Why I gave up being a stand up comedian.

I still remember the phone call. I was twenty-one years old and somehow I had failed to move out of my parents flat in Edinburgh. I sat at the bottom of the stairs holding the phone in front of me as the cats trotted past. I’d never been so scared. I dialed the number and waited. I half hoped I had the number wrong. “Hello, is that the Adam’s Apple comedy club?” The voice sighed and said yes. “I’d like to do a comedy gig, please” I hated myself for saying ‘comedy gig’, then hated the ‘please’, then hated the woman for not being an answering machine. “April 14th, what’s your name?” said the sighing woman. I told her and added that it was G R A E M E. I put the phone down and thought I should probably write some jokes.

I stopped being a comedian almost nine years ago and very flatteringly I’m still remembered by the odd turn as being the 90s answer to that unsuccessful guy that’s on the circuit now; The 2011 Graeme Swanson? Yeah him. Then there’s the question I hate: Why did you stop? I hate the question because I’m embarrassed. I hate the question because I don’t really know and I hate the question because the vague answer I’m about to give depresses the nipples off me. No one likes failure but I need to finally get this off my chest and on to other people’s. Let me begin, appropriately enough, somewhere just after the beginning.

In 1993, Shaggy was number one with Oh Carolina and Intel introduced the Pentium Microprocessor. Great days, great days…. Although I still lived in Scotland I had the advantage of having an English girlfriend in that fancy London, not only that but a girlfriend that worked in comedy and thought I was funny. She told me to follow my dreams, which meant move to London. I was assured everyone was hilarious down there. The phone call to the Adam’s Apple (don’t look for it, it’s not there anymore) was my way of making a commitment, not only to comedy but also to my girlfriend. Yes. I thought. To London! I packed my things in a handkerchief, tied it on a stick, booked a train ticket and thought about puns for genitals. Who doesn’t like genital puns?

I always wanted to be a comedian. My earliest memory is people laughing at the TV. I don’t know what it was. I want to say Morecombe and Wise or The Two Ronnies but I would have been in bed by then so it was probably something pantomimic like Rent-a-ghost.

Our laughs are genetic and unique; like sneezing and our O-face we can’t help it. I sounded like a cartoon dog and my brother sounded like a tiny witch. I needed to make that noise again. My childhood hero was Tex Avery, my first single was The Lumberjack Song, and my first girl-on-the-television-crush was Julia Hills from Who Dares Wins. I loved comedy is the general theme running through this paragraph.

Growing up in 80s Edinburgh meant I was lucky enough to see legends in the grey flesh. By fifteen, Jerry Sadowitz, Steven Wright and Emo Phillips were all ticked off in my comedians of the world spotters guide; Craig Ferguson bought me an Appletiser, I had a poster of Alexei Sayle on my wall and I once held a door open for Arnold Brown and he had thanked me too.

I knew what I wanted to do with my life but I had a problem: I was as about as funny as pencils. Well, I thought I was. The trouble was that because I had seen such incredible comics from such an early age, I couldn’t help but compare myself with them. At nineteen I saw Bill Hicks and remembered thinking I can’t possibly do this. A few months later something changed my mind; I saw someone terrible.

He was a bold, librarian of a man called Mr Amazing. I watched him in a hot, tight room in Edinburgh as he fought bravely with the crowd, the microphone and the carpet. He lost. I won. So I called the Adam’s Apple.

As it happened my first booking was not my first gig. That was at the Comedy Café in Shoreditch. An amateur stand-up contest they held every Wednesday. I can’t recall that much. The compare looked like Marc Almond played by Marc Riley. He politely led me from the stage when my one joke failed to get a laugh and I hadn’t even got to my penis pun. “Graeme”, said Marc, pointing at his wrist. The other comics were too scared to interact with each other so I’ve forgotten their names and acts. The winner that night was called Simon Peggs or something, I heard a rumour he went to sell cough syrup.

My second gig was a triumph. One of those gigs you hear about where every sound you make gets a laugh and you have no idea why. My third gig was equally good. The mike stand fell apart on me, and my efforts to fix it and talk simultaneously brought the house down. A promoter in the audience proved his ignorance of the word hyperbole and declared me the new Chaplin. I was given five gigs off the back of this. After the last of these gigs the promoter would glare at me and say “Why didn’t you do the mike bit? I was wrong about you. You’ll never be Chaplin” Unfortunately for him, and my girlfriend, by this stage I thought actually, I probably was. In a year I had gone from painfully shy nerd to a wildly arrogant attention-seeking prick (and nerd).

After a couple of years I started to become as good as I thought I was. A problem for new comics is if they start well they get cocky and start to ignore everything that cannot help their career, including girlfriends and friends. Every conversation involved finding the funny. I won the not in any way prestigious Strathmore water best new act award and then I became unbearable. I split up with my lovely supportive girlfriend and set myself up as an obsessive arsehole.

We took a show to Edinburgh. Myself and three other comics. One would MC and the others did a set. It went well, ish. We made twenty pounds and the woman from the Scotsman, who normally reviewed the ballet, called me genius to my face. But something inside died that Fringe. One evening I went to see Johnny Vegas at the Gilded Balloon. This was in the late nineties and Johnny was enormous. I flashed my ‘I’m a comedian’ card and stood at the back. Johnny came on to deafening applause, everything he did was surprising, magical and hilarious and I immediately burst into tears. Not tears of passion or manly something in my eye tears but heavy, heaving sobs. I ran out and stood in the alleyway, just long enough for Stewart Lee to ask me if I was alright. Never meet your heroes…especially when you can’t breath.

While my ego and my funny stayed in Edinburgh to touch each other up, I carried on down south. I was still ringing round for gigs and almost making a living but was I fooling myself. What I didn’t realise then was that my crying at Vegas was the start of a breakdown. I started to see my funny self as a separate part of my personality, a Hyde to my Jekyll, a Gil-Martin to my Wringhim. My funny blamed me for the bad gigs and was vainglorious for the good. I started to hate him but did exactly want he told me to do.

I found it harder and harder to get gigs. Picking up the phone made me feel sick. I only weigh eleven stone now, back then I was eight and a half. Nerves started to affect my eating habits. On gig days I had breakfast then nothing until midnight, the thought of anything else gave me the dry bokes and sleep became something I’d only read about.

I needed a break. I was offered a comparing job at one of the smallest and friendliest gigs in London. The Guilty Pea. On Saturdays I would go down and just talk between the acts. Sometimes I got paid; sometimes no audience would turn up, sometimes no acts. However, I remembered why I wanted to do it in the first place: Stand-up is brilliant.

Evil funny would not go away. He sat on the end of my bed, feeding Wotsits to my black dog. I had to kill him. Despite the easier gigs I felt I was no longer contributing to something I loved and if that’s the case then for fuck’s sake stop. The depression just would not leave. Maybe all the comedy did was bring out something that was already in me but I thought if I kill this then my depression would die with it. My last gig was in November 2002 at one of every comic’s favourite venues, Downstairs at The King’s Head in Crouch End. I did fifteen minutes and was paid fifty pounds. I went down okay. I was offered another gig and said no. I caught the W7 bus home and cried all over it.

