Category Archives: Opinion

Yet another blog referencing Jodie….


Dream Jodie and Tony-Paul. I had a dream about them, which felt, and feels, terribly significant, like I should learn something from it, see something in it, but I don’t know what.

Dream Jodie wasn’t like the real Jodie. She couldn’t be, since I don’t actually know the real Jodie, and yet she somehow was.

For those of you who are not regular readers, Jodie is one of my seven and a half fans – or, to be more accurate, DANNY’s seven and a half fans.

In the dream, Dream Jodie was meant to be the Real Jodie, and I had only just met her for the first time. So far, so realistic. We appeared to be meeting up in Sheffield, Real Jodie’s hometown. Also realistic. She looked rather like my old childhood friend, Maureen Cannon, and was a rather doll-like curvy blonde in black clothes. Not too far off either.

We met up in a pub or a nightclub, early-ish in the day (around five in the evening, I’d guess) and we appeared to be getting on like a house on fire. Also, not a million miles from unlikely. I’ve always thought I might like Jodie, or at least she wouldn’t annoy the hell out me. (Think House and Wilson, although I’m not sure which of us would be playing House; it might be more a Battle of the Sarcasms. No, I’m nastier than she is. I get to play House.)

Then Tony-Paul arrived, and it all went pear-shaped. Tony-Paul was Dream Jodie’s new boyfriend, and he didn’t like me. To be more accurate, Tony-Paul didn’t trust me. If asked to guess, I’d say Tony-Paul thought I was too smart for my own good and probably too big for my boots. Tony-Paul didn’t like my ‘influence’ over Dream Jodie and he didn’t like that she knew me. His Jodie was a different girl, one who went out Saturday nights, spent her time with him in pubs like this one, and he had no time for her reading books let alone being involved with the author of one.

Tony-Paul was a thorn in my ointment. I knew Tony-Paul was trouble as soon as I saw his odd little onion-shaped head. I don’t know if this was some odd quirk of my subconscious, since I remember Jill (Real Jodie’s real sister) and her having a teasing match over Jill’s taste in runty men. Or whether it’s because I remember Jodie herself confessing to a liking for Michael Sheen, an onion-headed runt if ever I saw one, but Tony-Paul looked kind of weird. (Just realised, reading this through, that Sheen played Tony [Blair]; this can’t be a coincidence.)

He was short, for a start. Not more than five-eight, I’d say, and he had the aforementioned onion head – this odd wide forehead and a short little face with a pointy chin and designer facial hair. He was also bald. Not aged-relative bald, but trendy shaved-head bald. I could see a slight dark shadow – but I could also see his hairline was receding. There was probably a little genuine bald spot at the crown. Whatever trendification he tried – man was bald. He was also dark-skinned, Asian-looking, but third generation Asian: no foreign accent, no trace of Indian mannerisms, dress or culture – just that dark skin and eyebrows.

And, of course, he was called Tony-Paul. Not literally, but I seem to have kept changing his name. Sometimes Tony, sometimes Paul. But those names are so plebeian, so ordinary, so nothing. They were a statement of Tony-Paul’s albeit rather sinister mediocrity. This is probably meaningless to most of you, but he was exactly like a rather unpleasant potential villain in DANNY itself; some character John would fall over in a pub, some weirdo who would foolishly threaten him.

As he was ‘threatening’ me.

See what I mean? Odd. Significant. Meaningless.

I had plans for Dream Jodie. Not nasty sexual corrupt ones (why would you think that?), but something to do with DANNY itself. Again, not odd, we’ve often approached Jodie about various projects, most of which have turned to dust, but why this, why now? I have no projects planned. Not even for me, let alone Jodie.

But the oddest thing of all was, I was asking her to collaborate on a book (novel? I think so.) Right before Tony-Paul brought his unwanted little onion head into the picture I was saying to Jodie, “So you’d like to collaborate on this book then?” feeling that sense of excitement, that peculiar bubble of recognition and hope that all too rarely happens when you meet a kindred sprit.

I am very, very vulnerable to kindred spirits. I expect most people to, at best, not understand me, or anything I do, and, at worst, to take an instant dislike to me. I say, entirely without self-pity, I assure you, that I have time without number threatened people on first meeting, and this when I am lying, cheating and manipulating myself into their good graces (I mean, they feel threatened, I haven’t pulled a shiv on them). By pretending to be normal, ordinary and non-threatening. By pretending to care about their annoying little lives. By being sweet, kind, concerned, friendly – when I am none of these things.

Maybe that’s why they don’t like me. Not because I’m not a good actress, I am entirely plausible – I sign on every fortnight and convince the nice lady on my desk that I care about getting a job when nothing is further from the truth – but because they think, “She’s not like me, I know it. I feel it. What the hell is she? What is she about? Is she going to expect something of me? Is she going to wake me up, jolt me out my comfortable rut? I don’t like the look of her one little bit.”

I agree with them. I’m on their side. It’s all true. I don’t trust me either. Never have.

Dream Jodie and I had no such problem. There was no hesitation in our discussion. We were of an accord. Had we been opposite sexes, Jane Austen would have married us off post haste and described our meeting of minds as “A most felicitous occasion for happiness”.

But then there was Tony-Paul. My fly. In my ointment. How I hated him. How he sunk my gut into a pit of frustration and loss. There went Jodie, there went my book. And for nothing. A mediocrity. An illusion.

Dream Jodie was weak. I knew it. She was hoist on her own petard of obsession. And the worst of it was, I knew he wasn’t worth it. I had seen a million women make this mistake before her, and will see another million do it again before I die. Unless I am run over by a bus tomorrow.

Dream Jodie wasn’t in love with Tony-Paul, it wasn’t that. Dream Jodie was in this worst place, she revered him. He was Macho Man, a bloke’s bloke, a fake. There’s a type of man who plays at strong and silent, no emotions, no crying. He has mates, he drinks beer, he doesn’t say much, he scowls a lot, but none of it’s real. In actuality, he needs women. For everything. He needs one to cook, to clean, to wake him up, to make his tea, to wash his clothes, to pick his clothes, to buy his clothes, to show off at weddings, to meet his mum (who he sees regularly and obeys in all things). Macho Man cannot do anything for himself, and that includes feeling any emotions, or knowing who or what the hell he is, or needs. You see, women have always done all that for him.

But eventually Macho Man needs sex, regular sex, and he can’t go to mum for that, so he needs a girlfriend. But she has to buy into the whole façade of who he is. She has to pay lip service to his macho, his maleness, his toughness, while all the time ministering to his every need. She is his real-time CGI. She’s responsible for making sure the Holodeck that is his life is never switched off, and we don’t all see the little needy boy-child behind the curtain.

Such was Jodie’s trap. She ‘believed in’ Tony-Paul. She had agreed implicitly to keep this façade of his running – and there was no way me and her collaborating on a book was going to mesh into Tony-Paul’s Virtual Life.

All of this was very interesting, if unoriginal, but the really interesting question for me was, is, why the fuck was I dreaming it?

I have no intention of ‘collaborating’ with anyone, on anything, never mind a book. As far as I know (I may be wrong) Jodie has no ideas of writing a book. I likewise have no idea if she has a boyfriend, if he has an onion-head, or if she is obsessed by him. Although that one wouldn’t surprise me since obsession is what she does best, and she wears it proudly, bless her. From what little I do know of Jodie, I wouldn’t like to stick my neck out and say she’d never buy into obsessive love for a narcissist, but I do suspect that she couldn’t keep the façade thing going for long. If she was into denial and Living in His Delusion, a disorder which is beloved of many women, nothing about DANNY would appeal to her. It’s a dangerous, dangerous and stupid thing to do, but I’m going to say Jodie just wouldn’t fall for Tony-Paul. Not for long. And she wouldn’t sell anyone out for the ‘love’ of him.

So why in the name of all that’s holy did I choose to star her in my dream, put all my faith in her, only to make her abandon me to Tony-Paul?

So pressing did this dream feel I kept finding it popping into my head all day, rather like my house had been burgled and I could sense something was wrong but I hadn’t quite spotted it yet. It seemed to walk along behind me going, “Yoo-hoo! Over here!” So fed up did I get with this constant attention-seeking I actually told Max about it and asked him what he thought it meant.

We tossed it around and wondered the obvious: was it because I’d given DANNY up and I feared Jodie would just abandon the book for pastures new? Was Tony-Paul just my subconscious’ way of saying “Jodie, your ‘perfect’ embodiment of A Fan, will simply move onto a new macho man, replacing the authenticity of John and Danny with Tony-Paul, the onion-headed fake that passes for Alpha males in most stories”? Possibly. Probably. Sounds highly plausible to me.

