Thursday, 8 September 2011

Mam - Eleven Years On...

My Mam.

Eleven years ago today the unbelievable happened. My Mam died. Obviously, to the average person, the thought of someone dying isn't unbelievable. On the contrary, it's the one certainty that awaits us all (like, happy clappy hoooray!) But when it's your own mam - a person who has gone through life with barely a sniffle, let alone anything serious - and you're suddenly told that she's got cancer before dying four weeks later - then it's unbelievable. And that's how it remains in my head. Unbelievable. I've had eleven years to get my head around the fact that I'm a motherless child and still it fails to stick. When the unthinkable happened, at 8.30am on a dull and damp Friday morning of September 8th, 2000, I was living 100 miles away from home. In the immediate aftermath of her passing, I didn't have to confront it in the same way that the rest of my family did - my daily routine wasn't disrupted. I didn't have daily reminders like the rest of my family did - so I simply chose not to.

Sure, my life suddenly had a mother-shaped hole gaping through the middle of it, but I was able to deny it. I brushed it aside and elected to ignore the issue (a fatal trait, ironically inherited from my Mam herself.) For the first two years I went around in a strange kind of emotional fug. Now and again it would hit me. I'd be walking in the street, minding my own business and thinking about something completely unrelated to Mam when the cold, hard fact that she was dead would hit me and I'd suddenly be left reeling. There were other times I'd forget that she was dead at all. I'd see an advert for a TV programme that I thought she'd like and I would go to ring her to tell her. It would only be as Dad answered the phone that the crushing reality would hit me and no, I wouldn't be able to talk to her.

I tried to plug the gaps with instantly doomed relationships that temporarily staved off and then exacerbated all the negative feelings associated with death: longing, anger, guilt. And obviously, I got pissed quite a lot. When I finally addressed the issue, I spent another two years in a kind of hermit-like state, only to emerge the other side erroneously thinking that I was 'better' - but no. I tried to plug the gap yet again - this time with another relationship that proved to be my undoing in more ways than one. Grief had a pernicious effect: I'd have good days and bad days but even when the good days started to outweigh the bad, I could always feel it lurking in the background.

For me, death isn't something you get over. It's something that you get used to. Eleven years later I can say I've made my peace with her death, but it still hurts. It's not as raw as it was, but now and again it hits me like a bolt of lightning and the sudden realistion floors me. In trying to understand her death, I stumbled on a more spiritual side of my character that I didn't realise was there. I still don't subscribe to any of the religions that humanity offers, but I believe in a life (probably the wrong word for it) after death, I believe we go somewhere else. I think the universe is too fantastically planned to be a happy coincidence and science doesn't explain everything. I'm not sure what I believe, but I believe - I know - that I'll see Mam again, that there will be a reunification of some sort. Until that time comes, I'll carry on smiling at her memory and being grateful for the fact that she was my Mam. I'll continue to miss her gentleness, her kindness, her laugh, her beauty, her unrelenting, uncompromising love. And not to mention her dinners. Absolutely legendary!

Love you Mam. Hope you're sleeping tight. x

Sunday, 22 May 2011

The End Is Not Nigh!

The gorgeous Harold Camping: Tricked you!
 Oh look everyone. The world failed to end last night. Funny that. Just as well really because I've not paid my council tax this month yet. The last thing I want in the netherworld is to be chased around and threatened by baliff angels demanding £95.00 from me.

One person who I bet wishes he was dead this morning is Harold Camping, the 89 year old nutjob preacher who was the complete and utter spaz bloke behind the doomsday prediction that neglected to occur. It turns out that he's done this thing before (ie. attention seeking). Yup, back in September 1994, he wrongly predicted that the end was coming, a process he rather sinisterly refers to as Rapture. (Actually, didn't Blondie have an album of the same name?) Anyway, it seems that Harold's a bit obsessed with God taking taking vengeance on humanity. Through his religious huffing and puffing he points his gnarled, arthritic, unbendable finger of blame at 'sexual perversion', spearheaded by the 'gay pride movement. It was sent by God as a sign of the end.' Really?

He must feel a right twat at the minute. He's probably not the only one. Mr Camping's ridiculous argument managed to convince red neck half wit Adam Larsen, 32, from Kansas. He is among scores of mongoles "ambassadors" who have quit their jobs to drive around America in Family Radio vehicles warning of the impending apocalypse. 'My favourite pastime is raccoon hunting," Mr Larsen told CNN. "I've had to give that up. But this task is far more important.'

Oh dear.

The End Is Nigh!

Oooh, brace yourselves people: the end of the world is nigh. Again! Apparently, at 11pm tonight, we're all going to die as the world goes past it's use by date. Humph.

I'm not very happy about my imminent demise because: a) I'm not ready to pop my clogs yet; b) I have milk in the fridge that is not due to go off until next week which makes me feel as though I've been conned a little bit and c) I've not started on my New Years Resolutions yet - ie. stop being such a fat knacker. Although that said, if I do slip off the dish this evening, then in about six days time, I'll probably be at my target weight so I suppose you win some, you lose some.

Between me and you, I think there's more chance of being noshed off by the pope than there is of the world ending. However, this is where I hedge my bets. What if the prophercy is right and this time tomorrow we're all toast? Hmmmm... JUST supposing that the end really is a couple of hours away, I should really atone for the sins I have committed in this life.

In retrospect, I've not really behaved as well as I ought to have been. I have a funny feeling I could find myself in the lift going down to the lake that burns with fire and brimstone. Knowing my luck, I'll probably find myself sandwiched between Mariah Carey (boo!) and Thatcher (hiss, spit and masturbatory gestures!) With this in mind, I am going to regretfully self disclose the following in the hope that my sincere-ish apology will bump me up to the God queue. Yay Jesus, etc.

1. I let the dogs out. Woof, woof, woof. It was me. Soz.

2. When I was doing my A-Levels, there was a lad in my politics class who I didn't like very much. We were talking in the 'refectory' (why they didn't call it the caff, I'll never know, perhaps they weren't as common as me. Or summat)... Where was I? Oh yes, me and this bloke - let's call him Dave because that was his name after all - were talking one day (when I liked him) and he randomly asked me if I would like to go to Nigeria, the place of his birth. I thought about it for a bit whilst I inhaled my dry muffin before saying, 'No, not really.' It was true: I didn't really want to go to Nigeria. I didn't have anything against the place, I'd just never really thought about it. I wanted to go to America to stalk Madonna (in a nice, non-freaky way) and go to Japan, which always seemed exotic and mysterious. But as far as my travelling ambitions went, Nigeria never got a look-in. My soon to be ex-friend was unimpressed to say the least. His nostrils flared and his eyes narrowed. 'Is because you is IGNORANT,' he screamed in an accent that he didn't normally speak with. Seconds later, he stormed out of the caff. I mean, refectory. He then blanked me for the rest of the year. I tried to talk to him but he wasn't having any of it. From that point onwards, he was horrible to me. He'd give me horrible looks; he'd open the door for everyone but as soon as I tried to go through, he'd slam it in my face. He was often asked to gather everyone's assignments up, but rather than pick mine up he'd make a spitting gesture or just ignore mine altogether. And why? Because I didn't want to go to Nigeria.

