points that we care about.  Supporting actors come and go, parents, siblings, partners but our own story is only ever told by us.  There is only ever our way to be our story, only ever our way to act our part.

Therefore, you are more real to me than most people I meet in daily life, because I am the narrator of your life.  All the people who are sat on the bus with me on my trip home from work, I maybe able to touch them, but will I ever know their hope and fears, their wishes for the future like I know yours.  There has to be something more to reality than being able to touch something with your fingers and feel it being there.  As for Google, I could design a website for you, with all the information about yourself that you would ever need to know.  I could post pictures of someone who looks like you under your name and Google would have Its images.  All the internet is billions of voices trying to make themselves heard over the other billions of voices.  If a few of them are actually fake, who is going to realise over the cacophony of all the other fake voices that belong to real people anyway?  Just because there wont be a real Lucas Hemmingway shouting at the end of a broadband connection, doesn’t make him any more real or unreal than any of them.

So what about you?  Are you real?  Do you exist?

I think, therefore I am.

That’s shitty A Level philosophy, and avoiding the question.  I think, therefore I am.

You may, but your thoughts aren’t yours.  They are mine.  I gave them to you.  I gave you everything.  You’re welcome, by the way.

I don’t see any way this argument can ever be resolved.  We are just going round in circles.  I don’t have anything tangible to prove to you that I do exist in reality.  Maybe it’s the same for you.  I think it may be beside the point you’re trying to make.  I think you are trying to tell me that together, we are in a privileged, possibly unique, position.  That together, we see through each others eyes.  What you experience, I possibly could experience if you decide it should be that way.  You may change it to fit my character, but the choices, ultimately, are all yours.  Ultimately absolving me of any responsibility for anything.  I can just blame it all on you.

You wont though because I wont let you.  To me, you exist.  I have been writing your life for the last twenty years.  To everyone else that you don’t know, you don’t exist.  And it’s just the same for me.  They are the extras to your lead actor.  I am the extra to their lead actor.  Just because I have a Twitter account and a Facebook account and a Tumblr that I don’t use very often, doesn’t make me any more real than you.  At the end of 2014, everything can be authored.  Politics, history, the news, the lives of the famous, all this comes with a bias.  All of it is make believe.  Maybe its always been that way.  People are just the same.  Everyone is fake to some degree.

So what do we do now?

You leave this café and mention to Maggie and Paul that you’ve just met a certifiable woman who told you you were imagined.  We both get on with our lives.  You think about how there is an argument for the unreality of everything, even yourself and perhaps make some fantastic art out of it, in whatever medium.  I go back to my boring life of wife, mother, blogger and sometime writer, if I can fit all that in between the masses of books I have to read and the part-time day job.

And that’s it?  That’s how you are going to leave it?

I can’t really leave it any other way can I?

In olden days, when people said they had spoken to God or been visited by an angel, they were revered as prophets.  Now we would say they are schizophrenic.  But that was their reality, whether you believe they were mentally ill or not.  Labelling them is beside the point.  The only thing you can label is their experience, which you can never truly know because you didn’t experience it.  Just because I thought of your experiences, doesn’t make them any less yours.  You experienced them.

But…

Going around in circles, remember.  It was nice to finally meet you by the way.

I wish I could say the same.

I wont take that personally.  I’ll see you soon.

Bye.

 

 

 

 

Dark threats from Daily Mail after I dare to complain about one of their articles

Pride's Purge

(not satire – it’s the UK press!)

Surprise surprise.

The Daily Mail have written to me rejecting my complaint that they bullied and smeared two young children – and revealed their identities – in one of their articles.

You can see my original letter of complaint here:

Complaint to Paul Dacre chair of press code about Paul Dacre Daily Mail editor

In fact, the Daily Mail’s so-called Readers’ Editor was so outraged that I had actually dared to complain about one of their articles that he or she threatened me that I was being “defamatory”:

Your claims that the parents referred to in the article had been ‘targeted’, ‘tricked’ and told ‘lies’ by journalists at The Mail Online are untrue, unsubstantiated and defamatory.

DEFAMATORY:  damaging the good reputation of someone; slanderous or libellous.

In other words – dare to complain to us about one of our articles and we might sue you.

So you’d better shut the…

View original post 375 more words

Who will save the NHS?

We need to do something, people, together. I lost a baby in June, and everyone concerned at the Leeds General Infirmary made the traumatic experience a little easier to deal with. The NHS is not bad. It is ours. It is our duty to save it

Big Up the NHS


image

I know the approach I have taken in this blog is a bit contrived but as a device to get the main message across it might work. Please bear with me and read to the end to find my answer. Share widely if you agree with the logic.

It takes the form of a conversation between me (@butNHS) and the average man (or woman) in the street (TMITS).


TMITS  – “What – save the NHS? Surely the NHS is one of the UK’s best loved institutions and is recognised to be the most efficient, effective and equitable health care system in the world. We all depend on it from cradle to grave. It is at the core of our society, truly a national treasure. How can it possibly need saving?”

@butNHS – “Yes, all these things are true, but the NHS as we know it – funded through central taxation…

View original post 1,964 more words

My Adventures on the Amazon Marketplace.

I did something I don’t normally do on the evening of Sunday 16th November.  I picked a fight on the internet.  I won the fight, kind of.  Well, my ego is willing to take the credit for the result anyway.  I’ll let you make up your own mind.

It started with a book.  Its called “Bedtime Tales for Sleepless Nights” by Jake and Dinos Chapman.  It’s a children’s story, although being illustrated and authored by the Chapman Brothers probably makes it completely unsuitable for kids.  My son likes the pictures, but my son has been brought up so far on Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, superhero films and comics, so a bit more weird stuff isn’t going to bother him.  It’s currently listed on Amazon for £19.95, and that is what I paid for it.  It’s worth every penny.  As a fan of the Chapman Brothers, I am pleased I own it.  It is currently sitting on my bookcase, next to the Tower of Orthanc in Lego and the Marvel Fact Files.

Buying this book made me research what other Chapman Brother’s books were available on Amazon.  The good news is, there are loads of reasonably priced art books available, if you like them and want to treat yourself.  But this past weekend, I found one that I couldn’t have, therefore I wanted it more, like a little spoilt child pestering at her mother.  Only I’m the mother now, so I have only have a husband to moan at.  It’s called “Flogging a Dead Horse: The Life and Works of Jake and Dinos Chapman.”

If you look inside, be warned, it’s not to everyone’s taste.  My first thought was, its handy.  It’s not completely comprehensive, but it’s all the important pieces in one book, from 1991 to 2010. Then I saw the price.