Annoyingly I didn’t get better. I got worse. My black dogs shat everywhere and I ended up in therapy. Let me make this perfectly clear. This was not comedy’s fault. I am not someone that thinks depression only happens in showbusiness.

But I found when I came out the other side; I’m better now by the way, I didn’t want to go back. I had gotten it out of my system…mostly. Stand up still haunts me. Sometimes I fantasise of doing a class in stand-up comedy. I wouldn’t say I’d done it before, I could just see if I could still…show the kids how it’s done…maybe not. I find stand-up hard to watch now and I twitch like a war veteran whenever I see a mic stand.

Donald

tynecastle

The street where Donald Morrison lived with is mother is called Robber’s Vennel. It hides in the old part of the city. It is halfway down the street from the castle. There is a hole here. To be honest it’s more of gap, a gap that cannot be seen from above. Above it is a bridge named after one of the Georges. Its low walls and steep surrounding buildings play a cruel trick. Before electric lights made the place safer, escaping pickpockets and thieves would often jump over the wall at either ends of the bridge, thinking they had escaped, only to spatter to their deaths one hundred feet below. Nowadays, trams go down to the hole and most of them come out. It has become a magnet for tourists and nightclubs but it is still dark down there: shadowed, gothic and Dickensian. In the cold misty evenings you suddenly feel alert and find you’re not as entirely as convinced as you were a moment ago, that ghosts and night-time things do not exist.

At the end of Robber’s Vennel Donald Morrison is waking up. He is thirteen years old. The first thing he did was to check the curtains for the man, the man who was there last night. Donald was sure he’s seen something. It was a man with a hooked nose and a hooked chin, and he stood in the corner of his room, hiding behind the thick yellow curtains. Donald remembered seeing the man’s chest move up and down as he breathed. Actually, maybe he was being stupid? But he thought it’s best to check.

Last night Donald had sat on the window ledge and stared into the night. He thought the night was a good place for things to happen and if often did. Last week some people vanished from the cinema. No one talks about the cinema now, not even at school.

The tram in this town is long and grey, with an aqua blue line shaped like a lightning bolt splayed across its side. Its most cheerful feature is a happy sounding bell. “Ding-Ding,” said a little boy at Donald’s ear, “Ding-ding!” Donald wanted no interruptions. Justine Frazer’s house was coming up and he needed to prepare himself. “Ding-Ding!” And there she was. Donald stared at her pale, freckled face. Every day he hated her freckles. Not because of what they were but because of where they were. They were carried around on her wonderful face all day. They looked so perfectly placed Donald wondered if they were put there on purpose. There is no doubt, however, about her eyes, shy and as green as cabbage. Donald was scared of how much he loved her. She turned down the passageway to school. He watched her black, black hair swing slowly away from him.

Ross Stark was by the school gates, waiting for his twin. When Garrick arrives they throw insults at whoever they can. As Donald passed Garrick appeared behind him. The brothers muttered to each other that Donald was a ‘gay poof.’ He used to tell them that he wasn’t a gay poof but they had worn him down over the weeks, and now he lets them get on with it. Garrick Stark had long boney fingers and he used them to wrap into a circle and make the sign of the wanker. Like lions the Starks moved quickly and coordinated well. They distracted with abuse and confounded and frightened by their talent for finishing the other’s sentences. They always stood at the school gates so they could practice their spitting. That day they took turns to spit on Donald’s back.

“Poof,” said Ross.

“Gay,” said Garrick.

Inside and Mr Tinsel was waiting with a clipboard and paper. Mr Tinsel was a balding, ginger geography teacher. He looked like a divorce and enjoyed exasperation. “Morrison?” said Mr Tinsel, “It’s quarter to nine and you are going to be late for RE.”

“Yes,” said Donald, but I don’t have RE.”

Mr Tinsel looked at the paper in his hand and mumbled the word ‘shit’ and noticed the spit on Donald’s back. He waited for a moment and looked at the door.

“Ross and Garrick are outside,” said Donald.

“I don’t care if it’s John Wayne,” said Mr Tinsel. Donald did not know what this meant and was too bored to ever ask.

“Go on. You’re late, Morrison. Go to RE.”

In fact Donald was early and didn’t have RE; Tuesdays were double maths but he hated to question a teacher’s authority. Authority was all Mr Tinsel had left. He enjoyed calling pupils by their surnames because he imagined that’s what they did in the army or at a proper school, the kind he attended. He had indeed forgotten Donald’s first name but that didn’t matter to Adrian Tinsel. First names are for staff rooms and adults. When that little shit Morrison fears redundancy and cancer then he can have a first name, but not before. Banging and swinging doors announced the arrival of the Stark brothers.

“Falling downstairs backwards is one way to die, yes. Think about it. You’re on the top step, you’re pushed by someone and you fall down a step, but you’re wearing socks and the stairs are polished wood so you fall quickly to the next step and then the next one. You struggle to grab the banister but there’s nothing you can do, your face hits every step! You want to cry out in pain but with each open mouth an angry step bangs it shut, biting into your tongue until the twenty-second step and by then you’ve bitten your tongue in half. You start to lose consciousness. And as you fade away to the light you think about the girls you never kissed and how sore your tongue is,” said Red Wallace. Red would appear each day by the bike sheds and deliver his Service on the Mount.

All the boys thought the same thing: “Wow!” Red Wallace was always talking about falling down stairs or hurting your mouth. Ever since he yawned while falling on a pencil he had been obsessed with mouth injuries. The day before a school trip to France, Red had been practicing his quarter-staff twirling with the top part of a picture frame. He looked up to catch it and it fell in his mouth, ripping the skin off the roof so he could feel it flapping on his teeth. The next day he wore a navy blue handkerchief over his face. He thought he looked like a ninja. When he could speak again he said the ninja always have their face covered, not only to help them to hide, but to stop the swallowing things they shouldn’t, such as weapons.

Red Wallace could have beaten any boy to a pulp but he needed his audience breathing. He came to the school in primary five when he moved up from the south. He was the biggest thirteen year old the boys had ever seen. He had hands as big as mugs and a wide, round face like a plate. Red Wallace was six feet tall and Donald knew Red Wallace used his size to tell lies: “Dad’s in prison for stabbing,” “I once tried heroin but I didn’t like it,” and “Justine Frazer will touch your balls for a quid,” If Red said it, it was true. The boys believed Red because they idolized him, but Donald knew deep down it wasn’t true. He had heard this story twice before. The first time Donald had burst into tears and claimed a wasp, a queen wasp mind, a big one, had stung him on his eye. The second time he heard this filth he went home and wrote Justine a letter which, of course, he never sent:

 

Dear Justine Frazer,

                               Hello, I hope you are well. You don’t know who I am but I know who you are. I go to school with you and you are in most of the same classes as me apart from technical drawing on Wednesday when I think you have Art, anyway, you will never know who I am, think of me as a friend. Red Wallace says you touch boy’s balls for a pound. I don’t believe this and neither does most of the year. Some of the boys in PE say you’ve touched their balls for fifty pence and some have said that you did it for nothing. But everyone I’ve told says it’s probably not true but I thought you should know that Red Wallace is the one who started the rumours. Let me assure you Justine that most of the school and none of the teachers think you’ve ever touched any balls for free or for a pound. You must know that Red Wallace is a liar but he is very big and we are one and we’re all scared of him. Good luck with your mock exams,

Anonymous

XXX

 

And there she was. Justine glided passed him. With her were Nicola Kind, Other Nicola and Emma. Justine was out in front, leading them to some place wonderful. They echoed her every move and their hair bounced in time with Justine.

