The Negatives

The Negatives

capture

One gram a day, more or less, depending on availability, or how much I sold to people I had once called friends. One gram a day was sufficient. It was enough to get me through the night shifts, before I could leave.

Chiselling off fragments of brown rock for those envious, doleful house guests whose doggish eyes followed my hands as I dropped fragments of smack into a Rizzla paper. Supplier, old friend; buyer, supplicant… old friend; we ruined our bonds. Something I think we thought could never happen.

“Can you do us a weight Sean, or three for twenty-five?” my customers would ask timidly, never certain the heroin was theirs until it was pressed into their hand. I felt empowered, the owner of their polite desperation. I stalled sometimes when sorting them out, just to exert my power over them; to watch them hang-on despairingly, hoping I might break off one more tiny rock. When I handed them a less than kind deal they’d take it begrudgingly, but not begrudged enough to complain, that they could not risk. I’m sure they’d walk away thinking “he’s a tight cunt”, but I also think they understood the importance of being selfish in those desperate times. They were aware the bonds were broken, and they’d have done the same to me.

The state we were in, the new grievous hierarchy that had occurred, it wasn’t pleasant. Still, I didn’t do weights. I took from my old friends as much as I could get. Disloyalty is pretty much taken for granted anyway, no matter how profound a relationship has been, when friends become drug addicts.

A scarce resource in high demand provided for us ample proof that good relationships were tenuous things, subject to change. These were extreme circumstances we’d found ourselves in. It turned out that I was a shrewder capitalist than most other addicts I knew. I could call upon cruelty if needed. This was as new to me as it was for them, my mates. My values had gone up in smoke when chasing the dragon had evolved from a careless and fun activity to an abject necessity. But that was going to change, I had a plan. I was going to be a better person soon, just as soon as I left England and landed in the Kibbutz, just as soon as I could live without heroin.

One gram a day, working the night shift in the photo-processing laboratory, seven nights a week, twelve hour shifts. I posted packets of photos into pigeon holes from where they would be picked up by men who would briefly look at me and said, “alright son” condescendingly, as if seniority might make better for them what was unofficially slavery. When the pigeon holes were empty they’d deliver the packages to shops in the cities. By the time they got to you we’d had our ink-stained, cynical hands all over them. I think we all hated the images we worked with, unless they were pictures of accidents, nudity, shots of scenes that were so private it felt perverse to look at them.

Stealing was a perk of the job. I stole photos of naked women, most of them professionally shot, but occasionally amateur, and I’d take them home and look at them with delayed, tepid gratification, unable to be meaningfully aroused because heroin addiction sequesters libido. I couldn’t wank over them. I took them anyway, for the future.

I’d looked at pictures of couples, happy couples, who it seemed were blessed with a delusion that love doesn’t erode. Love erodes. It had been years since I’d touched a woman. I couldn’t recall how it felt. Drugs had rubbed out memories of tenderness. I looked at pictures of couples with a kind of alien innocence, unable to locate a similar feeling of attachment that I had once experienced.

“Memories, “Alex would say to me smiling ironically, looking disdainfully at people’s holiday snaps; pictures of children who would one day grow up and squirrel away those precious moments. Moments, before the erosion, pretty lies held in the frame, enough to satisfy those laboring to rekindle the past.

“We have an important job Sean,” he’d say, “We are the custodians of people’s memories.”

And he would look down mordantly at a picture and then look at me, and I would nod my head, but unable to imitate his irony with much conviction. Irony is another thing that is lost with heroin addiction. Alex endured the twelve hours by making a mockery of himself. He was educated, and he was witty, and he didn’t suit the lab. He could complete The Times cryptic crossword puzzle in the space of a break time. He seemed less bothered than most people about doing a job he hated doing. The joke was on him, and he managed to find that amusing I think.

Sometimes the soot on the foil would end up on my face after I’d chased some lines in the toilet. I’d walk through the bright lab, under the prickly strip lights, and staff would stare at me. The boss, a heavy-set man who was jaunty and amiable because he earned more than everyone else, would sometimes follow me into the toilets to see where that soot had come from, but I was never caught in the act. The trick was to piss a lot, and pick the right time for my shits which, of course, there were very few real ones due to the constipation my habit had endowed me with. The smoke isn’t a problem, it dissipates quickly, but the soot, and the sound of the foil crinkling, these were problematic.

The night shift workers didn’t say much to me. I sat alone at break time while the other men played crash and talked mostly about cars. Temporary staff were disliked, temporary meant you had some place to go, while most of the staff would likely be doing this job or one like it until their names were wiped from the electoral register. The students who were temps took the job lightly, for them it was their bit of rough, and this made the full-timers bitter. Alex was the anomaly; grammar school. A degree from York University, and he was full-time.

I was treated with suspicion. I was neither a student, nor a proper temp, but I was young, and I sang a lot. I put those packets into the cages at the back of the lab and through the din of processors and pricing tills they could hear me singing. While they suffered hangovers, I was high on the job.

Occasionally another addict would join the staff and I’d know immediately because he’d whistle during the shift just as I did, he’d attempt conversation with people he should have known to ignore. He’d go to the toilet a lot. The addicts were chatty, which was obscene on the night shift.

One guy was on crack, not smack…He was mostly on crack, and partly on smack. He looked like a heavy metal fan who’d accidently fallen into the rave scene, a scene that had recently created a wasteland of junkies in northern England. He invited me to his house. He’d had me figured out, too. It hadn’t taken long to initiate a discussion about drugs, and expertly we both managed to weave heavy drugs into the conversation without incriminating or embarrassing ourselves.

We went back to his terraced house in Mirfield, a dank, gray place whose furniture looked like it had been surviving since the 1940s. Anachronistic teapots sat on stoves that were layered with cooking oil; doilies clumsily rested on armchairs that looked as though they had never been occupied by anyone but old people; a full ashtray sat on a table top. Four toasters, two too many, also sat on the table. Printed on them were old English ships being smacked by mucky waves. The guy’s mother was sat in the living room when we arrived, up, I bet, since the darkness. A monochrome figure that could have been dead in the chair. She said nothing to us and offered only a weak smile. She was wearing a thick burgundy night dress. She looked like the kind of woman that takes falls when the wind is strong. I doubted she knew her son was going to break his own heart with crack cocaine. We walked past her chair and into his bedroom. Rotten Britain, the working class hanging on to chipped mugs. It depressed me. Dressing gowns, the limp aged, the blight in all these run down streets. I have this thing about fragility, I despise people that look fragile. Maybe despise is the wrong word. I just don’t like seeing them, being near them. Old people, the sick, disabled people. One reason is the guilt I feel when some twisted chemical emission in my brain starts developing the thought of me hitting them, of knocking them down, and another reason is because they remind me everything that is pitiable about humanity. The fact that we are born diseased, and reluctantly we must accept we are programmed to die.

He fumbled under his bed, a bed that had no bedspread, and a stained duvet with no cover. After working in that lab and being exposed to families all night I couldn’t help but envisage him as a small child, with that lifeless mother who had once been young and excitable. They probably had photographs of better times. Historic pornography, whose function wasn’t to eject sperm from the glands, but to convince tears to leave their orifice and harden on your cheeks. I tried to think about the Kibbutz. He pulled out the pipe and grinned, a sincere smile. We were both excited. His crack, and my smack. A relationship more appealing than the spectre of just me and him. The relationship was a short one. He was fired for not turning up to work too often.

Alex was the only person who I might have called a friend at PhotoCare. Sat at his desk for 12 hours, attending to his negatives, Alex rarely spoke, but when he did he always impressed me with his wit. I never knew what he actually did with the negatives. We never talked about work. I’d invited Alex to go to the kibbutz with me and he’d changed his plans to go to South America. His plan was hardly cogent. “I’m going to South America,” he said, as if going to the continent was like going to the kitchen. He hadn’t even booked a ticket. I told him about the kibbutz, and informed him of the “research” I’d been doing. He needed to leave England, but he hadn’t thought his trip through, so it wasn’t difficult to convince him that a kibbutz was the right thing to do. Alex didn’t know about my addiction, it was better to hold out on the truth for as long as I could. When you’re an addict you should never count on someone’s understanding or sympathy…and they’d probably be right not to give you any.

One gram a day enabled me to stay awake most of the time. I slept maybe three hours a day. Scoring was time consuming, heroin addicts are always occupied. The sun was a reminder of something from the past. I didn’t like it much. It reminded me of school. Night work is self-imposed immurement from what people call life. It doesn’t involve buses, crowds, preparing meals, other people asking you how you feel. Working a night shift means as much as admitting you’re almost ready to pack it all in. Unless you’re an addict, then it’s just convenient. I could knock my dealers up first thing in the morning, when the nefarious crowds weren’t hanging about – most of them wanting something for free.

I said something unkind to a guy that worked next to me on one of my last nights at the lab. He’d been pestering me all the time I worked there, unable to accept my insouciance, and so he told me I was slow, or useless, a waste of space.

I said to him, “I’m leaving soon, and you’ll be here, unhappy, all your life, barely able to pay for that family you never see.”

He didn’t respond. I shouldn’t have said that. Although, it’s better to burn your bridges I guess, when you never want to go back.

Smoking it all to myself, ‘the recluse’ I had become to be known. I wasn’t a gregarious addict, or a friendly one. I didn’t share, but I exploited old friendships, I monopolized addiction within the milieu of my crestfallen friends. I’m not a bad person. I disliked myself. But hating myself had to be equalised with hating everyone else. It would have been unfair to me to be kind. It was a bind to shake hands with an old friend, and it brought on self-loathing.

A gram a day of heroin, my doctor told me, would induce a difficult withdrawal, enough to make me very ill. He told me this after I had troubled him for methadone; my black hands knotted in shame, unwashed, feral. I wanted to cry, in the doctor’s office, but I also knew I was partly acting. I told him my kibbutz plan. I wanted to persuade him I was a good person, I was ready to be better. I wanted to tell him I was well read, that I had interests outside of my addiction, but I said nothing.

“Withdrawal can kill,” he said, and he wrote me a script for the methadone. Methadone I never took while I was in England. I gave most of it away, to the beggars who came to my window, friends who I used to play football with who’d lost their home, their teeth, and their dignity as they lied and querulously held out their grubby hands at my parent’s bungalow window.

One gram a day is enough to maintain apathy towards an alcoholic mother who is dying slowly in your living room. It’s enough to prevent sadness because she is dying and she gets quieter all the time, each day she is perceptibly more dead. It’s enough not to scream at your father who pretends his family haven’t betrayed his idea of a normal life. It’s enough not to go into the bathroom and sit on the toilet, and think about killing yourself. Heroin is a fix-all, Bayer knew as much when they first marketed it; coughs, flu, aches and pains, depression, panic attacks, heartache, loneliness, the nearest chemists have come to creating a panacea. Without it 1995 and 1996 wouldn’t have been possible. Heroin saved my life.

Her stomach bloated, her shrunken head under her oversized glasses that painfully sat on her ears. I couldn’t look at her ears, her hands, those little body parts that had been insignificant up until now were the only parts of her that revealed some of her former self. Her face had lost all its youth, it was the sum of her discomfort. The soft pink bags under eyes looked like the membranes of little inflamed hearts. Her breasts looked like they had leaked under her clothes. She was going bald…and she’d so often bragged about being a real blonde. I find it hard now to think about her, her hair.

Liquids that couldn’t be absorbed by her liver distended her stomach so much she could hardly move. She was no longer angry most days, she knew she was going to die. Collapsed on the couch, subdued by what I thought was the opaque realisation of not being alive much longer. She hardly ever saw me, and I ignored her. I couldn’t stand the sight of her any longer. There wasn’t much holding her together and I thought if I touched her or even talked to her she might just pass away in front of me. She might want to be comforted, and I might be the last person of her fading life, which would have been too heavy even with my heroin. My mother was partly our fault, two crooked – in her version of the world – sons, and a barely conscious husband had driven her to excess. We were all complicit. We were addicts, mum and me, we were well heeled in avoidance, we knew how to be in the same room and not see each other. It was ironic though, that on the few days I was without heroin for enough hours to be encroached on by feelings, I actually missed the violent alcoholic that she had been prior to liver failure. Feeble didn’t wear her well; I’d grown use to the demon with dentures whose volatility was unsurpassed in the town. She had been a strong woman, splitting up fights in the pub, working behind bars, and now she was an insult to herself, not even capable of doing the rounds at the old folk’s home where she had once obsessively waited for various people to die. Petering out exposed a frailty in her that was harder to adjust to than any kind of violence. I didn’t want her to die, I wanted a different life, an alternate reality where we would all slap each other on the back and laugh at the pains and mistakes we’d endured in the other reality.

When I was at home in the day my mother often snaked off to the bedroom to drink whisky. She had never accepted her disposition: alcoholic. She was going to die in denial. My dad said she screamed at doctors when they mentioned her addiction. “I am NOT an alcoholic.” Right up until she was almost dead. Swshh, swssh, swssh, the indelible sound of the bottle top unscrewing. She’d sit lumpen on the couch with a bereft smile on her face, waiting it seemed, until she could shuffle into the bedroom to finish herself off. I’d go to my bedroom to unwrap my brick of heroin, chop it into pieces and start smoking. Dad at work and brother moved out, the only noise in the house, besides the television that mum contrived to watch, were the sounds of foil being ironed by my hands, and intermittently her bottle tops being moved by her arthritic fingers. A condition she blamed on working from a young age in Burnley’s textile mill

We’d sometimes sit together in front of the TV and watch Kilroy, after we’d smoked and imbibed what we needed. Both high, occasionally we felt comfortable together. Perhaps we were an indictment of everything that can go wrong, in terms of family, but this was the closest we’d come to equanimity since I had become an adult.

Kilroy:

“I got home from being hypnotized, and then I don’t remember much else.”

“’e scratched me, ‘e was like a like a wild animal.”

It was no joke, being hypnotized in the local pub. I remember that particular episode, about people who had been drunk in pubs eating raw onions at the behest of a travelling hypnotist, and subsequently done something crazy at home. Weren’t we all hypnotized and doing crazy things at home? It seemed that way to me.

I stood in the middle of Burnley’s snicket, an alleyway that flanked the woollen textiles mill that had employed many of the people in the town, including my mother, from the age of thirteen, or so she often clamored. The flight left in the morning and my gram had not sufficed, so I was going to buy a last bag, .25 grams, enough I thought, to see me through to the airport. .25 with the bit I still had at home, because no addict would risk running out completely. I had the methadone as well, but I didn’t want to take it. My plan was to take one small shampoo bottle full of methadone. I didn’t have to conceal it due to me having a prescription, but I did anyway.

Burnley’s snicket, a criminal fracture in the town that ran through a council estate and into another council estate like a dead vein runs through a junkie’s arm. It flanked the giant mill, which lit up parts of the dark walk. Trees hung over from one side and spiked fences at the other side made it almost impossible to get out if you needed to in a hurry. It carried folk from the estates, grieving from winter cold, holding bags nervously, heads down, beleaguered and anxious, to their bad homes. It was a short cut that nobody wanted to take, but we all took it nonetheless, in desperation, to get inside.

I stopped in the snicket to watch the mouth of a loading bay open up and I saw men like stick figures pull on bales of wool while a forklift shifted around them. It looked warm in the mill and I could hear voices. I’d worked in a mill in the past. They couldn’t see me, the working men. It looked to me like they were all trapped in an industrial kind of LS Lowry painting. I realized I had to make the kibbutz a success, whatever that might be. I couldn’t go back to working in mills, and I wasn’t fit for a decade of addiction.

Mad Ian was able to sort me out. He’d just shot up and so was intentionally affable. “Good luck Sean, and I mean that,” he said insincerely. He always kept an axe by the fire, a hopeless three bar electric fire without a grill. We both knew it was a charade, wishing me well. Heroin at least affords you the will to act well. If there was enough heroin to go around, we addicts would all get along fine, in our own dull sort of way. Mad Ian had had thrombosis in his legs from whacking up. He told me he thought he’d lose one leg.

“Look at me Sean, I’m fucked. I’d do the same as you if I could. Not gonna happen though.”

Old addicts suffer from a plethora of diseases, they take them on willingly. But Ian wasn’t old, he was not even forty.

My dad offers to give me a lift to the airport.

“I’m going mum,” I say. She smiles, her mouth flexes as if fishing wire was slowly tugging at her cheeks. She only wears a dressing gown these days. She doesn’t bother with her false teeth much anymore.

“You be careful,” she says, “don’t get into any bother over there.”

She will probably die while I’m away. I kind of want something to happen, maybe an end to the cartoon that is our lives. “That’s all folks”…dera-ri-di-di-di-der-dera-ri-di-di-di-der-der…der-der-der…der-der-der…der-der-der-derrrr-derrrrrr…

But she’s still there, crippled on the couch.

I’m bothered by a morose thought that life is just a series of agonies you evade most of the time but can never escape, a long arduous game of chess we all play with each other which grows in intensity the older you get. My mother is almost check-mate. For a moment I remember her playing piano, playing me the Funeral March, my favouirte song when I was a kid. I realise for perhaps the first time that I habour a lot of regret, like I’ve just discovered a swollen lymph gland that will kill me. Maybe I’d like it to be the 80s again, and I’d try harder to adjust to her, to communicate with her. I pity her. What has happened here, in this house, the fucking house she wanted, and the house she received, and the house she will die in. But I have a plane to catch.

“Do they have Regals over there?” my aloof father asks as he drives me to the airport, expertly turning the wheel, which I have always been slightly envious of. Expertly threading the wheel though his hands, expertly cupping his smoke from the wind, expertly pulling the batter from the fish. He can do everything, but communicate. His wife is dying, I am going, and he asks about cigarettes.

“I’m not sure,” I tell him, occupied by his seeming lack of concern towards what is happening around him. What is he, some kind of Yorkshire Zen master? I feel an urge to grab the wheel and crash us both into the nearest car just to get a reaction.

“Well, you better buy some at the Duty Free then.”

He’d like to say something other than ask me about the availability of cigarette brands in Israel. That’s what I hope. It’s as if he’s not equipped with the soft machinery that would enable him to pierce through his disguise of nothing-being-wrong, as if he lives in an impenetrable trance, a lackadaisical self-belief that screens and subsequently rebuffs all matters of emotional disturbance. He will put up with my mother until she dies, and he will not mention a word about her after she dies. It’s not stoicism that enables him to cope. He’s just watching a different channel from me, and I assume everyone else. The most unimaginative man I’ve ever met has wonderfully created, and is living in, his own unbelievable world.

We shake hands at the airport. His giant fingers envelop mine, I feel the cold emanating from his wedding ring. “Good luck then,” he says. “Keep it in your pants.”

“What?” I reply, nonplussed at hearing his advice.

“I saw what you had in your bedroom, those nudey pictures.”

I blush.

“I will,” I say.

“See yer then.”

“Cheers dad,” I say.

I’m not committed enough maybe. Nudey pictures, was this his moment of candour? Maybe I should have stayed a while longer.

