DISABILITY DECADE CELEBRATION! My 2015 Memoir ‘Wee and Poo and the NHS’ Published for the First Time

This was a horrible mistake.

Not just because I was such an obnoxious writer back then. My own experience and feelings obviously still troubled me so much that I caked the whole experience under layers and layers of pop culture references, intentionally pointless tangents and terrible jokes. Seriously around a third of this book may as well be a fucking Family Guy episode, and you should never take such serious accusations lightly Later on, I obviously got a lot more depressed while writing it, and it actually improves markedly when I’m far less happy. In the end, I do think that it’s a really good book by the end, and if 40’000 words were cut it might be brilliant.

But it was mainly a mistake because reading through this book again was really traumatic. I don’t just go through the agonies and trauma of this one experience, but touch on the absolute worse moments of my life. It’s been horrendous for my to revisit it. I really feel this book finally getting published represents the end of something. I haven’t quite decided what that end is yet. This is such a startling outpouring of everything that I seriously don’t know what to do with myself. I lacerate myself and bleed all of myself into this. And it’s painful. And depressing. Fuck. I am considering what there is left of my brain to ever even communicate. My everything is now all out there. I know I’ve considered/threatened this before, but Necessary Evil 2023 will be the tenth year end list on this blog. And it mightbe the last.

Anyway, here it is, 130’000 (mostly…) unedited words. It’s out there now. And now I don’t know what to do.

You won’t enjoy this. Listen to those 101 songs instead, they’re all bangers.


“You should see the Iguazo Falls. One day I will take you there xxx”

The Iguazo Falls are a collection of waterfalls located on the border between the province of Paraná in southern Brazil and that of Misiones on the north-eastern tip of Argentina, a province that resembles an impertinent tickling finger slipped into the crevasse between Brazil and Paraguay, which would offer further explanation for the animosity between the the two nations (Paraguay has been regrettably caught in the crossfires geographically on this occasion). I hadn’t previously known that relations between the countries had sunk to such a level that the only way to divide them now was with such examples of natural phenomena. It was apparently and, when you think about it, quite obviously formed by a God cutting up the river when his bride-to-be ran off with a mortal man (date unknown). It’s an example of that famous Latin American passion that in this case I would consider a tad over dramatic, although the couple did escape in a canoe, which for some reason I can only imagine infuriating any jilted lover further, it seems like a unnecessarily braggadocios way to flaunt your victory over a love rival. It was first discovered by Europeans in 1541, which to all intents and purposes means it was invented in 1541, as history tells us that nothing really existed before the Europeans found it- the history of the World essentially goes: dinosaurs- cave paintings- Wolf Hall- Charles Dickens- Duran Duran- now.

If any of that sounds like I’m simply reading statistics off Wikipedia it’s because that’s precisely what I’m doing, as I’d never heard of the Iguazo Falls before I started research for this book. Yet the above message was sent by text from me to my girlfriend at one minute past midnight in the early hours of Saturday the 4th May 2013. I had no internet or even a working computer in my flat on the eighth floor of the Zhengtai building, Urumqi, Xinjiang, China where I assume I was, so quite how a natural wonder I had never heard of captured my imagination to such an extent that I decreed to take my girlfriend there and told her so is certainly a puzzler. This wouldn’t be the only thing I struggle to remember about the early hours of Saturday the 4th May 2013.

I say I assume I was there, I am only basing this hypothesis on lying incapacitated on the stone ground eight floors below the apartment the morning after.

At 1:46 I texted my girlfriend Hej again telling her my Dad’s e-mail address, which I again have no memory of, and the address is missing an ‘r’ from the end so would be useless anyway. This typo constitutes a mistake I definitely and unarguably made in the early hours of 4th May 2013. For some reason I decreed it of the utmost importance that Hej could contact my family.

There was a phone call to Hej which she chose to ignore by having the temerity to be asleep in the very early hours of the morning. Missing this call would later become an obsession to her as she began to view whatever later happened as solely her fault on accounts of her not being at my beck and call whatever time of the day. I think your boyfriend should limit being an arsehole to the waking hours and you should be allowed sleep at some point, but I admit I am curious that I may have mentioned why the Iguazo Falls was playing so hard on my mind. If she only answered my call, she would later claim, then everything that happened next could have been stopped, this whole thing would be different, we would still be together, we would still be happy, nothing would be ruined.

It was all her fault, she reasoned.

It wasn’t her fault, nothing from this point forward is anyone’s fault. Or perhaps it is. If my call had managed to get through then maybe the timeline of the next few hours, while being no different, might be a little less sketchy.

The next thing that’s for definite is that I was lying on the stone ground outside my flat, bruised and battered, cracked and smashed, naked save my boxer shorts and with small strips of the curtain of my apartment’s window streaked across me.

One person had taken pity on my nudity in the sun and had covered me with a blanket. Considering how much of a pain (and expense) dealing with Chinese hospitals is, protecting a naked stranger’s dignity with a sheet is probably the nicest thing you can reasonably be expected to do.

The warden for the block of flats had also seen me lying there wearing next to nothing and had assumed, not unreasonably, that I was merely drunk. Apparently it’s not entirely uncommon for the province’s native Uyghur population to get delightfully inebriated on the weekend and they are occasionally found asleep in places you wouldn’t usually see fit to describe as beds. I had lived in the province for about two and a half years, however, and had never experienced laying eyes on this, certainly not to the extent where I wouldn’t even regard it as in any way unusual if I saw someone lay asleep on the ground on a Saturday early morning. I should probably point out at this point that I am (spoiler alert!) not a native Uyghur Chinese man. I have a white skin so pasty that it’s practically translucent in places. I’m a pale ginger man from Britain. I should also take this opportunity to remind you that I was in my boxer shorts.

I was due in work at eleven.



Mandela and Guernica

You’ll want back story about now won’t you? Some semblance of context? I’m not sure it’s completely necessary, you’re likely to pick up little nuggets and clues about my history, about my person, you’ll learn who I am eventually, I’d say that by around chapter thirteen you’ll have a pretty good idea of my character and I can’t help but feel that to harp on here about my favourite colour or the most influential cartoons I watched when I was I kid would only dilute and muddy the meaty stuff about injury and death and infection and despair, which I imagine all feature high in your only reasons for even picking up a book.

I’m not a particularly interesting person, I’ve not visited many particularly interesting places, I’ve not met particularly interesting people, I’ve not had particularly interesting epiphanies. Sure, I might be quite an interesting person to share a drink with occasionally, you may listen enthralled as I recount the time I once worked in a call centre with two members of the 90s band Cleopatra, or perhaps argue who would be England’s best choice on the left of defence, but would my personality or memories be worthy of a book? Worthy of even a scrawled notepad? Christ no. There are around sixty published books about Nelson Mandela, about his fight, imprisonment and compassion, his fights and his struggles.

I had mild asthma growing up.

Jordan has released four autobiographies, my life deserves nothing close to that amount- you’re unlikely to hear any stories about Peter Andre’s penis in the following pages (unlikely, don’t stop reading yet, I promised nothing). My life is boring, my personality is dull, this book isn’t about me. It’s about something I went through, about roughly six months in my life, this is a story of an event, I am barely an incidental character.

There’s nothing to learn from this book either, this isn’t some inspiring tale of courage and strength, this book will never be quoted in self-help seminars, the protagonist will never be held up as a touching example of the human spirit, it will not inspire, it will not educate, it will not make you feel better about yourself, it may in fact make you feel worse. There are no lessons to learn, no advice to heed. It may entertain you, perhaps only if you take great pleasure in the misfortune of others, as is not merely your God given right but a damn near necessity in life. I will hope to make it clear that I deserve no sympathy, I hope to point out as often as I can that everything I endured is never less than ‘deserved’ and hopefully your only complaint about my tribulations will be that other equally objectionable people never receive similar troubles. In fact, throughout reading you are merely allowed to dearly wish occasionally that other people receive similar inconveniences. Perhaps that guy who broke your nose outside Supernova Nightclub in Lewes, perhaps that cunt at work who steals your lunch from the fridge every day despite you clearly marking it. Perhaps Zack Snyder because, really, how shit was Man of Steel? I don’t know how your sliding scale of warrant works, it’s really not for me to say. Perhaps I don’t deserve a lot worse, but you couldn’t argue I deserved less.

It doesn’t even really have a happy ending as such, it won’t massively depress you by any means, but I can’t imagine you’ll put the book down with a deep sigh, a smile on your face and a warm glow in your heart, itching to tell your therapist about your new belief in life’s healing power and debate with tears of joy with the rest of your book group. I’m not even completely sure I learned any lessons from the experience, not entirely sure I changed as a person, not sure any friends became enemies or some enemies became friends. Or maybe all of this happens and more, I’m not going to ruin the whole thing before it starts am I? Perhaps there’s a twist in the end, perhaps that twist is that it’s all a lie, perhaps that twist is never revealed but it is all a fabrication, would you ever find out? Would you care? You would, because frequently the only thing the following tale has going for it is that it actually happened. If I had made this all up I would certainly have made it a lot more exciting, perhaps throw in a few more action set pieces and sex scenes, shoehorned in that happy ending you’ll be so desperately seeking. Or perhaps this book would end with my death, as perhaps that would make the most sense.

For now though all you’re getting is my name.

My name is Alex, or Alexander if you wish to follow my birth certificate stringently, just absolutely don’t ever call me Al, I am in so many, many ways the anti-Paul Simon.

At 11am on Saturday May 4th 2013 I was late for work.

People who work at private English schools (and any such auxiliary and therefore absurdly optimistic attempts at education) generally view the weekends with the same grim, terrified trepidation that workers in most jobs view Monday. Kids who have spent Monday to Friday being ground and spun by the school system are now asked by their appallingly loving parents to spend their day off dancing similar trots instead now showing deference to a pale ugly tall fellow who in almost every aspect you care to mention is in no way qualified to teach. During weekdays working at Pumpkin English was essentially deciding the optimum position in which to scratch your arse, on weekends it was trying to persuade waves upon waves of horrible little kids that their time, attention and general sanity were all important despite not being legally obliged to be there.

By noon I had still not appeared, and all attempts to ring my phone had failed. Despite me being a generally sketchy and unreliable person by all other accounts I was rarely late for work, which was less to do with my admirable and unshakeable dedication to my job and more to do with the fact that an 11am start meant I would have to have got ridiculously pissed the night before to sleep in, which would still happen occasionally you understand, but not frequently. I had already missed a lesson by the time my workmate Anita was sent to my flat which was only 10 minutes walk away, another reason for my tardiness being further unexplainable.

At least, I’m pretty sure she was called Anita. Pretty sure.

One of the side-effects of the events leading up to me lying in my boxer shorts on the ground outside my flat is that my memory system had a similar affect upon it as an iPod being put on shuffle and then inserted into a beaver’s rectum, the beaver being placed into a washing machine, spun for an hour or two before the house containing it all is demolished by way of pissing fluoroantimonic acid on it from a passing plane. Many months later the iPod has been retrieved, but certain features aren’t completely recovered- the click wheel frequently jams and it no longer recognised by iTunes when its USB chord is connected. One aspect still mostly scraped upon the inner walls of the beaver’s innards is my ability to recall names. Throughout this tome some names will be changed to protect the innocent, some to protect the guilty, some will be changed to prevent the correctly accused getting credit, some names have been recalled without too much problems (Mum, Dad… If I used a different name for my girlfriend Hej, who would absolutely wish to be named, she would assume I’m talking about a different woman and not talk to me for days) and some have been researched (Iguazo) but around four fifths of the names you read are either complete guesses or best guesses. So the lovely Anita is probably called ‘Anita’ but I wouldn’t be prepared to take that assumption to court, before you ask.

Hej at this point has already set off on the three and a half hour bus journey to Urumqi from Kuitun, the ‘short’ distance I had been so keen to maintain when I moved schools from nearby Dushanzi to the province capital Urumqi three months previously. She is also trying to phone me, confused (and angry) why I kept phoning her so late the night before and why I was so adamant she should have my father’s e-mail address. China’s May Day holiday would be on the following Monday and Hej was planning to come into town to surprise me with a visit after previously claiming she wouldn’t be able to make it. Perhaps I had received wind of her arrival and my competitive nature decreed I should try and beat her surprise with a rather more unexpected revelation of my own. Just a theory.

Hej: “I quite don’t understand why last night you ring me and told me your father’s e-mail. Just so confused”

So in case you’ve forgotten here’s the current scene: on floor, boxer shorts.

Anita discovered my undignified pose cleft in an old blanket and immediately decided that I wasn’t just pissed, an assumption which I thank her kindly for, but one that perhaps showed she didn’t know me all that well. The head teacher of my school Hellen (you have no idea how much that extra ‘l’ in her name infuriates me) was rang and all hell broke loose in a country where hell is almost constantly sprung.

One thing that has always set my teeth on edge is the sight of people having to be scissored out of their clothes when being treated after accidents, it always struck me as a quick way to ruin your favourite garb. I had spent hours looking for some of my favourite t-shirts and jeans in some of the most physically oppressive shopping conditions in the Northern Hemisphere and would hate to see some of them sliced open simply because an emergency tracheotomy or amputation had to be quickly performed. You’re never given an option in these circumstances either, perhaps people’s clothes are frequently more valuable than their life, I certainly own an orange 1998 Barcelona away shirt that I’d consider another attempt at life a poor exchange for. There’s also the issue with blood, but I think I’ve pretty much covered that by owning mostly black clothes and supporting football teams that generally play in red (again I worry about that Barca shirt though). If you were to mention to me in passing that you were planning to have an accident I would immediately recommend not wearing your best clothes. Perhaps that old Soup Dragons tour t-shirt you keep for when you’re painting can double as your accident-wear. Maybe this was on my mind and why I was clad only in a pair of black boxer-shorts.

Again, just a theory.

None of the doctors ever thanked me for my convenient fashion choice.

A ring I wore that Hej and I had bought together was removed from my ever-swelling fingers.

I was carted to the hospital with my eyes wide open in a creepy, deep, vague gaze where they confirmed that my body was, in medical terms, fucked. Both my ankles were shattered, as was my hip, several of my ribs were broken*, my right arm was paralysed and perhaps most saliently my spine was fractured. My body had now assumed a shape resembling a bombed villager in Picasso’s ‘Guernica’, my kidneys were damaged, perhaps permanently, my liver was buggered and my lungs, perhaps worried about being left out, were steadily filling with liquid, so much so that a tube was inserted in between some of my right-side ribs to attempt to drain one of them. My face however had been miraculously unblemished, which shows that while God may be a curious chess player he knows not to fuck with his most precious pieces. Or perhaps God knew that such a plain face would not cause me too much anguish being disfigured, in fact my face is of such an indistinctive nature that any disfigurement has around a 36% chance of improving it, so he elected instead to focus his energy on disfiguring the parts and functions that would cause more distress. God’s like that.

(*A broken rib now to me seems like a rather quaint injury, much like a marathon runner raising their eyebrows when you mention what a pain in the arse it was to run to catch the bus that morning. Never moan to Mo Farah about how long you just had to walk to get a pack of fags and expect much sympathy.)

Hej’s calls to my phone were finally answered, only not by me. The situation was relayed to her and her planned surprise had been unquestionably trumped. She came to Xinjiang Number 2 Medical University AffiliatedHospital as soon as she could and was almost immediately arrested by police on suspicion of… what?

I’m assuming you’ve never seen Hej, but even in China she’s occasionally lightly teased for being small, which is a bit like being mocked for being a bit arrogant in France. Or America. Or Italy. Or England. She perhaps brushes five foot and doesn’t look like you’d bet a massive amount of money on her beating a koala bear in a straight wrestling match (you would, however, pay a massive amount of money to see that) so to assume she’d in some way overpowered me really shows how little they rate my strength, even before you factor in the fact that at six foot nothing I’m often the tallest person in the room in China. Still the police, who in Xinjiang were the constant butt of jokes (away from state controlled media and other obvious outlets of course) regarding their inactivity and general uselessness, were quick to leap into action arresting my girlfriend on suspicion of injuring a guy twice her size from roughly one hundred and fifty miles away.

She was taken into custody and her phone was taken off her as evidence. She was asked to show the texts between us and the police took pictures of them as evidence and I’d like to think the police spent as much time as me perplexed over the significance of Iguazo falls.

The police felt they had enough to go on to keep Hej in the station overnight.


2nd March

Hej told me that I made her happy today, which in turn made me extraordinarily happy



I feelleg very very so…………. guilty. That night I should answer your phone clearly, and I should ask you what happened to you. You know? Always I said you didn’t care about me, maybe I overcare about you. But, I found I was wrong. I didn’t care about you well. I didn’t, or you would, now, be with me, tonight is Tuesday night. We said we would have a wonderful night. You said you would make me feel fettanstic.

I feel guilty. I should asked why you want me to write down your father’s email address. Maybe you have some trouble.

I love you so much. I really want to be with you, want to have your baby, our baby.

You know? I still think you just play jokes on me. Everytime I played jokes on you, everytime you just trust me and be fooled by my tricks, but now please stop play such horrible horrible tricks on me. I couldn’t stand that. I don’t want to think about that.

Could you just stand energeticly in front of your girl. I still couldn’t believe this is truth,

My love, you know we love each other so much. So, please, come to me, come to your beautiful girl. I just wait for too long time I couldn’t stand more like this. From 2013.5.3 11:46 to 12 time. That night you rang me over about five times. What’s fucking wrong with me? I am just fuccking idiot

I should answer you phone and care about you, care about your feeling. I should lie down in the hospital.

Alex, please talk to me, just say something that you often say to me

You said you will love me all of your heart and body. But, what now?

What? You are a liar!

And you are a theiif. You steal my heart, my mind.

Please, Alex, what should I do without you. You are my sunshine, you make me happy. But what now? What?

I just don’t want this. You have to talk to me Alex. Now.



Fees and Huis

If you take anything from this next chapter, not that I’m expecting you to take anything from anything, in this book or outside of it, then it should at least act as a moral tale on the importance of travel insurance, which I had not taken out at any point before or during my three year stay, deciding that the infrequency of my medical complaints would render it a waste of money. With the benefit of hindsight I can’t help but wish I’d at least considered it.


There’s the moral of the entire book right there.

Too early to discuss morals?

Or perhaps the moral itself is rather too mundane, like finding out early in The Count of Monte Cristo that the overarching message is the importance of correct usage of case management conferences.

Hej’s family are orthodox Muslims of the Hui ethnic minority and are so set against her being with an exotic and diverse non-Muslim such as myself that as far as they are aware I left the country about two years previous, as they had found out about our relationship and reacted with such furious indignation that Hej had simply lied and said I’d returned to England. The Hui race is rather dwindling, a mere 10 million members scattered around the country, which in China is an almost unbelievably small number, akin to asking more than a dozen friends to your special Wednesday bridge night and only Janice’s aglet1 actually making it. Because of the race’s relative scarcity many members such as Hej’s Mum are particularly keen not to dilute the pool with ridiculous (and ginger) genes such as mine own.

[1The fuck was I talking about?]

Many people would take this as cue to commence righteous protestations against the discriminations of the parents of the woman I love, perhaps arranging a dinner date where we would start by sitting eye-balling each other bitterly with seething displeasure before eventually coming round to that fact that religious intolerance is generally a bad thing and bonding over our new found respect for different cultures. Actually, that’s the fucking book I should be writing as that sounds like it would shit Oscars when the inevitable movie adaptation is made. I would probably be played by Tim Roth and Hej’s part would be taken by… I dunno… Jackie Chan? However I am altogether more appreciative of the excuse to not to get to know the in-laws than I am filled with virtuous fury. If Sidney Poitier had possessed similar lackadaisical spirit ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ would have been a much shorter film. I do have to contend with her Mum trying to set Hej up with other (Hui) men, but even if they’re aware of my existence my girlfriends’ mothers have always tried to convince their daughter to go out with different guys, frequently through floods of distressed tears, so it’s hardly a new problem.

Perhaps it was fear of my parents’ disapproval that led Hej to text my Mum rather than phone her, or perhaps she didn’t want to incur the charge of an approximately 4000 mile phone call from Urumqi (China) to Manchester (England, near Stockport, which you might know as the birthplace of the UK’s 2006 Eurovision entrant Daz Simpson). Or perhaps it was because she spent the first few days of my incarceration weeping uncontrollably (like a girl) on the shoulder of her sister, who works as a nurse in a nearby hospital and was nice enough to come and volunteer herself as a post to sniffle mucus upon. She was forever grasping the ring removed from my finger tightly in her hand. She didn’t think she could talk particularly legibly over the phone whilst expelling quite so much misery-goo from her head-holes. Her perpetual sobbing in the waiting room agitated the other people waiting there to such a point that they were moved to complain- it perplexes me that citizens of a country where people openly answer phones in cinemas when the film is in full flow consider women crying in a hospital waiting room as an aural nuisance beyond the pale. The task of calling fell instead to Tommy.

Tommy was the other native-English at the school. He was actually French, but that’s close enough isn’t it? Finding any foreign teachers willing to make the pilgrimage to a place as far-flung from accepted exhibitions of civilisation is far too difficult to start splitting hairs. A wonderful guy and about as French a man as you could reasonably expect to be without physically morphing into Serge Gainsbourg.

My Mum was on her way back from work when she received the call and immediately texted my Dad who she’d long been separated from and they immediately set their hearts on arriving in China as quickly as possible. It’s a desire I don’t quite understand as I was quite clearly not going anywhere. There was always the threat of me dying of course, but even so I wasn’t going to be anything close to scintillating conversation in my final hours. I’m not a particularly glittering personality in full health. They might be called upon to identify the body upon my passing, but surely these days a doctor could have just took a picture with his or her phone and uploaded it to Instagram? My parents could confirm it was me by clicking on the thumbs up symbol to say they ‘liked’ it. They’d maybe post a sad faced smiley too, just in the interests of brevity Nevertheless their minds were set and the foreign office advised the quickest plan if action would be to apply for Visas in Hong Kong.

I was still some way from being mentally capable of appreciating the enormous effort of my parents striving to get to China at such short notice, to it’s south easterly point then to its north westerly. I was also in no state to understand how important it would be to pay my hospital fees. A country that still refers to it’s system of governance as ‘communism’ with the ability to keep a straight face2, China’s health care system is about as far from free as it’s possible to get. While I appreciate than the approximately fifty yuan tax I pay a month as a foreign national in the country probably doesn’t entitle me to much free care, the charges on generally life-saving treatment for the Chinese nationals is a particular issue I can’t believe doesn’t cause wide-spread disgust to the point of which it’s somehow shoe-horned into every conversation a Chinese person has.

[2This is all pretty embarrassing. I was such a Guardian reading libtard at the time and my understanding of Communism was worse than primary school level]

“Hi, I’m Wang Ji. I was born in Hunan actually. Yes, yes, I’d love to hear your name soon enough, but first let me tell you about how much it fucking cost to fix my broken leg…”

I would be in hospital for several days before my parents arrived, and I was in no state to remember the pin number to my bank, or in fact to remember what a pin number or a bank was. I was due May’s pay-cheque from work- 10’000 yuan. A yuan was, very helpfully, equal to about 10p at the time, so if I just tell you to work out ten yuan to a pound then hopefully I wont have to keep reminding you what the money relates to every time I bring it up. If you want to find out the price in American dollars then… well then you’ll need to use your phone’s currency calculator or something, what am I, an accountant? This was paid from my school straight to the hospital which accounted for… well not that much actually…

My stay in the hospital would average out at about 8’000 yuan a day. That’s eight thousand yuan a day if for some reason you found those numbers difficult to read. My school paid some costs and my girlfriend, who spent a lot of my stay in hospital being told that she wasn’t my wife or direct relative so was denied certain visiting privileges and found it difficult to find out from the doctors precisely what my problems were, was at one point asked to pay 10’000 yuan (that’s ten thousand yuan) or my treatments would be stopped. Somehow she managed to retrieve the cash from her savings, not an inconsiderable act considering 10’000 yuan is about the upper-limits of how much as a ‘lowly’ state school teacher in their 20s can expect to have in their savings at any one time in China. My parents were kind enough to pay her back that not unsubstantial amount, but it’s still worth noting that at one point Hej was willing to pay pretty much every penny she had in the hope of keeping me alive. The debate over whether my life is worth such investment is one for another day, another page.

At this point I was lay out in a hospital bed with two legs in casts, a sheet pulled around my chest to render it unlikely that the lack of support offered by my broken ribs would see my chest cave in like a poorly built sandcastle, and as naked as the day I was throw out of my Mum’s body. I was occasionally plied with drugs to calm my rather agitated self down, though Chinese hospitals don’t consider such medication to be of utmost importance. The biggest problem was I hadn’t yet realised I was actually injured, and my constant attempts to escape away on my fractured ankles were causing the nurses perpetual grief and a good sedation would at least give the nurses a few minutes rest from thwarting my attempts at jailbreak. Thin Lizzy’s lyrical opener of ‘there’s gonna be a jailbreak/ Somewhere in this town’ wouldn’t be quite as nonsensical if there was a possibility it could take place in a hospital. My breakouts were generally unsuccessful, never even getting close the floor next to my bed.

One time the nurses were exasperated at my constant attempts at body-popping and horizontal robot-dancing* that in desperation one of the nurses simply plonked a laptop in front of me and showed episodes of a Chinese drama series. It worked a charm. I couldn’t fathom anything that was going on nor a single word that was said, but watching people engaging in heated conversations in a language I couldn’t understand and occasionally getting in and out of cars (my memories are sketchy) completely anaesthetised me with wonder. I have tried and failed since to find any movie or TV show or simple any visual medium since that could capture my attention quite so completely and fill me quite so much with marvel. I think I’m legally obliged to make a terrible joke to reference a recent pop culture story here, perhaps ‘Until I saw Miley Cyrus’s performance at the VMAs!!!3‘ or ‘Until I saw Elizabeth Hurley in that dress!!!’ or maybe ‘Until I saw the hat Giuseppe Garibaldi was wearing during the Battle of Sant Antonio!!!’, so there it is, or perhaps change that for something slightly more contemporary, you have my full permission to do so, and if you don’t like this book perhaps you need to wonder if it’s your fault for not thinking up better examples at these little interjections.

(*If a friend of yours ever describes having sex as ‘horizontal robot-dancing’ you are strongly advised to slap them in the jaw, never talk to that person again and probably report them to the police as a person of interest)

[3“Will this reference ever look dated? Nah, pretty timeless” Some awful writing in this chapter]

A catheter had been inserted into my penis, which pretty much sorted out my occasional urinations, it would have added problems if I had to intermittently run to the toilet, the leg casts may have made that difficult in any case but that was unlikely to discourage me in my current state. The hospital seemed to have a strangely casual regard for my craps, by which I mean that when my body decided it had had enough of certain fecal waste, a decision that by this point had been aggressively removed from my mind’s authority, the staff would simply allow it to expel poo out onto the bed and then simply change the bed-sheets. Often my body, being the eternal prankster that it is, would decide to shoot out another turd, or even another batch on some occasions, off into the blanket seconds after they’d changed the sheet.



The nurses never seemed as pissed off with this chain of events as they had every right to be, you’ve not known true exasperation until some guy shits all over a bed you’ve just made, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to greet the occurrence with such steely stoicism. Another example of nurses continuing to carry out the kind of work that we would see as gruesome and soul-destroying without ever kicking up the sort of self-important hissy-fit that selfish wusses like me (and most probably you) see as their irrefutable right to throw if the barista at Costa forgets to sprinkle the exact right sort of sprinkled nutmeg on your tall ristresso. Distressingly the sheet would often be changed for a new one with still visibly evident poo marks streaked across it, so perhaps shit-stains on clean sheets wasn’t quite as big as a disaster as I had perceived it to be. It’s a strange feeling (and one I would encounter may times over the next few months) to look at something and think ‘I really hope that’s my shit…’.

Very late on the first night it was noticed that I was having trouble breathing and a tube was placed down my throat and into my lungs to assist me. As far as I was aware I wasn’t in any way injured, never mind in hospital, so at any point to come across a tube invading my esophagus would have been a rather distressing experience. It would be one I would have several times a minute and would of course take immediate action to rectify the situation. The nurses couldn’t invest one of their staff’s entire shifts watching over me to ensure I wouldn’t pull the tube out of my mouth so to save a lot of time it was decided that my hands would be tied to my bed, and would be whenever the nurses couldn’t trust me to leave my essential medical equipment well alone. This probably strikes some of you as a horrific abuse of my human rights, but I was to later lay in British hospitals and see one member of staff tasked with the single task of preventing a patient from sticking their fingers down their throat to induce vomiting (his body needed to ingest some rather icky tablets, his weight problems were not the issue) and you can’t help but imagine a quick shackling to the bed post would free up a lot of NHS staff. Can’t we just assume that, like a lot of things that happen in a hospital, it’s probably done with our best interests at heart? Life’s a lot easier when such assumptions are made.

I was moved into the intensive care unit.

Hej would be my my side as often as she could, depending on how willing the staff were on that occasion to overlook the fact that we weren’t married. She actually went to great lengths when I asked her about the hospital to state how nice, understanding and helpful all the nurses were to her. She was frequently mistaken for my translator, which is a miscalculation that was made constantly whenever we stepped out together. I was always greatly flattered that they considered me either important or rich enough to require or afford such a thing. Hej was less amused.

In the early days of my captivity I would merely manically list different names that Hej didn’t recognise. I can only assume that they were Peter Schmeichel, Denis Irwin, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Paul Parker, Ryan Giggs, Paul Ince, Roy Keane, Andrei Kanchelskis, Eric Cantona, Mark Hughes, and I was merely proving that whatever my condition I’m able to name the Manchester United 1994 FA Cup final team.

In trying to find reasons for my accident I looked into the date of Alex Ferguson’s retirement. He announced it on May 8th after I’d already been hospitalised for around four days, which rather than suggesting him stepping down was in some way responsible for my mishap, instead forwards the theory that his departure was actually a result of my adversity. It also means that there won’t be a cheap joke about me finding out about David Moyes’s appointment (May 9th) which I’m sure you’ll be expecting at this point. I can’t remember first hearing of his retirement, which could suggest I’d known about it all along, maybe I was pushed out of the window by a Ferguson aide scared of me revealing the decision before schedule.

Just a theory.

Or perhaps I was told of it and simply brushed it aside with ‘Christ, what a week aye?’

My parents arrived in Hong Kong via Zurich on the 7th May but were still about as far away from me as it’s possible to be while still being in (as of July 1997) the same country. The day after they arrived in the country, and still a day before they would reach Urumqi, my kidneys’ states had already become such an issue of concern that I was being sent to dialysis daily.



My little brother’s such a fucking idiot! Ha ha ha ha! Sure, he’s only about two, but I’m sure I wasn’t that fucking stupid four years ago. I mean look at him: just waddling around the field like a fucking nob-head. He doesn’t understand anything, he can barely talk for goodness sake. We’re all on this walk together and to be honest I’m a little embarrassed to be with him.

Oh my God!

I’ve just had just the best idea!

I’d better get my other brother in on this. Sure, he’s only about four but he’ll appreciate this plan and if I’m being completely honest this whole scheme is probably a two man job.

“Hey Duncan?”


“Shall we tell Ewan that if he steps in that cow-pat he’ll turn into Superman?”

“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Yeah! Do that! I bet he’ll believe us! He’s so stupid!”

“Yeah! So stupid!”

I walk confidently up to Ewan trying my best to stifle giggles. This was the funniest idea ever!

“Hey, erm, Ewan, you know that if you step in a cow-pat it turns you into Superman?”

His eyes widened at the thought.

“Yeah, it really does! You should try it if you don’t believe me”

Ewan was a bit sceptical, but at least thought he should test it out. Off he saunters, wobbling on his way to a big, smelly, juicy cow-pat.


Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

All the way in! The smelly poo swallowing up his tiny shoes!


Mum squeals and runs over angrily, red faced over her stupid, stupid youngest son.

“What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?! You absolute barmpot ye!”

Ha ha ha ha ha! Ewan starts crying, me and Duncan run off laughing. He can’t explain what happened! We’re both gonna get away with it! No-one will know it was us!



I was totally broken down. When my hope broke, I just want there are some people who are familiar to my Alex. And he need some one native to see him care about him.

Now I still can remember that message “Then you don’t want to visit me, there is no one to visit me. Nobody”

I couldn’t bear it anymore. Sometimes I just want to escape. However, even I want to give up. What about my poor Alex. I should think of that he must need my hope, my care, my love and my patience.

So whatever happens, I should hold on I should be brave, just like my Super Manc, my sun and stars

Maybe just as old saying said “When you have something good but you don’t cherish it. And when you gona to lose it, you just come to the fact, you want to hold it tight, you want to catch it.

I don’t want to lose you. I just made a mistake, you should, as usual, forgive me, and still love me as much.



Uyghurs and Incidents

My parents arrived on the 9th May and I was able to blink to show my recognition, or at least wink my approval. The tube down my throat at the time made talking impossible, which I’m sure my parents saw as a blessing in disguise. They would spend the rest of my stay in Urumqi hospital dividing their time between swapping turns being the one visitor allowed by my bed at any one time; conducting lengthy discussions with any senior doctors with the rare ability to converse in English and keeping open the lines of communication with the embassy in Beijing and various foreign offices. The Canadian consulate would later visit Urumqi and tell my parents, in the nicest possible terms, that there was nothing they could do. She did however say that it would be relatively unlikely that the hospital would take me in if there was any overwhelming chance of me dying, so I suppose that counted as a bit of good news, or at least the best piece of news they were likely to have heard at that point.

Finally, at the end of the day they would buy themselves a well-earned couple of bottles of wine to eat with their dinner and hopefully help them collapse to sleep. Decent red wine- perhaps that should instead read ‘drinkable’ red wine- is exceptionally difficult to find in North West China, and frequently priced at extortionate rates in the obvious belief that it simply ‘should’ be expensive. Much of the blood on sale tasting more like a particularly brash and sickly sweet Vimto than any aggressive punch to the throat you’re likely to consider legitimate liquor- if you bring a bottle home and see the alcohol volume is 3.2% it’s safe to assume you’ve failed. If by any chance you manage to locate a certain bottle somewhere that doesn’t immediately elicit dry heaving you’re likely to buy that same wine for the rest of your life rather than play oral Russian roulette with a different brand. Oral Russian Roulette was a terrible porn film I watched once, I wouldn’t recommend it. I say ‘porn’ but it was really more akin to a snuff movie.

So one person who undeniably benefited from my accident was the owner of a corner shop near my parents’ hotel, who was guaranteed the sale of two bottles of wine every day, which would probably make her the proprietor of one of Urumqi’s most successful businesses throughout May 2013. Soon after I moved to Urumqi from ‘nearby’ (in Chinese terms) Dushanzi I learned that one of the shops I used to frequently buy my beer from had shut down not long after my departure, obviously unable to take on the sudden lack of business. I say ‘one of’ the shops’ as I used to buy my frequent beers from a number of shops, I feel it best to move the business around a bit so no one person is ever entirely sure how much you’re actually drinking. Plus the daughter of the owner of another shop started attending the school I taught at, so I had to prevent her knowing precisely how much her teacher drank. It just goes to show how much retailers can end up relying on British people’s capacity for booze. Well, not really ‘British people’s’, more just my own.

Hej had by this point returned to work, where she would spend Monday to Friday evening trying to convince horrible snotty 16-18 year olds that learning English was worthwhile, before jumping on a bus or a train late Friday night to arrive at Urumqi hospital early Saturday morning and see her boyfriend close to neither death or life, more often than not covered in excrement, sometimes his own. splayed out on a hospital bed sprouting tubes from various orifices on his body, some classic mainstay orifices and others created new especially. She would sleep Saturday night in the hospital waiting room, a move far from uncommon in China, the room was full of families and friends who had invested far too much into someone else’s hospital care to be able to be afford any alternative means of rest. She would catch a train or bus back late on Sunday night to arrive back in time to teach snivelly little shits again on Monday morning for the cycle to continue. It’s fair to say that few people’s lives have ever been quite as miserable as Hej’s was in May 2013, even before you take into account the fact that she would often arrive at the hospital to find me shitting myself and feel it was in some way her duty to help the nurses clean me up. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt close enough to someone that I would feel in any way comfortable wiping their arse

Despite the obvious benefits that her translation had in a hospital that was very short staffed when it came to English speakers, my parents actually found it a lot easier to deal with the doctors when Hej was back home. Hej found it difficult to overcome her natural Chinese distrust of of people in the ‘service’ industry, so when the doctors suggested something she would automatically assume that she was either being sold a duff product or was being in some way ripped off. If I had been decapitated she would have viewed the hospital’s suggestion of a replacement head as a shameless marketing ploy. After years living in China I can’t say whether my natural distrust that the dish I’d just ordered in a restaurant didn’t contain mushrooms would necessarily translate to assuming that the doctor was talking crap when he said I had an hour left to live fifty five minutes ago. My parents, while not being necessarily blindly trusting in anything someone in a uniform tells them, were at least pragmatic enough at that point to concur that it was probably just easier to assume the doctors knew best.

The slight rest afforded by not having every single decision made by the hospital questioned was at least a small respite from the dozens of distressing little annoyances that were shooting around them at the time. While she was there however they were only too happy to allow Hej to come back to their hotel to use the shower once they discovered that she was washing her hair using the sink in the hospital toilets. Mum would have been no less revolted if she’d found out Hej had been straightening her locks by rolling them through newborn puppies’ intestines. If the idea perhaps doesn’t fill you with quite the same absolute sense of disgust I can only assume you have never before encountered a Chinese public toilet, or perhaps you suspect that one in a hospital couldn’t possibly be all that bad. You would be correct up to a point, the toilets in a Chinese hospital are several furlongs better than what you’d expect to see in, say, a Chinese bus station. Some people fear hell. I do not. I have on several occasions visited the restroom at Urumqi bus station, been hit by a stench you would not expect from a freshly dug hole in Cambodia’s killing fields and greeted by the sight of several men hunched over a long trough shitting behind no attempts at something as bourgeoisie as a door, some cheerfully reading a newspaper while smoking. Some may feel the need to nudge the person next to them grinning to alert them to the presence of a foreigner in the room. To someone from a country that regards talking to the person having a piss next to you at a urinal as the highest form of impudent cheek seems worse than what the restrooms must be like in the innermost sanctum of hell. Yet even the facilities in a place ostensibly concerned with treating injury and clearing disease were certainly bad enough that if ablution chambers of similar quality were found to exist on the sex-offenders wing of a high-security prison even The Daily Mail would express its outrage at such violations of human rights. Chinese public toilets are rarely places that you’d be caught dead shitting in.

There was quite a lot of talk of poo and wee there wasn’t there? I feel I should again warn you that it’s only going to get worse.

On May 11th I had a scan on my chests which revealed that not just the right as initially believed but both of my lungs were, medical terminology again, pretty much fucking bollocksed despite the tube injected between my ribs providing a constant rail-line transportation system for the various horrible liquids that were filling it up. This determined the hospital’s strong interest in me coughing correctly to sufficiently shake my respiration system, which I took to be of grave medical importance without ever quite understanding the reason of its significance. It turned out that coughing for me brings to light the same stage-fright that some men experience when attempting to urinate in a public bathroom or when trying to convince their penis to stand to attention when they’ve finally convinced that cute girl from work they’ve long loved from afar to drink enough wine to consider having sex with them after the office party.

This will not be the last time you’ll be hearing about erections either by the way, not by a long shot, so again I warn you against continuing if you find such things in any way offensive (buy the book first, obviously). I can certainly understand that there are many situations in which an erection can be considered offensive, at your Uncle’s funeral for example, or picking your kid up from primary school, or even if you had no kids to pick up, you were just hanging around the primary school sporting a stonking boner. I feel I may have taken this a little too far.

I dearly began to wish that making yourself cough was as easy as eliciting a yawn. You’ve probably just yawned reading that word haven’t you? I dearly wished I’d smoked more, I was on around twenty a day prior to a sojourn to a institution so horrifically inconvenient to the continuation of such a healthy filthy habit, but that was obviously no way near enough for a good, healthy hack. The government should make this clear- it seems the information we are fed about smoking is terribly one sided.

On numerous occasions throughout the day I would be asked to cough and my attempt would be immediately judged on how phlegmy it sounded. If it appeared satisfactory I would be granted a stay of execution, and greeted the good news with all the joyous relief of a beaten Gladiator having his life saved by the upturned thumb of Emperor Commodus

If the cough was dry and wheezy with no satisfactory conclusion, like one whooped out by an old man sitting close to you on the train who you can’t help but assume is close to a horribly long stay in a hospice before a terrible painful death by virtue of his organs slowly decomposing, then the nurses would have no choice but to take matters into their own hands. They decreed the best way to wrestle one out was to stick an eight inch plastic stick deep down my throat in an attempt to prompt a rough and painful gag reflex. I realise now writing this that there are far worse way to induce the gag reflex, but this method still caused a plate of anguish to collide with and scrape against another plate of confusion beneath my crust each time the nurses would deem my pathetic attempts at coughing unacceptable and proceed like they were trying to educate me on the finer points of quick weight loss. Whenever Hej happened to be at my bed side and my cough was buzzed out by my own personal Simon Cowell I would desperately and near tearfully plead with her to reason with the nurses in Chinese that to batter my tonsils like they were a marimba really wasn’t necessary, but it was always grievously in vain.

One entry in my Dad’s admirably succinct journal from the experience soon after he’d arrived on the 11th May remarks simply that ‘Alex calm but sleepy. Less jokes’. By this point however my mental state had actually deteriorated from the already low level it had seemed to be at when my parents arrived, to the point that I was increasingly incoherent and nonsensical*. Mum or Dad, whoever had taken the one allowed place by my bedside on that particular day, spent all of their time by my side at that period repeatedly attempting to convince their more and more agitated son that he was in China, in hospital, or in fact injured in any way.

(* Yes, yes, I am aware of an easy joke I could make here, but I’m so nice that I’ll actually let you say something along the lines of ‘How could they tell any difference?!’ to yourself and chuckle at your own rapier wit before continuing. Go on, take it. Ha! You’re so fucking hilarious, if only the people in the office heard you make that funny)

The notification of any tubes or wires emanating from my body would cause me great displeasure, I was completely fine so such intrusions on my personal space were greatly offensive, so my continued habit of pulling out such things was at its peak, as was my occasional physical altercations with the insolent nurses that would frequently attempt to treat me despite the fact I was in perfect physical health. Luckily I’m of a physical strength that can be easily overcome by a woman in her early twenties whatever my condition, so the nurses at this point should have really taken the opportunity to slap me a couple of times and maybe tweak my nose, teach me a bit of respect.

It took a great deal of persuasion from my parents to convince the hospital that I was in a sufficient amount of pain to validate me being given any kind of painkiller, as that hospital harboured such a disapproval towards any medical drugs I suspect it was actually run by Urumqi’s most prominent Mormon community. Are Mormon’s allowed drugs? I’m not sure. Perhaps this book should have been researched a little more thoroughly. Scientologists then, they’re not allowed some drugs are they? Probably most of them. Yep, let’s go with them. My Mum tried to explain to the doctors that it would be easier if she or Dad could always stay by my side and help calm me down, perhaps just by explaining that I should look at my two legs in casts if I needed convincing that I was hospitalised correctly. If they weren’t available and I was in a particularly pully mood my hands would be tied to the bed again- it seems that almost every problem can be pretty much solved if we just choose to bypass these pesky human rights, which are frequently just a quick way to slow things down.

The police at this point still had my keys, phone and laptop (which by then had been broken beyond use for going on eight months) in their possession and refused to return them until they could close the case. To do this they had to question me, which required Hellen (Jesus, that fucking extra ‘l’, I openly weep at it. You’re killing me woman) from my school arriving at the hospital to act as my translator.

This was all very nice of her of course, but it was debatable whether she was needed, as I had long known how to say ‘不知道’ in Chinese so I could have just as easily given them the same amount of information myself. You’ve probably noticed that my memory of the incident is sketchy at best, and you’ve heard the version painstakingly cobbled together from e-mails and text messages and journals many months later. The police questioned me two weeks after the event when my memory hadn’t yet even recovered to the point where I could confidently state what animal I was.

It was, suffice to say, an incredibly useless undertaking by the police. The actual questions I was asked are a blur, although I can vividly remember the answer I gave, no matter what I was asked:

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

I don’t know.

Alex I think.

I don’t know.

Why would my name be the fourth question they asked?

Looking back I feel I should have been a little more creative with my answers, I could have sent them off looking for a man with one eye and a robotic arm, or enigmatically pleaded that they seek the penguin with the pocket watch. Or I could have perhaps boiled incandescent with righteous fury as I blamed the whole thing on a Han/Uyghur person and see how long it would take for another riot to erupt.

To call relations between the Han and Uyghur ethnicities in Xinjiang ‘strained’ would be like saying Luke Skywalker had a ‘difficult’ relationship with his father. I don’t want to go too far into it here, partly because despite living in Xinjiang for three years and the issue never being far from the conscious I wouldn’t dare pretend to know anything near enough about the conflict which rather impolitely refuses to be as black and white as all outsiders dearly hope such issues to be to properly comment. I mean Jesus, look at my clunky Star Wars reference above. Or simply look at the any obnoxiously over-simplified opinion held by millions of over-privileged, under-educated and astoundingly self-important dick holes about any semi-important World event, from the latest war in the Middle East to Justin Bieber’s new haircut. Just check your Twitter feed or read a couple of YouTube comments if you’re stuck for examples of what I’m talking about. Actually, absolutely don’t ever read YouTube comments, that’s like suggesting you stick an ice-pick through your eyeball so you can see how much it hurts: you can just take my word on this. And partly because I was hoping this book would be a big seller in China, and any mere mention of any kind of conflict is a quick way to get it banned.

As a quick and ignorant primer: the Han are the absolute biggest ethnic group in China, making up more than 90% of the country’s citizens. If you picture a Chinese person in your head, from the look down to the customs and culture, you will be picturing a Han Chinese person. The Uyghur people are a Sunni Muslim ethnicity located almost entirely in Xinjiang (around ten million, with the second largest population being the two hundred thousand or so in neighbouring Kazakhstan) that have a look and culture closer to what you’d expect in Eastern Europe or the Middle East. They used to make up about 90% of Xinjiang as a whole, until Chairman Mao started exporting more and more Han Chinese into the area in an attempt to weaken the Uyghur people’s hold over China’s biggest province, and thanks to the rivers of oil found to be flowing underneath its surface in the 20th century potentially one of the most financially lucrative. Isn’t it strange how whenever anywhere on the planet there are any kind of social problems that same black blood frequently flows through veins underneath? I assume there’s some chemical reason behind it, perhaps it evokes similar negative reactions to the slime in Ghostbusters 2, though miserably exchanging the vivid shocking pink colour with an onyx sheen more suited to its dastardly intentions.

Because of this mass migration it’s now roughly split 50/50 between the two ethnicities. There have long been disputes over the true and indigenous rights to the area, and over the frequency Uyghur people are overlooked for rights and work. It’s extremely rare to see a Uyghur person in any position of power or authority in Xinjiang. I worked at a state school for two years, and the percentage of Uyghurs amongst the school’s three hundred or so teachers was roughly zero. The best English speakers in my class though were always Uyghur, as Mandarin Chinese is already their second language so a third one is usually a piece of piss.

Predictably these disputes which have frequently spilled over into more than heated words.

In July 2009 Urumqi erupted in some of the biggest riot in China’s modern history, Tiananmen Square’s 1989 demonstrations were in comparison a bit of hair pulling and a great photo opportunity. Ok, they were also horrendous, but I felt a bit of hyperbole couldn’t hurt in trying to explain their significance. The official toll was 197 dead and 1’721 injured, although some Uyghur sources put the number of deaths at closer to 600. I arrived in Xinjiang a year after the riots, and you would think the area would be shaken to its core, still deep in mourning for one of the darkest days in the area’s history and the state would still be deeply examining the reasons behind the riot and if the police had acted completely correctly. 96 people died at Hillsborough and more than 20 years later Britain is still quite rightly mourning the dead and debating what an effect the incident had on wider society, along with continuing questioning the behaviour of those in authority. And yet in Xinjiang fifteen months later the entire affair had been swept under the carpet so thoroughly the whole province felt especially lumpy underfoot. I wouldn’t have heard of it mentioned at all unless a fellow foreign teacher told me about it, mainly because Chinese nationals whatever their ethnicity are close to terrified of the repercussions of mentioning the incident to foreign people- the Chinese government clearly want to keep it in-house. If I bring it up on the phone to my girlfriend she immediately becomes agitated and refuses to talk about it (although in person she has no such worry) which is fair enough as you’re never sure exactly what the phone company will choose to pass on- every piece of information has a price and I’m guessing the NSA is at the end of the day a money-making operation.

And so this would just from then on be referred to as The 2009 Incident. It’s the Chinese method to refer to any riot, civil unrest or simple demonstration, if they absolutely have to be referred to at all, as ‘incidents’. What is outside China often referred to as the ‘Tiananmen Square Massacre’ is simply alluded to in the country as the ”June 4th Incident’, which rather makes it sound like you’re carefully bringing up that embarrassing time your teenage cousin drunk far too much Carling at a family dinner and called your aunt a ‘stupid cunt’ before being quickly dragged away by his mortified parents. Tiananmen Square is now an oppressively cold place to visit, a giant bleak and colourless landscape which despite being full of people makes you feel dismally alone as the great picture of Chairman Mao above the entrance to the neighbouring Forbidden City looks down upon you carefully monitoring your every move. The one other place I have encountered such overbearing iconography is in Delia Smith’s restaurant at Carrow Road Norwich, where you are constantly eating under Delia’s loving gaze from a giant picture covering the far wall, and I can confirm that the figure of Delia is viewed with a similar love and fear in Norwich to how Mao Tse-tung is viewed in China. One of the recommended highlights of any Tiananmen Square visit is to get there early in the morning to see Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum, where you will queue for about four hours with thousands of other curious tourists and perhaps people who live in the area and simply can’t start the day without first taking an inspiring glance upon Mao’s dead body. You’re allocated two or three seconds to look upon the great man’s corpse before being swiftly moved on by armed guards before you have the chance to realise the body is made up of more wax than Madame Tussaud’s Benny Hill. I can only hope that the body of Chairwoman Delia Smith is treated with similar reverence when she sadly passes on, perhaps denizens of her restaurant can stare upon her body solemnly while reflectively picking at your grilled sea bass with chive beurre blanc. Many people have also remarked on the large amount of CCTV cameras installed on the square, but as a British person I can’t say I really noticed.