Anyyyyyyyyyyyyyway, I took his shit for the whole year. Exam time was upon us. We had two exams, each a week apart, but whereas the first exam was on a Monday afternoon, the second one was in the morning. The first exam came and went without incident. I was quietly confident. I was also the last person to leave the hall. However, the door was being held open for me. By Dave. Who was smiling at me. Taken aback, I smiled and asked him how he thought the exam went. A sneer crept across his face. 'Hmmm, yeah, whatever. Listen, the next exam - is it in the morning or the afternoon. I thought it was the afternoon but Ray just said it was in the morning. Which is it?' Aaaah, so you're being nice to me because you want something, I thought. My thought process was interrupted by Dave, who was getting impatient. 'So? Which one? Morning or afternoon? It's in the afternoon isn't it? I'm right aren't I?' I thought for a second. 'Yeah, you're right, it's in the afternoon,' I lied. And sure enough, he wasn't there the following week. And you know what? Thinking about it, I'm actually not sorry. Not even a little bit. Besides, as God himself says in the Bible, 'Vengeance will be mine!'

3. When I was a kid, my Mam used to do the weekly big shop on a Wednesday when Jim (my big bro) and I would look forward to our weekly treat: a single ski yoghurt. Kids these days don't know they're born, etc. Anyway, one week, Jim couldn't find his yoghurt. Dad summoned me to the kitchen immediately. He put two and two together and made four and a bit. Fat kid (me) + missing food = fat child thief. I protested my innocence but Dad wasn't having any of it. In desperation, I opened the fridge door and started to rummage through the chilled food in front of me in order to prove I was right. Next thing you know, Dad's foot connected squarely with my arse, sending me headfirst into the fridge. I remember bursting into tears at the injustice that this kangaroo court had dispensed. I remember Dad saying, 'Yes, you can cry, but that'll serve you right for eating our Jim's yoghurt!' I remember Dad walking out of the kitchen leaving me sitting in a pile of displaced food. As I tearfully put it back, I came across the yoghurt in question. It had been inadvertantly hidden by a block of cheese. Rather than confront Dad with the suddenly-found yoghurt, I thought, fuck it, I've done the time, so I may as well as do the crime. I grabbed a spoon, locked myself in the toilet (nice, I know) and inhaled the yoghurt in about three seconds flat. Again, I'm not in the least bit remorseful. Oh dear.

4. I really want to like the following: The Beatles, Star Wars, Citizen Kane, The Divinci Code (book) and The Lord of the Rings (book and film). Fact is, I don't. BOR-IIIIIIING. I much prefer Abba, Madge, Muriel's Wedding, Forrest Gump and musical theatre. Fine, judge me. You'll probably go to Hell anyway for doing so. Ha. I'm not your bitch, don't hang your shit on me, etc.

5. I am the premiership footballer that had an affair with Big Brother 'star' Imogen Thomas. Not really, she's got the wrong dangly bits. And I'm shit at football. In fact, I'm that bad, I was once made to be the goal post, but I was crap at that too.

Oh bugger. It's now 22:08. Fifty two minutes to go. RUN FOR YOUR LIVES, WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE, etc.

See you on the other side, etc.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Matt Baker Asks the Question On Everyone's lips...

I particularly like the GASP from his co-presenter... :-)

Matt Baker Asks the Question On Everyone's lips...

Separated at Birth #4: Michael Jackson and Colonel Gaddafi...

<< Left: Libyan despot Colonel Gaddafi. With inexplicable nail varnish and ropey wig, possibly pilfered from Elton John's rejects.

>> Right: Having a bad hair day? Now defunct pop princess, Michael Jackson, looking ever so slightly bored by old man.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Separated at Birth #3: Uri Geller and Colonel Gaddafi...

 << Left: Long time (spoon) bender and Michael Jackson botherer, Uri Geller...

   >> Right: Eccentric mental dictator of Libya, Colonel Gaddafi

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Short Story: Blue Insomnia - Part One

I died today... Was it today? I don’t know… I really don’t know…

On one hand, it seems like I slipped into this vortex just seconds ago; on the other, it feels like I’ve been here forever. It’s a bit like being an adult and retaining a powerful memory from childhood that, despite the ravages of time, remains as fresh in the mind as it was the day it was imprinted there.

In death, the routine of life has – unsurprisingly, I suppose – been banished entirely… I don’t sleep anymore… I don’t eat… I don’t feel, not in a physical sense anyway. I am unaware of my body… I do feel emotionally, or at least I think I do… And that’s another thing, I think. At university, I spent hours debating Descartes’ proposition, cogito ergo sum, or to put it in a less pretentious way, I think therefore I am. At the time, I mistakenly believed that it proved that we, as humans, exist.

Have I ceased to exist or do I exist somewhere, somehow else? I don’t know. I really don’t know. I don’t know if I’m in the present or past, or somewhere else entirely unexplainable. I was no good at physics when I was alive, nor was I particularly interested. I’m not going to pretend otherwise just because I’m dead.

Here’s what I do know. I know I’m dead because I heard the paramedic pronounce me so before the light got sucked out of the air and I was catapulted into this endless ocean. Whoever said that the hearing is the last thing to go was right although I’m curious as to how anyone discovered that to be true.

This is what death is like: it’s blue. That sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? I can only tell you what I know. Words fail to do justice to the magnificence and depth of death’s colour. I can’t explain it. It’s as though I’m floating, suspended in an incessant, creamy, azure sky. It’s exceptionally beautiful… I’m enveloped in an enchanting, cobalt infinity. I can’t see beyond the colour, but somehow, I don’t have to. I don’t want to. I feel safe. I feel peaceful. I’m not worried or troubled by emotion. There is no sound or noise, except for that which I conjure up in my mind.

Where I am, God only knows. Speaking of God, either he doesn’t want me for a sunbeam or heavenly promises of a paradise untold was a little off the mark. Sorry to disappoint you, but where I am, there are no pearly gates, no bearded old man in sandals, waiting for me with his arms outstretched. No white tunnel leading me to a plethora of ancestors, eager to facilitate my smooth progress into the next realm. Maybe I’m in purgatory, suspended casually between astral planes, neither here nor quite there. Floating… itinerant… just being.