I smoked the last bit of heroin in the toilets. The stalls were busy with repeated flushing and so I had no difficulty disguising the crinkling sound when maneuvering the foil in preparation for a line. A flush and I would nip the sheet between my thumb and forefinger. Another flush and I could crack the lighter. When I’d finished the blob of heroin I flushed the foil. Life without it for a second made me feel nostalgic. I had gotten used to it, it had become an impediment that was part of my routine for a long time. I watched it plunge into the bowl and disappear.

Alex was in the airport. We were alone together for the first time. Out of work we were strangers.  I expect he was thinking the same as me: who is this guy? Fortunately airports diffuse anxiety because of all the obstacles that confront you. We checked our bags, we had a drink, we checked our hand luggage, we found a seat, we boarded.

“Are you going to read this?” Alex asked as he held an in-flight magazine.

“I might do,” I replied, wondering why he had asked me. That air of ironic seriousness he’d performed every day at the lab had not left him.

“I once had an article published in Vogue.”

“Vogue, that’s pretty good.”

“Not really. It wasn’t any good.”

The plane taxied towards the runway. It was dusk now. I looked out of the window and thought about my dad driving home, expertly winding the wheel through his hands, shifting the gear stick in the direction of my mother who would be taking advantage of an empty house and drinking more frequently from her stash than was normal.

The plane leaves the ground and through the window – I have window seat – Alex and I watch Leeds shrink beneath us. Rows of houses, semi-circles, cul-de-sacs, lose their reality the further we rise, and when we can no longer see them I feel relieved for the first time since I organised this escape from England.

“What was your story about…the one in Vogue?”

“Racing.”

Alex was addicted to horse racing. Not gambling, just following the races, analyzing the performances of jockey and horse. He read the Racing Times every day at work. One time he invited me into his house. Racing newspapers were scattered everywhere. It was strange to me that this well-spoken – he did not have the same broad Yorkshire inflections that I had – thirty year old man worked a night shift in a photo lab with junkies and seemed interested in little other than horse racing. Alex with his rubber gloves, a surgeon, carefully handling his negatives, serious, but always I felt, contemptuous.

We were above the clouds. The dim lights in the plane made me feel relaxed. Alex and I close together under the light, like two boys in a tent lit by a torch.

“Did you bring a camera?” I asked Alex.

He laughs.

“No Sean. I didn’t bother,” he responds, still smiling, looking at me affectionately, as if I have just asked something outlandish.

Still looking at me he asks, “Have you ever thought about suicide Sean?”

I expected myself for a moment to be unable to answer his question, but the answer was easy.

“Doesn’t everyone?”

“No,” he says, “they don’t.”

“Why do you…do you think about it?”

“I did. I think I thought about it every night in that lab.”

“Shit.”

“I’m not taking a camera.”

“I was going to buy one, but I guess I won’t.”

I had been wrong about Alex, and I would be wrong again.

“Wake up in Israel,” he says curtly.

“Wake up in Israel,” I concur, but there’s not much chance of that. I never sleep right after smoking heroin.

James Austin Farrell, 2010
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Poems

 wall

1974 (2007)

Bleak, standard mills, the grey skies of Yorkshire

Thanks for that.

A slap on the back

And that’s that

Welcome to the pecking order

Handing over, one to another

Father, mother

candy-crush2

Happy, Not Happy (2011)

I wake up, I log on

I close the door on the fucking sun

City scored, someone died

Someone likes someone I loved

I go outside

I move between a thousand lives

Amazed by their faces

Strangers I can’t talk to

And although I don’t much like to look

I like to think who I’d like to fuck

Happy, not happy

The rain looks like diamonds

Exploding on my eyelids

Replicated, in colour

On Candy Crush

virus

A Flu-like Virus (2012)

 

The Halls mask an enveloping fragrance

That seeps through the pores of damp skin

A byproduct of a mortal order

The deadly emissions

of all living things

 

So-‘n-so describes, in detail, an erotic endeavor

He fucks some girl, three times! into my ear piece

Sputum defiles his interlocutor

Not once, but twice!

Get well soon, he says

 

Dickens, I submit, had a flu-like virus

When he imagined the ghost of Christmas Past

He travelled ethereally (like I did last night)

In the cold, rugged hands

Of his mother’s clasp

 

That’s your taxi to heaven

Don’t miss it

 

It was with her, in her arms

When I first hallucinated spiders

Crawling, all over the floor (and on me!)

We didn’t trust doctors

You can’t be sick, without your mother (full stop)

 

That , I think, is what I’m trying to say

The ill-design of the body

It’s the perfect accompaniment to

Wait a minute, I need to blow my nose

Call it a physical, psycho-tropical indiscretion

Flu transcends thought

We asked100 people and they all said yes

Sickness is a symptom of self-recognition

There’s a spider on my wall

 

No Kidding

 

A bed is the mirror of a frigid cage

The dream was encrypted for a man of your age

 

Not, only, because, it, always, rains in September

Everyday, it’s the same

In the tropics we look forward to winter

(In Dickens’s terms, life in reverse)

HYLOBATES LAR

Taking the poor kids to the zoo (2015)

 

Ripped blue ribbons in your imperfect hair

“Yak bai doo chanee!” I want to see the gibbons

I’ll race you to the top of the steps

You can’t beat me because you’re laughing

The big kid has skin lesions all over his arms

He exaggerates fatigue and says he can’t go on

I lie and tell them the gibbons are a minute away

And think about what I was told in the morning

A third of these kids have HIV

But they don’t know that, yet

Some of them flinch when I hustle them along

Orphans, I’m told, children of no one, junkies, the dead

But when they find a slope of dry grass

They ask me to take their old knapsacks

Cindy, Barbie, Hello Kitty, ruthlessly bruised and dirty

There’s some kind of functionality, in a banking, for sliding

I hope it’s not too much of a rarity

I can’t help but pity them

The world functions, in moments

Above the grass slopes there are penguins

The big kid follows me in

Looking at a woolly mammoth he asks, “Is that real?”

“Yes,” I tell him

He looks at me suspiciously

I’ve lost half the kids

“Yak bai doo chanee!!” says the girl, smiling wonderfully

The gibbons, I say, must have gone home for Christmas

They are aware now I am as lost as them

But they go along with me, pretending

“How did they get home?” they ask

“The gibbons have boarded a plane.”

They purse their lips, and shake their heads like grown-ups

And for a moment I’d forgotten about the HIV, the ripped blue ribbons, lesions

Or that I was told to be concerned about bleeding

Or that everything they carried or wore was knackered and dirty

Or that the future in some schools, is a much more formidable enemy

The gibbons had gone home for Christmas

End of story

a_broken_home_by_heartbeate-d4tcid6

Getting along (2004)

 

My mother, the martyr, she was oozing from her self-inflicted wounds

Her plaster: whisky, beer, booze

The charity of disaster, her relief from the world

Kills her slowly, she has family, she has children to protect

I express my sadness in denial,

my defects are isolated to lies,

The trial of loneliness, she deals with it while

we seem happy, the family,

but it hurts her,

that we’re still young

She worked in a factory, she had no youth to speak of

On matters of joy,

she always remained aloof

History, it killed me she said,

and she found Special Brew

And you laugh at my injuries!

You don’t believe me?

But you know when you hear that bottle unscrew

When you find me unconscious

When I’m floored,

I’m thinking of you

The selfish, greedy, unloving family

You made me

You made this

But I’m nothing,

without you

Do you understand me? Love did this to us!

A family, the lies,

Seemingly, some virtue lies, in her tormented truth

She’s on her second bottle of whisky

She’s talking about love

Lack of, vulnerability,

pathetic it seems to me

I pick her up from the floor with my brother, he takes her keys

He scolds her, tells she can’t drive, I laugh, nervously

I’m trying to see something funny,

he’s older than me.

School in the morning

I want to get high

My dad ignores us, he works too hard

He recedes from violence

He hit us before, and it left marks on his hands

That’s mother’s job

Violence

And to speculate how we’ll both come to nothing

Two brothers in arms

I love him, but I distrust love,

because I know it’s harmful

Vying for affection, where there are only lies

There are tears in her eyes.

Tissues in her hands.

She wants to hold me

Why did you do this to me, she asks

Hate me

Leave me

I need to get high.

And then she died.

Does it get less heavy?

I’m almost 30

And still living through my mother’s demise

My dad he ignores me

He’s found love, he’s been roused

My brother still lives the life of a recluse

Still scared of our family,

An anatomy of grief.

Baked tears in the pantry

I can’t talk to him about this

No one will

It’s too serious.

My father

On a beach

In Greece

Released from his grief

In his 60s.

Still drinking, trying to forget his dead wife’s false teeth

The weight of family supersedes

These four folk [nothing as weird as folk mum always told me]

Provoke me

Even if I ignore it

Still there, in my dreams, she.

A-Clockwork-Orange

Animals (2014)

 

Blessed are those with sharp teeth

Swollen hearts, soft paws

Claws that can cut through sheets of ice

Blessed are those who can see, without much light

And if you’re happy enough just climbing a tree

You can believe, without much belief

Death is just a figure of speech

The animal is eternal

valiant-hands-in-the-chaos-of-time

Bad Day (2000)

 

Selfish, arrogant, manipulative, ruthless

shotguns, flick knives, knuckle dusters, bats,

flash backs, car wrecks, break downs, Jesus,

Never being there when you need him,

blisters, ulcers, toothache, stress,

crack up, no back up, lack of, loneliness,

salvage, worthless, rubbish, despair,

pretending when there’s nobody there,

fucker, wanker, twat, cunt , dickhead,

small things,

nothing surprises you much, you don’t surprise anyone,

money, bills, build up, don’t show up,

your own funeral, work’s shit, it’s boring, demeaning,

no one listens, deaf ears, falling, drowning,

denial, all your life, in a bathtub, bleeding,

not succeeding, dreaming, kids smoking,

on the streets, grafting, crafty, stealing, dealing,

no answers, left out, forgotten bottles,

half empty, whisky, tepid, being sick,

on the carpet ‘cos you can’t handle it,

losing it, panic, limit, yourself,

to poison, when you’re horny, fuck her, shut up ,

madly, deeply, hurt, under your fingernails,

it’s hell, don’t want to talk about it, pathos, catharsis,

Narcissus, creepy, homosexual, junky,

outcast, not funny, coming down, paranoid,

I’m not paranoid,

hangover, life threatening, in debt to yourself,

we’ll work it out, it’ll work itself out, work out,

twice a week, you’re clever, meat, brain-dead,

bugs, thugs, derelict people in your head,

it’s chaos, not funny, scared to fall asleep,

oh no,

in a dream, I’m running, bolting horses, lightening,

striking, my skull, life’s dull, when you’re lonely.

baloons

Barnes Vs. Houellebecq (2014)

 

I don’t know how to think

I know how to act

I’m good at that

Acting is easy, perfunctory, determined.

A player, concerned, with the matter that surrounds it.

Easy.

It follows the script.

“I bought two of them.” He says, “condos, fuck that, she got three.”

I’m lucky, he says, the wife – who he cheats on admittedly – is good at that.

I heard earlier, he’s sick, walks with a cane. Bad heart. He’s just 60.

I don’t know what to think.

I bought two books.

Barnes and Houellebecq

Barnes writes about love

The loss of

Houellebecq, so far, I’m just a few pages in

Sees people as paltry

Loss is pathetic

Love is an illusion

A bad trip

Desire is scenery

Scribbled with a broken nib

I don’t know what to think

Balloons in the wind

Some of us get lucky

And some of us sink

I guess Houellebecq would say

We are all born

With broken wings

I don’ t know how to think

Barnes vs. Houellebecq

Reality has no objective

And the subject is the sum of all things

I can’t buy that

You’ll see how I did.

“I was fucking livid,” he says, about condo acquisition.

People do strange things.

I’m out of here.

And I still don’t know what to think.

hqdefault

The Battle of the Bulge (2011)

 

Chaperoned by innocence, the most confident man is a clown

Feelings are foolish half the time within reason

The child is a man, as the man is a child

You hope you’ll grow old and become indifferent

To yourself that is, not the pains of the world

But most of us take our last breaths screaming

You came in intrigued, and you left absurd

It’s a tough life, not knowing its odour

Its colour, its matter, its half-baked truths

And as much as we furnish ourselves with meaning

We’re meaningless troops on a battle of the bulge

Slaughter for stories, grist for the mill

Fragments of history, yet historically dull

Brilliant theatre my best critic raves

Who’ll lie with me when I’m deep in the grave

 

soc

Counter Clockwise (2014)

 

The noble fleas suck the last quart of blood from my arm

This could lead, so I’ve read, to shock, unconsciousness…or death

However, in the spirit of ‘change’

I’ve decided to let myself bleed

 

On the surface of things, I must say, I have no objection to peace

Happiness, so I’m told, is fleeting anyway…too fast to address

Thought is folly

Anyway you look at it

 thong

Soi 13, Thonglor (2014)

 

Given these regular, normalised, spacial infractions, one would expect a fatal reaction, from the street.

Chaos is more predictable, than death

Which is,

A good thing, I guess.

Disembarking is always a struggle.

As hard as it is.

It brings temporary relief.

The lavish girls,

in their almost ideal coteries.

Sucking in lung-fulls of first hand nicotine.

Spitting, progressive?

Cultural sanctions, on speed.

Social upheaval.

Songs from the projects ‘nigger’, and the names of their houses, if not madly French, then suitably English.

Everything that glistens is utopian.

I imagine Plato taking a selfie.

Which form is seen?

I’m not joking.

That’s a serious question.

I think.

Not that I don’t like it.

I’m just indifferent to paradise

These days,

I can take it, or leave it.

Did you ever see Mr. Benn, on children’s TV?

A one dimensional man walks into a changing room

Whereupon he becomes

A different being

Some part of history

That was the 80s

Misguided, perhaps

But then history

Is three parts bullshit

Which brings me to Soi 13

A room for changing

Reliable it seems

For an animated man

With a strange sense of history

I’m not sure if that seems harsh

Or if I even mean it.

Reality never realizes fiction

You either press delete

Or wipe your eyes

And,

Just ‘cos that’s what’s entirely expected

Join in.

Christ

‘Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you’

And the next part is wrong

So I’m led to believe.

gaga-glam-butterfly

New Year (2014)

 

A bone dry performance in the chrysalis

During the final stages of sleep

We are the most creative

You dreamed you were a boxer with glass fists

Your friends threw water in an unlit ring

You danced for a while, but eventually slipped

Your hands exploded

Into tiny fragments

Bits

and pieces

In every piece of the broken glass

A memory flickered from the past

Life scattered all over the floor

Twinkling like forbidden stars

Each part containing

Love, hope, fear

and loss

The beginnings and endings

Of motherless oceans

The most vital organ

that somehow: isn’t yours

This is the twilight of the final dream

Outside people are screaming

Throwing water from the backs of machines

Happiness in the simplest things

Hysterical roadside attractions

Memories coming into being – and then fading

Proposing the notion

That everything that will ever exist

is

in

constant

motion

In the chrysalis you know what it means

To be everything, and nothing

That the mind is a place of rogue trading

And that truth is a currency

An idea

One often worth believing

Only if we accept

Its value rests

On the strength of feelings.

64-creepy-inspiring-art

Hardware (2013)

 

Designed to malfunction

Every breath

Every sensation

is wear and tear

 

A scuff on the pages of history

 

Planned obsolescence

The problem of pain

A crisis of conscience

The fact we don’t work

 

The movement of a pen

Is a precious moment

As for fragility…

I have a great admiration

 

Senescence begins

at birth

It’s hard to accept

Our stake in the earth

 

But now I know

That memories are angels

Not demons

As sometimes

We are apt to say

 

Everything is vital

No one is spared

The components seem trivial

Until they break

 night_sky_tree_universe-1280x800

The Small Things

 

Life is a rhyme without reason

As are seeds that fall from trees

Scattered in the ashes of hĭs′tə-rē

It’s mesmerizing

A bullet of truth lodged between spines of dead grass

In the heart of the earth

A finite member

Of an infinite arch

A smoldering ember

Of broken stars

Caveat Emptor:

 

Life would be the earth’s biggest blunder

If it weren’t for the fact that we love

Which should give us reason to wonder

If there’s more to the story than is written in our blood

womb

Until Death do us Part (2013)

 

I thought I was the master of the womb

When I was just a kid drowning in a bag of blood

You’ll get what you need, just enough

You’ll find out soon

The parameters of love

 home

Home is (2012)

 

In the top right corner of my handheld device

ant-scary

The Mound

 

Each has a part in the deformation.

A place beyond will…that,

if compared to a feature of the animal kingdom,

would look something like… an ant hill.

 

A worker, without appraisal,

steps out from…what would otherwise be…a fastidious line.

‘Oh God…how can it be…we created a monster’

His right to refuse,

is his right to comply…!

 

At the heart of the mound nothing changes

The progenitor blinds its young,

And sends each one to its rightful station

Where it toils madly until the work is done…

 

Each has a part in the reformation,

Such as skin ages around a skull

The bullhorn touts the sounds of freedom,

Freedom on the ant hill…

 

When someone asks what are we making,

And they halt under the creepy sun

…for a second their hearts stop beating…

And one is not all… but all is nil.

 

Freedom is not worth persevering…for

with all its guileful charms

It’s a knock-off…enslaved by…the imagination

A wily oasis

that does one harm.

 

Step into my monstrosity…I mean ‘ours’

The conclaves of our terrible mound,

And believe me I’m not joking,

When I tell you there is… no way out.

methadone-01

The Clinic

 

The billion dollar hustle

A man walks out of the clinic, the spiritless foal

Methadone script

Hands in pockets where the pennies roll

He went there in trouble

A fraction of himself

He walked out whole

Heroin for experts

A tissue, a tissue

They all fall down

It’s the hustle

TV and Tramadol

Prescribed madness

The season is blue as hell

Animals_In_The_City_01

The City (1998)

 

Shellfish on rollerblades arriving home from work

Cockroaches surfing the net

Unemployed blowfish tapping for change

Egg stains on frantic chickens

Corn flour stacked in mounds

Two lambs set fire to newspapers, as rabbits fight for their rights outside the governor’s house

Some spiders spill out cackles of laughter

There’s a bee still stuck in the lift on the 15th floor

An iguana passes a five for a ten and vanishes into the crowd

“Two for a pound” shouts a furtive looking monkey

A tortoise snubs and moves on

An emaciated lion is struggling at the curb, talking gibberish through broken teeth, just as a horse strides past with annoying apathy

0_buildings_-_north_british_rubber_co_fire_1962_ed_s_1900_229

Getting Ready For Work (2007)

 

Swinging from the monkey tree

Dog bolts, I’m concussed

Home from school three days on the settee

Joey Deacon is on the telly

We were all Joeys in those days, in performance

Acting out Cerebral palsy

Looking over the author, the spaz

Who was putting me off my chip butty

He made stuff on Blue Peter

Disabilities were comforting

My mum said I was lucky

The ballot box is drawing nearer

The Miners’ strike on ITV

Mother loves Thatcher

You wanna a nigger for a neighbor, she asks?

No one on the street votes labour

What’s a black face to me?

Get a trade, she says

Like that’s what everyone does

Granddad was a miner!