The boys forgot what Red was saying. Something about balls? Something being kicked? Falling? Balls? It’s double maths.

Behind the girls and walking at normal speed were Donald’s greatest hates: Leslie Anne Mapps, the maths teacher. She lived in an equation of homework and passive aggression. Her greatest regrets in life are the murders she will never commit and the pupils that will forget her. Leslie Anne Mapps: Maths teachers/homicidal witch. “Go to the assembly hall at once, boys,” she said.

“Chemistry is cancelled,” Said Mr Munro, the school’s headmaster “Due to unforeseen circumstances at the chemistry huts, 2 C will attend Ms Mapps maths class. Mr Hams will bring in more chairs.” A small collection of boys puts up their hand.

“Yes, First Year?” said Mr Munro.

“What’s happened please?”

“When?”

“Just now?”

“What?”

“With the chemistry huts?”

“You’ll have to speak better than that. What are you asking, child?”

“What’s happened to the chemistry huts?”

“We don’t having any teachers….Why don’t you listen when I speak, boy? Is there a reason you never listen? Do you listen to your parents?”

As Headmaster Munro was saying this it flashed across his mind that he may be talking to one of the school’s seven orphans.

“Sir? What happened?”

“Unforeseen circumstances. Unforeseen events. Do you know what unforeseen means?”

“Yes, but I don….”

“So, you join the Maths classes.”

Every boy and girl raised their hand.

“We shall now sing hymns for our lord.” He stood straight and proud with his prayer-book in his hand before bellowing the Lord is My Shepherd.

Standing at the back of the assembly hall as the children sung their hymns was the janitor, Mr Hams or ‘Hammy.’ He was waiting for the chairs. He enjoyed stacking them up, one on top of the other until they looked like they might fall. He knew this impressed the first years. The hymn finished and everyone was told to have a good day. Hammy stacked his chairs with a rhythmic thump.

Ross and Garrick were standing by the locked chemistry huts. They saw Mr Gloves coat and bag by the desk but no Mr Gloves. The chairs were on the tables for the cleaner. There had clearly been no classes since yesterday.

“Did you see it happening?” asked Ross

“No,” said Garrick.”

“You should be in class,” said Mr Tinsel. He hated telling the pupils to do anything. Only the first years do what they’re told. Mr Tinsel was called Mr Chuckles by his fellow teachers because of his naturally depressed looking features. The first time he found this out he was genuinely hurt. The name had slopped down his big sad face like a sticky octopus.

“We were just going,” said Ross.

Ross wanted Garrick to say something to Mr Tinsel, something devastating. But Garrick was looking across the playground and was very impressed by the amount of chairs Hammy can place on top of each other.

“Mr Gloves, eh?”

“Aye, Mr Gloves. Completely vanished.

“Go.” said Mr Tinsel.

Without looking at them Leslie Mapps moved Mr Gloves case and coat under the table. She sighed deeply and played her game to herself.as the pupils pushed inside. Her game was called “Who’d be missed the most?” Not one of the children wanted to be there but the excitement at the day’s events has made double maths all part of a great adventure. The little sods almost looked happy. Which one could die? Ms Mapps didn’t really want end a life between her tight, white hands. No, this child would die from neglect. She would keep her in her tent in the back garden. One day Ms Mapps would disappear like the others had and this child will starve to death. Ms Mapps saw herself as a heroine, saving children from a cold cruel world.

“Where do we stand?” said Garrick Stark.

“There’s no seats,” said Ross Stark.

Ms Mapps hated these boys as much as anyone, but today she noticed furious acne on their cheeks. They’ll have to take that home with them. This brought some comfort but not enough.

“The janitor is bringing more seats. You’ll just have to stand.” She said this looking out of the window to see if Hammy was coming. A girl sneezed and everyone laughed because it sounded like a cartoon mouse.

“A gay mouse,” said Ross.

“Poof mouse.” said Garrick.

“How can a girl be a poof? Eh?” said Other Nicola. “Girls can’t be poofs – only boys can.”

“You’d know,” says Garrick.

“What does that mean?” said Justine.

There was an awkward silence. Other Nicola forced a laugh to break it.

It didn’t work. All this while Donald had been trying to slip into the room and hoped he would not be asked anything by anybody. Hammy was behind him so everyone turned around and saw Donald who was still standing near the door. The Starks looked at each other.

“I’ve brought the chairs,” said Hammy.

 

That evening Donald was at home alone and thinking about how best to annoy his mother. It had to be the right amount of annoyance. He didn’t want a bollocking but he didn’t want to be ignored. He had already moved the electric fire two inches to the left and he had put the coffee in the plate cupboard. He sat on the couch bored. He went to the bay window and looked down on the black, wet pavement. He tried to make an animal shape from globs of his chewing gum. He made half a rhino and gave up.

He hadn’t given Justine the letter, of course he hadn’t. At least the Stark brothers will never see it. The Starks would have had him on the rack. They’d read it out loud in a pretty lady voice as they spat at him and cut his body’s strings. He had to burn it. It was the only way. If he buried it, it could be found. If he cut it into pieces and flushed it away then it could clog up the toilet. A man would come to fix the u-bend and tell his mother that it looked like a love letter blockage. It wasn’t a love letter anyway. It was a message of support, of solidarity, and of…damn them all to hell if it was a love letter. And ‘Anonymous’ meant nothing. He may as well have written, “Please kiss me Justine Frazer, I’m Donald Morrison, the gay poof.” No. He should burn it.

Donald’s mother was back from work. Maggie Morrison was always tired. Her eyes look punched and her face was the colour of a laundry’s floor.

Maggie Morrison only wanted a son that makes her a cup of tea and doesn’t move the electric fire. She put her shopping bags down on the kitchen table, put her keys in the bowl by the phone and went through to the living room. Donald was squeezing the letter in his hand hoping to make it disappear by will. When Donald saw her he rammed the letter into his back pocket.

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing,” said Donald , Would you like a tea?”

“Yes.”

“Ok.”

“Yes.”

“Good.”

“Good.”

Donald walked passed his mother. She stopped him.

“Why has the fire been moved?”

Donald didn’t answer. He looked at his mother as if she is insane. He had been practicing this look in the bathroom for some time. He instantly relaxed his face, which in itself looked like he was having a tiny stroke.