It would be stupid and disingenuous of me to say, But why would I care? Of course I would care. Nobody writes a book to be forgotten. Not me, not nobody. But I can’t help feel there’s more to it than this. I agree absolutely that that’s a perfect explanation. My life is in turmoil right now. I’ve lost my ‘identity’. I no longer call myself a writer, something I’ve done for as long as I can remember. As I’m no longer supplying ‘product’, my tiny fan club has no reason to remember me, or my work. I’m stripping away more and more of my fragile life every day and leaving nothing to replace it. That would be enough to push anyone into dreams of Tony-Paul and abandonment, but not me.

I think this is the point. Sure I’d dream it. I did. Sure Jodie makes the perfect dream metaphor for a fear of losing my fans. (I feel I should apologise for that, but know somehow Jodie will love the idea of being a dream metaphor, so I won’t, although I do feel she is owed an apology for being used as someone fickle and stupid enough to fall for an onion-headed impostor, a cheap sinkhole estate lothario who thinks a game of pool is foreplay and simmering thuggish jealousy fools anyone into thinking he cares.) But that’s not only too simple, it’s just wrong.

There’s something more here, something it’s trying to tell me, and I’m missing it entirely. That’s why I’m writing a blog about a week old dream, because it just won’t leave me alone and I don’t get it. It’s like a film with a subplot I can’t quite grasp, a relationship that doesn’t make sense. It’s the piece of apple skin lodged in your throat, the fibre of pork caught between your teeth, the hang-nail: tiny, infuriating, and always there.

I even got to the stage of wondering if I’d dreamt something predictive. I do this occasionally, usually about really weird pointless things that are completely unhelpful as premonitions. That’s what made this one a possible; it was mad enough. Had Jodie just fallen in love with a Tony or a Paul, or even, God forbid, a Tony-Paul? Had she just met someone like him? Was she…. Oh God, no, Lassie… in danger? This would be exactly the kind of stupid prediction dream I’d have, one that was no earthly use to anyone. I actually – yes actually – contemplated e-mailing her and asking if the dream meant anything to her, but fortunately realised how barking that would sound. Yes, Stone’s gone bankrupt and gone mad simultaneously, it will be death by prescription drug overdose next.

So, if there are any dream analysts out there who think they can see what I’m missing – let me know. I, for one, am no closer to any deeper understanding of it at all. If it has a secret message for me I can’t find it. Maybe I need to read it the old-fashioned way, by creating a novel out of it. Worked for me before, although it did take me four volumes, and I never did find an answer to that one either. Maybe this one would be more successful. With a movie.

I reckon Rachel Weisz for Jodie and Michael Sheen for Tony-Paul – what d’you think? Now if I can just arrange my suicide for right before the premiere. Wait, there’s got to be a masseur. Anyone know a good masseur………..?

Me Andy, You Jane…

Pity the poor for all the good we do them. There they are, trying to live their lives with whatever half-starved emotional poverty they have, while all the while, over their shoulders, there lurks goodness.

Can you imagine what it must be like to have so much goodness coming at you?

I’ve had a lot of goodness recently. From the other end, of course. I’ve been learning to be good. Or trying to. And it’s been hard.

I lasted around three weeks, that’s how not good at being good I was, but hey, I tried. What good have you done recently?

The reason I gave up trying to be good was Andy.

Andy had not quite a goatee beard, more a tuft of gingery blonde under his lower lip. Andy had a kind of rumpled trendiness that indicated ‘bed-head gel’. Andy frowned a lot. Andy had a particularly nice heavyweight chain on one wrist – big thin rounded links; unusual, kind of expensive-looking. It had more than a hint of a folk-rock thing going on, along with the rumpled, casual charm, that was about as deep as a mosquito pond. That’s a puddle to you and I.

I just couldn’t warm to Andy. There, the truth is out. It was nothing specific, it was an attitude. One of those growing ones that kept leaping into the conversation with a lot of tics and posturings.

Andy was one of those people who kind of rides a conversation to see where it will take him. Who rides you, rather like you were a dolphin in a Good Earth theme park and he was going to commune with you, read your spirit.

Andy didn’t like me.

It wasn’t immediate – oh, no – it was one of those growing sneaky things where you just know it’s taken a wrong turn but you can’t exactly pinpoint why.

Andy had pounced on me in the reception. He’d wandered out there with no intention of interviewing me – although my appointment had actually been booked with him – spotted me and suddenly he was all smiles. He “might as well” see me, “don’t disturb Jane.” Oh, it was “no bother”. In I went.

You would think with this promising start – surely, sexual attraction from a man ten years my junior – that I was in but good. Not so.

I always see these moments, frozen in time, and wonder what happens to that alchemy. What happened in the bright little synapses of Andy’s brain? From the moment he wandered out into reception, did a double-take and decided that the appointment he’d just brushed off was now ‘okay’ – in the most nonchalant way possible, of course – what leapt into his head?

How did he see me? What did he see? How did he think this would play out?

Who knows? He thought what he thought, but what we do know is somewhere between the cup and the lip there was a slip.

Was it something I said?

Hell, yes. Isn’t it always? And isn’t it my job, as a woman, to find out what that is? If something went wrong, I must have done something to cause it. God forbid he should be at fault. That wouldn’t help his ego any.

What could it have been? Let me see………

Well, there was my assertion that he only thought Orkney was a great place to live because he’d never lived there. Turned out his wife had taken him there for his last birthday and he’d loved it. When he said he loved Celtic history so Orkney was nirvana I think I looked unconvinced, maybe even dryly amused. Funny little man. Certainly there was banter. At one point he said something about enjoying the island’s grey landscape and bad weather and I quipped, “Do you suffer much with this depressive thing?”

Hey, I was joking, but there was a little silent voice in there that was whispering, “Not good, Chancery. Not good.”

Oddly, although that first interview went well enough, it didn’t feel well enough. There was the fact that I couldn’t remember my phone number. I don’t think he found that very funny or endearing. The fact that I told him I never phone myself, or that my partner went everywhere with me so I never bothered to remember it, did not seem to make me any cuter either. You’d think it would be no big deal – so I don’t remember my phone number, I promised to deliver it – but I could feel that ticking, just under the surface, out of sight. She’s a kook. Who doesn’t remember their own phone number?

But it wasn’t because I was a kook, not really. All was revealed – eventually.

Over the weekend I had to fill in a rush application form, we had to take passport size photos and make them look plausible – thus saving £4, for which I am truly thankful in light of future events. I had to walk into town and post my application – with my phone number written on the outside, like a good girl – through their office letter box on the Bank Holiday Monday.

I was set. I had an interview time and date. I had no idea why since I thought I’d already done an interview, but if I’ve learned one thing in life, it’s that people need their procedures.

And Tuesday, Real Interview Day rolls round. I walk into town on the wettest day of the year. By the time I get there I am soaked to the skin. The rain has gone through my cagoule and I’m sure I’ve got panda eyes. I get to wait in the vestibule since they’ve still got another interviewee with them. Good, I mop up as best I can with paper hankies. I dry my jewellery, the back of my neck. I wipe under my eyes hoping like hell I don’t have runny mascara.

Eventually I go in. Notably, the person who comes out and gets me is the other co-ordinator, Jane, the one I’ve never met, who Andy had fobbed my appointment off onto that first day, then reclaimed it when he saw me. Maybe if Jane had interviewed me that first day I’d be in a whole different place right now. But then again, the way Andy’s ego is running his brain I seriously doubt it.

I go through to the same board room I met Andy in the first time, and there he is, still tufty, tousled and bedecked with silver. Andy looks at me and he’s very serious. My fine female brain, highly-tuned to pick up unhappy male signals, immediately spots Andy is not happy.

This makes my slight anxiety worse. Much worse. I sit down and make some nervous quip about said panda eyes, seeking reassurance that my face is in fact intact. This is met with blankness at first then a distinct lack of hilarity from Andy who obviously considers me frivolously obsessed with my looks. Already my sixth sense is telling me this is a disaster. I feel as if I’m about to fight an unfightable corner. And God, my instincts are good.

Andy displays such stereotypical body language you could be forgiven for thinking he read a book on it before he left the house. Andy doesn’t meet my eyes. When he does he either looks away or fixes me with an angry penetrating gaze as if to say, Say that again. His tone and attitude is challenging – and I’m being nice to him here. He repeatedly sits back in his chair with one arm hung over the back. It’s tantamount to picking excrement off the bottom of his cage and chucking it at me. If he could have jumped on the table and screeched at me he’d have done it.