The 2009 Incident was certainly the largest, but there are similar violent uprisings depressingly frequently. Even in the area of time covered in this book an ‘incident’ in late June 2013 that stemmed from a group of Uyghurs walking into a police station in Western Xinjiang branding knives, which seems to me like an insanely optimistic plan, but still led to the deaths of 2 police men and 22 civilians, before the predictable death of the 11 attackers, 10 shot by police with, y’know, all the guns they have. One attack which led to a tiny slice of wider international press coverage (at least for a couple of days) of the Uyghur situation for the first time in many years was the ‘October 28th Incident’ involved a Uyghur man, his wife and her mother, who apparently planned the whole thing- something to think about next time you complain about your in-laws. A care was driven from Xinjiang to Tiananmen Square (say what you like about the Chinese, they certainly honour tradition) and used to mow down a group of tourists queueing to enter the Forbidden City. The attack injured eleven and killed two tourists, which is actually less deaths than the three people who were in the car, I can’t help but think it counts as an unsuccessful terrorist attack if the attackers suffered more fatalities than the victims, hardly seems worth it.

Each attack is used by the state as an excuse to clamp down further on an already suffocated Uyghur populace. More and more incidents have since occurred, including a bomb at Urumqi train station and near the Super 8 Hotel Hej and I would frequently stay at, so many in fact that to simply list them here would essentially hijack the remainder of the book. It’s a situation far too complicated for me to explain to you how you should feel using pithy humour and the odd pop-culture reference. It is far less fashionable a cause than supporting Tibet separation and it certainly isn’t more proof of the terrifying march of Islam- to say Islam is in any way responsible for the troubles in Xinjiang is like saying Catholicism is behind Ireland’s repeated impressive showings in the Eurovision Song Contest.

The first I heard of any tensions at all was when the both deputy head teacher of my school and the person who first alerted me to the job vacancy online (both Han) explicitly told me to keep away from Uyghur people as they were ‘dangerous’-I can’t imagine the ramifications if a Uyghur person were to tell me to stay away from the ‘dangerous’ Han. This was despite me teaching at a higher middle school (15 to 18 year olds) made up of approximately 30% Uyghur students- at lower middle school made up of 12 to 15 year olds they had the option of being taught in a separate Uyghur school made up completely of Uyghur students and taught in the Uyghur language. As I mentioned before Hej is of the much smaller Hui minority, which the Han see as being practically Uyghur and the Uyghurs see as being far too Han, so they get the worst of both worlds. When Hej works at her parents’ shop when she goes back to visit a rural area of Xinjiang more densely populated by Uyghurs she is frequently verbally admonished by passing Uyghurs on the failings of ‘her’ Han people, while she desperately tries to explain that she’s not actually of that ethnicity. Her life is essentially a massive long pain in the arse. I’ve already spent thousands of words explaining how I wouldn’t talk about this. I don’t know, Google it…

I can vaguely remember the officers being increasingly frustrated and angered by my general incompetence at being a police informer, and the absolute failure of my imagination. I would have made a terrible Huggy Bear, for various reasons, although I strongly believe that I would suit the clothes. However I accept that I may have just been projecting upon them feelings I was having myself, the arduousness of my attempts at memory were already causing me great irritation at that point, and it was just as likely they were both happy for an easy hour or so on the job. The police accepted that the case could be filed under ‘accident’ and was promptly closed and they promised to return my keys and possessions immediately, which showing the kind of speed of action typical of the Chinese police they did so in a few days.



I feel horrible. I feel unsafe very much.

Please just text me, just something stupid or boring.

When you was in hospital first night. I asked you what do you want.

You answered me so firmly.

You want me. You know?

I was so happy.

When I said I was tired. And you were so nice, you said, OK, lie with me, lie on me.

When I just give you water using my mouth to your mouth.

You were so happy

And you just said You are amazing.

You also said, I am your girl, amazing, fatnastic.

You want to be with me.

But what now? What? Please stop me like this, if you want to punish me, this is enough or, you can get my freedom, my true heart or anything, but just ring me, text me, talk to me, laugh with me, watch tv with me, touch me

I really mis you so so much, please I know you miss me so much too. Why not just open your eyes see me. I am here I am always with you


17th March

Drank too much last night and didn’t feel too fabulous- must learn from mistakes

18th March

I’m drunk

How are you?

Blah blah blah

My writing is terrible when I’ve been drinking

3 days until Hej!!!!!



Dorothy Parker and Vladivod

My flat didn’t give many clues toward some murderous antagonist. No wine glass smeared with dark red lipstick, no chilling VHS tape that would pass on a mysterious curse, no proverbial smoking gun, no literal smoking gun. Perhaps more disappointingly no evidence that the events of the early hours of May 4th were in any way stemmed from my decision, no note detailing how much I hated the kids in class five, or my intense displeasure with Xi Jinping’s work since being elected to General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. There was no book on radical astral projection open to the page where it describes it theory that human flight is possible at just the right time of day in the right country and with the right amount of clothes. Under the circumstances I wouldn’t be able to resist assuming my injuries would be acquired in the same way the Comedian died in the Watchmen: pushed through the window by fellow superhero Ozymandias (spoiler alert). The fact that this was never a solution on the cards leads me to believe that the police had never read the comic in question, or perhaps they had and it was the immediate assumption, before the lack of a broken window immediately quashed it.

There was however a strange muddy hand-print on the sofa presumed to be mine (though unfortunately I was unavailable for any real size studies to be made) which suggests to me that I’d already been out of the window once onto the muddy ground below and had returned up to the eighth floor flat thinking ‘well that was stupid, I’m gonna have to be more careful’ or perhaps even ‘That was so much fun! I’m gonna try it again in my boxer shorts…’.

There were also lots, and lots, and lots of empty bottles of booze, like the dirty apartment of an extraordinarily talented artist, only of course without the talent.

Like a pathetic drunk then, that was more me..

Empty bottles of cheap terrible Chinese beer. Empty bottles of cheap terrible jinjiu, a Chinese spirit that shares its look with whiskey but shares its taste more with the type of vodka usually found on the lowest shelves in your local off-license with temptingly low prices and off-brand names like ‘Vodokov’ or ‘Vladivod’. Empty bottles of not quite as cheap and not quite as terrible wine. It wasn’t clear if I’d drank all the bottles on the night of my accident. Perhaps unlikely given the sheer amount. Perhaps unlikely, perhaps, but absolutely not impossible, it would have been more a matter of time constraints. They would however have all been drunk by me in the time leading up to it.

On my own, in front of my telly.

One of my favourite lines from The Simpsons* is Homer Simpson delivering a toast to alcohol and declaring it ‘The cause of and solution to all of life’s problems’, which I would call a very incisive comment if it weren’t for the fact that I can’t for the life of me remember a time when alcohol has solved any of my problems.

(*My favourite lines from The Simpsons could be another hundred thousand words on its own, and I might base a later chapter around it if I feel my word-count is below what I’d hope, so be prepared for that. I’ve already put a large portion of the book aside to list my twenty favourite Battlestar Gallactica episodes, expect that around chapter twelve)

To be fair perhaps short-term it has papered over a few cracks, it has allowed me to overcome my crippling self-doubt and certainly as a teenager/young adult/adult I had a paralytic hatred of social interaction whereas after a few drinks I could position myself immediately at the centre of any conversation and at the life of any party with my sparkling wit and blinding charm like some bewitching love child born of Dorothy Parker and George Clooney. I later grew a lot more comfortable with the idea of occasionally sharing time with the dreaded ‘other people’ and yet I never felt that should mean I could drink a little less.

If anything is worth enjoying then it can only be enjoyed more by being drunk, to me it seemed like I would be letting myself down attempting life whilst infected with sobriety. Of course if anything isn’t in any way enjoyable then by being drunk there’s always a small chance it will be (so I suppose that’s another problem solved) be it a league cup football match on TV between Stoke City and Leyton Orient, a lunch with that guy from work who bores you senseless while he talks about what his car is now worth, a meeting with your girlfriend’s parents, or a day at work. Not enjoying this read so far? Drink half a litre of vodka, you’ll develop a new appreciation for it. Perhaps against all odds** you’re actually finding the process of trudging through this read altogether diverting, then just imagine how much more you’ll enjoy it after a couple of bottles of wine. In fact, why are you even reading? Just get disgustingly drunk right now, sit on the bus stop and growl at children.

(**I apologise profoundly for causing the ear worm of that terrible Phil Collins song to roughly burrow itself into your mind, splaying dirty, bloody offal all over your inner skull as it grinds its way inside.)

The state school in Dushanzi included a two and a half hour break for lunch where the students and staff would return home to eat, which would frequently present me with far too much of a temptation to drink four or five bottles of beer or a bottle of wine before the afternoon’s lessons. These lessons would then regularly be a lot more entertaining than those in the morning so I could only concede that the whole operation was a success. It was not always the perfect plan it so obviously sounds, there were maybe the few times when a longer break between lessons would mean that I happened to drink a little too much in my ‘lunch break’, perhaps four bottles of beer and a bottle of wine, and started to find it that little bit more difficult to legibly speak English while teaching my spoken English class. Or after a long afternoon work session after drinking at lunch when my eyes would flutter close and my head start to throb from all the early ingestion and I made a sincere promise that I would never drink before work again. I made that promise around two dozen times.

Almost all the times when I’ve been happiest in my life have been when I was sober***, but the times when I have been at my lowest mental state, when the black dog is bent over shitting in my mouth and humping my brain, the times when it seems an impossible task just to hoist myself out of bed also occur when I’ve had nothing to drink and my brain is allowed to run off in places of its own accord. My mind can run off at alarming rates and to rather horrifying places when it’s completely undulled. When it has time to think of all the mistakes I’ve made in the past, some years and decades ago, when it has time to step back a yard and try a measured critique of my life, a critique that always ends up being absolutely damning. With nothing to distract it my mind begins to focus strongly on what a failure my life has been, how I’m nothing close to the man I should be and several miles away from the man I want to be. I look for people to blame, but everything is completely my fault, the dark smog of shit that constantly hangs around me is completely of my own making. I can’t complain to anyone because I can’t explain these feelings to myself, what’s the best solution?

(*** Or perhaps on different drugs- none of my countless problems in life have stemmed from my very occasional recreational drug use. In fact you could trace a lot of my problems back to the illegality and the resulting difficulty to locate such happier, safer drugs.)

Drink, of course, heavy, heavy drinking, the fact that all of my problems and regrets I obsess over first stemmed from me being drunk is always an irony I fail to appreciate. Drinking is a safe bet and a fair trade off in order to achieve some sort of state close to mental equilibrium. As a result of this my general state of happiness can be measured in direct reverse correlation to the amount of alcohol I consume. Judging by the amount of emptied bottles littering my flat I wasn’t at my happiest point in the early hours of May 4th.

Without counting events we cannot account for (to count what cannot be accounted for is a difficult start to any argument) it’s a fair assumption to state that every lost friendship, broken relationship, physical fight, broken bone, bloodied body and hospital visit in my life has been as a direct or indirect result of me drinking, apart from my first hospital visit to be born, which was more a result of my parents’ drinking). Is this alcoholism? I’ve always told myself it’s not, as I can quite happily go for absolute days without drinking: right now I haven’t drunk since Saturday and it’s now Tuesday. This period of monk-like abstinence will end tonight when the football starts on telly. I’m only human.

I prefer to refer to myself as a delightful-sounding ‘binge drinker’, which brings to mind lads’ holidays to Magaluf and vomiting in Ipswich town centre outside Millets, perhaps before attempting to chin some similarly intoxicated youth for looking at your bird while simultaneously keeping hold of a Doner kebab. While ‘alcoholic’ merely evokes images of middle-aged bearded men shouting abuse at passers-by. Alcoholics are men who have long been refused visiting rights to their young children, who perhaps have a history of spousal abuse. None of these are images I’m willing to cultivate. Also, the narrative attached to succumbing to alcoholism pretty much demands that you stop drinking at some point, and I really like drinking, so to give it up would be a massive shame. As I’ve previously alluded to, I’m fucking boring when I’m sober, why would you object other people to that? You would have me seriously aim to bore other people? What kind of masochist are you? Or perhaps you would just have me shut off myself from all communication? Would you build some sort of camp for me? You are starting to sound a little frightening now if you don’t mind me saying…

The first step in giving up is to admit that you have a problem, but since I simply don’t want to give up a nice little loop hole is simply to never admit you have a problem. Never.

So while the trip to my apartment cultivated few clues as to what happened in the early hours of May 4th, it’s safe to assume alcohol was involved at some point. Just a theory…

That Saturday night in hospital I spent the time usually reserved for failing to sleep instead bent over in pain and grimacing at the sheer fury of the harsh conflagration that was burning through me. Or at least that’s how it played out in my head, as far as I can remember I was hunched at a ninety degrees clutching my aching belly tightly with both hands, even though my current state and make-up would have made such a show of elasticity impossible. I highly recommend Show of Elasticity’s third album by the way. I still couldn’t even move my cracked head around my cracked body, turn back on myself and take in what a mess of bones and skin I’d become, but this was a pain I inherently understood- constipation. Angry, malicious constipation.





The beeping dark hospital ward created an atmosphere more akin to a fairground haunted house at night, with intimidating neon flashes on indeterminate and chilling machines shouting me down. Nurses would ghost in and out like ersatz ghouls made up of billowing fabric attached to a hanging wire that would mechanically make a circuit around the ward. I saw the nurses gliding past and around and onto a massive machine designed to harness the power of the outside lightning, a giant structure that resembled Dr. Frankenstein’s hobby project constructed in the 1931 film with the intention of giving life to the monster. Perhaps all my recent problems were down to me being crudely made up of discarded body parts sewn together and was at some point going to be charged with the electricity of the Gods and at last given life. It’s alive, it’s moving, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, IT’S ALIVE!





I checked my neck for bolts.





The pain continued for an hour.





Or twenty hours.





Or three days.

Or five minutes.

Or two minutes.

Or two hours.

Or three quarters of an Eid.





I couldn’t lasso my own brain and tug it back to a place I might be able to process such impossibly ordered concepts such as time.





Early the next morning, as soon as she was woke from her sleep on a chair in the waiting room, Hej came into the room to see if I was, in fact, alive and I explained to her my predicament through groans of obstructed agony. My grasp of Mandarin Chinese didn’t quite cover the need to broadcast the discomfort your constipation had left you in and so she translated to the nurses. I was given a fistful of laxatives (Sergio Leone’s less successful reboot of A Fistful of Dollars) and told to await the inevitable and mollificating discharge. I decided and declared that I’d probably find the whole thing easier if I weren’t required to colour my own bed with shit, as I determined that any mental objection I may have had to crapping my own bed may present a stumbling block. The nurses got hold of a cardboard bed pan and it was placed so it carefully held itself under my arse hole.

Then… what?

My ability to shit was no better controlled than my ability not to. I made what I believed might be the correct expressions, tensed whatever indeterminate spots inside my body that could still be tensed in the abstract hope that the whole operation might be started up. I began to lament the hideous design flaw that the human body didn’t come equipped with a starting chain that could be violently tugged at moments such as this, the guttural sound extremely close to a lawnmower squealing and shuttering into life. Big mistake by the Big Guy that one.

The ward was full of strange nurses and patients, but any British self-consciousness or shyness were never considered as I attempted to turn my uncovered and unhidden bottom and balance it over the pan. After five or ten or fifteen or a million minutes of tensing and grimacing a small poo about the size and appearance and perhaps smell of the last Maltester at the bottom of the box popped out and collided with the bottom of the pan with a satisfying sounding whack. In retrospect it seemed like a rather disappointing conclusion to the drama, but still I felt infinitely better than I had grasping myself in agony the night before. Perhaps it was just the cover of darkness that had caused me so distress.

Perhaps I just needed Hejuan.

Around this point my parents were given a quote for £59’000 to fly me back to Manchester






Fuck man, fuck!

I take another mouthful of cheap beer. How many bottles is that now tonight? Fuck it, who cares? I feel good, I feel goooooood.

Well, apart from I ain’t had fucking sex in over a fucking year!

It’s my 19th birthday today, didn’t fuck once when I was 18.

I look at my watch. 1am.

Well technically it was my 19th birthday yesterday, but whatever, the point is that I don’t think I fucked anyone when I was 18. Can you fucking believe that?? Not fucking anyone at 18! That’s fucking embarrassing! When I was 17 it was fuck city mate, there was whatsername, and thing at college, whasserface…

Fuck, I’m so fucking pissed I can’t even remember their fucking names.

Who gives a fuck about their names? They were just fucks, they don’t need fucking names mate, they all counted as fucks, I’m definitely counting them as my conquests.

Tonight though, this fucking drought ends. It fucking ends.

I scan the dance floor. A few fit birds. Sure, I ain’t got me glasses on but a lot of them look fucking hot. Too many already with fucking blokes though. Fuck! Have I missed my fucking chance here again? You have to move fucking quick

I spot a girl dancing really fit to ‘Groove Is In the Heart’.

Fuck man, she’s really hot.

She’s really pissed.

Would it be bad if I tried to cop off with her? Would I be taking advantage of her?

Nah! No fucking way! I’m so fucking pissed right now that she couldn’t possibly be worse than me!

I take another swig of Heineken. £1.50 a bottle, can’t argue with them fucking prices can you?

I set off in her direction. Drag her down to my level. She’s as bad as me.

I swing her towards me with an arm around the waist and it’s on! It’s fucking on! I’m not a terrible looking guy, I reckon with the thickness of the beer goggles she must have on now I probably look like Brad fucking Pitt!

She’s liking the dancing, in fact she’s really liking the dancing. Fucking hell! Her hands are down my trousers and she’s sliding them along my cock. Fuck me! Don’t think it’s ever been this fucking hard!

I’ve gotta take this opportunity now, she’s fucking ready to go! I don’t say anything, I don’t think either of us has said anything so far! I point my head towards the women’s toilets and she smiles.


We rush to the ladies’ quicker than I ever think I’ve run in my life. Into a cubicle and grasp furiously with each other’s clothes, she just slips her undies off under her skirt and my hands tremble as I try to unzip my fly. I have a condom in my wallet so if she asks then… Nope! We’re off! Well, she didn’t ask for one so this is all on her.

Fuck this is difficult. Just trying to find enough room in here to fucking thrust.

But it’s fantastic.

It’s only a few minutes, seconds maybe, before there’s a knock on the cubicle door.

“Come on, you know you’re not allowed in the ladies’ toilets, get out of there or I’m throwing you out of the club”

Fucking bouncers. Still, I don’t want to be thrown out, where am I gonna get another fucking drink at this time? I pull out my cock and tuck it back into my trousers.

I’m still counting it.

I open the door and a circle of what I assume to be the girl’s friends were surrounding the cubicle looking in horror.

“Oh Phillipa, what are you doing?”

I swiftly exit the ladies’ and settle down on a sofa outside the toilets to enjoy a post-coital cigarette.


Drought over!

Hey hang on, my Mum’s away at the moment, I’ve got a free house after this!

I should invite… What did her friends call her? Fuck knows. I’ll learn it later. I’m gonna invite that girl back to Mum’s house. Fuck it, invite all her friends! Me and them and my mates can have a fucking party!

I wait for the girl and her friends to come out of the toilet so I could make my modest proposal. The girl has shown already that she likes a cut of this Palmer’s jib. Ha ha ha!

Girls file out of the toilet.

And more.

And more.

Fuck, I can’t remember what she looks like…



Syphilis and Borat

The doctors soon realised that I’d gone through most of the classic exercises but if I didn’t have a blood transfusion I wouldn’t feel I’d really had the full ‘hospital experience’. Maybe they just saw that I had especially shit blood, if you were to search for my blood on the PlasmaAdvisor website you’d see that very few customer reviews put it at higher than two stars. While I was there they may as well clean it up a bit, polish the erythrocytes, spray the leukocytes and give the whole thing that much coveted ‘new blood’ smell that makes babies so popular. This car was hardly top of the range before it had been subjected to a pretty hideous crash and we were now merely concentrating on changing the oil. Was it really worthwhile now it was barely roadworthy? If my opinion had been asked I would have instead considered how much the parts would fetch for scrap.

My parents were told that the hospital couldn’t guarantee the blood they transfused into me didn’t contain hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, malaria or syphilis, all of which I wouldn’t enjoy contracting, despite the positive effect it would have on the story. I wasn’t given the chance to choose which affliction I’d prefer, I understand that ideally I’d catch none of them, but I would have liked to rank the diseases in some sort of order of preference. If I had to die from one of them I’d go straight for syphilis without a shadow of a doubt, there’s still a certain amount of glamour and romance attached to dying from syphilis. If I were told you a friend died from it you would picture a rakish poet slain by his unfortunate sexual popularity, an image I wouldn’t mind cultivating.

My Mum was the wrong blood type, and still is I suppose, these things tend to stick with you, and anyway the ability to change it would be one of the less useful superpowers. So Dad volunteered to slice himself open and bleed into me, offering up his own guarantee that anything transferred wouldn’t contain hepatitis B, C, HIV, malaria or syphilis. Unfortunately 400ml is needed and Chinese people were only allowed to donate 200ml at a time. My parents eventually convinced the hospital to take my Dad’s donation only to eventually find out that he was considered officially too old anyway. They decided to bite the bullet and sort out any disease I happened to catch if and when I ever managed to return to Britain, as fate had so obviously decreed. This was certainly a time when it was better not to have Hej present, as she would have never settled for such a ‘risk’. At the risk of spoiling the surprise I think I should reveal that I never caught any of the aforementioned ailments, I heartily apologise if you’re a fan of a book’s protagonist acquiring disease. Perhaps you demand it, perhaps to the extent that the main reason you didn’t enjoy the Harry Potter series was that the young wizard was at no point struck by a nasty case of gastroenteritis, and that you were disappointed when you reached the end of Pride and Prejudice without Elizabeth Bennet once suffering from bacterial vaginosis. But please do read on, as I promise there’ll be plenty of that later, of all the poor reviews this book receives not one of them will consider it a failure due to its lack of disease.

Around this everyone had to seriously consider the possibility that I wouldn’t make it out of the hospital. Every day was a new CT scan, X-ray, dialysis, blood transfusion, tube. An old bearded doctor who I assumed was of Kazakh origin as he looked uncannily similar to the large man who accompanies Borat on his trip around the USA*, drilled into the other side of my chest to slip another tube into the other lung. I was a lot more aware of the process this time, though it was a near impossible feeling to describe, to have no outside feeling yet still be ghoulishly aware of your inner organs being prodded and caressed, like the person in bed next to you was being sexually assaulted. It was an experience I can liken to trying to perform a certain task- I’ll allow your diseased imagination to conjure up exactly which one- after lying on your hand until it goes limp. Only with, y’know, your lung…

(*Is that racist? I hope not but it probably is. I apologise to any Kazakhs reading)

The process released what seemed like a tidal wave of biblical proportions of horrid juice from inside my chest, like puncturing a lava lamp encased in my chest. My body was hosed that little bit cleaner, like we were mopping the kitchen floor in the knowledge we’re going to be having friends over.

I now had a tube pumping waste out of each lung, which at the very least afforded me some semblance of symmetry (Semblance of Symmetry were a great band, check out their Peel sessions). The hope was that my lungs would immediately improve once they’d both been drained, but they proved to be as stubborn as their owner by refusing to do so. It was seeing the state I was in, more tube than man (More Tube Than Man was Semblance of Symmetry’s second album. A disappointing sophomore effort I thought to be brutally honest) and witnessing the bountiful amount of procedures I was routinely subjected to that caused my Dad to have a mini-breakdown of emotional distress. If you are in any way distressed then I can’t think of many worse places on earth to be than Urumqi, an oppressive, loud, busy, smoky intense den of perpetually and angrily impassioned people impatiently scattering in and out of shops and alleyways like frightened insects underneath a lifted rock. Dad has long suffered from heart problems and the whole experience was proving simply too much for him and it was decided that my eldest brother Duncan would fly out to Urumqi to replace him if it ever got too hot to handle. Not to be outdone, my Mum also decided to faint in the hospital when she too found the whole experience exceptionally exasperating It’s fair to say neither of my parents would be leaving exceedingly positive reviews on TripAdvisor.com.

It was around this time where I managed to catch a fever. See? Not long to wait before I was diseased. Hospitals are, believe it or not, absolutely rife with this sort of thing. I’d avoid if I were you. This appropriately made my appearance resemble something closer still to death as my skin became sheened a light blue and my lips became scabbed, like I was lying waiting for Jesus’s warm deathly embrace riddled with a deadly (yet exotic) disease in Mother Theresa’s Calcutta hospice. Now was surely the time.

And it would have been a perfect time to die then. It would have been for the best, would have made things a lot easier had it all been just been stopped there, cut off at the source. Stop all the travails that would follow.

Done, finished, over.

C’mon God, now’s the best time.

Life, and by extent death, is never that simple.

I never once had the mental capacity to consider myself close to death, as few people do. We spend our whole lives thinking about and being terrified of death and yet we’re almost never prepared. Death is a heart attack, or a bus, or a cigarette, or a beer, or a turtle dropped from an eagle’s claws high above. It creeps up on us when we’re in no mental state to adequately consider it. Some people consider being told you’re about to die in a year, month, minute to be a terrible occurrence, yet it is the people who know absolutely when they’re going to die that are the lucky ones, they don’t have to live by the constant anarchy of God’s dice. You could die next month and there’s thousands of things you never did.

Thousands of things you meant to say.

Thousands of people you meant to kiss.

Thousands of people you meant to fuck.

Thousands of people you meant to punch

And of course if you’d known about your impending demise you would do as many of those things as you could (please ask people’s permission before you fuck them, I can’t stress that enough), death is the greatest motivator we have and so many of us never have the chance to utilise it.

Steven Hawking was told he had two years to live at the age of 21 and I like to think he spent the next twenty four months going to hundreds of people’s houses and telling them how much of a twat he’d always thought they were and how much he’d always hated their ugly pokey little face, perhaps explicitly propositioning all of his friends’ wives, only to stay alive for another 50 years. Awkward, as the kids say…

Mum and Dad were given a new quote for £80’000 for an air ambulance back to Britain, probably about as much as another month in a Chinese hospital, but they weren’t convinced I would even make it to the pick up date. On the 24th May, less than three weeks after I had been admitted to the hospital, my parents got a phone call just before midnight asking them to come to the hospital urgently, for reasons they could immediately imagine but took Tommy (who spoke great Chinese- he had already mastered two languages so what was a third?) along to translate anyway.

They arrived at the hospital just after midnight in the earliest minutes of the 25th May and were told that I had sadly passed away the hour before.



They weren’t told that obviously, it’s difficult to build up much tension about my possible demise while writing in the first person, although you many pieces of fiction make you sick with stress worrying about the protagonist’s peril even if you know they’re going to be fine. Spoiler alert: James Bond doesn’t die. Plus this is quite an early point in which to bump off the main character, I’m not looking to be played by Sean Bean in the inevitable film adaptation. You’ve barely had a chance to form a strong an opinion either way on this ‘Alex’ character, so I can’t really expect his death to bring about any strong emotions- if I was to die I’d obviously keep it until the last act wouldn’t I? Give me some credit.

The big emergency that required my parents’ immediate presence was the hospital’s need to ask their permission for a further blood transfusion- nobody’s idea of fun but not in any way life or death (unless of course I caught the aforementioned HIV). My parents had long decided that the news would concern my death, either impending or recent, so it’s debatable whether anyone has ever reacted to news of a blood transfusion with quite so much joy.

Rather than shuffling out, I was in fact close to getting an all clear to shuffle away to Britain. I was given a medical assessment that confirmed I was Ok to fly. Awkwardly, the doctors insisted on writing this assessment in Chinese, so a further and much more complicated task was to get this translated into English. This unsurprisingly took quite a long time which only felt a thousand times longer when waiting intensely for the chance to fax it over to the air ambulance so they could begin arrangements to fly me back. There wasn’t a fax machine in the hospital obviously, I mean who has a fucking fax machine anymore? My accident was bad but not quite severe enough to send me flying back thirty years in time. It was debatable how essential a fax machine was in a hospital anyway, I can’t imagine the best way to tell someone their wife has just passed away is to scrawl a ‘sorry’ note in pen, perhaps with a sad face, and fax it to their office. They were forced to use one at the hotel, which predictably didn’t work. In desperation they rang Tommy once again who told them he had a friend with a scanner (a good friend to have, along with the guy who can fix computers, owns a ladder, or can deliver children) and the documents were sent over.

The embassy in Beijing say that it can take up to ten days, still plenty of time for me to pass on. I don’t though, sorry for the spoiler. I wonder if you’re permitted to a full refund in those circumstances. An letter typed out by the hospital said that I was going to Ireland, which was wrong on many, many levels, perhaps the hospital was confused by my red hair and obvious fondness for drinking**. My parents are told that flying doctors will arrive from Germany on the 3rd June with a view to fly me back to Manchester on the 5th. Upon learning the nationality of the birds of salvation everybody immediately trusted that the whole operation will go down with remarkable efficiency***.

(** Christ, I’m really pushing the casual racism in this chapter aren’t I? I’m going for the Germans next, just so you know.)

(*** Told you)

I was personally a lot more compos mentis by this point, my lips were less scabbed and my teeth were being regularly brushed, plus once every other day or so a large group would gather around my bed to watch me being shaved by whichever nurse was lucky enough to be given the task that particular day. To see my patchy, ugly and rapidly growing ginger facial hair shorn was as intriguing a sight in China as an organ grinder’s particularly hairy monkey.

Regardless of how mentally anchored I was the magnitude of my situation had yet to properly sink in, I hadn’t yet mentally processed the fact that at one point not to long ago I was a happy walking, talking, drinking man about town (that town being, however, Urumqi) and by that point I was permanently horizontalised with various broken bits, a tube down my penis and occasionally covering the bed with shit. The fact failed to sink in even with me lying with two legs in cast, two tubes entering my lungs and without the physical wherewithal to wipe my arse after I shat the bed, nor the ability to stop myself shitting the bed.

It still seemed to me like this was the kind of thing that happens to other people, and nothing of that sort could ever befall me. I expected any second that some man in a suit with a clipboard would burst through the door exasperated and apologetically explain that a terrible mistake has been made in the paperwork and the man who should really be in hospital had actually been doing my job for the last month. This was all an administrative cock-up upstairs and I would assume and demand some deity would be sacked for all this.

As a human being you mentally prepare yourself for all sorts of things, I had long known exactly what I’d do if visited by an alien- I’d immediately start negotiations over what my cut as their official manager and promoter. I knew what I’d say in my first press conference to reveal me as both the new Manchester United signing and manager. As I got older I began to realise that to prepare to play for Manchester United was more unlikely, so I started to concentrate more on my unveiling as manager where I’d delight the assembled press with my quick wit and easy charm. I knew exactly what my acceptance speech at the Academy Awards would be. The Oscar win is a lot more likely, as I’ve long suspected that film acting is actually a piece of piss. As oppose to theatre acting where you have to remember quite a lot of dialogue and resembles instead an admirable talent for short multiplication after paying attention during the rote learning at primary school. Marlon Brando did most of his work mumbling incoherently words that were frequently taped onto the chest of a co-star less he forget his lines, and he’s considered one of the best movie actors ever. I even knew what I’d spend the money on after I won the lottery, mainly a private jet and lots of drugs, for reasons that will later become clear. Many hypochondriacs are actively convinced they already have various debilitating illnesses but are never really prepared for the drudging reality of the situation. Even if many people would actually quite enjoy having a terrible illness for a while, though few people will admit it. They’d want to survive it and recover completely of course, but you’d want to see all your family worry by your bed-side and see which friends would visit to pay respect. Some people would sacrifice a lot of things to be the centre of attention. You never even consider being in any sort of crippling accident as the chances of such a thing happening are so unlikely that it would simply be a waste of time to even contemplate. And so when you’re laid up in hospital it’s such an event for which you’re so ill-prepared you don’t get round to even considering it as reality until a long time afterwards.

A lot of times you don’t make it to a long time afterwards.

A large percentage of things are never considered.

Perhaps it was because of this lack of appetite for truly engaging with the real world that me lying in the hospital bed awake 24 hours a day occasionally covered in my own excrement became my new ordinary. I was still not sleeping as far as I could tell, ‘as far as I could tell’ being an extremely operative phrase here. It seemed everything was starting to get a little more normalised and wonderfully boring again.

Until a later morning when I was woken up and told to prepare for the fun run.


Hejuan’s Final Entry

Today, finally, I feel better. I saw you, my love, my super man and I talked to you. I told jokes to you. I was so so…….. happy, that I could saw your smiley face. I could be played jokes on,

Thanks my love, don’t give up.

Be brave. I will be here with you always

I don’t want to lose you. So you couldn’t ever ever give me up.

We love each other so much.

Be brave, confident, patient.

I am here always



Aeroplanes and the Champion of the World

When I woke that morning the fun run was already on its way and had obviously been going on for a quite a while. The general idea was that the contestants would run to a marked area at the end of a field that the hospital stood upon and opened out onto. Once at that marked area they would put together a model aeroplane as quick as possible, although I also remember some runners making model cars, and even model trains, so the rules obviously allowed for a certain degree of creativity. After completing the model the contestants would then be required to run back to the hospital with the plane in their hand ‘flying’ it to the finish line. The contestant with the quickest time would win the race. Runners were released from the starting area one by one, with a gap of about one minute between contestants.

I was already lying in the race’s starting area waiting to given the OK to begin my run. There seemed to be no indication which entrant would be running next, so everyone hedged around the starting area had to be on constant alert, ready for their chance at beating whatever the best time was when they set off.

There was one boy recording a storming time. He looked to me remarkably like the titular character of Roald Dahl’s book ‘Danny, the Champion of the World’, which was an odd comparison for me to make as I have no idea what the character in that book looks like or even if his physical appearance is ever described. I hadn’t even seen the 1989 TV movie in order to compare him to the actor who portrays him- Jeremy Iron’s son Samuel fact fans. Danny left all other runners in his dust as he charged down the small hill leading to the finish, taking over entrants who had started one, two, five minutes before him. I looked upon the strong, confident way he finished his time, nary a drop of sweat on his chiselled brow and no heavy breathing evident within his barrel chest and immediately guessed that he would be the winner. He was showing the kind of aptitude for long-distance running that Danny, the Champion of the World is famous for. Or perhaps would be famous for if it was mentioned in the book at any point. Again, no idea.

I won’t lie to you, I had started to worry how I was going to complete the race without thoroughly embarrassing myself. I had no designs on competing with Danny (the Champion of the World) in the medal places, I was just getting increasingly anxious that I wouldn’t be able to truly do myself justice if I were to run that morning. I could perhaps ask a medical professional for an expert opinion on whether I was Ok to run? The thought did cross my mind but was pretty swiftly rejected as I pictured how it would look, the other people present would think I was just desperately seeking reasons not to compete.

What a coward they would all see me as.

The best case scenario would be for the doctor to allow me a leave of absence, and to suffer the shame of trudging out of the area past all my fellow competitors with my head drooped low as the yellow-bellied coward who used whatever cheap trick he could to avoid being a real man. Or there was the worst case scenario, when I would be declared fit to race, then I would be the guy who tried to quit but was such a failure he couldn’t even do that correctly.

To fail at quitting.

I’m not sure I could take the shame.

I was still waiting to be thrust into battle, and every time a runner was called onto the starting line it was clearer still that my turn was creeping ever more closer. It was a situation made worse by the fact nobody seemed to have any idea when it was I’d be released into the field. They came for Jeremy but my name was not Jeremy so I said nothing. The weather was especially grim that day, drizzly, overcast and a foul wind blowing. The situation was worsened further by the fact all the runners so far had cut the running track up into a sludgy layer of mud, which was beginning to be smeared all over the hospital’s starting area. Mud, mud everywhere and not a dollop to eat. The edge of my bedsheets nearest the floor began to be steadily more daubed with obscene brown marks, like the hospital was carrying out its own dirty protest against me.

“Do I have to do this Mum?” I asked whimpering, starting to truly dread my upcoming participation.

“I’m afraid so”

Mum solemnly replied, grasping my arm in attempt to comfort me, though her eyes suggested that the aeroplane fun run was an unavoidable necessity and by throwing such a hissy fit I was only embarrassing myself.

I began to accept that there was no getting out of my obligation to participate in the famous Urumqi Hospital Aeroplane Fun Run and instead started to envision how I was best to complete the race without a time too embarrassing. How was I to circumnavigate the two casts on my legs and the tubes sticking out each of my lungs? If I shit myself while I was out there? Well it was quickly getting as muddy as a particularly bad Glastonbury Festival out there, I truly doubted anyone would really notice if I was to empty a chemical toilet.

More and more time passed and less and less runners were scattered around me waiting to be called to the starting point. A feeling of exquisite joy spread about parts of me- I started to wonder if, hope upon hope, I may have gotten away with it.

Come on God, surely you owe me this at least?

I determined that the race operators had simply forgotten about me, perhaps neglecting to count the entrant still in his bed. I fully intended to make the most of this stroke of good luck by keeping quiet and not bringing any undue attention on myself. I slipped softly and quietly underneath my bed sheet, like an aggressively stern final bank request letter drifting innocuously underneath the sofa. The starting area began to clear out and the room started to feel empty save for the frequent brisk wet air blowing from the door still open to the field’s starting line.

Eventually Hellen appeared clasping on proudly to her superfluous ‘L’ and she was only too pleased to pass on the good news that I would not be required to run that day. I was so overjoyed with the news that I even neglected to ask whether Danny (the Champion of the World) had achieved what I long assumed since glancing upon his impressive effort earlier and become Champion of the Fun Run.

I had little time to bask in my good fortune as almost immediately my bed was lifted up onto the shoulders of a group of people and I was carried out of the starting area like I was a man being hoisted above a crowd of people in order to see Jesus and have my sins forgotten and my paralysis healed. Or at least I would get the chance to see a bit of his close-up magic that was all everybody seems to be talking about around Nazareth’s water coolers. I was ready to pick a card, any card.

My Mum and Dad said goodbye to me, explaining how I would see them again in a few days and suddenly I was in the back of an ambulance. After an indeterminate period I managed to ascertain that I was on my to the airport to catch my flight back to Manchester. After already avoiding competing in the hospital fun run that morning this really was turning out to be an uncommonly fortuitous day.

Based on how long it felt, I’d guess that I was in the ambulance making my way to the airport for about eighty four hours (give or take). We would indeterminately yet exasperatingly frequently stop dead, and the driver and nurses accompanying me would simply get out of the ambulance and wait indefinitely for some call, signal or sign that I couldn’t comprehend and lacked the language to inquire. The ambulance would grind to a halt, seemingly on the middle of a country lane of the type not found in Urumqi and everyone else would take the opportunity to go out of the vehicle’s doors and and take in the sights. I would be left lying in back while all the doors on all sides were open exposing me to a much warmer air than I felt blowing in from outside on that morning’s fun run, although perhaps the weather had warmed up as the day progressed, it was June after all.

The only sight I was able to truly take in was the ceiling of the ambulance as I continued to wonder how long we’d be travelling. My colleagues in the ambulance were occasionally out of the vehicle stretching their legs but my legs were as stretched as they were going to be for a long time, forever maybe. The commercial airport in Urumqi would be maybe 45 minutes drive from the hospital, but I’m guessing that we were heading for a more secluded and private landing strip that judging by the length of time we were in transit must have been somewhere around Shanghai*. However looking back perhaps** my memories of the third of June may not be much more reliable than those I have of the early hours of May 4th. I accept that perhaps Danny (the Champion of the World) didn’t even compete in that morning’s fun run, and was conceivably only there as a spectator.

(*I worry you might not appreciate that wry aside- Shanghai is about four thousand miles away from Urumqi, so the joke I was making was that we had seemingly been on route such a long time that we may have travelled many miles. Do you see? I’m not being serious of course, the journey felt significantly shorter than four thousand miles, it was just a nice little jokey aside with which I hoped to lighten the mood, I hope you appreciate such erudite examples of humour.)

(**Four thousand kilometres I meant. Sorry, I often get those two confused, the joke still stands however, although it almost seems not quite as funny now. Sabotaged by truth, few statements can survive that.)

Eventually though we arrived at the airport and drove onto the tarmac as if waiting to receive the President of the United State for super secret and deeply illegal business talks. I would finally know the feeling of being chartered to my own private plane, although I had previously pictured it as me being quickly shuttled from my LA home to my sell out concert at L’Elysée Montmartre in Paris, perhaps looking forward to being served plate upon plate of high class cocaine by a series of stunning flight attendants en route. Sexual favours would obviously only be served up if the women find me devilishly attractive and indubitably charming, which luckily they always did. Instead I was being wheeled between hospitals accompanied by a couple of German doctors who, while being wonderful and liberating birds of salvation, ignited little sexual desire in me. However, there still would be drugs offered and they would be fucking wonderful.

My papers and passport were exchanged on the runway as a strong wind kicked up a pathetic fallacy around us and I was passed into the red corned beef tin that constituted my carriage. The plane was tiny, with barely enough space inside for me to lie down. One doctor sat in the back with me enclosed within my many items of medical paraphernalia and a second sat at the controls to actually fly the thing. I could probably stretch out and kick the driver in the back of the head if I was ever overwhelmed with the desire. Unfortunately once you become aware of such possibilities it becomes extremely difficult to ignore the urge, like the overwhelming compulsion to lay hands on anything with a sign begging you not to touch due to the wet paint, or how a person describing themselves as ‘very likeable’ will make you immediately and violently hate them. Similarly a strong swing with my left arm would have seen the doctor sat close by my side catapulted against the side of the tin, perhaps releasing the door mechanism and throwing him out somewhere over the Indian Ocean. Again, peculiarly enticing and I assumed the door handles on an air ambulance aeroplane would fly open very easily.

If I were claustrophobic in any way it would have been a hellish experience, although I think that in some cases you really need to just suck it up in order to not bite the hand that’s feeding you. I’d like to ask sufferers if their phobia would ever prevent them from enjoying essential medical treatment. By far the most intimidatingly enclosed experiences I would be asked to endure would be CT scans, where your lying body would be slid into a Pringles tube not much larger than you and you’d be gently asked to move as little as possible, though many movements in any direction is already rendered quite impossible. You are simply dragged across a blackboard like antagonistic fingernails and slipped inside, asked to lie there for a period of about an hour as the machine makes crashing and deafening screams that sounded more akin to a fox being castrated mid-coitus sound tracked by the most challenging b-side from its favourite Icelandic Deathcore band (its a big fan of Skjálfandafljót Satðn). All while you lie near motionless and think to yourself “Hmm… I could really go insane right now couldn’t I…?”. In fact, I’m not sure I’d heartily recommend many aspects of required long-term medical care to people who suffer from claustrophobia- just stay healthy kids .

The tin’s cover was rolled back over the hole that passed for the door and I was close to the point where I could no longer change my mind



Sly and the Family Palmer

Feel free to read the next quotes out aloud in a comedy German accent, if for whatever reason you find that helps you.

“Obviously we don’t want you moving about too much while we’re in the air” the doctor explained to me, obviously as aware of the air ambulance’s rickety doors as I was “So would you like any drugs to calm you down?”

A question so rhetorical he was practically asking out loud whether he was able to speak

One of my favourite stories involves Bobby Womack and Sly Stone, I think as a tale it falls slightly behind Gulliver’s Travels perhaps but shits all over large swathes of the New Testament, the original and classic template of the difficult second album. They rented a private jet at the absolute height of their extraordinarily gargantuan drug-intake of the early 70s. At the time both Bobby and Sly were such enthusiastic purveyors of recreational intoxicants that they existed less as physical human beings, more as ghosts of cocaine powder drifting on the wind like particularly hip Willo The Wisps. As if Willo the Wisp wasn’t already hip enough, the 1997 critically adored film LA Confidential was largely based on his life story, although obviously the names were changed for legal reasons. Kim Basinger actually won an Oscar for her portrayal of Mavis Cruet.

The chauffeured drive there was nothing special, enlivened slightly by Womack vomiting all over the seats and Sly subsequently chasing the driver across a busy free way in anger at him not stopping the vehicle to allow his friend the courtesy of puking earlier. When they reached the private plane they told the pilot to not take off yet as they didn’t quite feel ready to travel, took a few hits of cocaine… and spent the next few days simply getting high in the jet while it stayed lay on the runway, racking up thousands and thousands of dollars of fees for getting blazed in what was in effect the World’s most expensive hotel room. They obviously concluded the plane couldn’t really offer them any more altitude than they were already enjoying. I have never heard a story that better reflects what I would do if and when* I ever became rich, although I might bypass the vomiting.

(*Definitely when- this book will sell in its millions, and that’s even before we factor in the money I’ll earn from the inevitable blockbuster movie adaptation. I might ring Kim Basinger.)


There are two things that prevent all of humanity taking drugs all of the time. The first of which is their illegality, which doesn’t create a barrier in any ethical sense, more in the sense that they’re generally a lot more difficult to come across than more legally kosher items such as, say, mayonnaise. Regardless of what some turdy tabloids and bullshit broadsheets will have you believe, drugs’ criminality makes them pretty difficult to track down if you’re so inclined. There’s no Auto Trader equivalent (Narcotics Anonymous?) where you can simply browse the pages idly every month with an eye open perhaps for a killer deal on a couple of grams of speed or maybe someone looking for a quick sell on three kilos of heroin, and dealers rarely if ever leave their cards in the window of the local post office. Instead you generally need to ‘know a guy’, much like you ‘know a guy’ who can fix computers or ‘know a guy’ with a scanner or ‘know a guy’ who can deliver babies. The second reason is that as we get older we generally, and extremely annoyingly, have more things to do and shit. One of my biggest regrets is that I never took the chance to take more drugs when I was younger and had less responsibilities. That’s saying quite a lot as I have close to no responsibilities right now that don’t involve putting my clothes on in the morning and wiping my arse when I go to the toilet. More on arse-wiping later, so stay tuned bum-swabbing fans. Drug taking is pretty similar to the movie Honey I Shrunk the Kids in that if you didn’t enjoy it to the maximum when you were younger there’s a good chance you’ve missed your chance to fully appreciate it.

Most if not all of the problems in my life have stemmed from alcohol, and there’s a good chance very few of them would have occurred if I possessed the easy option of consuming nicer and happier drugs instead. This is definitely and deleteriously a problem I personally have with my continuing and firm aversion to ever relating with any little aspect that’s close approaching any tiny thing that’s even visited a house party two doors down from reality, but it’s undeniable that the judicial state of drugs have backed me into choosing perhaps the worst narcotic with which to nourish my failings as a person. I feel the need to consume so many mind and reality-altering/improving substances because I’m quite a horrible person, not the other way round.

All of the problems people associate with illegal narcotics are actually problems that near exclusively hail from their very lawlessness. Even heroin would be about as dangerous physically as a pill of aspirin if dealers weren’t so devoted to getting the most sales out of their expensively and laboriously obtained illegal product that they water down every hit sold by mixing it with sand, brick dust, icing sugar and other hideous things doctors generally advise against you injecting into your bloodstream. This is of course after it has in all probability been cut with equally grim shit before it reaches them, and before it has been sold to the person who passed it on to them, and the person who sold it to them would have mixed it with fucking rat poison or whatever in the hope of throwing customs quite literally off the scent. There needs to be some market economy introduced to this equation- ‘Well that’s the last time I buy smack from Morrisons- they cut it with floor cleaner which clogged up Julie’s arteries and she died very painfully. We’ll buy it from the Co-Op next week’. Although if there is some kind of market competition currently like rival dealers nearby then people will mix their heroin with different drugs like MDMA to increase it’s potency, an extraordinarily dangerous practice that is usually what’s going to cause lethal overdose. Properly regulate the trade and instead Safeway will have to instead promote their product with fancy packaging, or maybe a free ‘Kenny Kocaine’ cuddly toy with every five grammes.

It’s also a fact, which you may have picked up on, that many drug dealers are terrible, terrible human beings, but that’s not a trait exclusive to narcotics- people are very often cunts- and the legalisation of drugs would immediately remove their one bargaining chip and source of power

You may also think that spending tens of thousands of dollars to simply spend time on a grounded jet blitzing yourself with drugs is in some way sad or pathetic. In many respects you’d be correct, in the same way you’d consider someone partaking in any leisure activity for a long length of time and for a large amount of money as particularly ‘sad’. If I told you that I once paid £734’000 to play four games of tennis with Roger Federer while we both sat on the back of Indian elephants** you’d probably be equally perplexed and disapproving. Or perhaps if I’d spent thousands in attempt to climb the World’s three highest mountains in three weeks, wouldn’t that money be better spent elsewhere? I once paid at least a grand to go to Cairo. Why? To see the Pyramids? Like I’d not seen them before? Every leisure activity is essentially pointless when you boil it down. Hamlet? Twenty four actors speaking words they’ve memorised on a stage? Citizen Kane? Not even memorised words, simply repeated ad infinitum playing dress up? The Beatles? Musical notes and beats simply arranged in certain agreeable formation like four chimps banging their faeces pleasingly on rocks? The cure for cancer is unlikely to be located here.

(**I haven’t, but I totally would, he just hasn’t replied to my e-mails. Tim Henman got in touch and offered to do it for just under a tenner, but I never e-mailed back.)

I’m not ignoring the problem of addiction, of course it’s a big shame if people develop any dependency on such things. Just as it’s unfortunate when people develop an almost debilitating addiction to any of a massive amount of different breeds of support to help them through an existence that is frequently disappointing, irritating, tedious and laboured. Be it my weakness for alcohol (mainly down to the scarcity of drugs- it’s all cyclical), the guy who can’t even start the day without a cup of shit piss coffee, those who couldn’t even live without the weekly batch of ninety minutes of Barnet FC (other sports teams are available and, if I’m being completely honest, likely to be better), to the person who centres their whole life around their collection of Pokemon toys. Some people also have religion, beliefs that there’s a giant monster alien living in the sky who silently passes judgement on people and believes that offering any proof of their existence would simply make it too easy and as far as I’m aware killed the dinosaurs with their heat vision (research needed). These souls are obviously the oddest and most perverse people into the weirdest shit, baloney that’s not just legal but tax-free. In many ways the person who bases their life around an invisible deity’s supposed judgement isn’t much weirder than the guy who’s collected every Heinz ketchup bottle design since the late 19th century. Not much weirder… But who am I to pass judgement on whatever helps someone through the day?

Perhaps the best possible scenario is that no drug, legal or illegal, had never been discovered or invented. I don’t think any records exist from before mind and body altering substances were first unearthed, on account of fuck all worthwhile taking place before that impetus was introduced. Unfortunately many opiates and sedatives, many uppers and downers, have already been posted to the public domain and so now every law regarding them should really be more an exercise in damage limitation. The war on drugs, an everlasting fight against that most abstract of concrete nouns, is ridiculous and unwinnable conflict, like declaring all out war on macrobiotics. If we added both the money saved from no longer splashing massive amounts policing illegal narcotics to the money gained from taxing their legal sale than my my careful calculations we’d be able to pave every single street in Britain with a fine sheet of 24 carat gold in approximately thirty seven months.

The legal nature, the examined procedures and the taxation of these drugs would not require everyone to start taking them, much like the fact that abortion is happily and rightfully*** permitted does not make it mandatory to terminate pregnancies. I suppose you’d have to trust that your surgeons aren’t high on crack cocaine before you enter the operating theatre, but no more than you have to trust them not to be even a little bit pissed. As soon as I discovered alcohol I realised that a career in medicine wasn’t really for me. I imagine key-hole surgery is quite a tense affair, and I would love a few vodka and cokes to calm me down beforehand.