I can’t quite decide if I’m disappointed that I’m dead… I don’t know. Would I go back if I could? Again, I don’t know. If I survived the injuries that caused my death, I would be, at best, what people uncharitably describe as vegetative. A cabbage. I always used to laugh when people said that. I’d always insist that if that ever happened to me I would want to be switched off or suffocated by a sympathetic relative armed with a pillow. So no, if I had the option of re-harvesting my body with the life I once breathed, I’d turn it down…

Somehow my life seems unimportant now. Consigned to memory. It only exists as vivid dream. My time was up. My number was called. I’ve been and gone. I think therefore I’m dead.

When I was alive, I spent too much time considering my death. Depression in adolescence resulted in an almost successful attempt at suicide that I didn’t really mean. It was attention that I wanted. It was happiness that I craved. Not death. As I came round in hospital, I felt mortified at what I’d done. Not only to myself and my liver (paracetamol overdose, if you’re wondering), but to my parents and my friends, who consequently felt like failures because of what I’d done. I tried to explain that I was the failure, not them, but they didn’t believe me.

The torture of my depression became contagious. Three years later, I discovered that my mother was on anti depressants – and had been since my suicide attempt. When my dad discovered that I was gay, he too started on the happy pills. Guilt devoured my conscience more than depression ever ate away at my happiness, especially when my mother made a better attempt at suicide that I did.

Within two years my Dad had joined her in the grave. Relatives said that he died of a broken heart. My brother told me it was my fault. My sister agreed. It was the day of the funeral and we were waiting for the hearse to arrive, carrying our father’s body. I walked into the kitchen where my siblings were muttering to each other in desperate, hushed tones. I shouldn’t have asked what the matter was, but I did. In the instant that I set the question free, I saw rage consume the pair of them. My brother launched his assault first, telling me that if it wasn’t for me, that both Dad and Mum would still be alive. I didn’t know what to do. They were right. I looked at my sister and reached out for her. She had no sympathy for me. As she took my brother into her embrace she spat her fury at me. She didn’t tell me anything that I didn’t already know. That it should’ve been me. That it was all my doing, with my perversion, filth and selfishness. Anyone would think our family were religious fundamentalists. We really weren’t. We were a normal happy unit until my depression came along and planted a bomb underneath us all. At the end of the funeral, Dad’s body was committed to the same grave as Mum’s body had been. I stood apart from my brother and sister and watched as well wishers patted them on the shoulder and said that our parents would be happy now, that they would be reunited and that was the most important thing. Without any words, I was expelled from the remnants our family.

Neither my brother nor my sister spoke to me after the day of Dad’s funeral. Phone calls went unanswered, apart from random drunk messages left late at night telling me that I was a bastard. A murdering bastard. I tried to keep contact for two years before I swallowed the hint and left them alone. And then couple of years ago, on a whim, I turned up to my sister’s house on Christmas Eve. Earlier on, I’d taken a wreath to the graveyard before going home to spend Christmas alone. I had offers from friends to share the day with them, but as usual, I wanted solitude. I wanted to reflect and think and not bring others down as I wallowed in self pity. I didn’t want to reluctantly sit at someone else’s table, eating food I didn’t really like whilst wearing a ridiculous crown made from coloured tissue paper. I didn’t want to pull crackers and pretend to laugh or force a laboured groan at an unfunny joke. I wanted to be with my family, but had been cast out, so couldn’t. As I laid my wreath, I looked at the other one laying there. Fingering the card in the biting December wind, I drew it towards my face and read the poignant eulogy from my brother and sister. Right there and then, I decided to go and see them.

At this point, I’d not seen either of them for five years. It was starting to get dark when I arrived. The lights were on, but the curtains had not been drawn, affording me a view of my living family that I had been denied for years.

I stood at the foot of my sister’s front garden and wept uncontrollably as I watched them from afar. My brother was there with his girlfriend, who I first met at Dad’s funeral. She was now pregnant. There was a toddler, a little boy. My nephew? After several moments of watching my brother tenderly stroke his girlfriend’s stomach, my sister waltzed into the room and said something which caused everyone to laugh uproariously. All heads turned towards the room from which she had come and I could see that an exchange of words took place with whomever it was who was still there. Her boyfriend? Her husband?

I drank the scene in. It was the archetypal Christmas picture cloaked in an atmosphere of mirth and merriment. Genuine affection and happiness radiated from that window, illuminating my desolation, my misery, my loneliness. At that moment, I hated them for being so happy without me. I despised them for having erased me from their lives so swiftly, so easily, so callously. I wondered if they ever thought about me? Had their feelings towards me thawed? I hated them for making me feel so pathetic. With the bile rising, I turned on my heel and walked away, knowing that I would be unable to stand further rejection.

It’s only now that I’m pleased that my final images of my family were wrapped in joy.

I’m looking back on my life now. All twenty eight years of it. I suspect that people will say that my death was tragic. I disagree. In some respects, death was a release from the humdrum existence that I’d bundled together. I may have been young when I died, but what life I had wasn’t well lived. It was short of ambition and achievement. I never seized the day or lived every day as though it was my last. I wasted energy worrying about everything. I wasted time. I was clumsy. I was a magnet for bad luck. I made the wrong choices. I trusted and put my faith in the wrong people. I was a dreamer. I always thought that the good times were round the corner, that each New Year would herald a new me that lived up to the potential that deep down, I thought I had. I was always believed that I was on the cusp of a contentment that ultimately proved illusive, out of reach. Just before I died, I thought I’d finally grasped it at long last, but my last twenty four hours proved otherwise.

I’d had One of Those Days. You know what I mean: from start to finish, everything that could go wrong selfishly decided to do so with huge great brass cocks on it. The day began when my alarm dragged me from my slumber only to discover that I had a terrible hangover. A hangover made worse, not only by the throb of fresh heartbreak, but also by the insistent sound of the WERP-WERP-WERP erupting from the clock next to me.

My sudden introduction to consciousness from the depths of sleep was shockingly abrupt, so for the first few seconds I was completely disorientated, unsure whether my dream had morphed into something else. After a passing moment staring aimlessly at my wardrobe as though it held the answers to secrets of the universe, recognition came. This was quickly followed by the realisation that my head – much like my heart - felt as though it was splitting. My mouth and throat was parched. I yawned and felt my top lip split on the inside. Meanwhile, the alarm continued unabated. Turning my head to face it, I groaned as a sharp pain tore through my head. I reached over, thwacked my clock repeatedly until silence engulfed the room and then promptly fell back asleep.