It takes very little time till Andy dives right into what’s bothering him. “How long do you think it would take you to decide if the job was right for you?” he asks cunningly.

I, naïve to the nth and desperate to convince him of my sincerity, say, “Oh, I’d know straight away. Not more than two or three visits, tops. I wouldn’t keep a kid hanging on if it was wrong.”

OH GOD, NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If there was a planet for saying the wrong thing I’d be queen of it. So not the right answer. And the irony is, I was only saying it to convince him that I wouldn’t mess about with a vulnerable child’s life. In actuality, if my pairing had been wrong I’d have done one visit, tops, and if I thought it might work I’d have kept going until it did work, or die trying. But it’s too late now, I’m done for. Of course, as this is in the heat of competition, I’m floundering. I know I’ve committed an enormous blunder but I HAVE NO IDEA WHY.

He’s shaking his head before the sentence is even out my mouth. His lips are pursed. He’s looking down at my application form and leaning back in his chair with his arm over the back – all at once. What the fuck have I said?

I find out soon enough. Andy gives me a very serious dressing down. All that was missing was a finisher of how I had let the academy down and they were going to strip me of my rank.

After that it was all downhill. Nothing I could say could fix it. I found myself wading into blind alleys, trying to explain my feelings, while Andy’s mouth got tighter than Calista Flockhart’s anus. Tighter, tighter, tighter it went. Now he never looked at me at all. He stared at the table and listened to all my answers as if he could hear encoded messages of evil.

I, of course, talked almost entirely to Jane, so that we had: Andy fires accusation question at Chancery, Chancery delivers answer to Jane, Jane smiles, scribbles on her notes, Angry Andy scowls harder and fires off next accusation question. Now he not only has a dilettante weirdo who doesn’t even know her own phone number, but she patently doesn’t respect his authority. Remember, it wasn’t him who came out to get me in the foyer. There’s a pecking order here, and instead of me being crushed by his condemnation of dubious uncommitted carers like me, I’m trying to win over the next-best bet – Jane.

It wasn’t deliberate. I was just desperately trying to convince the only person at that table – and I’m including myself in this – that I have good intentions here, even if I’m not expressing them very well.

But if I’d been Chaucer, Shakespeare and Gandhi in one delicious package I couldn’t have saved myself. It turns out that right before me they have had two carers walk out on them, both after less than two visits. Gosh, exactly the figure I’d named. I have, in effect, made myself one of those women. I am irredeemable.

What’s worse, inside, a tiny, tiny part of me is fuming. How dare this cocky tufted little asswipe sit here, with his holier-than-thou attitude, throwing blame around like the Queen of fucking Sheba? What the hell is his problem? How in the name of al that’s holy can it be my fault he’s had two carers walk out on him? Maybe that’s an indicator there’s something wrong with his selection process. Maybe – here’s a thought – he picks them by wandering out into reception and seeing which one he fancies. Maybe he’s such an arrogant little cocksucker, with a such an overweening God complex, he thinks we’re all his fucking disciples and I ought to wash his feet.

Needless to say (sigh) I do not say any of this. Being a woman, and worst of all, me, I am unable to do anything but flounder, digging deeper and deeper, feeling the disapproval come across the table at me in waves.

Eventually it’s over. I am almost in tears when I leave. Part of me wants to grovel apologies for my failure to please and I am, literally, inches away from it at the door when Jane (surprise!) shows me out. She’s nice, chatting away, trying to make me feel better. I have no proof of this, and it may simply be that he was so obnoxious she seemed shiny in comparison, but my gut says she was feeling sorry for how hard I had tried to win Dad over. Because, let’s face it, that’s what I was doing. That’s what every woman who went in there does. That’s what Andy likes, and why he does the job. Rub my saintly ego. Ohhhh, rub it harder.

Although he has speeches about caring for children so off-rote you’d think they were tenets of a new religion, the real religion in there is the cult of Andy. And behold, it is good.

I run off into the night and am so upset that I finally do start crying, so badly I scare Max, who misses an art class to comfort me. I feel beyond stupid. Crying is not my natural state of being – although you wouldn’t know it to see me this year. Quitting will do that to you – I warn you now.

I cry all the way home (that’s forty-five minutes, folks). I cry at home. I cry and cry and cry.

I’m getting a hurt vibe, here. Something in me is wounded. No shit, Sherlock, and it would take way too long to explain all the nasty family dynamics I think were at play here, but slowly, surely, when my contempt for myself and how low and horrible and stupid I am passes, I begin to see Andy. Yes, there he is, the real Andy. The Andy that somehow changed halfway through my first interview. The Andy that never found a single one of my quips funny, despite being a hip kind of guy. The Andy who never took anyone to or from the foyer, despite being the same rank as Jane. The Andy who went completely off the deep-end, blaming me for two of his carers leaving that week as if I had personally recruited them and defiled his temple. The Andy who needed to pet and sulk and pout to show his displeasure and who hated being ‘ignored’. The Andy who shouted the odds about the children’s care while all along I got this feeling that really this ‘betrayal’ was about him. It was all about him. I’d just been so busy beating myself up for not being a good enough prospective parent I didn’t see it.

And this, my friend, is what the poor get. Andy is what we think they deserve. Andy runs a voluntary organisation called Befriend a Child. Andy was interviewing me to be a volunteer. Andy is what happens to you when your parents don’t love you or beat you up or fuck you. Andy finds someone to befriend you so that you won’t be utterly alone. Andy does this by running a tight ship, with him as Captain Bligh. This means that Andy gets antsy if people don’t know their phone numbers; Andy makes all the jokes, which are never at his expense; Andy takes and drops appointments as a show of casual power, and, best of all, Andy gets to kick the dog when someone lets him down. I was that dog and, like a dog, I well and truly took my kicking.

Except, of course, after I stopped joining in I wrote him – and his boss – an email wherein I told them what I thought Andy’s histrionics were really about. And then I wrote this blog, putting in all the special stuff I missed out the e-mail.

Andy hasn’t yet learned there’s more than one way to give to the poor – and this is mine. It’s good to share.

I Shopped My Mum to the Cops! My life story, as told by Take-a-Break


I hear a lot about the ‘unrealism’ of DANNY, in one way or another, and it got me thinking about the usual representations of abuse in ‘fact’ and fiction.

After that, I realised it’s time I made an effort to join in/ put things right. I should write abuse more accurately, more “realistically”. And to illustrate just how ‘accurately’ popular culture handles abuse I’m going to use “A True Life Story” – my own – as the basis for my mainstreaming forays into “gritty reality”.

Yes, here today (and possibly for a few blogisodes after this, if the fancy takes me) you’re going to see the full horror of my childhood laid out far more “realistically” and in a way you will all finally be able to relate to.

My ‘In the Style of…” series starts with Take a Break. I don’t know what the equivalent is in the US, or elsewhere, but if I tell you it’s the UK’s original and best “Real Life Stories” magazine, and features a weekly collection of desperate low-lifes getting a few bucks for their horror stories of abuse, murder, mayhem and dying children, I reckon you’ll know your own country’s version immediately. Think Jerry Springer in print and you’re close.

For the sake of brevity, and because evil mums are great, I have pushed both parents into one. I have also given my story the requisite happy, upbeat, positive ending. Unfortunately, it’s also not true, but I’ve come to realise that being truthful is not nearly as important as being “realistic”, and in the “real world” victims are always saved, and always learn A Life Lesson, so I’ve provided both. When I’m reincarnated I’ll be sure to get that right next time.

So here it is, I SHOPPED MY MUM TO THE COPS!, My Life Story as told by Take a Break…


“But Mum…” I cried, as I begged once again for my mum, Mary Henery (37), to let me go with my friends to the disco.

But all I got was a slap. “Didn’t I tell you to get that washing-up done?” Another slap sent me spinning to the floor. I lay there, trying to keep still, trying not to provoke her rage.

Why did Mum treat me like this? Why? I tried to be a good daughter. I washed and cooked and sewed and looked after my young brother, Andrew (7). But it was never good enough.

Every night Mum came in from work, stinking of perfume, dressed in sexy clothes I wasn’t allowed myself. “What have you been doing?” she’d snarl at me.