He had a black face

And a Gollywog ashtray

I stole his snuff

My first insufflation of drugs

I’m not sure where he voted, if he did

He was better off dead than pitied

YTS, 39 quid a week

Keeps the stupid holy

You’ll get taken on my son

You get credit for slavery

Pay poll tax… I’m just a kid…

Now you’re on 90 quid a week!

Truth is I don’t want to work

Not like that

I’d rather take LSD

Can you get paid for that?

I don’t care about Thatcher, or Major

On Fridays I see things

On Mondays I sleep

What’s the point in anything?

Work demeans us,

if all it does is keep us in money

When it feels like nullification of dreams

I don’t want arthritis

Scorched lungs, I don’t want to be angry like them

Mills make me queasy

Life should be easier

Work’s worse than I imagined it to be

Work’s for the absentminded

It fills space where a vacancy’s not needed

Some grace in labour

And I’ll consider getting out of bed

Thatcher was bad

As a worker I might as well as be dead

Call work an attribute to living

And I’ll rise in the morning

When I produce something,

that keeps me from feeling like death

And vice versa

Imagine that

Apolitical tit-for-tat

Marketing with good reason

Selling my soul for the next generation

I’ll clock-in when there’s virtue in labour

If being skint was like haemorrhagic fever

Something contracted, not sanctioned

Baroness Thatcher…I’d could deal with that.

exitbag

Exit Bag (2012)

 

Ok, so there’s a plastic bag wrapped around my head

The impetus that led me here is too difficult to say

But I’ll state that lost lovers, mum, dad, dead

Makes it’s easier to drift away

 

They told me this is the most painless method

I knew a guy who threw himself in front of a train

I think this won’t be too bad

I hear there’s not too much, if any, pain

 

I spent my last hours with girls

I brought, and bought them with me to the grave

They were only there to hammer the nails

To finish the man that I had made

 

In fiction life goes to rest

But let’s be honest we all die pending

Having lost everything but hoping for the best

At least I died with a happy ending

 

I wrote my own suicide

I made the exit bag

Millions I spent on lies

But at least I didn’t die sad

I fucked my way to kingdom come

And I don’t even believe in Jesus

But I believe pleasure comes before god

Even if dying is not easy

 

I bought the bag and strings and gas

I told my neighbors everything

They laughed and thought I was going to last

 

The news reports said I was dying

Diabetes, and the rest

But in truth I was partly lying

I’d had enough to be honest

 

I wonder when they find my suffocated head

Will they write about me as they should

About a man that wanted to be dead

But was conscientious about there being blood

 

Will my cousins come and see the body

Uncle, john, who spent all his money

Will they think I was selfish

Having died horny

 

I’ll tell you about the exit bag

It feels funny in your hands

It’s playful but also cheap, bad

but it doesn’t cost much money

 

I’m dead now and well forgotten

My niece took my tv

The hooker that may have my son

She‘ll soon get over me

 

Christ I didn’t die in pain

I lived in sin for years

I took my life not in vain

I took it because I was scared

Selfie-HG

I couldn’t come up with the final word (2012)

 

Extempore fantasies, retired realities

Online friends, working up a storm

A herd of imitators, amateur photographers

Taking pictures of a misshapen world

 

Woo hoo, self-perpetuating

Give the dogs bones

The fractured self is too outspoken

Fragile lives are gigabytes

 

Everything sent is broken

Anything accepted is chosen

Hohoho

Post bags of poison

Filling your inbox every morning

 

Flood this ghetto with life affirming junk

Nullify tomorrow with yesterday’s lies

Addiction is rife especially in the evening

Here we all are, sucking on the pipe

 

Recipients of too much information

Overdosed on too many words

Fight fears with emotions

Suckle on the tit of technology’s

servant_of_the_lord1

Five Star Hotel (2012)

 

Watching old junk, washed up from overseas

Talking about what they’ll have for lunch

The fine nuances of luxury

How they are surviving the credit crunch

How when friends drowned, they breathed

And they floated on their buoyant rumps

Brushed ashore by a kind breeze

The flotsam of our queer system

The conquerors of swimming pools

Who having crossed the Indian Ocean

Tip tired mules to bring their beers

These observations I often sanction

A bottom feeder must pay its dues

Though naturally I get sick on plankton

And so don’t spend much time down by the pool

ges

Social Media (2013)

 

Form, not essence

A contrivance of unreal days

A heart as a sticker

Crude thoughts skin-graphed on yesterday’s page

Personality as a cult

Something you get roped into

Submerged, like an acolyte

If I’m the mark,

then you’re my mistress

brokenman-copy

Hangover (2011)

Time, it’s sponsored by total depravity

A hangover is means to a just cause

Desire is a beast, but then so is gravity

What you gain from doing, you pay back in loss

 

Consume my energy

Trespass against my heart

I was fucked last night

I’m sorry

1401280005-summer-storm-blew-down-large-tree-in-chiang-mai-thailand_4865484

Rainy Season (2009)

 

Little hooves tapping against the window pane,

the rain washes dust from the balcony,

I hear it’s still dark in San kampaeng,

the perennial blitz is here again.

The fog was scared off by the screams,

the motorcycles screech when they slip on the streets,

at times like this we love sleeping—-the storm resuscitates the barely breathing.

mysterious-origins-of-the-most-powerful-exploding-stars-revealed

I (2011)

A custom made star, that’s what I am.

I’ll burn out before I’m done.

We’re all suns of distant mothers, lovers of insignificant others.

A twinkle in the galaxy, a flash in the constellation of ME.

You’ll never be grounded, you’re surrounded by objects you’ll never fathom.

and to think we’re just bad lights in the galaxy.

Anyway,

you’re a star for the time to come, you’re a fire, you’re a son.

A collection of flammable gases,

watch yourself fade as time passes.

begg

The Night Bazaar (2011)

 

Sweet, repellent perfume

Drifts through the isles where the needers want

Where the wanters need, where we all walk on

Where the tourists, touts, and sad rose girls

Come to wear their place in the world

Where fag smoke binds to fake DVDs

Where every film sold is sold to the police

The flower girls they pay their share

Taxed by coppers, me, you, and her

You can dial a number and save their souls

And leave them to the inconstancy of the developed world

A world where we ache for Rolex, Tag Heuer, Omega

Given a chance we’d all like to be superior

And so we set forth to our five star hotels

And we smile at the girls from whom we didn’t by a rose

With embellished wrists and a DVD

We sleep with a stopped watch and a blank TV screen

Tomorrow the Night Bazaar must run on

The same cop who looked nervous will be still nervous with his gun

And the same girl will wield her sad dying flowers

But the tourists they‘ll change, they’ll change by the hour

tissue

Sentiments written on a tissue (2012)

 

Adjectives are easy, G –O – O – D, it just means good

H – A – P – P – Y, that means I’m glad

S – A – D means I’m in a bad mood

I’ll tell you a S – T – O – R – Y, story, and I want you to believe it’s true

T – R – U – E, that’s a deal I’m making

Between me and you

Y – O – U, that’s with whom I’m communicating

I, that’s not easy, but it’s a name I use

W – E, we is a strange one

It’s supposed to mean us

We are born thinking, but without words to describe what we see

Before we can speak

What we S – E – E has no meaning

It’s like wakeful D – R – E – A – M – I – N – G

But the dreamer is mute

Words given time, T – I –M – E (even stranger than we), can help us describe where we’ve been

What we’ve experienced, or seen

Except words are mischievous, they’re always up to no good

They’re not like breathing, we learn them, like we learn how to cook

But we don’t know what we’re making

We just say what we think we should

And what we P – E – R – C – E – I – V – E, perceive

Is not so much about truth, than it is about us (in this case us is singular)

Ah, the story, of course it’s about love

As every poem should be

L – O – V – E

Love is where words are always far slung

Present tense S – L – I – N –G, (v.t)synonym: hurl, or shoot as if from a gun

Love is a feeling that describes the relationship between I, you, we, us

But is it more like bleeding, than just saying what we’re feeling?

B – L –O – O – D, blood, that’s what the heart pumps

We’re also told the heart pumps love

Can you bleed without thinking? Can you feel without speaking (at least to yourself, not to us)?

You appoint words for feelings, but are words good enough?

E –N –O –U –G –H, who knows how much that is

So when thinking about this I – S – S – U – E, issue, between I, you, we, us

This issue of love

I write my words on a tissue (Am. Eng)

This way, when I’m done

My S – E –N –T – I – M – E – N – T – S, kind of like feelings, I can use to clean my ass, arse, and bum (n): vulgar

dopamine-and-serotonin

Ecstasy (2010)

 

Something happened, you’d like to think, when you were six, seven, eight years old

Culled from the classroom, crying, left out in the cold

A hijacked existence

Makes all the difference

But ‘difference’ is a not an objectifiable word

You go back further, the tragedy of birth

When by chance you were cursed to inherit the earth

Life=blunder

+ – whatever, it’s an endless recipe

No one gets out smiling

Screaming doesn’t warrant impunity

A man is born every second

And when you close your eyes

Nothing happens

Shipped off, a parcel of worried flesh

Sold to market of emotional damage

Dry your eyes, it’s not going to change

The only thing you hated is hatred itself

This gave way to self-loathing

A cornucopia of feelings is little resistance

Blunder has no real meaning

Meaning itself is a stage

It’s strange

We’re not worthy of dying

Memory is incapable of finding its place

I’m bored of history

It’s a terrible pain

But this might be last night’s ecstasy

I hate this feeling (hate again) of being so attached to the brain

Youth with all its vulnerability is at least lively

Growing up is just chips left on the plate

I don’t want stability

Leftovers=fallen memories

Middle age reeks of middle men

Sperm is awash with lies

It tells the story

A proper fantasy

Last night will never be lived by anyone but yourself

Now that’s lonely

I’d like to think memory meant something

You know what I mean, an ending

A narrative worth subscribing to

A bust head

A mother grieving

History holds back all the good stuff

Those trips we took when we were sixteen

How do you become your own

Really

Reality is perfunctory

Dreams are dynamic

I’m spinning on a rock in infinite space

Subjected to black and white brain chemistry

Childless, fuck you, I had my children

Childish

I’m sponsoring youth

I’m 38 years old and I’m still a kid

None of us are going to heaven

Play it like you mean it

Haha

I might be corrupted by the brain

If that’s the case

Can you imagine what time does to the brain

Yeah, the kid has a moustache

I see old people

Crying on the moon

Give me a point and I’ll give you life

Tit for tat

Love just means trouble

I’m tired

0

YouTube (2010)

 

The lost scrolls, I’m ashamed to admit it

I lost control, and I clicked on the image

Siamese twins, dog-woman, despair

Apocrypha, hit stop, before we see what’s there

Surcharge the poor, humiliate

Send forth legions of collectable filth

Damage yourself in the worst way

Find solace in our collective guilt

Dredge the council estates, the talk shows

The world’s most exposable

Half a brain, three legs, a spider

Hit truth, find snippets… the web gets wider and wider

I can’t pretend not to be turned on by violence

I endorse peace, but I endorse it in practice

Give me a moment with a severed head

I’ll say I’m disgusted but I’ll watch it again

What is this obsession with the obscene?

Can horror succeed in giving us relief?

From what, the perfunctory day?

Or the relief of knowing we don’t live this way?

Plain_whorl_in_a_right_thumbprint

You Must be Kidding (2013)

 

That’s a snake bite

I’m bleeding

I’ve been censored

But that mosquito bite on my arm

That’s a virus, that’s more worrying

More cause for concern

Tap, tap, tap

That’s the door

That’s a prison

That’s your freedom (bound in a nut shell)

Where did those dreams go?

Why did your lines of reason (online?)

Evaporate, like snow?

WTF, WTF, What the fuck!

You’re not a spy, you’re a spider

Truth slides down a porcelain slope

That’s the bath tub

You’re slipping

Lies are footwear, for a corruptible world

The spider, on a mirror

His reflection’s absurd

So we edit, edit, edit

Amend, retract, revise, burn

The spider’s washed up with the dishes (broken)

And the clauses have stopped his breathing

Enough is enough

At least in the media, the Nation, or the Bangkok Post

His blood supply is cut

He’s forgotten

He’s got no friends in jail

WTF, WTF, what the fuck! I just looked again

I had eight legs this morning

Clip, clip.clip, slice, edit, recant, it’s too late

It’s astounding we’re not all climbing the walls

Oh well, chin, chin, cheers, happy birthday

Cake, drugs, soap operas and cars

I take solace because knowing the censor is always too late

The future is perfect, because the past can’t wait

Cheers

obsess

Obsession for Men (2015)

 

Take me into your unstable embrace,

Hold me in your fractured arms,

Your lips leave splinters in my face,

My Marionette, I am lost without your charms.

 

You call it Lust. I call it Wonder.

 

I’d like to write my name on your skin,

‘I woz ‘ere’, a branding burnt into your heart,

I’d like to be I, not just him,

When I rub your neck I’d like to leave scars.

 

You said you don’t believe in strings,

You said love is a disorder,

I have, in my time obsessed, about such things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Poems | Tagged | 3 Comments

Distortion

Image

Because you couldn’t see very well in the dimly lit room it was difficult to make out an object from a distance. At first glance something in the room could take on another form. And then you would focus on an object, say that strangely familiar old cassette player with the tape deck that was stuffed, its broken holster unhinged, and the scant light that was in the room would fuse with its extremities. The object could then take its actual form.

Character A was alone in the kitchen. His friend was somewhere in the house, but for now he felt quite alone. In his peripheral vision he was aware of a bottle of some kind standing behind one of the taps in the kitchen sink. This was not however what he at first imagined he saw. He had thought for a moment that he had seen a cat, its paw outstretched, and it seemed at that very moment that the cat was dead, and that its pose was an effect of rigor mortis. This visual deception was immediate; it took no amount of creativity. The stiff, dead cat appeared as if real. But in fact it was a figment of Character A’s imagination, an imagination that was predisposed to the morbid; as if the mind can be preset to harbouring some kind of visual discrimination. Because this happened to Character A a lot, the confusing of one object for another, when the object was not clear. Walking home one night he had recently confused, from a distance, a spilled bag of rubbish in the street, for a dead child; the deceptions were very often, perhaps always, related to death.
These kinds of morbid illusions were more suited to Character B, A mused while he stood in the kitchen of the abandoned house that he and B had broken into, or so it seemed. Red curtains so thick they looked quilted, solid, impenetrable, prevented light from outside from entering the kitchen. A, for some reason, couldn’t remember if the sun had been out when he had entered the house with his friend, and it made him feel slightly anxious that he couldn’t decide if he wanted to allow more light in. A feeling of dread seemed to briefly collapse his spine when he thought about trying to pull back the curtains.

B was the one who was not stable. A year or so ago, after a prolonged binge of LSD, Character B had started to believe that the popular talk show host, Jeremy Beadle, known for his programmes that featured practical jokes played on ‘unwitting’ members of the public, had infiltrated his thoughts using some kind of (B was never able to articulate how the infiltration had manifested exactly) radio signal. And because B had told most of his friends, and even his mum, that he now could read their thoughts, which weren’t always of an aggressive or negative nature by the way, he had become both the brunt of jokes, and a matter of dire concern to his already beleaguered mother, who had herself – unbeknownst to her son – suffered from a nervous breakdown shortly after giving birth to him. Character B’s paranoid reckonings climaxed with him being sectioned under the mental health act; Section 2. The event that led to his sectioning was barricading his mother in the toilet for three days after Character B had been informed by Beadle that she was going to be involved in a fatal car accident on Old Lansdens Lane sometime by the end of the week. B was haunted briefly by a vision of a partly hollowed out oak tree that he had once tried to burn down by lighting a fire in the belly of its trunk. As he thought about the tree, and his mother’s disfigured face smashed against the arch of the hollowing that he had burnt out in a moment of subdued violence, he could smell the charred wood. It was Tuesday when he was issued with this information from Jeremy, as he sat in front of the television watching a programme with his mother, in which a man with a curlicue mustache explained how the first bicycles were made.

When B was asked by a psychiatrist how he had known this, following B’s admission that he was able to read minds with the help of a talk show host, he quite nonchalantly answered, “He can see things too…in the future. And he told me about my mam.” Judging by the tone of his response it seemed as if this extra precognitive skill wasn’t much of a big deal. His mother was distressed by the ordeal, and hungry, as all she had eaten were crushed biscuits that B had sealed in plastic zip-lock bags and threaded under the door three times daily: breakfast, dinnertime, and teatime. At first B was stabilized with intravenous Valium, and subsequently he was put on anti-psychotic medication. During this hiatus into the ridiculous world of the mentally unwell, B, after eventually being allowed to return home, kept a distance from his friends. Character B was not afraid of his condition, even when he started to accept that perhaps Beadle wasn’t in his head. He saw it merely as a distraction, something that just passed through his life, and might again; something unique, and strange, but natural and unchangeable, like the passing of a comet. And although the revelation of realizing the fiction of such massive illusions might feel debilitating to some people, as well as the guilt at having tortured his beloved mam, B had handled the sudden appearance of normality well. He managed, however, with Xanax. A paranoid delusion under the influence of a benzodiazepine, or realizing something is a delusion, is, say, only about as frightening as a vision, or the suspension of truth, that might occur when reading a novel. Drugs rendered madness less hostile, but they cured nothing. Character B, having discovered some level of hubris during his drug use, felt empowered enough to stop taking the anti-psychotic medicines that had also been prescribed to him. He did, however, take his madness to the streets.

17 years old, living with his single mother, B fell into a routine that mainly consisted of drug abuse. For around two years, enabled by the welfare system, and his doting parent, B mainlined heroin, drank methadone, smoked pot, took downers – in their myriad forms – and when available he snorted methamphetamine. It was all very prosaic, in the town he grew up in.

It was during this stage of his now quite busy life that he had become friends with Character A. A, who had not mirrored B’s self-destructive – or perhaps life-affirming, depending on which way you looked at it – choices, had however started clubbing, and he had found some kind of sanctuary from quotidian boredom from taking Ecstasy. It was through this drug that the pair formed a relationship, and they rarely met outside of the steamy claustrophobic euphoria in which the drug entombs its users. A became friends with B, and together they discussed the vicissitudes of living, when high. When coming down, say, laid in a darkened chill-out room, or nestled together in some stranger’s dimly lit bedroom, neither A nor B broached the matter of mental health, nor Jeremy Beadle, though they occasionally alluded to B’s ‘going away’. A thought B was eccentric, and perhaps quasi-spiritual; B thought A was practical, reliable. Each was impressive to the other, and the whole they formed, their friendship, became rather narcissistic. B did not tell A about the vast amount of medications he took each day. It was likely A knew anyway, as he was not uneducated about drugs and their physical effects, such as B’s often pinned pupils; but B, in A’s company, kept his intake to a deceivable level, and A did not see any reason to pry into B’s secret proclivities.

A, however, was not aware of the fantastic possibilities of psychosis once its weakly tethered restraints have been snipped from the confines of dormancy.

Drug hubris, like any form of hubris, sets off a counter-action; the hubris recedes, like a tide determined not to return, towards whatever might be considered the very end of hubris: the nadir of self-belief. This, in time, not only nullifies the found confidence, but once it has passed the point of indifference, it drags the erstwhile self-believer into a previously unknown state of anxiety. It is the condition of self-belief, that when the believer is toppled, his conviction should not just become a matter of ambivalence, or nostalgia, but the believer must suffer the counterweight’s determined upheaval, a devil of introspection, the unbearable opposite of what is the buoyancy of self-belief. In short, what goes up, must come down, and the higher your masquerade of content, the lower your misfortune must become.