When I finally woke up an hour later, panic seized me. I didn’t have time to do anything other than stumble out of bed, relieve myself, put on the previous night’s clothes and then run. I should’ve telephoned work and told them that I wasn’t going in, that I was ill, but pulling sickies was against my own moral code. Besides, festering indoors wasn’t going to do me any good. I needed to keep busy. Distract myself from my rapidly imploding life.

As the bus rounded the corner towards the office, I rang the bell and stood up, steadying myself with the greasy overhead rail. As we came to a halt with a graceless jolt, I clambered towards the doors that hissed their frustration as they opened to let me off. I jumped onto the pavement and, realising that I was late for work, legged it.

It didn’t take me long to realise that running through crowds should be left to people in romantic films as the climax to the story approaches. It would’ve been just as quick to walk. I was almost at the door when I tripped and landed squarely on my hands and knees, right next to a pile of frozen dog shit and a cigarette that hadn’t been extinguished properly. Behind me, I could hear spiteful laughter which enraged me. No one attempted to help me up. No one asked me if I was okay. Crumbs of comfort from Joe Public were staunchly unforthcoming. I got up and stared at my red, stinging palms before attempting to brush down my knees. I swore quite a bit (FUCKING FUCK IT! was my profane weapon of choice), received a disapproving glare from a woman in a charcoal-grey suit and then made my way into the office, my face burning with shame and anger, my palms still smouldering from landing so heavily on concrete.

It only occurred to me as I sat at my desk that I hadn’t cleaned my teeth. I could taste my breath and it didn’t taste good. On the flavour spectrum, it landed somewhere between tripe, the sugar free polo that I had found in my pocket and a skin-full of last nights beer. Do I need to tell you that I died suddenly single, or is that too obvious?

Things I won’t miss now that I’ve slipped off the dish:

Number 1) Charlotte, the Office Manager at work. Thinking about it now, Office Manager is a curious title. In the real world, it means being a bit of a mother hen and sorting out everyone in the office. It means knowing what needs doing and when it needs doing by. It means organising everyone from the top to the bottom and back again. Sue, the old Office Manager, was the heartbeat of the office and ran it with an iron, but rather lovely, fist. Then she selfishly decided to retire and the boss, Lenny – or Titwank Lenny as he’s known (something to do with being caught in the disabled toilet one Christmas with his wife’s mate) hired Charlotte.

She’s the sort of person that my mother would’ve described as all fur coat and no knickers. She’s the sort of woman my Dad would’ve tutted at and muttered under his breath about. The sort of person my sister would hate on sight and claim that she was a bitch, even though no words would have been exchanged. Charlotte’s the sort of slag my brother would shag on the first date and then never phone back to get second helpings.

Since she came along, Office Manger means that you don’t do very much other than sit near the door, look down your nose at people, apply and reapply make up at regular intervals, eat noisily, make name badges for visitors, snitch to the boss on what the workers are doing, accept every offer of a cup of tea, but fail to ever make one yourself, order too many staples and paperclips but never enough paper and toner and complain about it being cold in the office, even when it’s the height of summer and everyone else is gasping for breath.

In her flawed defence, she attempts to look busy, but a quick look on Facebook tells you that all she does is update her fist-eatingly banal status before inexplicably adding LOL after everything, despite the fact that it’s not in the least bit funny, Laugh Out Loud or otherwise. For example, she’ll write, ‘cold in the office 2day LOL!’ or ‘why is it raining????? LOL’ or ‘hmmmmmmmmm really fancy a Burger King for lunch LOL’ even though she recently put her oversized arse through a brand new ‘ergonomic’ chair. She claimed it was a design fault. LOL.

There are plus points to her uselessness. For instance, last year, I took two weeks off work and she forgot to add it to my annual leave tally. When year-end came around, I got a shitty email from her, demanding that I take two weeks off immediately. She finished her email with the phrase, ‘Use it or lose it,’ and then added an unnecessary amount of exclamation marks. I don’t know if she was trying to be funny or assert her authority. Either way, I did as I was told. Why the boss hasn’t got rid of her, I’ll never know. Probably got something to do with the low cut tops she wears that struggle to contain her huge, ‘bag-of-water-tits’ as they’re commonly referred to in the office. There are some days when I don’t know why she just doesn’t get them out and be done with it.

Work-shy attitude and offensive wobbling body parts aside, Charlotte just doesn’t sit well with me. She’s a bad apple. Sarcastic without being funny. A nitpicker who revels in pedantry. A negative force. She finds joy in other peoples’ misery. She talks about C-list celebrity movement as though it’s actually important. She carps and complains about everything. Her moods dictate the atmosphere of the office. She projects venom. In other words, she’s just a fucking bitch.

Number 2) My PC at work. Like most things that require electricity and boast an ‘on’ switch, it hates me like I hate Charlotte and it transparently wants me dead. Seems as though the PC got its wish.

On the day I died, I tried to slip into the office unnoticed, with no success whatsoever, thanks to Charlotte hilariously bellowing, ‘GOOD AFTERNOON!’ at a thousand decibels. It was eight forty nine am, which meant that I was nineteen minutes late. She carried on, spraying her breakfast everywhere as she continued to wail whilst eating. ‘WHAT TIME DO YOU CALL THIS?’ she screamed like an insane woman. ‘LATE NIGHT WAS IT?’ If I didn’t interpret her tone correctly, her thousand-yard death stare left me with no uncertainty as to her disapproval. It didn’t matter that I was always in early and Charlotte often rolled up to work well past her start time. I stood there, looking awful and feeling like a complete twat. Titwank Lenny threw me a withering look before shaking his head and returning to whatever he was doing. Probably nothing. I opened my mouth to make my defence, realised that I couldn’t be bothered and promptly sat down. Chewing my bottom lip with irritation, I reached over to my computer and switched it on.

After making a strange electronic farting noise, I was treated to what Simon in IT called total and complete PC failure, which I thought was quite funny. Simon – personality free, a face that only a sexual fetishist could love, breath worse than mine – told me that total and complete PC failure was no laughing matter in a tone so serious that it became even funnier. When I realised that he wasn’t joking, irritation set in. I sighed at a volume intended to alert people to my sorry state and inspire them to ask me what the matter was – Charlotte-esque behaviour that I usually abhor. There were no takers so, realising that I couldn’t do anything until a replacement PC had been found, I got up to make a coffee.