“N…n…nothing,” I’d whimper, trying not to cringe in case she struck out at me again. I soon learned to keep my head down and get on with my chores. From early in the morning till late at night I’d be doing all the things Mum should do but didn’t. She was too busy planning her latest outfit, buying sexy mini-dresses from the Bargain Centre (4) in Glasgow (938) and trying out false eyelashes to wear to that Saturday’s dance at Centre 1 (10).

Centre 1 was the Tax Office where my mother worked as a clerk and flirted with all the strange men she couldn’t seem to stay away from.

Years later, when my parents divorced, I was to hear from my Dad that my mother had always had a string of men, but then I never suspected. I just wanted her to love me.

Maybe if I tried harder at school? But I was already doing the best I could, trying to make Mum proud of me. But that night when she came home it was the same old story. “Get that fire made up”, “Isn’t dinner ready yet?”, “I told you to bleach those sheets.” It just never stopped.

I’d fall into bed every night and cry myself to sleep. Why couldn’t Mum love me? What had I done wrong? I must be a bad daughter. “If only I could change…” I shivered, as I turned over in my cold bed. Mum only ever gave me one blanket, and I wasn’t allowed a heater in my room, so I had to study up there every night, my feet wrapped in a coat, frost forming inside the window, trying desperately hard to please my perfect, gorgeous mother.

She was a real sex symbol, known in the district for her red hair and her short mini-dresses and her PVC boots. She even owned green satin hot pants which were all the fashion then. Other mums were dull and frumpy, and I knew how lucky I was, Mum told me all the time, but oh how I wished I had a loving, homely mum who looked after me and made me tea and cakes.

Instead I had to get my little brother up every morning for school and try and get him dressed and fed, then get myself out too. When I came home it was all chores then upstairs to study. I wasn’t allowed to go out anywhere. And the only clothes I owned were my school uniform and a cheap shirt I’d bought myself by saving up my weekly 20p pocket money.

I sighed and gazed out the back window as I did yet another load of washing, my hands red and stinging from the bleach. All my friends went to the Olympia Ballroom (19), but I wasn’t allowed. “They have knife fights there. You’re not going.”

But I’d never heard of any knife fights. Just like her excuse for not buying me any clothes. “Where have you got to wear clothes to?” she’d sneer, selecting a pair of huge dangly earrings from the porcelain bowl she kept in the kitchen sideboard as she applied more bright blue eyeshadow to her eyelids.

“Other girls get to go out…” I trembled.

“Other girls don’t get the benefit of an education,” she spat back at me. “Other girls are made to leave school at sixteen. Me and your father are paying to keep you on at school so you can make something of your life, not waste it in some factory.”

I cowered back from her distorted, rage-filled face. “It’s not fair,” I wailed. “I don’t have anything to wear. Look at these ugly shoes,” I pleaded, pointing at the big black policewoman’s shoes she made me wear. “All the other girls laugh at me.”

Suddenly she was grabbing me and shaking me, pounding my head and body with her fists, swearing, calling me filthy names…

“Oh no. No, Mum, no. Please don’t hurt me again…” I grovelled. But it was no good. She dragged me upstairs and into the bathroom. I knew I was going to die, but all I could think about was my little brother, poor little Andrew. What would he do without me to take care of him? Mum wouldn’t be there to feed him, make sure he got a proper lunch. I had to survive for little Andrew’s sake.

I struggled as she tried to shove my head down the toilet, but she was so strong, like a madwoman. “Mum, Mum…” I spluttered again. But she was beyond hearing me. She was insane with fury.

I had to stop her. I had to. I fumbled back with my hand and found the toilet brush. I couldn’t see, water was going up my nose, I was drowning. Oh no, I thought, as I began to fade away. I was dying. Then, suddenly, my hand found the handle. I swung it round and smacked her in the face with it, hard as I could.

I heard her gasp, her hold slackened. I struggled away from the toilet bowl and coughed up the water in my lungs. I had nearly died. I looked at Mum, crumpled there on the floor.

She was crying now, mumbling, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” over and over. But I knew she wasn’t sorry. I knew this time it had gone too far. Suddenly I was filled with a sense of purpose. I had to stop this. “I’m phoning the police,” I asserted.

Immediately Mum was clinging to my legs. “No, please, don’t,” she moaned.

But I pushed her off, mascara running down her face. “Yes, Mum, I am. You need help. This has got to stop.”

Mum dropped her head in shame. The true woman under the sexy skirts and garish make-up had been revealed. She was broken. I left her there in a heap and went downstairs and phoned the police.

Afterwards there was talk about me in the street, all over the district. How could I have shopped my own mother? But they didn’t know her like I did. All they saw was the beautiful façade she put on in front of the world. After the divorce, when all the stuff about Mum and her men came out, people would come up to me in the street and say, “You did the right thing.” But it was too late then. No-one had been there to help me when I was a lonely child going though hell.

I’m not proud of what I did, although I do realise now that it had to be done. Mum hadn’t left me any option. I tried my best, but Mum simply couldn’t accept my love. Really she was the victim. She had lost her only daughter just so she could appear young and hip and trendy and attract the men she craved.

Mum and I still aren’t talking, and my brother hasn’t forgiven me for shopping her – he was too young to understand – but I hope someday they’ll see I only did it because I loved them.

As told to Isobel Dalry @ Take a Break

NEXT WEEK! DARK HEART OF SHAME – My life as an Odyssey True Story

My Secret Shame – or 20 things you would never believe about Chancery Stone

Honour my bravery. This is a list of the weird and wonderful and atypical things I love that any self-respecting, controversial, maverick, ‘crazy bitch’ author such as myself should never admit to. How many of you would publish a list like this? Liar. You know you wouldn’t.

The truth is, of course, that this isn’t bravery. I just don’t care what you think of my peccadilloes, or me in general, now I come to think of it. Of course, that may well be the definition of bravery.

Or maybe I’m just strange…

1. Films with talking animals. It’s true. The more surreal the better. I saw a trailer yesterday for a Disney film about Chihuahuas that I can’t remember the name of for the life of me. Great trailer though, with dogs in headdresses and Aztec dance numbers. Doctor Doolittle – I don’t own it, but God, it’s fun. And I’m talking about the Eddie Murphy one/s. It’s a disease, I tell you.

2. Things that sparkle. Sadly, this is not diamonds, although I think they’re pretty enough, if a little dull. I’m talking about anything that sparkles, from Elizabethan court dress to glitter glue. I am completely undiscriminating. Totally. I could be four. If it sparkles, I more or less glaze over and go, “Oooooooh, pretty…” It’s tragic.

3. Chintz. I have a pair of powder blue original 1950’s curtains in my office, with cerise and acid-yellow roses. They are so beautiful I built my room décor around them, even painting the furniture to match. But it’s the only chintz I own. And I’m very fussy about it. My favourite chintz is period originals or, failing that, very expensive modern versions, but if I had my way I’d have a secret room full of the stuff: overstuffed cabbage rose sofa, aged chintz curtains and petit point cushions. God, that’s so middle class.

4. Scented candles. I spend a small fortune on them – that and fancy holders – and burn them every night – lots of them. What’s more, I don’t care. My only saving grace is I don’t burn them in the bath. Way too tacky. And I don’t like bathing at night.

5. Melon. God, I love melon. I nearly always have two sitting ripening at any one time and eat it every day. I don’t care what kind it is, as long as it’s ripe. I sincerely believe there is no food finer than melons, although they are rivalled in summer by Lengra and Alphonso mangoes, which must be bought by the box from Indian shops, complete with shredded handbills and tinsel for packing. Oh, the joy.

6. Weird reference books. I’m talking collections and miscellanies, guides to Greek swear words, how to insult in Yiddish, books defining cloud strata. I have books of historical slang, eighteen century life and histories of Greek gods. I have books of gems and crystals, Cumbrian place names and farm implements – and more books of quotations than any one person should own. The real kicker is I’ve owned some of these books several times. I buy them, I move house, I sell them. I buy them again. Unhealthy and useless. I don’t even remember the damn things to use them in conversation, but I do love ’em.

7. Fish. Fascinating, fabulous fish. I have owned a large fish tank where I kept goldfish, carp and river minnows – caught from a local river – and where they lived way past their normal life span and taught the goldfish how to shoal. But I haven’t owned a tank for many years, and I still miss them. They’re meditation in a box – that eats. But my fascination with fish is a lot older. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of underwater life – I even find myself ‘collecting’ films about it. One of my earliest memories is of Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. Oh, how I wanted to be her. I have had several collections of fish ornaments, sold them, re-bought new ones. Are you seeing a pattern here?

