Memoir extract: ‘Human Angel’.

In  more recent years I have experienced various premonitions, including those pertaining to the end of the world. Each time the premonition or forewarning was very much a body-based experience, an inner depth of knowing which came on unbidden and very suddenly. It is challenging enough contemplating one’s own mortality and physical demise but to experience a ‘knowing’ in the body concerning the potential annihilation of human civilization, believe me, is a frightening, bewildering and isolating experience. You just want to push it away and forget. It is beyond most people’s field of reference. Most people believe that our minds are confined to the present and to the brain and the body. I now believe we are connected to each other in more ways than we realise. A premonition is like a glimpse into how the future is likely to unfold. This doesn’t mean we can’t act to change it; a premonition is a glimpse of a probable not a fixed future.

Trip to the island of Koh Rong


         In the morning we weave our way through the stretch of discarded beer cans and vomit, and take a three hour boat trip to the island of Koh Rong. On the lower deck we meet a couple – both drug counsellors from Brighton. They’re both loud and up for a laugh. Tracey, a thickset woman in her thirties, with a strong jaw-line, could equally be described as being the salt of the earth or a bit of a geezer-bird. Dollar’s not impressed by the banter and disappears to sun herself on the upper deck. As the boat speeds along on the high seas of The Gulf of Thailand, the conversation turns to the drug, methamphetamine. Tracey, whose lobster-pink skin is beginning to peel, takes a swig of her beer.

          ‘A lot of the work we do is with meth addicts,’ she says.

          A wave crashes into the side of the boat, sending a spray of water high into the air.

          ‘It’s tragic. We recently had to deal with a case where the parents, both meth addicts, were abusing their own children.’

          I’m taken aback by the turn the conversation is taking and look across to the horizon. I can’t quite believe that, even here, on the other side of the world, in a small fishing boat heading for a deserted island, the spectre of crystal meth should rear its ugly head. That it should cast its shadow in such an exotic, faraway location.

           ‘Psychosis, mental breakdown, family breakdown, kids put into care. We’ve seen it all. Addicts who’ve fucked the veins in their arms and groins so bad, they’re left with no alternative but to shoot the shit into their necks.’ She puts her beer down and begins to liberally apply suntan lotion to her already sunburnt legs. ‘Now me. I like a bit of coke now and then.’ She chuckles. ‘We both do, don’t we?’ She puts an arm around Scot, her bloke, a bald-headed man with a world-weary expression who could easily pass for her dad. ‘A bit of a treat at the end of the working week, if you catch me drift.’ She pauses. Her expression is suddenly serious. ‘But crystal meth. Nah. That’s like opening the gates of Hell.’

This is an excerpt from my forthcoming memoir.

Saying Goodbye to Nana

– Here is another extract from the memoir I’m working on..

January. A new year. Nana’s burial. The service takes place in a tiny, unheated chapel in a crematorium on the outskirts of Essex. We sit on wooden pews in winter coats, our breath intermittently turning into vapour, waiting for the vicar to take his place at the podium. He is a portly man with a voice and manner of someone who appears to feel genuine compassion. He talks about Esme’s life: her children, her husband who died nearly forty years previously, the years she spent working for Avon and making homemade jams. He talks about the exciting times she’s lived through: two World Wars, the advent of mass tourism and technological inventions such as the aeroplane, the washing machine and the internet. Not that Nana had ever used a computer or even once been on an aeroplane. She’d never left the shores of the British Isles. Nor had she wanted to. And now, there she is, finally laid to rest inside that box which is strewn with wreaths of roses and lilies from her children, grandchildren, and Ida, her one and only friend. The vicar recites one of Esme’s favourite poems, Wordsworth’s I Wandered Lonely as A Cloud. Part of me cringes inside as I’m taken back to the time when I had to sing the lyrics to that poem in school assemblies. We’re asked to stand and sing the hymn All Creatures Bright and Beautiful. There’s only a handful of us; the words, when they come, are slightly out of tune, barely voiced or simply mouthed.

Two men, dressed in black, carry the coffin out of the chapel. We dutifully follow behind, as it begins to snow, and make our way towards the burial plot. This is my first burial. All the other funerals I’d attended had been cremations – a simple curtain drawn to signify the snuffing out of a life. The first cremation was that of my other grandma when I was in my early twenties. This was followed some years later by the cremations of two friends: Orisca, a party girl with a joie de vivre who suffered from Crohn’s disease and, towards the end of her life, tragically contracted meningitis, and the well-known playwright, Sarah Kane, who ended her days by hanging herself in hospital.

The coffin is lowered. The vicar throws a handful of earth into the hole that has been freshly dug. It lands on the casket with a thud. The snow is beginning to settle and I think about granddad lying in the plot next to her – or what’s left of him. (It’s been nearly forty years.) And I think about the painting I did all those years ago at primary school, soon after he died. The one based on the Jacob’s Ladder story from the Bible. All that gooey, yellow-orange paint I had mixed in the palette with the thickest paintbrush from the jar. How I’d painted not just one mythical ladder that reached up to heaven but a multitude of them. A ladder, not just for granddad, but for other souls too, to help them on their way up. Or so I thought at the time. As my auntie and uncle clutch handfuls of earth and throw it onto Nana’s coffin, their faces crumpled with grief, I see that story for what it is: a children’s fairy tale.



1980’s Newspaper Round

This is an excerpt from the memoir I started writing last year. This particular vignette is set in the early eighties…

The boy was about thirteen when he started his early morning paper round. He’d creep out of the house when it was still dark and deliver newspapers seven days a week to the wealthy residents of Hutton Mount. When the AIDS crises hit, he knew all about it from the headlines in the Daily Mail or The Sun. ‘Britain Threatened by Gay Virus Plague’, ‘My Doomed Son’s Gay Plague Agony’, ‘AIDS is the wrath of God, says Vicar.’ The centre-spreads were a gorge-fest of photographs showing AIDS patients looking skeletal, covered in the skin lesions of Kaposi sarcoma. Attending hospital staff and ambulance workers wore protective suits and giant helmets with visors, like astronauts in space. He would burn with shame delivering those newspapers, and would shove them through the letter box like he was shoving through a big, dirty secret about himself. He had more of an inkling that ‘gay’ had something to do with those wet dreams he was having about Tarzan in his leopard skin loin cloth swinging through the jungle. But what he couldn’t quite figure out was what those photographs of young men ravaged with AIDS had to do with him squirting his stuff in the middle of the night. What did that deadly virus have to do with Tarzan beating his hairy chest with his fists and releasing an almighty, ululating yell before swinging so heroically on those hanging vines? Still, his Gran reckoned she’d figured it out. To her it was simple. AIDS was God’s punishment. For queers going against God.