(***Oh shit, please let’s not have that debate here! Wait until the sequel where I document my new-found celebrity, or perhaps it’ll be the publishing of journals found after my death a la Kurt Cobain.)

I want to make it clear however that I am in no way throwing my weight behind the campaign for the legalisation of cannabis, an issue that due to the boorish nature of most if not all of its advocates makes supporting it an impossibility. Weed’s tendency to transform its users into tedious farts, who act like smoking an especially dull depressant is an act of civil protest akin to Gandhi’s Salt March actually makes it by quite a distance the most dangerous drug. When I’m Prime Minister I would actually legalise every drug except cannabis, possession of which will result in a life’s sentence, raising to death if you keep fucking banging on about it. Even the word ‘weed’ makes me shudder, and I would probably make any talk of it a crime similar to how Holocaust denial is treated in some countries. So yes, that’s my first act as leader mapped out, revealed to the press through the window of a private jet I was sharing with Bobby Womack on private business.

My drug intake has certainly lessened in recent years, my last experience of recreational narcotics had been a generally mind-chloroforming acquaintance with a particularly strong hit of ketamine in South China, which was enough to pretty much did me for for a few years. But I’m still not stupid enough to turn down free drugs. So I gleefully agreed, and the flight over was one of the most blissful and enjoyable trips (in every sense) of my life. I can’t imagine that the trays of high-quality cocaine served to me by buxom (did I mention they’d be buxom? Well they would) beauty queen (did I mention they’d be beauty queens? Well they would be) flight attendants could have been any better than the fantastic narcotics I was plied with that journey. My journey in a cramped jet not much bigger than a snuff box while bound tight to a stretcher (a bind I undoubtedly needed) and the deep joy I got from the experience simply offered undeniable proof that there is no situation that can’t be made deeply enjoyable by the simple addition of mind-altering drugs.

I was swept on a delightful tour of Asia and Europe as the tiny plane needed to stop to refuel relatively frequently, starting with Astana in Kazakhstan, where I shouted an apology out the window for the possible casual racism I would later employ in my book. Then on to Vilnius in Lithuania where the German doctor worried my drugs’ effects could be running out and so asked if I perhaps wanted any more. He obviously followed up that question by asking me the exact location of a bear’s usual defecation, or if I could settle a debate on the precise denomination of faith that the Pope practices. On to Cologne in the doctor’s home country and finally to Manchester. I visited more countries than I had ever done before.

The haulage of my body from Urumqi hospital to Salford Royal took a great amount of assistance from the wider as well as the immediate Palmer/Craig family. A great deal of money was borrowed from my Mum’s brother Neil to settle the bill for the actual flight, and my Dad’s brother David and sister-in-law Joyce came to the nearby hospital in Salford**** to assist my arrival from the plane. I can’t remember clearly if fans surrounded the plane screaming with banners exclaiming their love for me a la The Beatles arriving in America, but I had barely visited Manchester over the past decade so I assume the locals were excited.

(****Despite the horrible strain it would have been for Manchester City fans to travel to a United heartland. The fact that my Dad and his brother support different Manchester teams, and are sons of a husband and wife team who did the same, is a heart touching story of healing and eclipsing a divide that should act as an inspiring tale to Israelis and Palestinians.)

“That was really quick” I said to my Aunt and Uncle as I was rolled out of the ambulance “It was only about five minutes”

The whole journey had taken around twelve hours.



Swaps and Spotty Man

The staff at Salford Royal Trauma Assessment Unit took immediate umbrage at my look. This was fair enough as there are numerous differences between the fashions of Britain and China, and some of my more audacious choices of attire simply weren’t going to cut it in the new country. They could see straight away that I really wasn’t rocking the pipe look, and I seemed suitably drained so they whipped out the tubes injected into my lungs, the small cuts beside each breast became the first permanent scar or mark the experience would leave on my outer body. ‘Outer’ being the most operative of words here. They removed the casts from my legs, releasing a stench from my feet of a horror I couldn’t even begin to imagine and for which I apologise profusely to the staff responsible for such a ghastly task, and possibly to all of Greater Manchester, North West England, Britain and perhaps Europe . If you think I’m exaggerating you’ve not been around when I’ve removed my shoes in the changing room after a gym session, a horror I strive to avoid by exercising as little as possible. This is an act of kindness I have never been adequately thanked for. Shorn of my casts I was instead dressed up in a pair of knee length meshed tights to keep my feet and ankles in place, giving me the immediate look of one of the Manchester gay village’s less impressive drag queens. I could already feel that there was a large build up of dead skin on the bottom soles, but tragically it would be a long time before I developed even the most rudimentary skills required to while away the day picking them off. More bad news.

My right arm was no longer paralysed and my left leg had healed to an even greater extent. It’s debatable whether that made any difference to my situation, as your legs are pretty much useless if you’re going to be spending twenty four hours a day lying near motionless in bed. It was a waste of abilities akin to arduously explaining to your pet guinea pig how to perfectly nail that final guitar solo in Radiohead’s ‘Lucky’.

My right leg had revealed itself to be the limb by far the worse off, or at least my right ankle and foot had. The ankle was completely shattered and paralysed, a lack of feeling that spread all the way down my foot and up the lower reaches of my right leg. The bones inside were now merely the last Doritos shaking about it in the pale crisp bag of my skin. Again, this made little effect on my position, but it at least made it clear that standing up was completely out of the question, and it’s good to have these kind of things unambiguously confirmed.

I could no longer stand up.

See? Very simple, no point getting my hopes up.

Perhaps my most distressing injury was to my sacrum. Before you titter too violently at what you’ve just misread, I should explain that the sacrum is an extremely important bone at the bottom of the spine. Mine had been bashed and shifted to such an extent that it now stuck out under the skin above my arse like a little tail. Your lower spine has a big say in a lot of your hip and groin functions, pretty much the deciding vote in all matters. My sacrum’s damage was the principle reason I still had a catheter deep in my wily retrieving my bladder’s expulsions of urine, and the reason I still occasionally shat myself when my body decided it was high time for another evacuation. The damage to my sacrum had removed my say in these such matters. Salford Royal hospital realised how embarrassing it could be if I were to periodically throw a poo or two onto the hospital bed, and so protected my shame by fitting me with a nappy.

The assault that had been meted out to my lower spine by unknown assailants was also the main reason that when one of the bustier nurses decided to have sex with me, as a lifetime of watching pornography had ensured me they would, I would have to insist that they went on top- I simply couldn’t imagine my lower body being up to the task of the missionary position just yet. Although I have to say that even if I have seen all sorts of pornography (all sorts) I have never yet witnessed any that caters to the particular peccadillo of only getting off on seeing a woman having sex with a man fitted with a tube down his penis and who may occasionally shit himself. Though of course I’m not going to search for that, as I can almost guarantee it exists and there’s always a chance I’ll watch it and be scarred for the rest of days. There’s some doors you really don’t want to open.

I was moved to my own side room when I arrived on the Trauma Assessment ward and I was just…


Too tired to despair at the unfairness of it all, too tired to run the reasons for everything over in my mind, too tired to try and look for someone to blame, too tired to give the events of the past month any thought, too tired to wonder if I’d ever walk again, too tired to wonder if I’d ever get out of bed again, too tired to judge just how worthwhile life now was, too tired to decide whether I was in fact better off not being left to die in Urumqi.

I was just lifted into my bed and fell into deep sleep for about a week.

Or it felt like a week at least. I felt that I hadn’t slept since before the accident, although my memory is hardly the most reliable of things, and so took this opportunity to fall into a deep coma, when in Rome and all that. I let my eyelids flutter close as I marvelled at how easy it was to sleep in an NHS hospital, without your ear space being molested by relentless beeps and fizzes of mile-high machinery or being surrounded by the oppressive neon light shocks and Dickensian slum of the abandoned old haunted house left to rot and decay for years off the last exit of Route 42.

Just so you know, that house lay dormant for a long time before The Scooby Gang saw fit to scoot the place out as there’s been reports of- and you’ll like this- the haunted house itself being haunted! I’ll tell you how it ends a little later.

The dreams I fell into were immersive and profound and were now so superior to the alternative reality that it was no longer worth making comparisons. I made the decision relatively swiftly that my ‘sleeping’ World was to be my principal choice of reality, that the other plane of existence I occasionally found myself sailing upon, the one that I grind upon as I write this now, was to be at best an artistic failure of a tone poem and at worst the most grim of nightmares. Tonight I will finally wake from it again and continue my real existence, the one I frequently enjoy.

It was always difficult to pull myself back into that shared reality. As far back as I can remember it’s been near impossible to make that despairing leap from whatever wonder I had experienced in this wonderful alternative omniverse and engage with the World that my alarm was now violently suggesting I square up to. The World itself wasn’t necessarily what made the quantum leap so unpleasant, it’s just that every time I leapt I would be this same person, have to spend another twelve hours bashing around in this body (oh boy), at least until my brain could be in some way chemically altered. This leap I was again locked inside this same bunkum box, although now I had the body to best fit the scrambled pilot flying it.

The first days of my time in Salford Royal would be mainly- near enough exclusively- spent getting the nurses attention through the bed-side buzzer and asking them to pull me up the bed. I would slowly slip down the the mattress off my pillow and would have to alert those around me that I had lost my place again over the past hour or so, over the past minute or so, the past seconds. A couple of them would grasp me underneath the armpits and hoist me right back up to the heady heights of the head board where I would lie again happily in what I considered to be my rightful place in the microcosm of wider society that was my own mattress. It can be disastrously embarrassing to ask for someone to help pick you up off the floor after a fall, think of the shame asking people to help restore your position after you’ve fallen down your own bed. Not off it, just a slow pathetic slide to the bottom.

This would be the smallest job these wonderful NHS nurses would perform for me, but they completed the task as no less perfectly than they did any other. My nurses, my heroes.

My body was covered in small blotches of skin where I for some reason* had lost feeling, like I was Mr Blobby and could only feel the pink of my skin and not the yellow spots. Actually Mr Blobby is a bit of an outdated reference to use here isn’t it? Let’s say I was like Spotty Man from SuperTed, one of classical literatures more descriptively named characters- there are few surprises when you see Spotty Man. Spotty Man’s yellow area was the skin I could still feel and the green dots those bits that were lost to me. These were generally on odd areas that you wouldn’t necessarily notice. To even be able write this I’ve had to rub my hands carefully around my body (easy ladies) like a Royal Commando checking their multitude of upper body pockets for the mint imperial they just know they left in there somewhere, but slowly enough not to alert enemy attention**. I check my skin’s feeling with the preciseness of someone checking their friend’s collection of sticker swaps to ascertain which ones they required themselves:

(* Well, not ‘for some reason’, I could at least narrow down the possibilities)

(**Where the fuck did that simile come from?)

Got, got, got, need (under my left breast)!

Got, got, need (outside left thigh)!

Got, got, got, got, need (above my belly button)!

Got, need (right groin)!

Need (upper right thigh)!

Got, need (all up the left side around my left knee)!

Got, got, got, need!

Need (the bottom half of my right leg)!

Need (the bottom half of my right leg)!

Need (the bottom half of my right leg)!

Need (the bottom half of my right leg)!

Need (the bottom half of my right leg)!

Need (the bottom half of my right leg)!

Got, got got, erm… I’m not sure…”

Could I feel my penis? It was hard to tell, as though the accident had temporarily slightly switched the parameters for phallus clasping. My balls were happy as Leisure Suit Larries swinging between my thighs with definite perception- I was confident that were anyone to kick me in the testicles at that point it would’ve certainly hurt like hell, although I never called upon anyone to test my theory, so this merely remains an untested hypothesis.

I could kind of feel it, could definitely feel the foreskin rubbing against the corpus cavernosum of the inner shaft. But was hard to get a good investigation going and put on the spot I couldn’t really remember how it felt before the accident so it was difficult to compare. I immediately resolved to run proper tests once the catheter was removed, as I concluded that there lay the problem and it was of course difficult- nay, impossible- to come to many conclusions while a lengthy tube remained inserted into my Jap’s eye.

What a horrendously offensive yet strangely and widely accepted term that is and I apologise for using it here. Apparently the Japanese call it the ‘German’s mouth’ because it never smiles, although I’m wary whether that’s an urban myth on the scale of President Kennedy’s ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ meaning ‘I am a doughnut’. How would the Japanese have such stereotypes about the Germans anyway? You could more imagine them calling it the ‘Korean armpit’ or the ‘Filipino fist’ (Filipino Fist is another name of a terrible porn film I once saw. Again, it was more of s snuff movie). Unless it’s a reference to World War II, in which case it’s an area in which Japan don’t really have a leg to stand on or a Jap’s eye to piss through.

I was soon told that I would be moving into an adjoining shared room. I felt extremely upset, labouring under the impression that the NHS was so wonderful that each patient was afforded their own private room. I maybe assumed that single quarters were provided for the very most important clients, a group of which I was certainly a member.

Regardless of the high attention I believed I deserved I was quickly released amongst the proletariat in the neighbouring abide. Eventually I got to know the other members of the pretty exclusive club that existed on the Trauma Assessment Unit. ‘Got to know’ them? No, really just observed them from afar, enough to at least learn a one or two dimensional trait with which to signify them by. After talking to my lawyer I have taken the decision to change their names in order to protect my embarrassment of not being able to remember a single name amongst them.

First there was Mark, who I’ve decided to name after Mark Owen due to his, enthusiastic demeanour and the impossibility not to warm to the lilt of his soft Oldham accent. Or is Professor Brian Cox, who shares many of Mark Owen’s traits, a better and more contemporary reference? I worry that readers may not grasp the full intricacies of the character were they not as au fait with the mid 90s work of Take That as I am. Yes, I’ll call him ‘Brian’, for the good of the book.

No, ‘The Professor’ is a much better name.

The Professor had a bad motorcycle accident, by no means a rare feat seeing as approximately 128% of the people I met in hospital were there because of a motorcycle mishap, with the remaining third mostly made up of car accidents (statistics was never my strong point) so if I don’t mention why someone was laid up in hospital, because I can’t remember or simply never found out, just assume it was a motorbike accident and you’re never likely to be wrong. He had knocked his brain ever-so-slightly out of condition, which would lend him certain idiosyncrasies. Occasionally he would have long and exasperated discussions with nurses over trivial matters such as the exact amount of peas he received for dinner that day, although always in the politest way he possibly could. He would make a big point of asking people’s names, believing it very important for the cohesion of the ward, and then consistently get it ridiculously and hilarious wrong from that point onward. He would sometimes get my name impressively close, maybe an ‘Andy’ or even ‘Alan’, but more often he was way off with names like ‘Jeremy’ and sporadically his swing would even miss the correct gender and he’d throw a ‘Pauline’ or ‘Cindy’ at me.

He would spend most of the day shouting to get people’s attention, which could take a very long time as the name he would shout bore little resemblance to the person he was trying to reach. When that person finally did look his way he would simply give the thumbs up and a wink.

He stayed on the ward for a long time and I watched him slowly but eventually start to regain his ability to walk, or at least perform actions wonderfully close to walking, and I would watch him awkwardly and stiltedly shuffle around the ward as I was lay down near absolutely incapacitated with almost unbearable envy as I tried to come to terms with the fact that I would never be able to achieve such feats of strength.

There was Russel, who I’ve decided to name after Russel Crowe due to his cantankerous nature and frequent bursts of bad temper. I was going to name him ‘Mark’ after Mark E Smith, the equally argumentative and prickly lead singer of The Fall. but then I realised that I’d already named the first patient ‘Mark’. Then I remembered that I’d changed his name first to ‘Brian’ and then ‘The Professor’ but by that point it was too late and the deed had been done. I’ll be honest, I’m not one hundred percent sure I’ll remember I came up with ‘The Professor’ and will probably refer to him occasionally as ‘Mark’ in the future. It’s just one of those poorly put together tomes, get used to that. Mark… No… Russel was probably the loudest, angriest and most profane person I’ve ever encountered. I can only imagine he was in the hospital after a fight or similar physical altercation, as he had the kind of personality that you could very easily imagine people taking umbrage at to the point where the situation could only be resolved with a punch. My bravery was never near enough to dare ask him, as I imagined the explosion of anger released in my direction would burn my eyebrows off.

When not directed towards his nurses or fellow inmates his animosity was frequently shot fiercely and loudly down the phone to unknown victims of his furore. Or perhaps it was the same person, in which case my deep sympathies are with him or her, as they could obviously put up with a lot more stress and terror than I ever had or could. The calls sounded frequently similar from my end:

“Hello it’s Russel… No, fuck off, fuck off, fuck off!… How am I fucking supposed to do that you fucking cunt?!… WHY DON’T YOU JUST FUCKING FUCK OFF YOU CUNT??… I’LL FUCKING SHOUT IF I WANT YOU CUNT!!… NO, FUCK OFF YOU CUNT!!!… I DONT FUCKING KNOW!! JUST FUCKING DO IT!!… DON’T BE A FUCKING CUNT ABOUT IT!!!… Alright, see you later, bye”

He would often exchange anger with Hadrian, named after the Roman emperor from AD 117 to 138, as his head resembled the crumbled remains of the fella’s famous Wall. I was going to call him ‘Mark’ after Mark Ruffalo, in reference to the Incredible Hulk’s struggle with the more dislikeable side of his being, but then I seemed to recall that name being already taken. His head looked almost exactly like a ping-pong ball with an dent in it roughly the size of a man’s fist (funnily enough) and if you owned said ball you’d quickly be placing it over a boiling kettle to re-expand the air inside and get it back to its former shape. Little tip for you there, no extra charge, isn’t this book wonderful? However I imagine surgery on a person’s skull isn’t quite as easy. Or perhaps now after reading this they will find that’s all there is to it and I have just revolutionised the medical industry. This book really is wonderful. The medical profession was at the time unaware of Palmer’s findings so he was left with the huge cavity besieging into his brain box, topped with some reprehensible looking metal stitching.

Hadrian spent a lot of time talking about how he would never drink again, how drink was the route of all the problems he’d had in his life, how his flat had just seemingly become a place people would go to if they fancied getting pissed always assured that Hadrian would be up for it and possibly pissed already. He looked upon the incident as some kind of epiphany, that some God was telling him that his drinking had got way out of control and it was time to reel it in. I was amazed at his self-awareness and the lucidity with which he could discuss his problems with booze.

I could never address my relationship with booze so coherently, and my own incident would provide me with no such revelation. There was far too much general confusion over my reasons for being there to ever consider such a radical step as confronting my relationship with my beloved alcohol- you want to be absolutely sure your star striker had thrown a match before you put him on the transfer list don’t you? I would have needed to be at least 92% sure alcohol was in any way involved before I even considered facing up to it, and I was…

Less than that…

Later on Hadrian’s bed was taken by Justin, named after Justin Bieber as he encapsulated a lazy teenage stereotype in my tragically unimaginative mind. I thought about naming him ‘Mark’ after Mark Zuckerberg due to his deep connection to Facebook, an apparatus he was plugged into every waking hour and would constantly announce to me his latest post, poke, or friend request, but really, how many Marks can I get away with? This is in danger of becoming ridiculous. He was a 17 year old boy who suffered horrendous injuries while attempting to recreate the house falling on Buster Keaton from Steamboat Bill Jnr. and just getting his calculations off by a few millimetres (no, obviously it was a motorcycle accident of course, but it’d be nice to have a bit of variety wouldn’t it?). He would spend his time at Salford detailing to me the progress with the three or four girls he had on the go. At least he would until his Dad visited and it would take approximately 82.5 seconds before the two would descend into a massive and ridiculously angsty argument which would end with Justin storming off the ward as quick as one could storm when using crutches. Spoiler: it’s not very quick. Although Justin really took to crutches after his accident like a handicapped duck to wheelchair-friendly water- you can never really tell who is going to master the skills needed to be temporarily paralysed, but it seems some people are just born to be crippled.

The patient I connected to most was Eric, named after his physical similarity to Eric Bristow, I was going to name him Mark, before I realised that I couldn’t be bothered drawing out this already tedious excuse for a joke any longer.

Well, he didn’t look like Bristow at all actually, his name really was Eric, the only patient whose name I’d remembered, so it’s actually quite difficult to think of a reason he was called Eric, but if you wish to picture Mr. Bristow when reading about him then go ahead.

His experience mirrored mine closely, he had taken a big fall on a construction site and had fucked his lower spine in a style similar to me and was also waiting to be moved onto a dedicated spinal injury unit. Perhaps that was why I connected to him more than anybody else. Perhaps it was just because he had a fabulous way with a well-judged profanity.

“It’s fucking dull as dog’s cock to be holed up like this isn’t it?”

He swept one hand across his shattered body lying in bed, taking in much of the outer room in a gesture I took to refer to ‘various things’.

“Sorry… What…?”

This was the first thing Eric had ever said to me. He didn’t bother with so much as a ‘hello’.

“Here, it’s really dull isn’t it?”

“Well… yes… but I think I’m quite enjoying an excuse to spend all day in bed, I’m getting through a lot of magazines and I was itching for a holiday from work anyway”

“It’s a good point, and I bet you collect so much undeserved good will and love when you’re disabled”

“Definitely, I bet you get away with a lot of shit when you’re crippled, people will forgive you loads: ‘That bastard just spat in my food!’ ‘How dare you?? He’s disabled you know?’ ‘Oh, I do apologise, here sir, please take my wallet’, it’ll be great”

He laughed a little, before there fell an awkward silence. It was like I couldn’t help but fill this silence with needless gravity, I had so much angst built up inside me that I could do nothing to stop myself awkwardly slaver it out at the first opportunity of human contact.

“This isn’t the kind of thing that’s supposedto happen to me”

Eric grimaced slightly.

“Well, no, I mean what’s actually supposed to…”

“It seems that somebody somewhere has fucked up some admin something rotten.” My running mind could not allow him the precious seconds to talk, it had to continue. “I’m not even sure I could deal with it if someone close to me was injured in this way. I haven’t thought about what my life could be like from this point. It’s not like I don’t want to consider it, it’s like my brain doesn’t have the capacity to consider such thoughts. I mean, this could be it for me, y’know?”

Another awkward silence engulfed us, Eric couldn’t for the life of him think of a response. Our drifting eyes landed upon an opposite bed. A few days earlier a man had been taken in with hideous injuries, the source of which I dared not ask. For days he just lay in his bed motionless and attached to countless wires and tubes, eyes wide open and staring into an undefined empty space just above his bed, seemingly never blinking. The doctors and nurses tried and failed for a day or two to communicate with him, until it became clear that he was in fact Polish and a wonderful nurse then took the task of attempting to communicate with him in their shared native language. I never saw him respond with so much as a blink and it wasn’t clear to me that he understood a single word that was being said at all. Not one person came to visit him.

Eric gestured at the Pole, obviously trying not to smile too widely less it be seen as him talking undue pleasure in the massive misfortune of others.

“Well, just remember it could be worse”

I didn’t answer, merely blankly stared at the crippled Pole in silence.

And by the way the Scooby Gang later found at that the ghost at the abandoned haunted house was actually the local phlebtomist wearing a mask, although in a later twist it was revealed that the person who first alerted them to the haunting was in fact a ghost wearing a human mask, and heated hijinks ensued.



Horse Shit and Cecil Rhodes

As an ever changing role call of patients arrived and departed I lay dormant and useless. My increased mental capabilities only serving to highlight just how pathetic my life had how become. Thanks a lot brain, I never needed to know that, keep that to yourself.

Some would fly in and out as if they were never there at all, mainly on Saturday or Sunday morning as the debris of the night’s drinking was swept up like broken glass outside the city centre Nando’s. Some would stay for a while longer, like the aforementioned rabble, but never as long as me. Eric’s time holed up was a similar length but he had been admitted a few weeks before me and he would also eventually leave the Salford ward a similar amount of time before I did.

I would eventually become as much a part of the wallpaper as a disabled toilet.

Some visitors required more attention from the nurses, some required assistance eating, some merely had to be watched closely unless they pulled stitches or dressings off their face or body, or less they dashed to the toilet for a quick vomit*. The hospital dealt with these problems not by tying people’s wrists to the bed, which seemed to me to be the perfect solution, but by employing an orderly whose sole job it would be to sit at the foot of that patient’s bed and spend every hour of that particular day or night ensuring they left their stitches alone, and their stomach lining remained lining their stomach as its name suggested it would be best utilised. Tie the hands to the bed NHS, you know it makes sense.

It seems to be the done thing these days in certain quarters to complain and condemn the NHS, and I can certainly see that there are definite problems with the health service in Britain. However these problems almost exclusively amount to countless administrative gaffs and accounting black-holes that come with the territory if you’re attempting to run the service under constantly stricter capitalist guidelines like it were a branch of Ryman Stationers.

I’m more incensed that it’s such a half-cooked attempt at market economics, why not go all the way? Only treat people who are almost definitely going to financially benefit Britain in the near future? That way you free up all of the NHS hospital beds save for Richard Curtis and maybe the five members of One Direction. No, a lot of the NHS’s problems tend to arise from the fact that most patients (current company absolutely not excepted) are insufferable cunts.

I haven’t done quite enough research be sure if universal health care contributes to people’s general cuntiness. Perhaps patients from countries without such a marvelous service decide to tone their twattish behaviour down once they know their treatment is coming out of their own pocket, or maybe the fact that they’re paying for their treatment actually makes them complain and demand more as they expect the very best from their investment and the very fact that their health care isn’t free actually raises levels of cuntiness.

Perhaps in later life I’ll travel from country to country getting into various accidents so I can conduct a proper survey. How would I do that I wonder? I guess I would just have to fall from similar heights all across the World:

Splat! From the top of the Yildiz Clock Tower!

Thwack! From the eighth floor of the Petronas Tower!

Blam! Not far up the Copenhagen Plaza!

Boom! Check me out Hancock Tower!

I’m invincible now, the tour is hardly going to make me worse is it?

Perhaps if a Conservative MP (or any party, but likely Conservative let’s face it) put forward that the NHS should be scrapped using the reasoning that people are generally cunts and don’t deserve it I’d be more likely to consider it. He’s certainly be more likely to get my vote than if he just fired off some rancid horse shit about league tables and waiting lists and the shitting ‘free market’, which is immediately recognisable as complete turd offal and I’d be surprised if anyone took it to be any more. The problem with a strictly capitalist agenda is that it doesn’t need to be anything more, it only needs to answer in terms of money made and need make no other claims. If anyone complains to you about how long they had to wait in the doctor’s waiting room for the free medical service you officially have my permission to slap them in the face, and perhaps kick them in the balls/cunt if it was an especially obnoxious rant. Mind you this last couple of paragraphs has veered dangerously close to a empty-headed and naïve rant about the benefits of communism, so you’d probably be best slapping me too, just to be safe.

Perhaps Cecil Rhodes’s most famous quote is the questionable claim that ‘Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life’, a speculation that you could argue with at countless points (Englishman too, so I’m sure to rub my lottery win in the faces of every less fortunate woman I meet. I get this chance very rarely however as I don’t meet many women. Probably partly because of me doing just that) but I definitely feel and felt as if I had won some wonderful prize consisting of being able to use the NHS by virtue of nothing more than being spat out in Tameside hospital on December 1983 to a mother who had been similarly propelled out onto British soil herself (actually Scotland, but I believe at time of writing that still counts).

Hej’s Mum was once pregnant with what was to be Hej’s younger brother but couldn’t afford to pay the astronomical costs of giving birth in a Chinese hospital and so elected to do so at home with the help of a friend. You’ve probably got a friend who’s known for being good at plumbing, or someone who’s a bit of a whiz at fixing computers, imagine having the friend who everyone knows as being particularly adept at midwifery. Perhaps that woman Betsy goes on about down the pub who delivered her cousin’s first and who she assures you has very clean hands.

Unfortunately but rather far from surprisingly the baby died in childbirth. Hej tells this story as an extremely sad tale as you’d imagine, but in the same way you would tell someone about the day your beloved pet cat Biggles passed away under the stairs at the age of 16- obviously a generally melancholic event but one that in no way could have been helped and is in some way to be expected. I can hear you already telling me that such occurrences are by no means scarce in the developing world, but this is a country with ambitions to be the number one world power and yet is home to around 950 million people managing to live on less than five dollars a day. On my wage of around £12000 a year I was probably one of the one percent, and wouldn’t have seen much to complain about if hundreds of angry working Chinese decided to occupy my living room.

Again, this is a communist country.1

[1again, I was an insufferable lib at this point. I’m not saying all my views are *wrong*, just simplistic and piggishly underthought. Please read ‘China’s Great Road’ by John Ross for a far more nuanced take]

Without the safety net of the NHS a common sight in a Chinese hospital’s waiting room is the sight of a group of friends of an injured colleague or family member huddling together and pooling whatever money they can in whatever dominations they have in the hope of paying the hospital fees for another 24 hours, as a failure to satisfy whatever charge decreed for another day’s stay would simply see the patient’s stay terminated. If you were to go to the same point at the same time the next day you are likely to see the process repeated until the patient is well enough to leave, the money runs out or the situation is… in other ways resolved…

It was pointed out to my parents that there is a general unwillingness by Chinese doctors to deal with the families of patients as it’s not unheard of in the country for the relatives of people who have died in hospitals to track down the doctor that was treating them and murder him or her in retribution [completely unverified propagandistic gossip, I should have got a job at Fox New]. This I can completely understand, once you start taking money for treating someone you’re essentially entering a contract of sale and they’ve every right to feel aggrieved at your failure to fix the problem. If I call someone in to fix my water boiler I don’t expect him to simply spend a week turning screws before saying ‘Nah sorry mate, it’s fucked. That’s be thirteen hundred please’. One of the blessings of the complimentary price of the NHS, along with its near countless other benefits, is that it always gives doctors a get out of jail free card:

“Sorry Mr. Johnson, we couldn’t operate on your wife’s lung successfully and she sadly passed away at 3:43pm. However this was free so…”

Other options exist if you can’t afford the Chinese hospital charges, or are just unwilling to spend such a large amount of money on something that will only possibly save your life- there must be a certain intersection between long odds and large amounts of money when such a thing can be viewed as a gambling problem. You could simply pay the charge of renting out a hospital bed, which would still amount to one of the most expensive hotels you could possibly stay at in China, and take your chances with the various private doctors’ offers. There is an area in most Chinese hospitals made up of dozens of patients in need of essential treatment they can’t otherwise afford and various private doctors going from bed to bed offering their services. The patients would haggle over the price from doctor to doctor in the hope of getting the best deal, it was pleasing to hear that the Chinese people’s love of bargaining extended to their health care [I think this idea might have come from my Mum, who only speaks English)..

The Chinese have such a deep and sincere love of bargaining, haggling and bartering that I can only assume it’s a massive psychological problem. In Chinese shops if an object is price labelled it isn’t to show the actual price of the object, more often the price the store-keeper believes is the highest he or she could feasibly get away with. It’s then up to you to spend the next five minutes angrily arguing over the price until they finally cut it down to something you’d consider more acceptable. If the object isn’t labelled then the shop-owner isn’t even pretending to give a shit, and if you were to ask the price would throw the most ridiculously expensive number that comes to their head at you in the hope that you weren’t really listening. This must be a tactic which I can only assumed worked once in 1994 and paid for a new kitchen. After that one unlikely success the shop keeper promised themselves they would always at least have to try that gambit every time from that point onward.

One problem is that even after three years living there I still have very little idea how much things are actually supposed to cost in China, although it’s always interesting to hear the difference between their first and second offer to have an impression of precisely how much they were initially trying to rip you off. I frequently just agree to a price that’s probably such a massive fraud that it’s actually a legal issue just so I don’t have to stand in a shop for the rest of the afternoon exchanging numbers like we’re engaging in a game of Battleships. At least with that game at the end of the confrontation it’s always pretty clear if you’ve won or lost, in shopping there are no such certainties. There’s no two space destroyer sinking in the shop to alert you to being ripped off on a Forbidden City paperweight. Many westerners visiting China will lie and say they love this constant battle with shop-owners, probably the same people who’ll tell you that the Chinese method of perching like a bird while taking a shit is the healthiest way to do it or describe a foreign country’s poverty as more ‘real’ than the life we’re used to in the decadent West, but these people are simply idiots and should be aggressively discounted.

One unfortunate aspect of bartering with businessmen whilst lying on a hospital bed is that you are unable to pull the classic bargaining trick of walking out of the place in mock ‘disgust’ at the prices you are being quoted in the hope that the shop-keeper will stop you and yell out a price you’d find more acceptable. Perhaps instead the patients could fake a heart attack and hope that the threat of them imminently expiring (most definitely a ‘lost sale’) would prompt a last minute reprieve and a bargain price. I wouldn’t actually be surprised if I heard Hej had once faked an epileptic fit in a shoe shop in order to get 5p off a pair of trainer insoles.

One of the most disheartening experiences you can suffer while out bargaining is to spend two minutes arguing with a shop-owner over the price of a novelty cigarette lighter only to finally agree on the damage and to enter the next shop and see it advertised for less than you paid, so imagine waking up after spinectomy only hear the patient in the bed next to you agree with the doctor to do it for less than half what it cost you. It really risks taking the fun out of major surgery.

But me? I was returned to the loving arms of the NHS.

The NHS is a wonderful thing, something that will always give you an opening argument if someone asks you if there’s anything at all decent about being born British2. It may also be your closing argument actually, I think by the second point you’d already be backed into eulogising over the practicalities of roundabouts and the impressive multitude of services open to you if you have collected lots of points on your Tesco Clubcard. I really don’t think I need to preach at length here as to how fantastic the institution is, as if you’ve got this far into a book that is intellectually both stimulating and challenging you are obviously one of the sharper sticks in the garden trellis and well aware of the importance of such a service. I would be merely preaching to the converted and possibly, in some instances, preaching to the intensely perverted. There’s plenty of more poo talk just coming up for you people so disposed, so hold tight, as it were.

(2this is true, of course. However, I think I fall into the oafish British trap of assuming that the NHS is the only free healthcare services in the world. One of the first, absolutely, and staffed with magnificent, underpaid workers. However, almost every developed nation now has state sponsored healthcare, and almost all of them *vastly* outperform the stretched and neglected NHS)

There would also be little point in me praising NHS nurses, as I believe it’s generally accepted that such people have already reached national treasure status and any more praise would be over sugaring the flan. I actually came into contact with very few doctors, but when they turned up they seemed to achieve most of what was asked of them, so bully for them too.

“You seem to enjoy talking to the nurses”

Eric would said to me, almost accusatory if truth be told.

“I suppose” I wearily conceded “Which is a bit weird, as I usually hate talking to people, present company very much not excepted. It must be the drugs”. [his never happened, was not the case that I got on particularly well with the nurses. All these Ertic interactions are the most cringey part of the book]

Ah, the drugs…

It was and is true that I hate talking to people, and engaging with people audibly is generally the last resort, after I have already tried semaphore and simple guttural squeaks. I enjoy talking to a select group of friends, family and occasional lovers, but there exists perhaps eleven of those people in the world. Not counting the ever-changing amount of lovers, a figure that currently stands at about minus three, and at its height measured almost one. If you believe, or even suspect, yourself to not be a member of that group and attempt to speak to me please bear in mind the experience will be about as enjoyable to me as a truculent attempt to administer a paper cut to my Belgian’s metatarsal.

Yet strangely the exotic aperitif of medicine I was plied with somehow made the possibility of human contact a little more appetising. It was unlikely to be the tinzaparin, an injection I, along with every other long-term hospital patient, was required to have every day to combat blood clots. I took and still take to this day a large amount of gabapentin, a medicine that generally comes in a handful of capsules of white pills generally as big as a Volkswagen Beetle and is used in my case* to combat neuropathic pain. Neuropathic pain is a highly irritating ramification of loss of feeling, and is essentially the nerve pain you feel from an area where you have otherwise lost all feeling. So life is such a swizz that despite me losing all feeling in the lower area of my right leg I still had to take pills for the pain there, a kind of abstract shimmer of stabbing discomfort that existed in a strange mist around my tight hoof that I couldn’t specifically place. Like when you can’t find your keys but know for a fact you can’t have taken them out of your house, I had lost specific feeling but I knew for a fact that it really hurt down there.

(*In my case, it’s a wonderful drug that carries out many uses and can be used to combat various ailments both physical and mental. Prescription drugs are wonderfully varied and versatile magic pills, go to your parent’s medicine cabinet right now kids and just neck a handful)

And then there were the painkillers, some stronger than others and all part of an ever-changing system designed to stop my body becoming too accustomed to any particular drug and the effect waning. Based on how long it would take these opiates of differing qualities to familiarise into my body I would guess that it wouldn’t take too much time for heroin to stop being quite as fun and I would question whether starting on it is truly worth it in the long run (everything in moderation, including excess). There was paracetamol of course, which I threw down my throat many times a day and seemed like the kind of low rent over the counter medicine that you really don’t come to hospital to experience, like making the trip to the cinema only for them to show you last week’s Coronation Street, they may as well have been giving me Skittles. The good stuff included fentanyl, tramadol and oxycodone, the kind of opiates that you would usually only hear of after the they’d been stolen from a local pharmacy by gunpoint or had precipitated the overdose and death of a well loved celebrity with a previously squeaky clean image. They all come very highly recommended whatever your condition, although I should probably insist that you don’t use while operating heavy machinery.

The opiates were certainly the most enjoyable aspect of my medication, and the least enjoyable was equally definitely the reams upon reams upon buckets upon troughs of laxatives I was taking. The hospital placed great importance on the releasing of shit from my body, which they were worried might have been clogging my insides like a dirty broken washing machine filter. They took great and perplexing interest in my body evacuating turds as much as possible, like the entire staff was involved in one great and admittedly actually rather funny practical joke. Senna, docusate sodium and laxido** powder were all gunning for essentially the same end- my poo, and lots of it.

(**There’s a bit of a clue in the name of that last one. Laxido being of course the member of the X Men you rarely see in the movies or read in the comics, his mutant powers having a rather limited usefulness, yet the Channing Tatum starring X Men Origins: Laxido certainly had its moments)

You’d expect that the nurses would be doing everything in their power to stop me crapping, it would be their job to clean it up so surely you’d expect them to try their utmost to hold back the tide. I would have no say in these acts, my body would merely intermittently decide that it was carrying a little more shit on board than it was comfortable with, and my nappy would be filled with a stack of poo like I was a newborn child yearning for attention. When this happened sometimes I would simply try and bashfully catch the attention of a nearby nurse and attempt to explain without being too obvious to the people surrounding me that a changing of my nappy was feasibly in order, perhaps by means of a subtle wink or movement of the hand like I was in the midst of auctioning for an original Roy Lichtenstein. Or sometimes the sheer stench of my latest release would simply be so overpowering that a nurse would instead approach me with the polite suggestion that I move to a new nappy. Sometimes I was the only person on the ward who required such assistance, other times they could simply recognise my stench by sheer smell like strangely trained bloodhounds. This was a particular talent I never fully cultivated myself, more often than not I would simply smell the unmistakable odour of shit and think to myself ‘I really hope that’s not mine‘.

Once such an ‘accident’ was confirmed the blinds were pulled around my bed and I would roll onto my right side. It would always be onto the right side as I had no way near the strength required to pull the massive weight of my right leg over my left, as the leg itself was contributing very little to the effort, the lazy cunt. My dirty nappy was taken off, my arse polished with wet-wipes, and a new momentarily clean diaper strapped on for the whole process to repeat itself again all too soon. Occasionally some crap would escape onto the bed sheets and they would also need to be swapped, which the nurses would manage to do without me leaving the bed, a talent that still astounds me to this day when I think of how difficult it is to even change the sheets on a bed with less than one person on it. Rather embarrassingly, sometimes I would ask to be changed and after removing my nappy they’d see that it was merely a false alarm, perhaps I’d smelled someone else’s turd, or perhaps I simply released a fart that shook my confidence so completely I’d immediately assumed I’d shit myself. Sometimes far more devastatingly I would continue my ablution after they had started cleansing my backside, and sometimes after they had attached my new nappy. It’s quite a jolt to realise that once again you require potty training, a further slap to contemplate that you may never master the precious art ever again.

What a horrible, pointless time to be alive.

And yet suicide such a distinct impossibility at this point.

So unfair.

Like hospitals are only doing their damnedest to keep you alive so you can better appreciate how much more you’d prefer to be dead.

How grim and desponding the task of changing a (physically) grown man’s nappies would be, many times a day and performed by many different nurses. Perhaps one of the reasons our species still thrives is that there somehow exists enough people who are willing to help others, no matter how unappetising and disgusting the task. However frequently you shit yourself whilst being unable to clean up the debris, for a society to prosper there needs to be another group of people who are prepared to clean that shit up, regardless of who you are. Of course you could counter that nurses are paid for this task, and I would simply point out that they’re paid not nearly enough. If you asked yourself how much money it would take before you considered wiping the shit off some ginger stranger’s arse, you would probably answer with a number that far outweighs any wage you’ve ever previously been paid for a job. That includes you at the back. Yes you, you who once earned quite a hefty sum exporting arms to African countries embroiled in civil war during the mid-90s. Or the fat man sitting next to you, who had his pay packet driven up to his house in multiple garbage trucks when he worked as a lobbyist for the tobacco industry. Most human beings would far prefer to do an awful job that harms people for a lot of money than a decent one that helps people for not so much cash. I would probably include myself if that too, I’m not going to say with a straight face that this whole experience has changed my outlook, it’s simply a shame that being a cunt pays much more handsomely.

My Dad bought me a SIM card for my phone that included cheap calls to China so I could contact Hej again, and also so I could announce my return to Blighty to many of my old friends, tell them to put the bunting out and start the bands. I also decided to alert my wife, and also one of my oldest friends, whom she was currently fucking.


8th March

…I’m also gonna have my first beer in about 10 days, but I’ve done so well I’m not gonna feel guilty about it 🙂

Might go out with Tommy later- he’s inviting a couple of girls and I hope he doesn’t expect me to do anything with my girl! I couldn’t live with myself if I did anything to hurt Hej, I’ve learnt my lesson

9th March

Good night out with Tommy, the girls he found weren’t QUITE as attractive as he’d led me to believe I got stinking drunk but I enjoyed myself.

Today- a few more drinks then to the shop. Happy? Yes



E and J

I had met E* a few weeks after starting university and we fell so completely in love that by the time we graduated we had already been married for more than a year. My proposal came about after dissecting the previous night’s massive argument that had stemmed from me turning up to a meeting with her sister putridly drunk.

(*so called because her name is Eberta. No, of course it isn’t, but for me to explain the link between her name and the name I’ve chosen to give her would rather render the whole exercise of changing it in the first place rather pointless. E is actually an example of a name that I can remember.)

“I was trying to defend you to my sister, trying to explain that despite your obvious problems and your drinking I do love you. I mean, so much that if you asked me to marry you I would say yes.”


“Well… yes, I suppose…”

I immediately called her bluff, and to her credit she didn’t blink and accepted the proposal. Fair play to her, and the wedding was nice craic.

I regret nothing about marrying her, any man would be happy to do so, she was a wonderful and attractive young woman, we loved each other deeply and for a time we were almost disgustingly happy.

Have you not noticed though? Things change. Sometimes horrifically. Sentences are rewritten, films are re-cut, solid bones are shattered, happy marriages dissolve into miserable games of Buckaroo as you both grimly hang more and more problems on the horse while secretly hoping it would violently kick out. Until eventually you give up pretences and simply take a sledgehammer to the entire stupid game itself.

“I’m not having that!”

Eric wasn’t having it. When you’re in parallel beds each doing little more than spending the day having your shitty nappy changed and arse wiped by a succession of nurses you’re eventually going to throw in a few details about your life into the conversation. I didn’t wank to talk to be always exclusively concerned with wee and poo and the NHS, though any discussion with Russel is merely going to descend into a shower of expletives, while I wasn’t completely sure that Justin or Hadrian hadn’t already slept with my wife. I hesitate to tell Eric’s story, as he can write his own fucking book if he’s so set on it being told, though I may drop in a reference or two to it later if I think it suits my story. Sorry Eric.

“What do you mean?”

“The marriage just ‘dissolved’? Marriages don’t just slowly come to a stop like that, something must have happened, or at least you must have done something!”


Russel was on the phone again.

I grew bashful and ashamed. I hate it when people asked for more details. I hated when people asked for any details. It reflected so bad on me as a person and I hated whatever conclusions they might want to jump to. I considered lying, but the problems with such deceit is that it quickly becomes difficult to keep a grasp on all the different strands of your reality each person was working with, difficult to keep tracks which particular timeline you were labouring under. I decided that the best thing to do was just growl the truth out and hope we could move on quickly.

“Well the thing is that… erm…” I ruffled my hair and looked at the floor “She… she kind of slept with someone else…”

Eric threw his head back and laughed uproariously, even causing Russel to raise his eyes from his phone momentarily.


“Of course she did, you never have much luck do you? How did you find out?”

“She actually wrote an internet post about it. Anonymously of course, but it wasn’t difficult for me to work out”

“Divorce via blog? Well at least you can be proud of such a marvellously 21st century method of separation”

“Can I continue?”

I saw the chance to realise my long held dream of teaching abroad and I left for China a little under a year later we separated, after we spent close to a week in the same bed and she drove me down from Manchester to Heathrow (or perhaps it was Stansted or Gatwick, I really can’t remember, but the point stands, don’t be so fucking pedantic about it for fuck’s sake). We never bothered to get a divorce, mindful of the costs and geographical difficulties, and perhaps both unwilling to totally accept that the marriage could be completely over. After I told her about a nice woman I was seeing soon after I left for China, long before Hej had entered my life, she reacted angrily, telling me how our relationship was definitely over if I chose to have sex with someone else while out there, betraying the fact that she was dancing under the assumption that I would spend maybe a year achieving my silly little dream before coming back to Britain after the break to renew attempts at rescuing our relationship. Perhaps that would have been the best thing to do, all told, at least until Hej appeared to throw a beautiful Hui bānshǒu into the works. Things wouldn’t work out the way she was initially hoping, we both relaxed our views on our respective spouses fucking other people, and she would eventually come to visit me in China with her boyfriend at that time, by which point I was already well into my relationship with Hej. We managed to spend the week together while only having one big argument, which predictably stemmed from my drinking.

We had both by that point relaxed into our infinitely duller roles as being simply very good friends, and she would maybe once every two weeks burden the crippling costs and ring me from Manchester on whatever previously arranged weird and inconvenient time the 7/8 hour difference would permit. I would moan about certain students and the difficulty of finding good cheese, and she would in turn bitch about her course’s workload and whatever boyfriend she was subjected to at that point.

In late 2012 she phoned to tell me that she had slept with J. J stands for something close to his real name, although I could instead perhaps claim stood for ‘Jackass’ if I was not so wary of leading the witness, and if the act of using such crass Americanisms didn’t abhor me so. I could perhaps call him ‘Mark’ but I think that already thin joke has definitely run its course by this point. He had been one of my three best and most significant friends since I started secondary school aged eleven years old. I think the first time he met her was when he came to the wedding, and he obviously liked the woman’s inclination for commitment and decided to mark her down as a ‘maybe’.

Initially I was bridled with anger that to my mind she obviously saw no man as being off-limits, and followed the call, as I frequently do when particularly riled, by drinking rather too much** and marked the occasion by smashing a few bottles in my flat, which terrified my pet dog and greatly concerned Hej, who was staying over that night. We stayed at loggerheads for a week or so*** before we eventually talked and she revealed that it was all getting rather serious with J and that she was developing quite strong feelings for him. With the knowledge that it had evolved into something more than a drunken fling my initial fury soothed considerably, like how boiling lava begins to eventually cool into rock formations after it breaks the Earth’s surface. I accepted the situation ever so slightly more amicably.

(**Well that’s a slightly misleading statement isn’t it? I frequently drink too much when angry, but I also frequently drink too much when happy, surprised, amused, afraid, aroused, envious, relaxed, indignant or simply benevolent. Here though the idea that I only drink heavily when angry works better in respect to the story, so lets go with it)

(*** To be more accurate it was more a one way argument so a more precise description would be that I spent the subsequent week loggerheading her, which is a brilliant use of the scandalously under-appreciated verb ‘to loggerhead’, even if it does sound rather too dirty for my liking)

“I think I would have been even more angry at that point” said Eric after I recounted the story to him.


“That’s ridiculous though!” I laughed “It seems everyone I tell it to seems to consider it massive treachery from J’s end, that it’s the shattering of some ridiculous ‘bro code’ that I certainly don’t remember him or me signing up to. I found it difficult to feel truly betrayed, even though I realised the whole thing was almost a free license to completely lose my shit, which is a certificate you’re rarely given. Maybe I put that card aside to fully exploit later when it better suited me”

“But you just said that you were angry when you first heard!”

Eric was obviously struggling with my irritatingly irrational intuition [??] and I strained my face slightly as I considered the difficulty of attempting to explain my feelings, something I can almost never do to myself.

“It was different when she just fucked him, I thought that if she was just hopping around Manchester’s beds she could have perhaps drawn a line at where her trysts took her. But how can I be angry at two people falling for each other so completely? She would explain in later calls how deep the feeling between the two of them was burrowing”

“Interesting choice of verb there- ‘burrowing’”

“Well that’s what affection is isn’t it? It’s not something you choose, it’s like a horrible mucky little tick that burrows into your head, into your heart, usually leaving a hideous amount of blood. Doesn’t Shakespeare have some quote about the heart wanting what the heart wants?”

“Christ ‘Shakespeare’, what a ridiculous swing and miss, that was Emily Dickinson”

“That woman off Eastenders? Brian May’s wife?”

“That’s Anita Dobson! You were I way off! And isn’t that quote now more associated with Woody Allen explaining his relationship with his wife’s adopted daughter****?”

(****I would later learn that Woody Allen could have used the phrase to describe some much less accepted sexual relationships. Allegedly, allegedly, allegedly, allegedly, fucking hell allegedly, all lawyers have full permission to delete that statement)

That silenced me for a second, which is either a very difficult or very easy thing to do, depending on who you are.


“Well… Maybe I committed it to memory as I was planning to conduct a similar affair in the future. You can never be too prepared for your future wife or girlfriend having very attractive adopted daughters”

“But weren’t you angry with J?”

Eric ignored my ham-fisted attempts to change the subject. My forehead began to strain again and I really began to wonder why I ever mentioned my pointless past to anyone.

“No… Well… Maybe a little… I don’t know… Yes, I suppose… I was more angry that it took him such a long time to even send an e-mail telling me about the affair, whereas E phoned me seemingly the first chance she got”

I would later learn that keeping in touch was not one of J’s strong points.

Texts wishing well and sorry to hear about my accident blah blah fucking blah trickled to my phone over the coming days, some from people I hadn’t heard from in any real sense for years upon years. I’m not on Facebook, a web-site that’s banned in China anyway, so I couldn’t be more cut off from the wider world if I was floating on an upturned banana crate far off into the Pacific Ocean, circled by hungry barracudas. Do barracudas eat people? Well, for the sake of this analogy they do.