8. Jewellery. Yes, my regular readers know this one, and you may think it’s hardly unconventional. But do you have any idea how deep mine goes? I have a four foot shelf with five (or six – not sure) cup trees on it. Every branch is laden with bangles. Not only that, but I tie sets up with ribbon and hang them by the ribbon so I can get multiple sets on each branch. On top of that, I have four more trees on the bureau, also laden. On top of that, I have two full-size drawers full of them, and a jewellery box drawer full of bracelets and more ‘precious’ bangles. Then I have a shoe-box under my dining room table with wooden bangles. And that’s just bangles. Let’s not start on earrings and necklaces – or brooches, or rings. What’s more, this collection is only a few years old. Previously I’ve owned many vintage and new collections – particularly of earrings. Bought them, sold them again, bought new. I wear jewellery every day and ‘can’t’ go out without it. Absolutely none of it is made of precious metals, which are boring, banal and strictly for the chavs. This unhealthy need is, of course, tied up with the sparkly addiction. It’s totally out of control and I don’t give a good goddamn.

9. Pens. God, I love pens. I used to love the way they looked, as in their external appearance. It stems from my grandfather’s ‘collection’, accrued from auction house lots and made of real tortoiseshell and enamel with real gold nibs, all kept in a (now very valuable) roll-top desk. They fascinated me: the smell, the black, black ink, the delicately engraved and curiously named nibs. In my own pen addicted past, I’d buy some outrageously expensive rolled-gold object of desire while I was wearing shoes with holes in them. I’d only write with that pen, loving the look of the expensive ink flowing over the page. But of recent years I’ve taken to falling in love with the cheap and bizarre. My most recent acquisitions are sets of sparkly gel pens (see? there’s sparkly again) bought out of Poundland. Every night I do the diary in brilliant glittery cerise or sparkling bronze. Sheer poetry.

10. Fur. There isn’t a fur coat I don’t love. Except for the badly cut, cheap nasty ones, of course. Sadly, being a big softie, I couldn’t buy new furs, even if I could afford them. Just can’t get my head around breeding something only for its fur – too wasteful for me. But I own, and have owned, many, many vintage fur coats. I’ve also had to leave many behind just because they didn’t fit. I once had to pass up a 1970’s fur jacket in lilac fur. It was just dyed rabbit, of course, and it looked rather like an old dear with a blue rinse but, God, I wanted that coat. Fake furs are just as good. During the 80’s I lived in a big boxy fur in neon pink. I even had ear muffs to match. Brilliant.

11. Fabric. If I had been any other kind of artist, other than a writing one or a dancing one, I’d have been a costume/fashion designer. But, much as I love clothes, I love fabric more. I have boxes of old fabric that I’m “keeping for when I get a big house” and when I left Orkney I had to sell loads of it because I simply couldn’t store it. I love patterned and unusual fabric. There is no greater delight on God’s earth than finding old, unused tea towels decorated with Spanish dancers, or playing cards, or dice. I own a lot of old headscarves with great designs on them. I had a huge collection of antique silk handkerchiefs on Orkney and gave them away to an annoying gay boy. Regret it every day…

12.Tree houses. I mean real houses, up trees, that people live in. This isn’t some throwback to my childhood. I never had a tree house, or wanted one particularly. But I was big on ‘dens’. Built them all the time, usually in undergrowth, and then I had sex in them. But I was a tree in a previous life (honestly) and when I see people living in actual – usually architect built, for obvious reasons – tree houses I pine (ooh, a pun) like nobody’s business. Of course, I love any unconventional house, especially ones very high in the sky. Someday…

13. Insects and bees. This is an addiction I’ve never really focussed, but it sneaks out in odd little ways. I have a (very small collection) of bee honey pots. I have a sizeable amount of insect jewellery. I have butterfly fabric and clothes. I don’t like the ‘cute’ variety – not interested – I like them to look like the real thing. It’s my ambition to own a Victorian real beetle jewellery set. A girl can dream…

14. Religious iconography. If I had my way, and I could afford it, I’d have life-size Jesus’ all over the damn house, lighting up Marys and a gold and cherubim-strewn ceiling in every room. There is no religious excess to which I would not pay obeisance. Not bad for a wooden atheist. (That’s someone who says they don’t believe, but who starts every deepest wish with ‘Please, God, I’ll be good if you only…)

15. Crystals, mirrors, mirror balls, any combination of same. No, not ‘healing’ crystals – please. I’m talking about things that refract the light. Yes, it’s sparkly a new way. No surprises there then.

16. Recycled stuff. I go like a dog on point at the idea of stuff made out of other stuff. I particularly love clothes made out of other clothes – or anything else for that matter. Sadly, most ‘recycled’ fashion is so fucking expensive and in such small sizes that only a billionaire gnome could wear it. I’m always threatening to make my own recycled clothes and jewellery, but I only do minor ‘recycling’ in practice. Last night I sat and repaired a shot silk Indian scarf/wrap after saving it from a thrift shop for an overpriced £2.50 and washing, sewing and ironing it, and now it looks like a £20 scarf from Monsoon, but more antique. It fulfils some hunter gatherer thing in me that I am at a loss to understand. Personally, I think it stems from childhood insecurity. I was told so often by my parents that I couldn’t fend for myself that I secretly trained myself to withstand hardship of any sort. In this instance, a chronic shortage of Indian silk accessories.

17.Survival guides. No, I have no idea why, but see 16 above. I found my first survival guide as a piece of 50’s ephemera which I think I bought for five pence, or got free with something else. It was a military jungle survival booklet and I still have it somewhere. God, I loved that little booklet. It told you how to find fresh drinking water and what was safe to eat and what wasn’t and how to light fires and, and, and… Fucking amazing. To this day, I still love them. I also love apocalyptic movies and man against the odds stories. If you can explain it, feel free. Fucked if I can.

18. Coloured glass. Whether it’s in jewellery or antique carafes, I love it. I have had to stop myself from collecting it over the years – far too bulky and fragile for house moves. I have – very occasionally – sold the odd valuable piece I’ve owned, and regretted it every time. Yeah, it’s a sparkly thing again, I know, I know… Sometimes I like to combine it with other addictions – hence my collection of fish paperweights. What can I say? My corruption got corrupted.

19. Greenhouses. Or conservatories, if you want to be posh. If I could, I’d live in one, the older, bigger and drippier the better. Is there anything more delicious than walking into that hot, humid smell of peat? That almost audible rustling of plants breathing? I swear you can get high in green houses. It’s all that oxygen they put out during the night. It’s the air purification, the sheer electrical energy. Not to mention the drip, drip, drip of water, the wet floors and tiny seedlings, the plants you’d never see otherwise, the plunge from equatorial jungle to arid desert, cactuses that look like rocks and plants that eat flies. Fabulous. I wish they’d just let me move into the botanical gardens and be done with it.

20. The unexpected. The Robin belting his lungs out in my Tesco Extra’s fruit department, everybody looking perplexed then either intrigued or indifferent (sad bastards) when they finally spot him, sitting in the oranges. Finding a note on the ground that reads, “Labour of Midwives in 20th Century Britain, fish fingers and dog biscuits.” A toad sitting in the middle of the pavement in the pitch dark two days ago, probably dug out of hibernation by the nearby building works. Finding a £10 note in the road that half a dozen people had walked over and not seen. Turning up a huge set of Russian nesting dolls for a fiver, literally days after I’d been talking about how much I’d wanted a set just like it when I was a child. Coming face to face with the ‘secret’ deer herd that lives in our local woods. Being followed home by a cat that comes into the house, sits down, has a wash, sits on our laps, purrs a lot, then comes back out with us and goes home again as if he’s done nothing strange at all. Discovering my childhood next door neighbour, and little brother of my best friend, is a published novelist. And so it goes on, day after day, a million things that tempt you not to be an atheist, but that are really probably just the universe’s way of reminding you that the world is a strange and wonderful place. After all, there’s the talking Chihuahuas that I’m putting on my film library list right now…

P.S. You know I was never really a tree, don’t you? I just have a special bond. When they hurt, I hurt. I can’t stand to see people damaging trees. I swear I’d die for a tree. Okay, I was a tree. I can’t hide it. I don’t care who knows. I WAS A TREE! Okay, happy now?

What Empire Magazine and Total Film Taught Me About Women


AUTHOR’S NOTE: Empire Magazine and Total Film are the leading UK film glossies, featuring film reviews and articles on current and (occasionally) classic movies.