Ordinarily, I regard the kitchen at work as I do public toilets: to be avoided at all costs. Something once grew in the fridge for seven months and since then I’ve given the place a wide berth. It was formerly a packet of ham, left over from when Charlotte had a failed attempt at the Atkins Plan. Meanwhile, the open packet of ham sat there, patiently waiting to be eaten. After a few days, it gained a watery sheen. Then it started to smell and the sides curled up as though it was trying to escape. Soon after, it changed colour. Then it started to smell even worse: think rancid milk mixed with Sugar Puffs. Several days later, black spots emerged on it. Then someone put a shitty note on the fridge door expressing their disgust at kitchen etiquette within the office. Soon after, an email went round, asking the owner of the rotten ham to throw it away. Lots of people – including Charlotte - emailed back, claiming it wasn’t theirs. Another email went round – this time, from Titwank Lenny – talking about health and safety hazards. Much more effort was expended on writing about throwing the fucking ham away than it would’ve taken to actually go into the kitchen, open the door, retrieve it and dispose of accordingly. In the end, Charlotte emailed Titwank Lenny, copying everyone in to inform the office populace that she had ‘taken matters into her own hands’ and that the ham had now been thrown away. She didn’t need to email anyone. We heard her do it. It was an Oscar winning performance in feigned disgust, screeching and faux-gagging. Afterwards, she spent the rest of the day talking about it at high volume. Sadly, this wasn’t the end of it. Lenny emailed back, thanking her and needlessly copying everyone again. She then devised a kitchen rota that no one took any notice of. Bizarrely, she failed to include herself.

Number 3) My job. Growing up, there were plenty of things that I dreamed of doing when I was older. Recruitment wasn’t one of them. I wanted to be an astronaut, an athlete (I wanted to run barefoot like Zola Budd), a pop star, a journalist, a teacher, a footballer. Upon graduating, I got into Public Relations and was doing quite well for myself until the boss stumbled across an email where I’d described her as a ‘vicious, idle, dried up old fucker who probably has a smelly fanny.’ Despite it being a startlingly accurate account of her – and quite fair, given the fact that she would always walk in and point out everyone’s flaws before spending the day doing nothing - she failed to agree. In fact she sacked me. It was three days before Christmas. I didn’t realise at the time, but the PR world is a small one. When you can’t get a reference from the only job you’ve ever had, it’s also an unwelcoming one. Four months later, I was still out of a job. I had no savings and was having to put my rent on an array of credit cards. In no uncertain terms, I was staring financial oblivion and homelessness squarely in the face. I had no parents to borrow money from. In the light of my sexuality, there was never any suggestion of an inheritance. What was left that carried any value was split between my brother and sister as my parents wanted to make provision for the grandchildren they would never meet.

I quickly became desperate so I did what anyone else in my position would do: I got a job as a recruitment consultant. I rang my best friend later that day to tell him about my spanking new role. ‘Consultant,’ he repeated over and over again, as though it was a question or I was trying to catch him out. ‘So how are you consulting? And what are you consulting about?’ I didn’t have the answers and an uneasy silence lingered on the line before I made my excuses and hung up, feeling like a failure, despite having secured work and therefore my home.

In truth, there was no consulting to be done at all. It was simply a suffix to enhance the job title, to make it sound sexier. You can’t be a clerk or an officer anymore. You either get ‘senior’ as a prefix or ‘consultant’ or ‘specialist’ as a suffix. Spit and shine. Polishing turds. I blame Tony Blair myself, although that means I probably should blame Margaret Thatcher, which is fine by me.

I soon found out that recruitment was for people just like me – a last chance saloon for graduates and transient antipodeans, lured in by promises of making money that in reality they never will.

After six months at Seed Employment, I was a veteran such was the way the company ran. The Aussies and Kiwis soon moved on or went home and the Brits usually got sacked. After the first month, all employees were given a revenue target that they were expected to hit the following month. Miss it once and you’d get a warning. Miss it twice and you’d get another. Miss it a third time and Titwank Lenny would invite you to resign. If you declined such a kind offer, the sour old bastard would sack you anyway. People would work fifteen hour days, do all the right things, say the right stuff, but to no avail. We used to call it the thanks-for-coming-now-kindly-piss-off-chat. It was cut throat and cruel.

How I managed to survive as long as I did remains a miracle. I got lucky. My best chum at work was a girl called Shandy, who took me under her wing and trained me up for the role. Her real name was Eileen, but she didn’t like it and changed it to something that she perceived to be classier. Shandy. Not only was she the life force of the office, with her exuberant personality, she was brilliant at recruitment. She had the spiel, she knew her stuff and she worked like a pit horse. Unlike me, she cared. For three years, she made the most revenue but then the bubble burst and in a four week period, she lost seven of her biggest clients. Most people would have given up there and then. Not Shandy. She got her head down and ploughed on regardless. Even when she incurred two warnings and ran head first into her third, she kept her nerve.

The only time I saw her smile slip was after the meeting where she was asked to resign. At first she laughed, thinking that it must be some kind of joke. When it dawned on her that Titwank Lenny was serious, she got up, told him to go and fuck himself and then marched out of the office. I was devastated by her dismissal and infuriated by the injustice and short-sightedness of it all.

My partner in crime had gone and seeing as though I was on my second warning, I was soon going to be following her. Three days later, my desk phone rang. It was Charlotte, eating down the phone as she spoke.

‘You’re looking after Shandy’s crap now she’s gone, aren’t you?’
‘Yes, why?’
‘Some bloke on the phone wants to speak to her.’
‘Who? And what about?’
‘How the bleeding hell should I know?’ Charlotte said, irritated. ‘Putting him through now. Is that alright with you?’ she sneered. Resisting the urge to scream at her, I looked at the cheap, laminated signs that had been fixed to the wall in front of me. It nauseatingly instructed us to smile when taking calls, because a smile can be heard down the phone. I fixed a false grin to my face and in a deadpan tone, offered a wooden salutation as the caller came through to me...

Link to part 2:

Short Story: Blue Insomnia Part 2

The caller turned out to be Mike Chertsey, Project Manager for Ipfed, a global IT company that Shandy had been courting for months. Her pursuit had been relentless, manifesting itself in weekly telephone calls to find out if he required any staff. She had visited him several times, furnishing him with cheap confectionary and branded mugs and stationary bearing Seed’s emblem and telephone number. When that didn’t work, she arranged to take him for dinner to a Michelin restaurant in Mayfair. Eventually, she was invited to bid for Preferred Supplier status. She put her heart and soul into the bid. She lost it.
On the day she found out that the contract had gone to our biggest rivals, Bang Recruitment, she cried openly in the office. No one understood how she had lost. Titwank Lenny went with her – a rarity and a sign of how massive the pitch was. According to him, she had delivered it perfectly and done the company proud. Although not proud enough to prevent her being sacked.