Character B and Character A went to a festival, an outdoor concert. They camped. B and A went their own way, if not by chance, but by the malice of a crowd who pushed and swayed, and if you stood outside, above that crowd, you’d be mesmerized by this constant shuffling. A, being practical, and reliable, found his way back to the tent. With his legs inside and his body outside the tent he stared blankly at the nightscape, sucking in the air – the MDMA was making him breathe heavily – witnessing what he imagined to be something eventful, even though the stars were the least eventful thing he had ever seen. It is ironic that the most amazing stuff of the universe witnessed by humans, should also be the most mundane, and ignored. He soon passed into a hallucinogenic reverie, and became, for want of a better expression, at one with the mundane universe.

B, who had decided before the concert not to take any Xanax, and forgo his methadone, was lost in the selfish crowd, feeling initially what at best was hilarity, but worst hysteria, having not taken any opiates; but that would soon segue into the caricatured nuances of MDMA, constantly nudged by the predictable maneuvers of the amphetamine that was also vying for his master’s attention.
“I need you to check my arse,” Character B said to Character A.

The tent zip had not functioned as it should have, and recklessly B had tried to close the tent. He had not succeeded. His pupils were extremely dilated, and his face gave the impression of someone who has seen a ghost, perhaps his own.

On explanation of this strange request, it transpired that B was convinced that he had been raped in the bathrooms by a man who B described as large and black. The assailant, according to B, had raped A in the toilets, and as proof, and perhaps a token of his relief, he had inserted a fifty pence piece in his rectum.

B, fearing further altercations outside the tent again tried to close the zipper. He held a torch to his own face. He could not have been more serious, but at the same time, he also adjudged himself ridiculous.

“I need you to check my arse?” Character B said to Character A.

B’s pupils were so dilated they looked to A that they might break their boundaries and bleed into the whites of his eyes, like black ink sailing through white tissue paper. In spite of B’s hysteria, A could not help but find his story amusing, a story that included a vague description of a ‘big black man’, and perhaps the worst denomination of change to have inserted into your rectum.
But it wasn’t funny. Perhaps B should have understood why Character A, his friend, only friend then, could not commit fully to believing his story, and so found it amusing. But this disbelief seemed to him the most flagrant of brotherly rejections, a cleaving of their friendship, something obscene, and inhumane.

This is the incident in the tent, at the music festival, when the moon was as full as the black viscous discs inside B’s head, and just as brilliant.

It was not a dead cat with its dead paws outstretched, but a faucet in the shadow of a large bottle of some kind of cleaning fluid. A accepted this distortion of his senses as he always did: he felt complimented that his imagination was virile, yet a little ashamed at the predictably morbid outcome.

A staircase, whose roughed-up carpeting dragged under his trainers and seemed to slow him down, creaked as he walked up it tentatively. It was difficult to tell in the dark, but it seemed the wallpaper was an orange colour, decorated with wilting flowers that seemed to slide down the wall as he passed them.

As he walked into an upstairs room B’s figure was stood, crazily lit, in front of a television that was turned on; however, it was only showing noise. It was good at least to have found his friend. When Character B turned around he was holding a video tape. It seemed for a moment that B was as mute as the TV, but B then summoned A closer, and he whispered to him.

“I’ve found something.”

B passed him the tape. In biro someone had written on the label:

Part 1: Joy
Part 2: Despair

“Put it in then,” A said. He sounded impatient. Truth be told, he was feeling impatient. It seemed to him that this event, the finding of the tape, had been drawn out further than it should have been.

“Where’ve you been?”

“Downstairs, in the kitchen.”

A felt exposed in the bright noise light emanating from the screen. His eyes hurt.

“Put in the film,” A said.

Both A and B are sat on the edge of someone’s bed, both of them somewhat entranced, but also feeling uneasy. The film is about to start, but even before any images have come on to the screen, it’s as if they can’t wait for the next part of the film. Something you could compare to children aggressively ripping open one Christmas gift, yet without even seeing what’s inside, they are already looking at another gift lying nearby, and so fulfillment is detained by the prohibitions of desire.

At the beginning of Part 1: Joy, a young man, whose face is masked by a low-slung woolly hat and a bright red scarf covering his mouth and nose, walks out of a door of what seems to be an outdoor cabin in a snow covered forest, and then he clambers down a steep banking, the snow bulging up and collapsing beneath his feet as he descends, to what looks like a lake of ice with a thin sheet of snow laid pristinely on top of it. When he reaches the perimeter of the lake he runs straight onto the ice, before checking if the surface is solid enough to hold his weight.

There is no sound.

The camera pans out to a small black dot that is positioned in the middle of the great white expanse of the lake. The dot grows in size, and becomes a girl. She is running towards the man, though is still a fair way off. As if to show the viewer the isolation of the two people, the camera moves to each side, and each distance shows a never-ending lake flanked by trees at each side.

“Turn it up for fuck’s sake,” B says to A, in a tone that perturbs A.

“I can’t, there’s no sound.”

“This is boring,” says Character B.

Character A is transfixed however, not only because of the sereneness of the surrounding nature, and its endless horizons, but the isolation of the two figures in the film, that seem to him unfairly separated. It is not an isolation that imposes a feeling of dread however. Because he somehow knows the two will meet, conjoin; they are scrambling now, across the ice, towards each other. And that is all A needs to know.

“For fucks sake, fast forward it or something…nothing’s happening,” says Character B.

The girl’s body, her face, is almost clear, but as she moves closer towards the camera, two lines, disturbance, infiltrate the screen, as if this part has been paused many times, and the desire of the viewer has damaged the quality of the film, or the integrity of the tape, depending on how you look at it.

“You can’t even see anything, just forward it,” B tells A.

“You can, just wait a sec, it’ll come back to normal.”

But it doesn’t come back to normal. The picture quality actually worsens, so that you can hardly make out the two people; only the snow covered pine trees that flank the lake are clear. Character A watches wistfully as the two manic white lines grow in size, until they encroach on all the picture. Just as the lines near the perimeter of the picture A says begrudgingly, and with a feeling of growing anxiety, “Ok, forward it!”

B rides too long on the forward button. As Character A sits and watches the blur, he feels another presence in the room. He allows his eyes to move in their sockets. To his side, next to a dressing table, where a night dress has been lain, and perhaps some jewelry is scattered, a moving shadow, like that of a giant hand, moves across the wall.

“Ha, he looks like you,” B tells A. A turns his eyes towards the screen, where an overweight man is lying on a room floor. Books are scattered around the room, as are empty packets of cigarettes and what looks like decayed food. A at first thinks the man is dead. He sees, or thinks he sees, the man’s tongue, exaggerated, slumped on his jaw, an effect of ridicule. The man, whose face looks sad, forlorn, with heavy breaths, sits up. He moves slowly to the side, and picks up what looks like a medicine bottle, from which he drinks, and then discards into the waste that surrounds him.

“No he doesn’t. You can hardly see him anyway. It’s too dark.”

“Ok, well, an old, ugly, version of you.”

“Shut up.”

In view of what A has done for B over time, and because he has never broached sensitive matters concerning B’s mental illness, he finds it difficult to accept it when B pokes him like this. He doesn’t deserve it, and Character B should at least be thankful that A never prodded him, or made fun of him. That night in the tent, when he laughed, after B had told him about the black man and the fifty pence piece; maybe B had always felt some resentment because of this.

“You went too far,” A tells B. “Rewind it.”

B passes A the remote. “You rewind it.”

But when A presses the small rubber knob, nothing happens. The screen, which now shows the man checking empty cigarette packets scattered on the floor of the room, is not affected.

“It’s broken.”

“Give me it here.”

Frustratingly for Character A, when Character B tries the remote it works.

Again, he forwards the film a distance that A considers too far.

An aged man seems to be crying. The picture is a close-up of the man, who seems to be rubbing tears from the surface of his old, florid, unshaved cheeks. The image is immediately disturbing, as one tends not to see such old people crying in such a way that suggests they have been through a terrible ordeal. Because the sound is mute you cannot hear the sound that makes tears so vulnerable, but the image shows enough for the viewer to understand that the man would have been making a noise that would disturb most people, especially young people, who are attuned to believe that old age is a place safe from extreme, emotional, tearful outbursts.

B is transfixed on the screen. He turns to A, who is sitting, leaning back against the bed, almost in fright.
“It’s you, I’m telling yer, that’s fucking you as an old guy.”

A doesn’t respond.

The man, whose body, dressed only in boxer shorts, is sitting on the edge of a bed. The room, which bears all too sober fittings and fixtures, is impassive, and so, thinks A as he takes in the awful scene, it must be a hotel room. Where else could life seem so misplaced, but in the hollow creation of a hotel.

The man starts talking. His head is held downwards, and it seems he’s appealing to the floor. His tears, still running over the grey stubble on his cheeks, fall like tiny glass anchors that shatter upon hitting the sea of worn carpet where his old feet are settled.
“Turn it up,” says Character A, who surprises himself. His courage is a matter of his fear being outranked, because again behind him he feels that a large shadow has been cast, that of a hand, perhaps only a shadow, but as oppressive as the heat from the sun when it’s too close to the earth, sliding down the wall.

“The sound doesn’t work.”

“It does.”

Character A grabs the remote, knowing it will work this time.
The man’s crying is stifling. It takes an effort for A to watch him.

“I swear he looks like you. Like the other guy, but even older this time.”

“I wish you’d stop saying that.”

“Why?”

A pauses, and inhales. “I never got at you about all that mental shit in the tent, about your going away.”
“What has that got to do with this?”

Character A, who until now only thought the connection was a matter concerning provocation, or an example of good friendship, is forced to reflect on this question, and on doing so, is impelled to ask himself if it is not only a matter of provocation, and is more finely tuned into his consciousness, and that maybe he is unable to see the confluence of the two events: the accusation of him being this old, decrepit being, and Character B’s tent psychosis. Character B is certainly untroubled by his own question, because to him it only acts as a defense, and is without a deeper meaning. It’s just what he shouted back. But Character A now feels troubled, without drawing any cogent conclusions.

Character A attempts to empty his head of the melee of thoughts, and answers B the way B might expect him to answer.
“Well, stop giving me shit about me looking like this guy in the video. Leave me alone. I never picked on you.”

The reasoning seems lame, and it is now apparent that A believes the two events are linked.

“Oh right, sorry…is that it? I only said…I didn’t know it was getting to you.”

“It was.”

“Then I’ll leave it.”

The submission gives Character A a boost of confidence. He feels as if bristles have just popped through the pores of his skin. He doesn’t know why, he doesn’t really think about it, but he’s now charged with a sudden enmity towards his friend. He wants to be hurtful.

“But did you really seriously think that some black guy had shoved a coin into your arse?”

In the corner of the hotel room an Asian woman stands, her arms are flailing, and it’s almost hypnotic, as if her small fragile body is nailed to the wall and her appendages are moving like the last dying moments of a Catherine Wheel.

She’s much younger than the crying man, whose shameful crying can still be heard. She speaks, but A and B cannot hear anything but the muffled sobs of the man.

“Turn it up,” says Character B.

“And yes, you fucking shithead, it does look like you, because it is you. This is your life, take it or leave it, but it isn’t going away.”
“What?” says A shocked.

“I know things,” says B.

A sits on the bed and burrows his head into his hands. The confluence of events: an oak tree, a fatal car crash, a chill out room in the suburbs of Manchester, a night under a brilliant moon when a coin was left inside a man…

“It’s because I’m a bad person,” the man, who is now sitting more upright on the bed, says to the woman. Again, she spins, or that’s the way it looks to Character A, and it seems as if his tears are blown from his face when she moves. Distortion appears on the screen, at first as just a small dot, inside it the grainy chaos of noise flickers.

The man shouts, “This is not the way I wanted things to be.” He throws his arms forward as if pushing away something. “I made bad choices,” he says, and the woman now flips grotesquely from side to side, and yet still seems to be spinning on her axis.
Behind A the shadow of a hand creeps down the wall. He turns to the screen and the distortion has grown in size. The dot has becomes a series of dots, congealed, forming a line across the screen.

“Fast forward,” demands A.

“It’s too late for that,” Character B responds, employing a sadistic timbre making his voice sound menacing. A can’t even look at him.
A looks at his own shadow on the wall. It looks like a small i, miniature, and behind it a hand moving towards him, the shadow of a hand, with fingers tapping, about to encapsulate A’s meager i.

“You should know who you are,” says B, “and stop fucking pretending you don’t.”

B throws the remote to A.

The man in the picture, now almost totally obscured by the distortion on the screen, looks as if right into the eyes of Character A. He says, “I wish I could start again, and do things differently.”

To Character A this feels like an appeal, and so he presses his forefinger on the rewind button, but all that he sees is this line, a line full of what seems like impossibilities, made up of chaotic little dots bouncing off of each other, and it just keeps growing, expanding, until it seems to subsume not just the picture, but the very space that A is sitting in. The intensity of the line’s brightness sharpens the shadows on the wall. A wall in which a predator, a giant hand, with nimble, frightening fingers, moves towards his own shadow, that of a small i. A drops the remote just as it seems the distortion covers him entirely, and simultaneously the i is encapsulated by its larger foe. And before A can scream, before he can look for Character B, who can’t help now anyway, before he can ask for forgiveness, or even hope to lazily disappear into the nothingness that he has felt creeping all around this house, out of the corner of his eye he sees a mirror, and in this mirror he sees the reflection of a man with his back turned. It seems to A, though he can’t see clearly, that the man is typing something, the edges of his face lit up by the brilliant glare of the screen. His fear recedes, and not for the first time, he feels complimented that his imagination is virile, yet a little ashamed at the predictably morbid outcome.

©James Austin Farrell 2014

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project

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“The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project.”

“Yeah, I saw that. What you do think they do in there?”

“Rehabilitate gibbons.”

“What’s wrong with the gibbons?”

“Maybe they fell out of a tree.”

“Or they have a drug problem.”

“I did once see a smoking monkey.”

“Fuck off.”

“It smokes?”

“Yeah, in a Chinese zoo. He’s addicted. It’s on YouTube.”

“I’d like to see that.”

“I think he’s dead now though.”

“Maybe they’re alkies, or junkies…maybe gibbons from all around the world come here for treatment. A rehab far from the hustle and bustle of the jungle.”

“It’s in a fucking jungle.”

“Not really, because they’re in the project. The project is all high-tech.”

“It’s a strange thing, a gibbon rehab. It would be a good title for a story, ‘The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project’.”

As they passed the project on their way to the island of Yao Noi in southern Thailand, Dara saw a man outside the entrance standing on what looked like crutches made from branches. The man had curly black hair and a kind of smoked tan, the tan people get when they have no choice but stay out in the sun all their lives. He wasn’t Thai, he looked European, French, Dara thought. He looked like one of the many Frenchmen that seemed to get stranded in Thailand. Lost Frenchmen without sun cream or the tools needed to shave, they were a common sight.

“Daz, how far to go?”

“It’s just around the corner, and don’t call me Daz.”

Dara had not seen his friend Sting – a name Sting had acquired as a teenager due to his protuberant cheekbones and white skinny hair – for 12 years, not since the days of the Dark Arches. For many reasons, and not just because the nickname was puerile, Dara had dumped his nickname as soon as he had boarded the plane that took him away from England for the last time. ‘Daz’ had a scurrilous nature, it wouldn’t suit his future, so when he walked onto the plane he became Dara. Hearing Sting call him Daz again seemed to add weight to his bones, it made him feel tired.

The other man in the car, Stings’s best friend and house-mate, had a terrible nickname, though he seemed comfortable with it. Ratty, as he was called, was an onomatopoeic misnomer due to Ratty’s heavy bulk and slow plodding movements. Dara had not met Ratty before and thought it strange that he complied with being called this name. Ratty was funny, in a mordant way, and so it didn’t take long for he and Dara to get along. This was a relief to Dara as he recognised the fact that Sting had spent much of his life with two close friends, first Dara in his teens, and with Ratty as an adult, so it was important for the two to support Sting’s continuity.

“You know why they started calling him Ratty,” Sting asked Dara the first night they had all met in chthonic Patong. “Because in school he cut the tails off a bunch of lab rats and filled his pockets with them. He kept them in his jacket for weeks.”

“A slight exaggeration Mr. Moore. I kept them for 3 days…don’t let the facts get in the way of a good tale.”

Ratty looked at Sting with an air of faux indignation. He then realized what he’d said.

“Tale!”

“Tails,” said Sting earnestly.

“The teacher caught me though…with a pocket full of rat tails,” Ratty told Dara, verifying with an abashed kind of smirk that his actions back then had been slightly unhinged. Dara wondered, if a man had done such a thing as a child, surely a residual quirkiness would have followed him into the future. He studied Ratty’s large round Disney head for a while though soon gave up trying to locate an impediment.

Patong failed at what it was supposed to do, it wasn’t as good as its marketing suggested, but Dara had been there a few times, he knew the reality behind the gloss. Sting and Ratty had been “rinsed” by bar staff just after Dara had arrived. Dara wasn’t surprised, being ripped off in Phuket was an initiation, something you had to accept and move on from. Anyone who has been to Patong goes home blushing. Phuket was an illusion, selling itself as paradise when in fact its days of beauty had a long time ago ended. Facelift after facelift it had turned into something monstrous. It didn’t look natural anymore.

“5,000 baht is a big bill for a bar in Thailand,” he had told the pair, who were both too drunk to care. The cash they had saved seemed to have lost much of its Mancunian value during the exchange. To Ratty and Sting the baht was almost play money.

Patong didn’t really like people. It had had enough of people. Patong disliked itself. No one was genuinely happy in Patong, though people were so geared towards having a good time they were compelled to pretend. A lot of effort had been spent to get to Thailand, so punters feigned happiness fearing an alternative realism.

The streets bundled drunken sun burnt tourists from one bright light to the next, balls tightly packed into a tired pinball machine bouncing off touts, prostitutes, and farmer’s daughters who had been packed off to what they thought was the end of the world by desperate elders, with a 3rd class one way bus ticket to sell cigarette lighters that talked and flashed. Cripples crawled around under the feet of over-indulgent Swedish tourists who were unable to differentiate a show from a catastrophe. Russian girls drifted casually, disdainfully, in-between the football jerseys of proud-to-be-English almost-alcoholic men who had come to Thailand to fuck and ultimately fall in sloppy love with girls that liked to say the word ‘love’ but had never experienced anything more than cold survival. They were born losers in the game they played, the survival of the poorest. There were lurid scenes of exploitation and manipulation in every bar, though in the guise of something benign. Poverty and wealth, hustling in the streets, the needy and greedy fighting for notes and travellers checks with as much tenacity as dogs dig holes in the ground where they sense bones. But people came in hordes from all over the world, like martyrs on a pilgrimage to worship a filthy stinking shrine, giving themselves, their money, to the photo-shopped images of smiling Thais who found these foreigners arrantly repellent, but also frustratingly indispensable.