Still nothing from either E or J.


I sent numerous other texts and e-mails using my phone’s internet function to the pair- mainly to E if I’m being honest- and still nothing from either of them, which was perplexing me and had me wondering whether my injury had gravely offended them in some way. Turns out I wasn’t far wrong. On the 30th June, way over two weeks since my first attempt to make contact, I received an e-mail from E. I tried to read it as best I could over the noise of Russel berating that person on the other end of his phone. Perhaps he was just angry at the phone itself.

Hi Alex,

Sorry it’s taken a while, but I’m going to try and explain to you how things have been for me since you ended up in hospital, and why I feel (sadly) that our relationship has changed.


I think the best way to do this is to explain to you what things have been like from my point of view. Of course the first thing to say is that I still don’t know what actually happened to you – and I have the feeling I will never know for sure. That makes this twice as hard, because my experiences have been based on speculation! But I think the way I’ve felt stands, regardless.


So…I asked you for a divorce, and as far as I could tell everything seemed fine. A few days later I get an email from your dad: you’re in hospital with multiple fractures and possible spinal injuries. There are no details on what happened, but instead a description of how you felt strange about me asking you for a divorce. I’m in shock – the message seems clear – I’ve asked you for a divorce and now you’re lying in a hospital bed.


The next month is a frustrating drip feed of information as me, Chris, and Kamal try and find out how you are. Nobody seems to want to say what happened; you’re dad’s replies become shorter and colder to me – every piece of information I do get confirms my initial reaction.


I seem to spend that month in tears – I want you to be ok; I still care about you! But at the same time I feel like I’m on trial. J and my mum reassure me that I’ve done nothing wrong. I think a lot about our marriage and how I tried to be there for you, but couldn’t stop you wanting to destroy yourself with alcohol and talk of suicide. I think about how I told your parents my worries before we split up; about how we managed to retain a friendship after splitting, and how all that seems to mean nothing now because when things go wrong it’s just easier to blame the ex-wife.


Then you’re back, and suddenly it’s as if nothing has happened. You send me little texts about the Simpsons, and frankly I find it insulting. I’ve been worried out of my mind; felt like I’m to blame; struggled to keep it together – and now you’re texting me saying “I’m fine, don’t worry about me!”


I’ve found myself saying in the last week “either he’s oblivious, or he thinks I’m an idiot”. I’ve felt again now how I felt when we were married – that you wipe your hands on me and still expect me to pick you up when you’re down. But I wasn’t able to help you then, and I’m not able to help you now.


I don’t want a relationship that’s framed by a cycle of you attempting to harm yourself – you’ve told me before that you know you will cause your own death. It was always frustrating and very sad to know that there was nothing I could do – but I absolutely won’t stand for feeling blamed for it.


I already know that our friendship hasn’t been based on the most honest of foundations. I am aware that you always placed the breakdown of our marriage solely on me, and I have always known that just isn’t true. I guess what I’m saying is I no longer want a friendship where I can be a scapegoat, and be expected to keep you afloat at the same time.


What I do want is a divorce, to wish you well in your life, and for us to both move on amicably and with nice memories. I’m sorry if this is hard for you to hear, but for all the nice times we’ve had, our relationship has also been incredibly tough. I am, however, glad that you seem to be ok and recovering well.


I will be in touch again about the divorce. I wish you all the best in your treatment Alex, and really hope you find the happiness you deserve.

E x


That was that…

E had decided that it was definitely suicide, decided that she was being blamed for it, decided she was the fucking reason behind it.

I’m so glad her Mum and J were so supportive, it must have been a very difficult time for her. Not difficult for my dad, obviously, whose ‘sharp and cold’ replies when his eldest son was at death’s door were obviously evidence of a sound mind plotting to ‘blame the ex-wife’.

Reading her reasoning again I can spend all day poking holes in it. I was never afforded a side of the story, merely bearing the perceived ‘sins’ of my father, and what the fuck is wrong with commenting on The Simpsons?! I was actually peeved that she thought herself to be such an important part of my life still that if it was suicide then it had to have something to do with her, such irritating self-importance. She had tired of my finger constantly hovering over and occasionally manicly pushing the self-destruct button and the sad fact is that I could not really justify still burdening her with my tendency for hara-kiri, whatever the reasons for the events of the early hours of Saturday May 4th 2013. That day marked the occasion of our real split, not just as lovers but as people, and it filled me with an intense sadness that squirms around my stomach tying my guts in knots to this day.1

J never got in touch*****.

(***** I later learned from another of my very, very good friend Kamal that J was very angry at me for how bad E felt after my accident. Well excuse my callousness but boo fucking hoo. I should make it clear at this point that I bear no ill will toward E, who remains a wonderful and lovely human being and I can kind of understand her reasoning for deserting me in a strange roundabout way. J however, [I’ve deleted this part. I *know* that I promised this would be unedited but this sentence was just mean spirited. Perhaps meant humourlessly, but the joke doesn’t come across]. I’m going to stop talking now…******)

(****** Six asterisks is pretty incredible isn’t it?)

[1wow, to go over this email again is… difficult. Completely legit and word for word, it feels me with deep feelings of shame, sadness and intense frustration almost ten years later. Another trauma that isn’t close to being healed]

“You never mentioned the divorce” Eric pointed out when I read the mail to him.

“Well… No… Mainly because I never considered it a big enough event to really merit mentioning.”

I immediately felt that I was squirming under another interrogation from a different source, how could I convince the world that this wasn’t a suicide attempt after my long-separated wife asked for divorce!

“I had first brought up divorce with her a year or two previously, when I first entertained the thought that I might marry my girlfriend but the whole thing collapsed in an argument over who should be paying how much [I can’t rmember if this is true], she actually reacted to the suggestion very angrily. I might have told my Dad that it was ‘weird’ to finally be getting a divorce, but in the same vein that I remember him telling me how ‘weird’ it felt when his divorce with Mum was finally certified after them being separated for close to a decade.”

Eric simply nodded, but I couldn’t be sure if he truly believed me, and it seemed as though E had now decreed the reasons and method of my comeuppance, and placed herself at the centre of everything.

“You said that you knew you will cause your own death??”

Eric’s eyes tightened further as he struggled to comprehend the situation. He was managing to to do so even less than me, or perhaps more so.

“Well… Yes, maybe…” I stuttered and blathered “I might have said something like that once or twice… I’m a fan of big statements you know? I sometimes need some… Pizazz to an argument…”

The conversation was swiftly curtailed when the patient in the bed opposite us helpfully and considerately went into cardiac arrest. He was immediately set upon with the ruthless precision a lifetime of watching hospital dramas assured me he would. Eric immediately forgot a conversation which was pitifully unsubstantial in comparison and we both lay back and looked forward to witnessing a real and exciting cardiac arrest operation like in the movies. I was particularly excited about the doctor shouting ‘CLEAR!’ before exercising another blast of the defibrillator, which I had been reliably informed by film and television was bound to happen. Perhaps wary of the two of us maybe enjoying a fellow patient’s last moments a nurse came and closed the curtains around our bed and the show was over. I saw the patient soon after as good as new, so the whole thing was obviously a complete success, it was just a shame we never got to witness the operation. Again, if you were paying for your stay in hospital it’s only fair to assume such potential theatrical entertainment wasn’t cut off from you, but I suppose we weren’t entitled to such enjoyment on the NHS.

Such excitement exorcised E and J from both out minds and our discussion was thankfully forgotten.

I heard Hej’s voice for the first time in weeks, and was so happy that I almost burst into tears, or some similar sickeningly sentimental platitude, upon first hearing a ‘喂’ from her end. I would phone her every day at around 5pm or midnight in China and we would simply exchange shallow and meaningless chit-chat and slightly more genuine yet significantly more disgusting declarations of love for half an hour. I would assure her that I expected to back in China by Christmas, despite being still unable to fulfil many of the operations that would mark someone out as a working human. The calls were frequently dull, and yet never boring.

I considered telling her that I would happily commit suicide if she divorced me, but thought better of it for some reason



I love E, love her so much, we’ve got a great marriage, been more than a year now and I regret nothing.

But I’m a man, E understands that surely, she’s a clever woman she’d understand that us guys have certain urges, she’d understand that wouldn’t she? It’s an animal thing innit? I’m the male lion here, sure I’ve chosen her as my mate but that doesn’t mean I can’t still search out certain… encounters... does it?

She’d understand that, it’s biological shit. If I were better at science I’d explain it to her.

Well, probably wouldn’t, I don’t want her finding out about any of this stuff do I?

What if she went with someone else? Well that would just mean she’s a fucking slut and the fucking marriage would be over, the bitch. She knows that, men are allowed to but women fucking aren’t. Yeah sorry, bit unfair maybe, but that’s fucking biology and shit. Women often get the shirt end of the stick biology wise, they’ve got to do all that childbirth pain shit and stuff, and their husbands are occasionally allowed to snoop around.

Yeah, I know, it’s shitty, but I don’t make the rules do I?

I’m at Claire and Charlotte’s house as I think this over.

I look at the can in my hand.


How many fucking cans have I drunk now?! I bought 20 and I’ve still got… Still got…


Can’t fucking see straight. So fucking pissed now. Even if I managed to focus my blurred vision enough to count the cans the cans I had left I don’t reckon I’d be able to do the maths.

Fuck it. A lot.

I’ve drunk a lot.

I drunk a fucking lot the other night too. Me and Michael and… and… Someone else went to see ‘Goal’ at the cinema. Few drinks in the Wetherspoons opposite beforehand.

Well, I say ‘a few’, actually ‘a shit-load of’ drinks beforehand.

Got really pissed, hit on a girl at the bar. She wasn’t going for it. Her husband really wasn’t happy. Almost turned into a fight. Friends had to drag me out of the pub.

Can’t remember the film. Think it was *burp* pretty shit.

Shall I tell Claire and Charlotte that story?

Nah, can’t tell them about my occasional lapses of monogamy, they know E, they might tell her and then I’d be fucked.

I’m doing nothing fucking wrong, this is all biological.

But can’t tell E, she might not understand.

“HiAlexthisisAlishafrommywork, AlishathisisAlex”

Fuck, Claire’s words were probably already slurred, but them being rearranged by my scrambled ears is fucking… fucking… difficult… to… to hear…

Every thing’s getting scrabbled.


I slur my greetings. This new girl, didn’t catch her name, isn’t bad. Maybe 19 years old. Pretty fit.


What happened to the last few seconds.

Shit, maybe minutes.

It must have taken quite a while to get to this point, fucking that girl on a bed upstairs. Ah shit, this is probably a bad idea isn’t it?

Fuck, well I’ve started now.

I finish while Charlotte and Claire bang on the door and squeal at me to get out.

They’re really pissed off right now.

We both get dressed quickly. The girl- what was her name again?- immediately runs out of the front door, unwilling to face the criticism. I’m bigger and better than that. I just walk to the door.

Claire and Charlotte scream their objections to my depravity as I saunter down the stairs. I try to block them out, I don’t really want to deal with this right now. Just leave me alone.

There’s a knock on the door before I reach it. Kamal had arrived. I invited him without first asking the women’s permission. He’s come to the house just in time to see me thrown out, the women screaming their objections to my actions as the door closes behind me.

Kamal and me walk off towards his house. He asks the question.

“What they’re saying… I mean… Is it true what they’re saying?”

I laugh nervously and drunkenly.

“No… I mean… It’s not like… Well, it’s kind of true… But come on, you can never turn down a fuck can you?”

Kamal doesn’t laugh at my pathetic attempt at humour, instead just looks at the pavement we’re traversing upon. He obviously doesn’t understand the biology.




Am I a bad person?

I decide to break the silence.

“Now, didn’t you say you had some MDMA?”

“Yeah, and a bit of coke”


[This actually *is* a true story, although I’ve really oversimplified my thinking to that of a stereotypical ‘wanker bloke’ , rather than a more nuanced take of thoughts that went into either my self-destruction or my selfishness. I think I was especially concerned with the reader recognising how much of a cunt I was.]



McDuck and ICBC

My Chinese bank card had come back from China with my parents, along with a small sample of my clothes and a collection of other things they thought worth rescuing from my flat, and in my now slightly more mentally present state I could remember the PIN. A little research revealed that there was an ICBC* ATM machine in the city that my youngest brother Ewan now resided inside. Ewan was given the card and its coordinating PIN number (six numbers long- everything really is just that bitbigger in China) and tasked with the important reconnaissance mission of retrieving the masses of cash I had locked away in my Chinese account to begin recompensing the ridiculous amount of money various members of my family had spewed into my recovery so far. He eventually succeeded in his essential quest and reported back with how large the mountains of cash that resided in my Scrooge McDuck swimming pool of coinage were.

(*Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, and what a thoroughly delightful phrase ICBC is to say. Go on, try it. I see bee see. Wonderful isn’t it? Gives your vocal chords an erection1)

[1what even *is* this book? Do I still write like this?? No wonder no fucker reads this blog]

It all added up to just over two hundred pounds in British currency. This shocked me somewhat, as I had been a relatively rich man in China and couldn’t understand what had happened.

There were no constants any more. No accepted truths.

The hospital also decided it’d had enough with fucking around. Firstly I was sent into surgery to have a metal pin stuck into my crap ankle to try and reintroduce some sort of order to the scrambled bones. Surgery is another oft-underrated medical necessity, especially if you enjoy dishevelling your brain as much as I do. Few things in life are more wonderfully discombobulating as being given a hit of general anaesthetic and told to count down from ten, only to wake up several hours later before you reach ‘six’. How wonderful life would be were we always afforded such ability to skip forward large chunks so easily.

The operation led to me being given a special little button that would shoot morphine into my blood steam every time I pressed it. Why aren’t we simply given these contractions for free whatever the situation? The day I had that connected was the most wonderful time I had in hospital, possibly in all my life, making any non-morphised day pale into pathetic insignificance in comparison. Morphine is another drug that comes highly recommended, although I worry whether I’d possess the self control to stop blasting myself with it if such impulses weren’t carefully controlled.

With the shattered bones around my shitty right talus now being placed upon the track to reconstruction it was also decreed that if I was going to take up space in the hospital then I really should be spending a little more time slightly more vertical than I’d become accustomed to.

“With the shattered bones/Round my shitty right talus”.

Which Dylan song is it that opens with those lines? Fuck my memory…

A couple of physios were tasked with beginning my attempts at re-entry into the land of the physically commissioned. Let’s call them Pepsi and Shirlie, because why the fuck not? I’m already getting pretty fucking tired of your withering judgements by the way, I can see me and you are going to have a few problems down the road, possibly climaxing in a full on fist punch around chapter 17, if I were you I’d give up reading long before then.

Midway through June, six weeks after my last attempt at anything that was beyond prostration and that led to unclear circumstance, the two stood either side of the bed, with another nurse watching and prepared to donate an extra pair of hands if needed. The four people present were all set and prepared and the great operation to get me sat up in my bed was set into motion.

With careful and precise procedure my lower legs were slid over the edge of the bed and my knees bent over the side until my feet almost hung to the hospital floor. My back was slowly pushed up until it was at a right angle to my thighs. I hope I don’t need to explain the process in much more vivid detail, I’m assuming you’re at least slightly au fait with the mechanics of what constitutes a sitting position.

Suddenly, just like that and I was sat up in bed.


I was sat up and ready for taking on life again!

The World was now my crayfish!

Unfortunately my new latitude brought on an immediate case of disequilibrium and my face turned a prompt white at suddenly being asked to comprehend previously unaccustomed heights. My head swirled with dizziness and the focus of the room around me shook and zoomed. My face paled with vertigo and it became pretty clear that I was about to be sick. I was quickly returned to my lying position before the aggressive change in state became too much for my brain and body to handle. I lay down sickened and shivering for many minutes.

It was, at best, a qualified success.

Pepsi and Shirlie left me to lie shell-shocked for a few days while I recovered from the experience. This was useless, I was useless. Suddenly I was recognising that to even ask me to sit up in fucking bed was a step too far. Make it back to Hej by Christmas? I’d never make anywhere ever. It’s a tough pill to swallow when you’re suddenly asked to consider that you can no longer do anything.

Despite my withering self-hatred Pepsi and Shirlie refused to cancel their plans to install a more vertical disposition upon me, even if tried to tell them the ridiculousness of insisting on such a ridiculous idea that was in all probability far too ambitious.

The second time we tried it though I felt no such sickness as I was launched into the sky, and the entire operation was an unqualified success.

I sat on my high bed with my legs hanging over the side like it was the most normal thing in the World. Like I was the most normal person in the World. It was a lovely feeling to see the ward from that height, from a position I was not long ago unsure I’d be at again. Maybe you’re sitting down right now, you don’t appreciate quite what a wonderful achievement it is. There are so many things we simply take for granted.

To sit, to sing, to shit.

The only problem was that I couldn’t really see where I was supposed to go from there. I couldn’t well get up and dance across the ward floor, delighting the onlookers with my electric boogaloo. It felt like I had hit some sort of glass ceiling as far as my recovery was concerned. I was a sitting in bed person now. I would be able to look down in derision upon the ‘lying in bed’ people admittedly, but it wasn’t really where I’d hoped my life would be aged 29.

Pepsi and Shirlie however set their sights on much more ambitious goals, or perhaps it was just Pepsi, or just Shirlie, I haven’t really thought about which one is which to be perfectly honest, I really wish you’d stop badgering me about them.

They were looking at the armchair next to my bed.

Even though I thought their objectives were laughably overambitious I couldn’t help but be impressed by their desire for success. We’re all in the bed, but some of us are looking at the chair.

How was I supposed to make the trip from my bed to the adjacent armchair? Was I supposed to bend my legs beneath my body and execute some frog-like jump? Was a large simpleton from the nearby village, perhaps able only to communicate with gruff repetitions of his own name, going to come into the ward and scoop me up in his arms, plonking me down a foot away? Was there some relative of the t-shirt cannon on hand for such situations? I couldn’t imagine either Pepsi or Shirlie summoning the strength to hoist me over their shoulder like they were rescuing me from a fire, nor did I believe they’d even mention the operation’s possibility if that was the effort required.

Instead a giant metal contraption was wheeled onto the ward, maybe seven feet tall and resembling nothing if not a grand work site crane. It was the type of device you would normally see only if a morbidly obese person has to be lifted out of the roof of their home.

What a wonderful phrase ‘morbidly obese’ is, I would use a sliding scale of adjectives to describe someone’s weight, ending up with ‘macabrely’ or perhaps ‘ghoulishly’ overweight.

It was clear that after sliding through death and comatose my disability at that point was of someone gruesomely overweight, which to be honest I was quite happy with, although I was yet to be convinced that it was in any way preferable to my initial deceased state.

I was rolled onto my right and then (more difficultly) onto my left so a canvas sheet could be placed underneath me. Hooks either side of me and between my legs clasped the sheet to the crane and a lever was cranked. The crane yanked up the canvas bundle underneath me and suddenly I was airborne! Suspended in the air like an unusual large and ugly baby dangling from a stork’s beak, forever threatening to break its neck.

Made it Ma, top of the World.

The crane swung its arm ninety degrees to its right, swooping me from over the bed until I was hanging over the precious intended. Then began a slow decline as I was lowered, and you could cut the tension with cheese wire as onlookers held their breath, sweating bullets, anxious to see whether the operation would succeed. An apprehensive silence fell over the room…

A bead of sweat rolled off Pepsi’s brow (or perhaps it was Shirlie’s. Shut up) and made a loud crash in the silent ward as it hit the floor.

A buzzing fly stopped its flying just for a second so it could better observe the moment.

The ward’s resident piano player stopped his plinketty boogie-woogy momentarily.

Cigars were removed from mouths.

Card games paused.

There was a moment as I was lowered to Earth that my heart suddenly tightened in my chest, a dormant memory of wind blowing past my face strangulated me, caught my breath in my throat.

So cold. Such horror.

And then I landed!

The room exploded in a burst of joy, people hugging, high-fiving, some in tears. It was a scene reminiscent of Houston’s NASA control room erupting with jubilation when a shuttle docks on the moon or perhaps the astronauts of Apollo 13 come home safely. Or at least that’s what was unfolding in my mind, in reality Pepsi merely acknowledged the success and Shirlie began to pull out the bundle from underneath me, removing any barrier between the chair and my body. Or perhaps it was the other way round, like I say I’m not entirely sure which one is Pepsi and which one Shirlie, to be honest I’m not sure why it’s big enough a deal to you that you have to repeatedly mention it.

I was soon sat in my throne like a normal person, surveying all the World inside the ward with a real sense of achievement. and regarding all who sat before me as an equally perpendicular being.

Nobody could tell, everybody would assume I was normal, just like them.

My shitty sacrum and the new vulnerability of my little tail meant I wasn’t allowed to stay in the chair for more than a two hour stretch, which had to then be followed by at least a two hour stint lay back on the bed. Still I would grasp the opportunity with deep enthusiasm and would regard a two hour spell on the fabric throne as a great success akin to the completion of a marathon and any day that included an interlude on the chair, still secured to the bed by way of the catheter tube slipped into my Pole’s eye-lid, was one of massive victory. Suddenly there were possibilities, suddenly it was all heading somewhere.

“My shitty sacrum/And the new vulnerability of my little tail”

Is that the same Dylan song?






The divorce.

Did the divorce play a part?

Surely not, I had forgotten all about it, I had requested it first, I was the one who wanted to rid myself of such a cumbersome technicality so I could one day marry Hej, I just wanted there to be no impediment for me to one day start a family with the wonderful partner I was already with.





Was that the reason E wanted one? Was she looking to start a family with her partner?





With J?





J was a silly ginger guy from Tameside, from the same place, school, life as me. He was essentially a mirror image of me. E had found a version of Alex without the drinking problem, without the apparent death wish, without the self-destructive urges. She had traded me in for a far better model and now was aiming to start a family with Alex 2.0. The upgrade. The T-1000. The iPhone 1000.





Maybe J came with the new U2 album.





Some geeky references here.





That should have been me. I threw it away.





[1I believe E has had several children with J now, which I was glad to discover I didn’t give a shit about and wish them all the best]



Big Momma and Rochemback

My memory was in such a scrambled state at this point that I was struggling to recall which one was my arse and which was my elbow. Luckily I was able to solve this problem easily by simply thinking of the last place I had shat out of, an act that wasn’t likely to have occurred too long ago. The selective amnesia was driving me steadily insane with frustration, so I asked my Dad to buy me a notebook in which I could jot down the things I decreed important to remember.

Not a day passed when I didn’t curse the fact that I hadn’t donated a little more time exercising my ambidexterity to the extent my left hand could stand in on emergencies such as this. All the notes scrawled with my newly jeopardised right were barely legible squiggles more akin to an especially drunk toddler. I have carried out experiments that prove this. I feel a child of four and around half a bottle of Gordon’s Gin produces the desired effect. Unfortunately I also discovered many parents are exasperating luddites when it comes to scientific procedure, and are only more shrill and disagreeable when you borrow your test subjects from supermarkets without first asking. You’d think if anything in this situation they’d be overjoyed when I returned the children. Quite the opposite.

Looking back over the book I can see that apart from a handful of e-mail addresses and phone numbers (I obviously didn’t trust my actual phone to hold such sensitive information) there were actually very few things I had decided were worth recalling.

There was a reminder of the ‘exercises’ a physio had recommended I carried out each day:

To lie on my side (30 minutes)

Breathe in three times. I’d written every hour, though I imagine it’s referring to big breaths, as I’d like to imagine breathing itself was deemed rather important in any situation and was pretty consistent.

Breathe on mirror/hand. I was instructed to do this every hour again, though I wish I’d written down the reasons for this bizarre exercise. Perhaps it was designed just to show that I was still exhaling air and therefore still alive. Perhaps it was just a bet between the nurses to show that they could get me to do anything if they requested it with enough authority, although if that were the case simply having me breathe on myself betrays a near disgusting lack of imagination.

And finally to laugh. Every hour again, which I think is a little too frequently for a completely sane person to be completely honest, in a hospital or just about anywhere outside a Daniel Kitson concert. Try heartily LAUGHING for three solid seconds on the hour every hour and see how long it is before you’re either heavily and forcibly sedated or begin living your new life underneath a motorway bypass.

I had also written ‘7:40!’ in massive type, which again I wish included more context regarding why that time was so important. If it was a time at all, perhaps it was simply a reference to a bible passage that had moved me so, Corinthians 7:40-

“Yet in my judgement she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God”

Sounds about right.

I had also written the name of one of my friend’s new wife, which was wonderfully exotic and peculiar, whatever my condition without writing it down I’d have no chance of remembering it. Why can’t people just marry people called ‘Susan’ or ‘Jeff’? I like to think there exists a notebook in Michael’s possession with ‘Hejuan’ written on it, or perhaps a friend has to be married before you commit to the task of trying to learn the name of the significant other.

I deemed it important to write the name of the hospital I was in, which again is something I suppose was worth knowing, although it’s not as if I’d be out on the town and have to give the exact directions to a taxi driver.

I’d written down ‘Djokic’, which I had crossed out and replaced with ‘Djokovic’, obviously concluding that it was important to know how to spell the name of the tennis player I was frequently watching and who would go on to be beaten in the final by Andy Murray (no problems remembering how to spell that) in that year’s Wimbledon,. He was mentioned in many of my texts to various friends throughout the tournament. My dedication to correct spelling is clearly something to be greatly admired.

The last thing I had written down for reasons I can’t really recall was ‘Mark Lawrence’. This is perhaps a misspelling of ‘Mark Lawrenson’, an exasperatingly inept pundit on Match of the Day. Possibly at a stretch it’s an attempt at Martin Lawrence, the miserably unfunny star of films such as ‘Big Momma’s House’, ‘Big Momma’s House 2’ and ‘Big Mommas: Like Father Like Sun’.

I didn’t consider anything else worth remembering.

What else is there, really? Today you should conduct a little experiment of your own, write down anything you consider worth recalling over the course of your day then before bed check what you’ve noted down. You’ll be excessively depressed I promise you, very few things about your life are worth making note of, unless perhaps you’re a bomb squad technician or crab fisher. You’re a pilot you say? What the fuck are you going to write about your day? ‘Took off. Landed. Took off. Landed’. You’ll be dearly wishing for a hijack or terrorist attack very soon.

Alongside the physios whose sterling efforts had already in barely a month had me sitting up in places ranging from my bed to the armchair next to my bed there was another nurse who would focus more on my mental dexterity. She would arrive armed with A4 prints-out containing tasks such as planning a route around a fictional town or arranging a day out at a fictional circus that would best entertain each member of my fictional group. At least I think these things were fictional, she perhaps just had me planning her social life, maybe she had embarked on a disastrously unsuccessful trip to a circus recently and was so set on not making the same mistake again that she was outsourcing the planning to hospital patients.

There were also simple brain exercises like trying to think of ten uses for an umbrella- I’m obviously going to recommend you sticking it up your arse aren’t I? Or to name ten reasons for wearing a watch, I can think of a million and yet it seems to be turning into a lost art on a comparable scale to the decreasing number of quality printing press operators. She would also give me exercises designed to improve my memory, generally consisting of her reading out a list of bizarre, random and bafflingly unconnected words (‘Radio… Wig… Colostomy… George Bernard Shaw… Rattlesnake… Candle… Fabio Rochemback*… Pozzuolana… Gaingiving… Chair… Cher…’) and then seeing how many I could remember afterwards.

(*I will never turn my nose up at the chance to write or say ‘Fabio Rochemback’, perhaps my favourite name ever. It simply slides off the tongue with the grace of an oyster slipping off its shell and into a grateful waiting mouth. Don’t bother searching if you haven’t heard of him, beyond the silky wonder of his name he really isn’t worth knowing about to any great degree1)

[1at the time. Two years after I wrote this book Rochemback was arrested for running an illegal cockfighting ring in his native Brazil. That’s noteworthy. Also, this is painful to read]

Let’s call this wonderful nurse Circus because shut up, I’m too tired to think of a proper name. It’s also the name of the chihuahua- pug cross-breed- or chug- pet that Alanis Morissette is currently embroiled in a court battle over, so why don’t we just say I’ve name her after that?

My vocabulary was now also… quite… not good… so Circus would also carry out simple tasks that gave my ability to construct sentences a bit of a work out. These tasks would be along the lines of asking me to think up a different way of saying ‘The pelican ran into the train station’ or to keep adding adjectives and verbs to ‘My paper-clip’ (it’s going to go up someone’s arse again isn’t it?). They were tasks I found almost impossibly onerous, and my vocabulary is still pretty abhorrent, the only reason that this book reads so entrancingly and the language streams so ambrosially is that I constantly have thesaurus.com website open in another window. I expect quite a large amount of money for that endorsement by the way, otherwise I’m going to have to call up thesaurus.org and try and battle out a rival deal.

Throughout my stay nurses would frequently throw questions at me like the date, month or time to see how I was holding up mentally. I was not allowed to look at my watch, which rather negated one of the millions of reasons why wearing one is such a brilliant idea. I was only allowed to take my painkillers if I could remember my date of birth, which on many occasions I couldn’t but I got close enough to win the prize.

I still can’t remember how to spell Djokovic.

Another nurse was named Jessica, after Jessica Alba as the ‘Good Luck Chuck’ actor was the picture of the day on internationalcelebrityfeet.com, a foot fetish website that I was perusing for reasons I hope will become more clear soon. Again, I hope lucrative sponsorship deals will be forthcoming. She had one of the worst jobs at the hospital, beaten perhaps only by whatever poor, poor soul that was tasked with wiping my arse after my latest successful discharge, as she would on an almost daily basis arrive and put her hands all over my dead foot (see?). She would massage them while constantly asking questions about how much I did and didn’t feel. The answer would almost always be ‘Not a lot’ yet I always felt that the exercise was completely worthwhile and not just for reasons of foot fetishism that my visit to the aforementioned website may have led you to believe I possessed. Do foot fetishists have a thing for their own feet, or is that just like masturbating in front of a mirror- which I rarely do too often- and it’s strictly the feet of others that they’re interested in? Perhaps I should go back to that website, ask a few questions in the forum, this obviously requires deeper research. I was of the strong opinion that it would only take only a good rub of my stinky hooves once a day or similar to coax the feeling back in a month maybe, perhaps a little more.

Back in China by Christmas.

Pepsi and Shirley hadn’t given up their efforts though, even though the sight of me perched on my cotton throne for up to two hour periods would have convinced many of a job well done. They had their sights on higher goals still. Not just sedentation but loco-motion- the next goal was a wheelchair. I was still tethered to my bed by my catheter, so any large journey was out of the question, but they decided at least that I would at least get a feel for the machine. I was airlifted into the vehicle in another operation more usually seen when a dead elephant has to be flown out of Chester Zoo. Did you ever wonder what Nando’s piri piri sauce was made from? The better and most safe condoms are frequently made out of deceased elephant too, it has to be particularly recent, if de-composure sets in the trunk starts to lose its usefulness.

The nurses tended to business on the ward’s computer for a few minutes while I was simply left to at least get some sort of idea of what sitting there would entail. It initially seemed a ridiculously contrived exercise but rather quickly proved itself to be a genius idea. After a short time I began to feel a small pain in my little tail as my newly exposed sacrum rubbed against the thin floor of the wheelchair.

A small pain in my little tale.

The pain increased to a rather larger one, then increased some more, then got to a point that it couldn’t possibly increase upon, then increased some more, then more.

Then more.

And a little more.

The pain grew steadily but rapidly less bearable.

By now I was floods of tears, I think it was the first time I had cried from purely physical pain since I had fallen off my bike aged about ten, though I don’t remember crying anywhere near as violently as I did that day. To be fair I can’t imagine the pain from that bike fall was even close to being half as excruciating as it was sat on that wheelchair, sacrum flapping in the wind and scraping against the seat without a care in the world. I was in too much pain to shout out for help, and anyway I wasn’t sure what the protocol was, I couldn’t be expected to just scream like a lunatic, how embarrassing that would be. Notice my pain!

Notice you fucking shitty bunch of cunt mother fuckers!


I allowed Russel to voice my displeasure while I simply became overcome with a seething and violent rage towards the nurses on my ward, in the hospital, in the country. Couldn’t the motherfuckers see I needed help?? Why aren’t the cunts helping me??

The seat was scraping against my spine like tin foil on an exposed tooth nerve.

Death to them all! A plague on all their houses!


My whole skeleton was now vibrating with agony, the violent discomfort flowed through my body like an electric shock.

Now I was crying more from anger, which made me a little happier, as it was a reason for tears that I found slightly more comprehensible. Eventually Pepsi (or perhaps Shirlie, but definitely one of the two) came to my aid, apologising profusely for forcing me into the next step perhaps a tad too early, apologised for the ridiculous assumption that I could handle being left alone sitting in a chair.

I had been sat in the chariot for maybe sixty seconds, and yet it had felt like a straight decade being bummed by Satan’s least sexually generous demons in the deepest circle of hell.



Bingo and Simplicity

My Dad paid around fifty pounds a week for my bedside television to receive freeview (‘freeview’ being perhaps not the most apt name in this case), parcelled with radio and a selection of on demand and predictably useless movies that I never bothered to watch. It was a price that I would usually insist came with every sports channel and a good handful of dirty movies, but instead merely guaranteed I could watch Dave TV whenever I wanted. Top Gear? Brilliant! Where else am I going to hear new racist slurs I hadn’t previously known about. You call Costa Ricans ‘cock-ricks’ do you? Good to know.

Chinese TV was almost always a dating show, a war movie or occasionally The ‘Voice of China’. I was unaware ‘The Voice’ was also a British show, though the big difference in the Chinese version is that every judge presses their button to swing their chair around and show they approve of every contestant. It’s a wonderfully positive spin on talent shows, although I would only watch on the the off chance that a contestant one day might give a performance that wouldn’t impress all four judges. Perhaps a systems analyst from Dingzhou would come on and masturbate four chinchillas rhythmically to the tune of ‘(I Just) Died In Your Arms’ by Cutting Crew and one judge would declare that it simply ‘wasn’t for me’, perhaps because his timing was ever so slightly off. On Chinese TV you’d also occasionally get a subtitled or dubbed Western movie, more often than not ‘The Damned United’, a 2009 British film regarding legendary football manager Brian Clough’s ill-fated forty days in charge of Leeds United in the 70s. Bizarrely popular in China, perhaps they recognised shades of Chairman Mao in Clough’s authoritative style.

[sorry, I hated this paragraph so much that I struck through it all. Awful, awful writing about boring, boring topics. But you can still read it if you look hard enough. So much of this is *such* unfocused *shite*, this book could lose at least 50’000 words and probably a lot more]

British TV is obviously different but had nonetheless changed significantly since I had last watched it. As far as I could initially make out (and subsequent viewings have done little to disprove my original findings) British television was now mostly made up of two things. Firstly it was full to the brim of stand-up comedians and/or panel shows, which I wouldn’t usually object to if it weren’t for the fact that they were all frequently as tragically unfunny as aggressive cancer of the left and right testicles*. The standards of what is and isn’t funny seemed to have plummeted to such an extent that I would imagine Augusto Pinochet would immediately be granted an eleven week series on BBC3. He’s been dead for nearly a decade but I’d still rather watch his pale, rotting, maggot infested corpse lay on stage for twenty eight minutes than have that young bouncy comedian with the hair (you know the one I’m talking about, the one with the clothes. And the face! Oh fuck that face) ask me if I’ve ever noticed how long it takes women to try on clothes when they’re out shopping. Massive applauses of recognition from an audience with the scars of their recent lobotomies still bleeding.

(*I might have to be careful about spoilers here when I’m talking about diseases of the testicles.)

The second thing British television consists of is adverts for bingo. Advert after advert after advert for bingo. This was a comeback I expected about as much as Pinochet’s rotting corpse, maybe a little less, akin to arriving back in the country and discovering we’d returned to the three day week. Britain was now essentially bingo and failed attempts at humour. Put that on the posters.

I caught Pointless for the first time, a show I fell so deeply in love with that to this day I have yet to miss an episode to this day. I found that trying to think of European capital cities south of London or teams to have knocked Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United team out of the FA Cup was at least as good an exercise for my mind as planning Circus’s social activities. I would later apply to be on the show, but unfortunately my great story of disability and the NHS wasn’t deemed good enough for selection.

Would have been a nice way to end that book wouldn’t it? My victorious appearance on the show, perhaps with teary eyes as I completed my rehabilitation? Winning the show by remembering an especially obscure track on ‘Physical Graffiti’1? Maybe I’ll just say that happens anyway, what are you gonna do, check? You don’t give a shit how much of this is true, you’re just hoping for a sex scene later and maybe a nice action sequence.

[1my Dad and I actually made the auditions a year or so down the line. I blame my Dad for ruining my chances by guessing ‘poltergeist’ for ‘Words Ending in ‘ice”. Is this chapter just ‘Stuff I Saw on TV’?? What was I even thinking??]

The outrageous price also included internet on the TV, so I realised I could begin the incredibly important task of picking my fantasy football team for the upcoming season still more than a month away. I regard me successfully logging into the site (my e-mail address is more than 30 characters long) and picking my team successfully whilst all the time using the most ridiculous and unresponsive touch screen in the history of the electronic medium as being perhaps my greatest ever achievement, before or after the accident**.

(** My team finished sixth, I really suffered for refusing to pick Luis Suarez, who had a storming season but I’m a slave to my ethics and refused to put convicted racists in my team. Morally, I won it, the highest placed team with no racists. Moral victory.)

We were awaiting a cushion that would make any trip in the wheelchair slightly more physically bearable, and the delay to my wheeled propulsion obviously drove both Pepsi and Shirley insane. They decided to undertake a task that even looking back now seems so unrealistic and ambitious that if it weren’t also noted in my Dad’s diary I’d assume that I was somehow getting confused between dreams and reality, if you can imagine that possible.

They wanted to stand me up.


I can barely sit down!

Although it sounded like an impossible task, in fact it was more akin to balancing an egg on its side- extraordinarily difficult, but possible if performed by people of great technique and wonderful skill***.

(*** And like balancing an egg on its side, as some people believe, only possible on Spring equinox. Because people are, and I can’t stress this enough, fucking stupid.)

To insulate my shitty ankle a little I was given a huge blue felt boot that encased my right foot and lower leg in a protective bag. It was designed to at least lessen the shock of colliding with the hard, cold hospital floor and looked like I was planning to play dress up astronaut and got slightly distracted before I could finish the costume. I was required to sit on the edge of my bed (already a difficult enough task) under the protection of three nurses- Pepsi on my left, Shirlie on my right (or perhaps the other way round) and Jessica was roped in to stand in front of me less the attempt to stand sent me careering forward, with the bed trusted to catch me if I fell backwards. Or perhaps it wasn’t Jessica. To be honest I haven’t christened enough nurses and so I’m a little short on named characters.

There were dozens, hundreds of nurses.

They’re all amazing.

Outstanding, wonderful people.

Not necessarily named Jessica.

You know who you are.

Slowly and methodically the two nurses either side grasped me underneath my armpits and shifted further and further forwards. Incredibly slowly and meticulously, like one wrong move would cause the nuclear device implanted inside me to detonate. I haltingly shuffled until my feet were flat on the cold hospital floor, and my body was at such wide angle that I was practically stood up already leaning against the bed. Like some ne’er do well leaning against the wall of a 50s diner, flicking a coin in an alley way waiting to challenge some unsuspecting punk to an illegal street race at the abandoned aqueduct down fifty third and third. Pepsi/Shirlie had my left side held tightly and securely, while Shirlie/Pepsi did the same to the right, while Jessica (maybe) was guarding my front like an experienced linebacker (I literally have no idea what that means, but the terminology sounds right doesn’t it?) but still I was absolutely terrified. Not just because I was unsure how my body could cope with such new heights, my feet felt strange flat on the floor, like they were strictly for show and any attempt to bear weight would quickly reveal them as the imposters they surely now were.

‘3…’ said Jessica (maybe).

‘2…’ said Pepsi/Shirlie.

‘1!’ shouted Shirlie/Pepsi.

And with a blast of concerted energy I made the two inch trip that made up the difference between me lounging idly leant on the bed to me standing up.


I could fall.

Down again.

I was technically still being kept vertical by the two women either side of me, but nonetheless the experience of feeling the weight of my body once more transcribed through my feet (or at least the one foot I could still feel) and to have my knees buckle slightly as they were required to bear weight for the first time in two months was a frightening and horrifying one. Yet it was still exhilarating to feel so balanced again, to be so close to human for the first time in so long.

If someone came in the ward and glanced at me they’d assume I was normal.

I stayed standing for maybe a minute, all the time with Pepsi and Shirlie at my side still holding my arms carefully, before I was slowly seated back down and then flown over to the armchair again for my allocated two hours. Few days in my life have been quite so successful and productive.

Soon after I was given a chic new ankle piss bag that I could wear during the day Now my Moroccan thumb-nail was only tethered to the bed bag at night, during the waking hours I could happily just piss myself at will wherever I was and have it discreetly gathered in my lower leg like a dirty ankle tag. Now I had nothing tying me down during the day, no commitments to my hospital bed, and the World was my woodlouse, or at least a small ward in a small hospital in a small city in a small country part of it.

With this new freedom bestowed on me it was time to give the wheelchair another shot. With it now being fitted with a good three inch thick cushion to protect my poor weak tail we set our sights on a trip in it. With only the help of Pepsi and Shirlie I was slowly stood up in a style similar to before, no third nurse was required this time, although there was one watching from afar, just in case. The bed’s height was slowly increased until I was practically stood up anyway leaning against it, only this time I turned (incredibly slowly!) almost ninety degrees with the two nurses still holding on to my arms tight, until my back was turned to the wheelchair.

I sweated in terror as my knees were (incredibly slowly!) bent and P and S were holding me in a sitting position hovering inches and then centimetres and then millimetres above the chair.

Eventually the dropped me.

There was a long and terrifying period where I was falling aimlessly through space, unsure whether this would be another debilitating plunge.

The wind rushed past my ears.

Falling through space.

I could hear the sounds.

Feel the tree branches strike me.

It’s cold.

I’m naked.

I’m falling

Such a long time. I closed my eyes. So looking forward to the impact. The landing, the blow, the clash will solve everything. That’s what I want.

Just want this all finished.

Just want it all to stop.


I let out a sigh. I had wheels!

I rolled around the ward for a while, trying to get a hang of the controls. Roll wheels to go forward etc.- it’s complicated stuff. I tried to get my head around how fat and heavy I had seemingly become, or at least how heavy I seemed when tasked with propelling myself. Despite all this I was almost giddy with pleasure at so suddenly going from being completely bed-ridden and incapacitated to seemingly having much the same amount of movement and flexibility as Nadia Comaneci on a motorcycle****.

(****yeah that analogy didn’t really work did it? Not one of my best. Just go with it.)

My Dad came to visit and the first thing I was sure to do was to ask him to take a picture of me sat in the chair, blue felt Robocop boot and all, so I could send it to Hej and prove to her I was making such rapid recovery. It would in all probability not be long before I would be by her side again.

Soon Hej, soon.

After the picture was sent we were told we could leave the ward.

Leave the ward!

And so off I rolled, finding it difficult to stop my weaker arm causing me to veer off to the right. I made my way out of the doors of my shared ward, and then carried on past many other bays on the trauma assessment ward. Then after a nurse had pressed a button the door to the ward itself was unlocked and I was free! Gingerly but nonetheless with conviction I rolled myself through the hospital’s corridors, past signs for wards such as cardiology, burns, endoscopy, maternity, children, transplant. Past lifts, past machines to pay for your television, past noticeboards advertising upcoming events regarding the workers union, past countless windows presenting beautiful evidence of the existence of the outside World. I immediately promised myself I would experience it again very soon. There were windows in my ward, of course, but I had grown rather tired of the views and rarely saw any evidence that the unmoving pictures of the outside World exhibited weren’t just photographs stuck on to keep the patients happy.

What delights!

We eventually reached the hospital’s visitor entrance, which was mind-blowing- an M&S food, a WH Smith and even a café which we of course stopped at for a cup of tea. I could finally watch the endless stream of ‘normal’ people, people who weren’t severely injured or related to me, people who didn’t work for the hospital. Passing by, just going about their business. It was wonderful to watch, even if some of the victims of my people-watching could have very possibly been going through one of the most traumatic experiences of their lives, or at least be visiting someone going through one of one of theirs.

Many people strive to be different, strive to be seen as separate from the great unwashed, to be special and unique. Watching all the other people swarm in and out of Salford Royal, each visiting people not as much, as much, and more so than me, not giving two shiny shits about my condition or story instead make me feel wonderfully inconsequential, gloriously insignificant. Sitting in the café with an overpriced cup of tea I sank delightfully into the wallpaper for the first time in years and simply sat in my new chariot for a while enjoying my anonymity. Wheeling back to my bed I thought that I could quite happily exist as a wheelchair person from now on, whizzing along the hospital floor at speeds that felt like approximately 299’792’458 miles a second. I felt that this was about as good and easy as travelling could get, if only those idiots walking could feel how I had it all worked out. Life had suddenly taken on a new lease of simplicity.


I don’t have many friends.





I have a few of course, maybe four in this country, it’s difficult to count when you you don’t have Facebook personally counting every good, close and absolutely genuine friend you have.





That was a pithy joke of course, you will have noticed by now how hilarious I am. Is there an alternative to Facebook that only counts your close friends? The friends you’d actually want to see at any one time? The friends you wouldn’t cross the road to avoid? The friends you really like?





Well yes, you have yourself. Most people are able to count such a small number. You never have many really close friends at any one time. I probably had six around the time of my accident





Then immediately lost two.





If the stock market crashed thirty three percent in such short a time they’d announce a state of emergency.





Or maybe. Maybe they wouldn’t. I don’t really understand economics.





I never had a great deal of time for friends in China. I never had to bother. I had Hej. I had countless acquaintances of course, and I did actually meet a few people that ghosted in and out of the job that I still kept in touch with and would happily refer to as my friend, but the day-to-day friendship stuff? I had Hej. We spent every second we possibly could together. We were disgustingly happy.





I don’t know what I’d do without her





I don’t know what I’d do without her






Daleks and Cuban Cuticles

This chapter is going to be mainly concerned with poo, just thought I’d warn you beforehand.

I had been told that they were two spinal injury units in the close area that I could apply for and moved to as soon as there was an opening. I may be using the word ‘close’ in China terms, like how I moved to Urumqi in order to still be ‘close’ to Hej even though I was at least a four hour journey and at times felt like I was a million parsecs away. I wanted to check that parsecs were a measure of distance rather than time and through doing so I can now confirm that a parsec equals approximately nineteen trillion miles, so that seems about right. A trillion being, of course, one million million million, so the distance from Hej felt roughly nineteen million million million miles. Unless of course I’m using the long scale trillion number, which is actually one million million million million, so would mean I felt like I was nineteen million million million million miles from Hej. That actually feels a little too far to me so I can confirm I was actually referencing the shorter measure. I’m glad we cleared that up, I’d hate my lack of thorough explanation to come back to haunt me later on.

What was I talking about? Oh yes, the spinal injury units:

Sheffield and Southport were the options. I decided to go with Sheffield for three main reasons: firstly I thought that Sheffield would be relatively easy for my parents to travel to, secondly I knew that Eric would be moving there relatively soon and he seemed to know what he was doing, and thirdly I wasn’t entirely sure where Southport was.

I asked Eric why he had chosen Sheffield, long after I had already made my choice.

“ Why Sheffield? Well once, I think it was about 1995, I went on a trip to watch Everton play away at Sheffield Wednesday and I thought Hillsborough was a really nice stadium, so… I’m going there”

“You chose that quickly?”

“Well, it’s not a decision worth spending hours over is it? I doubt one of them is Disney World and the other Guantanamo Bay, and even if they were sods law dictates that you’re always likely to choose the wrong one anyway”

“Was it a good match?”

“What match?”

“The Everton Sheffield Wednesday game you travelled to”

“Oh that one. Nah it was fucking shite, 0-0 and I’m not sure there was even a shot on target. Although there was a disallowed goal if I remember correctly, but there’s little reason why I would be likely to remember correctly. Nice stadium though, like I say. Southport FC may be an even nicer experience, but Wednesday got there first”


If I was being completely honest I was hoping for rather more astutely planned out reasoning. Another silence clinched the air as I attempted to come to terms with Eric and by extension myself making such an apparently important decision based on such whims. It would be a short period of quiet that Eric as usual broke as an antagonistic aroma started to curl around our navels.

“Do you reckon you ever get used to the feeling of smelling shit and just hoping it isn’t yours?”

I didn’t know if you did.

I knew that I didn’t.

It’s a situation not often faced, people tend to go through life happily wallowing in the assumption that they haven’t pooed themselves. Such happy expectations had been taken from me, and not a day passed when I didn’t think that I perhaps failed to fully appreciate being able to trust my body not to soil itself when it was an ability I could rely upon. Joni Mitchell was right- you really don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone (paved paradise, put up a parking lot).

I had instantly gone from being house trained to shitting in a nappy two or three times a day, which is a drop off in quality far worse than the Matrix sequels. Well, maybe not far worse, but at least as bad. My new travels in my wheelchair had me thinking pathetically that I had pretty much rejoined the World of the normal. Well, at least the World of the Daleks, my movement was unbound across flat surfaces but stairs were my nemesis. I would always simply ignore the fact that I still had my nappy changed and arse wiped several times a day, which isn’t something most ‘normal’ 29 year olds can claim.

I was frequently too embarrassed to ask a nurse to change me if I suspected I’d shit myself, I was never one hundred percent sure and the occasions I would hesitantly ask to have my arse cleaned only for the nurse to find that I hadn’t crapped at all only made me asking less likely.

I was never altogether confident in what the accepted practice was for asking someone for help cleaning up your own mess, so I would often just wait for the nurses to catch the smell of shit and offer their services, which was much less embarrassing. And then there were the profoundly irritating times when I would be watching a TV show and suddenly a whiff of crap would waft into my nostrils. These were the times I really hoped it was someone else’s, or at least that the nurses wouldn’t notice for maybe another eighteen minutes so I could finish watching the show. But they always caught on irritatingly quickly, never seemed to have any trouble determining that it was my shit, and took a dim view of any requests to delay the changing until the end of Columbo. The TV would still be left on while I was changed, but I found it was hard to concentrate on a television programme when you’re on your side with your back passage being rubbed with wet wipes, I’m old fashioned like that.

“Did you watch Celebrity Love Island last night?”

“Well yes, it was on, but at that same time a nurse was polishing my inner anus like they were the classes biggest boot licker shining up a new apple for teacher”

“Hmmmm… So does that mean it wasn’t a particularly good episode or…?”

My life seemed to exist in two distinct groups. There was my public veneer, scooting about in my wheelchair waving my hands in salute to my adoring fans on top of the World, and then there was my private life where I was spending much of my time having shit cleaned from my anus by nurses who don’t get paid nearly enough. I was Philip Seymour Hoffman hiding the secret shame of my heroin addiction behind continuing brilliant screen performances.