On Saturday 15th November, there were four copies available and not one of them was listed at anything lower than £800.  The cover price is $85.  Today that converts as £54.23.  So I did what I usually do when I can’t afford to buy a book, I go to the library, and see if I can borrow it.  I googled the Leeds Library Catalogue, and they did have it.  Great.  So off I tripped to the library, braving Leeds town centre on a Saturday afternoon, armed with the ISBN number, and the giddy excitement that I was going to be taking it home.

My excitement was short-lived.  I approached a lady called Shirley, gave her the name and number of the book and was told in no uncertain terms that I couldn’t have it.  I’m not used to being told that in a library.  It’s like going to a pub and not being allowed a drink or going into a shop and not being allowed to buy anything.  I thought that was the purpose of libraries, Shirley, you go in, pick a book, take it home for three weeks, bring it back. It is a system greased with trust, I know, but no matter how untrustworthy I may look, I have never stolen a book from any library.  I was told it was in the reference section, therefore I could look at it, but not take it out of the room.  I was a bit short of time on Saturday, so I went back on Sunday to look at it.  After waiting half an hour for them to search in the Strong Room, which brought to mind the vault they keep the Crown Jewels in, but is probably just a cupboard, it turned out that Shirley had got it out already.  Either that, or someone else had looked at it.  So I spent an hour and a half staring, reading and inwardly digesting.  These guys wrote a review of it that I happen to wholeheartedly agree with.

http://www.propermag.com/site/flogging-a-dead-horse-the-life-and-works-of-jake-and-dinos-chapman-rizzoli-2013-04

And then I had to give it back.  I thought about just making a run for it out of the library with it under my arm, but it’s quite a big book and I’m not very fit.  And I’m too honest.  So I went home.  And I got angry. Really, really, furious, heated, raging, annoyed, incensed, enraged, ranting, indignant, irate, riled, up in arms, incandescent, piqued, foaming, wrathful, aerated, splenic, choleric.  I was so angry, all these words don’t do justice to how steamingly fucked off I was.  I wish I could draw it for you but I can’t draw.  My anger caused me to break the first rule of the internet.

The first rule of the internet is

DO NOT SEND EMAIL OR INTERACT WITH SOCIAL MEDIA WHEN ANGRY, DRUNK OR HIGH.

The second rule of the internet is

DO NOT SEND EMAIL OR INTERACT WITH SOCIAL MEDIA WHEN ANGRY, DRUNK OR HIGH.

As I said, on Sunday, there were four copies being sold on Amazon Marketplace.  Two were being sold by the same company Daily Deals, and I took full advantage of the Contact The Seller button.  The email I sent them was a volcano of verbal diarrhoea, and I think I may have been blocked by them, as I can’t find the email and they didn’t reply.  Never mind, I think I can remember the gist of it now the red mist has subsided:

“Daily Deal my fucking arse.  A daily deal would be selling this book for less than its cover price, which is $85, not the massively inflated amount you’re selling it for.  And you have two.  Why am I not surprised?  Aint capitalism great, kids?”

It sounds a lot more restrained now than I felt when I was writing it, but they obviously took it in the spirit in which it was intended.  A massive middle finger.  Ho hum, never mind.

The next one I sent was to Ola’s Books.  Here it is:

So did you buy this book just to sell it for more than 10 times what it’s actually worth? Is it new? Have you looked at it? Do you actually care about the art it contains? Are you just another cog in the corporate second-hand selling machine?

This is what she replied:

With all due respect did you even read my sellers description?
First of all I’m private collector and not corporate seller. And yes I do buy books with intention of selling them later with a profit. Great knowledge and loads of research is required to be able to establish which books may bring profit in the future. As we have free market I can charge whatever I wish for a book. If for you it means 10 times what you would be willing to pay – tough. Thats how it is unfortunately.
Secondly. I’m a graduate artist photographer myself. I do buy books for my own collection and I do KNOW every book I’m selling. In case of those books I got for sale right now I don’t want to sell them to be honest. Unfortunately I can live reading the books only. I have to put food on my table. Therefore I need to sell some of my collection.

Please consider that some people may actually have genuine reason and it may not necessarily be just to make money

Kind Regards
Aleksandra Wojcik

P.S.
If you wish please visit my website: aleksandrawojcik.com

In her defense,  she has a point about not reading her sellers description, I didn’t.  I didn’t really care at this point to be honest, all I saw were pound signs and not in a good way.  This is my reply to her:

We do live in a free market, you are correct, unfortunately that fact alone seems to be the undoing of books. I do not see them as a commodity, something to invest in and sell when things are tough. I see them as an object with important intrinsic value. I am quite aware of the fact that as a normal, working person, who works part-time and earns minimum wage, I would never even be able to afford prints of my favourite artists art. Now it seems I can’t afford the book either.
When I can’t afford a book, I go to the library and see if they have it. I’m unable to take this book out of the library because of how much its “worth”. Its possible resale value on the internet. That’s what’s really annoying me, if I’m honest, that I can’t afford it, and I can’t take it home from the library. Somebody is telling me I can’t look at it. And that is all due to lack of funds, both mine and my local councils. That fact is making my blood boil.
That being said, I have visited your website and you are a very talented photographer. I hope you sell it.
Sorry if the email I sent upset you. You should never press the send button when angry or upset!!
Happy Monday
Lucy xx

I thought that was quite a restrained reply to somebody basically telling me, you are poor, fuck off with your whining and complaining.  What I wanted to explain to her was that I do not hold her in any higher regard because she’s a struggling artist.  If you are that hungry, sell it for £200.  That will get you at least two months food shopping.  That’s what I really wanted to say, but I didn’t want to come off as a  troll.  I’m not that at all.  A couple of hours after that, I wish I had sent her that reply, as she changed the listing to £1050.  Yes, you read that right.  That made her copy the most expensive one.  For that price, Miss Wojcik, I would expect at least half the pages to be stuck together with the bodily excretions of BOTH Jake and Dinos Chapman, and I would demand a positive DNA test to prove its theirs.  But she doesn’t win in the battle of the most expensive copy of this book on the internet.  That prize goes to Abe Books. In November, they were selling a copy for £6060.

I haven’t added a zero there.

SIX THOUSAND AND SIXTY POUNDS!!  For that amount of money, I’d expect a Chapman brother to come with it for a least week.  Has it been licked by Jesus and the twelve disciples?  Does it have pages made of gold leaf?  Is it signed, with an actual print and include travel to any destination of my choice and free bed and board when I get there?  No, I thought not.  It’s just massively over priced.

There was light at the end of the tunnel.  The first email I sent was to the seller Strange Horror.  This is it.