“Why has…” started Maggie but couldn’t be bothered to finish.

“Tch,” said Donald and made a cup of tea as loudly as possible. When the kettle was boiled he turned it off at the wall

“Tea,” he said.

“Thanks, son” said Maggie. The fire had been turned on and orange light spread across the living room; aluminium blades span softly over little red bulbs to give the impression of flickering flames. A midge’s body hissed on the bars.

“How was school?” she asked.

“Red’s a liar” mumbled Donald .

“Okay”

“We had to move classes”

“Oh?”

“I hate the Stark brothers”

“Uh-ha”

“Gloves has vanished”

“Gloves?”

“Mr Gloves. Chemistry, I think”

“You think?”

“Probably. Don’t know, think so”

“Right”

“Yeah, it would have been chemistry but we can’t find Mr Gloves”

Mr Gloves is the head of science. It’s thought that’s he was a homosexual because of his moustache and soft hands. Two years ago he threw a chair at a boy and every pupil hoped to make him throw one again. This is the only reason he would be missed.

“Oh.” continued Maggie. She can’t picture Mr Gloves but wonders where he was. She winced because Donald forgot to stir the tea.

“That’s a shame.” she says.

“Hmm,” says Donald.

 

Donald had dreamed about sports balls and woke with a jump. He pulled himself up and turned the radio on. There are men talking in mature, calm, intelligent voices that he could listen to all day. He could talk to them on any subject; the apocalypse or his dad. Donald said some of their words aloud to himself and enjoyed how they didn’t sound local. “Photograph” he said. “Pianist” Good words, informative words, teacher’s words. “Agricultural.” Then the men started to sound dull. The announcer chats cheerily to the two men about some show and what they did at the weekend, they shared a joke about garden centres, “Haha.” Then the announcer sounds suddenly serious. “The news has been cancelled due to illness.” Donald sat on his bed and stared at the radio. It’s time to go to school.

In his walk to the tram stop he noticed that street every flat was in shadow, apart from number 12. It shone out like a palace of brown sandstone; its door were a proud and deep green. It looked strong and safe. Next to the door was a panel of brass doorbells. Donald was sure they didn’t work because he had only just grown out of pressing them all and running away but no one ever came out. Then the front door opened. Donald watched as a short man with sensible tie and a blue borrowed looking kagool, pulled the door open and stepped outside onto the pavement. As he stood there on the curb he let the door close slowly behind him.He was a confident looking man, despite the kagool. He has a long hooked nose and a long hooked chin.

“Hey!” Donald waved. “Hey! Excuse me! Were you at my mum’s? Do you know me?”

The kagooled man changes his mind and goes back in. Donald ran across the road but the door had closed before he got there. He put his ear to the door and heard a door slam and echo through the stairwell. Donald kicked the green door. He had never seen such a closed door before. Donald felt a chill and panicked. He rang every bell in frustration. He stood still for a moment then ran away.

 

In school Ross and Garrick Stark were throwing a jotter to each other. A smaller boy looked on, bored with the Stark’s routine. Ross and Garrick look bored too. They threw it to the ground as they see Donald.

“Look at the way he walks,” laughed Garrick.

“He walks like a spastic,” said Ross.

“How?” Asks Garrick.

“Like a poofy spastic,” said Ross

“Aye. Like a gay spastic.”

they said together.The twins sucked snot and flem into their throats, pulled their heads back and spat as one. They miss Donald and it pours down the school a wall. Garrick was the most put out by this failure; he had gone to the effort of putting green in his flem. Mr Tinsel stood inside the doors, like he does every day and pretended he saw nothing.

“Ross and Garrick are outside, Mr Tinsel.” said Donald.

“What class do you have today?” asked Mr Tinsel. He didn’t look at Donald but he did look at the shapes the Starks were making in the bubbled glass doors. He dreamed of one day setting a dog on the boys. He thought the slightly shorter Stark looked like a biter and the taller one looked like a lanky prick.

“Chemistry,” said Donald.

“You know about Mr Gloves?”

“Yes.”

“So.”

“And the huts?”

He paused.

“Well…,” said Mr Tinsel, “Well,” he said.

Mr Tinsel thought about big dogs, enormous dogs that obeyed him and only him. They have rows and rows of sharp teeth that grow back like a shark’s and a savagery equalled only by its loyalty and devotion to its master.

“Good lad.” He said to the dog in his mind.

Donald left Mr Tinsel behind and walked down the corridor. He wanted to tell everyone about the man who came out of number 12 and how strange he’d looked. How he looked like the man in his curtains. He was disappointed to see that there were hardly any pupils or teachers anywhere.“There is no English department today.”said Ms Mapps, seemingly from nowhere. “Everyone is off sick.” Ms Mapps stood up to her full height, a full two inches over Donald.

“Do I have a class with you Miss?”asked Duncan.

Her breath cames out in a huff and swirled around them both.

“What? No. Not today. You go to assembly.” Donald glanced back down the corridor.

“You go to assembly,” she said quietly. “Just go to assembly.”

The mood at school was foul. No one wanted to talk or run in the corridors. Donald went to assembly. Mr Munro stood on the stage at the end of the hall. He was alone in his brown suit and his novelty tie did not reflect the mood that morning; a dozen cartoon ducks were giving the thumbs up. Teenagers shuffled into their seats, scraping chairs and coughing to fill in the quiet. Donald cleared his throat. It didn’t need clearing but just in case he saw Justine. Actually, where was Justine?

“Good morning, school.” Said Mr Munro.

His pupils looked back at him. “Goodmorningmrmunro.”

“Now first things first. There are to be no English classes today. Due to unforeseen circumstances the entire English department is unavailable this morning. As an alternative we have a surprise guest this morning. A man from the government! He’s going to tell everything. He pointed to a man standing at the end of the hall. It was the man from number 12.

 

The End

 

 

 

 

 

The Funny Man

Why I'm Alone

By Graeme Swanson

childrens-party-pic

Mary loved the word “bloody,” and ‘bloody’ was one of her new words of that week. “Bloody bugger!” she’d yell triumphantly. “Mum! Mum! Mandy said bloody bugger! She’d shout. “Do you think we should punish her?” She would laugh at her own joke and this particular time she was grinning like a villain and was delighted with herself and her other new word: ‘Punish’. Mary would name her new words every Saturday morning and the story I’m telling you happened on a Saturday, so…

“Mum!” Mary yelled. “Be quiet!” Mum yelled back. Mum would never play ‘Who can shout the loudest ‘like Mary and I did. We knew that if mum simply sounded stressed and unhappy then that would be enough to chill us into obedient children. “Mum is stressed,” mouthed Mary. ‘Stressed’ was a new word only a month before so she still said it…

View original post 1,156 more words

The Funny Man

By Graeme Swanson

childrens-party-pic

Mary loved the word “bloody,” and ‘bloody’ was one of her new words of that week. “Bloody bugger!” she’d yell triumphantly. “Mum! Mum! Mandy said bloody bugger! She’d shout. “Do you think we should punish her?” She would laugh at her own joke and this particular time she was grinning like a villain and was delighted with herself and her other new word: ‘Punish’. Mary would name her new words every Saturday morning and the story I’m telling you happened on a Saturday, so…

“Mum!” Mary yelled. “Be quiet!” Mum yelled back. Mum would never play ‘Who can shout the loudest ‘like Mary and I did. We knew that if mum simply sounded stressed and unhappy then that would be enough to chill us into obedient children. “Mum is stressed,” mouthed Mary. ‘Stressed’ was a new word only a month before so she still said it a lot. With me being the younger one I didn’t always know what the new words meant. But I knew stressed was a bad thing; it had something to do the tightening of ropes or when we saw our teachers secretly crying before a class.