One day it was decided, perhaps in light of the huge divergence between my rolling cosmopolitan public persona and my private pooey shame, that I was to learn to wipe my own arse. I doubt you appreciate how difficult this task is.

I had lost feeling in both of my bum cheeks (need!), and as strange as it sounds I had also lost confident knowledge about where my arse hole was. I was pretty sure of its general area but if you were to stop your car next to me and roll down your window asking for directions to my bum pipe I can’t promise the ones I’d give would be particularly close to correct and I may even give up and suggest you ask someone else. I did however have a modicum of feeling in my anus, so while I could spend minutes and hours and days and months wiping my hand around my arse with little idea of whereabouts I was at least I could tell when I had hit the jackpot of my sphincter*. The path was unclear but at least the goal was indisputable.

(*What a sentence. Get the t-shirts printed.)

So it was decided that from that moment on that the appearance of the old familiar shitty smell would only mean the nurses would close the curtains around my bed and I would be expected to go to town on my bot bot with a handful of wet wipes.

‘That Old Familiar Shitty Smell’ was a song cut from the musical production of Les Miserables at a relatively late stage.

Unfortunately they didn’t really teach me how to wipe my arse, I guess it was just expected that people would somehow know how to do that. But any attempt at doing so started off more like random target practice until I felt the unmistakable touch of my anus**. They did however try and teach me how to clean myself getting the premium amount of crap all over the bed, the ideal amount being zero of course. This involved undoing my nappy and carefully leaning to one side within it, ideally leaving me free to wipe away while allowing for the little flecks of collateral poo to be caught in the discarded nappy. Sadly my attempts at cleaning more often than not caused a veritable tidal wave of crap that necessitated the entire bed sheets were changed. Such was my life.

(** Get two t-shirts printed.)

Cleaning my arse hole did at least contain its own distinct goal, and after a few attempts with countless wet wipes I could at least have a good idea when the area was clean, with the lack of poo on the wet wipe after the latest sponge would convince me that the task was finally at an end. Another wet wipe would be thrown into the bulging plastic bag that acted as the temporary bin, opened when I crapped myself that particular time and thrown away a massive sack of refuse when I was adjudged to have finished. Foxes would rarely raid the bins outside that hospital I imagined.

A nurse would then have a meticulous look at my bum to judge my attempts at mopping my maudlin missive like Simon Cowell fallen on particularly hard times. Again, do you really believe whatever they are paid is anyway near enough? The nurse would usually tut and um and ah at what they perceived as my failed attempts. As anyone who’s ever shit themselves in clothes or a nappy will tell you, the actual anus is only a small part of the problem, the shit is caught close to your backside and held tight against you, causing the crap to squidge against you and smear itself all over your cheeks.

Not being able to feel said cheeks renders cleaning these squidge marks a total guessing game, and after my attempts were judged by a nurse more often than not I would be informed that they were a failure and they would then simply finish off my attempts for me. Like I said, very hard times for Mr. Cowell. Again and again the whole experience would just leave me glumly and despondently wondering if there was really any point in me bothering at all.

Was there really any point in me bothering at all?

Why have me perform these exercises? The attempt would inevitably fail and a nurse would have to complete the task anyway, wasting more of their precious time changing the bed-clothes that wouldn’t be so stricken with brown marks if they’d just done the whole thing themselves. Why on Earth were they so set on creating so much more work for themselves?

The nurses came up with an ingenious idea that could possibly reduce their workload slightly by having me wipe the shit from my arse with a little more finesse. They suggested I ask my parents to bring me in a mirror.

And so my Mum brought me a small make-up mirror on my request, and upon each subsequent wipe I would move the mirror to my bottom and try to turn my head to catch the sight of my own arse in the reflection to gage just how much crap was smeared around my cheeks.

As I peered backwards in attempt to see a reflection of how well I’d wiped my bum it occurred to me that not many months ago I had been a well-paid and highly looked upon member of society, regularly having wonderful sex with a woman way more attractive than anyone most of you people have even held hands with. Especially you. Yes you. You know who I’m talking about. And yet here I was now lying in a hospital bed, with a shattered ankle, fucked spine, tube far down my Austrian’s eye-lid and trying to manoeuvre a mirror correctly behind me so I could see if I had wiped my arse correctly. It was not really a case of how the mighty can fall, but it was certainly an exceedingly exasperating example of how the moderately contented can be strongly disinclined.

I should also perhaps point out at this point how infuriatingly difficult it can be trying to wipe your bum cheeks going off a small refection in a mirror about three feet behind your head. The whole exercise served more to confirm to me that there was shit on my bum cheeks rather than offering any suggestion that may help me wipe it off.

The ability to clean one’s bottom through the medium of reflection is not a skill that is so easily mastered by many humans, although it would make one hell of a round on the Krypton Factor, or even a specialist subject on Mastermind.

I felt it was best not to describe the whole process to Hej when I phoned that evening, I figured she’d already had her fill of my body’s waste. Hej told me of a male acquaintance who had obviously fast recognised an open goal of an opportunity. He had decided to stake his claim on her by way of the classic romantic gesture of buying her a new fridge. Hej devised that the best and most polite way to rain on his parade and dampen his spirit was to simply pay him for the fridge and act as if it was something she’d long wanted and was simply thanking him for making the purchase for her.

She made me promise to try and help her adorn her new toy with particularly attractive fridge magnets, things she’d long lusted after but were very hard to come by in China. She could have asked me to get her any item or souvenir from Blighty, perhaps a Nectar card to display above her television, or a curl of Jeremy Clarkson’s hair or at least one of the imitation Clarkson locks you frequently find on keyrings for sale behind the counter at service stations or at small town tourist centres, or even a small bottled vial of fresh vomit scraped from the road outside a cheap club in an inner city town centre early on a Sunday morning. I’m struggling to think of things Britain is famous for here if I’m being honest, I couldn’t well send her the queen could I? But it turned out that the only thing Hej could imagine she would possibly want or need from Britain was some fridge magnets.

Britain- bingo and fridge magnets. Rule Britannia.


Every so often





Was it once a week? Month? I can’t quite remember to be perfectly honest, I’ve done rather well in blanking out many of the specifics of it.





Every so often I would have to get my catheter tube changed. So I would stare intently at the ceiling. There are some things I don’t believe the human mind is readily prepared to process, and the removing and insertion of tubes down your dick, in either a sexual or clinical fashion, is one of them. The older tube was removed from my Cuban cuticle and exchanged for a shiny new one. The end of the catheter tube inserted into my penis was a large inflated ball that assured the tube wouldn’t fly out of my bladder. I admit that I didn’t at any point ascertain what kind of pressure it could withstand by pulling strongly at the bit coming out of my penis. You could say I didn’t fully test the device for the benefit of this story, for which I apologise.





I’m sorry





So, so sorry





To this day I have no idea how it was changed over, or even what the catheter tube looked like when not inside me. It was already a strange and disturbing feeling without being fully aware of what kind of operation was being performed.





I don’t want to think about going so deep inside myself, dredging up something as horrible and offensive as that dirty old catheter.





Some things should lay dormant below.






Abby and Brittany Hensel

I thought it important that I at least attempted to uphold my usually immaculate levels of hygiene and cleanliness. And it was certainly always immaculate compared to, say, a Black Hereford cow, perhaps even compared to a cow as well kept as Tasmanian Grey. Certainly better than a Belted Galloway. Have you seen them? What a fucking mess. Perhaps you wouldn’t use the word to describe me if you were only comparing me with fellow humans, but why should I be punished for having a wider frame of reference than your pathetic isolationist mindset?

It was decreed that every morning and night if I remembered/could be bothered I would brush my teeth at my bed, spitting the paste into a hospital plastic cup or my old friend the trusty cardboard bedpan. Every morning I would also wash, which would formally involve a dunked face at the bathroom sink or even a shower if I was feeling especially fruity. Now it would merely involve having a nurse giving my naked body a good rub down with a wet-wipe like they were polishing an pre-Raphaelite alabaster bust of the ancient goddess of whimsy before it was evaluated on that afternoon’s Antiques Roadshow. It would, of course, turn out to be just a crass approximation only dating back to early 80s Dorchester, but I feel we may be going off on a bit of a tangent here.

Before long though they decided to treat the cleaning of my pale ugly body similarly to how they’d treated the wiping of my pale ugly bottom and outsource the operation to its owner. So every morning I would drag wet-wipes across as much of my body as I could manage, a task you’ll be surprised and relieved to hear I managed to master with a lot more ease than the aforementioned crack mop. They made it clear how important it was for me to clean under my foreskin, which I did without much in the way of dissent, just happy that they didn’t station a nurse to stand next to my bed to watch intently as I scrubbed around my bell-end to ensure I did it correctly. How I envied those wonderful Jews, none of this cumbersome wisps of skin interfering with their cleanliness.

This daily enterprise at least confirmed to me that I hadn’t lost feeling in my penis, I could feel my hand polishing my knob wonderfully- surely everything was going to be Ok.

I had now been promoted to banana board movements (Banana Board Movements released John Peel’s single of the week back in early 1993) onto my wheelchair, which involved sliding across a bent board about three feet long, shaped very much like a banana, since you ask. As long as the board and vehicle were positioned correctly I could glide from my bed onto the chair with ease, meaning I was now able to transfer to the wheelchair with very little (but most definitely some) help from outside influences.

Most days I would carefully and slowly transfer into the wheelchair and would go and sit out in the gorgeous June and July sunshine of the hospital garden for a while with Mum, or Dad, or occasionally one of my brothers, or friends or friends’ families or whoever would occasionally come to visit. Everything was already starting to point pleasantly towards normality and the head doctor assigned to me had still yet to come and explain what my options were regarding further surgery to fix me up good and proper.

I was in Salford hospital for many weeks until I was eventually seen by the doctor, sweating on and considering how long my rehabilitation process after all the corrective surgery would be. Perhaps I should name him Doctor Doom, or would that make his soon to arrive prognosis less of a surprise?

As he came to the ward and up close to my bed he shut my curtains behind him, which I should have taken as a bad sign straight away. His words were cutting, devastating and aimed a wild, lethal jackboot to the throat of my short-lived optimism, beat all my hopes for the future over the head with a bowling pin until the whole room was deep with running blood.

The words were so depressing in fact that I feel I can only present them after they have been first translated into Chinese, then into Korean, then into Maltese, then into Serbian, then into Portuguese, then into Welsh, then into Indonesian and finally translated back into English. In any case my memory of what he said will never have the same power as his actual words so perhaps this will simplify the message, which is the best way around it for everyone.

“I saw a very appropriate way to repair spinal disc collection, but without causing further damage, we are. Looking the other way, but the look of permanent operation. I’m sorry”

I was fucked beyond the limits of modern medicine, my scrambled bones at the foot of my spine had settled so completely into their disability that to pull them apart now in the hope of settling them back in their original place would be as difficult and as potentially dangerous as separating Abby and Brittany Hensel.

I looked down at my broken body.

It was so shit.

So pathetic.

So fucking useless.

My torso bent into a bizarre silly straw, my hip now so spoiled by a shitty spine that it found it difficult to manage the balance required for standing, and a tube deep into my Latvian wrist that attached me to a giant bag of piss by my bedside. Walking was impossible, the control of my bladder had been removed from me and I had just been told that there was nothing more the hospital, nor modern medicine, could do.

This was me now.

This was me.

I was finished.

I’m done.

I’m done, move along folks there’s nothing to see here.

Nothing, nothing, nobody, nothing.

Doctor Doom decided he better let that sink in and so scooted off pretty sharp with the empty suggestion that the hospital’s team might stumble across some medical breakthrough that would wave its hands across my body and then click its fingers, making everything Ok again. I was essentially waiting for the invention of a miracle cure.

Waiting for Superman.

Chin up, it could happen.

No it fucking couldn’t, why would you even fucking say that? Don’t ever say that.

My Dad happened to be visiting at that moment, and was saddled with the undignified sight of me choking back tears pathetically. Any sense of perspective that once may perhaps been bestowed upon me at the hospital was lost immediately, as I instead decided to throw myself into the slimy grim trench of self-pity.

Why me?

Why me?

Why me?

Perhaps one day I could answer that, perhaps I could explain why already, did I already know?

I began to do something profoundly un-British. I began to cry. I began to sob and whine about myself, began to mope in my own dissatisfaction and the reasoning behind Doctor Doom shutting the curtains started to make a lot of sense. I was encased in my own cage of desolation. Suddenly perspective could go to hell, go to fucking hell, this was worse than anyone else’s condition because it was happening to me. This was so unfair.

So unfair.

“So this isn’t just an elongated anecdote anymore! This isn’t ‘remember that time Alex was in hospital’, soon this will just fucking be ‘do you remember that time Alex was normal?’ ‘No actually, I don’t recall him ever being able to do anything!’!I’m gonna have this for the rest of my life Dad!” I whinged, gesturing furiously at the half-full bag of yellow urine that stood glumly next to my bed “I’m going to spend the rest of my life dragging around a bag of wee attached to my fucking ankle!”

“I remember having one for a long time after my heart surgery”

Dad tried desperately to inject some perspective into the situation. Failing of course, I was a long way past that point.

“Yes, for a few fucking days! I’ve got this fucking thing until I fucking die!’

I squealed my displeasure, immediately considering how difficult dating would be in the future. At what point during a date do you mention that your lugging around a bag of your own wee? Do you straight up mention it on your Match.com profile? Again, I think I was now going to be exclusively attracting people with strange fetishes. That would now have to be my thing.

It also struck me that sex with Hej may never again be quite as enjoyable seeing as my penis is now spouting its own tube, like a long and distressing lizard’s tongue. I will leave it up to you to decide exactly which lizard that would be, depending on how large or small you want to joke my willy is, I’ll even leave a space in which you can write it here, immediately increasing the amount of user content you can donate to this tome: __________________ Happy now? This book is so 21st century, post your answer on fucking Facebook why don’t you? ‘Alex likes this’.

With the knowledge that this was now my permanent state I decided that perhaps I’d better step up my efforts to at least appear more human to the untrained observer, acquire the skills to properly create a fabrication of adequacy. I would at least try and get the skills required to properly mope

My next physio session involved Jessica and one of Pepsi or Shirlie leading me off the ward in my chair, rolling me into a lift and up two floors then rolling me further down the most labyrinthine back-streets of the hospital until we reached the hospital gym. I could hear the music and the instructor’s shouts of encouragement emanating from a big session in a nearby room, a class made up of people who could perhaps manage a sit-up or even touch their toes. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what happens in a gym class, it’s not really my scene, as I’m sure you’d guess from looking at me, but it at least sounded like they were doing it. Doing near enough anything was quite monstrously out of my reach now.

I could shit myself.

List ends.

The ‘party off the pounds’ sessions in the main hall were obviously far beyond my ability and so I was ushered into a small side-room that seemed mainly to serve as storage for equipment that could at some point be utilised in the Richard Simmons’s lessons in the larger rooms. In the corner of the room however were a set of bars and that was the reason I was there.

My wheelchair was parked close to the end of the bars, Jessica stood directly in front of me, and Pepsi or Shirlie stood beside the bars, it was a great compliment that they had such faith un my ability they considered the task only required the supervision of two nurses. I pulled myself up until I stood between the two bars, and then slowly (slowly!) began to drag my body forward, left foot, right foot, left foot again, followed by another step with my right, which I would then follow with a left again. I’m assuming you’re at least vaguely familiar with how the mechanics of walking work. Throughout my journey I always had Jessica in front of me slowly moonwalking backwards ready to catch me when I inevitably fell, and Pepsi or Shirlie trying to make sure I was gripping the bars as lightly as possible. It was important that I barely touched them at all, important that it looked like they weren’t required at all, that I was perhaps just brushing my fingers across them as I walked by, checking how thoroughly they had been dusted..

I eventually got to the end of the fifteen foot length, and proceeded to slowly (slowly!) turn 180 degrees, with both Jessica and Pepsi or Shirlie surrounding me inches close to my body carefully supervising the operation. Soon I was facing the other end of the bars and my wheelchair lay fifteen feet before me. Jessica positioned herself between the bars in front of me again and I slowly (slowly!) began my journey back along the bars. Soon I was stood over my chair, and after another slow (slow!) rotation I could slowly (slo… ah forget it, I’m sure you’ve got it by now) sit myself down back in my chair.

I had walked maybe thirty feet in total and was deliriously happy.

I would repeat the session maybe four more times, each trip seeing my speed increase until I could manage the foray to the end of the bars and back in barely three, two, one minute. On my last trip I noticed a Zimmer frame perched in the corner of the room.

“That’ll be the dream”

I smiled and nodded towards the frame as I hung between the bars.

Pepsi or Shirlie glanced towards it.

“Ok” she said “Let’s do it”

Later that day Uncle David came to visit with my Dad, and I was rolled out to the hospital garden so we could all enjoy the sunshine. When we settled I realised that my piss bag had sprung a leak, and I had been dribbling my wee in a tell-tale line from my bed all through the hospital like an especially filthy version of Hansel and Gretel’s bread-crumbs. I immediately began to wonder with despondence whether all the effort to walk was really worth it. Is there any point in walking anywhere when there was the ever present threat of covering your paths in urine? I never wanted to bother leaving my bed again, I just wanted that to be me now, there was no point going anywhere anymore, I so dearly wanted to be bedbound from now on, I didn’t want to waste my fucking time hobbling around in the stupid fucking outside World.

Fuck it.

Fuck the World, fuck everything.

This whole thing is just so…


Was Abby and Brittany Hensel perhaps too obscure a reference1? More problems…

[1I have no memory of those people are. So, probably, yes]



Can you love two people at once?

I certainly feel I’m deeply in love with those two people now.

Though I think I’m growing to love Nez more.

E is old news, she’s just my wife, my wife of too many years. I’m bored with it, I want something more.

I want Nez.

She’s from the Czech Republic, she’s so exotic, she’s tall and clever. We discuss philosophy and high art. I can tell I make her happy. I know she makes me happy. The barman at the pub we drank at the other night said we made a good couple. We go out for a drink a lot. We go on many dates.

Yet here E is, here the two of them are sat in the same room. This must hurt E, she knows how much I like Nez. She might not know I love her but she knows I care for her a great deal. She’s just here because she wants to share in my interests, wants to fight for this marriage.

She’s working hard to keep this marriage afloat.

I’m more concerned with pummelling it to shards if I’m being completely honest.

She saw an e-mail that I sent to Michael saying so, saying that I was having an ’emotional affair’.

Emotional affair.

I love that phrase, and it explains it exactly what this is. I have only kissed Nez once. I slept in her bed the other night but we just hugged. E was very concerned, wondering why I didn’t come home that night. Told her I’d passed out on the sofa. My whole life is a web of lies now.

Can’t I have both? Can’t I have E as the wonderful, caring wife at home and Nez as the woman I date and spend my time with? Does that sound so selfish? Why can’t E understand that I want the best of both Worlds?

“OK, it’s getting late, me and Alex better go home, thanks for having us Nez, the food was lovely”

E gets out of her seat. I remain seated.

“Actually E… I think I’m gonna stay here”

E obviously doesn’t like that. I bet she’s gonna start a fucking argument about it whenever I get home.

She slams the door behind her.1

[1again, all true, but again, I was obviously working to write myself a lot more heartless and thoughtless about the situation than I actually was, like I didn’t trust the reader to read the acts as awful if I didn’t work to make myself more of a cunt]



Hynes and Hummus

The hospital occasionally liked to arrange activities for the long-term residents of the trauma assessment ward, perhaps wary of the threat of patients being pushed over the edge into despair or insanity or both. The prospect of waking up in the same bed and staying in that same bed watching a day exactly and dispiritingly the same as the one endured the day before passing you by before sleeping in the same bed dreaming the same dream you did last night can easily ignite misery. I was subjected to a handful of dreams that positioned me back in the hospital bed, from which I would wake up feeling like I’d been ripped off massively, as the night time was the only time I got some fucking respite. For the hospital to remain vigilant over this some away day activities were required to fight such misery.

I’m not sure it was needed in my case, I was quite happy lying in my bed reading music magazines or studying my Mandarin Chinese book, before retiring for the evening in front of vacuous prime time telly and tackling the sudoku in that day’s paper. And of course it was a fact that a large section of the patients were way past the brink of insanity long before they checked into that particular hotel* but nonetheless we were all called together that week to get together over a pub quiz.

(*Very possibly including me, although I don’t feel I’m ideally placed to judge. I find that people who refer to themselves as ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’ are in fact just insufferable arses and should be avoided with similar rigour to how you’d usually react if you found a syphilitic sac of pus hanging from your lover’s genitals**. You could possibly also include me in the ‘insufferable arse’ category also, but I maintain it wouldn’t be for that particular reason.)

(** Speaking from personal experience of course)

Well, I say ‘pub quiz’ but obviously a pub wasn’t involved, instead we were to hold it in the same back room of the gym that I was practising on the bars. Off we set on our long pilgrimage, Homer’s Odyssey for those differently challenged both physically and mentally. Russel was perhaps the man with the mind that was most ‘differently challenged’, but Jesus I would never say that to his face, and he was excited to be making the trip. Pushed in his wheelchair by a nurse as he shot out profanities at indeterminate junctures like a one armed bandit occasionally spewing coins.


From the slightly less coarse end of the spectrum were Eric, who seemed to travel with a smug look of a belief in an upcoming and indisputable victory. The Professor amazingly managed to make the long journey with a shuffled and careful walk, by far the most physically rehabilitated of all of us and a symbol of hope for those of us damned to wheeled locomotion. There were also other patients from different bays on the the Trauma Assessment Unit that I had not previously met so spent the journey scoping out for any obvious signs of mental fortitude or weakness. Perhaps one of the new crowd was spending the journey mouthing pi to ten thousand decimal places quietly to him or herself, or maybe some person was so profoundly dim that they obviously could not even remember people’s names and instead spent the trip utilising increasingly ridiculous pseudonyms.

After we’d made our long and slow journey through the hospital like an especially grim travelling freak show I began to look forward to showing the room my cerebral acumen as I stormed to victory over these mental bastards. Once we were there we were split into two teams. I was on a team with both The Professor, and Russel. The Professor proved to be a useless companion as he failed to understand most of the questions being asked and seemed rather baffled by the whole concept of the. Russel presented the biggest problem as he would scream out every answer he knew, invariably with an added swear word or two, giving the other team a chance to hear our solution.

“What is the capital city of Australia?”


He would bellow in delight, greatly reducing the chance of the other team perhaps going with Sydney.

Perhaps a greater problem was Enid, so called because she was very old and that’s what old people are called aren’t they? It was to her my answers became victim to the nurses’ desire to keep the quiz as democratic as possible, and a great example of how democracy is a terrible idea and simply doesn’t work.

“How many rings in the Olympic logo?”


I immediately knew, though I was sure to keep my voice ‘s volume significantly below Russel as I begin to write the answer down.

“No…” Enid would interject thoughtfully “I’m pretty sure it’s two”

“Well… no…” I answered exasperated, trying to think of a way I could convince her that it fucking wasn’t without a pictorial aid “It isn’t Ok? It represents five continents or some shit, just trust me”

“Now Alex” the nurse overlooking our team would step in in an attempt to keep the peace “You’ve answered a lot of questions already, I think Enid should be allowed to answer a few as well”

“But… that’s not how it works… She’s wrong, I’m all for equal representation, but universal suffrage doesn’t mean…”

“Come on now, Alex, it’s just a bit of fun”

I whimpered, dismayed that something as important as a pub quiz was so casually disregarded as a ‘bit of fun’. My gripes bore no effect though, and our official answer for the number of rings on the Olympic flag would be two.


Such infuriating egalitarianism continued into the picture round.

“Right, picture three is Margaret Thatcher”

I exclaimed immediately upon glancing her unmistakable crooked crow-like features peering out from the page. Enid disagreed

“Queen Victoria”

Obviously not Queen Victoria!” I shot back at a far louder volume than I’m usually comfortable commuting with in a pub quiz, furiously irritated and starting to believe she was just trying to piss me off now “I mean, it’s a colour photo for a start, did Queen Victoria take many colour photos? Are you sure it isn’t fucking Archimedes”

“I think it’s Enid’s turn to answer a question Alex”

Enid’s turn? Well be sure to let me know when it’s my turn to be a fucking idiot!”

If I wasn’t in a wheelchair that would be about the time I would have thrown the pen on the floor and stormed out of the room in disgust at my treatment. This wasn’t how it was supposed to work at all, rather than from each according to his ability to each according to his needs the team was being sacrificed on the alter of Enid’s nonsensical general knowledge. I got no support from either The Professor, who had yet to grasp entirely what was going on, or Russel, whose only opinion on the picture round was that they were ‘all cunts’. We lost by a handful of points to the other team.

“You just got lucky that methods were obviously introduced to stop me dominating like I was undoubtedly capable of”

I tried to explain to Eric later, who had contributed most of the answers to the winning team and swore he never heard any of Russel’s brays, the bare-faced fucking liar.

“I can’t tell if you really believe that”

“Well, I think I would obviously have won if I had a more compliant team”

“I doubt it. You’re not as intelligent as you think you are, no way near really”

“Perhaps” I quietened for a second as I considered conceding the point “But to be completely honest not many people are as intelligent as I think I am”

Eric grinned.

“You were beaten fair and square, by a person by far your intellectual superior, you didn’t even know what the main ingredient of hummus is”

“That’s a difficult one!” I protested “I think me saying Jessica Ennis’s name was Jessica Hynes*** is more the mistake that will live with me for a long time”

(***In a quick search to check whether I’d spelt Jessica Hynes correctly (I hadn’t) I noticed that the first suggestion Google throws at you is ‘jessica hynes feet’, so perhaps ‘Jessica’ is just a name that foot fetishists really go for)

And so it has proved.

Away from my exploits on the quiz team I had taken to my new Zimmer frame like a bridge to troubled water. The genius of a Zimmer frame is that it’s pretty much impossible to overstretch yourself, impossible to move at speeds beyond your ability, speeds you’re occasionally certain you’re capable of in moments of misplaced optimism. It strictly limits your velocity and strongly advocates care in your movements. It’s almost insufferably slow, but it is movement and it is a step in the right direction. I had made the leap, disability wise, from a ghoulishly-overweight individual to a bloodcurdingly-aged old man, a change I was overwhelmingly grateful for. I was even able to keep my trusty Zimmer by my bed-side and grip onto it tightly to lift myself to a standing position contained within its three walls, and from that position I could go anywhere!

It would just take me a very fucking long time.

It was also decided by the nurses at that point that I would start to empty my own piss bag myself, that whenever I thought the secretion tied around my ankle had reached a full point I was to hoist myself onto my frame and gradually Zimmer myself over to the toilet to empty the bag through the attached tube into the waiting pan. The hospital was rather predictably but nonetheless thankfully well-stocked with disabled toilets and the closest was mere feet from my bed but I had never even really noticed it. It was up until that point pretty useless to me.

It was an exercise designed to get me used to the action of travelling to a toilet to empty my bladder rather than just waiting for bags to catch my piss until a nurse saw fit to drain it. I was peeved that I was expected to pull off such a difficult manoeuvre for no practical reason, I was quite happy with the current set-up and saw no reason I was expected to carry out such a ridiculous façade. What was I supposed to do? Trick my body that it was normal? The doctor had made clear that particular horse had bolted, destroying the stable door as it blasted away. I wasn’t just fucked but I would remain as pathetically fucked for the rest of my life.

This was it, no amount of acting out urination mimicry was going to change that.

It didn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts. A nurse was attempting to outline the perhaps surprisingly intricate and difficult procedure involved in me emptying the bag of wee otherwise velcroed to my ankle into the toilet pan. The multitude of new questions asked of my balance proved too much for me and I tumbled from my Zimmer.


Pride shattered.

“You’re not hurt are you Alex?”

The nurse asked as he helped me back to a standing position inside the walls of my frame.

“No… I mean… I feel a little stupid but I’m fine”

“Ah good, then we don’t really need to tell the hospital about this do we?”

And we didn’t, mindful of the sign declaring it was ‘<X> days without a patient fall’ hanging on the wall outside the hospital ward, although each time I’d pass it during the next week I’d look at the ever-increasing number of days it was claiming had passed since the last accident and know it was a lie, until some day afterwards a more acknowledged fall took place, the number was reset to zero and we’d both gotten away with it.






Why is that beep still here?





What is it? There’s no more awful machines beeping and blooping in this hospital, why the fuck does a beep still exist in my head?





What is this noise in the back of my mind?






Anorexia and King Faeces

Mid-way through July I contracted the runs.

What a hideous time to be alive it was.

This is what I’m straining to preserve?

When you’ve lost control of your bum muscles the runs are very aptly titled. Lying in bed feeling waves of shit shoot through into my nappy aggressively and at frequent intervals like teenage girls swarming the ticket office for just released One Direction tickets. Yes, yes, I’m aware that the last ticket office probably shut down in the late 90s, but somehow the image of teenage girls’ mums furiously refreshing the ticketmaster.com web page didn’t adequately capture the feeling of the excreta’s frenzied rush through my anal passage.

Coupled with the news that I would not be making a proper recovery I felt at perhaps my lowest point in Salford Royal right then. ‘The lowest point in Salford Royal’ is definitely not a title without a lot of challengers, like naming your favourite Prince or worst Police song. My arse was now constantly covered so completely in shit that any attempts by myself to wipe it off were an impossible battle and doomed to fail, the new mirror condemned to irrelevance. So the task was once again given back to the nurses almost as soon as it had been handed back to me. The thought of requesting I carried out the task had quickly shown itself to be as pointless as I first worried it was. Stupid and fucking pointless.

And what’s more it now became a duty that needed to be fulfilled numerous times throughout the day, once every twelve seconds it seemed. Several times I’d be out in the garden with members of my family or other visitors and smell that distinctive stench or feel the tell-tale moistness around my seat and hope that they wouldn’t notice. How could they not notice though? Yet always they’d be too polite to mention anything. Sometimes it’s wonderful being British. Until finally later they’d leave and I’d immediately ask the nurses to tend to the damage, an exercise that would require filling a whole bin bag with dirty wet-wipes, looking as if the nurse had finished cleaning out the ears of all the presidents on Mount Rushmore and then also decided they might as well give Thomas Jefferson’s nasal passage a quick polishing.

I would simply lie on my side and stare off sadly into the middle distance as the nurse scrupulously cleaned the shit off all corners of my arse, again contemplating how far I’d come.





E was so lucky to have the support of her family at such a difficult time for her.

Sometimes the runs I’d eject were of such liquidity and fortitude that they would seep right through my nappy and create a big circular brown mark on my bed-sheets, or sometimes a little pool on my wipe-clean vinyl wheelchair cushion. I was now shooting out poos of such dynamism that they were dirtying anything I came into contact with. I was the King Midas of crap. King Faeces.

I demanded to stop taking anything that had any association at all with a laxative. Even if a certain medicine was once photographed holidaying on the yacht of a famous laxative, or was even suspected of attending the christening of a laxative’s first born I didn’t want it anywhere near my shitting body. I tried to eat as little as possible, wondering if there was a certain amount you could eat that would just about sustain your existence but never create the compulsion to crap. Did I even want to sustain these pathetic existence. I wished I could gather up the strength to completely fast, to deny myself food like an expert anorexic until I was just an empty husk of pale skin and brittle bones with nothing left inside to cleanse.

My pink sheathe withered close to empty organs like I had been vacuum packed.

What an ideal state.

Unfortunately I lacked the mental strength and admirable self-control of the anorexic, and so my fasting would just come to an end when I reached the unsurpasable stumbling block of hunger. The anorexics exhibit such admirable self-control, we should look toward them as perfect examples of mind-over-matter with the similar reverence we do to Shaolin Monks.

They’re heroes.

Me though?


Bobby Sands lasted sixty six days on hunger strike, I would have caved in after maybe two hours if one of the guards offered me a tuna mayonnaise baguette.

I think it’s fair to assume that never in my life have I more wished for constipation.

Pepsi and Shirlie’s next plan was for me to reacquaint myself with an ability as essential as shitting* to any Englishman, as it was decided I would make myself a cup of tea.

(*An ability that was energetically and frequently reminding me of it’s existence. The ability to stop yourself shitting was one that many people instead easily take for granted)

There was a special kitchen squirrelled away in a far corner of the hospital that was for the exclusive use of patients attempting to remember what the fuck you were actually supposed to do in the place through practising the mechanics. It rather fittingly led onto the dementia and alzheimers ward. A kitchen gym if you will.

A kitchgym.

A gymteen.

A gymnasiscullery.

Nah fuck it, I really can’t think of a decent pun…

Again it seemed to be several thousand furlongs away from the ward. A furlong is just over two hundred metres in case you have trouble picturing that terminology, so I’m essentially saying the distance to the kitchen felt like it was several thousand two hundred metres. That would simply be several thousand metres away I suppose, but the phrase doesn’t seem to pack the same punch does it? Regardless of the distance I was simply happy to have an excuse to roll around in my chair. I had long decided that I would now be an official wheelchair user, this was my method of movement now as the benefits of being wheel-bound seemed to far outweigh the drawbacks. I was by that point already beginning to greatly bore of the same route (out of the Trauma Assessment ward, turn right, down to the end of the corridor, turn left, follow the corridor around) I had taken countless times to the hospital’s entrance to enjoy the shops, cafes and glimpses of the outside World.

The first thing I noticed about the ward that contained the kitchen-gym (aw c’mon, there must be a better name than that) was how strong the smell of poo that settled over the place was. It smelled like maybe a few dozen patients had soiled themselves concurrently, a wonderful show of harmony that would put the Beach Boys to shame. I wondered whether it was always quite as overwhelming a tsunami of turd on the ward and if so if the nurses could still just as easily solve the question of exactly whose shit it was. Perhaps the ability to quickly and correctly identify a patient based of the smell of their waste was actually an impressive talent possessed by every nurse. And also again a good round on the Krypton Factor.

I also wondered whether I smelled quite as strongly and had just got used to my own particular stench. Was I all the time was emanating an unholy scent that those around me were simply too polite to mention? The smell of having crapped yourself is like that of BO or bad breath- you’re never truly sure you don’t have it as people are generally too nice to mention it. I don’t imagine there’s an alternative to offering a mint to someone with bad-breath for trying to tell someone subtly that they smell like they’ve messed themselves- ‘I don’t suppose you’d care for a nappy?’

Inside the kitchen Pepsi or Shirley pointed out to me where all the utensils were and I pulled myself out of the chair and propped myself up standing by holding on furiously to the sides. Soon though I became more confident, propelling myself left and right across the sideboard with my hands slapping the surface as I crabbed across like I was playing an especially intricate bongo solo. Only once did I attempt to overreach myself with an ambitious ninety degrees turn and walk forward with only one hand steadying myself and with my body at a right angle to the kitchen side. This act of folly led to Pepsi (or Shirlie, or maybe it was both of them. No, pretty sure it was just the one) quickly grabbing my shoulders to stop me falling and politely reminding me it was best to attempt to walk facing the sideboard and with both hands firmly on top of it.

I was even eventually able to keep myself standing with only the security of my left hand resting on the side while my right went about its business turning the kettle on, transferring a tea-bag from the cupboard to the cup, receiving the milk from the fridge (an act that required me to bend over slightly to reach it, which I was immensely proud of) and adding sugar with a spoon I was able to retrieve from the cutlery drawer. One bizarre result of my accident is that I’d started taking sugar in my tea for the first time, like I’d suddenly decided that I wasn’t sweet enough.

I think this is where I’m now supposed to tell you how that cup of tea was by far the best tasting drink I’ve ever had, that it tasted like Zeus himself had his knees either side of my head and was ejaculating deliriously into my mouth. If that statement would make more narrative sense for you then by all means you can say to yourself it did, the actually taste of that tea really doesn’t pay too big a role in the book’s wider story.

It wasn’t though.

I was given a cup of tea maybe four times a day on the ward and this cup tasted much the same as the two or three I’d had by that point already since waking up. It didn’t taste markedly worse though, and the knowledge that I was able to make a perfectly satisfactory brew was an achievement worth celebrating for me no less than if I’d somehow managed to create a pekoe ambrosia of a quality you’d swear had been extracted directly from Aphrodite’s own anal glands. Fucking hell, a bit too much obsession with ancient Gods’ genitals and bodily functions here isn’t there?

And how good does tea get, really?

Back to the bed.

To the toilet to empty my piss bag.

Shit cleaned by the nurses.

My next assignment was even more ambitious and potentially controversial- a bacon sandwich. The controversy would arise from the fact that I couldn’t tell this to my girlfriend as I’d frequently promise her I’d never eat pork.

Hej was in no way a fundamentalist Muslim, as her relationship with me might suggest. It wasn’t until we were going out for about a year until it occurred to me to ask her a quite pressing question. We were eating my terrible home made chips that she inexplicably loved and watching the Walking Dead, an awful show she possessed equally uncommon affection.

“Do you actually believe in God?”

“Hmmm… No, not really” she replied casually, putting one of my soggy microwaved chips into her mouth “I used to but… y’know… science…”

Y’know. Science.

And that was that, as she simply and succinctly highlighted the difficulty of someone at once believing in God and also having knowledge of the existence of science.

However her disgust of pork came from a much deeper place, the thought of eating pig meat sickened her as deeply as the idea of chowing down on newborn children would to you. She abhorred it to the extent she couldn’t even bear the thought of kissing my lips after pork had passed through them. Her parents however bred horses to be sold as meat, which is as nice an example of cultural differences as you’re likely to see. Horse meat is quite tasty, if a bit stringy, but if you’ve bought a supermarket meal in Britain over the last few years you already knew that.1

[1trust me, this was a *biting* piece of satire back in 2015]

So our top secret mission began with me being rolled over to the M&S food shop near the entrance to buy the disgusting flesh that I would next day fry. I could have perhaps managed it on my Zimmer by that point, but my top speed would mean that it would take me maybe four days to complete the round trip back to my bed.

And so the following day we again conveyed to the special training kitchen (reformatorgallery? You know what? Fuck this…). I rolled there in my chair and Pepsi (or Shirlie) followed behind carrying my Zimmer frame as it was an operation that would perhaps require the assistance of both my disability aids. Already feeling light-headed I placed the bread in the toaster (within which it would become toast, if you are unaware of the mechanics of the situation) and placed two slices of pig corpuscles underneath the grill. I soon began to feel quite horrendously ill, like Allah had glimpsed upon my deception and was not best pleased. My face changed to an even whiter shade of pale and Pepsi and/or Shirlie suggested that I might want a sit down, an offer I quickly took them up on and collapsed into my wheelchair, or at least performed an action as close to a collapse as I was able to.

The sit down afforded me a chance to coolly collect my thoughts and get my head straight, so much so that I could announce confidently that I was about to vomit. Upon hearing this one of Pepsi or Shirlie dashed out of the kitchen to retrieve something more appropriate to be sick on than a kitchen floor. The seconds I waited for her to return felt like light years whilst I was so terrified of aural evacuation, only light years that measure time not distance, you know? I furiously kept swallowing back chunks of vomit in a desperate attempt to preserve the health and safety record of the hospital’s kitchen.

She returned with my old friend the cardboard bed pan and I immediately ripped it from her hands and quickly filled it with bright yellow liquid of indeterminate source. After spending a few minutes half filling a second pan Pepsi and/or Shirlie announced that perhaps it was wise to call off the operation. I asked what would happen to the bacon, by now well-cooked underneath the grill in the corner of the room. They declared that if I didn’t want it it would be probably thrown away.

I said I didn’t want it, deciding I had obviously upset Allah far too much already and unwilling to push my luck



I had no choice, I had to finish it didn’t I?

I read that thing she posted on a blog. Sure, she denied the whole thing for a while but eventually admitted it. It’s a thoroughly modern way for a marriage to break down, though it’s the type of thing that you only hear about usually in terribly lazy soap opera storylines. I had always imagined my marriage breakdown would be slightly better written, although my own terrible attempts at writing1 deserve no better narrative flair. It was written anonymously, but I hardly needed to be either Tommy or Tuppence Beresford to work out it was her- good work changing your own name E but it doesn’t help if you leave absolutely everybody else’s name exactly the same you stupid fucking bitch!


Stupid fucking bitch!

Stupid fucking fucking bitch!

Fucking bitch!


How could she do this to me? She’s fucking broken me into tiny pieces, miniscule shards of fucking broken pride scattered all over the floor, a floor she’s merrily dancing upon. No, a floor she’s fucking that fucking dickhead on.

I’m going to slice myself into pieces, pull out all of my innards slowly and bloodily, tug out my intestine slowly and make her watch. I’m going to smear my blood and entrails in a giant malicious ‘X’ across her door to show she has torn this marriage apart. Here E, can you see now? Can you see how much blame is at your door for your venomous destruction of this once perfect relationship? This is your fault you fucking bitch!

You fucking bitch!

Ok, maybe not 100% your fault.

I think back to what she wrote. She says that it was the moment she saw me snort a line before I even started work that convinced her that maybe that guy at work who’s nice to her wasn’t such a bad idea.

Fucking bitch!

So perhaps it was 90% her fault, but I suppose I can take the blame for a tiny 10% of it.

That wasn’t just a one-off though was it? E likes the odd experimentation with narcotics every now and then, as every decent person should, but with me it’s the occasional bouts of not being drugged viciously out of my head space that were the odd experiments. Mentally I’m barely present, so it hardly matters how often I’m physically by her side. I lie next to her in bed, but my mind is somewhere far, far away. Shit, I’m fucking high now!


Been a while since my last line actually. Definitely time for another.

Ok, maybe I’ll take as much as 20%.

Actually, it might be better if it were just drugs. The biggest problems tend to arise from my drinking.

Not occasional drinking.

Not frequent drinking.

Not excessive drinking even.

My drinking is pretty much constant.

I work.

When work finishes

I drink.

To be fair, if E wanted to see me sober she should come and visit me at work, she never does that so she’s only herself to blame.

I’m drunk all the time, I’m never sober, I’m never there. E hasn’t seen her husband in years.

Her family came to visit recently, arriving at about noon. E saw that I had already drunk maybe three litres of cider that morning. That morning.

“What the fuck Alex!? What the fuck is wrong with you!? I can’t let you see my parents like this, we’re gonna have to go out for a meal, you stay here you fucking idiot! Is meeting my family so bad that you can’t even do it sober!?”

No E, reality is that bad. I can’t even consider facing reality, facing sobriety. I hate myself sober E, I need these things just to carry on, just to exist.

I didn’t say that though, I just argued with her. That’s how we communicate these days: endless arguments.

Fucking bitch…

Maybe I’ll take 30% of the blame then. Fuck it, I can probably shoulder 30%.

But she fucked someone else!

The fucking bitch!


Do I have much purchase here?

Is it really different from what I’ve done?

Sure, I’ve not fucked many other girls, but I’ve fondled, touched, kissed, hit upon. My commitment to monogamy has been lackadaisical at best.

Shit shit shit.

If this were payback she’s still massively in my debt.

It’s much more than 50%.

What about Nez? I treated E so badly, so frequently and brazenly chose another woman over her.


At least she attempted to hide her infidelities.


I wanted Nez so much


I don’t want Nez now.


I just want E.

Jesus I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Forgive me for everything I’ve done. Forgive me for finishing this marriage.


No, I’m too good for this, I’m proud for fuck’s sake! I’ve made my decision and like the strong man I am I’m gonna fucking stick to it!


You know what? This is fucking Gordon Brown’s fault, calls himself the Prime Minister yet he does absolutely nothing to stop this. This is a damning indictment of his leadership and I wonder if it will be reflected in next year’s election.

I’ve got to leave this fucking country.2

[2massively overdramatised, and I honestly don’t think I would ever refer to someone as a ‘bitch’ even back then, but the general message is pretty true]



Chairs and Blame

Our second Trauma Assessment day outing was to travel to a small courtyard in a far off corner of the hospital seemingly several country kilometres from the ward in order to place some flowers in muddy plots.


Fucking gardening.

Gardening seems to get a good rep from a lot of people, there are whole programs devoted to it, I swear, and famous people whose entire career centres around them dunking shrubs in dirt. But don’t by any means be fooled- it’s fucking boring. Watch Two Girls One Cup if you’re into that kind of perverse entertainment.

I buried my flower in my soil relatively quickly (how long can it fucking take??) and then learned that the activity astonishingly involved no further elements. We weren’t about to fire the pots high in the air and attempt to hit them with rifles or plant any magic beans with the tacit assurance that we could return the next day and busy ourselves with the bean stork that would doubtlessly grow. Such bull shit. So I instead decided to entertain myself rolling my wheelchair down an unusually steep walkway in the middle of the courtyard, turning the whole experience into a visit to some kind of low-rent amusement park. We were then informed in no uncertain terms by a nurse stationed in the women’s ward we had passed through to reach the courtyard that we absolutely wouldn’t be allowed to pass back through it. Because of this our return to our ward was delayed while one of the nurses tasked with our well-being walked through the hospital trying to find a way of opening the door that opened out onto the opposite side of the courtyard.

When we eventually headed back I decided that I would hereby remove myself from any future trips out with the group. Unless, of course, an opportunity to avenge my defeat in the last pub quiz.

My chances of winning the quiz if had greatly increased as Eric had gone to Sheffield a few days previously, and I wished that I had taken his number so I could at least ensure myself as to whether it was Disneyland or Guantanamo. My application to Sheffield was undertaking a bumpy route to completion, some occasions we were told it would be a matter of days, nay hours, before I was transferred, before just moments later being told that another hitch had been encountered. One time we were told that I would be swept over the Pennines the following Wednesday, before soon after being told that my application had been lost and that would have to be resubmitted (although I was ensured my place in the queue would remain). Sheffield was obviously attempting to make as clear as politely possible that they’d far prefer I died in Salford than have to take up my worthless cause, and by continuing to delay my arrival they were at least increasing the possibility of this happening.

Perhaps aware of the (possibly, maybe) imminent change of venue parts of my body started to realise they had been embarrassing themselves for a little too long and decided to pull themselves together somewhat. My diarrhoea ended, a change in state I greeted with as much jubilation as the end of the second World War was in the newly liberated concentration camps (I don’t think that’s an overstatement). My bowels acted like a massive clean out had been undertaken and now my crippled body was reset, an unbent paper clip had been stuck in some hard to reach hole (hmm, perhaps not the best analogy) and my whole anatomy had undergone something close to a return to the factory settings.

I began to once again feel things similar to early warning signals that a defecation was on its way and so for the first time in weeks, months I was no longer a complete slave to my body’s failures. Now when I could sense that perhaps maybe there was something brewing downstairs I would alert the nurses and the curtains around my bed were closed. My old ally the cardboard bed-pan was handed to me and I would attempt to acquire the best position to fully utilise it. Finding the perfect posture in which to crap into a thin tray while lying on your bed is an act of contortion more suited to your local neighbourhood circus/freak show, and of course perfect for the Krypton Factor, maybe even Britain’s Got Talent. After numerous failed attempts to put both legs behind my head and yet still ensure I didn’t just miss the receptacle completely I asked if there was perhaps a different method I could attempt.

I was introduced to The Chair.

The Chair was, like its name suggests, a chair. One with a hole cut out in the seat under which a bed-pan would be slid in an attempt to replicate the feeling and mechanism of your normal common or garden toilet. On there I would sit for what seemed like hours, football magazine read cover-to-cover as my body seemed never to truly accept that this really was a toilet. My bowels seemed to enjoy playing the cruel joke of failing to acknowledge The Chair as a worthy absolution recipient despite being all to happy to simply shit anywhere and everywhere not too many days before.

I found this set up was far from ideal, I didn’t feel I was really making great progress from shitting in my bed lying down to simply shitting sat down mere feet from my bed.

I was mulling this over one day, eyes glancing upon The Chair set up by my bed-side ready to be called into service at the shortest notice. I moved my eyes up millimetres and they fell upon the actual hospital toilet.

Maybe six feet away.

I quickly decided that I may as well cut out the middle man.

From that moment whenever I felt that perhaps a excavation was maybe imminent in the next few hours, or even when I decided that an appropriate amount of time had passed since my last endeavour, I would set to my Zimmer frame and bring a recent magazine into the nearby toilet. After weeks, months of just chucking out turds whenever it saw fit my bowel and sphincter was now experiencing something close to stage-fright* and any toilet expedition would take a minimum of an hour, frequently much longer.

(*When this book experiences its first, or perhaps second wave of inevitable success t-shirts emblazoned with ‘My Bowels and Sphincter Were Now Experiencing Something Close to Stage-fright will be one of the first items of official merchandise you’ll be able to purchase.)1

[1Alex, mate, you… you’ve already done that exact joke… And it’s not funny… Seriously, this book is driving me back into the hospital]

I didn’t mind in the slightest though, as there a few things as unaffectedly enjoyable for most men as simply sitting on the toilet taking a crap with a magazine with the knowledge that you’ve got nothing else to do. I was simply over the moon at the prospect of possibly house training myself again.

A definite high, and equally definitely an under-appreciated and not widely celebrated pleasure, is the feeling you get when you awake in the morning to discover that you haven’t shat yourself during the night (paved paradise, put up a parking lot). Soon all of my mornings began to consist of that spectacular euphoric moment followed by a waddled trip to the toilet where I would spend at least an hour and often far more sitting on the throne fishing for any remnants of waste that may have accumulated during the night. Eventually I’d be happy with the results and would Zimmer my way over to the bathroom sink to wash my face and hands and brush my teeth perched over the plug hole like a near perfect approximation of a real boy.

There were moments when I was hunched next to the sink splashing my face with water or scrubbing my back molars when I imagined anyone looking upon me at that very point would struggle to notice if there was anything wrong with me at all. I looked so normal, looked like there was nothing in the World wrong with me, that nothing had even happened to me, I had never done anything.

I was thinking over my own personal Pinocchio experience the time my one hand used for balance slipped on some water and I lost my hold on the sink. My perception of time slowed down, as is precisely the expected cliché to be used in times like this and I collapsed pathetically onto the bathroom floor.


Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I landed too far from any panic button to easily alert the nurses to my plight and so was forced to instead call out pitifully like a particularly weak lamb caught on a barbed wire fence, in the hope my yawp would reach the ears far beyond the bathroom door. A couple of nurses came in to help me up quickly as I simply stewed with barely contained fury.

You are never more angry toward other people than when something has caused you great pain or upset and it’s difficult to pin the blame on anyone but yourself, like the human mind is not designed to properly process self-culpability.

It’s never your fault.

Every problem, every mistake, every delusion can be traced back like you were searching back through (and frequently involving) your family tree until you finally find some branch or niche that proves at last that everything is not your fault. I simmered with righteous anger as the nurses helped me back to my zimmer frame.

How dare they?

How dare they?

How dare someone? Anyone?

Who’s fault was it that I was on the fucking floor?

Who’s fault was all of this?

Any of this?

The fucking bastards, that’s who.

It’s been 0 days since the last accident.

