The Northern Crack 1st April, 2021. Exclusive Interview Reveals All: Were they really Sirens?
I was driving home after night shift at Wick General. The sun was rising and it was quiet on Cliff Road. I approached the roundabout at 15 mph. Visibility was poor. A whisky mist hovered over the river. At first I thought they were new road signs but then I saw wings. So I thought maybe pelicans or those big birds with fancy feathers, ostriches? Perhaps they’d escaped from a zoo? But then I saw the bare chests (in April!) chiselled, bronzed and sleek like Chippendales and I thought they must be three guys letting rip on a stag night or hungry patients on the run looking for a cooked breakfast. They had long blonde hair like the Angel Gabriel and one of them strummed a guitar. I forgot to keep left or look right and never saw the red Fiesta crash into the wall of Mackay’s Hotel or the Transit van fall off the bridge. The old lady with the cocker spaniel walked right in front of me. It was too late to stop. I’ll never forget her torn face and the blood. I could see the three of them in my mirror peeling her skin like gold foil from a chocolate Easter bunny. I was listening to AC/DC’s Highway to Hell full blast to stay awake so I never heard them singing. That’s why I’m still here, I suppose…
As Britain spins in a maelstrom of Covid mutations and Brexit insanity I realise that the mega-hours I spent watching post-apocalyptic/survival/science fiction/disaster/horror/zombie movies have not been wasted. I am fully psyched for the reality show in which I now play a minor (so far) role – numerous crowd scenes featuring clapping for the NHS or fighting for a food delivery…? This nail-biting series could be called Escape from UK, The Last Ferry, No Way Home or Gone Broccoli Gone.
Further suggestions on a postcard please addressed to our buoyant Prime Minister Boris at 10 Downing Street, London.
In the meantime I have shaved off my hair as hairdressers are a distant dream and changed my make-up to match.
I was looking through some old notebooks today and came across this short story I wrote about twenty five years ago and had forgotten about. A simple tale of revenge written not long after my divorce...no coincidence!
The suitcase waited by the front door while Morven took one last look around the house. The bedroom had an abandoned air; the usual bric-a-brac missing from the dressing table and only her sequinned party frock hanging in the wardrobe. For a moment she paused at the foot of the double bed and memories both happy and sad raced through her mind.
When first married they spent entire weekends cocooned in this room, oblivious of the world outside. The passion and laughter of early times had soon faded into the silence of lonely nights when the bed felt like an expanse of lifeless desert. As she left the room Morven gave the duvet a final pat, smoothing out an imaginary wrinkle in the cover.
The lounge was polished, tidy and still. The gleaming fish tanks lining one wall were empty of the bright colours and flickers of usual inhabitants. Only silver bubbles gurgled through the water and reminded Morven of the way the fish pie was simmering in the oven. She laughed when she noticed Neil’s favourite collection of books:- The Secrets of a Healthy Aquarium, How to Look After Your Angel Fish, Discovering Shubunkins and The A to Z of Water Plants.
She gathered them up into a large casserole dish, added half a pint of milk, salt, pepper and a dash of lemon juice and placed it on the bottom shelf of the oven where the fish pie was doing nicely. Pulling on her coat, Morven checked the note on the hall table.
Dinner is in the oven. Just popped out for a new life.
She didn’t bother to lock the door and walked down the driveway without looking back.
My therapist’s room has lofty ceilings and a view across rooftops to the sea. A row of potted geraniums line the sill and a tribal mask hangs over his desk. My therapist says I must remember.
My therapist likes to shop. He’s a snappy dresser. Today he wears orange trousers with a button down shirt in lemon. He sips tea from a turquoise mug. My therapist says I remind him of his dead grandfather.
My therapist composes poetry in his head as he walks along the seafront. He recites a poem about a man sleeping rough outside Habitat. My therapist suggests a poem about planting a seed of anger.
My therapist has green fingers growing houseplants with pink flowers. He displays a cactus with fuschia spikes that remind me of my dead mother. My therapist says I am a rose without thorns.
My therapist has cold sores and doesn’t feel like talking. He missed his train, feels stressed. I suggest homeopathy. He asks how I feel about him. I say he is amazing. We are both wearing yellow jumpers. My therapist says
we are synchronised and sends photos of tulips. My therapist suggests letting go, forgiveness and voluntary work. He says my perception is flawed like rippled glass in a old window pane. My therapist asks, are they out to get you?
Our last session he complains of food poisoning and a dodgy meal in Chinatown. I suggest ginger. My therapist says I have too much empty space in my head, sniggers at my leopard print hoodie. Perhaps you’ve shot yourself in the foot?
A crisis is like an x-ray. It shows us who we really are. In the case of the UK government the Coronavirus crisis has revealed incompetence and deceit. In the case of the British public however, the picture is more positive. Communities have come to the rescue where the State has failed.
As individuals we are dealing with this new existential threat in various ways. Here’s a light-hearted analysis of the different strategies we are using to cope with strange times. So read on if you want to know if you are an Ostrich, a Doomer or a Happy Clapper.