“I’m not putting up with any of your nonsense today, girls. You can just be quiet until we get to Jen’s.” Mum sounded sad and I think stressed.

“What?” I shouted back at her. I wanted to hear her voice again so I could be certain of her emotions.

“Mandy…can you just…can you just not?”

Oh Yes! Definitely sadness there, with a sprinkling of stressed, just a little, but it was there.“Sorry mum!”

Anyway.

Aunty Jen’s is Ruby’s mum and that day was Ruby’s birthday party. Their flat was filled with shouting children, mostly girls and the odd, misplaced boy. We played lots and lots of games and then we had treats, perhaps too much. While we played and ate most of the mums stayed in the kitchen.

Soon, none of us wanted to do anything apart from eat, so many sweets, and jellies and cake! Then the mums made an announcement, we were told that if we were very good a Funny Man would come and see us to make everyone happy. “Children’s entertainer,” said Mary smugly. ‘Entertainer’ was another new word and for the second time that Saturday I hated my sister.

Almost as soon as we were told about the Funny Man there was a knock on the front door. The mums all pretended they couldn’t think who that could be. They were laughing at each other. The door opened with a creak and there stood the Funny Man. He was taller than the mums and wore shining green trousers with wide red buckle straps for his braces; they clashed violently with his enormous cat-sick yellow shirt but most striking of all was his head. He was a ginger haired man with a large comb-over that would flap around the left of his high head.

“Do you know what today is, children? He asked as he rummaged in his prop bag. We all shouted, “It’s Ruby’s birthday!”

He took pot a wolf-man mask and pulled it down over his face. “No, no, no,” he yelled, “It’s the full moon!” He put his hands up and roared like a wolf-man would. A mum shouted, “Excuse me!” and with a finger, beckoned the Fanny Man into the kitchen. He rustled as he put his arms down.

A girl started screaming and crying in the kitchen. It became so relentless the other girls stopped eating or chasing each other and listened. She sounded horrified and confused, as if she’d woken up to find she had no limbs. It was scary and very upsetting. It was all anyone could hear. Then a mum said, “Oh! Someone’s tired,” with a singsong voice and the rest of the mums made sympathy sounds. They were wrong; the girl wasn’t tired she was terrified. Her cry was closer to a scream. I ran into the kitchen to see who it was. I didn’t recognise her, she was about Mary’s age but her tears made her look four: her purple wet face, such a noise!

She was pointing at the Funny Man or the “children’s entertainer” as Mary would have said. He pulled his wolf-man mask off, revealing his unusually high head and his receding rusty-red coloured hair. He was pretending to cry. He clenched his hands into little fists and rubbed his eyes bloody red. He joked to the mums and said he had the reaction all the time but mostly from girlfriends. The mums did not smile. He was mocking the girl, and besides, nobody believed him. The girl seemed to be having a fit and wouldn’t stop crying. Then a mum, presumably her mum took her hand and stroked her arm.

We were confident and insane on sugars. We needed entertaining immediately. The Funny Man poked his hands round the kitchen door frame we all shouted when we saw who it was. Then Mary said to no one, “He’s the children’s entertainer. ‘

When the Funny Man bounced back in the room the first thing I noticed was his smell, not a bad smell exactly but a smell none the less. He had a strong smell too. It reminded me of supermarket sandwiches and instant coffee.

“HA-HA-HA! Hello boys and girls!” he shouted, even though the boys had all left. We murmured hello and as we watched him juggle professional looking juggling balls. His prop bag was at his feet and sticking out it were some animal masks. The most striking of these was the mask of a happy lion, or maybe an orang-utan. It was large, rubbery and brown and the hair looked a bit like a monkey. The girl in the kitchen started to scream again. She took a breath between each shout and the mums all looked at each other. Someone dragged her into the room. “How can someone so small be so big with noise?” said the Funny Man. He didn’t stop his act; in fact it seemed to inspire him. He began to juggle hard and dangerously. We didn’t notice the balls turning into sticks. They were as long as rulers, how did he do that? “I love fire, he said, “I eat fire for my supper!” he yelled. His face and hands were dripping with sweat and suddenly the sticks were on fire. He started to put them in his mouth to extinguish them one by one. I had to admit it was impressive. The mums had come out of the kitchen and stood in a circle around us and held hands. Mum was holding hands with Aunty Jen. The mums were much louder than any of us were. They were laughing like a bad man kicking a dog. I wanted them to stop. It was becoming so tight in the living room. All of us had moved to the food table. The flames from the Funny Man had gone but the smoke remained. The Funny Man started to howl, possibly forgetting he was not wearing his mask. He rummaged through his bag and tossed some masks at the mums; the happy lion, the orang-utan-y one, a horse and one I didn’t recognise. The mums snatched at them and put them on.

I remember one mum howling like a coyote, throwing her head back and treating the big light like the moon. But she was wearing the horse head.

Then they began to clap and the room became tighter and tighter, hotter and hotter. All the mums were wearing masks now and the Funny Man had put his wolf-man back on. I heard some sobbing behind me, I thought it was Mary but she isn’t so sure herself. Neither of us has seen Ruby since.

Anyway.

That’s all I remember.

Resting Boxes

 

funeral

Yes we worked for Mr Maths. We were professional coffin makers, so of course we worked for him – he was the best. Although we didn’t call them coffins, we had to get it right every time. He told as that he fired Garrick because he kept forgetting their proper name. He told us that as a warning but no one liked Garrick. Garrick was clearly going to be next. “Never call them coffins!” became his catchphrase. Anyway, we all knew Mr Maths was only pretending to be a furious undertaker. He shouted a lot but you soon learned he didn’t mean it. You should have seen him with customers, so lovely and patience. He had kind features on his old face. You can’t hide that. He looked like he knew all about old-fashioned sweets and trains not fear and nails. He could be a snob though. Mr Maths always considered himself and his company to be a cut above the other undertakers in town, and that’s why, without fail, we called the coffins ‘resting boxes.’