 I have absolutely no idea how you can sell this book for so much. The cover price is $85. It is a great book, but it is the price of a second-hand car. And they say the art world is elitist. I think “they” might be right

You can probably tell it was the first one I sent.  It doesn’t have the same air of righteous ire attached to it.  It was the first reply I received and I actually engaged in a really pleasant discussion with a man called Dan who runs the shop Strange Horrors.  I imagine him to be a cross between David Dickinson and a polite version of Bernard from Black Books.  He sent me this reply:

 I know what you mean, but it was partially bought as an investment. The book did retail at a reasonable price but has now gone out of print and is desirable and scarce as a result. It is well produced and would be expensive to buy as a custom made one-off. I don’t really expect to sell it at that price, but I am happy to hold on to it as it is rare and is nice to have. The only way I would let it go would be at a high price. Maybe someone out there holds money as no object. That said, I would offer it at £500 to you.

Regards,
Dan

I did appreciate the sentiment, but it was still about £440 out of my price range.  I never thought as myself as a haggler, but it seemed to work.  Go me.  There was a niggling thought in the back of my head saying, if you didn’t expect to sell it at that price, why did you list it at that price, but I’ll let it go.  Purely because I like to think Dan would stick it to the Man who had that amount of money.  This is the reply I sent back:

I would just like you realise the knock on effect of your decision to do this. I am not allowed to take this book out of Leeds library because they would not be able to replace it if someone stole it.
I’m a Chapman brothers fan, and have been for a long time.  I still wouldn’t pay £500 pounds for it. This is the worth that you, and other people, are putting on it, not necessarily what its worth. See Banksy selling canvases for $40 each.
I’m sorry if my first email was sarcastic and a bit horrible. I love books. I love art. I’m just angry that this whole problem has been flagged up due to lack of funds, both mine and Leeds Councils.
Big Sunday hugs

Lucy x

That’s pretty self-explanatory.  This is what he sent back:

hi Lucy,
i didn’t find your email sarcastic and you make a good point. But you wouldn’t walk into an antique shop and say that a rare and desirable chair was overpriced and affecting the chair business elsewhere. Also, libraries are not so innocent – I had my own bookshop some years back (closed due to agiving up competing with Amazon) and heard that the local university library was throwing books into skips to make room. I rescued some of these books ( plenty were over 100 years old) and one of the books was especially attractive, filled with colour drawings of pine trees. I couldn’t find out much about the book at the time, so naively sold it to Maggs in London for £750. Later I googled the book and saw that it had been sold at Christies for £53,000. Regardless of me kicking myself, at least the book got saved from being landfill. We have a heritage to protect and when something is gone, it has gone. Librarians are doing their job, spending public money, but aren’t always clued up, or else don’t care too much, but don’t tell them I said that.
Lastly, the book trade is rocky at the moment, and might even go totally digital soon. Art books are always nice to have, as who wants to flick through images on a computer monitor. So if you see a desirable art book I would say grab it before it goes out of print. They are good items to collect – like  antiques.
Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
Dan x
Nice story Dan.  My husband once found a book in a skip.  It was Under the Dome by Steven King.  I don’t think its worth anything.  It’s a decent book though, and in a very readable condition.  I do agree with his opinion about libraries, they aren’t completely blameless in this.  The Chapman Brothers have been known artists in this country since 1991.  They were nominated for the Turner Prize in 2003.  That’s 23 years they have been active.  Leeds Library has 2 books and one pamphlet.  You can take one home.  That is woeful.  Leeds Library, you should be ashamed.  The YBA movement was an important art movement in the 1990’s, The Chapman Brothers should be mentioned in the same breath as Damien Hirst, (15 books in the library) Tracey Emin, (12) Gillian Wearing, (1) Grayson Perry (4) Sam Taylor Wood,(1 book, 1DVD).  Just because they are not to everyone’s taste, doesn’t mean they are any less important.  Art students now were being born when this was causing a ruckus in the Daily Mail.  We all need a bit of guiding in the right direction when we Google something.  If we are pointed in the right direction by a scary, unbribable librarian, or a beautiful art book, we are more likely to do it when we get home.
But Dan’s argument about the antique chair is a bad analogy and disingenuous.  The price of antique chairs, as far as I’m aware, has no baring on the price of chairs at Ikea.  I happen to quite like most of the chair designs at Ikea and they retail at a reasonable price.  If I needed a chair, I would go there, I would not go to an antique shop.  Just as when I look for books, I get on Amazon Marketplace, and don’t go to a book collector’s website.  As for the book that was found in a skip, if you liked the book and enjoyed the pictures, why didn’t you keep it?  You didn’t pay anything for it, you found it in a skip and luckily for you, it was in a good condition.  I’ll tell you why, because you are a book dealer.
I’m not being derogatory about Dan.  I value his honesty.  I find it completely depressing though that he is the dealer, and I’m the junkie.  Only I can’t afford the drug he’s selling.  To me, the drug he’s selling should be as widely available as an Ikea chair.
Today I was told on the internet that it’s just the way it is and it will never change.  Publishers will always limit editions of books they publish to automatically make them collectables, book sellers will always take advantage of this, whether they are artists or people running businesses.  With the massive public spending cuts we have had to endure as a country recently,  including the mass of library closures, we should just get used to the fact that politicians are limiting our access to knowledge.  I answered,
“Just because it wont change, doesn’t mean I have to take it lying down.”
My righteous anger worked. I think.
I checked back on the Wednesday morning, before I had my cup of coffee, ready to torture myself again. Look at the lovely book.  Look how much money you have in your bank account.  Cry silently into the unmade coffee.
There were 12 copies of the book all under a hundred pounds.
I have no idea how Amazon Marketplace sellers brains work, or how they run their businesses.  It must be something to do with clicks, that is people clicking on the book description to see what some mad-lady-almost-troll is tweeting or facebooking about.  It might have just been my clicks, as I stared in disbelief at the prices.  Whichever way, there were four copies of the book listed on Saturday.  There are now 15, only 3 of these are over £500, as Miss Wojcik unlisted hers on Wednesday.  I bought mine for £37, including postage and packaging.  It wasn’t the even the cheapest one on there.  I didn’t want to appear to be taking the mickey.
The wider point I’m trying to make is this.  You cannot price anyone out of the book market.  The collectable and rare book market is a bit like the art market, I would imagine, or the antique chair market.  I cannot afford a signed first edition of Dickens and I would not even try to get hold of one.  I have a signed copy of Generation X by Douglas Coupland, but he’s one of my favourite authors and it’s not for sale, whatever price you offer me.  It is obvious now that the Chapman Brother’s book is not that rare, as my whole family could buy one if they so wished.  So collectable it may be, but rare? Not that much.  Monetary worth is subjective, especially when it comes down to collectable items.
I will not have my reading material dictated to me.  I will not be dictated to, full stop.  That is basically what it comes down to.  If the same four books were still listed on Amazon, this post would be the same, only peppered with more Yorkshireisms and swearing.  The point would be the same.  I will not be priced out of a market that I have been taught to love since I was small so that a London banker with three houses can place it on one of his many coffee tables that I have technically paid for, and has never seen a cup of coffee in its life, and stare at it without ever opening it.  He can afford the artwork.  Leave the books for the poor people.  And as for libraries, just get a bit more clued up.  That’s all I ask. I realise that we are very lucky in Leeds to have an art library at all but now this book is listed at a reasonable price, I expect you to buy another copy for lending.  If it gets stolen, you still have the reference copy.  I’m sure you will have a spare £30 somewhere.  I will even donate a tenner towards it if you want.  It’s really worth it.  And as you can see, Shirley, I really feel passionately about this.  Don’t make me turn into a proper troll.
But I’ve babbled on long enough.  I’ve/We’ve made a small change, which I’m quite proud of.  I wasn’t expecting to, but I did.  It just goes to show what you can do with a spare weekend and a bit of righteous anger.  Just think what I could accomplish with a spare month!  Although,  I’m looking at either Russell Brand or Bono to be my rich sponsor, because I’m not in a financial position to do it for free.  I think I will leave you with a quote from David Shrigley. (www.davidshrigley.com)  He was talking about the art funding cuts in the UK, but the argument is still valid.
“It’s not about me or people like me. I get my income from private collectors now. This is about a legacy for everyone in this country which could be lost.”
So go visit an art gallery.
Get a book out from the library.
If something annoys you, press the Contact The Seller button.
But don’t be a troll.
Peace out x
I would like to add a little postscript to this post.  Its now the 29th November and my copy of the book arrived while I was on holiday.  I’ve only just got my sweaty little monkey paws on it, and I haven’t been disappointed.  I knew what to expect but it’s way better looking at it in the comfort of your own living room.  It’s a beautiful, fantastic book and as of writing, there are only two left on Amazon Marketplace that are listed under £50.  I really hope that the others are in the hands of fans who will appreciate them for the works of art that they are, affordable, but still works of art.  Lets face it, it’s the only way we are going to get our hands on Chapman Brothers art.
Thanks to my friend Matt who gave me a perfect quote.  When some people thought I was getting disproportionately angry about this, he wrote this on Facebook,
“The rich don’t create culture or art, they merely profit from it.  They deserve to be called out on this.  Well said.”
 So at least one person agreed with me!