I am a subscriber to Empire Magazine along with Total Film. I am also a woman. These two things do not mix.

I got both subscriptions for my Xmas last year, although I have been both a regular buyer and a subscriber in the (distant) past. When it came time to renew, I only renewed Empire. Not because it’s hugely better, or indeed different – both magazines are eerily the same – but because it’s marginally less sexist.

If there was any other magazine that either wasn’t up its own arse with artistic pretension, or even infinitesimally less fanboy, trust me, I’d buy it. But there isn’t and so, in order to stay abreast of the one thing I truly love, I have re-subscribed to Empire. But we’ll see if I can get through a second year…

In my short year (Empire was only a nine month subscription – they think you won’t notice they’ve done you out of three mags with their a ‘cheaper’ price) I learned a lot of things about men – but I learned a whole lot more about women.

Some of my ‘discoveries’ are not original, of course, but still, I think these two fabulous magazines should take some credit. After all, they help to keep the old myths grinding. And lest any of you imagine this is an ‘It’s all men’s fault’ piece, let it be noted that there are female journalists at both mags. And I hear they’re even allowed to write the odd review as well as make the tea. One thing I will bet you, though, none of their mothers worked at Spare Rib.

So here are all the things I learned about women through reading the film mags previously known as The Big Boys’ Comic-Book Movie Digest.

1. Women never turn up with enough clothes. You’d think women, being domestic animals and all, would know the necessity of ‘wrapping up warm’. Think of all those mothers’ adages: “Cover up now, or you’ll catch a chill”, “Don’t forget your hat – that’s where the biggest heat loss is”, “Get off that cold stone, you’ll get pneumonia, piles, a kidney infection.” Why then do these movie mags always show women wearing the minimum amount of clothing? They don’t do it to the men. Actors are generally either in costume, or suits, or T-shirts and jeans, i.e. dressed. The actresses are in slip dresses, a blanket, a strip of fur, a spangly thing that has ridden up their thighs and down their shoulders. Why, Lord, why?

2. Women only have one facial expression – and it means ‘I want to fuck you’. Make no mistake, I have no problem with lesbians. Other than the two who were sat next to me at a Michael Clark ballet in Manchester sometime in the nineties – one of whom had a cold – and insisted on snogging through the entire performance, with lots of heavy breathing and snurffling (the poor girl had blocked both orifices and couldn’t get air). Apart from that one truly annoying encounter, I’m all for ’em. But here’s the rub, I don’t get turned on by pouty ladies. I know it’s remiss of me, and I don’t grudge the boys some cheesecake, but every single actress, even the serious ones? (Who am I kidding? – there are no serious ones.) I think I could forgive this if I had some pouty naked males to compensate but, strangely, they’re absent. I wonder why?

3. Women can never be serious actresses. Oh come on, it’s true. Semi-naked, with copy that reads like something out the Sun? Her credits reduced to the films she’s ‘fittest’ in? Please. The most serious thing about Empire & TF’s women is how stiff they can get you. Sadly, (see 2 above) women don’t make me that hot. Oh, I’ve had the odd quiver – who hasn’t? – but really, no, I’m afraid men are my thing. Although Christ only knows why.

4. Women are only here to play support to men. Again, when their credentials for getting into the mag in the first place are how foxy they are, and how many horror flicks or Bond movies they’ve done, with the smallest amount of clothing and/or most sex scenes, how can we seriously be expected to see them as leading ‘men’? Well, go on then, list me how many hot semi-naked “screamer” roles Hugh Jackman, Robert Downey Jnr and Daniel Craig have done recently. Thought not.

5. Any film with a woman in the lead is a chick-flick. Yes, absolutely any. Even a ‘serious’ movie with a woman in the lead is going to be considered of “interest chiefly to women”. This, of course, is nothing to do with Empire or TF, but a scientific problem. Men are unable to identify with a female lead because if they do they will start to grow a vagina and their voice will un-break and before you cay Roberta’s your uncle they’ll be poofs. True. I read it in Total Film, issue 148.

6. Women don’t like sci-fi, crime, thrillers, Westerns, war pictures, rude humour, Jackass movies…. The list is endless. Women only go to the cinema to see “women’s pictures” (see 5 above) therefore when writing about any film genres that are not vagina-centric it is not necessary to assume your reader may be female. You can phwoar your way through the on-screen totty, identify wholly with any male protagonists getting some pussy, and write-off any misogyny or sexism in the film as irrelevant. Ah, life is simple at Mappin House and Balcombe Street.

7. Women get screamy and obsessive over film stars. Men do not. No, not even over the female ones. Men are dignified fans; women become unhinged and hysterical. Don’t believe me? Compare Empire & TF’s coverage of fanboys drooling over Heath Ledger in the Dark Knight with their descriptions of fangirls swooning over Robert Pattinson in Twilight. Dark Knight is an “Oscar-deserving” masterpiece; Twilight is a “girlie swirl of obsession that will delight fans”. ‘Men’s’ movie = serious, life-changing, deep and meaningful; ‘girls” movie = light, frothy and largely dismissible. The fact that they’re both juvenilia has somehow conveniently slipped off the radar.

8. Women should be grateful to be noticed by film journalists. Whereas all the popular male actors (see list in number 4 and add Simon Pegg to it) get fawning adoration, with every bon mot and blokey camaraderie they’ve shared with the Chief Ed retold in glowing colour, the ladies only ever get the same old coverage: where they were sexy, where they were hot, where they got to be “smart as well as hot.” Our gratitude knows no bounds. Someday they might let one of us put on a pair of trousers. Or at least something that isn’t a half-inch away from revealing our obligatory Brazilian wax.

9. Women can’t lead at the box office. This isn’t just a prejudice in the homes of film journalism, it’s a statistically proven fact. Of course, it’s nothing to do with the fact that a) women don’t get the opportunity to lead at the box office, b) that even on the rare occasions they do they are still screaming and losing their children (c.f. Flightplan, Changeling, Panic Room), c) men can’t identify with female leads because of I’m-growing-a-horrible-vagina disease (see 5 above) – a night-terror that may just be encouraged by film mags that talk endlessly in terms of the gender in genre.

10. Women don’t read film magazines. I speak from experience here. Having been repeatedly told that the reason I want to see a movie is because Angelina Jolie is “still ripe”, or that “none of us can resist smashing up cars” or that getting into bed with the latest starlet is “all of our dreams”, or that being Batman is “every boy’s ambition”, or even just vicariously gazing into Scarlett Johansson’s eyes along with the journalist, I can tell you, I’m pretty much not there. And so we women don’t buy them. Or we let our subscriptions lapse. And then the magazine’s demographic shows that twice as many young males read the magazine than any other sex/age group, and so all the thirty-something fanboys round the editorial table can pat each other on the back at another job well done – while the girls arrange the coffee – and go right on running the old boys’ club, embracing that sense of wonderful self-satisfaction only rivalled by yet another feature on “Why the Dark Knight should have outsold Mamma Mia at the box office”, safe in the knowledge that hard statistical facts back their sexism right up.

After all, it’s only business, right?

Oh Brother Dearest…


As I am just putting the finishing touches to How to Write the Perfect Novel, my next masterpiece, available now from Amazon for pre-order How to Write The Perfect Novel – everything you ever wanted to ask about writing bestsellers but were afraid to ask, I haven’t got the time to find an interesting subject and write you one of my dazzling analyses – and I desperately need to write a blog.

Actually, I think I’m finally suffering DANNY 3/1 withdrawal.

I had fallen out of love with 3/1 recently, for the longest time. Felt I’d finally lost the DANNY soul-connection, and I maybe have a little bit (scary), but my lover’s tiff gave me the time to do the compiling/rewriting/editing of this book (The perfect Novel) which Mr Scratchmann had been pressing me to do. Now I’ve been working on it for so long that I’ve got to the place where I’m thoroughly fed up writing ‘reasonable’ arguments and I just want to let rip in the realms of where you don’t have to justify everything. Also there’s something basically depressing about writing How To’s when you could actually be doing said writing instead.

Also I’ve been playing it really safe in this blog for a long time now. I know people consider stuff like the Nora Roberts blogs to be ‘dangerous’, but they aren’t. It takes no effort to criticise someone who hands you everything on a plate and has a string of ‘monkey see – monkey do’ girls running along behind them begging to have a new drama to get all righteous about. That’s just plugging into staple internet fare, no effort traffic increase.

No, what’s really hard is writing something that exposes you, makes you feel vulnerable, and so, because I’m bored, adrenalinised, needing to vent, I’m going to talk about something personal, close to the bone, uncomfortable.