Hugo and I started on the same day and we were called ‘measurers’ but again this was for undertakers’ ears only. To customers we were Mr Maths’ ‘Death assistants.’ It was our job to measure the one who had passed on, we were bespoke, we could provide your departed hero with the right resting box for them. If, for example, we found the resting one was six feet in length, or six feet tall if you prefer, our resting box would be made 6 feet and 4 inches in length. They were always the same height: thirteen inches. 13 inches is just right and this took several experiments by Mr Maths to get right. 13 inches is just enough to raise your head and see your feet waggling but not enough to sit up. Our resting boxes had very little room but it was the perfect amount of room. You couldn’t turn on your side in a resting box and we were aware that some would take comfort in that position but Mr Maths was way ahead of you. You’d have to break your arm to turn on your side…or snap your leg half! I’m joking.

You wouldn’t be able raise your knee very high and it would be hard to get your phone from your trouser pocket. And anyway you wouldn’t get a signal. Even if we’d forgotten to take it would be useless under all that earth. No, Mr Maths’ resting boxes were a work of art.

Hugo and I became firm friends and always tried to be on the same shift as each other. Hugo was very good at acting. It was like his heart had been shattered into a trillion particles of pure sorrow out of sympathy and respect for the customer’s grief. Even so he’d always made it quite clear to me later that he couldn’t care less. Between the two of us I was best at stoicism. I did what had to be done –like a cleaner at a beheading I’d mopped everything up. I got on with it and the customers appreciated that. Making the passed-on raise their arms was always tricky. It was to fool the customer if they should catch us at it. And do you know the customers never questioned why we did this. We’d say it’s in case the customer would like their beloved on display, we would have to put him or her in their best clothes and dressing a stiff corpse can be tricky. But nobody wants to lie in state anymore apart from dictators, and we wouldn’t get their business anyway. The real reason we did it was because we like to put the light switch in the resting boxes ever so slightly too far from the beloved’s hands to reach.

Graeme Swanson

The Thing In The Field

field

I would stay in bed just slightly longer than she did. She’d get up whenever dawn arrived and she’d softly pad about the bedroom while she dressed. Then she’d pop downstairs and turn the kettle and the radio on. Hearing the comforting sounds drift upstairs was charming. I felt so lucky, so loved, it made getting up so difficult!

Since she went to the field I’ve had to get used to making my own breakfast. My porridge isn’t as nice as hers and I can always turn the radio off! I know I should have told her a few years ago I don’t like local news; it’s all funding and accidents. I always preferred international news because it made me feel like I lived on a world where anything can happen, not in a place no one knows and they’d never find you. But I loved our mornings so much. I never complained. I worried that the slightest criticism would spoil the magic – and it was magic.

But she became unbearably defensive and looked for a fight – drove me mad. She changed! Everything was anger, everything was bitterness. She would get so defensive. “My porridge is as good as anybody’s!” she’d snap. I never said I didn’t like….bloody hell! So touchy!

I’m good at keeping the place tidy but she was so much better, damn it. It’s true what they say about missing the little things and no one could clean a cup as well as she did. So fast, blink and you’d miss it. In the water! Out of the water! In the water! Out of the water! You’d feel as if you’d just seen a trick, and in a way you had; all you could see was her skin and the colour of the cup. Suddenly it’s drying on the draining rack and the cleanest it ‘s ever been. I should ask her when I go up to see her. I’ll put it on the list for later. I’ll write “cups” in my notebook.So much to do today! They’re not the tasks I’m used to. She did everything for both of us, apart from the washing-up; she told me I was good at that, the lying cow. It was just because I was bad at things that she made me do them, she would laugh and tell her ugly-pig -friends. She was very clever, manipulative really. She knew I was easily flattered and easily furious. She’d say to every visitor that I was useless but lovable; she said I was exceptional at the washing-up and “other things besides.” Then she’d do big theatrical wink and the visitors would laugh awkwardly like a mayor at a sport’s day. Was she making a sex joke? I still hate asking her about sex. It was her making a sex joke last month to the postman that made me do it. It’s her fault. The postman is a woman as well and they were laughing at me, like they do. I heard a mumble and then laughing like Satan’s friends. It made me so angry I had to bite my fist again. She always thinks I have marks on my hands from being pecked by her stupid geese in the field. Maybe I could tell her that I was biting my hands in fury. She doesn’t understand shame or guilt. “See these marks on my hands?” You fat cow!”

When I went to the field last week I told her the postwoman was asking for her, (I’m lying to her, I haven’t seen the woman in weeks but I thought it would cheer her up) Sometimes I don’t have any questions. I just tell her about my week, the trouble with the travellers parked outside the supermarket, what I’m doing with the garden, the price of geese feed, that sort of thing. Sometimes I just take the hood off and stroke her. When I’m feeling sentimental I want to kiss her to but the magpies get jealous. Last time it was rooks. They fight over her. They like perching on her arms. Once I saw an eagle on her head.

Now. I must find my boots.

 

The Look-a-like Agency

FUNERAL 2

I was somewhere between 8 and 11 years old. Mum had dressed me up smartly. We were both a bit excited. She always looked at her most proud when she was straightening my tie. “Mummy’s little businessman,” she’d say. She said that every time, even on the days we hated each other.

It was my first meeting with this agent so I was a little more nervous than normal. Mum and I…well mum mostly, had fallen out with my last agent, Mr Stark. I didn’t take to him because he had a moustache. Mum said there was something “unsettling” about him. Mr Stark had a very “hands on” approach; he was always pretending he’d dropped something and asking you to bend down and pick it up, or reach up on your toes to fetch something from the top shelves. When mum finished talking about him she would shudder and pull a disgusted face.

Anyway.

We were waiting for this new agent to meet us. His name was Mr Macbeth. His loud laugh was the first thing I noticed about him. He was on the phone is his office and his laugh could be heard in the waiting room. The person he was talking to must have been very funny; he laughed hard and loud. I kicked my feet under the seat in excitement, making my heels hit the plastic under me. Mr Macbeth’s agency was called “Who do you look like?” and it was written on his office door in fat black letters. The laughing stopped and we could tell from his inflections that Mr Macbeth was drawing his conversation to a close.

“Okay. Ooooh-kay. Will do. Take care. Bye just now. Bye.” Then he shouted, “Come!” and in we went.

His office was empty except for three chairs and a desk, which was covered in chaos. The three chairs were a comfortable one that Mr Macbeth used and two school plastic orange chairs stolen from an assembly. Mr Stark had a smile like the devil so already I preferred Mr Macbeth. He bellowed hellos at us and motioned us to sit down. The first thing you would notice about him was his enormous mouth and his tiny hands. When I shook his hand I noticed it was the same size as mine but I was only a boy. “Now!” he screamed happily. “Alasdair? Yes? Who dooo you look like?” He beamed at me and nodded.

“My dad,” I said.

“Ha-ha! What…No.”