Why Rick Genest and Cheryl Fernandez-Versini have more in common than you may think…apart from tattooed bums.

I am not a flowery type of girl.  I don’t mind them in vases, sitting looking pretty on my dining room table, making the room smell nice, but as tattoos, i couldn’t think of anything worse.  To me, they are on the same level as dolphins and butterflies.  That is, something i wouldn’t entertain even if I was black out drunk in Ibiza, with a pocket full of money that I didn’t know what to do with.  Not that any of those things would be even remotely likely, but it dawned on me, whilst in a tattoo shop recently, how much tattoos are led by fashion.  In England, this trend seems to be particularly led by the woman formerly known as Cheryl Tweedy, (the scourge of bathroom assistants everywhere) Cheryl Cole, (number 1 WAG) and is now known as Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, because she got married again.  I think she’s just known as Cheryl now to avoid confusion.   She used to be in Girls Aloud, a pretty inoffensive girl band that started out on Pop Idol, and is now judging the same wannabe pop starlets on The X Factor.  She’s a Northern lass, she likes a smoke and a drink, and she has a massive tattoo of roses that stretches from her mid back, down her buttocks and ends sort of mid thigh.  It’s covering what we refer to up in the north of England as a tramp stamp.  As much as I don’t like the roses, she covered up a god awful tattoo, so all power to her.  In January, I will be doing the same thing.  Mistakes we make as teenagers eh?

I actually find it really hard to dislike Cheryl.  She always comes across really well in interviews as just a normal woman who by a weird, random mistake, ended up being really famous in England although it didn’t really translate into worldwide superstardom.  I think it’s because she has a Newcastle accent, and Simon Cowell is a bit of a twat.  She does seem genuine though, which I think is a rare thing in today’s disposable pop music business, so good luck to her.  I won’t be buying her songs, or wearing her clothes, or having her tattoos.

A lot of people are though.  While researching my aforementioned cover up tattoo on the internet, it seems every tattoo shop in England is tattooing variations of Cheryl’s arse on the everyday people of Britain.  Varying qualities of red roses surrounded by skulls, animals, birds, insects, pretty much anything you can think of.  The last time I was in tattoo shop was 5 ½ years ago and I definitely don’t remember roses being everywhere, so it must be a new thing.  This has led me to the conclusion that it must be because of Cheryl’s super massive bunch of arse roses.

When I started getting tattoos 20 years ago, they were something that marked you out as different.  They were the preserve of metallers, punks and sailors.  People stared at you if you had your tats out, especially if you were a girl who weighed 7 stone soaking wet and had a massive tattoo at the bottom of her back of a red and black spider with hairy legs.  And almost exclusively wore crop tops.  Over the last 20 years, it has become more socially acceptable, in England anyway, to have them.  Aaron Chalmers from Geordie Shore has had £8000 pounds worth of work done.  Here’s a picture of him, because if you’re anything like me, you won’t have the first clue who he is either.

http://www.ok.co.uk/celebrity-news/geordie-shore-new-stars-aaron-chalmers-kyle-Christie

I’m sure you will agree that’s some pretty epic artwork. He even has the Cheryl arse roses.  He has two full sleeves too.  I should point out now that I don’t watch Geordie Shore, or the American alternative, Jersey Shore.  I also don’t like to be negative about anyone on the internet, mainly because I pride myself on not being anonymous and I’m pretty scared of being arrested for my big mouth.  So I will let copy and paste the biography I found on www.heatworld.com and you lovely readers can make up your own mind about him.

Super-amazing totally interesting fact first off… He’s 26 years old He’s had over £8,000 worth of tattoos done, and you can see just a few of them poking out of his hoody. We’d like some topless pics please MTV, only so that we can see more of his body art.  He’s already really good mates with Gary.  In fact he’s such good friends with Gaz that he thinks they’d make “the dream pulling machine”. Er, isn’t that what Scott is there for? In series two he gave (and we quote the press release) Holly the “ride of her life”! We think that means they’ve shagged.  Oh, yes, it definitely does – on a night out in Aberdeen they hooked up again and Aaron claims that Holly was “just as loud and wild as he remembers”. Thanks for sharing that. He knows basically everyone in Newcastle because he used be a topless host.  His days as a topless host helped him wrack up a few hundred notches on the bedpost.  He’s described a cheeky chappy, a massive player and apparently everybody loves him. We’re not sure if “everybody” loves him as much as he loves himself though. His Twitter is @AaronCGShore, but so far he hasn’t actually tweeted anything.