Days later once my furious anger toward them had dissipated somewhat the nurses suggested that I might like to take a shower. This was obviously a veiled comment on my body odour as carefully masked as an offered mint to those differently versed in clean exhalation or a discreetly proposed nappy to someone who’d just shit themselves. Regardless I still welcomed the chance to at least begin cleansing the grime and pustulence that had increasingly clung to my body over the past few weeks, months. I had also made the suggestion to Dad recently that I might soon take the wheelchair out of the hospital and have a quick look at what delights Salford held, so it would be nice to give myself a good clean ready to glance upon my adoring public once again. Give my body a sheen a little closer to the glistened Adonis the ladies are more used to. You’ve got to give the people what they want.

To get me in and out of the shower was the kind of precise military operation that would have seen Osama Bin Laden captured years before he was if only such proficiency was utilised by the American government. I Zimmered into the bathroom where I carefully stripped naked in full view of the nurse. All pretenses of shame and embarrassment had long since passed, I was surprised that I hadn’t yet been required to hang my British passport back in. I was careful to let the woman know that my penis was usually much bigger when it didn’t have a tube inserted into its Dutch knuckle. I was sat onto an in-elaborate plastic wheelchair that looked like the kind of simple device Ironsides might use if he ever fell on hard times. This chair was then wheeled delicately through an opened door in the tiny walls that surrounded the shower and the locks on the four wheels were clipped shut with a terrifying SNAP that always made me worry for the safety of the fingers of whoever was tasked with operating them. The controls were explained to me, instructions I of course completely forgot milliseconds after I was told them, as is always likely to happen. My attention was directed to to the chord to pull once I was finished and I was left to my own devices.

And so I sat and let the water pour all over me, cleansing off the thin film of grime and muck that had collected all over my skin. You usually only associate sitting in the shower with people who have recently had a breakdown or drugs overdose in a movie, wallowed tears underneath cascading rain. It’s a connection I believe attaches an unfair stigma to the practice as I believe once you’ve had a shower in a seated position you wonder why you ever bothered to stand. It combines the convenience of the shower with the relaxation provided by a nice stretch out in a bath. Back in my completely vertical days my showers would frequently end when I eventually bored of standing, as the introduction of cascading water doesn’t make standing on the spot any more exciting, but give me a good chair (or even a markedly adequate one) and my showers seemed to last hours. It’s fair to assume that I have never been as clean as I was after that first, long shower.

Clean again

House-trained again.

A real boy again.

I told Hej the good news excitably when we phoned that afternoon. She was deliriously happy too, but trumped my story. Perhaps as payback for the time on Saturday 4th May when I had maliciously outdid her surprise of visiting me.

She told me about problems her friend was experiencing, married to her husband for three years but never once being able to have sex with him. Simple, ahem, ‘docking issues’, not wanting to go into too much detail. Hej gave her advice on the issue, mindful of the fact that the husband didn’t want to get the doctors involved as he was worried the transaction may compromise his wife’s pristine virginity. I did suggest that at this point perhaps such an operation may be best served taken out of his hands. The friend passed on Hej’s suggestions to her husband who brushed them off with the wonderfully catty comment

“Well she’s obviously good at sex”

Such a brilliantly bitchy remark to abuse everyone involved that I had to simply doff my hat and applaud him.






What advice would I give J? If I were to pass on the benefit of my wisdom, the benefit of my experience, how would I advise best to treat E?





Any advice I could give wouldn’t be worth giving, it would just be examples that are such accepted common sense that to even state them would be nonsensical, like starting your advice on cooking the best spaghetti carbonara by warning not to dunk each individual strand of spaghetti in a vat of horse shit before boiling. Why would you even consider that a possibility.





Just don’t be like me.





Don’t cheat on her, don’t consider any time she’s not there as carte blanche to hit on and flirt with other girls, try and be sober at least maybe forty percent of the time, treat her with an ounce of fucking respect, realise that almost any problem you feel you have with the relationship is simply your own, simply appreciate your luck.





Oh, and don’t tell her about your dark thoughts or reflections on suicide, she doesn’t like that. Always keep those to yourself.





My relationship with E was a good test run, it allowed me to see what problems I had with such human interaction. Hej has benefited from it most, the Alex she met less than a year after my marriage’s breakdown was a far better, more rounded and considered individual. He knew how these things worked now, he could be a half-decent person to be with at last, he could be worth someone’s time.





He could be worthwhile





But of course the person who benefited most from meeting Hej was me. She compelled me to be a better person, I hardly drank with her, I never felt like I wanted to change my perception of reality even slightly, I always felt it was just perfect with her. I never wanted things to be any different when I wasn’t with her.





I don’t know what I’d do without her.






Morissette and Expeditions

Roald Amundsen set off to reach the South Pole on the 9th August 1911.

I set off on my great expedition to a local pub in Salford on 30th July 2013, and I will simply describe it as best I can so that you can come to your own decision which one was the greatest achievement.

My eldest brother was down visiting from Glasgow so he joined Dad, my wheelchair and me as we set ourselves the ambitious target of the Coach and Horses* that stood on a corner maybe a mile from the hospital’s entrance.

[fuck me, that’s actually the place. I could probably point to where we sat…]

(*Both me and my Dad struggled to remember the name of the place, so I actually put ‘pubs near salford royal hospital’ into Google and found it almost instantaneously, isn’t the internet wonderful? Although I might suggest that search engines put better blocks on people searching for drinking establishments near any clinical institution. I also struggled to evaluate the distance- my initial estimate of five hundred metres was way off- so I asked for directions from the pub to the hospital, which is a request that I imagine has a lot more benefits)

I had been told that I no longer had to wear my huge blue protective boot, so my own pair of shoes was brought in by my my Dad and I was delighted to still be able to fit one of them on my ridiculously swollen right foot. Which shoe did I pick I hear you ask? I settled on the right one after some debate. I dearly wish ‘right’ meaning correct and ‘right’ meaning the opposite of left were different spellings, this bit might have worked better. Might. It would still be pretty terrible and ultimately pointless Ultimately Pointless may be the title of this book actually, pretty fantastic and references that show I often mention. Unless maybe I can come up with something better.

Turn to the cover now.

See that title?

Better than ‘Ultimately Pointless’?

Well fuck you…

My right foot of course was no longer my right foot, the left was by this point certainly the right one and the right one absolutely wrong.

My trip there was the first time I realised that travelling by wheelchair may not be the perfect method of transit that I previously thought it to be. Something I hadn’t previously considered was that a hospital is rather wheelchair-friendly, about as wheelchair-friendly as a place can be in fact. Wonderfully flat surfaces, no slight or major inclines or declines (although I imagine a large section of the patients stationed inside had experienced quite a large decline in their quality of life recently), lovely wide doors and open spaces- a hospital is really a perfect place for anyone in a wheelchair. Five stars, must see.

Once you exit it however you quickly see that the World outside is an almost overwhelmingly hostile environment, seemingly designed and built with no concern for the differently-propelled. The streets are near impossible to saunter upon, when you’re walking you don’t appreciate just how bumpy and uneven the pavement really is (paved paradise, put up a parking lot) but when you’re in a wheelchair you feel every jolt and crag like you’ve just gone off-road in the Grand Canyon driving an ice-cream truck. Each time you travel across a grid it’s like a major earthquake threatens to throw you from your stead, and each time you take a small drop to the road to execute a zebra crossing it felt like a fall from height to challenge whatever I felt in the early hours of the 4th May. And then there’s the times you’re expected to make the leap from the road at a zebra crossing back onto the pavement, a flight upwards of maybe two inches that would usually stop me dead quite violently and would require my Dad or brother’s assistance in pulling my chair back so the front wheels could make a successful journey upwards.

Worst of all is how the addition of wheels makes every slight change to the level of the land now feels like either a sheer drop that you struggle to stop causing you to career off into the road and to your certain death or a steep climb to rival an ascent up the sheer granite side of El Capitan. The whole experience was pretty much identical to any roller coaster I’d ever seen fit to challenge and about as enjoyable for me (not at all).

I thought it important that I made the journey propelling myself rather than being pushed to best experience how my day-to-day life in a wheelchair would resemble, but there were many moments when the experience proved too difficult and I had to call on my hired help. Plus there was always the safety net of my Dad walking next to the wheelchair on the outside to best prepare for the very real danger of me careering off into the road. There was frequently a slight dip in the pavement towards it, which was pretty much a guarantee that I’d spin off into oncoming traffic.

It dawned on me that the World is about as wheel-chair friendly as the Nazi party is an equal opportunities employer. The simple trip to the pub down one straight road had been rendered a task of endurance that Hercules may have refused on grounds of it being ‘a bit much’. I had previously thought that those in wheelchairs had it all worked out, that they must have looked upon those who bothered to walk with withering derision, wondering why they took the trouble to balance themselves on two legs when the ability to scoot on wheels existed. My trip to the pub that day convinced me that maybe the ability to walk may be preferable, all things considered. Perhaps those in wheelchairs don’t have it easy after all. Wheelchair travel would actually become infinitely easier if they did just simply pave everything and replace it with parking lots.

Maybe losing the ability to walk isn’t preferable after all.

Nonetheless we were soon sat outside the Coach and Horses and I sipped on the straw leading into the first soft drink I’d bought in a drinking establishment since maybe the mid 90s. It was perhaps an expedition not as widely celebrated as Roald Amundsen, but it was completed in much less time and with much less casualties, so please come to your own conclusions. The travel back was more uphill and even more treacherous, so much so that I almost missed the start of Pointless at 5:15.

The slightest uphill trajectory…

A glimpse at how hard things could be if I ever decided to utilise my wheelchair in my day-to-day life outside the sweet safety of the hospital’s walls convinced me that perhaps it was best for me to look into alternative methods of transportation that didn’t include the slug-like pace** of the Zimmer frame. The next thing I set my eyes upon was a pair of crutches, which I had seen Justin demand, receive and fly off on at speeds approaching breakneck maybe a week or so before so I imagined wouldn’t prove to be that difficult.

(**That’s a simile that if anything is rather insulting to those languid globules, but I’ve had a long-standing phobia of slugs ever since I saw my youngest brother eating one when I was a very young child so I don’t mind disrespecting them. Come and get me slugs! Seriously though, he was peeling off the skin and eating the fleshy innards like he was unwrapping a Cadbury’s Éclair, it was a truly distressing sight, the effects of it catching my eyes had more deeper and longer-lasting ramifications than anything you’ve read in this book so far. The only thing I can remember that’s affected me in such a deplorable way is the pure terror that osmosed my very bones as I watched Christopher Lloyd’s character’s blood-curdling screams as he melted in the acidic Dip solution towards the end of Who framed Roger Rabbit. Shudder..)

They were difficult.

Very difficult.

Very, very fucking difficult.

It would be Jessica and Circus rather than Pepsi and/or Shirlie who would take on the brunt of my crutch training, and so saw me awkwardly position the two things under my armpits (that’s the crutches, not Jessica and Circus) and spend days exhibiting the kind of balance more readily associated with about seventeen shots of tequila. After transferring to the crutches and wobbling for a few minutes I’d usually get to a point where I was absolutely confident in my ability to stay standing propped up by the two things, all problems would begin when I was then required to propel myself forward.

Any movement would require me to thrust the sticks forward on the floor in unison and then hop with my good left foot until I was again between the two of them. It was in fact a trick that I would have found outrageously simple had I not been disabled, yet unfortunately I was forced to suffer the cruel irony of being rendered unable to properly use the crutches by the same affliction that meant I needed to***.

(***I should perhaps point out that I’m not entirely sure if that actually is ironic, as I’ve never been one hundred percent sure what irony truly is. It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife isn’t it? I’ve now just won a hamper as that’s officially the ten billionth Alanis Morissette irony joke ever made. That’s two mentions for Alanis Morissette now isn’t it? She’s getting far more mentions in this book than she’s getting in the music press nowadays.)

It was an escapade made all the more difficult by the fact the cleaners would always seem to time their daily mop of the ward perfectly for just before my attempts at stilt walking, meaning I was presented with the added peril of slippery floors. It seemed everyone was hell bent on creating more difficulties for me, to plan out my day like an obstacle course.

And yet I never once fell.

Never once.

The nurses were wonderful, Circus and Jessica at first, then frequently just the one of them. Watching me carefully and warning me about any problems, not allowing me to over-reach myself or move at unsound speeds. Eventually one of them would come before lunch and the other afterwards and they would watch over as I attempted to make the two hundred metre trip to my ward’s door and back again incredibly slowly. I was even eventually able to make it half way to the café with my Dad wheeling my chair behind ready to catch me when I eventually became too tired to make the last half. My speed still remained with the slugs, but at least I was beginning to understand the mechanics of how faster navigation might work.

We’re all with the slugs, but some of us are looking at the sparrows.

I hadn’t shit myself in quite a while.


29th January

I’m really upset that I won’t get to see Hej this Spring Festival, which I suppose is a good sign. The saddest thing is: if we don’t spend some of this holiday together due to our work schedules we may not see each other again for an entire day until December!!!! What kind of relationship is that?? Still, I hope she doesn’t turn this into an argument, which she currently seems to be doing, unfeasibly



Jehovah and Shyamalan

I don’t believe in an interventionist God (but I know darling that you do).

“As long as I keep my faith in the Lord I know that everything is for a reason and there will be rewards in the afterlife, I have absolute faith in his divine plan, it will all become apparent eventually”

We had a new inmate that day, a specky middle aged white guy, he was only there for a short time due to a small motorbike accident (I can’t even be bothered making up alternative injuries any more, by all means allow your imagination to run riot) but was quick to engage the nurse in a profound conversation over his deep belief in God.

“Oh yes, as long as we practice faith and do right by him we will all eventually reach salvation, whatever happens on Earth”

The nurse, a middle-aged woman of Afro-Caribbean descent, would reply enthusiastically, doing nothing to avoid encouraging him.

And so a long conversation started between the two of them as they each in turn voiced a stronger and more vigorous approval of God’s work and his being, as I just lay there hoping they wouldn’t bring me into the conversation.


Russel’s interjection was accidental.

Such vigorous religious zeal cannot help but make the non-believer feel somehow guilty in polite circumstances, like God was actually in the room and such denial of Him had made things suddenly very awkward. In non-polite circumstances a much easier get out clause is to openly laugh at such declarations, perhaps coupled with pointing at God Himself and laughing at His ridiculous sandals. He actually frequently wears sandals with socks, which the Bible fails to mention.1

[1oh noooooooooo! I’m about to talk about religion, you guys!! This is going to be *devastating*!!]

I wondered if such vociferous exclamations of people’s belief in the maker was as prevalent among people who have been granted a slightly more lucky card by God than those recovering after an accident determined by Him, borne from reasoning not yet apparent. Perhaps when something ridiculously fortunate happens in your favour you’re likely to think differently. If you’re discovered to be the only living relative of the recently deceased Boron Von Hibberchissun and inherit his vast wealth and a twelve month Netflix contract he had only recently extended you are more likely to just happily accept your fortune and start queuing up episodes of Stargate Atlantis. It seems to be far less likely that you would greet such luck my spending your every waking hour pondering what God has planned for you in the long run by bestowing upon you such glory. You certainly don’t hear of people assessing the meaning of it as being they’re obviously ear-marked for an afterlife of painfully turning your skin into crackling while demons poke tridents into your anus in hell after God saw fit to award you with such uncommon good luck as a mortal.

Wonderful luck is treated as the delicious unlikelihood that it is, but bad luck has to happen for a reason. Nobody ever looks at their lottery win and decides that the Lord is obviously telling them they need to build exactly fourteen air-conditioned churches in Gabon. No, instead they declare with wonder on the front page of the local paper how they can’t believe their luck and then set about spending the cash on persuading the finest pre-teen boys from Myanmar to blow cocaine up their bum hole using gold plated straws.

Whenever a football team is awarded a dodgy penalty or escapes an obvious red card its supporters are quick to remind people that it ‘evens itself out over the course of the season’, meaning that each team by the end of the campaign will have both benefited and suffered from bad refereeing decisions. Perhaps those on the bottom of the pile console themselves with the knowledge that it will all ‘even out over the course of the after-life’. It really would be only those at the bottom who believe this though, the only ones seeking some semblance of reason behind life’s unrelenting shit. Those who live their life experiencing uncommonly good luck don’t spend their later years wringing their hands after formulating that they’re gonna be really paying for this good run in the after-life.

Jesus was pretty clear about heaven for rich people and how difficult it was for them to enter it, at least according to Matthew, Mark and John’s* reporting of it. Luke was obviously not a fan of the camel/eye of needle analogy and chose to omit it, although he does make amends by including no less than eighteen passages noting Jesus’s opinions on his favourite James Bond, and his recollection of the resurrection actually formed the basis of the plot of the 1984 film Ghostbusters. Instead of the rich who consider themselves ‘good’ Christians paying heed to it and following Jesus’s stated order of giving away all their possessions and wealth to the poor they twist and turn the phrase until it suits them. ‘Eye of the needle’ is actually a small passageway used to enter Jerusalem (no historical evidence for this) or that the Greek word for ‘camel'(kamelos) was even a misspelling and the Greek word for ‘rope’, kamilos, was instead intended (very weak evidence for this, as you can probably already imagine by how ridiculously tenuous it seems). The words are twisted and bent until the pretty clear parable’s actual meaning is that it’s easier for a rich man to enter heaven than it is ‘a sausage to float down the Thames’ or ‘a milkman’s tiny willy to slip into your mum’s huge smelly fanny’ (that last reading is admittedly made by the more profane scholars). Those at the bottom see religion as offering some eventual salvation once this awful mortal life mercifully ends, while those at the top read the bible as Jesus winking at them, extended a thumb and saying ‘Hey rich people, you’re doing all right!’.

(*The Quran’s reporting of it is slightly different, widening the net to everyone ‘who reject Our signs and treat them with arrogance’, which I read as a simple promise that you won’t get into heaven if you’re a bit of a twat. I imagine they didn’t feel the need to really egg the charity pudding here seeing as giving a certain percentage of your money to charity if you can afford it is already one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Along with prayer, pilgrimage, fasting and to understand the difference between ‘there’, ‘they’re and ‘their’ before writing anything, especially if it’s a post on the internet laying out your ill-informed, ill-thought out and piggish opinion that nobody wants to hear anyway- ‘The reason I hate imiggants is that there takin all are jobs’. I imagine there’s rich Islamic scholars who have read deep into the requirement of Zakat as actually being a mistranslation from its original meaning, where it actually demands those with money spend a certain percentage of it at titty bars and on high quality grot.)

God only really enters the equation for the slightly more blessed by serendipity when people don’t like to admit that luck was involved, so someone with access to an offensively grandiose lifestyle by virtue of nothing more than being the son of the son of the son of the son of the guy who was awarded handsomely by the government when slavery became illegal and he required bountiful reparations for the sudden lack of the workforce he had reaping crops on his vast swathes of land is more likely to have a belief system based upon them being ‘chosen’ by God. In reality of course, they really should just shrug their shoulders while grinning from ear-to-ear and blurt out ‘I know! How lucky am I?’ before setting about their daily tasks that revolve around young boys, cocaine, anuses and gold straws.

I really have very little idea what rich people do with their money, but I think I’m at least close to hitting the nail on the head.

My relationship with God was a little complicated, as most people’s are I imagine. I struggle to think of a more difficult person/alien/robot/thing to embark upon a sordid liaison with.

He’s a nightmare.

He’s an absolute impossible irritant to such an extent that nobody’s even entirely sure if He’s a he rather than a she due to Him or Her being so infuriatingly secretive. He or She refuses to make His or Her existence more obvious as He or She believe that’d be ‘too easy’ and wouldn’t require an adequate amount of faith. I find that this is a line of behaviour rarely accepted in day-to-day life, if you simply chide the ATM for its lack of trust when it asks you for your pin number you can’t expect it to still throw a few notes in your direction.

And needy?? Christ He or She’s needy (or alternatively that could simply read Christ: S/He’s needy). He or She barely allows anyone to do anything without checking in with a prayer, like a phone call to your Mum when you get to your friend’s house to ensure her you arrived safely. And even though God did create the World, and very well done for that, He/She has such an oppressive ego (the oppressive ego may in fact mean He’s more likely to be a man to be honest) that He/She simply demands to be thanked for everything at every fucking opportunity. God is an especially sensitive girl/boyfriend who never answers your calls but whose delicate self-esteem takes a damaging knock if you don’t write on his/her Facebook wall every chance you get.

Whatever good that happened to you since you last talked better be brought up and God thanked for it or there’ll literally be hell to pay. Even if nothing particularly good has happened you sure as shit better thank Him/Her again for inventing the World, you, your Mum, your children, your soft furnishings, your Xbox 360 (James Allard is reportedly pretty peeved over losing responsibility for that accomplishment, but God is notoriously difficult to reach for complaints), just fucking thank the fucker for being such a bloody nice chap or he’ll turn your wife to salt or some shit.

I’m guessing it’s the same God for Muslims, He or She just likes playing his admirers off each other and seeing which groups of people he can convince to leave certain foods off their diet. Pig was a great success with various groups, but he could never quite get shell fish to really fly with the Christians. God actually spent a lot of energy and marketing trying to convince the Jews not to eat dodos after its appearance in Alice in Wonderland in the mid-19th century only for it to die off infuriatingly soon afterwards and the whole enterprise was an embarrassingly costly failure to rank alongside New Coke. He or She tells some Muslims to pray five time a day, which is the kind of self control usually associated with only the most abusive of relationships. I don’t know what these prayers consist of, are they just moments when your head is completely cleared of outside thought and the expulsion of the surrounding World brings you closer to God, similar to how medication is sold to you? Or are you supposed to spend each session thanking him gushingly for whatever happened recently, which unless you lead a particularly blessed life I imagine there’s going to be a lot of overlap if you’re doing it five times a day? Or are you merely supposed to call in for a chat, maybe a bit of a gossip?

“Hi G, me again, not been up to much these past couple of hours if I’m completely honest, took a pretty big dump about half an hour ago and picked up a pint of milk. Oh! I saw Doreen on the way to the shop, you will not believe how fat she’s got…”

As a child I was a big God fan, he was maybe up there with He-Man and the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, probably because my Primary school was a small Church of England one. There were maybe around a hundred students in the entire school and we would sit and pray as a group in assembly every morning. Apart from the two kids whose family were Jehovah’s Witnesses, who got to stay in the classroom seeing as their parents had already witnessed God so there was really little we could tell them, as I understand it anyway. We were taught something close to creationism at a young age if the subject was broached at all. One teacher would use the old ‘why are there still monkeys today then??’ argument which is still thrown about today by millions of people who obviously consider even having the slightest background understanding of what evolution is as tantamount to blasphemy. Every assembly would start with a reading from the bible, which I would dearly wish was from the brilliant and bat shit mental Old Testament rather than the dull as dog’s cock New. The arrival of Jesus really poops the party in the bible as far as excitement goes. I mean, what the fuck really happens in the New Testament? Guy with a beard turns up and tells a few parables? Boring. Decent twist at the end admittedly, which I won’t spoil here, but I think the career of M Night Shyamalan proves that often isn’t enough to propel a decent narrative.

I would also frequently throw in a prayer or two on my own time, meaning I was still in conversation with The Almighty way less than half as much as your average fundamentalist Muslim. I can’t remember what I would say to or ask of Him, and it was definitely a him at that point, but the very fact I can’t recall suggests nothing especially miraculous came of it. Perhaps I only saw fit to ask for really tedious things, like ice cream to be served as desert at school dinners at some point that month, or for a trip to Tesco’s at the weekend.

I suppose I did have a lot to be thankful for, God had already seen fit to reward me with being a white male, which is pretty much making life as easy for you as is possible, even if he threw ginger hair in there to mix it up a little. As a white male the worst you really have to deal with is the embarrassment of other white males claiming that it’s now them that are the oppressed group, like they envy the coolness bestowed upon you if you’re members of a downtrodden ethnicity. Basically the biggest and near only difficulty a white male can be subjected to is listening to other white males saying how difficult it is to be a white male. That and reading about the latest horrific rape or sexual assault committed (there’s probably been one committed and reported about in the time it’s taken you to read this sentence) and thinking ‘God damn it! You’re really making us look bad…’.

I became less devout as I aged (because… y’know… science) until I eventually found very little reason to believe that anything in life is led or influenced by anything close to a God, though it was admittedly difficult to let some of the fruitier stories of the Old Testament go, like first learning that Father Christmas’s existence was unlikely. Samson and Delilah was a particularly difficult one to lose, especially as the Tom Jones song was no longer historically viable. Perhaps as a result of this I began to see continued confidence in God’s existence as strangely childish and under-educated, which coming from someone as pathologically childish and under-educated as myself is quite a claim.

Later in life though, tied in with the release of Richard Dawkin’s ‘The God Delusion’, people started to refer to themselves as ‘atheists’ with the sort of unshakable confidence as one loudly proclaiming himself to be a Stoke City fan and with arrogant pride more akin to celebrating how you’d just completed the most difficult level of Grand Theft Auto V. I didn’t understand what was so worth being proud about, like being intensely self-satisfied that you’ve noticed the sky turns darker at night, some things are so self-evident that to celebrate knowing them is like introducing yourself to someone by first pointing out that you put your own shoes on.

Surely to still have faith in some religion, despite about septillion** measurable scientific reasons that you shouldn’t, more exhibits something to be proud of? To hold an unshakeable belief that you’re mentally strong enough to keep grasping hold of despite all evidence to the contrary, doesn’t that require more fortitude than to simply cop out and declare that whatever science can prove as being incontrovertible fact is fact? I mean, how easy is that?

(**Septillion is, since you asked, 1’000’000’000’000’000’000’000’000 in American terms and a whopping 1000’000’000’000’000’000’000’000’000’000’000’000’000’000 in old British counting, which is such an unwieldy and ridiculously large number that to even acknowledge its existence has filled me with rage, so I feel I should clarify by pointing out that once again I’m referring to the American scale)2

[2Christ, Alex, you can just *not* write things, you know?]

So I decided that I would believe in God, believe that God was a ‘he’ with unkempt facial growth rather than a full beard, he wears a faded Levelers tour t-shirt and a friendship bracelet he picked up from Marbeya in 1998, he owns a pair of battered Doc Martins that he wears for special occasions but you’re more likely to see him kicking back in a pair of Crocs. I simply accept the fact that he is, above everything, a bit of a twat. He enjoys playing games with his creations, pitting them against each other like he’s organising a dog fighting ring. He has no concept of what people deserve and what they don’t, he enjoys the good being punished and the bad reveling in punishing them.

God’s a cunt.

Put that on the cover.

Hej asked for my help in planning an open lesson that was going to be watched by her school’s leaders. There are few things as nerve-shreddingly terrifying to a teacher as an open lesson, the fear that the great secret that you’re terrible at your job will finally be exposed is formidable. The lesson was to be on the start of the universe, which I thought would be a nice interesting topic before I realised it was mostly centred around the reading of about one thousand words of heavy scientific English of the sort you might expect to study late into secondary school and I couldn’t imagine how a group of intermediate to lower 16-18 year old Chinese students were supposed to grasp such high English concerning as challenging a concept as the Big Bang. Nevertheless we brainstormed ideas that might at least pique the students’ interest.

“I think I’ll start the class by asking the students how the Universe started. We can talk about different culture’s ideas” she conceived

“Yeah, there’s at least a small chance that’ll get the bastards attention. Small chance”

“I might talk about that famous Western myth”

“What famous Western myth?”

“You know the one, God made everything in a week but he had a rest on Sunday”

The ‘Western myth’ she was talking about was creationism, the ridiculously silly idea that some people in countries that claim to be intelligent fight to teach as fact. I had never thought of it as a ‘Western myth’ before, foreigners and far off lands have ‘myths’, we have ‘alternative theories’.

“What’s the Muslim theory?”

I realised that I didn’t know, hoping that it would be some spectacular tale perhaps involving a duck billed platypus and a war with the cylons.

“Allah created everything”


It was disappointingly anodyne if I’m being honest..


So angry.





So angry, so angry, so angry.





She doesn’t believe that I have anything else in my life? That it simply had to be about her?





That I’d have no other reason to do it?





Who’s saying I did do it anyway?





If I did there’d be plenty of other reasons.











Support and Satisfactory Conclusions

When the news came through I was stood at the foot of my bed with Jessica. Jessica’s remit had begun to spread far further than foot fetishes recently. Perhaps the idea of spending much more of her time simply poking and kneading my stenchy bottommost extremities was driving her to intense depression and she pleaded for the torture to be curtailed a little. That particular day, that particular second Jessica was helping me carry out my daily exercises, which consisted of holding onto the bed rails for balance and bending my right knee to lift my foot up behind me slightly. In the absence of working parts my right foot had become merely a heavy weight attached to my lower leg, less a decent and workable part of my body and more now an offensively unelaborate work-out tool.

I was told I would be moving to Sheffield the day after next.

I greeted the news with the delighted glee you’d more readily associate with being told a trip to Disneyland was scheduled, before then allowing myself to be overwhelmed with the kind of dread you’d expect from someone told to expect to be shipped out to Guantanamo the next day. Although now I think about it I’m not sure you’re given such heads up with regards to detention or extraordinary renditions, I imagine the first you’ll hear of it is when you’re bundled aggressively into a white van outside Pizza Express. I imagine it must be really down-heartening to own a white van, as there are plenty of reported incidents of people giving white van men a bad name. The hashtag #NotAllWhiteVans deserves to trend. Although if I owned one myself I can’t imagine I’d be able to resist scrawling ‘free sweeties’ on the side in crude smudged paint and have a arrow pointing to the doors, mainly to see the reaction when I left it parked outside a local primary school.

I had already been told that I would be required to wear my own clothes, so I asked Mum to buy me some sweat pants. Any pairs of trousers I already owned were designed more for aesthetic rather than practical reasons, practically Jim Morrison leather levels, and I imagined the ability to put on and, perhaps more importantly, remove the things were of tantamount importance. I asked Dad to bring whatever shirts he liberated from my flat in China, which consisted mostly of football shirts owned from way back before I even left for the country. I made some pitiful attempts at goodbyes, but I couldn’t well track down every nurse in the hospital to give my thanks, and any patient I had really got to know had long left by that point.

The morning eventually came where all my possessions were gathered together ready for dispatch, a task made all the easier by the fact that at that point I owned very little apart from my ever-growing collection of magazines I kept mainly for perusing during my long drawn out excretions. The hospital passed on to me the piles of x-rays they had received from my hospital in Urumqi. Large, ominous, negative (in both senses) photo sheets that displayed picture upon picture of my broken bones, although without a ‘before’ picture to aid comparison it was difficult to really pin-point what bits weren’t what they were meant to be. I took it on trust that what I was looking at was generally all fuckity bollocksed.

My details were stamped on the top left of every page- 名字: ALEX, 年龄: 30.


Those bastards!

I was twenty fucking nine and felt about as far from thirty as it was possible to be, but instead I had fallen awful victim to the cruel Chinese measure of age that instead counted the day your were born as your first birthday rather than the one that celebrated your one year anniversary of your escape through the vagina. As much as it pained me to admit it, the method made all kinds of sense. If I’d have known Urumqi hospital were planning to refer to me as one so decrepitly old I would have demanded to be just left on the pavement outside to die.

I mentally etched a mark in the ‘against’ column in my own personal score of how much I actually appreciated being scooped off that dirty stone floor.

I wonder how long it would have taken me to pass?

Would I actually have died thirty?

The hospital were unwilling to lose the service of a wheelchair to a rival and I wasn’t really close to the level required to use my crutches permanently, so I was sent away with only my trusted Zimmer frame as company. They at least afforded me the use of the chair to get outside and into the waiting mini-bus designed to sweep me across the Pennines. Our first stop was to be in neighbouring Wythenshawe hospital though to pick up an old woman who was being flitted even further afield to Sunderland for reasons not shared and I cared not enough about to ask.

“Oh this is small isn’t it? I don’t think I’ll be able to stay in here long”

The elderly woman that we were picking up muttered dismayed as she was rolled up the ramp into the back, immediately setting out her stall to complain about absolutely everything at every possible opportunity. She admirably kept up throughout.

She shouted through to the driver:

“How long’s it going to take me?”

“About three hours for you Mildred”

Was something similar to what the driver shouted back over his shoulder, although to be perfectly honest I can’t really remember her actual name, but ‘Mildred’s the type of thing these old people you see about are called isn’t it? Being a sprightful, youthful man of twenty nine I of course found it especially difficult to empathise with the views of such a decrepit fogey.

“Oh no” she replied angrily while narrowing her eyes “That’s far too long, are we going to stop?”

“No Ethel, straight there”

“Oh no…”

She slumped back into her wheelchair.

The route between Manchester and Sheffield is one of the most beautiful in Britain, a delightful agglomeration of cliffs, fields, rocks and plants arranged in a way many people would see fit to describe as aesthetically pleasing. Describing landscape or nature is definitely not one of my strong points, one of the reasons my stint on The English Garden magazine was as short lived and acrimonious as Brian Clough’s spell at Leeds. It was also a massive dent to my confidence so soon after being sacked from Top Gear Magazine after I described the latest Alfa Romeo as merely having a ‘nice colour and spacious glove compartment’.

Across the hills and fields there were sheep dotted around happily going about their own business, either resigned to or completely disinterested in the fact that their entire life would consist of little else beside eating, fucking and shaving. It might perhaps strike some members of more evolved species as abhorrently dull. Some members, a great deal, maybe most members of the human race would see a life consisting of nothing else but eating, fucking and shaving as being close to heavenly.

I wondered if my life would now descend into such a tedious vacuum, but quickly assured myself that it wouldn’t, as I doubted I’d be able to get up to any fucking.

“Are you off to Sunderland too?”

Elsie shot the question at me as I surveyed the violent and striking landscape.

“No, Sheffield actually”

“Oh I see, so you must have had an accident climbing these cliffs then”

She was slightly confusing cause and destination.

“Well… erm… no, I actually did this in China”

I corrected her while thinking that if I did fall from a cliff deep in the Pennines while out climbing on my own it would be days, weeks, months before I was found, and perhaps I’d be granted the simple release of death rather than this pathetic struggle on the side-lines, pushing myself physically to the limits to achieve and complete tasks that are achievements barely worth even commemorating as an adult human being. My latest and greatest accomplish had been to go almost a week without shitting myself, was this really worth escaping death for?

This is no ‘life’ worth saving.

Countless etches in the ‘against’ column.

Beatrice had no time for whatever existential thoughts that were rolling around my mind though, and exhibited little evidence that she had even heard my response, instead just shouting through at the driver.

“How long is it going to take love?”

“I’ve told you Agnatha! It’ll take us about two and a half more hours before we get to Sunderland”

“Oh no‘” Agnes hadn’t grown any more disposed to the idea since she was last told “Are we going to stop anywhere along the way? A cup of tea or something? A Scone?”

She never asked if they could stop for a scone of course, I simply added that in post-production as it really plays to this nice ‘old woman’ stereotype that I’ve got going on at the moment. She asked for the possibility of a tea stop, but I simply editorialised that this character would also probably ask for a scone. Flora really is being bent to and ravished by the whims of my writing here and I do sincerely apologise.

No Geraldine!” the driver’s voice became slightly more strained “We’re going straight there, you can have a cup of tea once we get to Sunderland”

“Oh no…”

Winifred looked just as disappointed and crestfallen as she had done the first time she was informed of her fate. I suppose the worst thing about any form of Alzheimer’s is that any kind of bad news you’re likely to hear again and again and again and it never gets any easier to handle or come to terms with. The old woman was not in any way happy with the time it was going to take her to reach Sunderland and was doomed to keep hearing the bad news until she got there, never once having the ability to take the information on board or the chance to really come to terms with her misfortune.

“Are you going to Sunderland?”

“No” I answered, trying my best not to exhibit any signs of my mild frustration “I’m off to Sheffield”

“Oh” Elsie raised her eyebrows in surprise “So you must have had a fall when you were out climbing these rocks”


I replied this time with a short and sharp answer, thinking that if I were to be continuously asked the same question it may be best to keep my answers as succinct as possible. It was a failed attempt to shorten the conversation.


Mabel’s eyes widened again with surprise. Alzheimer’s is a great affliction if you enjoy experiencing the unexpected, as you were likely to experience a single revelation ad infinitum. Why me not being injured on the rocks of the Pennines was such a continued and repeated source of surprise to Millicent was unclear

“So what did you do then?”

“It was in China actually”

“What happened in China?”

“Just… it was just… just a fall…”

Just a fall.

We eventually reached Sheffield city centre, which was as wonderfully labyrinthine and illogically composed as many British city centres. I think we should celebrate how preposterous our city centres are and how angrily opposed they are to be traversed by cars, it’s a wonderful randomness and insanity that stands as a gloriously unreasonable protest against common sense and town planning.

“This isn’t the right way!”

Dora was predictably angry at this illogical trip through Sheffield on route to Sunderland and shouted her displeasure through to the driver.

“You’re going the wrong way!”

“We’re going to Sheffield to drop Alex off first Iris”

“Oh” she turned our attention to me once again “Are you going to Sheffield?”


“You must have got that injury climbing those rocks”


It took us a while to locate Sheffield hospital and longer still to work out where on Earth the Spinal Injuries Centre was. After two or three or ten or a thousand times getting stuck up one way streets and countless questions shouted by the driver out the window to passing doctors, nurses and security guards we were able to finally locate the Princess Royal anointed precinct. The dedicated Spinal Injuries Centre lay at the bottom of a steep hill, with a sharp zig-zagging road leading down. The hospital was obviously mindful of not letting the physically disabled escape easily. A sign before one route down informed us that there was ‘No wheelchair access’. Of course there wasn’t, why would anyone in a wheelchair want to access the Spinal Injuries Centre?

I said goodbye to Myrtle, who looked confused as to why I was getting off here rather than in Sunderland but thought best not to ask. A wheelchair was presented to shuttle me to my new quarters, through a large and spacious meeting room and into a lift up to the wards on the first floor. I was told that due to me coming from China I would be holed up in my own room until they were more confident that I wasn’t festering some wonderfully exotic foreign disease merely waiting for the opportune moment to latch onto the hospital’s other patients and strike them down, although the fact that I had spent the last two months happily sharing space with all sorts of people in Salford suggested to me that they were actually more worried about the hotbed of disgusting ailments that is Greater Manchester.

My room was a decent size, large wardrobe and free television, and doors that led out onto a balcony overlooking the car park. It certainly wasn’t as nice to some hotel rooms I’d previously stayed in but it certainly wasn’t as bad as many others. I Zimmered round my room hanging up my clothes while I waited to be visited by nurses to be given my full orientation.

When they came the first questions I was sure to ask were the location of the toilet and where I could get my hands on fresh nappies from, as I was still changing the ones I’d been wearing the previous day every morning, even if it had been such a long time since I’d crapped myself. It was all relative of course, I don’t think most adult would refer to the week or so since they’d last shit their pants as a ‘long time’. They’d probably consider it devastatingly recent.

“We actually don’t believe in them here at Sheffield, we simply trust our patients in their ability to make it to the toilet by themselves and we believe that throwing people in at the deep end works as a good incentive. The toilets just left down the hall there”

It sounded like it would be rather important for me to know the location of that.

What hippy bullshit was this? A baby doesn’t learn to cook his own dinner just because you remove the option of you doing it, what you’re going to have on your hands there is a dead baby. I voiced these concerns, though I felt it necessary to remove any references to dead babies.

“A lot of people aren’t confident that they’ll be able to do it, but you’ll surprise yourself I guarantee, I bet it’s been a long time already since you’ve needed the safety of your nappy hasn’t it?”

She was right, and I slowly began to come round to the idea. Perhaps I was so mollycoddled back in Salford that it was slowing down my recovery. Perhaps if I’d have been subjected to such tough love from the immediate aftermath of the accident I’d already be running marathons now and being considered an outside bet for inclusions in the England squad for the following summer’s World Cup. Instead as it was the possibility of my inclusion hadn’t been mentioned in any major national paper, even in passing. Besides, even when I did go to the toilet for my business it would take me at least an hour of patient sitting before any satisfactory conclusions, so it’s not as if the time it would take me to reach the toilet down the hall was really of the essence.

I spent the rest of the day mostly clicking through the hospital television’s pathetically small selection of channels and trying to work out what I was supposed to do in the evenings now I could no longer watch either BBC3 or Dave. I suppose for the sake of how much of a learned intellectual it makes me sound I should probably point out that I was also greatly going to miss the ability to watch documentaries about eastern European architecture on BBC4, there was an exciting eighteen part program examining the influence of Nicolae Ceausescu on Romanian verandahs of the late twentieth century that I was particularly looking forward to.

Suddenly my stomach raised its eye-brows at me in suggestion that it may have been ready to test out the new hospital’s facilities. I took to my Zimmer frame and shuffled out the doors to my bedroom and began the journey down the corridor to the toilets that stood at the end of it. However I had obviously been the victim of some cruel prank, as the corridor was at least seventy six times longer than what it was when I previously looked down it, and my speed of movement in my trusted Zimmer had been similarly compromised, the slug I was before had now had its legs broken.

Slugs don’t have legs do they?

Therein probably lies the problem.

The slug I had been before had had its slime broken. The raised eyebrows of suggestion from my stomach turned into coughs of impatience, cries of displeasure before finally its fists were smashing glass and the alarm button was being pounded frantically.


22nd March

Is it worth it? It was so amazing seeing Hej again (sorry I didn’t write yesterday but, y’know, a man has his priorities!) and the sex was MIND-BLOWING (the first was a fantastic, passionate all-over-the-bed kind of affair, the 2nd was a wonderful, slow, sensual experience, making great use of the massage oil, and the third was a fantastic, feral, animal FUCK) and I really loved just doing nothing with her, lying with her while she watches TV and I play on my phone. And it was so wonderful to have her in my arms while we slept.

But… When she left it was just horrible all over again, and now I feel about 150% more lonely than I ever felt before. Is it going to be this terrible every time she leaves?? I’ve never been in this situation before- we both love each other so much, but we’re so happy in each other’s company that the pain of parting is so much we shouldn’t be together.

Sigh… This is turning out to be even more difficult than I had anticipated…

This is going to be a very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very very difficult year.



Wind and Thundery Lightning

I could feel the excrement leaving my body and begin to slide down my newly acquired boxer shorts and make its mark down the back of my legs. I still was quite a distance away from the toilets but now was too scared to move my legs quickly as I feared any movements too large would shoot flying flecks of poo out of the bottom of my trouser legs and all over my surroundings like an exploding Mr Creosote, so I tried to make the final few feet marching awkwardly and terrified like the Tin man trying his best to hold in a fart in front of his fiancée’s parents. All the time I kept periodically feeling new ejections from my body fire out into my underwear and slide down the back of my leg.

It was all I could do to not simply give up there and then, fall to the floor in a pile of my own shit and simply scream out to the rafters. What was reaching the toilet going to do now anyway? This horse had not only bolted but had shot its crap everywhere whilst doing so.

I just





Eventually I did reach the toilet though, sat on the throne and whipped off my shoes, trousers and underwear, looking upon the absolute shower of crap that had been sprawled all over them and realising I wasn’t going to be able to put them back on. Dejected, I pulled the panic button cord in the toilet to alert the nurses to my plight.

As I sat on the toilet naked from the waist down, waiting for a nurse to respond to my call, the back of my legs caked in crap and surveying the pile of my shitty clothes that lay on the floor surrounding my feet I thought of how lucky E was to have great support from her family at such a difficult time for her.

A nurse arrived quickly and did well to hide the near overbearing feelings of disgust she so obviously harboured. Although I imagine nurses would always breathe a slight sigh of relief when they’re alerted to an accident in the toilet only to see the damage as being merely crap-related. It’s certainly one of the lesser evils of hospital bathroom related mishaps- there are far less forms to fill out and awkward questions to answer if there’s no visible forms of physical harm.

It was a particularly low moment, the hospital had trusted me with being able to control my own bowel movements like a fucking toddler and I had failed at the first hurdle. It was immediately clear that the hospital I had moved into far outweighed my abilities as a patient.. I had proven myself not to be anywhere close to being as capable as an adult human, not even near to being functional. A complete physical failure. They really ought to have taken me out the back and shot.

My trousers and underwear were so soiled that they were now useless and after wiping my legs down the nurse fetched a hospital gown that could be worn to protect my dignity as I Zimmered back to room seven. I hadn’t yet moved the rest of the trousers and underwear that my parents had bought to the Sheffield hospital, so all I could do while I waited for my dirtied clothes to be cleaned was simply pull my hospital sheets over my waist and hope that any twisting and turning during my sleep wouldn’t expose my secrets out of some uncovered corner. I no longer had a nappy to protect my embarrassment, as much as a nappy can ‘protect’ an adult’s embarrassment. In the end I needn’t have worried as I barely got a moment’s sleep, instead infused with a new sense of despair and loneliness I instead spent most of the night staring into the dark around my bed, hoping some hidden horror movie killer would burst out with a bloody cleaving knife and release me from this horrific prison of life.

I had rarely felt more alone than I did that first night encased within my new empty room, no sounds of the snoring or garbled complaints from the fellow patients on my ward, no nurses flitting about the room intermittently. This is the white noise you begin to rely on surrounding you in the dark. Here even the dark itself had started to seem that little bit darker than it previously had. I could have perhaps pulled back the curtains blocking out the external light from the corridor outside, but I couldn’t very well risk potentially mooning the entire hospital, which I understand counts as an act of treason in an NHS establishment.

It seemed to hit me most viciously just how far away I currently lay from a normal life, the force had never hit me so devastatingly before. I dismayed myself with the thought of how I would probably never again quickly run to the corner shop before it shut to get a six pack of beer to suffuse myself with before meeting friends out on the town in a couple of hours. Would I be able to even get to town? To the pub? And if I managed all that would I be able to make it to the bar to get my round in? And to do all that without shitting myself? In previous moments of despair there was always the chance that I could pull myself out of the chasm I had caught myself in by trying to convince myself that tomorrow was another day, that there was always the chance, however small, that things could quite possibly get better.

But now?

I wasn’t sure they ever would, this could be it for me.

It’s a dangerous circle of hell to get yourself stuck in, endlessly revolving into tighter and tighter circles of hopelessness. Suddenly the complete rejection from two of my best friends began to truly hurt me for the first time. Truly hurt me. One of these friends I had been near inseparable through school and college and one who I had considered such a good egg that I had decided to marry and even after that jolly little tryst fell apart still remained one of my closest confidants. I wanted to tell them about my latest instance of shitting myself, and I imagined how funny it would sound and I imagined how that laughter would improve my mood.

Right now unfortunately the joke was somewhat lost on me.

I wanted somebody to laugh with.

Suddenly the three thousand seven hundred and twenty five miles (give or take) that lay between me and Hej extended its length.

Still, I still didn’t feel as abjectly despondent as I did when I moved to Urumqi.

I had previously lived and taught close enough to Hej that I could see her almost everyday, go to sleep with her every night and wake up to her every morning. On weekends we’d both be free and spend every waking second in each other’s company. I realise that I’m supposed to use this space to crack a few jokes about how I could never get rid of her, how I just wanted a bit of ‘me’ time, but I’m afraid I can’t do that. As you’ve probably noticed by this point anyway any jokes I attempt are likely to fall flat on their stupid ugly faces, so if anything you should be thankful. I can’t think of a time, no matter how deeply we were caught in the throes of one of our many and frequent arguments, that I didn’t want to spend in her company. You now have my permission to vomit.

The problems arose when I decided that I wanted to change my job after more than two and a half years battling with teens at Dushanzi Number 2 Middle School. I told her I wanted her to come with me, told her that I would find her a job at whatever school would have me, or if not then I would quite happily pay for the both of us with what I earned and she could do whatever the fuck she wanted, I just wanted to be able to come home to her.

She could concentrate on raising our children.

She refused. She couldn’t risk leaving the place she’d been born and grew up in, leave her job and all her friends in the blind hope that I would always feel the same about her and her about me, it was a jump she was unwilling to take.

She couldn’t face how much it would upset her family.

And so we reached an impasse.

Eventually Hej found the details of a school in Urumqi and it seemed like a decent way to meet both of our requirements.

So it proved, as it rendered us both equally unhappy.

Now we would try to visit each other once every week or two, but with her days off being Saturday and Sunday and mine usually being Monday and Tuesday a ‘visit’ would consist of a three and a half hour bus journey to wait in the other person’s house until they got out of work about eight or nine in the evening, and an uncommonly late night was generally out of the question as one of the two of us would have work the next day. I should have either stayed close to Hej or shown the cold courage to move away completely and cut all ties with the woman I loved. As it was a miserable concurrence was reached and gloom was spread out evenly between us. I had a wonderful dog called Rogen* that I had to abandon with a delighted Filipino woman who lived downstairs from me in the block of flats reserved for foreign teachers when I left Dushanzi, and not an evening passed when my empty and lonely flat seemed ever so emptier and lonelier to come home to when Rogen wasn’t there to greet me when I returned from work. So that night in Room 7 of the Osborne ward of Sheffield hospital’s Princess Royal building I found no solace in the ridiculously optimistic hope that things would get better, rather I consoled myself with the fact that I’d certainly in the past felt worse.

(*Named after the actor Seth for reasons too boring to list here1. I had initially decided to call him ‘Franco’ after the other actor James until a friend pointed out that perhaps it wasn’t a great idea to name my dog after a 20th century Spanish dictator, such things might give people ideas)

[ooooh, so I *do* have some sort of sense of what’s too boring to include…?]

My trousers and underwear were clean and dried by the next morning and it was decided that my experiment with Room 7 had not been entirely successful so I was transported across the hall to Room 5 which seemed a lot more suited to my current abilities, seeing as it came with its own ensuite toilet and shower. I lost my balcony, but if I’m being completely honest that meant very little to me- just because you offer me the option of enjoying the sunshine outside it certainly doesn’t mean I’m going to do it at all frequently, or ever.

My mood was brightened significantly by a wonderful achievement being unlocked** when my Mum brought her personal computer from home and I could leech myself onto the ward’s Wi-Fi service. The first thing I did as soon as I could access the internet was to request to be sent divorce papers. I wanted to show to E as quick as I could how little I cared about her stupid fucking divorce.

(*** That might be the nerdiest reference I’d used so far, I may try to outdo it later on when I plan to describe one of my fellow patients as looking astonishingly similar to Venomoth. To be completely honest I don’t know what Venomoth looks like so any one of my colleagues in trauma could have looked exactly like him. Or her? I think I might just have out-nerded myself)

How long would I have to wait after the divorce until E would not assume any death or accident was down to her all-encompassing importance to me?

Most importantly I could now sign into Skype (other internet video calling services are available. Actually, are they?) and I saw Hej’s beautiful face for the first time in more than two months.

“Why are you crying?” I asked her.