“No. I have his nose and mum’s eyes, I continued. But mum thinks…”Mr Macbeth was staring at me and waved one of his little hands for silence. “Beautiful…your boy I mean. I mean aren’t all boys…. children. He’s smart. Well dressed. Lovely tie!” My mother beamed and straightened herself in her seat.“And you don’t mind what he does? asked Mr Macbeth.Mum said nothing but smiled and shrugged. Mr Macbeth nodded and leaned back in his seat as if remembering a wonderful ancient ballad. He spun around once and when he faced us again and said, “It’s a funeral. Are you sure he wouldn’t mind a funeral? Could you morn for us, Alasdair? I nodded as Mr Macbeth waited. He wanted me to do my mournful face so I stuck out my lower lip and scrunched up my eyes and wailed.“No, no.” he said. “Look shell-shocked. You can’t believe what a wicked blow the gods have given you! Why? Why? Why has this awful thing happened to my family? You cannot picture your future…Dad is dead! Gone! I want to throw myself into his grave. Can you give me that in your face, Alasdair?”

I looked sad again but didn’t scrunch up my eyes this time. I remembered my dad pointing up to the sky and shouting, “Look at the osprey!” I looked up but couldn’t see it. I was sad and annoyed I couldn’t see it but didn’t cry because you don’t cry when you can’t see a bird. So I did my not as sad as very sad face and Mr Macbeth looked happier.“Wear sombre clothes.” Mr Macbeth flipped his tiny hands towards the door. “And meet the others at St Hugh’s for 11 o’clock.” He did one final, massive and impossible grin and then we left. Mum looked pleased.

 It was raining when we arrived at St Hugh’s. The church and the clouds were the same grey. It was a tall, haunted looking building and the squawking crows helped us to think about ghosts. Mum stayed out of the way but she was nearby. She stood across the road and waved at me whenever I looked across. She looked happy, too happy for a funeral. One of the other boys had been staring at me since I arrived. Then he glared at mum. He clearly knew I was like him. I’m sure the distant relatives didn’t know who we were. All we had been told about deceased was he was 12, lonely, mad and ginger. The ginger was useful because we could guess who was a relative. Some old people stood by the church doors nodding hellos at other old people. “All these people, and he never left the house,” said the oldest old person; as he said this he bounced cheerfully on his heels; too cheerfully. All of the grievers stood in a line. I didn’t know who was who or meant to be who, and I don’t think they did either. This was my first funeral but the boy who had been glaring at me was punching his fist into his palm and making himself cry. He was very professional. He was very good.

 

 

Graeme Swanson

 

4 Across

Staircase pic

 

I normally ask the bald man at the customer service desk to help me with the crossword but he wasn’t there today. His name is either Adam or Adrian. I heard it mumbled once. He should be here! For once Adam or Adrian would have a story to tell when he gets home today. I’m halfway up the last staircase and I’m still stuck on 4 across; “A slight person from Eastern Europe; 7 letters.” Haven’t a clue. But I need to do it now. Yes. No doubts. I have to. I don’t want to be thinking about a crossword clue on the way down. I’m putting my leg over the banister now and I feel a little frustrated. The clue is still bothering me and I like things to have a clean finish. Also Adam or Adrian is the only person in the building who would recognise me and he’s not bloody here! I want someone who knows me to see me fall. Well Adam or Adrian doesn’t know me exactly put he’s friendly enough and very good at crosswords. I’m wondering if he has a name for me, “Crossword man” perhaps. I’ve been told I look like I have a basic or simple name, like a Richard or a John, not a Hilary; a Hilary would never be homeless. I’m letting go of the banister now and I start falling.

I thought I’d hit the ground instantly. Only now am I seeing the fifth floor. There’s no one here, damn it. Looking across I see a family on the staircase, clearly the adults can’t or won’t see me but their little boy is pointing. I let out a scream but it sounds more like a loud sigh so still no reaction. I’m thinking now I should have done it somewhere bigger, somewhere higher, somewhere outside: naked on a national monument, for the shock value? No, they’d call me a lonely pervert. Am I high enough? I won’t survive though will I?

The fourth floor is a sea of backs. No one is facing me but the backs look familiar. I’m sure that’s Mark’s back. I haven’t seen Mark since school but that must be him. Mark would wear what that back is wearing, a sort of purple pullover and blue jeans. I should shout, “Mark!” but suddenly I’m at the third. There aren’t many people here and the ones I can are in uniform. One looks up and is glaring at me. She nods to her colleague and points with her head. They look like police but police from a terrible painting of hell. I hadn’t thought about hell. Christ! What if I’m wrong and I’m heading there now? One officer mouths’ Hillary’ and slices his finger across his neck. I hope the second floor will be kinder.

It’s disappointed women. They look as though they’ve been waiting for me. All I’m seeing is irritation in the women’s faces, not anger exactly but certainly annoyance. They are dressed in white. They look as bored as they are beautiful. There aren’t many of them but I can hear a ‘tsk’ over the glares and the rolling eyes.

The first floor is filled with smoke and shouting, raucous yelling and clinking glasses. Friends from the past have their arms round friends from now, they’ve never met but they look like best mates. Mark is there, laughing with Adam or Adrian. No one notices me. I can’t make a sound but I blink as heavily as I can. I’m thinking of the crossword clue. The first floor has gone already. The ground floor is hurtling up towards my face. What would Adam or Adrian say? “Tadpole. 4 across is tadpole.”

Calumn, Magnus & Ian from Head Office

Rollercoaster pic

“A rollercoaster is nothing like a woman and Ian from Head Office should shut his stupid face.” said Calumn. “He’s always saying words. Everything is like a woman to him. His coffee, his laptop…. He is such a…prick.” Little pieces of bread flew from Calumn as he chewed his sandwich. He continued, “Did you see him when it happened? He is such a… prick.” He straightened his back, his point made. Magnus didn’t know what to say to Calumn when he got this angry so he gave his best ‘Yes I know’ nod, a nod that always infuriated Calumn. The two men stood together and looked out of the portakabin window and looked at the rain on the rollercoaster. The only sound was Calumn eating his sandwiches.

“He’s such a Nazi for his health and safety, like the prick he is,” said Calumn as he fingered his gums. Column knew full well that he had said ‘prick’ too often and that Magnus hated swearing, but he needed someone to hear his hate.

“We’d better do what he says though, said Magnus, he is in charge.”

“No he isn’t!”

“Ian from Head Office is in charge, said Magnus, today at least. It is mostly our fault.”

Calumn sighed and glared out of the window, even more intensity than before. This time he imaged the rollercoaster driving hard into the dragon’s open mouth, and not a pretend fibreglass dragon, like the one they had on the Dino-coaster but a real one that fed on children’s tears and fears; sucking out their screams before it swallowed. Again he saw the girls’ arms hanging down. He took a sip from his instant coffee and pulled a face of disgust.

At least Calumn knew no one would like Ian from Head Office: a ridiculous little man. His hands were too small for his big fat arms. He couldn’t, or wouldn’t speak properly; he used ten words when two would do. And his natural smile, that same smile he did at the press conference, it was sinister, slimy and paedophilic.

Calumn looked at Magnus. They had worked together for almost four years but they had never bonded. After the accident Magnus had touched Column’s shoulder to comfort him but it sent a chill all over his body. Magnus was a Christian and a married father of two but had a cult leader’s air. Magnus’s god had given him a bold head and huge unkempt and blonde sideburns, making him look 53 to Calumn. He knew for a fact, however that he was only 26 and Calumn envied his youth.