If anyone was to undercut on price, then they would be making either a huge loss or weren’t planning on doing the work they had promised to. During the phone call with Mike, it sounded like Bang was guilty on both counts. In Mike’s words, it had all gone ‘tits up’ with Bang to the extent where he had utilised the get out clause in the agreement. As a result, the contract was now Shandy’s. Or, as it turned out, mine. When he found out that Shandy was no longer working for Seed, he seemed alarmed. Thinking that he was going to change his mind, I moved quickly, arranging to meet him that night to discuss strategy. As I had access to Shandy’s account, I spent the rest of the day going over the terms and conditions already agreed between them and researching the company he worked for.

I soon found all the information I needed in a folder labelled Ipfed. It even included an in-depth profile on Mike himself. Shandy was convinced he was gay. ‘The next time I meet him,’ she enthused, ‘I’m taking you. You can flirt with him. Get him on board. He’s just your type too.’

Before I left the office to meet him, I was given my brief from Lenny who couldn’t accompany me due to prior arrangements that he couldn’t cancel. ‘Anything he asks for, anything he wants, give it to him. I don’t care what it is. Just give it to him. Even if it’s a fucking kidney. Do not, under any circumstances, fuck this up. Understand?’

We met in a hotel bar in Soho, near to where the office was based and spent three hours discussing what needed to be done. He was easy company and we seemed to click, despite feeling slightly intimidated by his good looks at first. Shandy was right, he was my type: rugby build, perfect teeth and hazel eyes that looked like chocolate pools. He had a deep, husky laugh, which he was generous with. At eight o’clock, the lights suddenly dimmed. Mike met this with more laughter. ‘Ambient tone, anyone?’ he asked out loud as he raised his eyebrow. I giggled. I looked at him in the half light, keeping eye contact for a split second too long. Something intangible sizzled between us. I swallowed. Hard. He smiled and cleared his throat.
‘Enough about work,’ he said dismissively. ‘What about you? Tell me about you. If we’re going to be working with each other, it’s only right that I find out what sort of bloke I’m working with.’
‘There’s not a lot to tell,’ I said, trying to think on my feet. ‘Y’know, I’m er, just a normal bloke.’ He laughed again and threw his head back.
‘It’s like that is it?’
‘Like what?’ I couldn’t decipher the subtext of his conversation. I was out of my depth.
‘You know… playing hard to get.’ I felt myself blush like a school girl.
‘What? I’m… I’m not playing anything.’ My stunned reaction liberated more laughter from Mike.
‘Relax, you muppet! I’m just teasing. Now, do you fancy another drink?’
‘Yeah, sure,’ I said, trying to remain cool. I looked at him again. A barrage of unspoken words flew between us.
‘Do you want to stay here… or?’ He looked out of the window and gestured to the bar across the road that had a rainbow flag flying proudly above its door.
As we made our way into the bar across the road, I looked at him and smiled.
‘Didn’t think you were the type to come to places like this,’ I said with a wink.
‘Right back at you,’ he replied with a glint in his eye.
‘Takes all sorts, eh? Anyway, my round,’ I said, ‘What can I get you?’
‘A pint of Stella. For now,’ he replied and I felt my stomach twist with lust.

Two hours and three pints later, we were in a taxi, heading back to mine where he screamed my name as I fucked him. Afterwards, he nuzzled into me and as he drifted off to sleep, he murmured that he had made the right choice.

Having been awarded the contract, I realised that my targets would now be easily met for the next year, although that’s not why I slept with him. There was a connection – a real, emotional, ethereal connection between us. What we had together was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Up until this point, my love life read like something out of Freaks, Fuckwits, Fatties and Thieves: An Anthology. Mike was different. He amazed me. When I was with him, I felt indestructible. All the misery and heartache that dogged my life dissipated the second Mike walked into it.

We began to see each other, but it wasn’t without its difficulties: he worked long and unsocial hours and lived in Northampton, so commuted into London where he was based. We soon developed a pattern: he’d stay at mine from Tuesday until Friday morning and then catch the train home after work. There were occasions that he stayed over the weekend, but he needed his space and I needed mine, so for us it just seemed to work. Throughout our relationship, I was filled with euphoria, but if I thought about it for too long, my bliss would quickly evaporate. Mike was upfront with me from day one. He told me about his history, that his last relationship ended badly and that he’d lost everything. I knew that he’d had to move back in with his parents, who still didn’t know that he was gay. It was a generational thing, he said. I understood: my coming out had contributed, if not caused the death of my parents. I however, wasn’t so willing to self disclose. He knew my parents were dead, but I didn’t mention my brother and sister. As far as he was concerned it was just me. It was too painful to share and I was ashamed. I thought that telling him might reveal a side to me that he found he couldn’t love. I’d finally attained happiness. I wasn’t going to risk bursting my own bubble.

Back at work and upon landing the Ipfed contract, I became Lenny’s new favourite. Mike spent thousands with us, and when one project ended, another one soon began. The night before I died, I finished work early to meet Mike under the pretence of a client meeting. Rather brilliantly, we were able to court each other in luxury and put it on a company credit card. We ate at the best restaurants, we attended the best clubs. We had weekends away in five star hotels, all courtesy of my expenses account.

On this particular night, Mike seemed slightly different. As I approached the bar where we usually met, I saw him outside, pacing up and down and speaking animatedly into his mobile phone. As soon as he saw me, his expression softened and he terminated his call. We stepped inside the bar and he kissed me fully on the mouth, but soon pulled away. I ordered our drinks and took them over to the booth where he sat. His expression was troubled. He seemed distracted.

‘I’m not sure I can stay tonight,’ he said as his eyes darted around. ‘Something’s come up. Work. There’s been a fuck up.’
‘Oh. Okay. No problem.’ Rather than press him as to what the matter was, I remained meek. In truth, I was crestfallen. All I seemed to do when we were apart was look forward to the next time I was seeing him. He seemed to pick up on my upset.
‘It doesn’t mean I can’t come back for a bit. Shall we neck this and go now?’ He licked his lips and cocked his eyebrow. ‘Looking at you is making me really fucking horny.’

I sucked his cock in the back of the cab back to mine without any concern for the driver who was listening to an Arabic radio station and singing along whilst smacking his palm against the steering wheel in time to the music. Mike didn’t seem to care either. He grabbed my hand and whispered instructions to do what I was doing harder. Faster. Within minutes, he shuddered as his orgasm began to swell and he forced himself deeper into me. Gasping, he suppressed a satisfied groan as he erupted into my mouth. As his climax continued, his grip tightened considerably and that's when I noticed something hard digging into my fingers. His wedding ring. I swallowed his lust, released myself and was rendered speechless with shock.