The three men were resolute not to spend another night in Patong and so they booked out of their hotel early and left for the island of Yao Noi. They arrived at the Khao Yak Bungalows and were greeted by a man whom Dara said did not speak Thai well. The islanders were Muslim, though Dara wasn’t sure why they didn’t seem to be able to speak Thai fluently. The man didn’t want to speak Thai to Dara, which made Dara suspicious. He never felt comfortable with Thais who wanted to speak only English with him. It seemed to him competitive… or they were hiding something. He had noticed before that some Thai people had less scruples about deceiving someone when they used English, as if ethics didn’t count in the foreign language.

As they unpacked their bags in their wooden bungalow Sting saw that Dara had cuts, what looked liked knife cuts, around his legs and upper body. There must have been around 30 slashes from his thighs to his shoulders, some of them quite deep.

“What happened to you,” Sting asked. It wasn’t the first time Sting had seen Dara with cuts all over his body. From time to time when they were young Dara would show up on a night out with cuts on his face, arms, neck. Sting guessed back then that Dara had cut himself, but niether Sting, nor Dara’s other friends broached the matter with Dara. It was as if Dara’s friends had taken a vow of silence concerning the cuts.

Dara and Sting were both orphans and so on meeting each other in their early teens in school they had an affinity, an affinity that awarded them both a mutual strength. They had an ugly story to tell and it felt exhilarating to empathize with each other. The affinity however was disastrous in a way as both boys were self-destructive, being an orphan seemed to encourage nihilism, as if an anchor – the umbilical cord maybe – had never been fastened to anything solid, which left them floating in the whirlpool of society without a station to return to when they required calm. Intemperate behavior seemed natural to them, and it seemed there was nothing to hold them back, restrain them, and doing bad things together was easier than doing bad things alone. The families that had fostered them did not care for them, in the loving sense; they gave them a place to stay, they called them ‘son’, but with as much conviction and acidic humour as a prisoner might call a cell ‘home’.

By the time both boys were 20 they were living in a hostel for the homeless. While most other young men in the hostel robbed, or grafted, as it was dubiously called by those who plied that trade, Dara and Sting sold drugs. Fuelled by resentment and by a team spirit, they colluded to take what they could from others. They ripped people off, they sold Paracetamol saying it was E, and baking powder as speed, when they didn’t have the real thing. There was never any retaliation as they sold to students, and the students in Leeds were scared of real people. They were Robin Hoods, sharing the spoils with themselves; they thought they deserved the money.

Dara had left home after his last foster-mother had found a few ounces of speed in his bedroom. She informed him with great pleasure when he arrived home that day that she was going to “shop him” to the police. She had never liked him. He was “above himself” she liked to say. Immediately after she threatened to call the police, without much mental preparation, he held her down to the floor. He felt an animalistic urge to bite her face, which shocked him. “I WILL kill you if you don’t tell me where that fucking speed is.” And so she told him. Dara left the house and knew better than to ever go back. Anyway, he didn’t want to give another person the pleasure of kicking him out. He spent a few nights on the streets, sleeping in a service station toilet where lorry drivers would come in throughout the night to masturbate, though he later found a hostel for the homeless that was partly funded by what was then called Leeds Polytechnic. There he found a book called ‘The Conquest of Happiness’ which he read over and over, while at the same time he learned how to write resumes for prospective employers he would never be employed by. Dara was unemployable, it was his choice, he thought he knew better than to work for anyone. Work seemed like slavery, all jobs seemed like slavery. “You write very well,” a volunteer student teacher told him, and she added, “I can’t believe you ended up like this.”

A few months later Sting joined him at the hostel. Dara wondered if he had done this as an act of martyrdom. But Sting ‘s relationship with his ‘carers’ had not been much better than Dara’s relationship had been with his own foster parents, if you added up the bruises, the arguments, the nasty things a family could verbally share. It sometimes felt as if they were living identical lives, what happened to one would often happen to the other. Sting made the decision to leave home and lied to the shelter that he had been living on the streets, and that he would adhere to the requisites of their ‘work solutions’ project. Dara told Sting he’s been selling “a few pills here and there”, though as soon as Sting was living at the shelter they sold hundreds of pills around the Hyde Park area of Leeds, the slum where students with generic accents nested like tropical birds that had made industrial chimneys their home.

With funds raised from selling Ecstasy and amphetamines, at a time when these drugs were required weekend sustenance for a fashionable life in Leeds, they opened a stall in the depressive Dark Arches selling Indian handicrafts, clothes, jewelry, that they bought from a buyer of theirs called Henry who travelled for half the year and lived in Leeds for the other half. They were going straight, in terms of money it was not ideal, but both boys figured that if they kept on dealing they would be caught, or taxed, at some point. It felt like a promotion, too, a promotion into the mainstream. They would be good, if not better, than other, more normal people, at ‘proper’ work.   

Since meeting Henry Dara wanted to travel.

Sting foresaw Dara’s future. Their identical life was about to transform into two uneven parts. He knew Dara would leave as soon he recognized the doggish anticipation on Dara’s face as Henry told him stories about Thailand, Vietnam, India, Nepal.

Their shop was a success, and they didn’t need require a middleman after long. Dara did the buying himself in India, the part of the job he enjoyed the most. Truth me known, he hated the Dark Arches. He called Sting close to Christmas after the shop was less than two years old and told him he wasn’t coming back.

“The shop is yours mate… I’m sorry. I can’t live there any more Sting. There are fucking demons back there in those arches. I couldn’t bear to walk through there one more time… I’m sorry mate.”

“Go, go do what you have to do,” Sting told Dara, “I knew it was coming anyway.”

 “Why don’t you come over here?”

“Nah, I like England Dara, as weird as that may sound to you.”

Dara felt sad, but also deliriously independent from his guesthouse in Anjuna beach, Goa. It had to be done. Sting had always dealt better with bad weather and the morose English pub life. Sting thought England had charm. He liked the squalor of working men’s clubs; he praised The Smiths for their morbid indoctrination of youth culture and didn’t seem to mind the bellicose poetry scrawled over beaten up bus shelters. Fuck the Pakis, fuck the skins, fuck Man U…there is no black in the Union Jack. Fuck England, thought Dara. He was happy to leave everything behind, everything except Sting. But Sting would do well, he would be good at life in England.

And so Daz became Dara again. The name he liked. He’d never met his biological mother as she had moved to Australia a few years after putting him up for adoption, a couple of years after having a one night stand with a classmate. Dara imagined her to be unique, creative, having given him his unusual name. It was necessary to give her some kind of talent, after all, he was hers, he carried her genes, so he imagined her to be something she was probably not. Dara’s father, whom Dara almost found, had died of alcoholism only a few weeks after Dara had been making calls from the phonebook to all the people with his equally unusual, but less exotic surname: Medley.

“Oh, I’m really sorry,” said his aunt – the first blood relative Dara had ever spoken to – he died three days ago. He called this women a few times and she told him that he had “drank himself to death” after being left by his wife.

“It’s was the kids he missed,” she said, “they weren’t his, but he loved them.” This love, good love, had deviated from its course, love collided with loss, and Dara’s dad, his aunt explained, fatally crashed.

Sting and Dara had both succeeded. Life was light at last, it felt worth living, or rather, it felt worth not destroying. The Nietzschean adage was embodied in the pair, ‘What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’. It felt like that for a while.

“I had an accident…I fell off my bike, into a bush…a sharp bush,” replied Dara in response to Sting’s interest in the wounds on his body, knowing that however unbelievable his story sounded that Sting would not question him further. Ratty looked unsure as Dara detailed as best he could the fictional fall into the jungle from his motorbike, while Dara wondered just how much Sting had told Ratty about their past.

Only metres from their rustic hut was the beach, a beach full of broken shells and other bits of the earth’s shrapnel. In the distance the islets of the Pahngna archipelago were spellbinding to look at. There could be few better places to look out at than this thought Dara. He pondered over suitable adjectives. Sublime is an over-used word, he thought, it is one of those fashionable words popular with the dramatic union of confident educated English 30 somethings, like phenomenal, or outstanding. The words were now duds in the armory of lexicon, thought Dara, they had been weakened. But the view was sublime.

“It’s really fucking nice innit,” he told Sting and Ratty.

Sometimes Dara had nightmares where he was sleeping in shop doorways or service station toilets where he would see the boots of lorry drivers shudder as if lightly shocked by an electric current. The Dark Arches and the sound of the tarred river Aire smacking agonizingly against the black stone walls often haunted him while he was asleep. As he looked at the islets dotted around the ocean, serene, like the shells of sea monsters stopped at march through the ocean, his past and present juxtaposed in his mind. Sting had brought the past to Thailand and it was sitting with Dara on the beach. Where there is beauty scum always follows, he thought, but a memory shouldn’t be a significant enough thing to bother him. The past had passed. The reality was, he was having a good time. He was in a good place, with good friends. Although he looked at the cuts on his legs and he felt as if he had been bequeathed with a poison. What kind of toxin had been present in his father’s sperm when he fired it off into his mother’s cunt? Beauty wasn’t enough. It was a necessary sideshow, but it was just that, it didn’t have longevity. It will always be spoiled Dara mused. Self-pity on the other hand was like herpes, it never went away. Sting didn’t require daily sunshine, mountain views, tropical beaches, he was content enough walking through the sullen drizzle with a carrier bag full of beer, or so Dara thought. Why didn’t Sting feel such self-pity? He had been an orphan, too, he had lived, well kind of, on the streets. Dara tried to ignore these thoughts pestering him and invoke that overused word ‘sublime’ again into his mind.

“Yeah, yeah, it’s pretty much just like Manchester,” said Ratty ironically after Dara had asked him if he liked the view, “in fact, I don’t know why we spent all this money coming here.”

He looked at Sting for approval of this statement.

“Yeah, fuck it Daz, we’re going back.”

They don’t compel me to go back, thought Dara, as the two talked about the endless rain and dark doleful mornings when the alarm clock would startle them into submission. Dara had forgotten what it felt like to be cold, to have to pay outrageous bills that decapitated your earnings; to worry about such things as the cost of eating out or the price of a movie ticket. He had become a travel writer, a travel writer who may have sold out to the temptation of a glossy magazine’s pay scale, nonetheless, he had made a name for himself and earned enough money to live as a freelance writer, which was unusual in Thailand. Everything had worked, he had succeeded at all the things he had tried to do.

Whenever he heard his severed name, of which the two were insistent on calling him, something tugged at him, as if history were trying to reel him back in. The word ‘Daz’ heralded the sound of hooves clapping against a rotten road into his past. But the past is what they talked about, they had to cover a lot of years.

Sting had left Leeds for Manchester many years ago and found an office job, after he had sold the shop. He informed Dara that he told no one in Manchester about his past, the drug dealing, the hostel. He had also adopted a Mancunian accent in an attempt, so Dara assumed, to thread himself into an improved existence. It worked, Dara saw that, Sting was a believable Mancunian.

In accordance with their aspirations for the night they bought a bottle of cheap Thai rum and then proceeded to talk more about the past, the present, and how they acquired money to live.

“I’m an accounts manager, for a paint company,” Ratty told Dara.

“Do you like it?”

“No, I fucking hate it…It’s a job, of course I hate it.”

“Sometimes,” Sting said, “sometimes I just don’t want to get out of bed.”

This surprised Dara, maybe he had been wrong about Sting’s apparent imperviousness to what Dara considered a depressing country.

“But you’re paid well at least. You have all the shit people need these days.”

“It’s not all that bad,” Sting said, feeling he may have been a little sensational, and he didn’t want Dara to think he had made a wrong choice staying in England, “we have good mates, we have a laugh.”

He loves it, thought Dara, complaining was the hiccups of English conversation.

The ocean was calm. It sneaked up to the shore and tickled the washed up detritus that lay there. Shells, carrion, bits of wood, a single flip-flop that made Dara feel somber. The three took their Sangsom rum to the beach. They had drunk so much they were almost incoherent, but they were content. They looked at the moon that was unusually bright.

“It’s brilliant, isn’t it, the moon?” Dara said drunkenly.

“Yeah, fucking ace,” said Sting sarcastically.

“No but, doesn’t it make everything else seem so inconsequential?” Dara wasn’t quite sure what he meant by this, only that the moon seemed to rub out fear. But that may have also been the rum.

“I don’t feel inconsequential at all,” Ratty said, and he grabbed a yellow plastic seahorse from the sand that had been washed up by the tide. He passed the horse to Sting, who studied it with an ironic look of seriousness.

“It’s a flying horse Ratty.”

“Pegasus,” Ratty replied.

“The moon is brilliant, right, have you got anything better to say?” said Sting caustically, a gibe to his old friend. This was how they interacted. It was a show of kinship. He threw the horse at Dara after Ratty had passed it on.

“No, not really. I’m fucked,” replied Dara. “It’s all I’ve got to say…I’m keeping this horse by the way.”

He was glad these two had showed up in his life. They weren’t aware that before they had met, Dara had been going through what he thought might be – but how do you know? – a mid-life breakdown. He had been dumped, only to be re-snatched, to be dumped again. A harrowing experience for an orphan.

“What you don’t realise,” Dara told the pair later that night, “is that when I speak Thai, or date a Thai girl, then I kind of become Thai. I lose myself in their language game, as what’s-‘is-name might say” – Ratty and Sting were not familiar with Wittgenstein’s linguistic philosophy, nor would they care about such things as language games. They were in one, their own, and that was enough – “and so I lose at their game because I am just not good enough at it… I’m conflicted, I don’t know who I am. You need to be flexible to adapt, and you have to adapt in Thailand or you can’t enjoy it, but the more I do adapt, the more I seem to lose myself.”

Dara felt like a lunatic attempting to justify his lunacy.

He was talking about the relationship he had been in more than anything else. A relationship that had started out benign but had become a torment to him the more he realised it was untenable. But rather than leave, he tended to it, he tried to ignore the fact that no matter how much he, and she tried, they would never reach a point of mutual satisfaction. He couldn’t change enough, no matter how well he could communicate with her in her tongue.

“You’ve changed,” she told Dara one night. “What happened?”

What had happened is Dara could no longer maintain the game he was playing. He could no longer commit to both their fantasies.

“Shall we get some more beer,” Sting asked. Sting was concerned for Dara’s welfare, but talk of adaptation and integration within a culture he knew little about, he didn’t feel he had the necessary tools to give Dara any advice, after all, wasn’t this Dara’s forte? He didn’t want to say it, but Sting had known for a long time ago that leaving the Dark Arches was not going to cure Dara of his ailment, of whatever it was that troubled him. If those cuts are self-inflicted, thought Sting, well, there are knives in every kitchen drawer in every country. Sting looked at Dara affectionately, he would like to cure him, to do something for him, but they had pretended for so long that Dara’s scars didn’t exist it was hard to broach any matter concerning emotional dysphoria in Dara’s life. It would be changing tack in what they both had ratified as a relationship standard, a contract. More alcohol was not a solution, but it was an acceptable diversion.

“I’ll get ‘em.”

Sitting on the beach the next day another flip-flop surfaced onto the shore. They took a photo of it, and threw it back into the ocean.

“Good Luck,” said Sting.

“Bon voyage,” said Ratty.

The light of the sun seemed to focus on the cuts on Dara’s legs as the three attempted to catch crabs as they scurried out of their holes in the mud. He tried to pull his shorts further down, but he saw the cuts on the back of his calves. “You fucking idiot,” he muttered angrily to himself, and the girl that had left him danced across the sand, mocking him.

“So what happened to your last girlfriend,” Dara asked Sting when they returned from crab hunting.

“I just left?”

“I thought you were going to get married?”

“We thought about it. We had the house and everything…5 years.”

“So what happened?”

“I’d had enough. I just got up one day, went downstairs…she was watching soaps as usual, and I did one.”

“That’s intense. I can’t do that. You didn’t see her again?”

“No, that was it.”

“No contact at all?”

“No, nothing. Well, not after we shared our things.”

Dara pondered this. How someone can just withdraw and disappear. He had never been able to do this. For Dara relationships lingered, other than the ones with his ‘families’. The cruelty that love causes once it has been poisoned by time was not sufficient enough reason to leave it completely behind. He carried his scars with him. He wanted them with him, he wanted in a way to placate them. He needed the burden, or at least he couldn’t expunge it from his memory, which was the same. In some ways all his lovers lived with him, they were ghosts lying next to him in a cramped bed. He dreamt about all of them regularly. They all loved him and hated him in equal measures.

“So what about your Thai girl?”

This was a question Dara knew at some point he would have to answer? He wanted to talk about her, but not truthfully, he wouldn’t tell him all the details.

“She left me.”

“Oh, shit, sorry about that,” said Sting.

Dara thought that because of Thailand’s notoriety for farcical relationships between foreign men and Thai women that Sting might not take him seriously. He didn’t want to be belittled for something that had caused him so much pain.

“She was a nice girl, but she wanted to marry me, a bit too quickly, so I pushed her away.”

It sounded corny thought Dara, “push her away” but love is corny, love was a cliche. You can’t talk about love and sound intelligent, thought Dara. He knew that if he expressed to Sting what he was actually thinking, apropos his relationship, that he would sound insane.

“So she left, went to another guy. But she still keeps calling me. I don’t really get it.”

“If she left, then fuck her, don’t answer the calls.”

Dara could not do this. Sting wasn’t yet aware how much of this holiday was rehabilitation for Dara. He didn’t know that Dara was clinging to his phone in his pocket most of the time hoping it might vibrate in his palm. When she did call, she would reel Dara back in, and emotionally exhausted he would say all the things he thought she wanted to hear. He felt trained, corrupted, he wagged his tail and woofed for her each time she called. His self-respect had long ago abandoned him, he was subsisting on shallow hope while caring for her emotional demands.

“I can’t do that. I can’t cut people off.”

“It’ll do you no good to keep answering those calls. Get rid of her.”

“She’s on Facebook.”

“Then fucking block her, and then block her phone number.”

Sting’s impassioned response to this made Dara wonder if Sting hadn’t guessed already the main reason behind the scars on his legs and arms.

“I haven’t slept well in months, not since she left.”

“Get rid of her Daz, take it from me, it’s better to leave than to hang on. If she’s with another guy and calling you she’s a bitch, and you’ll be better without her, trust me.”

But Dara could not amputate people from his mind. His girlfriend, who he had obsessively thought about every day, all day, since she had left, had become like an active tumour to him. He couldn’t remove her completely, if he willingly drove her out of his thoughts bits of her remained fastened, clinging to the antipodes of his consciousness where they would machinate to regroup. He dreamed about her every night for the two or three hours he managed to sleep. And Dara had become so obsessive about her he had not been able to focus on anything else. He vomited in the shower on occasion. He threw up over his toothbrush when her absence filled the bathroom. This girl, this farm girl, had unscrewed something in his head. He wasn’t rational anymore. He couldn’t walk properly, he stumbled whenever her face came into this thoughts. She was so pervasive she affected his basic motor skills. To think he had considered breaking up with her before she left, and now she was suddenly ideal. He had made the biggest mistake in his life? Or, was he punishing himself? Was he was fine tuning his own disaster?