So, erm, yeah. The tattoos do not maketh the man is the lesson we should all take away from that I think. He is very much a mainstream personality though and he is covered in tattoos. He’s not on his own. A long time ago, by this I mean ten years ago, there was only Robbie Williams and David Beckham who were extensively tattooed. Now everyone from Ed Sheeran to Justin Bieber via Tom Hardy and that feller from Maroon 5 are sporting full sleeves and massive chest pieces. These are mainstream personalities that people look up to and try and emulate. They have chosen to have tattoos. Therefore, by the tattoos very existence on them, tattooing has become part of the mainstream. Something that only existed to mark you out as different, a part of an underground movement, a member of the forces or someone who has spent time in prison, has been pushed out into the open.

So on the left; we have Cheryl and the walking penis that is Aaron Chambers, mainstream personalities with tattoos. But what about underground personalities with tattoos that become part of the mainstream because of the way they look?

Rick Genest, or Zombie Boy, will be familiar to many because of his appearance in the video for Born This Way by Lady Gaga in 2010. I recognised him from the 2010 edition of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not annual that my husband bought for my birthday that year, where they gave him a full page spread. He has modelled for numerous designers, including Thierry Mugler, and appeared in an advert for L’Oreal’s Dermablend. This advert is interesting to me on many different levels. Here’s the link if you have never seen it. Watch it. NOW.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mIBKifOOQQ

I’d never heard of Dermablend cover up make up before this advert. The first level of interest for me was my own. I didn’t realise what the point of the advert was, and I sure as hell didn’t recognise him sitting there. Apart from 2 piercings, he is Daily Mail “normal”. I use the words Daily Mail completely derogatorily. The people who regularly tell me that I will regret my tattoos when I get older would probably have a problem with the piercings, but let’s face it; he could take those out if he wanted to. To be honest, I thought, another skinny model, looking all pissed off into the camera; I hope somebody buys him a square meal before he passes out in the chair. Then he wiped his face and I recognised him straight away. I wasn’t shocked by the tattoos; I was shocked by his appearance with the makeup on. The difference is startling. I thought the advert was a really good advert. In the true sense of what an advert should be.   Dermablend is cover up make up, used by actors, people with scars and birth marks, and people with Vitiligo. If I needed anything covering up, I would use this. I wish L’Oreal would use the same advertising technique with shampoo. Because I’m worth it? Nah, it’s because your hair needs a wash, you’re not allergic to it and the shampoo doesn’t smell offensive. You could have a woman with fantastic looking hair, and then play the advert backwards until she looks like her hair hasn’t been washed in a week.   That is the shampoo version of this advert. It would make me buy the shampoo. Put it this way, the white horses didn’t make me buy Guinness just as the red Santa at Christmas doesn’t make me buy Coke. If you don’t tell me what the product does or how well it does it, I’m not really interested. I know how Guinness and Coke taste, that’s why I buy one regularly and don’t really buy the other at all. Before anyone says, L’Oreal shampoo will make your hair look like Cheryl’s, it won’t. Read the small print. She has hair extensions in. Which means even Cheryl’s hair doesn’t look like that until an army of hairdressers gets their hands on it. Basically the whole advert is a lie. This is what most adverts are, lies to get us to buy stuff. I think Dermablend advert is the way it is because not many people buy it, and those that do are buying it for a reason. They need to use real people, with real skin “problems” to prove how good it is.

Not that I’m saying tattoos are real skin problems. Watch further on YouTube, and there are people with real skin problems who do use it.

So on the right hand side, storming into the middle; we have Rick Genest who has broken through to the mainstream, even though now, I would presume, he has at least 90% of his body tattooed, if not more. And if what I’ve read on the internet so far is true, I must admit I feel a bit sorry for him. Because it seems to me that the poor chap can’t win with anyone. A lot of blogs from the alternative side of life say he’s a sell out (a term which I detest, by the way), a lot of fashion bloggers say he’s a passing fad, that fashion likes to think it’s edgy and cool but if it wasn’t for Nicloa Formichetti finding him on Facebook, no one would know who he was. Basically, his career will be short lived. Personally, I’ve always thought that models are only living, breathing coat hangers. They exist, especially on runways, to make you aware of how clothes would look on a mannequin that could walk around. That’s why they are all so skinny, and young. And if you look at the modelling world in that frame of mind, Rick Genest is a terrible model. He’s skinny, but they way he looks distracts from his sole purpose on the runway, to make you look at the clothes. Because we aren’t, we are looking at him. If you take the Dermablend model of advertising, if you have 90% of your body covered in tattoos, you are not advertising the clothes, you are advertising yourself. Maybe that’s the point. Or maybe I’m missing the point, not knowing the first thing about the fashion world.

Please let me make it clear that I know a lot of things about a wide range of subjects, but fashion is not one of them. I am completely oblivious. I wear comfortable clothes that suit my shape and I have no clue what this season’s trend is. I might do when it’s out of fashion, and on sale, but by that time, I will have missed the boat by at least 6 months. One of my closest friends says it doesn’t matter, that I could buy a ten thousand pound Gucci dress and still team it with New Rock boots so I would look like me in it. Put it this way, my best buy recently was from Primark when I picked up a jumper the supervisor told me was a pound and non returnable because it was covered in holes. Get in. I don’t have to be paranoid about the cat sitting on me if you’re going to sell it to me with holes in. It is now my work jumper, my home jumper, it’s really warm and it fits over my knees when I’m watching TV. What more do you need from a jumper?

I also love the weird and macabre side of life. There was a book in my middle school library about witchcraft which always looked like it was a really popular book due to the number of stamps in the front of it. It was only popular with one person; I took it out about 25 times. I remember pouring over pictures of Matthew Hopkins, The Witch Finder General and learning how to spot a witch, medieval style. I’ve subscribed to Fortean Times for at least 15 years, and it’s the only magazine I read cover to cover every month. I remember as a teenager going to an exhibition at Cartwright Hall in Bradford about death, and it was the most uplifting, life affirming thing I’ve ever seen. My dad took me and my brother to see the Anatomical Exhibition at Blackpool’s Louis Tussards, where we saw syphilitic penises, foetuses in jars and a replica of the Elephant Mans bones.  Ironically, it was shut down in 2009 for not being family friendly.