‘What’s wrong?’ he asked as he put himself away. I picked up his left hand and traced the outline of it with my index finger, stopping as I reached the gold band.

He immediately realised that he’d made a mistake by not removing it as he must have done every time before. We said nothing to each other as the car snaked through the streets of London. When we finally arrived into my road and the cab came to a stop, he attempted to offer an explanation. I remained mute: too stunned to take in the information he was giving me. It was only as I realised that I could never have him that I understood the true depth of my feelings. I never allowed myself to tell him that I loved him, or tell my friends that I’d found The One because I thought that by doing so would be to curse it. At that moment, I realised that I wanted it all: to live together, to have a Civil Partnership and a ridiculous honeymoon in Hawaii. I wanted to move to the suburbs and get a fucking dog. I wanted us to grow old and look after each other. And to think that it was doomed all along.

Inside the flat, we didn’t shout or scream. He spoke, whilst I remained dumbfounded that I’d never even suspected. He said that he was sorry, as though that made everything okay. He said that he didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt. Cliché after cliché tumbled from that beautiful mouth of his. His marriage was happy, but not enough, that he had managed to satisfy his other sexual cravings with internet porn until he met me, as thought all of this was my fault. I asked him to choose, but he said couldn’t leave his wife or his kids. Kids. Two of them. Barney and Thomas. One was three, the other eighteen months. His wife. Rachel. Same name as my sister, I thought bitterly.

We sat in silence for a while until he said that he needed the toilet. As he closed the door to the bathroom, I instinctively picked up his wallet and began to rifle through its contents. Behind the flap encasing his debit and credit cards, I found his driving licence. He didn’t live in Northampton after all. He lived three miles down the road. I didn’t notice the street, just the town. The penny finally dropped when I reached back into the wallet and withdrew the photos. I flicked through them as though they were playing cards. His kids in various guises. His kids with him. His kids with his wife, Rachel. At first I didn’t believe the image in front of me to be true. I looked again. I flicked further through the photos until I came across a headshot of her on her wedding day in all her glory. His wife, Rachel. My sister, Rachel.

‘What are you doing?’ He demanded. He was standing in front of me holding his hand out. ‘Give me those. You have NO RIGHT-’
‘Rights?’ I interjected, flabbergasted at his clumsy choice of words. ‘RIGHTS? What the FUCK do you know about RIGHTS?’ How is ANY of this RIGHT?’ My fury got the better of me. My voice trembled and I dissolved into a blubbering mess. He walked over to me, softly took his wallet and pictures of our families and tried to take me into his arms. ‘You don’t know what you’ve done,’ I said.
‘I know it’s a mess. We can sort it though. I promise. Let’s talk about it.’ But I couldn’t. I didn’t have the strength or ability. A million questions span through my mind but I was rendered mute with shock. It was too much. I needed to lay down. Or throw up. ‘Do you want me to stay tonight?’ Mike asked. ‘Please. Let me stay. I can’t leave you like this.’

I didn’t say anything. I just got up and went to the bedroom. I undressed and collapsed onto the top of the bed. After a few minutes, Mike came in and did the same. We didn’t touch. We didn’t speak. I was numb. At some point, unconsciousness mercifully took pity on me.

When the alarm went off the next morning, the day I died, he wasn’t there. I turned off the alarm and fell back asleep, jolting awake with panic an hour later. As I scrambled to get ready I felt Mike’s absence. Whilst he often used to wake up and leave before I was even up, he would usually leave a jokey note or put a teabag in a cup ready for me to add boiling water and milk. Today there was nothing. I pulled on my trousers and noticed that the drawer in which he kept his things was slightly open. I walked over and I closed it, but saw that it was empty. I quickly scanned my living room. All trace of him had been erased. I tried to call him on the way to work, but his phone was switched off. I called his office, but was told that he was unavailable. I sent texts but never got a reply. He wasn’t on Facebook or Twitter. Now I knew why.

On my way into work, I was still too shocked to think. A year of being lied to. Of being double crossed. Of sleeping with my own sister’s husband. Of falling in love with my brother in law. I just tried to focus on the day ahead. Work. Normality. Distraction. Diversion. Avoidance. I wanted to fucking scream.

When I was finally given a working computer, I logged on and sighed as the PC took its time to load. In my head, I had started penning a letter to him. I needed to purge my thoughts. My questions required answers. My wrath needed a target. When the desktop screen loaded, I impatiently double clicked on my email icon. Twenty three new emails in bold type had come in since logging off last night. His was the first one that I saw. Sent at 8.06. The tone was formal, professional. Cold.

‘I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for all your hard work,’ the email said, ‘but due to unforeseen circumstances and in line with clause 4b, I regret to inform you that we are cancelling the contract with Seed with immediate effect. May I wish you all the best for the future. Regards, Michael.’ How clever, I thought; dumping me and the company in one email.

The desk phone broke my reverie. Charlotte was barking her orders down the line. ‘Lenny wants to see you in his office. Now.’ I only noticed that he’d been copied into the email after I’d read it for the seventh time, trying to decode a hidden message that plainly wasn’t there.

Old Titwank was unimpressed to say the least.

‘What the fuck did you do?’ he asked. There was no point saying anything, so I shrugged lots and kept quiet. There was nothing to say. I could hardly tell him why the company’s biggest account had been caught out and gone back to his wife, my estranged sister, taking his business with it. ‘Look at the state of you. You smell like an old boozer. You look like shit. It’s no fucking surprise you’re losing business rolling up to work like that. What else have you got on?’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked meekly.
‘I mean, what else are you billing? What other business have you got on? You must have more than just Ipfed? What have you been doing for the last year? For fuck’s sake.’ An enduring silence followed. ‘How many warnings have you got?’ Lenny asked curtly.
‘Better pull your finger out then, lad. You’ve got a week. If you don’t hit your target, you’re out. Now get out of my sight.’

I walked out of his office, picked up my jacket and walked purposefully towards the door.

‘AND WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING?’ Charlotte obviously knew the score and was being her charming, sympathetic self. I stopped, put both hands either side of my desk and leaned over towards her.
‘Charlotte, why don’t you just FUCK OFF?’ I bellowed and left the office for the last time, slamming the door behind me.

I got home at seven o’clock, having walked the streets in a daze for hours before stopping at the bar we used to go and consoling myself with several drinks. I looked around my flat, which now felt sullied in the absence of Mike. I pictured him with my sister. I wondered if she suspected anything. I thought about the sons he told me about. My nephews. I thought about the lies that I readily believed. I realised how stupid I must have seemed. How desperate and eager and pathetic I was.