I’m going to talk about me and my brother.

Already I want to delete it. Stop. Go no further. Oh, my self-preservation shrieks, What are you doing?

Oh it’s not so terrible, heaven will not fall, but how much I hate going there at all.

I feel some guilt about poor old DANNY. It’s been neglected, passed over, unloved, and all this writing about ‘never do anything that matters, destroy your heart, trample your creativity, being published is everything’ is really getting me down and, oddly, making me feel like a hypocrite, even although everything I say in the book is, sadly, true. It’s just that I don’t do any of it. Everything in the book is an anathema to me. It’s such a dark, hard cynical book – and it’s meant to be funny too. God help me, I’m even dark, black and cynical when I’m writing ‘comedy’. There really is no hope for me, is there?

My brother.

I have always felt – worried – that my brother has bearing on my book. I never look at it, never explore it. To a large extent my brother is left out of DANNY, which is why I feel that he isn’t. It’s a basic psychological precept that what you most repress is the thing most likely to surface elsewhere – and where more obvious than my book?

So let’s be as upfront as I can without giving myself a nervous breakdown. I never had an incestuous relationship with my brother.

Yuk. Got that out the way. Now we won’t refer to it again.

Okay, deep breath, I can do this.

Here, however, are the uncomfortable facts:-

My original name was Jane, my brother’s Andrew. The two leads in my book are John & Danny. Jane & Andy – John & Danny. You’re seeing it, right?

Let’s move on again. Getting sweaty.

There is, however, a very major third in my book – Ian. Ian, Jane. You’re seeing that too, right?

I should maybe just tell you, although I shouldn’t because I am feeding information to the prosecution, that the names Jane and John are the same name altered for gender. I should also tell you that the name Ian is the same name as John – just a derivative. That would mean Jane, John and Ian are all the same name.

Fuck, that’s scary shit. I should also point out that I’ve always known these things since I first discovered them at around eleven or so in the back of my family dictionary. It had a section of names and their meanings. I still have it, the section. Although the dictionary went out of date eventually I kept the bit with all the names, bound up in a homemade cover. One of the very few things I own from my childhood. Is that deep and significant? Fucked if I know.

Enough CIA coincidence trivia. Let’s just plunge in.

I did love my brother, very much. Now I don’t know how real it was, only that it was real for me then. Now I not only don’t know him, but don’t want to. That still hurts. Nothing in my family life hurts me, unless I think about it in too much depth and sometimes, then, I’ll plug into something that becomes momentarily real again. But, mostly, I can just switch it on and off. Mostly it’s off anyway.

I don’t know how rare it is – but I expect not that uncommon – but nowadays my parents, family, are all just people I knew, like I knew school teachers or family friends. Curiously, they have much more of a real three-dimensional quality this way. I have no idea why. It’s like when they were still connected to me I could only see them through me and my feelings. Now I can see their behaviour in a much more rounded way, as if they exist separately from me.

Oddly, it’s shrunk them. My father and mother both – even my brother to some extent – were larger than life before. Now it’s like I see them down the wrong end of a telescope, like people I knew in a different lifetime. I suppose they were.

But I did love my brother. He was the only member of my family I felt no hatred for. He was the only member of my family I felt I shared something with. My parents had no idea who I was, and cared less. I was merely an extension of them. So much so that when I left home they had no real further use for me. It was rather like I’d been their butler and moved to a different estate. They continued to send me a token sixpenny piece at Xmas but they never thought of me from one end of the year to the other, other than the nuisance value I’d provided when I’d left their service so unexpectedly.

Losing my brother was like amputating an infected limb. Necessary to save the whole, but you never really come to terms with its absence.

Actually, it was nothing like that, but I can’t describe it for you. I am at a loss for a metaphor – make a note of the date.

Let’s try again. It was necessary to remove him, but I fought long and hard for him – for a while. For even longer I hung onto the idea that he might come back to me. But I knew even as I did it that it was an illusion, because he had never been mine.

Anybody seeing Ian and John yet? Well you should be.

This is the truth of my relationship with my brother. My brother never loved me. Never ever. All my brother’s heart and eyes and lungs, and every fibre of his being, craved his mother’s love. And I’m sure his father’s too, but just not so much. I think even Andrew, blindsided, neglected, forgotten and overlooked as he was, knew that expecting my father’s love would be like expecting Jesus to come down and save you. Only less likely.

No, Andrew was so desperate for his mother to love him, notice him, that he simply didn’t have room for anything else.

I realised early on that parental love wasn’t going to be forthcoming for me, and I believe I had the inklings from a surprisingly young age that I wasn’t going to give it either. I know I went through a brief faze – I estimate about two or three years – where I actively hated my mother and despised/despaired at my father. After that I accepted my lot and took to eating instead of fighting. A bad decision but what can you do?

Running away from home would actually have been preferable, and I did think about it, all the time, but I lacked the courage. Mostly because I’d been so brainwashed – I believed that an ‘ordinary’ job couldn’t provide for you, let alone being homeless – to the fact that I had no friends or family that would take me in. Every time I visualised running away I thought of being brought back home again and there was a curious horror in that, which was – wait for it – they’d know.

I couldn’t face running away because then my parents would know how I felt, they’d know about my pain, I’d be vulnerable, they’d understand things about me they didn’t know about now, I’d show my hand. And, to me, it seemed paramount that I never, ever show my hand. I’m not sure why, and I don’t want to think about it.

If my brother ever had to choose between me and my mother there was never any competition. I didn’t even get to first base; I wasn’t even in the game. I knew this, but could never accept it. Right up until I was in my late twenties I couldn’t accept that my brother wouldn’t one day wake up and smell the roses. It was only a matter of time. One day he’d see who my parents really were and come back to me. We’d have a better, stronger bond because we’d finally be on the same page, not me standing on one side of the river waving and him walking away from me, never seeing me, never hearing, forever divided by it, destined to keep separate pains when we might share them.

We didn’t. We haven’t. Oh yes, we used to share horror stories, up to a point. But after that my brother’s gag reflex would kick in and he couldn’t swallow any more.

For him my parents have always been flawed human beings who’ve tried. He’s kept a place for them in his heart, saying he doesn’t expect much from them, he just accepts them for what they are, knowing they’re not capable of more. But I don’t believe him. I never have.

My brother hangs on in there. It’s hope, and hope’s a horrible thing. To quote my own book, hope kills you by inches. I know it’s fashionable in the world of self-help, positive-thinking, ‘you can heal your heart’ guru-ism, but hope can be the biggest bastarding cunt that ever walked the face of a scabrous earth. People die of hope. Hope is the thing that wrings the last bit of life out of people who might have survived a tragedy if they’d only embraced it and so let it go.

I forget which mother it was, but one of the mothers of Hindley & Brady’s victims (a little girl) used to always be trotted out when they were talking about letting Myra out. This poor woman was consumed by the death of her child. Completely, utterly consumed. She was living in Hell on earth while Brady & Hindley were getting on with whatever lives they could muster in prison, but I imagine in no more pain than they’d ever been.

Although it may not look like it, it was hope that (finally) killed this woman. She hoped that somehow if all the hatred and bitterness she felt was turned to campaigning against Myra getting out it would right the balance of a universe that had gone awfully awry. She hoped that her child would forgive her if she made Myra’s life a misery. She hoped that she would find some redemption for herself if she could only hurt her. Perhaps she hadn’t concerned herself with where her daughter was that day, perhaps she’d shouted at her, perhaps she’d never warned her about strangers. Who knows? Who cares? Hope killed her. And everything about her. Whatever she’d been, could have been, was forfeited in chasing some horrible twisted hope that she could make the unputrightable right.

She couldn’t. And my brother couldn’t. And I couldn’t save him. And he couldn’t love me. And I have no idea if any of this is really what DANNY is all about.

But just one final thought, because this is going to run to a hundred pages otherwise.

My father had a brother called John. I never met John, not in my memory. John died at 40. No-one seemed to know much about John, and no-one talked about John. To me, John had no history. He looked different from the other brothers, had a curious look about the eyes that they lacked. I always looked at John in the one photo we had of him (a tiny figure in part of a group) and wondered who he was and why no-one knew him. I always felt there were secrets around John and no-one was saying.