So I should probably empathise more with Rick than I do with Cheryl, purely because of my outlook on life. When people ask Rick what his life is like back home, whether he fits in, he says yes. All his friends have tattoos, he comes from a punk background, he makes the point that normalcy is such a subjective state; it probably shouldn’t even be used as a word in normal, everyday language. A quote that has stuck in my head from one of his videos is “I look on the outside the way I feel on the inside.” He is marking himself out as different. And let’s face it; most of us “freaks” have been like this for a long time. We are used to teenagers laughing at us at bus stops, shouting things at us, getting abuse outside clubs from drunk, normal guys. Someone shouted Mosher at me out of a car a while ago and it made me feel nostalgic. But I think it must be a new experience for Cheryl.

Every interview I’ve seen with her recently has asked her more questions about her arse roses than the music that she’s trying to promote. This has to be a new experience for her. How much did it cost? How long did it take? Did it hurt? That question, by the way, is the most insulting, patronising question you can ask someone with tattoos. That and the statement “you’ll regret that when you’re older.” Two words. Isobel Varley. Google her. Not that it’s hurt Cheryl’s music, as I write this, I think her single has hit number one. So I actually feel more sympathy for Cheryl than Rick. Rick’s probably got used to the questions, if, like me, he’s been getting them for 20 years, you tend to have stock answers you trot out. After watching a Graham Norton video, I was cringing. I felt so sorry for Cheryl. Two blokes on a sofa going on about her arse, one of them Don Johnson!!

Tattoos have become part of the mainstream, but there are a certain section of people who haven’t quite caught up with mainstream and are still living in some weird 1940’s version of our country where everyone looks the same, acts the same and hates anyone who is remotely different. Either that, or Graham Norton was pandering to the football fan coming home pissed from the pub who really wants to see Cheryl’s naked arse. Whichever way, it made me feel uncomfortable. I wish I’d been sat on that sofa, I would have said something to him. I felt like she needed someone to stick up for her.

But the main thing that connects these two seemingly unconnectable people is why they have tattoos. As a child, Rick Genest was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour, the removal of which, few people had survived without life changing disabilities. He did. Cheryl caught malaria in 2010, following a trip to Tanzania, and at one point was given 24 hours to live. After this, she decided to make a “fuck it list,” one of the things on this list was to get a massive tattoo. I can relate. I have tattoos that remind me of every major thing that has happened in my life; fortunately none of them have included a brush with death. If I ever have one, the tattoo shop will be the first place I’ll go when I’ve recovered. Life’s for living. You don’t want to be lying on your deathbed regretting everything you haven’t done. It is much better to regret things you have done. Every tattoo is only temporary anyway. We are all slowly dying. Unless someone is going to flay you after death, and hang your skin in an art gallery, to preserve you for future generations.

This is an idea I must look into.

So Cheryl’s at one end of the spectrum, Zombie Boy at the other but they will both end up, I think somewhere in the middle. Subcultures are “the ideas, art, and way of life of a group of people within a society, which are different from the ideas, art and way of life of the rest of society.” Tattoos were the way people marked themselves to signify that they were part of a subculture. Or at least not part of the regular culture. Now surely the meaning of them has changed. Perhaps to mark ourselves as different, we should have them all removed and let Justin Bieber get on with it on his own. Or become more extreme. I’m not sure what the solution is, or even if a solution is needed. One thing I do know though is that it has taken the fashion world years to embrace other forms of beauty other than the ones they have made us believe are beautiful since the 1960’s. Shaun Ross is another notable example of a model that does not adhere to fashion’s own rules as to what is beautiful. Now they need to do it with female models. They need to make women on the runways more than an American size zero; they could try amputees, pregnant models, women with tattoos. Honestly, women with boobs and arse would be a start. Or perhaps the fashion world is another subculture, and one that I’m quite happy not to be a part of. They have their own set of rules I’m not privy to.

So if subcultures become the culture over time, what becomes of subcultures?  Are we all just assimilated into one big, homogenous mass of sameness?  Or will something else sneak up on us and become weird?  If it is a true subculture, will we even know anything about it until it breaks through into the mainstream?  Will we even be able to refer to it as such?  I don’t know.  I’ll carry on listening to Slipknot and Nine Inch Nails and reading the True History of the Elephant Man while pondering why I would have to buy a ticket to the Pleasure Beach at Blackpool just to go to the Ripley’s Odditorium.  I hate roller coasters.

 

 

 

 

FURRY TEETH part 3

When she opened her eyes again, she was sat on a cold plastic chair in the corner of a clinical hospital room. She felt the clammy stickiness against her legs and stood up quickly, revolted by the thought of all the walking corpses who had sat there before her.  She smiled to herself, realising that if she were dead, it really didn’t matter anyway.  She looked down and saw she was dressed in a nightshirt she hadn’t worn for twenty five years.  She marvelled at the brightness of the Care Bears and rainbows and tiny flecks of colours.  She focused on the back of hands and wondered where her skin had gone.  This skin was younger and softer and not hers.  She stared at her feet.  They were smaller with baby toes attached to them, connected to her legs but not a part of her body that she recognised.

Maggie looked up and observed the woman who was laid in the hospital bed.  She had a red cut across her forehead and two purple, swollen eyes.  A square of hair had been shaved and silver staples shone brightly against her white scalp.  She watched her own chest rise and fall, like a metronome, slowly and regularly, in time with the hissing machine that looked like an accordion.  She concentrated on the monotonous bleep of another machine and tried to ignore her own thoughts.  Her eyes wandered until she noticed a man sitting on another plastic chair on the other side of the bed.

He seemed huge.  She couldn’t tell if he really was big, or her perspective had changed.  She remembered every adult looked like a giant when she was seven years old.  His bearded chin rested on his chest and his eyes were closed, but Maggie knew when he opened them, they were like the ocean.  She knew she liked stroking his head when his hair was short, that it felt like baby hedgehogs before they got their prickles.  She knew that she shaved it for him on the back doorstep of their house.  Maggie became aware of her tiny legs moving of their own accord towards him.  She wanted to remember more.  She wanted to look more closely at him.

She knew he had a broken front tooth and he had got it breaking up a drunken fight between his two best friends.  She knew that she liked sleeping with her ear against his chest so she could hear his heart beating.  She knew that he hated carrots.  She knew that his favourite song was Refuse/Resist by Sepultura. She knew his favourite book was American Gods by Neil Gaiman.  She knew that they looked after each other.  She knew that the dark circles under his eyes weren’t usually there, and as he was dozing in the chair, he was planning what music to play at her funeral.  This knowledge made her feel guilty that she couldn’t remember his name.  She turned and stared at her adult self in the bed, and tried to grasp it.  It was on the tip of her tongue, scratching at the front of her brain and it was beginning to annoy her.

