Monthly Archives: August 2014

One for the sexist, racist cnuts

Possibly the finest song ever written for internet haters. Indeed, possibly the ONLY song ever written for internet haters.

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The Boy Who Took My Hand

I was leaving my local library the other day when someone came up behind me and took my hand. I didn’t think anything of it, so it took me a minute, because I’m unsteady and/or unwell most of the time just now (new meds), and hanging onto Max has become a way of life, but it felt ‘wrong’ somewhere in the back of my mind. The hand was too hot and dry, but more importantly it seemed somehow different. I looked down and there was a small boy, maybe five years old, of Middle Eastern descent.

I was so surprised at first I just kept walking. Then I laughed and said, “Hello. But I’m not your mum.”

He looked up at me and his face was a picture. It was shock, horror and then what can only be described as abject terror. There was no embarrassment there, as far as I could tell, but he let go and bolted back into the library to where his actual mother was coming through the foyer. The bona fide mother was a fairly short, round, Turkish-looking woman in a beige coat, with jet black hair and black glasses. She was also about twenty years my junior. She was not wearing leggings, a Mickey Mouse T shirt and sandals, nor did she have a shaved grey head with a punk mop of curls on top, big-ass earrings and an armful of bangles. In other words, she looked nothing like me.

She didn’t seem to have the first idea what her son had done, although the way he grabbed her hand and stuck to her side like a limpet probably made her think I had attempted to abduct him.

I was inexplicably tickled pink by this encounter. Partly because it was so novel. It’s not every day someone comes up to you in the street and simply takes your hand. Partly it was because we were both walking along the road, both oblivious to the fact that we were holding drastically wrong versions of our partner. And partly it was because no-one has ever taken my hand like that. I didn’t know it quite yet, but they hadn’t.

I don’t know if it’s tragic or wonderful that it’s taken me to the age of fifty-seven to feel this magical sensation, but hey! I might have died and never felt it, so let’s look on the bright side.

I was perplexed at first as to how I hadn’t noticed it was a tiny child and not a six foot male. He’d come up behind me and slid his hand into mine, so not seeing the physical difference is explicable, although how he could have mistaken me, God alone knows, since I bore zero resemblance to his mother. But maybe he was looking at his feet, or out at the road or something – who knows?

But the almost euphoric gratification I felt – I couldn’t put a name to it. When we were laughing about it afterwards I heard myself say, “It took me a minute to realise it wasn’t you,” but what struck me was that the first thing I registered as wrong was not the huge difference in size (and hairiness) but the heat and dryness of his hand. The sheer experience of his hand – it was just wrong. Max doesn’t suffer from sweaty palms, in case that’s what you’re all thinking – these hands just felt different, like snakes are supposed to feel. And I say that with love.

But it was then I realised that wasn’t the strangest thing to have first struck me, although it should have been, it was because what really told me I had the wrong person in tow was the way he took my hand. He wasn’t leading me or taking possession of me. It wasn’t habit or distracted reassurance, it was surrender. He didn’t take my hand, he gave me his. It was a handing over, a coming into port. He was offering himself to be led. He, in effect, just handed his care over to me.

It was such a phenomenally different feeling I just kept turning it over in my mind. And yes, I get ‘overemotional’ these days (a term designed by men to describe their lack of human emotions), but I swear this wasn’t that. This was a real, genuine discovery. I couldn’t fathom it.

I used to have a little brother. I still do, obviously, but he’s no longer little and I no longer take his hand, but I must have held a child’s hand before. I’m pretty sure I’ve even done it as an adult, on those rare occasions I’ve been somewhere and had to take on that task.

No, maybe not, on consideration. But I did definitely have that responsibility as a child. Why then don’t I remember ever experiencing this before? Is it possible that my own brother never had this security with me? That he never did hand his trust over to me like that? Am I, or was I, missing that gene even as a child? Does a child have to be brought up a certain way to hand over his trust like that, or does it take a certain type of child, and neither me nor my brother were those people? Did neither of us ever feel secure enough to hand over anything to another person, even as children?

Who knows? But I can tell you this, it’s a great feeling. I’ve never understood why people have children, other than force of habit. I’ve always considered them chiefly an ego-trip for men, and everyday sexism for women. I think most people have them simply because it’s a cultural norm we all buy into. It’s tradition, innit? And I don’t mean that as cynically as it sounds. There are many people who enjoy children and who actively want them; it’s just not most of the people who actually have them.

I wouldn’t have believed that feeling existed before that day. I wouldn’t have believed that there was any particular way to take someone’s hand, other than obvious things like people grabbing you out of cars and throwing you on the driveway before a beating. To have experienced that subtlety of feeling is by no means an odd thing for me; subtlety of feeling is my stock in trade, but for it to exist at all, and to have never encountered it before, that’s an oddity.

But I’m glad I did feel it. I admit it sent me into a flurry of wondering if I should have had children: ‘Should I foster?’ ‘I should have adopted’. But I realised that one tiny feeling does not a lifestyle make, and there would be plenty of times when the kid would be screaming or yelling or being such a pain that it would more than negate a tiny moment of hand holding.

But boy it was good. Really, really satisfying. To have someone just put their hand into yours, with all that confidence, that surety that you would protect them, see them safely home. Truly, a gift rarer than pearls.

Thanks, weird little kid – whoever you are. You made my day.