Two days before he met Sting and Ratty Dara had sat at home waiting, hopelessly neurotic, thinking she might call or send him a message. Only she didn’t call. He saw her on Facebook with the other man. A few hours later he was sat with a kitchen knife in his hand and was slicing various parts of his body intermittently filling his glass from a 5 litre box of cheap wine. His chest was covered in spilled wine and spilled blood. The self harm, as it had done in the past, was absorbing and fulfilling. The perfect blind massage for a sad man. The knife stroked the skin, and no other feeling could be better. It was horribly sublime. Blood streaked over his body. He took the knife to his face but thought better of it due to some self-harm he had committed on himself years ago. Do I love her, he asked himself, or am I just fucking insane? He cut, he felt dumb and ashamed, but it felt like it was the right thing to do. Every woman he had any kind of close relationship with had caused this amount of distress, though Thai women had been more brutal. He also knew though that the self-harm was atonement, but he wasn’t sure what he was atoning for. He didn’t feel he was solely to blame. She had left him. Nevertheless, he felt the cuts were necessary.

Dara had examined in the past what he considered something to be an Asian trait: torture. Torture, he theorised was common in Asia due to the pressure of social hierarchies and repression of emotions, repression from being able to outwardly express emotions. People had their rung on the ladder, and you couldn’t do anything about it, everyone had a station, a status,. Unconsciously they detested this status and wanted nothing more than to be free of it. But they couldn’t. If given an opportunity to hurt with impunity, to have a kind of invisibility, then people exploited their position, Dara thought. He blamed ‘them’, he blamed their culture, just as many expats blame their chosen country for their unhappiness when things turned sour; this was endemic in the expat community. But there was no doubt this girl had him tied up, and she was more than willing to hurt him. She had become malignant to him, as had her family who called him often to tell him they loved him. It was all a game they were playing, thought Dara, though he might wake up some days having dreamed about her and believe everything they told him. Thailand, he had told many people in the past haughtily, is not for the sensitive. His hubris had turned on him, as it always does, and now he was as weak and pitiable as the people he used to give advice to.

They hired a golf cart to take them around the island. During the day Dara went to the post office and sent the girl that was torturing him a gift, as well as a gift to her deviant mother. He not only crashed the car into the post office wall, but then knocked over a parked motorbike. As they drove back into the guesthouse car park he went over a hill and the cart scraped loudly on the ground. Rather than get out and face the guesthouse owner whose car they had been banging up all day the three laughed in the car until tears ran down Sting’s cheeks. It was a moment of levity Dara had been waiting for.

“There are no fucking jobs in England Dara,” Sting told him as they sat that night in a bar owned by a dark skinned man called Matt, a Yao Noi Muslim who smiled most of the time though he had a look of anxiety constantly imprinted on his face as he stood behind his bar, as if he were unsure about something.

“It’s true, even the skilled can’t find work,” Ratty said.

They were already drunk having downed shots with Matt, who wasn’t really supposed to drink.

“Is Bandit really taking us home?” asked Ratty, bemused.

Bandit, their taxi driver, was drinking cheap whisky in the corner of the bar.

“Yeah, who else is going to take us?” replied Dara.

“But he’s fucked?”

“So what?”

Dara genuinely didn’t understand Ratty’s misgivings.

“So we hired a taxi driver so we could get home safe and he’s getting fucked up?”

“Yes. Everyone drinks and drives, it’s no big deal.”

“But don’t you have one of the worst road accident/fatality records in the world?”

“What would you rather have, the fear of crashing one night, or the safety of England where you are continually under the pressure of oppressive rules? I like this anarchy, don’t you?”

“I think I’d rather be pressured in England mate,” Ratty said laughing.

In some ways both Ratty and Sting felt deliriously unbuckled in Thailand and they liked it. That’s why they are here, thought Dara, to get taken home by drunks like Bandit. Englishmen died like lemmings in Thailand from all manner of disasters, but they kept coming in the thousands every year.

“I’m telling you Dara,” Sting said after Dara had refuted that some people just couldn’t find work in England, “I deal with people at the job centre and they are fucking useless. Sometimes we take them to work seekers conventions where they are meant to get picked up by companies who have a quota to employ a certain percent of their workforce with the disadvantaged. I tell them to look good, make an effort…and these are the ones who genuinely want to work…One guy turns up with baked beans in his beard…another guy has like a layer of scum on his teeth, as thick as a gum shield… I have to walk them into the room like school children or they would get lost. They are just fucking useless, they’re society’s rejects.”

“So they’re mentally retarded?” asked Dara.

“No, they’re just fucking dumb.”

“They’re not dumb, they just play dumb.”

“And we have to hire a guy with special needs,” said Ratty, “he needs a special desk ‘cos his arms are all short and fucked…what do you call them?”

“I know what you mean,” Dara said.

“This desk costs thousands, and he’s shit anyway. He’s a fucking grumpy useless spaz, but we have to employ him. He just costs everyone time and money.”

“You get sick of it, you can’t help some people,” said Sting.

“I think fuck their government hand-outs, that’s the whole problem, the pity,” said Dara.

“You’ve changed.”

“I’ve lived in poor countries mate. I see how lazy England can be. The dole is a disease, well it’s a cause of a disease, and the symptoms are psychosomatic. Take away that safety net and much of these people will be cured.”

“It’s not like that, what can they do?”

In Thailand ‘rejects’ had family. Family was their disease. Dara knew in England family, the safety net of family, had been replaced by welfare. It was probably a good thing, progressive, he couldn’t think of an alternative, but he was drunk, and he wanted to annoy Sting. He wasn’t sure why.

“Leave them. Let them suffer, soon enough you won’t see many people like that. The next generation will be stronger, it’ll have to be. Society will evolve out of its welfare poverty.”

“You’re talking shit Dara, and I don’t believe you mean that,” said Sting.

Dara then walked away holding onto his phone as it flashed in his hands. Sting and Ratty looked away and said nothing.

When Dara returned to the bar he had an expression on his face that Sting had seen Dara wear many times in his youth. It denoted recklessness.

Another man had joined them in the bar.

“Dara, this guy used to go to Zoo Bar,” said Sting, hoping Dara would come out of his reverie. “Can you believe that?”

The man was large and docile, standing beside a woman he groped that didn’t look too happy about it.

“He knew Specky. He was a mate of Eddie.”

Specky, Dara found out, as well as many of their other mutual acquaintances in Leeds, had succumbed to heroin addiction, or/and jail, and/or death.

 “You don’t remember Eddie?” asked Sting excitedly as he poured down shots with the new man.

“No,” said Dara, though he wasn’t sure. He didn’t want to retrieve such a name from his memory.

“Eddie!”

“No, I can’t remember him.”

“He used to deal to…”

“I can’t remember him Sting,” said Dara again.

Sting and the new man talked about the ghosts from the past while Ratty talked to the man’s girlfriend.

On a small island in the south of Thailand a man form the Zoo Bar had turned up. It irked Dara, especially because the man had an air of arrogance about him. He seemed imperiously glad to have survived when so many had died young.

Dara felt uneasy. His phone would not bleep nor vibrate another time that night. He didn’t want to see anyone from the Zoo Bar. He thought he despised people who claimed unemployment benefits. He thought he hated the government for pandering to their needs. He disliked employment. He hated the fact that he hated so much when he should feel happy in this paradisiacal island with an old friend he trusted and loved.

“It was bullshit Sting,” said Dara, swaying on his stool, aware he was drunk and about to say something he would regret, “All that scene in England was fucking bullshit, and all those people who died were fucking losers. They deserved it.”

“Fuck off, you enjoyed England at times…And I know you don’t mean that.”

“No I didn’t enjoy England, that’s why I left.”

The big man they had met felt the tension between these old friends and turned towards his girlfriend who was talking to Ratty. Ratty seemed pleased with himself.

“What do they know about what we did,” Dara said to Sting so that only Sting could hear. “What did you tell Ratty? That you came out of a hostel, that we dealt gear, that we were orphans?”

“No, I didn’t tell him any of that, why should I. What’s the point Dara?”

“And now you try and help these fucking people born with no future?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Help people like you and me?”

“Yes.”

“But you don’t help them, you admitted you can’t help them. Some people can’t be helped.”

“I was kidding, I try and help. What do you do for people?”

“Nothing, I don’t believe in help.”

“Fuck me, shut up Dara.”

“You called me Dara.”

“Daz.”

“Why not tell Ratty where you came from?”

“There’s no point. Stop being such a dick.”

“Why don’t you tell people about your past?”

“If people know that stuff they come to conclusions about you, so I just omit that shit.”

“So you deny what you are.”

“Fuck off Dara. You’re the one who ran away, not me.”

“You just took the easy option and changed your name.”

 “Easy? You don’t think it wasn’t hard for me getting a decent job, lying all the time about my past. I didn’t see you turning up to anyone’s funeral. It wasn’t fucking easy Dara moving on, far from it. I stayed, and I dealt with it, you ran so you didn’t have to deal with it. I don’t bring up the past only because it could be damaging to me. Not because I deny it, I live with it. I don’t run away from it.”

“Fuck that,” said Dara slurring, “I moved on.”

“No you didn’t, you hid…oh fuck this shit Dara, what are we arguing for…”

“What are you boys talking about,” asked Ratty as he shifted across the bar.

“Rat tails,” said Dara, “I’m going for a piss.”

Dara felt ashamed at what he had said to Sting. He admired his friend for staying in England, he was envious of him for his contentedness. What magic did Sting possess? How had he calmed the sea of his turbulent life?

He didn’t return to the bar deciding instead that he would walk the long dark road back to the guesthouse and listen to the waves hit the shore along the way. That would calm him. The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project was somewhere on the way back and he would stop there and maybe go inside, well, as far as he would be allowed to enter. The road was not lit by lamps, only by the moon, though Dara could just about see further ahead. He moved his head from side to side to see if he could see the sign to the centre. It seemed important to him that he find this place. Thailand was generally a noisy place but this road that Dara walked on was very quiet, the only noise was the ocean in the distance to his right and the sound of insects. As he made his way to the bottom of a hill close to the entrance of the posh Six Senses Resort Dara saw a figure in the road. As he approached he noticed the man was walking clumsily, as if something was tugging at him from both sides. He must be drunk thought Dara. As he caught up with the man he thought he better say something lest the man think he was about to get jumped on that quiet dark road.

“Hello,” Dara said in Thai.

The man turned to him. His face in the dark looked broken, like a cracked pot that had been put back together again.

“Hello,” said the man, and then said, “Foreigner.”

“Yeah,” said Dara.

“You speak Thai?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m Captain Bao,” said the man.

“I’m Dara.”

The man was dressed in rags. He wasn’t just drunk, he was pulverized by drink.

“Where are you going,” the man asked. A question easier to annunciate in Thai than it is in English, for a drunken man.

Dara did not know how to say Gibbon Rehabilitation Project in Thai.

“Home.”

“Argh, home…yes, me too. Home is a long way from here.”

“Yeah, but I like this road,” said Dara.

“I don’t like it,” said the man, who then laughed and coughed at the same time.

“You’re a captain?” asked Dara.

“Yes…I’m a captain. I’m a fisherman.”

Dara didn’t really know what to say. He thought about saying, ‘How is fishing then?’, though he just said “Fishing.”

“I don’t fish anymore,” the man then laughed, and coughed again, “I don’t have a boat…now I drink,” he said smiling.

“You have a Thai wife,” asked the man.

 “No.”

“Money,” said the man, “marriage is expensive.”

“I’m in a rush,” said Dara, “goodbye.”

The man didn’t say anything, he just looked at Dara and smiled. But as Dara walked some way ahead of him he heard the man shout, proudly it seemed, “Captain Bao!”

Dara never found the project.

When he arrived at the guesthouse he realized he didn’t have a key to the room, so he drank what was left of the rum that was on the balcony. After an hour or so the boys weren’t back so Dara lay down and covered himself in Sting’s over-sized Union Jack towel. He woke up a while later and still they weren’t back so he walked to the parking lot to find a bike he could ride to go back to the bar. All the motorbikes at the guesthouse were parked with the keys still in the ignition. People didn’t steal things on Yao Noi as it was such a small community, and it would be hard to hide anything. The owner had earlier told Dara this. As he started one of the bikes two men shouted at him from a distance. Dara couldn’t really see the two dark figures. As they approached he noticed that one of the men, a Thai man, was holding a shotgun, the other man Dara was sure was the Frenchman who had seen outside the project. He was walking on crutches made from branches.

“What the fuck are you doing?” asked the Frenchman.

“I am locked out, I can’t get in, so I just thought I’d take a bike and go and get my friends. I’ll pay you for the hire.”

“This is not a fucking bike for hire.”

The Thai man had the gun pointed at Dara and he wondered if his life might end. It seemed like pantomime, a serious pantomime.

“Ok, I’ll get off. Look, I’m sorry about this, I thought all the bikes were for hire.”

“You are fucking drunk,” said the Frenchman superciliously, “go back to your room.”

The Thai man still didn’t put the gun down.

Dara walked back to the room feeling exhilarated. It was the first time in his life he had had a gun pointed at him. When he arrived at the room he banged loudly on the door, and this time Sting answered.

“Shit, you must have come back while I was over there. You won’t fucking believe what just happened to me.”

Dara woke up with not just a hangover, he felt as though his body now relied on alcohol. His mind required booze to enable motion. He couldn’t remember how many days, weeks, he had been drinking heavily. He recalled the self-harm, perhaps the climax of the binge, but he still couldn’t fathom how long before that he had been drunk every day. Days were becoming hallucinatory, he wasn’t sure he had lived the memory of them, objects seemed distant, further away than they actually were, and he didn’t quite feel that he was the sole proprietor of the voice in his head.

As Ratty and Sting slept with their hangovers Dara walked to the restaurant next to the parking lot – hoping he wouldn’t bump into the two men from the night before – and bought a bottle of rum. It was an impassive act, fluent. Dara would deal with his hangover.

Now I don’t care he said to himself. He had reached the point of estrangement from his wits that nothing mattered, a point at which he was willing to allow the alcohol to do the most damage possible.

The view of the islets was transfigured by his grazed view of life, everything seemed ugly to him. This was not the wrong side of bed, it was an acceptance of the lingering individualized dystopia that had been pushing itself into his life for some time.

His plan was to drink the rum while looking for the project. Once he found the project he would enter, and finally see just how gibbons were rehabilitated. This information, Dara was quite sure, would be transformative. It was an immature hope, but it was something he needed to see. Wearing the same clothes as he had worn the night before he walked onto the road and went in search of the project.

They’re all fucking sleeping, Dara told himself.

He swigged the warm rum from the bottle. It was so awful he almost threw up, but it would get better, he could rely on that.

People on the dole, he said to himself, those pathetic lice that burrow under the fabric of society, living off of the life-blood of others… I might cut myself, I might feel sorry for myself, but at least I damage only my own body. I am not asking for help, to be redeemed, I am not crawling through the streets with a victim label stuck to my chest. But his heart wasn’t in it, he couldn’t suspend belief enough to buy into his own crap and detest those people he knew nothing about.

He walked up the hill he had walked over in the other direction the night before. There was no sign of the project. He suddenly felt a great anger towards the Frenchman and the guy that had pointed a gun at him.

You’re pathetic, he said to himself as he looked down at his legs and the cuts. He recalled the Dark Arches, standing in winter with Sting next to the stall, both of them joyous and equally surprised at how much they were selling. He remembered Sting had said to him, “At this rate we’ll be fucking rich in two years Dara. Fuck everyone that said we’d come to nothing.” But Dara felt right then he had come, or was at least coming, to nothing. Dara had not waited to be rich, he had gone to India to be poor, but that hadn’t worked out either. He had become a travel writer who lied for a living, who laughed insincerely to editor’s jokes, editors who invited him out for all expenses paid meals, as long as Dara made the world sound nice. Ingloriously he had fallen in love in an effort to reinstate love into his lonely life, and he had failed, he had hatched a story that could get off the first page, because it just didn’t make sense.

His father sat in a council flat room, alone, drinking himself to death, flogged by his loss. Dara carried these genes and he didn’t require a blood test to prove it. He knew what he was. How fucking sore he felt about this predeterminism, how hopeless it felt to be human, to part of someone else, and to be caught up in this universe and all its hackneyed plots and tribulations. Those people that crooned over the fact we are all one, how insidious it is to be part of all this, thought Dara, if only he could extricate himself from the universe, to go on living but be completely disconnected from the whole. Being human was slavery, right from the moment you are born you are a slave. And the older you get the more deeply submerged you become in your slavery, the more aware you are of who you are, the more you realize you are predictable, you are trapped. Even the freedom to cut myself up was programmed in me, he thought, his father had probably done the same.

He had reached the bottom of the hill and walked so far he was almost at the bar they had been at the night before. Where was that fucking project? He felt he needed it now. A couple in honeymoon beige attire drove past him in a Six Senses golf cart. They both looked at him with dread as he stood at the side of the road drinking from a now half empty bottle of rum. Yeah, fuck off, he said under his breath. But that wasn’t enough either, it felt powerless.

He decided to walk back to the top of the hill where there was a view point looking out over the ocean. When he arrived he was covered in sweat, the sun was at the apex of its daily routine. He sat down on a bench and looked at the islets in the distance. A fishing boat was moving silently across the ocean, an ocean that was all sorts of colours he couldn’t put a name to. He realised at that moment he was holding his phone in his pocket.

His mother had released him from her womb, and a year or so later she had given him away. He imagined he had screamed just as much on the second ejection as he had on the first. The longer you live with a mother, he had read concerning an adopted child’s removal, the harder it is psychologically on the child in later life. A year is a long time when it is just that. To be someone else, to hear his named being called, James, he had been James, even when not conscious of itself does the baby suffer after the switch? Did it hurt to become Shaun, somewhere in the soft machinery of his baby brain did the confusion register? And not just the sounds but the smells, the smell of the mother, her shape, her strength. Perhaps Sting had not suffered the same ignominy, maybe he had had a quick getaway. Since this abandonment he had tried in vain to relocate another womb, to insinuate himself into another mother’s cloisters. But on each time he had been rejected, or he had rejected them, he wasn’t sure. All these surrogate mothers were failures, it wasn’t their fault, it was his, because he clung to an illusion that was always bound to fail, like the swords he dreamed of as a child that always seemed to bend like rubber when he needed them to fight. The screaming baby in him had to accept what it was, a bastard, an unwanted bastard, and so be it. Enough of the crying, enough of the self harm.

He took his hand away from the phone. This is it, he said to himself, you can make a choice. Emotion is decision, it can be that way.

Below him were crooked rocks, deposits of natural history, some trees were growing out of the cliff side. He was sick of the sound of cicadas, but they started anyway. They were determined, but how ignoble a life they had, to wait for so long underground and then have so little freedom once they had surfaced from the earth. Dara at least had time, he had time to put things right. Cicadas didn’t. There were holes in the plot that he could fill, space to be subjugated.

He stood up and walked towards the edge of the cliff. He looked at the rocks, the ocean, the bottle in his hand, his legs, and thought to himself ‘the death drive is strong in me’, which made him laugh as he contemplated the film Star Wars. It felt like a modicum of freedom, the fact he could jump, or not jump, and it was not the decision, but the indecision, that made him feel better.