“Windy thundering lightning here. I have to be lonely for a long time. I should get used to it”



Stomachs and Sunnybrook Farm

My good friend Kamal (I mentioned him before didn’t I? Well just refer back to when I did. I’m pretty sure he’s played a recurring part in this play so far, or at least an occasional well-received cameo) sent me a package while I was at Sheffield. While it wasn’t the jiffy bag stuffed full of kilograms of mind-altering narcotics I had hoped for, his gift of his old PSP handhold games system was nonetheless well received. I became quite enamored with the system’s internet radio function, especially with Q101, an American radio station that simply played wall-to-wall 90s guitar music. Actual human disc jockeys occasionally appeared in between-song idents talking about how much they loved the album ‘Dookie’ by Green Day or eulogising about how amazing it was first hearing the band Tool, pieces that were merely advertising the very station I was already listening to (job done fellas, take a break). The great irregular and uncontrollable risk of human voice was never trusted at any other time though, and instead the stream of alternative 90s rock was only broken by the odd advert for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago or Klein screwdrivers or instructions on how to advertise here. Much of my time in Sheffield hospital was sound-tracked by grunge music, a sentence that has very possibly not been written down for a good twenty years at least..

By that point I had already received my daily deep vein thrombosis fighting tinzaparin injection countless times. Well, not countless at all really is it? I could very well work it out by calculating the number of days I had spent in UK hospitals, I wouldn’t even need to calculate weekends or bank holidays- once a day, simple enough. However I think for reasons purely down to narrative impact I’m going to describe the amount of times as ‘countless’ if that’s Ok with you. ‘Maybe seventy or eighty times’ just doesn’t quite have the same effect does it? Sometimes it’s best to ignore the stone cold facts and instead approach things from a slightly more abstract stand point, such minor exaggeration fuels the punch I find.

Each and every time one was administered I was sure to make an explicit point of not being able to watch as the needle punctured my skin. I’m not entirely sure why I did that, I don’t really have a fear of needles of any sort, gimme needles all day baby. I’m not their biggest fan, admittedly, but who is? How often do you meet people who list their interests as ‘jogging, needles, Frank Turner’? It’s a Match.com entry you’re unlikely to respond to, and not just because of the professed and seemingly unashamed interest in Frank Turner. Even intravenous drug fans rarely get into the practice by way of their interest in injection, the heroin is not often a happy off shoot. I think I decided that I was tired of being so boring, like I decided that this was going to be my ‘thing’, like I was desperate for something, anything, to mark me in some small way distinct from the other equally broken people surrounding me on the ward. If only I had received the PSP earlier, I could have been ‘that guy who’s always playing Stone Temple Pilots’, which is a much more abnormal and perverted thing to be associated with.

In Sheffield however they had their own curious and off-putting method of injection, just when I’d happily settled into turning my head to the needle with great melodramatic flair- perhaps imagining wind blowing through my increasingly long hair with suitable theatrical panache- I was told that in Sheffield they instead transported the tinzaparin through the needle into your belly.

Your belly?

What fresh madness was this?

Rather than being a desperate affectation in the hope of people mistaking it for personality like my supposed aversion to watching the needle enter my body, I had a proper, real, honest revulsion at this. Partly because my scandalously uneducated mind couldn’t help but imagine that an injection into somebody’s slightly chubby belly was just how people carried out abortions. And yes yes yes, I realised at the same time that isn’t how it’s really done at all, but I’ve never had an abortion and so couldn’t be 100% sure how it all goes down (a hand-stand and a sea-side crane game I believe) but still it was an image that I couldn’t remove easily from my mind. To be honest though I believe the main reason was more because I thought that keeping that area covered as much as possible might lead the attractive female nurses to assume I was ripped down there like a hairy Adonis, rather than getting a glimpse of the smooth pale micro-pig that I actually was.

And so I became ‘that guy who won’t have injections into his stomach’, I was just a wonderful hotchpotch of delightful little quirks that I’m sure led people to believe that I was a generally interesting person. Some nurses remembered my dislike of the belly needles, some greeted my announcement that I’d prefer it in the arm like I’d requested it to be administered into my Peruvian popliteal by way of a tweened bowling ball and weren’t sure if they were allowed to. I liked to imagine that my idiosyncratic ways were the talk of the town, nary a water cooler existed on the ward where around it people didn’t discuss my little ways.

Soon after my arrival a nurse came into my room to me my timetable for the week. Timetable! How delightful! It would be like going back to university except this time I’d probably go to the appointments laid out. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday I had my physiotherapy and Tuesday, Thursday would be occupational therapy (OT), which concentrated more on the day-to-day household tasks that now represented the labours of Hercules in my newly incapacitated state.

I was, however, still being treated as a potential tote bag full of exotic disease so I would receive all these sessions alone, less I infected the rest of the ward’s inhabitants with my debilitating virus.

Private tutelage- did I need any more proof that I was in some way special?

Soon after my agenda was laid out a student nurse called Rebecca came to visit. I called her that because… well that’s actually her name. I couldn’t remember the name of the course she was running so desperately searched my e-mails looking for something she sent much later asking for my feedback-

Search ‘therapy’.

No, nothing there.

Search ‘hospital’.

Far, far to general an ask.

Search ‘university’.


There it is, eight e-mails down.

In doing so I located both the name of the course and the name of the student conducting it. But feel free to add your own explanations if you want- perhaps I named her after Rebecca Black because I met her on a Friday? Perhaps I saw fit to name her after Rebecca Adlington after I later saw how good she was at freestyle swimming? I’ll also let you decide exactly how exactly I experienced that talent. Perhaps she reminded me so of the title character in Daphne Du Maurier’s novel? Although I’m not entirely sure how well that would work as I’ve never read the novel and I have no idea what traits the character of ‘Rebecca’ exhibits, and I’m not entirely sure there’s even a character called ‘Rebecca’ in the book called ‘Rebecca’. That’s a minefield, why not just say I’m referencing the 1903 children’s novel ‘Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm’? Or perhaps she resembled Shirley Temple, who played the title role in the 1938 film? Or is that a bit too weird? Yeah, a little too creepy that one isn’t it? It’s not easy this is it? Where was I? Oh yes, the student:

Rebecca entered the room obviously hearing the buzz around the water coolers about the extraordinary new patient in room 5 who was lighting up the ward with his far out styles. She had come to ask me if I wanted to take part in her design OT studies. I happily agreed, and not just because Rebecca was rather attractive, but I leapt at any opportunity to escape the monotony of my quarantine, I just hoped that Rebecca was properly inoculated against whatever affliction I was carrying. Another two appointments were added to my timetable- Tuesday and Thursday, design OT.

Eric wheeled into visit my newer bubble not long after I was committed to it, obviously unafraid of the disease I’d been newly bestowed with, a show of courage I was very appreciative of.

“I’m a bit jealous that you seem to have been given the presidential suite”

“Well you’re going to just have to accept the opulence” I swept my hand through the air in reference- nay, deference- to the majesty surroundings “I can’t very well spend my time surrounded by you plebeian riff-raff can I?”

“Suppose not” Eric raised an eye-brow “And I don’t know exactly what you’ve got but I can tell after talking to you a few times that whatever it is I certainly don’t want to catch it”

I turned down the Chicago radio-station a bit, realising that the volume of Alice in Chain’s ‘Man in the Box’ (altogether now- ‘Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeesuuuuus Chriiiiiiiiist/Deny your maker’) was making it slightly difficult to hear

“So you’ve been here weeks now. Which one is it?”

“Which one is it? What do you mean?”

“Is it Disneyland or Guantanamo Bay?”

“Erm…’ he puffed out his cheeks slightly as he struggled with finding an appropriate answer “Somewhere in between if I’m being honest”

“What’s in between Disneyland and Guantanamo Bay?”

“Ah yes ‘What’s In Between Disneyland and Guantanamo Bay’, we all love that song. South Pacific I believe. Not sure. Lemington Spa maybe?’

“I don’t know Lemington Spa enough to say if I’m being honest, I think you’ve just said that because it has an especially prosaic name. How about Sainsbury’s? It’s pretty much impossible to feel strong emotions in any direction while you’re in Sainsbury’s”

“Fine. Sheffield Spinal Injuries Unit is like Sainsbury’s. That’ll be the opening line of my three star review”

“What’s particularly un-Disney about the place?”

“It’s hard to say. It’s like people here are…” He shook his hands in front of him as he struggled to find the best words to describe it “People here… seem less… seem less happy it seems”

“Less happy? Are you disappointed that not enough chorus lines seem to be breaking out spontaneously? This is a ward full of people whose live has been irreversibly fucked very recently, I’d bet that there’s a very good chance that every patient you meet here has not so long ago experienced the very worst point of their lives, perhaps they’re still in their lowest point, perhaps that small amount of time you spent with them they still considered as being a part of being the absolute crappiest time they’ve ever been through…”

“Yeah I know, I know” Eric interjected, perhaps wary of the threat of me continuing to explain the situation indefinitely “Maybe being surrounded by people at least as injured as me has just hit me with reality of the situation. Maybe in Salford I could at least look at those across the ward with relatively piffling injuries like broken cheek bones or shattered ribs and kid myself that I was no worse than them and had no reason to be any more miserable”

“Yeah, you can’t be an especially happy person here, that could be strong grounds for considering you insane, whatever the situation”

“It’s not all bad though, not at all, you get the weekly talks about fun disabled stuff, and then there’s the weekly sports thing, I’ve found that half an hour of wheelchair basketball against other players who are pretty useless is really good for the self-esteem. I’ve appreciated smashing into other people too, I’m a big fan of any sport that encourages low level violence, especially recently with me having quite a lot of built up repressed anger”

“I’ve… I’ve not been told about any of that”

“Ah sure you have, they would have put it on your timetable”

He gestured to the itinerary sellotaped onto the wall, looking a little perplexed when he realised it wasn’t quite as full as he expected

“Haven’t they…?”

“Quarantine” I sighed “They’re obviously keeping me away from any group activities. I’m essentially in a high-end leper colony”


Eric puffed out his cheeks again, his go-to expression when faced with a failure of language.

“Well, I’m sure they’ll realise you’re not festering the bubonic plague soon enough and you can join the fun. There’s a talk on sex in week or so, and I know you’ll want to be present for that”

We suffered in silence for a few milliseconds that seemed to last for years, as Eric considered how he had to endure the hell of other people, and me how I was considered a big enough threat to other people to be cordoned off. It was a quiet uncomfortable enough for Eric to grasp at any opportunity to break.

“You know you don’t have to be in a wheelchair to play wheelchair basketball?”

I was confused by the logic.

“What do you mean?’

“There’s loads of posters advertising it downstairs in the gym, this place was obviously a rather big part of the 2012 Paralympics. And on the adverts it’s at pains to point out that you don’t need to be disabled in any way to play wheelchair basketball”

“What a swizz!” I was delighted at the slight tangent “So wheelchair basketball is chiefly for the disabled and those at a strange level of active that means they want to play sport but can’t be bothered to stand up?”

“Obviously disability tourism is a big thing”

“Well to be honest part of me is happy that I can keep my uselessness at sport a secret for a little longer”

“Yes, I can see just by looking at you that you’re terrible at even computer game sports” Eric said, turning his chair in readiness to roll away “I’ll see you at dinner anyway”


I thought about responding but quickly decided against it and simply wished Eric a good day. I wasn’t sure I wanted to reveal I wouldn’t be at dinner either, as the huddled mass of wheelchairs that congregated twice a day in the dining room would present just another opportunity for me to fire out infections. I would have my meals delivered to my room, like the little lord I had obviously turned into.

Saw Hej again that evening, though she was particularly stressed out that time. Her brother was getting married and her parents were building a new extension to their house that could accommodate both him and his new wife, a project that required Hej to pour a lot of her wages into. Where Hej was from it was more traditional that a person would hand over a lot of the money they earned to their parents as soon as they were earning enough, a kind of repayment for the endeavour and capital thrown at a child growing up by their Mum and Dad, as oppose to the idea in this country that someone is going to remain a drain on their resources until way onto adulthood, as I had illustrated wonderfully over the past three months. Hej could only really think of of one eventuality that might cheer her up.

“When you come back?”

“I don’t know my dear, I just don’t know. You know I would still love to take you to Chris’s wedding in Thailand this December, maybe I will be with you for Christmas”

I was optimistic enough to plan for a date for my return to China that lay at that point less than five months away, optimistic enough to shoot this ridiculous prediction off from my nearly entirely unabled state lay in Sheffield Hospital’s Spinal Injury Unit.

“Can you give me an exact date?’

How fucking brilliant would that be? An exact fucking date? Instead I could only repeat myself pathetically.

“I… I don’t know…”

“Really sometimes I hate you. You bring me happiness so much then you suddenly took them all without any notice. You change my life then you just disappeared”

I could neither argue nor respond to that.

The next day I was sent for an x-ray, which was essentially to find out quite how impacted with poo the whole experience had left me.

I was enjoying Zimmering myself to my ensuite once or twice a day to sit idly on the toilet reading a magazine for an hour or so waiting patiently to evacuate. Wasn’t ‘Waiting Patiently to Evacuate’ a Richard Curtis film? Or was it another horrible porn movie I watched? Again, more of a snuff movie really. This magazine would remain proudly lay on the cistern until I would on a later occasion forget it was next to the toilet and turn it to mush the next time I had a shower. The ensuite had a built in facility in which it was possible to have a shower while sitting on the toilet, an experience of such decadent indolence that I highly recommend it. I never combined the two bathroom operations of shit and shower, or even partnered it with a shave to complete the daily ‘S’ triptych, as I couldn’t help but feel it was perhaps a step too far into the realm of debauched luxury. It would have been brilliant as a time-saver, but what was I saving time for exactly? Was I worried I may later not have quite enough time later to lie on my bed scratching an arse I could no longer feel? Even with these daily lengthy exercises the worry was still that I hadn’t crapped enough since the accident, so the hospital was keen to know if I was full of shit, as I had frequently been accused of,.

It was soon time for my first physio session, so I rolled out of the ward on the shiny new wheelchair that had only recently arrived for me, a gift I had greeted with the enthusiasm of a precocious American teen receiving her new pink Volvo on her sweet sixteenth.

Forward wheels!

Out the door!

Turn left!

To the lift!

EAAAAAASY wheels! Wait for the lift!

Into the lift!

Stay wheel, stay!

Out of the lift!

Turn right!

Go through the doors!

Down to the gym for my ten o’clock appointment!

I waited for a while outside for someone to open the door, as my session lay outside the gym’s usual opening hours and I was having it opened specially, like Harrods opening it’s doors after hours for Victoria Beckham to browse the aisles and buy some… what do they sell in Harrods? Eggs.

The physio eventually arrived to let me in with a smile and flick of the hair.

I don’t regret forgetting anyone else’s name as I regret not remembering my physio’s. I had first thought about naming her after another extraordinarily beautiful celebrity, as she was rather extraordinarily beautiful, but such things are cripplingly subjective and I would only sound like the hideously lecherous old creep that I in fact am.

The idea of naming her after someone in famously good shape was also quickly quashed, as then it would either be someone who would not best represent the woman’s general attractiveness (I can’t very well name her after Rafael Nadal can I?), or it would again be a famously attractive woman and we’re slap bang in the middle of lecherous old creep territory again, an area I struggle all my life to try and avoid, frequently unsuccessfully.

I could have even gone down the ironic route, name her after a famously ugly person to best illustrate the fact that she… well… wasn’t famously ugly. But then that’s just being oafishly insulting to the person I ironically compare her to, and I have always felt that picking on someone’s unseemliness is needlessly cruel, and if you ever saw me you’d perhaps understand.

So after much deliberation and long talks with my lawyer (who ironically looks exactly like Rafael Nadal, so his name was easy to decide upon. Plus his name actually is Nadal. Nadal Taylor-Hamilton) I finally arrived at ‘Fizz’. Short for physio, see? That’d probably be her nickname if she played as a false nine for Sheffield Wednesday (or Sheffield United of course, please hold back your accusations of bias), or perhaps she’d be ‘Fizzy’ or ‘Fizzo’ if the fans wanted to jazz it up a bit.1

[1this whole section is so, so gross. Maybe it was supposed to be, I can’t remember]

So yeah, her name’s Fizz.

Don’t like it?

Well fuck you then, piss off and stop reading.

After you’ve bought the book of course.

I can’t stress enough how important it is that you buy the book before you throw it away in disgust. Ideally, buy the book for all your friends and family so they can understand why it offended you so. And anyway there’s always the chance that Uncle Gilbert actually likes the name, so it’s a good idea to canvas as wide an area as possible.

Fucking hell, that was an especially pointless tangent wasn’t it? I could have just said her name was Lola (she was a showgirl) and you’re not going to question me are you? What are you going to do, check it? Although Lola is also the name of the Kinks song about a transvestite, so perhaps that wouldn’t have been appropriate either.

It’s not easy this you know?

“You’ve got the exact same birthday as me you know?”

I’ve gone straight into Fizz talking here by the way, as I believe that her introduction was already torturous enough and it really is about time to get into some sort of meat and potatoes here don’t you think?


I pursed my lips slightly, about as amazed as you’d expect to be when finding out odds of 365/1 have come in- it’s slightly eyebrow raising rather than being particularly life-changing. I still saw a chance to throw in a little dose of the famous Palmer charm.

“You’re obviously a lot younger than me though”

“No, exact same year and everything”

I couldn’t help but think that the fact that me and Fizz were the same age to a day presented a really damning controlled example of how two people’s lives can differ so greatly. My life had been reset to near zero recently and here she was the exact same age tasked with my return to the land of the living. She was to be my idea of the perfect physical specimen, she was the perfection I would be working towards. She was my motivation. For me to ever catch her up she would have to throw herself from a window somewhere.

Or something.

We were so different, I stood as an example of exactly how one could fail miserably at life. No, I didn’t stand, I slouched pathetically, I lay out in my bed feebly, beaten by a life so many seem to maneuver so easily. Fizz merely emphasised how useless I was.

“I think we should start off with you walking along those bars so I can see whereabouts you’re up to in your recovery so far”

The bars she was referring to reached all across one side of the gym, maybe five times as long as the ones I had been using in Salford and next to a wall of windows that teased you with the distant possibly of a leafy and sunny World outside. Well, occasionally sunny, this is Sheffield don’t forget, although even if the rain was pouring down it still offered me glimpses of a damp, grim and grey realm I dearly wanted to count myself as a part of again. I so wanted to feel the gloomy drizzle drip down my face again.

I parked my carriage at one end and tried my best to impress the pretty girl watching with how adept I had become at hoisting myself between two bars over distances. There was a body-length mirror at the end of the bars so I could watch myself shuffle along the track like an injured hero slowly limping away from attacking zombies. I of course preferred to avert my eyes elsewhere though, rather than glance upon my pathetic limping, unwilling to engage with the feeble masquerade of how I still performed in my mind.

“Hmm…” Lola… no, wait… Fizz narrowed her eyes slightly as she watched me drag myself along the trail. “It looks like you’re having trouble keeping your right foot from dragging on the ground”

“Well… yes” I tried not to sound too sarcastic while applauding her powers of deduction “That ankle is dead, I can’t just control where that foot decides to flop to, it’s just… there…”

“What size are your shoes? I’ll see if we’ve got a spare splint in the back”

There was. Fizz returned to the room with an L-shaped sheet of strengthened plastic that was designed to fit in my shoe, one side bending up the back of my shin stabilising the ankle joint and attempting to bring the limp floundering of my foot under some sort of control. We spent a lot of the remaining allocated time first trying to fit it into my shoe (a bit of a struggle) and then squeeze my swollen foot into the newly contracted space (perhaps one tiny little space below fucking impossible) but the arduous struggle eventually led to success.

Once again I steadied myself at the foot of the bars and began to navigate them again with my new crux.

It was a revelation.

It made a difference comparable to first introducing a pencil and paper to someone who had previously been trying to write by slicing a vein on their wrist and trying to aim the spray of blood in a way that would hopefully spell out the words on a facing wall. The feel of my foot finally keeping itself to itself was intensely liberating and I for once couldn’t take my eyes off the mirror facing me and cataloguing my every movement as I glided up the track like there was nothing at all wrong with me, the splint keeping the dirty secret of my shattered ankle wonderfully.

“Lo!” passing people would cry “Verily tis nought wrong with boy yonder!”

“I look just like a normal person!”

I spluttered delighted through a grin that covered most of the area between my ear-lobes.

“That’s brilliant Alex!” Fizz replied with a smile, before grimacing slightly “…although we really don’t like to call the able bodied ‘normal people’…”

I took her point, of all the able bodied people I’d encountered or heard about you could perhaps only seriously refer to a small percentage of them as ‘normal’. Two working legs in no respects makes you ‘normal’.

Over the next few sessions Fizz apprehended me a new pair of crutches and I took up my training again, around the gym and traversing the corridors outside, each time the task seeming a little less like the impossible dream that it first appeared. Eventually I was good enough to walk the crutches back to my room under Fizz’s attentive supervision and they were mine to keep. I never used my Zimmer frame again.

“Any plans for this weekend?” I asked her that first Friday as we were about to shut down our sessions until next Monday morning.

“Yeah, actually we’ve got a big hen party planned in Leeds that I’ll be travelling out to tonight”

“That should be fun, one of your friends is getting married?”

“No, the hen party’s for me unbelievably enough!”

I didn’t find her quite as attractive again after that.

At Sheffield they passed on the responsibility for washing clothes onto the patients whenever they could manage it, so I had been shown the washing machines and after that physio session I took out my first load to hang out to dry on whatever bars of the clothes horse that I could reach from sitting position in my wheelchair. I later returned to find that someone had stolen a pair of my boxer shorts.

I really couldn’t catch a break in 2013.



HIV and Fingermouse

The x-rays came back, and it was confirmed that I was no less full to the brim of crap than anyone would imagine.

名字: ALEX, 年龄: 30, 预兆: Full of shit, in absolutely every sense.

Suddenly my shite became the main area of the hospital’s concern. It turned out that counter-intuitively the biggest problem with me spending a large part of the last three and a half months shitting myself without a care in the World was that I wasn’t shitting enough and my body was now full of festering faeces that could have been in there decomposing for far longer than is recommended. Doctors actually recommend that festering faeces lay decomposing in your body for a rather short amount of time.

I was chock-a-block, bumper to bumper with rotting poo.

This wouldn’t be something I’d have to mention on my Match.com profile.

Joanne (named after Joanne Cole, co-creator of Fingermouse, for reasons that will very soon become clear and I imagine are pretty and terrifyingly apparent already) decided that the best course of action to begin with would be to have a quick check on how my last line of defence was holding up. I didn’t know if there was any better way to do that than what I was imagining, but by God I hoped there was.

Both my bum cheeks had been paralysed beyond feeling and control, which was particularly saddening whenever a hip-hop hype man* burst into my room and loudly implored that I ‘shake what your momma gave you’ I would have to simply drop my head sadly and slowly frown in a attempt to let him know that I was no longer able to twerk like I used to. However, only half of my colon had received the same damage, meaning that to learn to control the shit being fired out of my colon was not actually unfeasible and instead merely an extremely arduous task that I would still be attempting to master to countess more releases of The Watchtower later. Much like people refer to themselves as a ‘recovering’ rather than an ‘ex’ alcoholic I still think it more appropriate call myself a ‘recuperating’ pants pooper. To house train myself was therefore by no means a medical impossibility, one of the many reasons that my accident is actually nothing close to how bad it could have been and this whole book you’re reading is actually one massive, poorly written fucking whinge from someone who feels he’s somehow entitled to better.

(*What an extremely pleasant collection of words to say, I’d recommend you worked it into your conversation whenever possible- ‘We’re very sad about your loss Mrs Johnson, and we can assure you that here at Crossley and Son that the service we put on will respect and celebrate your husband’s life as best as possible. Have you considered opening with a hip-hop hype man?’)

Like I deserve anything better.

This whole mess of words and phrases and outdated pop culture references is actually barely worth your time.

But, yeah, the bit of my colon still being in working condition meant that I could feel Joanne’s finger just fine.

“Just remember Alex” Joanne squeezed a big tube of lubricant onto her blue gloved hand “This is all for your good, we’re just doing what’s best for you’”

And with that she stuck her long finger deep into my arsehole and began to dig around like she’d recently dropped 20p in there. Deeper and deeper her lubricated claw scratched upon the inside of my anus, as inwardly I squealed and outwardly I occasionally shuffled awkwardly but generally just lay there in morose silence and deeply considered a lot of my life choices.

Just then Q101 (Chicago’s Alternative), which had remained on throughout, started to play ‘No Rain’ by Blind Melon, a song that I’d liked for a long time by that point. Unfortunately I knew immediately that from that moment onward whenever I heard it I would only be able to associate it with a nurse with her finger deep into my bum-hole. And so it as proved:

‘All I can say is that my life is pretty plain/I like watching the puddles gather rain…’

“Remember Alex, this is all for your own good, I wouldn’t do it otherwise”

I wondered if anyone, anywhere would find this whole experience, with me turned on my side and a nurse investigating my arsehole deeply with her gloved finger as I grumbled and grimaced at the other end, in any way a sexual turn-on. I then quite quickly remembered with resignation that yes, many, many people would find many, many things about the current situation to be massive turn-ons, but that says more about people than it does about anything else. My bones shook again as Joanne’s finger managed to find another few millimetres deeper still inside my crevice.

“I’m sorry Alex, but remember if this wasn’t al for your own good we wouldn’t be doing it”

How much more descriptive detail do you want of the nurse’s poker in my aperture? I’m sure you can easily imagine the whole situation that’s playing out here, I don’t think I need to describe the colour of the curtains or the shade and intensity of the light in the room for you better to grasp the general mood of the situation. I mean, I’ve already told you what song was playing on the radio, so the whole scene is being played out to a provided soundtrack, what more can I do to put you in the room? Would you want me to switch to a narrative explaining the whole story section from Joanne’s point of view? I’m not sure I can provide that, it would either involve me ascribing false feelings and emotions to the poor woman that she didn’t have and doesn’t deserve, or describing in trained medical terminology the feelings and contents on my own arsehole, which is not as simple a task as you’d imagine for someone who spends most of his time with his own head up it.

Anyway, you all know what having a finger in your bum feels like, even those of you who pretend you don’t. In fact those of you who pretend they don’t know how it feels are the ones who know most about it. You there, you at the back. No, not you, the guy behind you, the one with the hair. Yes, you. Remember that time you got with Amanda after the work’s Christmas do? And you’ve got that thing that you like women to do to you in bed that she agreed to do but swore she’d never tell anyone else? Yeah well guess what she told everyone about it the next Monday, I mean everybody. You’ve even become a bit of an urban legend at the company, when you pass in the corridor people behind your back whisper to each other wondering if it’s true the same way people gossip about Richard Gere and his love of small pet rodents, so don’t be giving me that shit about you not knowing what it feels like, you know exactly what it feels like you lying mother fucker. Jesus, you’ve pulled me off on a rather disordered tangent here mate, I hope you’re happy.

“This is all for your own good Alex”

Joanne pulled her thickly lubricated finger back out of my exit port with a loud pop . My memory may have created the ‘pop’ sound merely due to it fitting the situation, but I definitely remember it popping. I was left to lay on the bed shivering like an empty shell of a man, broken by the hideous abuse quite literally handed out to me, left but a mangled and pathetic attempt of interpretation of what was once human. I felt my body had been violated by someone deeply and hideously abusing their authority as I was continuously told it was ‘for my own good’.

“Don’t be so fucking melodramatic”

Eric scoffed when I later told him about the distressing incident. He had entered my room and seen me white as a shiv and had straight away correctly assumed from the haunted look on my face that I had suffered some sort of sexual assault and immediately set about pulling the full torrid story from me.

A story which he was then strangely unconvinced by.

“You’re acting like you own the first bottom a doctor or nurse has ever put their finger inside. It’s almost a rites of passage for men of a certain age, and go to a woman and complain that a medical practitioner put their digit in your orifice, they spend their whole adult lives getting their bits examined and prodded by various medical practitioners. What makes your experience so fucking special?”

“Mine was worse”

“How exactly?”

“Well, mine… mine… mine happened to me! Me! Not other people. It’s not really going to be as important if it happens to other people is it?”

“A completely fair argument. Not at all a selfish point of view”

“And you’re not being in the least bit sarcastic. I kind of wish you hadn’t come in here now and attacked me with so much common sense and put things so mercilessly in perspective, I would have been quite happy just wallowing in sweet, syrupy self-pity for the remainder of the day”

“Ah, come on! You’re going to fucking do that anyway!”


“Did you at least make the joke?”

“What joke?”

What?” His eyes widened “So you at no point said ‘Aren’t you gonna buy me a drink first?’?”

“No… I mean… I…” I couldn’t believe I’d let the opportunity slip “I guess I was just too distracted by the whole experience…”

“That has to go down as a massive missed open goal I’m afraid”

“I know… Missing that line was possibly the most distressing aspect of the whole affair I’ll say it next time someone fingers my arsehole, I promise”

“You better”

Eric fixed me with accusing stare as he started to roll out of the room.

“Still, at least I know I’m not gay now”

The statement stopped Eric in his tracks as he stopped propelling the wheelchair so he could instead use his hands to grasp his face in despair.

“That… That might be the stupidest thing you’ve said to me, and trust me there’s a lot of competition for that accolade! Do you think a person’s sexuality essentially boils down to how much they like things sticking in their bum??”

“No… It was just a joke, I’m not that stupid”

It wasn’t.

I am.

“So, have you ever…?”

“Ever what?”

“Have you ever…? What do you think I could be talking about??”

“Oh that? No, I just don’t think I have the dress sense to impress… people that way inclined. What about you?”

“Twice actually”

“Oh” I wasn’t sure how best to respond “And… How was that…?”

“Both times I was just out at a club and couldn’t for the life of me pull a girl. I was so desperate for sex that I decided I’d try it on with some guys instead. The first time I just saw some gay guy walking in the street and decided to simply go up to him and proposition him. I pretty much just kissed him right there I think. I really don’t quite remember how, but I just knew he was gay for some reason. No idea why, he was just walking on his own I think”

“You’ve obviously got ‘gaydar’”

“Obviously…. So anyway we went back to his flat and did all the hands and mouth stuff…”

“Alright Mills and Boon, I don’t need the medical assessment”

“Ok! I was just trying to make it clear there was no penetrative…”


I covered my ears, suddenly overcome with ultra British prudishness.1

“Jesus man! I never managed to ejaculate anyway. And he has a really small penis…”

“Ok, let’s not just compare notes on sexual conquests now. Can you explain the second one in slightly less garish detail?”

“No problem. The second one was… Well it was different…”


“It was the same situation, I’d failed to pull in a club and was actually thrown out for fighting. I ended up just sitting on the kerb outside smoking a cigarette, watching the night’s warriors swarm in and out of bars and generally contemplating what a failure the night had been, unaware that it was actually about to get bizarrely worse. Some guy just sits next to me and asks if I want a fuck”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that”

“And you said yes??”

Eric sighed.

“Like I said, I was desperate.”

“I can’t even begin to count the ways in which that’s such a bad idea!”

“I know! And it was a bad idea, such a bad idea. I was not yet depressingly conquered by life however, and would have looked into always trying new, challenging things” Eric wiped his hand over his face “First of all we visited a gay brothel as he was convinced he’d left his wallet there and therefore they owed him money. They wouldn’t let him in so he just spent a long time making a scene at the door while I say down nearby smoking and feeling absolutely distraughtwith shame”

“But you didn’t leave?”

“No… No I didn’t…”

Eric left a long pause as he considered maybe offering some sort of explanation, before realising he couldn’t find one

“Anyway the police were called and we were thankfully ushered away. We made it back to his house, or should I sat his Mum’s house. He explained to me that he was going to tell his Mum that I was the one who gave him HIV…”


“Don’t ask me for an explanation! It was just all so… So fucked…”

“So he had HIV and…”

“And I think he figured that his Mum would sympathise with me enough to let me stay if she believe that I was the poor sod who passed it on”

Eric exhaled sharply as the sheer insanity of the memory near overcame him.


“Yeah, I know. Luckily he collapsed in bed and passed out paralysed by drink before we could get down to anything. The next morning he woke me up because his boyfriend was coming over”

“Wh…?” I started, always unlikely to be able to finish any query.

“Don’t ask, just don’t ask anything. I don’t have any answers. He threw me out of his house miles away from anywhere I knew. I had miles to walk until I at least saw a station I recognised”

The awkward silence came back on stage and bowed to the audience. The awkward silence threatened to challenge Pavarotti’s record 165 curtain calls in Berlin 1988 as Eric struggled with exhuming his seedy memories and I struggled with comprehending why I had to hear it.

“Why on Earth did you tell me that??”

I spluttered and ushered out the awkward silence on its 142nd call.

“I… I really don’t know. Suppose I just wanted to show that a girl with her finger up your bum isn’t that bad really”



Pigs and Baosheng Dadi

In my next occupational therapy lesson they asked me whether I wanted to practice make an egg or a bacon sandwich in the training kitchen they had set up, much like the room with the same function in Salford, only much bigger and with cutlery and amenities coming out of its hoo-hah. Y’hear? Out of its hoo-hah! I was in an especially decadent mood and so elected for a bacon and egg sandwich, also theorising that perhaps Allah wouldn’t notice the bacon so much if it was hidden between and egg and the possibility of him smiting me quite so violently as he had in Salford would be lessened somewhat.

My occupational therapist on that particular day was a young woman called Lambert, a by no means unattractive nurse with cropped blonde hair but with an unmistakable nervous and tetchy disposition, a ever so worried look was constantly sketched across her pale white face, like she had seen many horrors in her job and was constantly wary of perhaps reliving them every day. I dreaded to contemplate what these stockpiled terrors could perhaps be. It was like Lambert could sense my apprehension of her look as I doddered into the kitchen on my crutches, looking more born to my disability each time I walked upon them. She smiled at me and attempted to put my mind more at ease.

“Don’t worry Alexander, what’s the worse that could happen, seriously?”

“Are you sure you want to tempt fate with such foresha…?”

“Do you prefer ‘Alex’ or ‘Alexander’?”

“Whatever you want really”

I’d probably prefer ‘Alexander’ truth be told, being called been called ‘Alex’ all one’s life makes one yearn for a bit of a change. Fuck it, call me ‘Peter’ or ‘Johansen’ if you want, just absolutely, positively, unconditionally don’t ever call me ‘Al’ like you were Chevy Chase.

“Ok then, I think I’ll just call you ‘Alex’”


The cupboard containing the pan was pointed out, then the one containing the cooking oil was exhibited to me. It really wasn’t any more exciting or interesting than I’m managing to make it out to be. Lambert attempted to pass the time as we waited for the oil to heat up.

“So you were living in China?”

I really saw no benefit in lying at this particular point in time.


“Did you ever eat dog?”

I tried not to make my deep sigh of irritation so particularly obvious as I prepared to answer the one question everybody wants to ask after they learn you lived in China. I removed a pack of bacon slices from the fridge and lay two strips down upon the pan.

“No. I never did. Nor did I ever meet anyone who’d ever eaten dog. Ever”

“Oh…” Lambert tried her best to hide her obvious disappoint “Isn’t it a delicacy there?”

That fucking word- ‘delicacy’. People don’t just think they eat dog in China, they’re very particular that dog is a ‘delicacy’. No, dog is not a fucking ‘delicacy’ there.

“No, dog is not a ‘delicacy’ there”

I repeated with a little self-censorship.

“Hey you guys, get a load of this!”

Our general pooch pabulum discussion was thankfully interrupted as Parker burst through the door with a gleeful grin. Parker was a heavy set man with short hair that was difficult to properly observe underneath the white headband he was constantly wearing. In his hand was a small vial of liquid that was clearly the object of Parker’s barely disguised excitement. He was practically down on both knees, head bowed and presenting the vial to us on a velvet cushion. Lambert raised to the bait.

“What’s that?”

“This? This is hydrochrucial terbutinal suphrodate”

“Hydrochrucial terbutinal suphrodate?”

“Hydrochrucial terbutinal suphrodate, or Hi-Ters for short. A substance they’ve been working on in the labs. You should see some of the mice that have been subjected to this, shit gets pretty wild!”

I cracked an egg onto the bacon and watched as the yellow yoke was quickly surrounded by a fried white. Lambert was so obviously not as entrenched by the substance as Parker was, but was polite enough to play along.

“What does it do?”

“Oooooh, this shit is fucked up! The boys in the lab are hoping it will prove to be a major breakthrough in shark attack surgery, it can generate flesh from nothing, it can recognise any missing parts from an incomplete body system and immediately works as a kind of photo negative. It will flip a organism so it will instead only consist of the parts it was previously missing! You understand?”

“To be honest, I understand very little of what you talk about”

Parker sighed loudly as he struggled to think of a way to better explain what medical science now possessed.

“Right… The mice in the lab, Ok? The scientists they would cut off a big chunk of their tails, like a good two inches. They would then spray the mice with this hydrochrucial terbutinal suphrodate…”

“Just say Hi-Ters, it must take a lot out of you to remember that full name every time”

“Well yes, to be honest it’s a big pain in the arse to say it in full, but for some reason I seem to be compelled to say it all the way through every time, like it just sounds better or something”

“That’s odd”

Parker simply pouted his lips and shrugged, it was obviously not for him to question such things.

“Anyway the scientists would spray these mice with the hydrochrucial terbutinal suphrodate and suddenly instead of being mice without tails they transform into only tails! Nothing else, just tails!”

“Only tails? So it’s a substance that replaces a body with the one element that’s missing? What are the exact benefits for medicine?”

“I dunno, it needs a lot more work I guess” Parker held the vial tight between thumb and forefinger and thrusted it in Lambert’s face “It’s a MacGuffin essentially”

“A what…?”

Lambert’s questioning was interrupted by Parker noticing the ugly pale sack of broken bones and rotting turd bent awkwardly over the kitchen’s hob and so obviously quite happy to be ignored and excluded from any conversation.

“Heeeeeey you’re that dude who was in China, yeah?”

I’m ‘the dude who was in China’ now? I thought I was ‘the dude who listens to grunge’ or ‘the dude who doesn’t like to be injected into his belly’. I’m not sure how much I liked this new persona thrust upon me. It hardly marks me out as being particularly special. Considering it’s a country with a population of 1’350’695’000 it’s fair to say a rather large percentage of the World’s population have ‘been in China’.

“That’s me”

“Did you ever eat dog there?”

I started to strongly consider getting my forehead tattooed.

“No. I never did. Nor did I ever meet anyone who’d ever eaten dog. Ever”

“Oh…” Parker tried his best to hide his obvious disappoint “Isn’t it, like, a delicacy there?”

That fucking word again, I was far worse at concealing my seething irritation this time.

“Why the fuck do people always say it’s a del…”

As I swung my body around to face Parker I realised he was standing far closer to me than I had imagined. My right crutch hooked hard into his left leg as it swung around. The force immediately unbalanced us both and sent us both crashing into the floor practically embracing each other, like we were two lovers overcome with passion pulling each other down onto the abandoned old mattress we shared upstairs at the run down mansion we were both squatting in. The hydrochrucial terbutinal suphrodate vial flew out of Parker’s hand and seemed to spin toward the the frying pan in slow motion.

“Nooooooo!” screamed Parker as we both stumbled downwards awkwardly “Keep it away from the…!”

Parker had no time to complete his screamed, horrified warning as the vial of hydrochrucial terbutinal suphrodate smashed upon the pan and its contents were splashed over the frying meat and egg innards. There was a blinding explosion like a impossibly large scale potassium school chemistry experiment. It Lambert aggressively off her feet and across the room and sent the strong embrace that still existed between Parker and I spinning along the floor.

The room was full of smoke. For a few seconds that felt like years the three of us lay unmoving on the spots where the explosion had thrown us.

Lying in silence.

After a few decades of seconds I raised my head to look upon the heavy cloud of smoke that now caked the room. I dared myself to break the dark and looming silence.

“What… What was that?”

Parker shook his head as he carefully got to his feet, releasing me from his much appreciated cradle.

“The thing is still in its test stage, and we’re absolutely not allowed to mix it with boiling oil”

“Hm. Perhaps shouldn’t have taken it into the kitchen then?”

Parker wasn’t listening. He carefully and slowly stepped into the smoke toward what used to be the hob.

The smoke began to clear and the three of us began to see what the reaction had created.

“What the fu…”

Lambert never finished her declaration of bewilderment.

It was a giant egg.

Maybe five feet tall.


Parker threw his head back, clutched his belly and let out a massive laugh of relief.

“Do you see what’s happened?? The hydrochrucial terbutinal suphrodate has replaced the egg you smashed to reach the innards!! This is…” Parker shook his head and lost his smile slightly as he contemplated his new discovery “This is big man! This could mean…”

“But Parker!” Lambert did not share Parker’s delight in the situation “Look at it though! It’s huge! Why is it that size??”

Parker, put his hands deep in his pockets as he turned to face the egg and shrug.

“I dunno, maybe something to do with the oil. Still, do you have any idea what the implications of…”

The egg burst open and with an almighty and enraged roar a giant pig burst out and clamped its giant jaw around Parker’s mid-section. With just one rough bite Parker was cut in half and Lambert and I were splattered by the eruption of dark red blood that burst out his now deceased body. Parker’s next embrace was with death and it was predictably to be his last.


Do I need to spell out Lambert’s scream? I’m sure you’d be able to imagine it if I just stated that she screamed.

Well she did.

She screamed.

“What… What is that??”

I managed to splutter out my confusion as I gazed upon the pig ripping his giant tusks through Parker’s remains. On the side of his body there were two bacon sized gashes ripped from his flesh, and the bloodied pain I imagined him to be in would explain his anger. Oh, and it was definitely a ‘he’, a huge cock and two bulbous testicles swung proud between his legs.

He turned his head and fixed the two of us with bitter red eyes.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” I stammered out articulately “What do we do??”

Lambert pushed her hands out straight to settle her nerves.

“There’s only one thing we can do?”

The pig raised his head to the skies and released an almighty roar.

“What? What?”

The pig looked the two of us over as he decided who next to gore.

“Call upon the God of medicine”

“The God of what?”

The pig had made his choice and started to walk toward his target growling.

“Baosheng Dadi, call upon him”

The pig creed out and slashed his claws across Lambert’s chest, removing a large chunk of her flesh as she cried out in pain. I screamed at the hideous explosion of gore that erupted around Lambert’s bowels.

“Say… his name… backwards…”

Lambert managed to spit out her final instructions as she wept in pain. She just about managed to get it out before the pig put his jaws around her skull and bit down. Lambert’s head exploded like a water balloon filled with red paint. I was splattered again, Lambert’s blood mixing with the buckets of tears that were pouring from my eyes.

“Ok, Ok…”I had a few seconds of time to assess the situation shivering as the pig was for now solely concerned with tearing Lambert’s body into smaller and smaller hunks of flesh. “Baosheng Dadi backward, let’s see… I mean, surely it would have been easier for her to do so rather than explain it to me, that just seems like pretty lazy exposition to me…”

The pig thrust his two front hooves aggressively into the floor either side of his head as he thrust his head into the air and let out a rattling roar, undercut with the distinct sound of Lambert’s blood still rattling in his throat. I was reminded that this was perhaps a matter of urgency.

“Id ad gerneh so ab…?”

Nothing happened. The pig turned his head towards his next target and the fear in my mind anthropomorphised a devilish grin upon his toothy face as he gleefully considered all the things he would do to me.

“Id ad g hens oh be!”

The pig leapt up from Lambert’s scattered remains towards his next intended. He opened his jaws with a howl as he leapt toward my head.

“Id ad g hen soab!”

I cried and squeezed my eyes shut in terror. I clashed my arms tight around my head as I anticipated a death I had long hoped would come in a far sweeter embrace than it was about to.

Then nothing.

After a while I called up the bravery to be able to open my eyes and unfurl my tight grasp on myself.

The room was dark.1

[1yeah, interesting choice this chapter]




What time is it?


Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.

No no no!

It’s an observed lesson, this is fucking important!

No, fuck!

I’m fucking late for my class! No no no! I’m late for another class! I’ve already overslept and missed a class and Michelle has made it very clear that I’m not only in the last chance saloon but the doors have been kicked open and she’s pulling my body back ready to throw her arms forward and fling me out onto the sand outside. I’ve not even been here six fucking months!


Why do you always do it Alex? Why? You stayed up late last night drinking despite the fact you knew you had this important lesson today. Couldn’t you have quit the drinking for one night? What the absolute suffering fuck is wrong with you?

What is wrong with you?


Ok, what are my options?

I could get up now, quickly run to the school, explain myself…

Explain what?

I was too hungover to get up?

No, absolutely not an option.

I need some excuse.

Why are you late Alex?


No no no no no Alex, don’t be ridiculous.

Maybe some accident? Some horrible, disfiguring accident? I could arrange that couldn’t I?

Shit! The ground is only about 2 foot below my window! I hate how this building’s designed! I could maybe jump off the balcony in the living room? No, I don’t want to walk through the dorm and risk being seen, there must be some teachers not yet at school.

Look, I’ve got a desk in my room.

I’ll just go there.

Wrapping myself up in my duvet I retreat underneath the desk. Stopping only to pick up a spare shaving razor I have in the top drawer.

Maybe I can do something with that.

Ok, lie under the desk in my duvet.

Encase myself.

Don’t move.

Time moves on. Seconds? Minutes? Hours? I don’t dare to move to look at my watch. Eventually I must have missed several lessons as Leigh comes to the dorm, perhaps first angry at me missing the lesson he was meant to observe but now maybe concerned. He knocks at the door.

“Alex? Hello?”

I don’t answer.

I don’t move.

Eventually, maybe minutes later, maybe hours, more people come from the school and knock on my door.

I don’t answer.

I don’t move.

A master key is produced and my room is entered. I listen to people state that I’ve disappeared, wonder where I’ve gone, worry about me. All my possessions are still here, I can’t have left China altogether overnight. I hear them arrange which person is going to search for me in which area. A search the breadth of Huizhou is organised.

I don’t move.

I am unseen.

“Jesus” Mark states as he looks around my room “How could you possibly live like this? I mean look at all these empty beer bottles, it’s fucking disgusting”

What’s my endgame here?

I just hope they never find me. Leave me here to die and decay under my desk. That’s the best possible outcome here.

Leave me to die.

“Oh my God! Jesus, is that a body underneath the desk?”

Shit, Michelle’s wife had spotted something. Damn her. If I had seen what I thought was a body I wouldn’t even mention it, some things are better left uncovered.


Michelle put her hand on my leg and spoke my name softly. This was the point of no return, I could play dead no longer.

I stirred for the first time in hours and sat up as best I could underneath the desk.

“Ok, Ok Alex, don’t worry. Can you get him a cup of tea? Ok, can you tell us what happened Alex?”

So nice, so understanding, I already had Michelle’s pity. This was already proving to be a far better plan than just telling the truth. Who the fuck tells the truth? Is it ever useful?

Oh shit.

I am going to have some alternative to the truth though.

Think Alex, think!

“I… I… erm… I’ve h-had a b-bit of a breakdown…”

Yes Alex, good start.

“Ok, Ok. Do you know what brought that on?”

“L-last night… Last night I h-had some bad news”

Ok Alex, this is getting more and more difficult now, but that’s a decent enough reason, you’re doing fine.

“Ok I’m sorry to hear that Alex, what was the bad news?”

Ok, think Alex. Cancer? No, that’s quite a hard thing to fake, and I’d have a hard time explaining how I got the diagnosis last night. Parent died? No, that’s a difficult lie to maintain, all of my family would probably visit at some point. Granddad maybe? They’re both already dead, so it would be an easy pretence to keep up, though it’s hardly breakdown worthy is it?

“I heard last night… Last n-night I heard a friend died…”

Okay… Is this going to be easy to keep up?

“He… erm… h-he committed suicide…”

What the fuck Alex?! What the fuck is wrong with you?! I’m inventing suicides as a fucking excuse for being hungover?! This is awful, I’m an awful, awful human being. If I believed in karma I’d be setting myself up horribly for some serious fucking later on.

“Goodness, I’m sorry Alex, what was his name?”

Ok, name, name, name. Just pick a random name Alex, random name generator, ready? Three, two, one…

“His name was… was…. his n-name was… Kamal…”

Nooooooooooooooooooo! No no no! What are you thinking you insane lump of useless shit?! You’ve just killed off one of your closest friends. Why Alex? Why? Why are you like this? Why do you do these things? Ok, I’m never fucking drinking again, last night was my last drink ever, I need to stop this person ever rearing its horrific, ugly, fucking malicious head ever again.

“Ok Alex, get dressed and we’ll have a cup of tea in the living room and talk this over, Ok?”

Michelle left me to put my clothes on. I lie back and stare at the underside of the desk.

In a life of low points this may be the lowest.1

[1wow, so I’m just airing *everything* that I’m most ashamed of? All my lowest points? This is all true, and extremely traumatizing to go through again]



Scalpels and Ernie Bevin

Well, not really ‘dark’, the word ‘dark’ suggests a certain amount of light being present so you could appreciate the lack of it. The kitchen that moment was more black than anything else. Black as what the Ace of Spades sees what it closes its eyes, black as the unluckiest cat to cross your path, black as the blackest Sabbath.


I had long been au fait with the expected procedure in such situations so I waved my hand in front of my face.

It was keeping itself to itself, vision-wise.

I looked over where I believed my left shoulder to be in order to further scout out a little more of my surroundings.


I repeated the same process, this time mirrored over where I believed my right shoulder usually positions itself.


For my third assessment of the surrounding area I decided to shake it up a little and turned my head as close to one hundred and eighty degrees as I thought possible and peered backwards behind where I believed both of my shoulders to be to evaluate what dangers or threats were approaching me from behind.

Atomic tangerine, sprayed with just a hint of electric ultramarine.

Only joking of course.




If there was some awful threat waiting to attack me from behind I wouldn’t know until it was far too late.

The beast would slam its jaw around my head like the pig had just done.

Had that already happened? Had I died in that room?

Was this what being dead is?

Damn, death is dull.

Perhaps if more people saw how tedious it was there would be less people craving it so.

“Ah, hello, hello, hello”

You’d expect a voice to boom in such a dark and intimidating environment, you’d expect it to shake your very perception of your new reality, to dizzy your already compromised view of what existence now consisted of. The voice didn’t boom at all. It was loud enough to hear, sure, its audibility was of no concern, but my bones remained resolutely unshaken.

“Erm… Hello…?”

I phrased the salutation as a question, for obvious reasons.

“Hello there! I understand you called upon me, or has there been some awful mix-up here? Ack, don’t say there’s been a mix-up! You won’t believe the amount of mistakes the office has been making recently! We’ve had this new system installed see? Ack, they always say these things will speed the whole things up don’t they? Ah but I’ll be damned if I can see much improvement in speed so far! Quite the opposite in fact! The bloody thing’s made things take twice as long now! That’s always the way though isn’t it? Am I right?? Ack, I suppose we’ll get used to it and it’ll be all ab-so-lute-ly fine at some point, but I tell you these new things cause nothing but grief when they first arrive, am I right??”

The voice spoke in a strong Welsh brogue, charming enough to listen to but hardly what you’d expect to hear bellowing at you from this kind of darkness. This kind of blackness.