“His name is Lucas.”

A tiny voice spoke from under the bed.  It made Maggie feel suddenly stupid for forgetting that basic bit of information, even though she realised she knew it, now somebody had said it.  She took a step back and sat down on the cold, hard floor, pulling her shirt over her knees, like she had a million times before.  She knew exactly who had spoken, and that the smell of children’s bath time was coming from her.  She knew she would be wearing her favourite pyjamas, the black ones with the glow in the dark skeleton on the front.  She would be wearing big, pink rabbit slippers that caused her to fumble and trip when she walked.   She knew that the little girl under the bed was four years old, she was called Katie, they were sisters and that she was dead.  Maggie knew because she had just seen a photograph in her mind of her twenty seven year old sister’s dead body on the bonnet of her car.

“Hi.”

Katie smiled back, the tired smile of a child who is ready for bed after a long day playing in the sun, now bathed and relaxed and ready for sleep.  Maggie crawled next to her, lay down on her front and rested her chin on her fists.  She marvelled at how normal and comfortable it felt, even though they hadn’t done it for years.  Katie turned and stared hard at Maggie, with a determined look that only a four year old can possess.

“You’re in the woods,” she stated to her sister.  Maggie furrowed her brow, and looked puzzled.

“I heard the doctors saying you weren’t out of the woods yet, so that must mean you’re still in the woods.”

“So I’m not dead?”

Katie shook her head and produced a paper bag.  Maggie knew it would be filled with yellow shrimps, 2p each, Katie’s favourite sweets.  She picked one out and remembered how it would taste, like sweet shaving foam.  She would hold it to the inside of cheek, and it would melt there, sticking everything together and making her unable to talk. She curled her tiny fingers round it and made a fist with the shrimp’s tail sticking out.  She knew she couldn’t eat it any other way and she wanted to talk.  She wanted to scream.

“You have a choice,” Katie carried on, nibbling the edge of her shrimp.  Maggie watched and remembered the countless times she had watched her sister do the same thing with Mar Bars and Twixs and Kit Kats and Drifters.

“I am definitely dead.  No coming back.  I’m going cold in the morgue as we speak.”

Her words hit Maggie hard in the face, like a door that someone had let go of.  They were the words of the adult Katie, subtle and as brutal as a brick but with no malice or blame attached.  Maggie swallowed the tears back down into her chest as Katie spun the shrimp round and started nibbling the other side.

“But you’re not dead, not yet anyway. It depends on what you choose.  You can choose to come with me, in which case you will choose death, and it will all be over.  Or you can choose to stay with him, you’ll choose life and you’ll look back on this conversation as some weird morphine induced dream.”

Katie raised her eyebrows and shrugged her tiny shoulders, indicating that the choice was all Maggie’s and she couldn’t have anything to do with it. Maggie watched her as she popped the nibbled shrimp into her mouth and chewed.  She knew Katie was missing out on the best part of the sweet but she also knew if she told her, Katie wouldn’t care.  She stared in front of her at Lucas’ booted feet and noticed the harsh hospital lights glint off his steel toe caps.  She realized she could see her own reflection in them, the face of a seven year old with all the lines and creases that belonged to her at thirty two.

She closed her eyes and remembered a hand holding hers so tightly that the knuckles were white and the fingers were wrapped up in hers so completely, she couldn’t tell which rings belonged to which hand. She remembered she looked smart, in a suit, and she smelled of Euphoria perfume.  An authoritarian voice had spoken and the tension had disappeared from her hand.  She felt the feeling slowly come back into her fingers, as she turned and saw him in pieces in front of her.  She remembered that was the first and only time she had seen him cry.  She remembered taking him home and they had slept fully dressed, he had just wanted to be held.  She remembered how he had asked her not to wear the perfume again as it reminded him of that day and everything that had been done to him.  She remembered being so shocked by the revelation that he wasn’t indestructible, that she had thrown the perfume away.  She didn’t want to be reminded of it either.

“I don’t think we have any more memories to make together, Katie, but I think I might have more to make myself.”

As she muttered it, half to herself, Maggie felt her sister slide away from her and disappear from her side. Maggie slid backwards and stood silently opposite her, watching her little face get redder and redder.

“He’s a good bloke, he’s got the potential to be fat, but he’s okay at the moment. You’ve made the right choice.”

“Have I?”

Katie smiled sadly at her sister, as the tears began to flow, down her cheeks, dripping off the end of her chin and making a dark patch on the skeleton’s skull. Maggie sniffed, but it didn’t help the childlike stream of snot that was flowing out of her nose.  She held on tightly to her little sister, said a thousand goodbyes, apologised a million times and wished so hard things could be different and half expected them to be.

Katie let go, sniffed hard, and Maggie watched as her young hand opened the door.

“See you later?”

Katie’s head shook slowly from side to side as she whispered sorrowfully,

“Not for a lot of years.”

Maggie watched as she wiped her snotty nose on her pyjama sleeve in one swift, well practised, childlike movement. She began to move through the door, like a character in a dream.

“You’ll be an old lady with grey hair and a face like a raisin.”

She turned and scrunched up her face, in a parody of old age. Maggie found herself smiling, even though her vision was blurry behind the tears and she felt dizzy and nauseous.  Her sister’s blonde hair disappeared from the doorway and Maggie resisted the urge to drag her back, knowing deep inside, that it couldn’t be any other way.  She knew she would miss her, that the fact that she was dead would cause a gnawing emptiness that would keep her awake at night. But it couldn’t be any other way.  Her decision was the right one, she knew before she had made it.  Before the choice had even been given to her.  Katie was gone.

Maggie stared at the man in the chair, took a deep breath and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. The machine still bleeped, and she realized she felt exhausted, a tiredness that was deep in her bones.  She wasn’t even sure if she went to sleep, she would feel any better when she woke up.  She stroked his head with the tip of one finger and was glad she had remembered correctly.  She was even more thankful he didn’t wake or stir, she didn’t want to have to explain.

Instead the seven year old girl with the big dark eyes and the unruly mass of dark curls climbed up on to his lap and rested her head against his chest. His heartbeat boomed in her ear and she felt his warmth against her bare arms.  It felt right.  She scrunched up into a tiny ball and pulled her shirt over her knees again.  She told him she loved him and that she remembered everything.  She apologised for making him worry and for anything she may have done that had hurt him.  She said sorry for being unintentionally selfish.  She felt his arms wrap around her tiny body and she fell headlong into a deep sleep that she knew she would never get to the bottom of.

She was happy.