My mother had a brother, Ian. Like my father’s John, Ian was an outsider, the third wheel on an odd triumvirate of her, her brother Bobby, and Ian. Ian the fat drunk, the one who went off up Benbecula, or got blotto and drove his tractor off the pier on the isle of Coll; who was fucking a different woman, and sometimes more than one, every time you saw him; who abandoned his daughter to an obnoxious child molester because she cramped his style. Ian who always had to be life and soul of the party and who sulked if he was upstaged by a child. Ian who everybody had to love, or else. Ian who was really, really angry – if you scraped even the barest layer of skin off his facade.

Or maybe it was my uncle Danny: black sheep, musician, foul-mouthed, misogynistic antichrist of anarchy.

Is it one of them, all of them, or is it just me and my brother locked in the “Why don’t you love me like I love you?” nightmare scenario forever?

I don’t know, and I don’t want to. Not yet.

And that’s more than enough self-revelation and discomfort for one fucking day, thank-you very much.

P.S. Please forgive any clumsy, ugly, awkward or just plain disorganised writing in this piece. I wrote it, I posted it. If I edit it I’ll delete it. So you either get it like this or not at all. It’s your call.

Why I Love America


You ask me why I love America…

Well, actually, you don’t, but I feel as if I’m always saying bad things about the poor old dear and it’s time I redressed that. So here goes, the reasons why Chancery Stone loves AMERICA!

1. Burger King. Understand, I don’t like beefburgers, never eat them at home, and don’t much like chips (that’s fries to you across the pond) but, and it’s a BIG but, there is nobody in Aberdeen who offers food as cheap with a reasonable amount of protein. Also, Burger King doesn’t give a fuck if you share, eat the Kid’s Meals, or any other damn thing. They cook food that feeds you, try to accommodate your weird demands – like no ketchup and cups of hot water without tea-bags – and don’t charge you the price of small electrical goods for a meal (yes, you can buy a toaster or a kettle for what it costs for an average restaurant lunch consisting chiefly of white flour and more white flour.) God bless America.

2. Movies. Yes, Hollywood makes utter crap. Yes, they are driven by the mighty dollar. But who isn’t? As someone who spends her whole life trying to make art sell, I sympathise entirely. No bums on seats = no movies. Compared to British movies, Hollywood wins hands down. Of course, it has to be said that Hollywood is really built on the back of immigrant middle European Jews but hey, they created a product that is now peculiarly American, not European, and I, for one, love them for it. Go Hollywood!

3. TV. American TV versus British TV? No competiton. I own about two British TV series (four actually, I reckon), but I own a hell of a lot more American. Yes, a lot of them are HBO, but I also have a lot of Fox, and a couple of strays I can’t remember. Whatever kind of TV it is, the Americans do it better. More money, more drama, more outrageous behaviour, even, paradoxically, more reality. With the exception of period dramas, which the British still do better, I would not swap my one packet of frothy American soap for fifty buckets of British suds.

4. Accents. Oh, don’t you just love them? There isn’t an American accent I don’t like. Except the extreme ends of Texan, particularly religious Texan, which seems to get so oily you feel you could squeeze insincerity right out that there sleazebag’s tortured vowels. And severe Southern Belle can be both annoying and ridiculous but, on the whole, love ’em. There is something perversely elegant and colourful about that huge range of accents. It’s like having the entire continent of Europe gabbling together but with a commonality of understanding. Exotic but comprehensible. Ayuh!

5. Made-up words. God, I know I shouldn’t but I just love the way Americans make up words. I do. I know their verbification of nouns can be intensely irritating (incentivize anyone?), but, truthfully, I can’t get enough of it. I pick up words like a hoover. I annoy the hell out of Max by adopting words off the web, out of books, off TV programmes. I just love those great weird and wonderful words. I think the Americans’ disrespect for English (which many of them genuinely believe they invented, in spite of that word ‘English’) is bracingly healthy, and for every mangled verb there are three new-fangled nonsenses that tickle me pink. It was one of the first things I loved about Stephen King, his characters’ speech patterns. Stephen, who is an immensely gifted writer, can convey language patterns like no other writer, except perhaps Dickens. Ayuh again!

6. Junk food. I don’t actually like any of it, with the exception of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, but their junk is just so colourful and outrageous. I had been reading about Oreo cookies for years (via Stephen again) before they were finally imported into the UK. When I first had one I was bitterly disappointed – nasty dry Bourbons with biscuit that tasted like gravy browning and ‘cream’ that was just sugar, but hell, they were Oreos. American junk food typifies America, all Disneyesque icing and sprinkles, selling a fantasy that is pure Wizard of Oz: nothing but a plain little confection amplified by a lot of smoke and mirrors. But it’s like Xmas, shiny and somehow comforting, the triumph of imagination over reality, and there’s something admirable in that.

7. Fat. You’ve got to love the way Americans have just embraced fat. Only today there was a news feature on the British government’s fear about rising obesity in Britain. They’re doing (yet another) campaign to try and convince people to eat less and do more. But not America. Hell, no. If anyone so much as whispered that their government should interfere in any way with “free enterprise” i.e. the right to sell bigger and bigger portions, more fat, sugar and additives, then there would be questions in the senate about the infiltration of communists. Americans make the rest of the world feel good about those few pounds of fat they’ve been carrying since last Xmas. Americans are carrying, on average, the weight of a small boy, rising to that of a full-grown man, as they waddle down the street in shorts and halter tops – or no tops, in the case of the men – eating ice cream cones with four scoops each, defending it staunchly as their right. Being fat has become part of The American Way. Well, roll me in butter-drenched popcorn and feed me to the couch potatoes.

8. Tack. Yes, we have tack here: Blackpool hen parties, edible g-strings, Ann Summers underwear, Poundland party feather boas and sparkly cowboy hats, but we just don’t have it as a lifestyle the way the Americans do. Sure there are old ladies in Bournemouth with flamingos and flashing gnomes in their gardens, but hell, Miami? Florida? Texas? Trailer parks and Las Vegas? Elvis chapels and religious ladies with foot long eyelashes? No, America’s got us licked. And there is nothing so glorious as tack. Tack ridicules art. It takes it and wrings every last ounce of fun out of it – then it puts a red nose on it then lights it up and makes it play the Star Spangled Banner. Tack is an opportunity to wear every sparkly thing in your wardrobe and still be outdone by a septuagenarian with pink hair and a stuffed dog. A real one. That sleeps on its hand-knitted lurex Elvis rug in front of a wagon wheel and buffalo hide fireplace. Tack, I love it. May it never go away.

9. Madmen. From serial killers to holy rollers to presidents who, straight-faced, can say a blow job isn’t sex, there is no country on earth that can rival America for madmen – except maybe the Middle East. What’s more, just like their arch-enemies the ‘towel-heads’, the Americans just love to give their madmen power. In Britain we like our eccentrics. We have one in every other street, building strange things in their allotments and wearing slippers to go swimming. In America they elect them to office – any office – into their churches, to gun groups, little communes in the desert. Yes, the Americans are nothing if not egalitarian. Paradoxically, they think other countries like Britain are eccentric, admiring such ‘quirks’ as drinking tea and eating scones which, apparently, is much stranger than having flags pinned to everything that isn’t breathing – and even to some things that are. America is just one giant Bedlam with the rest of us spectating from the gallery. Reality TV goes continental.

10. Gypsies. America is probably the only country in the world where a certain admiration is retained for rootlessness. Perhaps it’s a leftover from their pioneering days, but where most countries loathe itinerants there’s a little warm niche kept for them in the US – as long as they’re not some filthy tramp with a shopping cart. Americans actively laud taking to the road in a camper van. Yes, it’s perceived as a redneck/middle-aged/laughable thing to do, but they do it. In Britain the idea of roughing it is unthinkable. With the exception of some moorland and most of Northern Scotland, there are no wilds to escape to. And, trust me, escaping to Scotland’s wilds would not necessarily be an enjoyable experience. Even (Irish) road building crews are looked down on here, well-appointed as their caravans may be. They are seen purely as “dirty gypos” and that’s that. In America there are hippies and mystics, old ladies and leisure painters, travel junkies and ‘alternative’ lifestyle gurus all sharing the same routes, parks and lifestyle. And in big motherfucking vehicles at that. The Americans resemble nothing more than original carnival folk – a dying breed here – who carry some very posh shit around on their backs and who are, truthfully, Kings of the road. I have long had gypsy leanings, (and, allegedly, a smidgen of Romany blood) and it’s always appealed to me as the way to see America. Yes, fuck with me and you fuck with the whole trailer park.

And that is why I love America.

COMING SOON – Why I Hate America. (Oh, come on, it’s only fair…)