Magnus pointed at the rollercoaster. “Ian’s waving. He wants us to go down to him.” Magnus tightened his safety helmet. Calumn had a flash of hate for Magnus and his keenness to leave the portakabin. Ian from Head Office whistled for the men like a jolly ringmaster. ‘The fat-armed prick,’ thought Column.

 

“Now then gentlemen,” said Ian from Head Office, “My duties in studying the health, and indeed safety, of this contraption will not be in any way near completion unless your good selves and I partake in the truth”. Today his smile was wide and full of teeth; battered and riddled with gaps, the teeth looked found rather than grown. Magnus and Ian from Head Office were waiting for Column to answer but he was lost in the man’s mouth.

“I’m sorry. Yes,” said Column, hoping a yes would cover it.

“You have the key,” said Ian from Head Office.

Column nodded and brought the key out of his pocket and pushed it with some force into the door of the rollercoaster’s portakabin. He pushed it open and sucked in the still air. The three men stood by the door and listened to each others breath. It smelled artificially clean. Calumn had cleaned it the day before the accident just to keep himself busy but now it felt like a prison morgue. Magnus and Ian from Head Office looked at Calumn. He knew those two were becoming best friends.

“So, said Ian from Head Office, I understand you were standing in here when the tragedy was taking place?”

No one said anything. Column looked at Magnus as he slowly, like a second cousin at a funeral, nodded his head and sniffed. “Sorry,” said Magnus, “When I think of those girls…” Column tightened his fist while Ian from Head Office ticked a box on his clipboard. Magnus was good at looking sad. Calumn was good at looking angry.

“I understand.” said Ian from Head Office and ticked another box.

“I heard they lived for hours afterwards. We really thought they’d make it,” said Magnus. “They died in great pain.”

“Yes. So I believe,” said Ian from Head Office. The men shuffled there feet. Calumn focused on centuries old looking chewing gum that he’d missed on the portakabin floor. He forced his mind to wander; anywhere but there. Who eats chewing gum now? Is it still a thing? Whatever happened to bubble gum? Calumn couldn’t remember the last time he saw a bubble burst between the lips of an arrogant teenager. Or peeled an old bit away from under a desk.

“Why did they let this happen mummy?” said Magnus. Calumn stopped thinking about gum.

“Mum” surely?” said Ian from head Office. “A teenage boy would never say ‘Mummy’; even at a time of great stress.”

“Moments before death?” asked Magnus.

“A few girls died. Maybe they said ‘mummy’? Do you think?

“Do think they knew they were going to die?” Said Magnus

“Oh I think so. Hanging there…. arms dangling. Those four minutes must have been torture. Waiting there…maybe they made their piece with god; only if they believed of course.” Ian from Head Off smiled. He continued: “They were all in the same rollerblading club. Best in the region.”

“Yes, I was reading about them in the paper. Did you see the paper? There was a double page spread and they had a picture of each victim next to a picture of their mum and dad. ‘Local man blamed’ Magnus used his fingers to emphasise that he was quoting and pulled an exaggerated grimace. “Very sad.”

“Yes.” said Ian from Head Office and signed heavily, “Crying men.”

“Yes.” said Magnus. The two men waited. Column stood between them and looked out of the window.

 

 

Graeme Swanson.

 

 

 

 

Memory and Depression Lols

by Graeme Swanson

I can still remember my name. I can still remember my childhood. I can name every actor to have played Dr Who and the order in which they appeared. What I cannot do is remember last year or the first five months of 2016. When I try to think back all I see is an empty cave. No that’s wrong. There’s no cave to keep the emptiness in. There’s nothing there. In 2015 I changed address three times, kissed someone and saw a play in Glasgow. I probably did more than that but this is all I’ve been made aware of. As far I’m concerned I fell asleep in East London and woke up in Perthshire surrounded by cows, hills and bastard, bastard rabbits. Why is this?

Clinical depression.

Everyone who has ever met me may be surprised to learn that someone as gregarious and as outgoing as myself would suffer from professional misery. (“Graeme lights up the room with every turn; a laugh, a smile, a whirling bowtie”- Made Up Quotes Magazine) Many of our heroes are miserable; often it is that despair that draws us in; Larry David and Jerry Sadowitz will never benefit from a sprinkling of stardust. But comparing fed-up-ness with depression is a shit’s trick. That’s like comparing the horror of the Manson Family murders to the terror of hearing swear words on television before 9pm. Grumpiness is a character trait whereas depression is a snake in your head; slowly, by a centimetre a month, throttling to death your love for the world

No two cases of depression are exactly the same. You may not be suicidal but you are sleeping for twenty hours a day and dreaming about death. You may swear blind that Citalopram is the drug for everyone or perhaps you’re more of an Imipramine evangelist? Perhaps you need to regularly ring 111 and scream-cry to a stranger? The way it affected me was I forget. By that I mean my memory has gone and I can’t remember what it was like.

As a fan of miserable men and women I have read all the biographies. The Tears Of A Clown genre is still a healthy one. It’s comforting to find pain in other humans, especially in the quick-witted and the genius. You may have made the greatest film ever produced but at least I don’t need a difficult to spell pill to help me sleep at night. With all this knowledge on depressives I thought I had it covered. If someone I admired died before the age of 70 I almost felt disappointed if it wasn’t suicide. I wanted to shout, “See. It was serious!”

I did not know that memory loss was a symptom. Although of course I could be the world’s leading expert on amnesia and I’ve forgotten, but it can be a common side effect of the pills. I had not read anywhere that poor memory was a common symptom and I’d read all the biographies of depressed men and women. Essentially I considered myself a go-to expert on depression because I’d read some Spike Milligan. I’d had problems with depression before but nothing as crippling as the last 18 months. Doctors told me I’d had a nervous breakdown. Again I thought I knew what one was. It’s what happens in sitcoms and poorly written soaps. I’m not saying I didn’t drive to Dundee in my bare feet because I don’t remember Perhaps my brain is trying to protect me. I once saw a man fall to his death and saw what was left on the ground; my Goth-friendly mind still remembers that. But I do forget stories of murder and dying. My mum tells me how upset I was when David Bowie died. I hear “When he dies” “When is he dying?” I asked. “He died in March, son. You were in bits”

I could have married and/or murdered thousands. Perhaps it’s a good thing we have such strong gun laws in this country? Perhaps my breakdown was my Vietnam? Perhaps “Perhaps” can piss off? “Perhaps” is an arsehole. “Perhaps” is my nemesis. I don’t know what happened to me last year and so “Perhaps” sits smugly perched on Depression’s shoulder, squawking, laughing and pointing. By all accounts I did do things some would call ‘fun’ but I don’t remember. How was that band we saw? Did I have a nice Christmas? “Louis says hello.” I smile and nod and spend the rest of the evening wondering who Louis is.

Things are improving. I can remember the referendum.

Damn it.

G x