I suddenly felt oppressed by the silence in my flat. Without realising, I’d come to think of it as ours. I really did think that the day would come where he’d move in. I had plans. For a year, I had watered my dreams only to suddenly find that the flowers would never grow. I was bereft. Too upset to cry.

Thinking of my sister, I felt myself harden. Anger took over. Things got thrown. My phone also died that day. I tried to ring him again, only to be told that he was unavailable. When his secretary asked if I wanted to leave a message, I said, yes, please tell Mike that he’s a fucking lying cunt. Rather than hang up, I threw my phone at the wall and watched it disintegrate as it took out the clock that Mike bought me from Camden for my birthday.

It was at that point that I decided that my sister needed to know. And I was going to tell her. I didn’t care if it made her hate me more. I was used to it anyway. I don’t know if it was loyalty or spite that carried me along. She had to know and she had to know now. I got up and marched towards the door.

It was dark outside and the cold evening exposed my breath. In my haste, I’d neglected to put my coat on. I buried my hands deep into my pockets and pulled my shoulders forwards to try and trap what little body heat I had. I picked up the pace to keep warm and told myself that I’d soon be there. I knew where I was going. It wouldn’t take long. In my head, I started formulating my speech.

I stepped into the road, giving a cursory glance as I went. Nothing. I didn’t see the motorbike coming. I say motorbike, it was a moped. A pizza delivery moped. Thinking back, I heard a buzzing noise, but it was lost against the sound of the night and the rage swimming in my head. It came out of nowhere. I looked up and saw the bike as the bike saw me. The lad riding it swerved to miss me, but this made things worse as I jumped into its path. The delivery box on the back hit me in solar plexus, sending me flying. Time seemed to slow down. My thought processes were interrupted when my head slammed onto the side of the kerb. It must have looked like one of the hard hitting Green Cross Code adverts that I used get told off for sniggering at.

I never felt any pain. I could hear the pizza lad screaming that it wasn’t his fault, that I just ran out onto the road, that neither of us stood a chance. A bystander was trying to calm him down, but with zero success. At that point, I wanted to tell him that it was okay and that he wasn’t to blame, but I couldn’t do anything. I don’t know if my eyes were open or not. I couldn’t see properly – I was aware of lights, but it was like looking at something completely out of focus. The lad was becoming hysterical, screaming and wanting to know if I was going to be okay.

He was told not to touch me, that the ambulance would arrive soon. In the distance, I could hear the sirens that got louder as they cut through the evening sky. Soon after, the paramedics arrived. There must have been a group of people standing by at this point, because they were being instructed to stand back and give me some air. The paramedic spoke down a radio as my injured form was relayed to a hospital. Male. Late twenties. White. Severe head and possibly back injuries. Loss of blood. I was put on a stretcher and carried into the ambulance where I was attached to various machines. I could hear my heart beat. I could sense the manic activity surrounding me. Panic washed over the medics as the machines started to make worrying noises. I flat lined. I was given an electric shock to my chest and that’s when I first saw the blue that awaited me. It was just a flash. A pretty blue current, sucking me in. Suddenly the voices above me were back. They were losing me, apparently. It was no good, someone said. As I was carried away on a deep blue wave to the gorgeous abyss that awaited me, I heard the last words ever spoken in my presence: ‘We’ve lost him. Time of death eight forty eight.’

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Must Read: One Day by David Nicholls

There are a multitude of reasons that I despise the current government, but somewhere near the top of list (sandwiched between 'because they're spiteful, vicious liars' and 'anyone who LIKES David Cameron or George Osbourne must be a bit of a cunt, right?') is the fact that these draconian, unnecessary cuts mean that libraries all over the country are on the verge of closing. It scares me that we, as a nation, aren't taking to the streets more and doing something about this. We're standing by whilst the cretins in government happily dismantle the country from the inside out.

I turned on the news yesterday and was delighted that there were a series of 'read-ins' being staged all over the country. The militant inside me stirred. Excited, I got my shoes on and made my way to my local library, ready to march, sit in, wave my banner and, erm, burn my bra. Ahem. However, when I got there, I was gutted to find out that there was precisely zero action taking place. There was a middle aged woman browsing the science fiction section whilst smelling of lavender and fingering her pearls, but she seemed far too polite and wholesome to rant and rave. And she wasn't wearing a bra either.

For me, reading is the ultimate in entertainment. There is nothing better than a good book. I don't know where I'd be without my library. Libraries are paramount to the good health of society. They provide a rich source of reference and information for us, the people. As Dr Suess himself says, 'The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.'

Libraries have transformed my reading tastes. When I used to buy books I would judge them by their covers. And often their price tags. If the blurb didn't suck me in from the offset or the first page didn't grab me as I skim-read it, it would go back on the shelf, unpurchased. When I did buy books, I'd read them and then lob them back on my bookshelf where they would sit patiently until I needed the space. At this point, they'd get donated to the charity shop or I'd give them away to friends. Strangely, there was a degree of guilt associated with this. The second I joined my local library, things changed. When I go in there, I feel like a kid in a sweet shop. I feel as thought infinite opportunities abound. Now I just take whatever book, CD or DVD that I fancy - if I don't like it, I can just return it. Easy.

At Christmas, I was fortunate enough to get a book voucher that bought me three books. There were five that took my fancy, so I had to go through a bizarre process of elimination. One of the books I discarded was One Day by David Nicholls. I can't even tell you why I chose the other books over that one. It might have been because I'm a bit of contrary-mary. On the cover of One Day was a lot of hype where fellow authors testified as to the brilliance of the book. Always one to favour the underdog, I put the book down and purchased another, more needy book.

Yesterday, after realising that the revolution was not going to start in my local library, I trudged over to the reservations shelf and found several books that I'd ordered. One Day was one of them. After (stupidly) walking away from purchasing it with my voucher, I still felt an attachment and felt as thought I needed to read it, hence the brilliance of being able to reserve one via the library. I love the face that libraries make information accessible to all. A ripple of joy surged through me yesterday when I picked One Day up. It had me gripped from the first line and I didn't finish reading it until the early hours.

The story revolves around two characters who meet on the night of their graduation, 15th July 1988. The following day, they go their separate ways. The story revisits them both on that day for each year that subsequently passes. I don't want to give anything away, but suffice to say, it's utterly, utterly brilliant and I couldn't put it down. It sucks you in. You feel as thought you know these characters - and not only do you know them, they become your friends. I laughed out loud and I did huge big belly sobs at their plight. An amazing, stunning piece of writing. Go read! (Except you, David Cameron. You can fuck off. You tosser.)
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