 

 

 

 

 

FURRY TEETH part 2

Maggie realized that when you see your life in a series of flash photographs, it’s all been pretty shit really. That bit they always told you about death was right, and it was crap.  She wished she could swap the bright light and tunnel bit for the life flashing before her eyes bit.  She didn’t want to be reminded of all the decisions she could have made differently, all the times she had hurt herself, all the things she had ever done wrong.  Surely, she mused, death should be like falling into a bottomless well, or flying in a dream.  Instead, it felt like she was being hit by lightening, every image burned into her heart and seeping through her veins and arteries, spreading like the branches of a tree, searing on to every fibre of her being.

She saw two little girls, one with white, blond hair and the other with messy, dark, curly hair, wrapped in each other under a table while a war was being fought in front of them.  Even though Maggie couldn’t hear it, she knew that it would end with a woman crashing to the floor, her face a mess of blood and bruises.  The woman would stare into the girl’s tear stained faces and apologise, but she would never take them away from it.

Another blinding flash and intense pain.

She saw her teenage self, all skin, bones, spots and long messy hair, sitting on a sofa, kissing a man who looked fifteen years older than her.  She watched his hands creep over her pale virgin skin, and felt the bass of the music in her chest mirroring her beating heart.  Maggie felt a piercing urge to scream at herself to run away as fast as she could.  She knew that the man would take her upstairs and rape her when she was too drunk to protest.  Maggie knew that it would take her years to think of it as rape, and a little part of her would always blame herself.

Another blinding flash and intense pain.

She felt like her eyes were going to explode and her brain was about to melt.  She wanted to move her arms and claw her skull open.  She wanted to make it stop.

She was at a gig and singing along with the music.  Even though she couldn’t hear it, she knew she knew every word to every song the band played.  She was at the front, her chest resting against the metal barrier, the weight of the people behind her slowly squeezing the breath out of her lungs. A security guard asked her if she wanted to come over the barrier to get a drink.  She wondered what she looked like for him to say that to her.  She also wondered how long the imprint of the wire of her bra would stay on her skin.  She watched as two arms snaked around her and rested on the barrier. She watched herself looking at them and knew she was thinking about all the horror stories of what happened to girls in pits.  The arms tensed.  The pressure disappeared.  Maggie inhaled a lung full of air that smelled like relief and sweat.  Before she could thank the man behind her, she ducked to avoid a stage diver’s boot and the arms disappeared into a throbbing mass of people.  She knew she would always regret that moment passing through her fingers.  She knew there would be a million others exactly like it that she would also regret losing.

Another blinding flash and intense pain.

Every muscle in her body was in cramp.  She screamed that if she were dying, and she presumed she was, all she wanted was to slip away peacefully and not feel like she was in the middle of a huge tug of war, knowing she would lose, whichever way she was pulled.

She was sat on a chair in a hospital room, doubled over in pain, knowing they had just taken her dead baby away after it had been aborted.  She cried big tears that fell off the end of her chin and made a wet patch on her jeans.  She realized that whatever she did with the rest of her life, she was a murderer.  A baby killer.  She knew that she never told anyone about it.

Then a million paparazzi flashbulbs.  They were painful, but between them Maggie could make out images of people and places that she wanted to reach out and grab and hold tightly in her fists.  She wanted to remember every word, every person, good or bad, she didn’t care.

She was sat behind the wheel of a car.  There were a million diamonds glinting on the bonnet in the early evening twilight.  She realised there was no glass in the windscreen and she couldn’t see properly.  She lifted up her hand, wiped the blood out of her eyes and focused slowly on what was in front of her.

A scream started to rise in her chest but got stuck before it reached her throat.  A blonde haired woman lay on the bonnet, dead blue eyes staring back at her.  Her limbs were twisted at odd angles and pieces of glass were stuck in her body, as if they had been glued there by a Hollywood make up department.  She looked beautiful, yet horrifying, like a tableau in an art gallery.  Maggie exhaled again and heard an official sounding voice behind her state matter of factly,

“We’ve got an output, she’s back with us.”

Maggie felt disappointed and let the darkness envelope her again.  She hoped that if she were dead, she wouldn’t be judged too harshly for trying to destroy herself.  She couldn’t blame anyone else, but it didn’t entirely feel like her fault either.

FURRY TEETH a short story in three parts Part 1

She didn’t know what had happened. She knew she was in hospital, she could tell that by the smell.  A rotten mixture of blood, disinfectant and death.  Everything was the darkest black she had ever seen, an absence of colour that made her feel that her eyes weren’t in her head anymore.  It reminded her of a school trip to a disused mine years ago, where the tour guide had switched all the lights off and told them to hold their hands up to their faces.  The only way she knew anyone else was there was a tiny hand finding hers in the darkness, her sister’s bright blond hair had disappeared in the gloom.  She remembered thinking, all those years ago, that it must be what death felt like.  No long dead relative to meet her, no bright lights and no pearly gates.  There was just emptiness and blackness.  She had never felt more alone in her entire life.

In the distance, she heard the wailing of a machine, protesting loudly about something.  She turned and looked over her shoulder, but there was only the same inky nothingness that had been in front of her.  She was aware of her heart beating against her ribs so brutally, it was almost as if it were trying to escape her body and take flight.  She inhaled deeply, breathed the darkness into her lungs and knew in the back of her brain, that it was the only way to escape.

She exhaled and the light was so bright, it momentarily blinded her.  She saw cheap ceiling tiles, arranged in squares with metal borders.  In the corners, tiny patches of brown, damp staining.  They reminded her of the foamy packing they always put in new TV’s and stereos.  She had always thought one of the best noises in the world was the sound of that cracking and breaking, like a fork on an empty plate.

She saw a face out of focus out of the corner of her eye.

She felt raw panic as she realised there was something down her throat that was trying to choke her.  She tried to pull it out but it was somehow tied in, stuck and wouldn’t come out.  She clawed at her face, feeling the swelling round her eyes and ignored the deep voice, tinged with worry and regret, telling her to stop it and calm down.

More voices, more blurry faces, more hands on her, fingers touching her face, then whatever had been down her throat had gone.  She tried to breathe, but it came in rasps and hacks that reminded her of the cough she always had after a good night out.  She blinked against the light and listened as the machine calmed down to a monotonous bleep instead of the shrill alarm it had been before.  She could still hear voices but they seemed so far away.  The faces attached to them were all fuzzy round the edges, like supermarket photographers photos.  She tried to reach out to them, but she realized she couldn’t lift her arms off the bed.  They were dead weights hanging off her shoulders, useless, heavy and, she realized suddenly, very pointless.  She concentrated on her beating heart, willing it to carry on.  The voices were moving away from her slowly, they belonged to people on a moving walkway, only she was standing still.  She watched them slowly glide away.

She closed her eyes and let them go.