“Dara!” shouted Sting from behind him, which startled Dara so much he almost lost his footing.

“What the fuck are you doing… you mad twat?”

Sting and Ratty stood behind him, both of them completely still, as if a movement would send Dara over the edge. Dara realised that they probably thought he was thinking about jumping off. It might look that way, the bottle in his hand corroborating a suicide. He thought about telling them that he wasn’t thinking about jumping, only the possibility of it, but he didn’t. He couldn’t change now what they had already most likely concluded, and anyway, they had that tacit agreement not to broach serious matters such as thoughts of suicide. Even now that seemed unbreakable.

“I’m just having a drink and looking at the sea… I’m on holiday.”

“Sit down, you look wasted.”

They all sat squashed together on a wooden bench, Dara in the middle, forced by Ratty’s heavy bulk into Sting’s boney ribs.

“I’m ok.”

“Why the fuck did you come out here?” asked Sting.

“I think you might have been doing a few too many disappearing acts Daz, every time we close our eyes you’re off,” said Ratty.

“To look at the ocean… and I went to find the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project but it wasn’t there.”

“Wasn’t where? That’s not even on the island, it’s on the mainland,” Ratty said smiling sympathetically.

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is. We passed it just before we got to the pier.”

“But I thought it was just around the corner…I saw that French guy.”

“What French guy?”

“The one on homemade crutches.”

“I think you’ve been hitting that rum a bit too hard.”

That was true, thought Dara, but he was sure it was the same French guy.

“Crutches made of sticks.”

Ratty and Sting didn’t say anything and thought better of collusive eye contact. The three sat for a minute in silence, Sting and Dara unnerved by Dara’s latest proclamation, while Dara was perplexed, still sure the project was close by.

It seemed all three men were looking at the same thing as Dara pondered drinking more rum. Silently they all focused on those cuts on his legs.

“Nothing fucking matters that much Dara,” said Sting, now looking upwards towards Dara’s face.

“I know,” Dara replied, “I know that.”

Dara looked at the bottle again, it was poison.

“I think a ‘night off’ might be in order,” he told Ratty and Sting, “why don’t we go to that restaurant that doesn’t exist?” All over the island the three had seen signs and advertisements for Yao Noi’s famous crab restaurant though they had never found it.

“Crabs are tricky fuckers,” said Ratty.

“I’m good with that,” said Dara.

Ratty looked at Sting, not Dara, as he knew what he was about to say might be risqué: “We might even see that Frenchman on crutches.” Both Ratty and Sting looked at Dara awaiting the response. Dara just nodded his head.

Each embraced at the pier. Sting and Ratty were going to Koh Phi Phi nearby. Dara had to get back to Chiang Mai to work. He was sad to see them go.

“See you in a few years,” said Sting.

Dara looked at Sting and wondered if the man had changed much, he looked not too dissimilar in appearance to the 15 year old he had sat in math class with. They had grown up, ostensibly, that’s how things worked, but the passing of time didn’t erase the child, the present always had a foothold on the past. Behind the older face Sting’s childhood remained visible to Dara.

“Ratty, it was good to meet you.”

“You too squire…stay away from knives.”

“I will.”

“And stay away from rum.”

“I am.”

Dara got in the taxi and waved goodbye.

“See you in the Dark Arches Dara,” Sting shouted as Dara’s window closed.

“Not likely mate.”

The car pulled away and within minutes Dara found himself back in his Thai skin talking to the taxi driver about Yinglack Shinawatra, the new female Thai PM. He needed time to adjust, to feel comfortable in his Thai outfit.

After while Dara purposely drained the conversation they were having, until he and driver sat silently looking at the long road ahead that led to the highways of Phuket. Dara caught sight of the sign in the distance, the sign for the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project.

“Do you know that place,” Dara asked the taxi driver.

“No, well, a little bit.”

“What do they do in there?”

“They take care of monkeys I think, gibbons.”

“Take care, how?”

“I don’t know.”

Dara really had no idea why he had become so obsessive about that place. It seemed silly now, now they had passed it. Still, he thought, I’m going to search for it on the internet when I get home.

“Can I come see you in Chiang Mai,” the taxi driver asked Dara as they neared the airport, “we can go for a drink.”

It might have been strange in England to request something like this to a stranger, but this was Thailand, and so Dara said, “Yeah, give me a call if you’re ever up in Chiang Mai.” And they exchanged phone numbers.

He had a few hours to wait for his flight, and had no choice, other than sit in the terminal, than to find a place in a pub where the prices of drinks were criminally inflated. Groups of westerners sat animatedly, each tattooed with their own brand of uniqueness. The westerners talked loudly, they expressed themselves, talking almost at a pitch so others could hear them in the bar. It seemed as if they were pushing an identity on themselves, wrestling for an identity, making sure anyone nearby knew what they were, what kind of people they were.

The Thais in the pub on the other hand sat quietly, they looked at their phones and tablets and browsed through pictures, exonerated from the present, instilling in themselves a joy at realizing they had had a good time, because the photos were proof. The pleasures lie in the fact, not the act. A good time was being had by all it seemed, they just had different MOs.

As Dara was thinking about this an old women sitting opposite him turned to a man sat in the group of young westerners. The woman was ugly, she had probably grown more ugly than she had expected, she looked as though she had done some miles travelling around the world.

“Do you speak English? I need some help.” she asked the man, a stocky Scandinavian

The man, sat on the peripheries of the group, gave a look to the others as if to say, ‘why me?’ and ignored the old women.

The woman recognized what had happened. She didn’t look the part anymore. She had probably been as loud and full of confidence as the young people she was sat next to once, but now she was anathema to young fashionable people. Resignedly she looked at her computer screen again.

When the group left Dara purposefully caught the attention of the old women. She noticed him and asked him if she could help him.

“I can’t make this text big enough to read, and there’s no box here to make it bigger,” she told Dara.

“Ok,” said Dara, and he looked at the screen.

“I’m trying to send an email back home,” said the woman.

“Yeah,” he said, “If you click this you can choose 200% and it will enlarge the text…there you go.”

“Thank you so much,” she said, “I am really dumb with these things.”

“So am I.”

“Thanks”

“No problem.”

Dara went for a smoke. When he came out of the empty smoking room the woman was leaving.

“Thank you again,” she said to him.

“No worries,” he said.

He felt wooden, he felt he had no role in his surroundings, as if he were a prop, not a person. He wasn’t sure what his place was in all of this. What was he supposed to do? He felt like an imposter all the time, he was a series of insincere people and none of them seemed to fit him. He’d never been able to stand the sound of his own voice, this was because it didn’t sound how he thought it should sound. Others he met seemed to fit so comfortably in their skin, why didn’t he feel this way?

Dara’s phone then beeped. He thought it might be the girl, but it was a message from Sting, with a photo attached.

Dara looked at the photo and saw Sting and Ratty stood above him the night he was threatened with a gun. As he lie outside their hut on the floor, sleeping under Sting’s Union Jack towel, both of them looked at the camera with their thumbs up, smiling.

“Next time don’t leave the bar,” said the message.

It was a good end to the trip, it fitted. Everyone had their secrets, but they were coming clean.

He took out a notepad from his backpack, and found a pen. The notebook was empty. He’d brought it with him foolishly thinking he might write a poem or something while on the island.

At the top of the first page he wrote, ‘The Gibbon Rehabilitation Project’.

 

 

©James Austin Farrell 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Short Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

An Illustrated Guide to a Possible Future by James Austin Farrell

If the world doesn’t end December 21st 2012 we will have to get on with our lives. Some interpretations of the Mayan calendar have said ‘the end’ means not destruction in a literal sense, but in a figurative sense, meaning we will start a ‘New Age’. If that’s true, we might wonder what new age is ahead of us. The ancients could not imagine how we live now, so can we imagine the future of the world? Can we imagine a world with no money, no marriage, or no murder? Many philosophers, scientists, (conspiracy+)theorists think we are at a turning point (some say ‘tipping point’) in our civilisation right now a propos what we consume (+believe), how we consume, who consumes what.

Maybe the Mayans were right…

Utopia: the good news

The word utopia means a kind of perfect society. A man called Thomas More first used it – having taken the word from Greek – when he wrote about a perfect society in his 1516 book ‘Utopia’.

  • It is a widely held belief that humans work within a set of systems which will always be outdated, then hopefully the emergent ideas create an improved form of civilisation. All societies will share similar instruments: an example being beliefs in Gods, the rise of feminism, consumerism, etc, but these will all become antiquated, or improved upon. We combine to create something better, towards an end goal (what the Ancient Greeks called Telos).

  • Some futurists (scientists who predict the future) believe in a post-scarcity society, which means a world where we will not be fighting for natural resources and other material things. This will not be a monetary system civilisation, it will be a cashless society. Money means debt in the current fractional banking system, while debt plays a part in subjugating poor countries (rather than the old school invade and conquer method), and so creates universal contempt and hardship. A monetary system establishes fear, not love of one another, corruption, masters and slaves (not equals) we are told. Heightened technology can produce a society where we hardly work, where we use alternative, lasting, clean energies; it can create our goods with little human labour, and produce our food, and we can amply share it all. Technicians will save the day, not politicians and bankers, or even Gods, whom we will have no use for in the future. In the meantime the general population will enjoy a more leisured life in a new, cashless, crimeless, thoughtful environment, creating better technologies, and live happier ever after. Sound good? If you want to know more about this look at The Venus Project and their thoughts on “redesigning civilisation”.

 

 

  • A Romantic Philosopher called Georg Wilhelm Hegel believed in a happy ending for the world, where humanity will reach a point of what he called ‘Pure Spirit’, or ‘Absolute knowing’: our end point. We basically keep getting things wrong until one day we get it right. He called this the End of History. We can’t imagine this perfect world now, as at present we are stuck in this imperfect world and can only imagine things based on what we already know.  He says if we can understand his book ‘Phenomenology of Spirit’ then we can enter into our Pure Spirit. Unfortunately no one understands his book.
  • Some current philosophical romantics think we ought to get back to nature, to embrace nature, but also embrace technology. They often quote the transcendentalists Henry David Thoreau and Waldo Emerson, men who both believed people are slaves to politics, propaganda, debt, and need to escape repressive political systems and enlighten themselves (transcend). We are all part of nature, ONE, atoms that were once stars, and so maybe we could accept this and be kinder to one another and the earth itself. Buddha was a kind of ancient transcendentalist. British poet William Wordsworth in his book The Prelude talked about a “marriage with nature” which was arguably a precursor to the ‘Green Movement’. Our modern salvation depends on us not just thinking outside of the box, but living outside of it for a while, too.

 

  • A modern outcome of Hegel was the American cultural theorist Francis Fukuyama, who claimed the age of Liberal Humanist Capitalism heralded the end of the “historical plot”, meaning he thought that our present democratic capitalist system was the final system. Many people now think he was wrong.

 

  • Karl Marx also read Hegel and believed he could apply his economic theory to creating the ‘perfect system’; a few people still think he was right.

But there are many problems concerning Utopias:

  • Some scientists don’t believe in perfection at all, but they believe in things like paradigm shifts, so even though we may not create a perfect world, we will keep coming up with different solutions to problems and continually improve life. But the problem is sometimes we don’t know if our modernity is actually a good or bad thing. The stronger culture (hegemonic culture) will lead the future creating the world in its own image, but is that necessarily good? For instance, is social media improving our world? Should we embrace US economic ideology? Nazi ideology also believed it was improving the world.
  • Michael Foucault said we are forever trapped in history, so what we think is good, bad, mad, fair, dumb, sexy, silly, evil, fashionable, is dictated to us by time and place. This asks you to really question what you believe, and understand you might be something similar to an automaton (robot), meaning your ideas about life are all kind of implanted by circumstance.
  • Some people called pragmatists think there is no such thing as truth, only that we have words to explain truth, and language is an always developing human construct, not absolute truth. This form of pragmatism is called Ironism. They believe we can get over fundamentalist, damaging beliefs by accepting that we are progressive as a species. We might always be wrong, but we can at least be better.
  • It’s also very important, say some other thinkers, to realise that when one person describes the meaning of a word such as ‘good’, ‘justice’, or ‘perfect’, it is always different from another person’s interpretation of those words. We are never on the same page. This is problematic.

Super Technology

  • Technological Utopians think that technology will make life better for us.
  • Eugenics, which means trying to improve humans by hereditary breeding, is outlawed, though some people still believe in breeding ‘better ‘ societies. A kind of Brave New World.
  • Genetically engineering humans will improve the world, we are told by transhumanists. We will become superhuman and use our new capabilities to improve civilisation.
  • Exropians believe in an Exropia where people will live indefinitely in the future, have no need for personal property, be more intelligent, believe in the value of heightened technology, sustainability, and work towards a shared goal of creating even better technologies. The Extropist Manifesto can be found online.
  • Singularitarianism is a belief that one day computers will be cleverer than humans, and this could be very good for us, as they can figure out how to solve our problems. Though some people think this is dangerous, especially Hollywood. Watch Terminator, where machine hubris doesn’t bode well for our flesh and bones.

Dystopia – the bad news

The depletion of natural resources, natural disasters, economic catastrophes, war, may persuade us to believe that our Telos might be to self-destruct. The phrase ‘we are a virus’ has become a bit of a cliché, but for good reason.

All great cultures, some people say, will decline (declinism) by nature of human folly, but will the whole of humanity succumb to decline because of our greed, apathy, or stupidity? In Alexi de Touqeville’s 1835 renowned book Democracy in America he extolled much of the American “unique” democratic system, which he proposed was superior to any other political system yet created. But he had his doubts about an irreconcilable and self-interested ‘division’ between political beliefs (right and left), which he feared could create hostility and inequities. His fears, many people argue today, have become a reality. “America is great because it is good,” Touqeville once said, “but if she ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” The American equality, freedom of expression, freedom of press, etc, that Touqeville praised is coming under fire by not only political commentators, but by people as I write this protesting in the streets. George Orwell, about 100 years later, was not so enamoured with Powerful Governments. Some critics feel that Orwell’s 1984 vision of a dystopia, replete with omnipresent surveillance (social networks), coercive news propaganda, and even room 101 style torture has become “a reality in America today”.

But these things we can mend, change, improve, some other things we cannot:

  • We may commit omnicide (humans destroying themselves) perhaps by making a big enough bomb, or even by creating a black hole we all get sucked into.

8.

  • Some conspiracy theorists tell us the New World Order will create a more enslaved society, that will have to fight for the scraps it is left by the super-rich autocrats, bankers, army generals and…Secret societies made up of rich elites (the Illuminati) are aiming to rule the world we are told, while poisoning our drinking water and generally do very bad things.
  • Evil: Evil usually accommodates history: it might be a devil, a plague, a hurricane, a witch, a flood, HIV, nuclear weaponry, Michael Jackson, and for some people now it is the illuminati. Many Christians believe in The Rapture, when at the ‘End of Times’ the goodies will be scooped up to heaven and the baddies sent to live for eternity in Pattaya…I mean Hell.
  • Global Warming: Environmentalists tell us that if we carry on the way we do then the Himalayan glaciers will melt due to global warming by about 2350 and a large amount of the world’s population will be living in a kind of Waterworld.
  • Or a Super Volcano could erupt and destroy much of the planet. Some scientists have said the SV at Yellowstone Park is an accident waiting to happen. While the England team might not be able to play in an away match, many of us will choke on dust, and a nuclear winter will ensue when the ash clouds block out the sun’s rays. It will be a very depressing time. Like living in Wolverhampton.
  • Peak oil theory leads to a breakdown of agriculture and we all starve. The elites remain underground with a thousand years worth of champagne and foie gras.
  • A super bacteria is a possible threat, if not a red heron that makes investors lots of money. Our immune systems are gradually weakened by overuse of antibiotics, and may be one day a less common kind of cold will wipe us out. Superbugs are in form these days making appearances in the film Contagion and loads of zombie films. A killer flu for some Christians might also be the Wrath of God, or pestilence, as can be read in the thriller: Book of Revelations.

  • Hypernova. The explosion of a very big star sends radiation flying all over the place for millions of light years. A bad scenario.
  • A meteorite (massive impact) was too big for T-Rex, and one might kill off the human race too. Out of all the Doomsday Scenarios this is the one thought to be most realistic. It’s said that about every 10,000,000 years we get whacked by a massive piece of mineral. Imagine a small town falling on your head. Astronomers often see big meteorites in the earth’s atmosphere, but they generally stay out of our way. If they hit water, that’s when you worry about mega-tsunamis.
  • Mega-tsunamis could produce unimaginably big waves. A lot of water to run away from. A huge rock slide or asteroid hit could possibly cause a mega-tsunami 3 kms high. Only in 1958 did a rock slide into water create waves of almost 550 metres high in Alaska. There was one male witness, and a dog.
  • Entropy. One of my favourite words that I don’t quite understand. I think it means that everything that has energy will break down and the lost energy will turn into heat. The universe will eventually become lethargic, as perpetual motion can’t exist, and it’ll get really hot and we will all die of heat death. Much worse than heat rash. This is highly unlikely. Entropy shouldn’t stop you saving for the future.
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Handsome Men*Invisible Women

Image
If you ever felt a pang of shame at the cinema in Thailand when you heard such words as ‘she’s as loose as a Bangkok whore’, or a similar defamatory witticism in reference to Thailand’s bawdy image, you can put your conscience at ease. Thai subtitles are not usually so brash, while – and to some extent therefore – many of the locals sitting near to you may not be aware that their country’s most talked about attraction is prostitution.
 
In spite of Thailand’s sex industry being emblematic of the country externally, internally the game and the players are hardly sensationalised, or even discussed critically. It goes on with a volley of collaborative winks between users, suppliers, non-consumers and law enforcers, who have all learned to turn their blind eyes to – or take advantage of – the nominal law and its moral precursors, for myriad reasons.
 
Marketing departments might be working hard in an attempt to purge Thailand of its lusty image though it will be exceptionally difficult to undermine, or even openly admonish something that is continually very profitable, and also implicitly accepted as common practice within the parameters of double-sided cultural values. For this reason the sex industry has somewhat become the country’s worst kept secret.

It was reported by the Harvard Business Review in 2000 that around sixty percent of tourists visit Thailand for sex, and so TAT’s counter-active pastoral slogans will always be playing catch-up to seedier images of the country, whether true or not. On the other hand it has also been argued by various critics that those beautiful and demure smiling girls in certain TV advertising campaigns, and other international marketing initiatives, are complicit with the sex industry and indirectly associated with sex tourism. Perhaps to please a varied target audience an ambiguous image needs to be preserved, that is both innocent and sexy. The Land of Smiles may have been a work of marketing genius.

Outspoken critic, Professor Federico Ferrara, author of Thailand Unhinged, writes about a nationalised, fuzzy perception of sexual morality in Thailand: “For anyone who has ever spent any time in Bangkok, to read the ongoing debates on morality and sex in the editorial pages of Thai newspapers is essentially to venture into a parallel universe – a petty bourgeois black hole whose existence is quite distinct from the everyday reality of Bangkok’s busy streets. Even as the country was being transformed by its rulers into a degenerate open-air bordello – a veritable beggars’ banquet – the Thai press has spent much of the past century nostalgically lamenting the decline of Thai culture…” His criticism is not of sex work, but of a part of society’s inability to conceive of its own norms, partly as a result of a consistently naive and blundering process of socialisation. This has created a kind of force-field that blurs the more realistic image of culture, and so is helping to prolong the lack of substantial (other than sex work) opportunities for the poor to egress from their social bunkers.