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The night I met Danny

I met Danny last night. This was unexpected because in all the years since I wrote the book I have never met him. I’ve always thought it was odd. He was in my head so much, for so many years, why had I never actually met him? I’d met John, even talked to him once or twice, but Danny was a cipher, as big a mystery as he was when I first set pen to paper.

My very first thought on meeting him was one of pleasant startlement. I even thought the words, “Oh, he’s actually real.” It was more elated than that banality would suggest: a piquant mix of surprise, sadness and delight. I did a double-take, unintentionally alerting him to my presence, the way you do when you see someone you know, or you are attracted to a stranger across a room. You don’t want to stare, or be caught gazing for more than three seconds, or whatever it is, in case you reveal too much of yourself, but your brain has to catch up, yell at you loud enough, rummage through a mental filing cabinet trying to save you from yourself and get you moving again before you blurt out something inappropriate.

Not in this case. I knew him instantly, even although he didn’t look exactly like I expected him to. But then they never do.

We were in an old disused shop in West Cumbria. That’s West, the industrial side, not the pretty side that everyone knows. DANNY is set in the forgotten side, the abandoned side, the side of old open-topped mines and abandoned industrial ports and agri-farms that aren’t big enough to cut it in the EEC. Only right we should all have been bundled into an old disused laundrette or dry-cleaners.

We’d all been in the same night club, and there had been a drugs raid and the police had simply rounded everybody up and shoved them in this shop until they could sort out who’d seen what and been where. It had soiled maroon carpeting and all the counters had been ripped up, with dangerous holes in the concrete floor and odd circles cut out the black-stained nylon where God-knows-what had passed through them.

Danny was sitting against one wall on a grey plastic stacking chair. Him and four other boys, and the first thing that struck me about him was “God, his hair really is that colour”. Let me tell you, that boy’s hair is dark. I am not at all surprised that people (annoyingly) always think it looks dyed when they meet him. To be honest, I always thought they were all suffering some kind of mass delusion brought on by lust and erotomania, but it’s a real genuine ruby red. It would be rich chestnut if there was enough brown in it, but there isn’t. The red on the book jackets isn’t right at all, but there, book covers never do live up to your idea of someone.

Secondly, his hair is softer, the ‘curls’ more like ringlets/waves. I always thought his hair would be tightly curled, if chaotic, but it’s not. If I had to pick any ‘jacket boy’, I’d say his hair looked most like the boy on the Hope House cover, although not in colour. We definitely got the colour wrong.

On the tail of that realisation, I thought, “He looks so young“. I hadn’t expected that, that he’d be so young, so not quite formed. He was more narrow-shouldered than I expected, although still as lean, slightly hollow. He was dressed in a black shirt and dark blue trousers. If I was forced to describe them, I’d call them midnight blue jeans – not denim, just cotton – kind of soft, brushed-looking and a brown leather belt.

He was sitting forward, hands dangling between his legs – with the other boys, but not of them. He looked like he’d been rounded up with strangers, like he’d been there on his own, like the proverbial lone wolf wandering about in the club, lonely or predatory. I’m not sure which.

To be honest, he didn’t look like he could, or ever would, be with anyone. He sat back and looked up, caught me entranced, like a rabbit in headlights. His eyes narrowed, focussed, as if to say “Do I know you?” As if he was reaching far into his memory, trying to dig for someone he knew years ago. Trying to catch some tenuous connection that I was unwittingly handing out to him.

But I saw a glimpse, perhaps under it, perhaps running ahead of it, perhaps there all along – just disguised because it was the politic thing to do; I saw that inch of calculation – although that isn’t fair; maybe resignation is a better word – that look of ‘What does she want of me?’ But by then I’d moved away, been shepherded into a back room where there was a perfectly round, deep, drilled hole in the floor filled with a mess of mixed coins. Drug money? Bloody strange drug money, but not for a hole in the wall town like this, I suppose. Kids buying ecstasy tablets with loose change. That was Maryport, at least at two in the morning in this surreal dream world.

I was half-interested in the weird hole in the floor, but more drawn to what was behind me. Danny, actually sitting there, like a real live person.

I turned round, saw him in profile, still sitting there on the end. He didn’t look at me until he stood up some minutes later, being herded out again: the police were done with them, or they were being taken somewhere else. Who knows?

He looked up, as his body was turning away, looked directly at me, as if he’d known I was there all along and had merely wanted an excuse to look back, as if he was grabbing at a last chance. He looked as if he was in handcuffs – why, for God’s sake?

He raised his head; that little upward tilt that men do with their chins. It’s almost peculiarly Northern, working class, something of strong, silent types. It’s a sort of “Ayup” of recognition, done without words. A thing that men generally do in salute to other men. It’s an acknowledgment.

He’d acknowledged me. He knew who I was.

We couldn’t speak, we couldn’t talk. We’d never be allowed to actually meet, have any kind of remotely meaningful connection. We were ships passing in the night. Two people who had come so close, who knew of each other, but not each other. He was saying “I see you, I know who you are. You are not my enemy.” No-one would ever be his friend. He was beyond that. Locked out forever. But I’d got close enough. I’d met Danny, in the flesh.

And the thing I felt about him most? The single strongest thing that struck me about him? It wasn’t his beauty, or his allure or his captivating perfection. Sitting in that chair, resigned, separated somehow from everyone around him, the one thing that struck me above all else, when I got past him actually being there at all, was how very sad he was. Sadder than sad. Beyond all sad.

And I realise I never did him justice. I don’t think I ever really captured him at all. And I’m more sorry than he’ll ever know.

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