This group includes all essential workers including health and social care, cleaners, truck drivers, supermarket staff, delivery drivers, police, community volunteers and the invisible people who maintain electricity, water and sewage systems. This group gain strength and meaning through helping others. They enjoy being busy and have a positive, practical attitude to life. Their hard work and self sacrifice must be rewarded and respected.
Unlike the heroes Ostriches think only of themselves and their own needs. They have difficulty facing up to reality and are afraid of change. They admire Donald Trump and believe the virus is a Chinese Hoax. They often have narcissistic tendencies and think the world owes them. During the Pandemic they are out on the streets flouting lockdown rules or on Facebook posting photos of their dinner and complaining of boredom. They have a deep seated fear of death hidden beneath a superficial bravado.
The Happy Clapper
This group have an optimistic trusting attitude. They believe all will be well if only we listen to the authorities. They spend lockdown time painting rainbows on windows, organising sing-songs on Zoom, doing sponsored knitting for charity and making masks out of cotton knickers for health workers. They clap so hard and so long their hands hurt. They are a contented bunch who never ask difficult questions. Sadly I am not one of them.
The Doomer is the opposite of the Happy Clapper. They are pessimists and give up on every project after five minutes. They believe the Pandemic is the beginning of the end of the world and nothing can be done to stop it so we may as well not try. They disagree with Lockdown, thinking they might as well die sooner but on a good hair day and in a nice restaurant. They brood indoors and do nothing constructive, spending time instead watching the 24 hour News Channel and drinking gin. They take their allocated daily exercise strolling around the local cemetery. Doomers are to be handled with caution as they can damage your mental health.
This group are going strong while others struggle. They have been preparing for the Pandemic or some other existential crisis ever since they first saw George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. They may have an underground bunker in the back garden or a basement filled to the brim with essential supplies, hand sanitizer and Hazmat suits. They have an emergency generator in the shed and a very sharp axe by the front door. They are now smugly observing from a safe distance as lesser mortals fight for toilet rolls.
The Creative Revolutionary
This group sees the Pandemic as a chance to change the world for the better. They are idealists. They believe people are basically good and that a new order with humanist values will rise as the virus demonstrates the failings of capitalism. They are using Lockdown time to organise community groups and post provocative messages on social media. They believe art can bring change and they may be artists, musicians, writers or gardeners who leave boxes of vegetables or poems at the doors of needy folk. This group are an inspiration to us all and we must hope they’ve got it right.
Atrocity is a wall of thorns artless
Bluebottles smashing against glass fall
Comatose to my window ledge making
Death their next great adventure
Escape to shit scented nirvanas
Filled with lost winged kin and divine
Garbage heaps piss-fountains free from
Human malevolence effervescent
Incandescence and decay so promising
Knowledge is an act of sabotage not
Limitless power but a weapon
Mother warned me about the elitist
Noah and his treachery for not
One soul is more holy than another
Paradise is an orange wasteland where
Quicksand and alligators devour
Revolutionaries with their fiery
Socks and fondness for the insignificant
Turtle neck sweaters may be aesthetically
Unpleasing but they conceal the frogs in
Virtuous throats destined to cause alarm on
Wet Wednesdays when there are no boats
Xpected but gin is being served at Erith
Yacht club as waves lap and lightening
Zaps the three wise monkeys at the door.
Absence is the heart of Love a brutal
Board game for two or more
Capricious players intent on self
Delusion a power struggle not
Enlightenment or hope for the spiritual
Frisson of two strangers touching skin
Gestures an attempt at unexpected soul
Happiness is a voidable experiment not
Intended to last more than ninety nine
Joyful but repetitive days when ruinous
Keepsakes fall like autumn rain before
Love breakfasts lessen to burnt toast
Marmite with cold coffee because
No-one notices cloud formations or
Opens their eyes to truly see another
Person is not the perfect answer to every
Question but more questions that require
Rumination and lead to rheumatism and
Slavery but do not give up hope bitter
Times do not last and love is not worthless
Undressing in the dark nor a virtuous
Virus causing fever flush and accelerated
Weeping at weekends instead
Xpect expectations to be compromised
You will not be satisfied unless you are a
Zealot intent on annihilation.
Anyone here had a go at themselves
for a laugh? Anyone opened their wrists
with a blade in the bath? Those in the dark
at the back, listen hard. Those at the front
in the know, those of us who have, hands up,
let’s show that inch of lacerated skin
between the forearm and the fist. Let’s tell it
like it is: strong drink, a crimson tidemark
round the tub, a yard of lint, white towels
washed a dozen times, still pink. Tough luck.
A passion then for watches, bangles, cuffs.
A likely story: you were lashed by brambles
picking berries from the woods. Come clean, come good,
repeat with me the punch line ‘Just like blood’
when those at the back rush forward to say
how a little love goes a long long long way.
A hard hitting poem by English poet, Simon Armitage