Prostitution is ubiquitous throughout Thailand. It is also illegal (since 1960), and in a sense due to the so-called rules of Thai decency, it remains self-contradictorily immoral, mostly in view of commandments concerning female chastity. Contradictions abound. A hypocrisy often raised by critics is: How do women righteously protect their virginity until married, while men fulfill their masculine promiscuous obligations?

The Ministry of Justice in 2003 did consider legalising prostitution to minimise its more venal, inhumane, and criminal elements, while looking at gaining huge tax returns, though it never happened. It’s also well known, and has been widely reported, that the vast majority of Thai male politicians indulge in prostitution. To promote enforcing the law, or to even condemn prostitution, would be outright hypocrisy for some advocates, and also a great loss to their senses.

Because Thailand is a country that for the most part collectively embraces the ‘iceberg theory’ we know that the infamous poles of Pattaya, and the miasmas of vaginally discharged cigarette smoke of Soi Cowboy, are certainly just the very gaudy tip of an often less spectacular underside of prostitution. The ‘you handsome man’ genre of the sex business, though a large chunk of tourist revenue, plays a minor supporting role compared to its more discreet Thai counterpart. During the Vietnam War foreign soldiers pumped an estimated 16 million dollars of their wages into the Thai sex-economy – the catalyst of en-masse sex tourism – but the majority of prostitutes in Thailand work not in the spotlight with wayfaring foreign travellers, but at the end of the lane with local customers.

Cast
Dr. Nitet Tinnakul, while working at Chulalongkorn University, wrote in 2004 that the sex industry employed 2.8 million people in Thailand, including approximately 2 million women, 20,000 adult males, and 800,000 minors under the age of 18. These seem like disproportionate numbers when you consider the population of Thailand. But the sex industry employs many kinds of workers, such as cleaning staff, promoters, etc.

Prostitution anyway is a nebulous word. What actually defines prostitution? ‘Services’ may be rendered in flowery circumstances between the benefactors and the sponsored, tempered with romantic interims, though coitus on a pro rata basis might still be the essential nature of the act. If this is sex work, statistics will always beguile us. The now retired Dr. Nitet told me that prostitution can mean “many things”, from “working in a bar, karaoke, massage parlour,” or what he plainly called “service.”

In his book Paying for It Garth Mundinger-Klow writes that European sailors reported about Siamese prostitution as early as the 16th century. In the late 19th century F.A. Neale’s book Residence in Siam explains how fathers traditionally took their unmarried 13 year old (“having reached their expiration date”) daughters to their shops to “be sold to the highest bidder”, or the even worse fate of being “sold to Arab merchants”. Female infanticide (“nose pinching”) and abandonment have also been reported in studies of northern villages as ways to off-load excess baby daughters in the past. It is said that the process of dok keaw, parents promising their daughters to buyers – after a down payment is made at a young age – until they have ‘ripened’, was practiced in northern Thailand until the mid ’90s.

 
In light of this, the freedom to sell oneself might be looked upon as a kind of modernity that is a vast improvement against the vagaries of cold, and self-serving, paternalism. If poverty in the past ruled unmarried girls a bane to their families, then has modern prostitution reversed the curse? Admittedly, with circumstances for poor women still being dire.
 
The early 20th century saw women’s bodies for sale in the Siamese 50 satang brothels. The luxurious arb ob nuad became popular as early as the 1940s, and what one young Thai man I interviewed called Ae referred to as the “wanking massage”, is fast becoming popular today. After reading one of many indecisive statistics concerning prostitution in Thailand I asked Ae if it could be true that, “95% of Thai men over 21 have visited a prostitute,” and he replied, “Yeah, I guess. My friends do it, if they win at gambling, then they go to arb ob nuad.”
 
One particular term used for exceptionally attractive girls who may temporarily commoditise their bodies is ‘sideline’, pronounced in Thai with the omission of the ‘d’ and ‘n’ sounds (sie-lie). Rumours of spectacular sidelines (purportedly mostly students) have become near to mythical all over Thailand (the Golden Fleece in Chiang Mai being a book of photos consisting of young students). The cost of a sideline is high due to their putative innocence and often chimerical nature. Blogs and websites with sidelines offering services are full of ‘normal’ girls with day jobs or upcoming exams, complaining about lack of funds. A sideline is a ‘luxury’ item, Ae explains, not a ‘garee’ (whore). Morally speaking, a sideline is contrived to be a better class of prostitute, if thought of as a prostitute at all.

How we construe prostitution will always be flapping in the wind somewhat. A child that is sold to a brothel, and a girl who decides to have ‘conditional’ sex with men, offer up very different social and moral implications. One is a universal human tragedy, while the other might be seen as taking initiative, or perhaps viewed as a socio-economic tragedy. Slavery and entrepreneurship are in direct opposition to each other.

Dr. Nitet explained that women, “become prostitutes for economic reasons, and lack of education�It can’t be legalised as society still doesn’t accept it. Women can’t admit they do it, it’s a loss of their dignity.”

Happy Ending
Empower, an organisation empowering and supporting sex workers throughout Thailand, sees absolutely no reason for this aforementioned loss of dignity. Liz Hilton, who has been with Empower since 1992, and helps run the Can Do Bar (run by sex workers for sex workers) in Chiang Mai Land, outlined more clearly to me the local sex industry.

“From 1992-95 there were still some locked brothels in Chiang Mai that kept women,” she explains, though the brothel culture mainly consisted of hilltribe, Burmese or Chinese migrants. “By 1994 there were no Thais in locked brothels,” Hilton says.

“When the new prostitution laws came in the long rehabilitation law was changed to a 1,000 baht fine, this made it so the police couldn’t extort a lot of money from the girls.” The threat of three years in prison gave police leverage in ‘taxing’ sex workers, says Hilton, though the 1,000 baht fine stopped this. The police soon changed tactics, she says, and knowing that most girls were undocumented in the brothels they changed from “extortion for prostitution, to harbouring undocumented migrants.” This in effect closed down all the brothels. “The economic pressures on brothel owners went up with all the illegal women working for them, and because of child labour crackdowns the police had a reason to regularly raid brothels.”

So women then went out on the streets and into places like karaoke bars. “The women had freedom of movement,” says Hilton. “In the last 3 years we have found only one case of enforced labour in a closed brothel. The industry has developed. But with no political will, it just changed by itself. Imagine development with political will and social support!”

Hilton advocates decriminalising prostitution, for the implementation of labour laws, improving working conditions, having social security for workers, and improving occupational health and safety for workers. Decriminalisation may also prevent the police from corralling their regular under-the-table bounties – a kind of taxation without representation.

The industry is vital to the economy of Thailand, Hilton says, but it’s also vital to the police as it is now in its state of illegal limbo. “The industry supports the police force, every sex worker in Thailand pays the police, whether directly or indirectly,” she says.

But if its illegality were to become a reality, then Thailand would suffer a social and economic catastrophe says Hilton. “300,000 working women, what would happen to them?” she asks. Most of the prostitutes Hilton works with support 5-8 other adults, “Imagine 300,000 women out of work supporting 5 adults!? There are a lot of people anti-this and that, we know what they don’t want, but we don’t know what they are offering. They want to take girls out of one cage, and put them in another cage.”
 
Hilton’s analogy concerning the necessity of the sex industry is simple. Imagine impoverished girls receiving a menu of opportunities for life much like the scant menu of a noodle stall, and more affluent members of society receiving the menu of a large restaurant. Sex work works for those with very little realistic opportunities in life to become independent and support family members who have only paltry (500 baht a month if approved) government assistance in old age.
 
Hilton then introduced me to Wan, a young Chiang Mai karaoke worker. Wan says she enjoys her job, although she is not too keen on some of her working conditions: “I get dressed and made-up for 6 p.m. If I’m not made-up and in on time I get fined five baht for every minute I’m late,” she says, explaining her employers use the clock-card system to properly enforce this rule. “It’s a big business,” she explains, “there is PR, mama-sans, service staff and managers.”

Wan explains that she must meet a monthly quota of 60 drinks bought for her and have 50 hours of sitting time with men (many nationalities and every conceivable occupation). “If I don’t reach this target my salary is cut,” she says, and then explains to me that if her job was recognised as a job under labour laws there legally could be no such thing as wage cuts for apparent misdemeanours or failure of monthly objectives.

“I get about 20,000 baht a month, and most of that goes on my house, car, clothes, make-up, and family,” says Wan, and explains that she enjoys her financial independence. “Every job has difficulties,” she says, “no one likes their job all the time. Sometimes we have really drunk customers, often the policemen, and they make it hard for us and the manager when they don’t want to pay. I don’t have to go home with a customer if I don’t want to, and I am under no pressure to do that from the boss. I just have to meet my quota.”

As for the stigma she says, “When I go back to my village, which is poor, and I have a car, I have money, and I can make sure my parents don’t have to work hard, people don’t look down on me, they’re envious.”

Wan has also worked taking care of children; she used to mend clothes, and she has worked in factories. She doesn’t feel she is a victim. “This service is not so different from the dowry system, except now I earn the money myself, a man doesn’t give it to my family. I have freedom and choice, and the payments keep coming in. It’s not just one payment.”

“Do you want to say anything else,” I ask Wan, as she must get ready for a night’s work.

“Yeah, don’t forget a big tip.”

“We don’t want the government to go to bed with us,” Hilton insists, and repeats that she wants to see prostitution decriminalised, not legalised. “We need laws against rape, or child abuse, or violence, but often laws against prostitution just create another opportunity for extortion by the police.”

 
The refreshingly outspoken Australian says that the sex business is something most people still feel coy about despite its preponderance. “The foreigners say it’s a Thai thing, and the Thais say it’s a foreign thing,” Hilton explains humourously, “everyone passes it around like a hot potato.” Though the girls who work in the sex industry, she explains, are not ashamed about the matter and are quite open. The stigma she says is more acute in the daytime, at nighttime it’s different.”
 
Politicians, doctors, most men, see prostitutes in Thailand,” Hilton explains, “but after a lot of crap was said about HIV and AIDS being spread by female sex workers, the stats went down to 16% of Thai men.” During the HIV epidemic and the global publicity it received statistics were rehashed so that blame for the disease could not be ascribed to Thai male customers, says Hilton.
 
People should get rid of this image of all the women being victims she says, “it is not at all true”, and adds that women sometimes feel obliged to take on this image of the sad, victimised prostitute to reflect the theories of a myopic public, and also to consolidate Thai society’s mandatory, often hypocritical moralism that asserts prostitutes and promiscuous sex are immovably mai dee.

This evening as nightfall descends on Thailand shining fairy lights will speckle a network of beat-up roads and stretch around an entire country like a series of electric arteries; within a few hours of Thailand’s karaoke bars turning the switch the high-heeled prostitutes of Rue Saint-Denis in Paris will have unofficially clocked-in, and a few hours later in the predominantly middle-class cloisters of leafy Ottawa suburbs, police will be out looking for girls utilising their reproductive organs as a means to make money. Meanwhile laws are repealed, amended, and reformed almost all over the globe on a yearly basis, and are consistently basis for sincere moral ambivalence, religious rhetoric, and interminable controversy.

While severe poverty coupled with the absence of social welfare is certainly a direct stimulator of the sex industry, it can’t be said to be the sole reason for it. Governments in some countries have advanced the blanket victimisation stance, or have bypassed their laissez-faire embarrassment, and through regulations have afforded sex workers improved safety, labour rights, and independence from unscrupulous agents. More so, taxation with representation (especially Thailand) in such a mammoth industry could create substantial revenue to be re-thread into society. Perhaps in the future sex workers might not have to extend an embittered closed palm to the many reaching hands of a police force that continually finds ways to exploit the law.

The stigma attached to promiscuous sex is in some ways inhuman. It is our ceaseless virility that ensures the industry of the human race remains intact. Taboos are just protracted toothaches, they require treatment. So rather than embrace the verdict handed down to us from centuries of ‘enlightened’ moralists concerning the vice of voluntary sex work, these so far counterintuitive principles might be subdued and we can accept a human condition while administering human rights to it. Maybe then there might be a happy ending, or at least a better sequel, for the sex workers of Thailand.

 
by James Austin Farrell
 
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Robbie Fowler Interview

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
                                                                                                                                                 In terms of global recognisability, Robbie Fowler is arguably the most well known expat working in Thailand today. The ex-Liverpool and England football prodigy who, during his days at Anfield was known by fans and the press (when he was in their graces) as ‘God’, is regularly extolled as being one of the greatest football players England has ever produced. Fowler, now 36 years old, has somewhat miraculously ended up on Thai turf, playing at Thailand’s highest profile club Muangthong Untited (MTUTD).The ‘God’ epithet you could argue was well deserved when you consider Fowler’s sporting achievements. He scored 183 goals for Liverpool and is the fourth highest goal scorer in the history of the Premiership, while he also holds the record for the Premiership’s fastest ever hat-trick, bagging three goals against Arsenal in just four minutes and thirty three seconds. He bears an accolade that only the recently furnished Wayne Rooney, and Ryan Giggs, can boast of, which is winning PFA ‘Young Player of the Year’ award twice (in a row in Fowler’s case), and he was also capped 26 times for England, scoring seven goals.His popularity, and in some people’s eyes infamy, soared in England when during a match against Everton he mimicked a snorting action, of the narcotic kind, against the white line around the penalty area after scoring a goal. Everton fans had earlier been taunting him concerning his alleged cocaine use. Fowler, with other premiership players, was regularly painted as a ‘bad boy’ player by the scavenger ilk tabloid newspapers in the UK. With Fowler now playing football in perhaps the bad boy capital of the world, you might wonder if some tabloids have a ‘man’ in the nation’s capital hoping that Fowler will provide them with a ‘money shot’. Fowler himself, it is reported, has no money problems being the third richest (estimated worth: 31 million pounds) British Football player ever. He’s known for his property market savvy and at one point fans at football games would sing, “We all live in a Robbie Fowler house,” to the tune of Yellow Submarine. So, football fans might wonder, how on earth did he end up playing for Muangthong United?

Finding Robbie Fowler wasn’t particularly difficult. And in early September after booking into possibly Bangkok’s most run-down hotel, I taxied to the red and black stadium of Muangthong United.

When approached by a young chain-smoking office worker, who at first asked, “Who are you?” I wasn’t feeling particularly confident, in spite of arranging and confirming the interview with some kind of agent (who transpired, it seemed, to be a rogue agent).

“I have an appointment,” I told him, and the young man turned to another bemused staff member who also had absolutely no idea what, or who, Citylife was.

About one hour later he returned, and asked me, “Who do you support?”

I was going to say myself, and then considered saying my fantasy football team (Crystal Meth), but opted for Leeds United as that’s where I grew up and Fowler had been a prolific scorer for them in the few games he played with the team. “Good,” said the lad smiling, “because he said he won’t give interviews to (Manchester) United fans. ”

By 4 p.m. we had been shunted to back of the stands, and had been waiting three hours already. Could he have meant United, as in Leeds United? Surely not. “He’ll see you, but he has training,” said the office staff worker, still gripping onto a smoke. And so we sat at the back of the modern Muangthong ‘Yamaha’ stadium and watched the cars on the adjacent highway skim past the ridge of the Kop.

The players, Thai, African, and European, including Robbie Fowler, came onto the field and started kicking the ball around. We may well have stayed at the back of the stands all evening had I not gone down to call over to the trainer to ask for some time with new Muangthong star.

“No one told me you were coming, I have to train, sorry about that,” Fowler said. But he agreed to answer a few questions. Although somewhat guarded at first – I got the feeling he was hesitant to speak to me – he soon relaxed, and actually complimented me on my Thai language acumen after I said something to the Thai photographer. “You speak Thai well, better than me, well, of course better than me,” he said almost sheepishly. “I’ve been here a while,” I told him, and I thought, thanks, you’re not too bad at football either. I have to admit to haveing felt slightly star-struck, having played football all my life and watched Fowler’s face on TV for the last fifteen years or so.

“So, how’s it going, life here in Thailand?”

“Good,” he replied personably, “I’ve only been here only about 6 or 7 weeks, but I’ve enjoyed it so far.”

He explains that he’s only played three games of football, and started just one, while with the monsoon rains the pitches have also been water-logged, which he says “is not ideal, but I have to get used to it.”

He then talks about making the big move to Bangkok, a distance of approximately 9656.06 km from his birthplace of Toxteth, Liverpool. “The culture change is obviously massive, but with football you travel, I went on holidays with the family, travelled with the lads, so in way I knew what to expect.”

Fowler had played some football in Australia before Thailand and says that playing there helped him to get used to the weather. “The problem is the language here; it makes it easier when everyone speaks English. I don’t mind the heat, Australia was hot too, playing there gave me a good grounding. it’s just the language barrier that can be hard.”

I asked him about his status as a ‘deity’ and how that may have migrated with him: “You may have been a God at Anflield, but do you realise how popular you are here in Thailand, being Liverpool’s top goal scorer at a time where Liverpool were easily the most supported team?”

“I know Thais are passionate about football,” he says, “and have a good knowledge of the Premiership. It’s a privilege to be spoken about to be honest.”

Although his face is no longer weekly broadcast around the world he still has fans noticing him. “I haven’ really been out that much, just to a few shopping malls and stuff like that. But it only takes one person,” he says of people approaching him in public, “and then the floodgates open,” he adds, alluding to people wanting to take photographs with him.

In his short time here he admits that he is still not sure if this is the place he will lay his hat, or hang-up his boots. “Sure, it’s different from the UK, I mean it’s surreal watching elephants walking about in the street. It’s a good place for the kids though, the family like it. But I don’t know, you never know what’s around the corner.”

He then started to rise from the stadium seats in which we were sitting and kind of motioned that he had to get back to training. “Sorry about that he said, I really didn’t know you were coming,” his Toxteth inflections still firmly in place. “Well, enjoy Thailand, and good luck with the football.”

“Thanks,” he replied, and then jogged on to the pitch.

“Oh,” I said, “I nearly forgot. Can you say something nice about Leeds United?” I figured I’d do my bit for my long sundered air-ball opponents and ex-Service Crew friends who still religiously watch Leeds unglamorously underachieve week in week out under the pissing West Riding rain.

“I only played 24 games there, I was injured a lot, but I enjoyed my time there, everything was good. We had a fantastic team.”

There, that should make them happy.

And like that, he was gone.

Seven minutes with God. On returning back to a hotel, that was so old and battered I feared I might never make it out of the shower, I thought about the interview. I didn’t have chance to ask him many of things I wanted to talk about, mainly best players, worst moments, good times, bad newspapers, millionaires, babes, rich lists, the YTS scheme, cocaine (allegations!), sports savantism and the Toxteth riots. But there wasn’t enough time for that. I really did feel like I’d been chatting to an apparition.

 
by James Austin Farrell
Photo by Jakrit But-umka
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