“Are you…?” I stopped myself as the sheer lunacy of what I was asking hit me and it was difficult to carry on without feeling utterly ridiculous “Are you the God of medicine?”

“Ack!” the voice chuckled “Well thank you very much for saying that sir! But I’m far too shy to ever call myself that! Can you imagine?? Me bumbling along, shouting orders, calling myself the ‘God of medicine‘! Ack! I really couldn’t be doing with that now! Oh yeah, you get some of the other Gods who flounce around the place saying ‘call me the God of this’ or ‘call me God of that’- you should see how Clotho ponces around the bloody place, you have to refer to him as the ‘God of fertility’ to his face or he’ll throw a bloody shit-fit! Mind you, fertility is quite a cool thing to be the God of isn’t it? God of bloody shagging practically aren’t you!”

The voice chuckled again. The God of medicine was obviously not one for enigma.

“So do I call you Bashen Dada?”

“Oooooh no, that’s far too official isn’t it? And wrong of course. I mean it’s actually Baosheng Dadi, not Dada. But there’s no need to call me that either! We can all be friends here can’t we? Just call me ‘Dadi’, no need for these formalities is there?”

“You don’t sound very Chinese”

“Ack! These things are always just symbolic aren’t they? You don’t want to be reading too much into it, if you shine that sort of critical light on everything that makes up this largely symbolic character then trust me you’re going to uncover a lot of holes! I mean this is all a bit of a silly artifice isn’t it? Don’t obsess too much over it lad. Do I look Chinese anyway?”

Not the absolutely most intelligent question he could have asked.

“Well, erm, I don’t know, it’s a little, y’know, dark in here. Like, completely black”

“Oh bloody hell! What am I like? I have especially good night vision you see? Like one of those cats you know? The light switch is just on your right side, I mean just reach out your right arm and it’s right there. No lights! What am I bloody like??”

Light switch?

I stuck my right arm out and sure enough soon felt the wall. A quick sweep of the area soon found the switch and I flicked it.

Then let out a yelp of shock and horror as I gazed upon Baosheng Dadi.

He was ten feet tall in total, maybe more, without counting however much of him still emerged underneath the hole he was emerging from into the dazzlingly white waiting room we were in. His body looked like a scaled snake which bent up from the ground and led to a giant tiger’s head. His eyes were simply large holes in the head that were overflowing with dripping maggots that would constantly wriggle free of the socket and fall spinning down into the hole from which Dadi was arising from. Around his neck were attached a large amount of overlapping leeches that made up something like a tight pink snood. The blanket of leeches seemed to inflate and deflate rhythmically like they were Dadi’s gills wheezing his every breath. Around this grubby fillet was a near countless circle of thin spindly arms, like stick insect legs, each leading to a different medical instrument. There was one leading to an injection needle, one leading to a scalpel, to to a retractor, to a suction tube, a drill, to other instruments I had only previously clapped eyes upon utilised in the most degenerate torture porn. He loomed over me, constantly wiggling his body from left to right and back again, taking me in from as many angles as he could.

He was not an altogether attractive beast. He chuckled bashfully.

“Surprising isn’t it? Ack, come one, like I don’t get the same bloody reaction every time! I’m not one of those good looking God’s you see? I bet you’re wishing you’d summoned Hathor now aren’t you? Oof, she’s still got it! Four and a half thousand years old but you’d never even guess she was much older than a millennium! Lot more difficult to summon of course, I mean I’m happy with the whole name backwards thing, a lot of people just settle for that or the old ‘name three times in a mirror’ jobby, but she had to make it a lot more difficult. It’s one of those ‘slay your first born under the glow of a clear full moon’ or something, I’m not a hundred percent sure, one of those efforts. She was getting a lot of problems from the pervs y’see? And when you’re a God you’ve got to be careful of the trolls”

“To be honest, I thought…”

Dadi threw his tiger’s head back and released a booming laugh.

Booming! Finally….

“Bloody hell! You hear the Welsh accent, you’re in an NHS hospital, so you assume you’re gonna get bloody Ernie Bevin!”

“Well, I did kind of…”

“Bloody hell son! Have a bloody word with yourself! The undereducated may make that jump of flawed logic because I was born near Xiamen, which a few thousand years ago had an accent I suppose could be mistaken for Welsh, not that that’s any of your sodding business! I could take his form of course, I’m able to take any form I choose and whatnot”

With a blast of smoke he transformed himself into a carton of banana milkshake, then a blobfish wearing a party hat and finally Toby Anstis in the nip before returning back to his hideous chosen form.

“See? No problem boy. I mean it might make more sense to taken Ernie Bevin’s form if I was a particularly benevolent God- it’s a rather likeable and sweet form to take after all. But make no mistake son- I am a rather nasty and vengeful God, Ok?”

“Oh. Well to be completely honest I’m not entirely sure what it actually means to summon you, I only really needed protection from the killer pig?”

“Killer pig?”

“Erm, yes”

Dadi tutted, grinned and shook his head. He had produced a file from somewhere on his person and was leafing through the records with a shining lancet.

“Spilled some hydrochrucial terbutinal suphrodate on some bacon you were cooking did you? Bloody hell! If I had a sodding penny every time I’ve been summoned to clean up that mess. I mean, why take the thing in the bloody kitchen in the first place?? And cooked in the lab?? Cooked in the Sheffield hospital’s laboratory?? Ack! There are quite ridiculous holes in the believability of this current situation if you ask me” He looked up from his files and turned an endoscope on me “You’re actually the second idiot who’s done this today! The first fellow was this numpty in Rezina this morning. But- hoo-hoo!- he wasn’t best pleased with the judgement I passed out though!”


“Well yes, that’s the whole point of this lad, you ask for my help and I judge whether you’re worthy of all this bloody health care you’ve been enjoying”


“Yeah! Kind of wish you’d tried your luck with the killer bloody pig now don’t you?”

Dadi laughed loudly at himself but then a few moments of silence passed as he patiently flicked through my medical records, occasionally licking the forceps he was using to help turn the pages. He had put on a pair of reading glasses to denote how serious he was taking the whole thing. The only thing that would sometimes break the silence would be the frequent umming, ahing and tutting Dadi would exhale as he looked over my information. It would obviously not be a glowing report.

He turned his head to me and removed his glasses, his tiger face suddenly a lot more stern.

“Why don’t you take a seat Mr. Palmer?”

A small chair appeared a few feet from me. I was still lay on the floor.

“How am I supposed to…?”

“Ack, come on now Alex! Your body’s fine here, just jump on!”

I lifted myself up unsteadily and unconvinced.

But he was right.

I could walk.

I wanted to celebrate, to dance a jig a cross the floor, throw a moonwalk in, ask for a football so I could execute a class swinging volley into the top corner of the net, into and out of the splits.

But I felt it wasn’t the right time.

So I just sat down.

“Mr. Palmer, what do you tend to feel when you look at the other people in this hospital?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well Alex, what I’m saying is there’s a lot of people here far worse off than you, so how do you feel?”

“I dunno… I feel sorry for them I suppose…”

“Yes, lots of awful, terrible accidents, no fault of their own, and yet they seem to be in much worse state than you, life far more decayed, and yet you sit here and…”

Dadi squeezed the bridge of his nose between the maggot infested holes that passed for his eyes with the retractor that stood in for a hand. He showed that he could indeed close his eye-lids, cutting off the flow of maggots for a few brief seconds.

“You don’t deserve this Mr. Palmer I’m afraid. You don’t deserve any of this. That is my judgement”

“Wait! Why?!” I stood up to protest “Is my life not worth saving, am I not a good enough person??”

Dadi scoffed.

“You’re really not getting this are you? I never said you’re don’t deserve to bloody live did I? I said you didn’t deserve all this bloody treatment! But as it is I will now in fact kill you”

Dadi rose up from the hole and began to spin in circles up in the air readying himself for attack. All of arms rose up and pointed their instruments aggresively outward. Fire burned in his eyes, setting many maggots aflame and sending their burnt black corpses flying down to the floor. He released a blood-curdling roar that shook the room’s very foundations. He pushed his reading glasses up onto his forehead. Battle was declared.

“Sorry lad, rules are rules you see? And your report was a pretty open and shut case”

With that he breathed in deeply and released a jet of flames from his mouth in my direction. I saw it coming and had time to plan my reaction, executing a rolling leap to the right and avoiding the blast, feeling just the hot lick of the flames as they rushed past my back.

“Come on now, let’s not drag this out”

Dadi flew toward me with his jaws open, giving me a wide look at his giant teeth and the bottomless dark cavern that was his throat, an area he hoped to dispel me to.

He dived down to chomp on. From my lying position I grabbed the chair he had provided and swung it into his open jaw.


I had managed to make a solid connection with his front teeth, shattering plenty of them and breaking a large fang into two pieces. The blow sent him spinning to the floor and he landed in a crumpled heap, his arms all twisted around each other. He was momentarily knotted up like a pair of headphones that had spent far too long crumpling up in the bottom of a jacket pocket. His reading glasses flew across the room and smashed on the wall.

“Aaaaaaargh, fucking, bloody, shitting hell boy! You’re only making me consider a long and painful death for you”

He growled as he started to attempt to untangle himself. I saw perhaps my best chance of victory. I lunged forward, making full use of my newly restored legs to pounce forward onto Dadi’s crumpled heap. In front of me I saw one of his arms that had a large, sharp scalpel attached to it.

With all the strength I could muster I grabbed hold of the arm and plunged the blade deep into Dadi’s throat.

The leeches that surrounded his neck squealed piercingly and dropped off. Dadi rocketed up in the air and roared, the sad, pitiful roar of a wounded animal. With a puff of smoke he was gone.

Instead Ernest Bevin stood before me.

He sighed deeply.

“Right, you’ve really made this far more difficult than it needs to be. You couldn’t just lie down and accept the nice little symbolic death could you?” he produced a revolver from the inside of his coat “We’re gonna just have to do this the all the slightly more humdrum way I’m afraid. Sorry about this lad”

I closed my eyes shut and awaited the inevitable.


The shot rang out. I waited a few seconds for the beautiful clench of death to overtake me, greatly looking forward to falling to my knees as the World outside fades away.


Maybe you don’t feel gunshots?

Perhaps I should open my eyes.

After a few seconds of silence I managed to build up the courage to release an eyelid.

Ernest Bevin stood still before me, unmoving with a face as white as the waiting room we were standing in.

There was an open bullet wound bleeding from his chest.

He collapsed onto the floor.

Eric stood behind him with a smoking shotgun.

“Come on!” he waved “We gotta get back to the ward!”

“Hang on!” I put my hand up to protest “This really doesn’t make sense now!”

Eric stopped and scratched his head.

“Yeah, really testing the boundaries of believability now isn’t it?”

Yeah that whole thing really lost its thread a bit there didn’t it?

None of this happened of course, as the more sharper tools amongst you might have already ascertained. I just thought the scene maybe needed spicing up a little, maybe the book itself actually needs a bit more action. You’re welcome to picture that sequence of events with me being played by Vin Diesel or Adam Sandler, depending on the tone you think the inevitable movie adaptation would take. I’m imagining it would all require a fair bit of CGI trickery to get Dadi just right, so very probably a big summer blockbuster.1

[and we’re back – pithy humour, tangents, dumb cultural references. For a moment there I was actually *focused* when writing oure fiction and my writing improved immensely. Perhaps there’s a lesson here]

So sorry, but I completely made up everything there- every incident, every character is completely fictional.

In reality?

I just cooked it.

You’ve fried eggs and/or bacon before haven’t you? Well, it was much like that, disappointingly (for the reader) and marvelously (for me) boring. It tasted… like you’d imagine, but that was also extremely welcome, and there was actually no respite from an angry God. Either Allah had been tricked by the cover of egg, or he/she had witnessed the awful sexual assault I had been subjected to, and maybe word had reached him/her or my stolen boxer shorts, and thought that, hey, I deserved a break.



Joanne and Michael Cole

I was so extensively impregnated with decomposing dung that drastic measures were required. It was decided that one Wednesday I was simply to cancel all plans, there would be no visits to the physio, there would be no meals delivered, Eric would certainly be strongly advised against poking his wheels in and neither of my parents would be allowed to visit during the day. I was going to take a laxative of the type of power few humans had ever experienced, the type of laxative that could perhaps assist with a bull elephant’s constipation, the type of laxative that you’d flush down the toilet on the QE2 if you wanted to cleanse the entire boat’s plumbing system in less than five seconds, the kind of laxative that would constitute a heinous war crime if it were fired at the enemy in a vicious show of biological warfare, the kind of laxative that… listen, you get the picture don’t you? I’m not sure how many more florid example I can conjure up- it was an extremely strong laxative, Ok? It would have the effect of a nuclear bomb being set off deep in my bowel and I would spend the few hours following the ingestion of the pill having waste fired out of my lowest hole whilst possessing not a smidgen of ability to hold back the tide.

Joanne and another nurse* spent the morning preparing the bed for the oncoming onslaught. Plastic covers were placed down covering the whole surface and I lay underneath a bed sheet that was sprawled over the naked lower half of my body.

(* Who I shall call Alexandria, after the delightful YouTube act ‘Joanne and Alexandria- ‘We sing, rap, dance and create our choreography’. Is it perhaps growing more obvious that I’m finding it more and more difficult to think up these fucking names? Nurse 1, Nurse 2 etc.1)

[1Jesus Christ, Alex, STOP THIS ‘BIT’!! It’s NOT funny and NOT fun to read!!]

I took the pill and entered the Matrix.

I’m not sure how much of this book I could spend explicitly describing the methodology of me pooing, so I’ll try and make this as brief and undescriptive as possible. Over the next few hours, while all the time I was serenaded by Stone Temple Pilots or Sublime or Jane’s Addiction or Veruca Salt by Q101 (not to be confused with Northern Ireland’s 101.2FM, home of the best music playing the biggest hits from 80s, 90s, 00s and today), my bowels would intermittently explode with a force big enough to create maybe eight or nine Godzillas and spray jets of poop out of my emergency exit. Or is it rather the usual exit? Emergency entrance maybe? What a mine-field…

These shots were occasionally sound-tracked with a delightful squelching noise, which added some much appreciated whimsy to the whole affair. After each dismissal Joanne and Alexandria would quickly zip around the bed replacing dirty covers and wiping me clean with wet-wipes, which were instruments I had by that point already built quite a strong relationship with. They would end the operation by dressing the bed up as before in expectancy of the next heave-ho, which would take place within a handful of minutes and require the whole dance to be repeated. It wasn’t one of my more productive days, unless you count a day spent constantly and completely evacuating your bowels as being one that’s especially constructive. It was far from my happiest one.

After a day spent shitting I was less full of crap than I’d been for years, and was at least pleased that would be the end of it. I hadn’t assumed that I would subsequently be required to learn how best to poo again. I thought quite naively that cleaning out all the decayed poop that was filling me up past my eyebrows would draw a discreet line under the whole affair and perhaps we would never need to talk about again, but I forgot that since the problem arose from me not shitting properly I would obviously require a new crash course in how best to jettison my cargo.

I’ve experienced some terrible school subjects in my time- the Medieval Woman Writers module was a particular low point at university, while I always struggled with chemistry- but I think being taught how to poo may count as the least inspiring unit I’ve studied. I do however think all students would work harder at learning their periodic table or the correct French tenses if the alternative offered was… Well I’ll get round to explaining it soon…

My personal trainer in this regard would be Michael (named after the husband of Joanne Cole and co-creater of Fingermouse) as it was obviously decreed by the hospital that a male nurse would be ideally versed in how best to train a fellow gentleman to shit. He lay his instruments out on the bed before me and tried to explain their uses.

There were only two, and as soon as I laid eyes upon them the tiny rusty cogs in my head span slightly and the horror of the task that lay before me started to dawn on me.

“You’re going to need to wear gloves, to be absolutely safe, you’re not going to want any dirt or infections in there are you? And trust me, you’re really going to want this…”

He pulled out a tub that looked like a pot of glue and he was going to illustrate to me how best to stick pieces of macaroni to my Mother’s Day card, a course I would still enjoy more than Medieval Woman Writers. Please can we be making macaroni Mother’s day cards? Oh please, oh please?

“…which is your lubricant”

To show me the optimum fashion he snapped a blue glove on his hand and squeezed a liberal amount of lubricant onto his index finger.

“You’re going to want to get a lot of lubricant on your finger, it’ll make the whole process a lot easier. Then you’re going to want to insert the finger into your anus…” he stuck his finger up in the air at a speed that I imagined would be far too boisterous for my poor bottom cavity to take “…and then you’re going to want to scrape the inside…” he acted out an obscene come-hither movement which I again saw to be far too vicious an action for my beloved bum hole to easily digest “…and try to pull out any pieces of faeces that might be floating inside. Do you understand?”

“I… well, I…” I stammered, a bit taken aback by the question, I certainly understood the theory behind it “I mean… yes, I suppose I understand…”

“Good” He said and threw me a pack of gloves “Do you want to give it a go?”

That was quite a loaded question, of curse I didn’t want to give it a go, but I think the main reason he was showing the process to me was that I didn’t really have a choice. I picked up the gloves and lubricant and shuffled into my ensuite bathroom even more gingerly than usual. The idea of an ‘ensuite bathroom’ had never seemed less glamorous than it did at that point. Michael seemed to believe that I still possessed even a semblance of self-respect and shame and so deemed it appropriate to stand out of view, but the door to the toilet was left open so we could still communicate throughout the operation.

‘Are you on the toilet?’

“Erm… yes”

I knew already that we weren’t about to act out a scene that would be included in my highlights reel when I walk up to collect my lifetime achievement Oscar, nor were we about to play through anything I would see fit to mention on my CV, nor on my dating site profile written next to ‘needle fan’ and ‘catheter attached’ and ‘bumper to bumper with rotting poo’.

“Ok then, do you remember how I showed you to do it”

I think so

Such a stupid question, did he really expect me to have forgotten such a monstrous display of intrusion? The bent contortions of Michael’s lubed-up finger were already scratched on the inner walls of my self-conscious like the crude and horrifying message of anger smeared on wall by the serial killer in his last victim’s blood. And what if I said no? Would he have told me to cover my shame and then walk into the bathroom to give me another demonstration? How many times could I have asked for him to play out the act before he’d start to realise it was all merely a push for him to do it himself? I would have another opportunity to say that he should buy me a drink first- a well timed delivery of that line would at least break the natural tension that arises when one man is trying to encourage another to scape out pieces of his own poo.

“Ok, so you’re going to want to… Going to want to… You’re going to want to try to do that


I assumed the whole process would be like flying a kite, once I got it up and into the air it would be plain-sailing. They say the first million is the hardest, and I imagined a similar philosophy belied scooping out your own faeces. The first turd is the hardest. First shit is the deepest. Like a professional snooker player lining up a difficult shot into the opposite corner though (I think I’m legally obliged here to describe it as the ‘tricky brown’), I couldn’t quite work out the best position to attempt my attack. Michael could obviously hear my slight distress lining up my shot from outside the door.

“You’re going to want to lean to the side a bit, leave a space big enough to fit your hand in between your body and the toilet seat”

“Which side should I lean to?”

“What hand do you use?”

The question took me slightly longer to answer than it really should have, perhaps the length of time since my last wank had clouded my memory of exactly which hand I led with.


“Ok then you’re going to want to lean to your left”

Perhaps other more physically and coordinatingly gifted people might remember such words of advice and encouragement shouted out by supporting coaches in the hope of improving your burst of pace on the final stretch of the 400m or better managing your through-kick flow when hitting a long-ball (does any part of that make sense? It sure sounds legitimate doesn’t it? I’m keeping it in). Yet here I was receiving supportive shouts from the touchline about better exacting my bum-fingering technique.

This was my life now.

This had been my life for such a long time.

It used to be so wonderful, I lived in a beautiful exotic country, I was slowly yet consistently improving my conversational Mandarin, I was regularly invited to state banquets, sometimes thrown I my honour, I gave lectures to Chinese teachers on English culture and the subtitles of the language (I once gave an hour talk on irony which perhaps Alanis Morissette should have attended. There I go again!), I had a ridiculously beautiful and stupefyingly amazing girlfriend with whom I would regularly trip around China, enjoying the long holidays afforded by state schools and my generous pay packet. I was once considered enough of a catch for a different beautiful woman to once marry me. I was a man frequently about town, the kind of guy you’d invite to places, I had been the life of several parties. Not every party, but some.

I was someone.

Or at least something.

Now less than nothing.

And now I was instead bent over to my left on a toilet seat as a supportive nurse tried to cheer me through picking out my own poo to best potty train me again. I doubted the sequel to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off would cover similar ground.

This must be such a difficult time for E.

At least I wasn’t fucking thirty…

“Are you doing it?”

As I squeezed my lubed finger deeper and deeper into my anus it occurred to me that I could just as well say I was and skip the whole unseemly process, he would never know would he? I could just make the right noises and describe what I believed to be the appropriate actions and he would never know- it would be the perfect crime!

My dastardly plan was quickly jettisoned though when it occurred to me that I wasn’t entirely sure what the appropriate actions would be, or even what noises would be expected. If I mis-stepped and described far too much or far too little poo pulled out, or if I expelled a misjudges ‘ooooh’ when a light ‘aaaah’ is far more applicable then suddenly it becomes a serious medical issue. I’d then have to go through the ignominy of explaining to doctors how I faked my own anal penetration like a particularly depraved Meg Ryan. By that point anyway I was already past the knuckle, and had certainly gone too far now to simply turn back- if you’ve accidentally walked into the worst pub in the city while the rugby’s on and already ordered a drink you may as well finish it and try your best to style out the experience.

Tiny flecks were eventually scraped out.

Tiny flecks.

I’m not going to describe the occasion in any more detail. I think I’ve already given you more than enough information for you to run away with whatever images you wish to conjure up in that depraved and twisted imagination of yours. Or perhaps you, like me, would just prefer to forget all about the messy incident.

Dad came to visit soon after, although I never brought up the subject of faeces picking, I’m old fashioned like that. Our conversation in my room (and our playing of the brilliant and highly recommended Pointless board game that mum had bought me) was interrupted by a video call from Hej which I answered with pleasure although with the intention of telling her that perhaps I should phone her back after my Dad had left. Upon picking up I was greeted by the sight of Hej striking her best pose to camera whilst clad only in her skimpiest underwear. It’s hard to decide whether the gorgeous sight itself or her absolute morbid embarrassment once she realised my dad was there cheered me up the most, but it was certainly one of the happier moments of my stay at Sheffield.



Xenomorphs and Conquistadors

There’s a big moment in every/most parent’s life when their child is eventually able to ride their bicycle without stabilisers. Or maybe that isn’t a big moment at all, to be honest I have close to no idea, I’m mainly basing this belief on a famous scene from Kramer vs Kramer. Movies have never lied to me, unlike Alanis Morissette (tick!) and her extremely flaky definition of irony.

Beautiful moment, tears, hugs, ice-cream, Meryl Streep’s tacit approval, photos posted to Instagram, gushing Facebook post, twenty seven likes, OMG.

I am currently without child, so I imagine a feeling close to that elation occurred with me when I learned that the catheter tube was to be finally removed. My willy would be tubeless! Finally I would no longer have the hard length of plastic inserted deep into my Ecuadorian navel that I assumed was preventing my erections and soon I would be happily masturbating furiously like a chimp after three months on a navy vessel without shore leave.

The doctor told me the good news on his next rounds. A doctor would visit my bed-side once a week on average to check I wasn’t dead and to dispassionately describe in what specific ways I was fucked to a gaggle of observing medical students. While he did this I would try my best to bewitch some of the nicer looking ones with my easy charm and rapier wit, assuming that spinal injury patients enamouring visiting student girls with the sheer power of their electric charisma was a common occurrence. Did they not just hear that I was having my catheter removed? How sexy is that, come on? If you want to try out a good opening line try approaching that sexy woman stood alone at the bar nursing her one Daiquiri and telling her you don’t have a catheter inserted into your penis while rakishly wiggling your eyebrows.





After the doctor broke the good news a wide grin plastered my face. It was only broken ever so slightly when the reality of the mechanics required set it

“So afterwards..” I ventured carefully, perhaps wary that I wouldn’t like the answer to the question I was putting forward “I’ll just be able to wee into the toilet again?”

The doctor answered my question briskly and seemed to usher out his flock of disciples a little bit quicker than usual. I could have sworn I heard a giggle.

“A nurse will explain how it all works to you soon”

Sure enough a nurse who specialised in such matters arrived to talk me through how the whole operation was about to go down. You want her to be referred to something other than ‘nurse? Well tough titty, I’m really running out of names here. There’s a reason even the especially fertile and bizarrely fervent seem to stop at around fifteen or twenty children- eventually you’re going to run out of ideas over what to name the little fuckers. Unless you just give up like George Foreman and call all your boys George and even one girl Georgetta. And Foreman’s twelve children suggest that he was fully aware that eventually he would be in serious danger of running low on names. Perhaps the size of an animal’s litter is in direct proportion to how well they can think up names- an Elephant is given a ridiculous two year pregnancies to try and decide whether to call the first born Nellie as all her friends are pushing for or perhaps Babar after her father. Many spiders however can drop a sac of a thousand eggs (into your mouth. At night) and so must have an absolutely amazing capacity for naming children. If a spider gets accidentally called by its brothers name by the mother do they just let it slide as an understandable mistake or are they deeply offended, rather unreasonably? I’m going to write to David Attenborough asking his opinion, and if he for some reason doesn’t know I’ll demand a full investigation- we deserve to be told David! What have you got to hide? What do you know? Christ, I can’t even remember what I was writing about at the start of this paragraph now… Oh yeah! The nurse’s name. I suppose I better call her Georgetta after all that hadn’t I? Or maybe Spiderwoman… No, Georgetta is better. There, it’s decided, now please carry on with the story.

Few words of explanation were needed by Georgetta though after she pulled out a thin tube about eighteen inches long.

“You mean I’m supposed to…?”

“Insert the tube into your penis, yes”

“But… but…”

I struggled with how best to voice my concerns without openly casting dispersions on the size of my penis- was that how long other people’s were?? The tube looked like I would have little chance injecting it into my Jim Jefferies*.

(*Apologies to the comedian Jim Jefferies- your name just fitted I’m afraid)

“It doesn’t go back that far!”

“You’d be surprised” replied Georgetta in the disinterested fashion of someone who had heard the same objection countless times before “I’ll show you the general thinking behind it”

The tubular hell (ooooh, that’s nice, can I patent that?) came sealed in a long plastic package, about twenty inches by two, and at one end it was attached a sealed sack of my old friend lubricant, a substance I had become rather attached to over the past week, like an especially frequently handled city centre prostitute working in a country hosting the World Cup. A squeeze of the lubricant sack would release a stream of clear goo down along the plastic packet and coat the tube in a slippery sheen to ready the torpedo for its launch into enemy territory. The top of the packet was the torn open and a separate medical bag was attached to the small open funnel at the end of the tube to capture, store and measure the wave of wee that was expected to emerge.

Georgetta connected the complicated apparatus together and then pulled the long slippery pliable pipe from out of it’s sheath and held it out in front of me like she was an angler pleased with the Northern pike she’d just reeled in. It hung there dripping small amounts of translucent goop staring at me viciously, looking like nothing if not the violent and penetrating tongue of the Xenomorph alien, able to puncture a man’s skull into an explosion of guts and gore at two paces. Are the mushy innards of your head technically gore? Goo then, mush, grime, grisled pink and red offal.

That was what I was expected to slide into my Estonian ear hole.

“Ok then” she declared cheerfully as the dripping spine of the alien fetus lay shivering in her hand “Are you ready to give it a go?”

First of all the catheter that I had held clasped deep in my urethra for the past three months was removed for what I thought would be the final time, a process I again can’t really talk you through as I still refused to look upon the actions required to remove or insert tubes into my dearest and oldest friend. I numbed myself blind to the irony that I would soon be required to perform such operations on myself.

The curtains were pulled around my bed to afford me at least the pretension of privacy and Georgetta stood close by my bed watching intently as if I were about to serve out the final of Wimbledon. I squeezed the lubricant sac hard, and have to admit that the feeling of it bursting and releasing slick fluid down the inside of the packet was a small but not insubstantial ergonomic thrill that I made sure I fully appreciated, as I figured such thrills would be few and far between over the course of the exercise. I readied myself to rip open the lair of white worm,

“Alex wait!” Georgetta interjected frantically “Wash your bloody hands Alex! Jesus…”

“Oh yeah…”

I mumbled abashed as I looked at the pack of wet-wipes that had been placed on the bed inches away from my dirty fingers, a hint I had spectacularly failed to take. When planning to insert something into your willy’s holiest and most staunchly defended recesses it’s always best if you give your hands a quick wipe over first. Just another tip for you there, free of charge. The wet-wipes another implement I’d developed a close kinship with. If I were the Captain Kirk of the Enterprise of my hospital visit Commander Wet Wipe would be the Spock of the whole operation, while Captain Lubricant would perhaps play the part of Bones McCoy- a slightly smaller role in the whole production but capable of stepping up and becoming very central to the plot on occasion.

Packet ripped, bag attached, tube released.

After the release operation I was trying to best point the thin apex of the cylinder at the tiny hole that existed at my end of my winky while holding the far end of the pipe eighteen inches away, like using a twenty foot window opener in an attempt to let in some fresh air into the crowded auditorium awaiting a stirring motivational speech from Nick Bateman. The process was complicated further by the fact that I wasn’t 100% sure whereabouts the exact entrance to my Albanian Achilles was as I’d never before attempted to use the passageway in this direction, was there an optimal angle from which to attempt it? When a road is marked as one way you usually have to drive around the block to find a better route, would I be best going round the back and sticking another thing up my bum? I really wanted to avoid anal retention becoming my ‘thing’ quite so literally.

The end of the tube that I was aiming into my front hole was slightly sharpened at its head, not massively but certainly enough for me to worry that one wrong move would see me puncture my glans** like a horrific shish kebab, perhaps my elbow would slip and suddenly I’ve pierced my own genitals. I had to face my fear though, so I closed my eyes, gulped loudly and pushed the giant needle slowly into myself like I was a Smurf attempting to find the last vein he could still inject into.

(** I had to conduct some rather awkward research on that name, I’ve never heard it referred to as anything other than the ‘bell-end’. There are some rather eye-opening photographs on the Wikipedia page. Just trust me on that, I really can’t see any reason why you would want to look for yourself, if for some reason you don’t trust my statement and want to check my sources you’re only going to end up ever so slightly disturbed. ‘Glans’ though? What a disappointingly mundane name for it that is, perhaps if its medical name were a tad more exotic and phonetically pleasurable like it was referred to as your diaphanous or your tintinnabulation then people might jump at the chance to use it more often.)

Eeep! Phwar… Werp! Feep feep feep! Thweeeeeaaaar… Wek! EEBLE! Eeeeesh…

It was an odd feeling to say the least, about as close to the feeling of urinating backwards as you’d assume. There were a few moments when I could have sworn I felt the point scrape along the walls of my urethra and it seemed that I was one small move away from breaking straight through the tintinnabulation and spraying blood all over the closely watching Georgetta. I doubt that was the actual meaning of the Door’s ‘Break On Through to the Other Side’ but I feel the experience may induce a closer read of the lyrics.

That would show her wouldn’t it? Bathe her in my blood, show her my discomfort.


Carrie motherfucker!

Bet you feel bad now, huh?

I’m in pain!

I’m so unhappy right now!

Can’t you see?!

Instead, despite my brain throwing amateur dramatic shapes, it actually slid down rather easily and without too much objection. My first concerns were proved well-founded however, as about half way down/up the rope I felt myself hit a wall somewhere deep inside.

“Urraph!” I called out in shock, before turning to Georgetta to explain how her stupid idea wasn’t going to work “Phwe… See? It stops here, I can’t push it in any further now, I told you it was too long”

“No, that’ll just be your prostate” Georgetta replied nonplussed “That’ll put up a bit of opposition, just push hard through it”

Push hard through it??

Push hard through my prostate??

What fresh hell was this??

I was now convinced that this was an elaborate hazing exercise every new patient was subjected to and soon I was going to burst through something essential and fill my inner tubing with gushing blood. We’d all laugh about it later.

So I pushed a little harder and attempted to thrust the spike past the disapproving prostate, which is an example of precisely how much I trusted that the nurses knew what they were doing and how far I’d follow them down the rabbit hole.

We chased our pleasures here, dug our treasures there.

But can you still recall, the time we cried?

Phway-hay! Ing… Arsibannock! Fff… fff… ffff… fribbinarch! Aggle, agglarmick! Fweech…

Break on through to the other side!

The barricade was broken down and the tube was pushed further and further, deeper and deeper into parts of my body that had never before seen such a thing. I could only hope that my innards didn’t have a similar attitude to the invading forces as Hawaiian natives had to James Cook, or even worse the Conquistadors reaped similar carnage to my inner workings as they did throughout the Americas.

All of a sudden a wall was broken and urine was swiftly shooting up the tube and into the bag. I lay back spent and exhausted like I had just crossed the line at the London Marathon and waiting to be wrapped in tin-foil and fed a Mars Bar.

“See that wasn’t so hard was it?” Georgetta observed as the bag filled up “Just be careful that you don’t spray wee everywhere when you take it out”

E was so lucky to have support from her family at this difficult time for her.

I at least consoled myself that this whole difficult operation would lead to me regaining the use of my erections, and promised that my my first wank after a long lay off would be a special one, like Michael Jordan’s return to the NBA, and with similar media interest.

I tried my best to first stoke the interest myself. Later that day I was on a video-call to Hej and told her my good news.

“Well, show it me then”

“What do you mean?”

“Your penis. Show it to me. I want to see it”

“I guess…”

I remembered Hej’s little strip-tease to my father recently and figured that I perhaps owed her one, if only to alleviate her still deep embarrassment over the incident. I pushed myself out of my wheelchair and managed to stand up in front of the computer. I pulled my pants down and released the little general into the wild momentarily, before quickly pulling my breeches and sitting back down.

“No! I didn’t really see it! You’re too quick, do it again”

“What? No! I already showed it to you, I’m not getting it out again”

“I didn’t see it! Do it agaaaaaiiin!”

Knowing that once Hej gets certain bits in her mouth it can be near impossible to unlock her jaw, I decided that it would be altogether quicker if I just caved in quickly and exposed myself to her once again. Stand up, pants down.

“Happy now?”

I asked with a slight hint of exasperation. I looked above the computer and remembered that I had stationed it on the window-ledge of my room, a window with a nice panoramic view looking out upon the hospital grounds, so at that moment I was in fact exposing my dick to the outside world. I can’t say with confidence whether or not I was shaking it from side to side at any point, perhaps maybe slapping it against the tops of my thighs. It was quite an aggressive display of dick-swinging, a threatening show of confidence to the long zig-zagging road up the hill that linked the Spinal Injuries Unit to the rest of the hospital.

I’m back motherfucker!

And all completely accidental.

I sat down abashed.

“Nooooooo! Didn’t see it properly!”

“Nope, you’ve had enough I think”


14th March

4 Wanks today… not very productive



Death and Masturbation

I was given a strict timetable for urination, I would be required to poke a tube into my Armenian antecubital once every six hours- at six am, noon, six pm and midnight and then to note how much was whizzed out into the bag and write down the amount in the special diary provided.

August 28.

Amount: 450ml.

Special notes: none.

I never once saw fit to write anything in the special notes, nothing about my urine ever seemed suitably special. No blood, no bright neon colours, no invasion of tiny vicious trilobites down the tube, no lightning bolts, no signs of the first speech recorded from urinal molecules, no sign from God- I had markedly unspectacular piss. Usually I was deliriously happy when things turned out to be something close to approaching my life’s previously stringent normality, but once you’re already transporting your urine out through a tube you’ve just injected into your Panamanian pituitary, you feel that to not go further into the World of weird once you’ve already kicked down the door is a massive missed opportunity.

There were a few teething troubles with my new arrangements that lasted long enough to not really be accurately described as ‘teething troubles’. I would regularly wake up covered in my own piss as my body continued its trouble in adjusting to this new pissing schedule. I would set an alarm that I would frequently end up sleeping through and end up pissing myself anyway, whereupon I would argue vehemently with the nurses for not waking me up in time.

“Why didn’t you wake me for fuck’s sake? Look at my bed now! What did you think was going to happen?!”

“Are we going to have to wake you up every morning? Even after you leave the hospital Alex?” Joanne said once, she always had much less time for my self-pity whining than a lot of the other nurses “What do you think you’re going to do then? Are you going to be wetting the bed for the rest of your life?”

The rest of my life? Could that really be it?

Could this really be it?

This couldn’t be my new schedule could it? Was there really a strong chance that I would wake up every morning from that point on in a bed wet with my own wee, a wet awakening without even the memories of the previous night’s dream?

Or perhaps the best case scenario was that I’d get the body clock schedule under control and instead spend the rest of my life making my excuses every six hours to go and thrust a plastic passageway deep into my Croatian clavicle. It was a quick way to get yourself thrown out of Tesco’s.

My whole life would have to be based around this now, every meal, every meeting, every idea, every thought would now need to be based around how efficient it would be for me next to inject myself. Hej would pretend that it wouldn’t make a difference and she didn’t care, but it would and she would. Would I ever even be able to make it to China again to see her? The twelve hour flight already presents its own problems.

Joanne set my mind spinning, but luckily an appointment had been set with Peter* the urologist and hopefully he could shed some light on the matter, and more importantly explain whether my new schedule had something to do with my continued lack of morning wood.

(*So called because that’s actually his fucking name, it’s becoming quite a chore now to explain the reasoning behind these things. It would perhaps make sense if I’d named him after Peter Faulk. ‘Just one more thing…’1)

[1kill me…]

“So Doc, what’s up?” I said, or I didn’t, it would have been something with similar meaning anyway, the exact wording of the inquiry isn’t of utmost importance in this instance.

“Well Alex, I’ve looked over your condition”

Peter had a cuddly and gently compassionate face, like an especially snugly koala, coupled with a lovely soothing and soft voice that was obviously perfectly designed for delivering bad news. I started to get a bad feeling about what he was about to tell me, the signs were not good, the tea leaves had started to form a swastika in the bottom of my cup.

“And it looks like you’ll no longer be able to get an erection or ever have sex again anything like you had before”


My mouth opened but my vocal chords weren’t able to process the disconsolate punch that my brain had just received. Peter obviously read some of my concerns in the light film of tears that began to sheath my eyes.

“Of course you can use pills to get an erection”

He continued conscientiously, his voice seemingly becoming more sonorous and carefully soft, as if he believed that to relate the news in a slightly heavier and louder tone would simply cause my brain to crush under the weight of the news, an assumption that may have not been far off the truth.

“Unfortunately the pills don’t work for a lot of people with your severity of condition, and in many cases the only course of action that could work is an injection of a drug called alprostadil into the penis. A lot of it would be trial and error I’m afraid”


Perhaps a strangled breath escaped from my mouth on that occasion, but I was a long way from finding the ability to talk again. There is a strange state you enter sometimes when you become choked with a sadness that wraps around your vocal chords like a boa constrictor and renders any appropriate response an impossibility. However this constriction also injects you with the strange knowledge that any spoken word would just immediately turn into a crushing tidal wave of tears, and perhaps it’s best not to push those buttons. Simple pride and fear of embarrassment persuades you against the spoken word.

I was impotent.



I was impotent.

It wasn’t fair.

It just wasn’t fair.

I had pretty much based my whole life and settled all of my decisions on my penis’s ability to erect. I had made every life choice around the possibility of it leading to sex, watched every movie with the understanding that knowledge of it might later lead to sex, or that perhaps the attractive female lead might at some point get her tits out and I could masturbate to it later. Have you seen Original Sin? Absolutely fucking awful film, an absolutely insulting assault on the senses, but I’ve sat through it several times simply because there’s plenty of Angelina Jolie sex scenes.

I was into really cool music and uber-fashionable bands because it created a dandy persona around me that might help persuade some easily impressed girl to perhaps at least let me finger her after the pub’s last orders. One of the reasons I drink so much is that it makes it easier to talk to girls and perhaps convince them that I’m worth a jump, a decision that I would try and turn a little towards my favour with copious drink for her.

That motivation had now been taken away from me.

What were my life goals now? Was I now expected to base all of my decisions on my weight? Would I now spend the rest of my life making decisions based on how many calories I was likely to consume?

Life now had no point.

I was aiming for nothing.

My one goal was now merely to survive.

Survive for what?

What was I now aiming towards?

It would be nice to get a pension.

And then die.

Death was now my one aim in life, perhaps I could masturbate in the afterlife.

That’s all I wanted to do now.


Death and masturbation.

My new goal.

Maybe I was being pessimistic, maybe life wasn’t 90% finished now but actually still 10% a going concern. I would still have a wonderful sex life, just that now the foreplay would have to pause for a second while I punctured a hypodermic needle into my flaccid penis.


I feel like I can’t adequately explain just how miserably deflating this news was to me. I can’t properly describe to you just how my life now had no meaning, no point, no goals. Just survive Alex, don’t die until you die, that’s your new objective, don’t die until you die, don’t die until you die.

Don’t die until you die

I had always thought I would be a good old man, like I would really suit a curmudgeonly wrinkled face, waving my stick at children at the bus stop, so perhaps that’s my goal now, old age. Peter once again read the struggle with suddenly altered life plans stretched across my features and felt he should also make something else clear unless there was any chance of me perhaps getting my hopes up.

“And even even you managed to get an erection your sperm probably wouldn’t ejaculate with the right force and quality to impregnate someone”

I couldn’t believe the force and quality of my sperm was now being brought into question, it was certainly nothing I’d previously questioned. There’d certainly been times when its appearance wasn’t altogether appropriate or well-suited to the situation, but the general calibre of the discharge had never been called into question, although I struggle to think under what circumstances a partner may voice complaints over how decent your seminal fluid was. Perhaps now if I ever managed to ejaculate it would be more akin to a puff of grey powder like you’d just blown the dust off that old copy of Eat, Prey Love you’ve kept at the top of your shelf for years.

“So if you ever wanted to have a child you’re going to have to take it up with a doctor”

“W…” I managed to get a few words out for he first time since Peter’s bombshell “Would that be paid for?”

“It depends on your local council”

Peter brightened up a bit, perhaps finally pleased to deliver something that at least touched upon being perhaps slightly good news.

“Most places would pay for the treatment in your condition”


I immediately thought of Hej, she desperately wanted children, her whole life was mapped out in her mind as eventually having children, maybe two, definitely one, and in our lighter moments we would discuss our children’s future. She wanted a boy, perhaps because having two sisters had put her off the idea of girls for life, and I a girl, because having two brothers had definitelyscared me off the opposite possibility. Plus being a boy myself- I hope I’ve mentioned that- had let me into a little inside insight into how disgusting they are. Surely my ability to father that child must at least have counted a little toward her reasoning for staying with me.

I wanted children.

I really really really really really wanted children.

Just give me one.


“What about if my girlfriend’s Chinese?”

“That shouldn’t be a problem” Peter responded cheerfully “As long as she’s a British national then she’d be granted the same rights as you are”

I simply nodded my head.

Hej wasn’t a British national.

She’d never even visited Britain. Never visited any country outside of China. When she visits a different province from Xinjiang she doesn’t tell her parents knowing how strongly they’d disapprove. The bird that keeps shitting on your car every morning is closer to being a registered British national than Hej is. How was I to give her children now? I quickly relayed all the possible solutions in my mind and worked out that the one solution to my problem would be for me to win the lottery. Pay back all the money wasted on me by my family in attempt to save me from death so I could now live out this worthless half existence that I was now condemned to. Pay for Hej to have her cervix basted with my particular crap sperm.

Job done.


My life would be simply sorted out if only I had millions of pounds. All you need is cash.

What if Hej now understandably finished with me? I could no longer have normal sex with her nor give her a child without some complex medical procedure, I was the car she’d bought- perhaps as high quality as a G reg Vauxhall Corsa in decent condition- that had suddenly lost a few wheel axles and the break cables had worn out, perhaps the radio no longer worked and the left window was stuck half way open, so who would blame her for throwing it on the scrap heap? Perhaps exchanging me for a Jaguar S-Type?

I would still want a child myself anyway, was I now supposed to convince some stranger to carry the child of a disabled vagrant? I’m ginger, ugly, but at least I had my health and a rather impressively tumescent erection.

Now I had nothing.

Well, very little.

I could bring my own crutches.

The best I could seriously hope for now is to be the weird uncle who drank too much, lived on a mate’s sofa and kept being inappropriate at family gatherings, rather than the weird Dad who drank too much, lived on a mate’s sofa and kept being inappropriate at family gathering.

Somewhere I was depriving a therapist of thousands of little stories about someone’s relationship with their father that’s left them emotionally disturbed. I always thought I’d make a great absent father- the relationship with the kid’s Mum had disintegrated before the kid was born and I would maybe visit one every two weeks, just enough to make the kid believe I hadn’t deserted him completely. The child would love the day out every time and complain about how their Mum makes them tidy their room and eat vegetables and how they dearly wanted to come and live with me. I would tell them that it was ‘complicated’ (which it would be- how exactly were they supposed to live with me on Clive’s sofa?). But now I would be about as absent a father as you could be.

I would be a good father.

Maybe the relationship with the mother would break down but I would be a great Dad.

When we were married E had once told me that even if we split up she would want me to father her children as she thought I would make the perfect Dad, but I imagine she had since changed her mind about that long before needing to consider whatever strange medical procedure it would now entail. Now J would probably father her child and it would be a horrible little shit and the first I’d hear about it would be when it’s arrested for stabbing it’s teacher and four of it’s classmates with a knife it had fashioned out of a shard of glass picked up at the abandoned factory the day before.

Would the government just impregnate Hej for me? Would the newly privatised Royal Mail just carry a vial of my pathetic understrength sperm to North West China by special delivery? Was this going to work in absolutely any way? ‘You never know’ people would try to comfort me, but let’s face it, you do.

You know exactly.

“And one more thing”

Peter Faulk exclaimed, perhaps reasoning that now was perhaps the time to pile on a little more luggage of bad news onto the donkey’s load, its back having already and completely broken, a little more straw wasn’t going to make a blind bit of difference

“It doesn’t look like you’re ever going to regain the ability to properly go to the toilet again, so if I were you I’d prepare to use the intermittent catheter tubes for the rest of your life”

‘However long that may be’ he didn’t say, but something in me read it in his droopy, aggravatingly understanding eyes. I wasn’t even in a state to bother considering that as bad news, I’d already prepared for that worst case eventuality so if anything I was pleased to be proven right.

He didn’t say ‘You never know’.

He knew that you know.

You know exactly.

I decided to respond to all the news by simply staring off into the middle distance, my eyes attempting to fill up with and excrete shameful wet goop so I tried best to think of other things that might hold back the tide.

What new albums did I particularly enjoy? The new Manic Street Preachers’ one was obviously a bit of a slow-burner, not entirely sure I knew how I felt about the new more acoustic direction, Tegan and Sara’s new one was a bit too poppy in places for my liking, the tracks on Monkey Minds in the Devil’s time by Steve Mason was pretty good in isolation but the album flows wonderfully as a whole, really liked the new Arctic Monkeys actually, and Kanye West’s new one is predictably brilliant, and isn’t ‘Columnia’ by Local Natives such a lovely song?

“Do you have anything you want to say Alex? Any response to what I’ve just told you?”



Yeah, I had a response, I would rather be normal thank you very much, I’d like to be one of those wonderfully normal men who walk around jumping from urinal to urinal and pissing away without a care in the World, those disgustingly, offensively normal men who just whip out their hard and hideous dimprackle first thing in the morning and have a quick pull on it thinking about the lesbian sex scene in Wild Things or Daniel Craig’s tight Speedos in Casino Royale or the new temp covering reception at work or I don’t fucking know whatever they want and never once stopping to think how blessed they are.

That was my response- this was a hell of a lot worse than life, this state I was in, a fuck of a lot worse.

Death, too. I couldn’t see how this was any better than death. Peter, nor any other nurse or doctor or medical professional, never offered me the choice of death as an alternative to tubes/injections into my penis or lifelong impotency or the inability to father children or a life now spent exclusively attempting to survive to experience, merely feeble attempts to survive the next day.

I would have bit their hands off, why wasn’t I given that choice? What a terrible and thoughtless dereliction of duty.

This useless sack of impotent shit was still my body, let me choose how to deal with it.

Give me the choice of death.

I didn’t say any of this of course, didn’t voice any of my ‘issues’ with the situation, just stared into the wonderful mid-distance I’d made my own and strained all of my energy into attempting not to cry. I really loved Dawn Richard’s album when I was first listening to it but gone off it ever so slightly recently, The Joy Formidable’s new record is a very decent follow up to their amazing debut, the New My Bloody Valentine album is extraordinarily challenging though, while ‘State Hospital’ by Frightened Rabbit is such a lovely song.

“Ok Alex I can see that this is all quite difficult to take on board”

Peter offered his Holmesian insight, making one of the biggest understatements since Neville Chamberlain described Hitler as having ‘pretty poor people skills’. Perhaps he had made similar pronouncements before and knew all to well that the next suggestion to be made by the recipient was more than likely to be a request to hold a pillow hard down over their mouth until they struggled limp and so wanted to leave the room as quickly as he could.

“So I’ll just leave my number here and you can ring me when you’re ready to talk about it”

And like that, poof, he was gone. I was left with my thoughts.

What a horrific thing to be left with.

I’d never want to be left with my thoughts in a lift.

I thought about how utterly pointless and meaningless my life now was, how utterly bereft of things to look forward to in the future was now.

What the fuck is there now?



I thought very strongly about suicide.

How would I do that in hospital? It was such a fucking nanny state in there, so fucking obsessed with controlling our fucking lives and not not letting us just fucking kill ourselves. How dare they inflate themselves with such self-importance that they believe they are in a position to judge whether somebody’s life is in any way worth living?

The fucking fucking fucking cheek.

I couldn’t hang myself, the butter knives that came with the food couldn’t possibly slice any veins.

Could I drown myself in the bathroom sink?

I Googled the pills I was being fed every day, how many would it take to kill me? The results were inconclusive. I did find out that a lot of people were using gabapentin as a recreational drug, and one forum stated that 500mg was a decent enough dose. I was on 600mg three times a day. I must have been high constantly. Amitriptyline was probably my best bet, that seemed to be a frequently chosen method. But how exactly would I hide away the mammoth piles of pills needed from the nurses?

It then occurred to me that if news of my suicide somehow got back to E she would again rather arrogantly assume she was the fucking reason for it, and I really couldn’t stand the thought of her once more trying to take credit for it. I could leave a note explicitly stating that she had nothing to do with it, but that would only if anything make her more believe she was behind it. I could perhaps request she wasn’t told about it, and my absence from Facebook could perhaps mean it would be many years before she heard about it, but just one RIP status update and it’s out there. The thought of someone else taking credit for my own work was a far greater impediment to thoughts of suicide than any desire to carry on living.

I was glancing absent-mindedly around the room as I mentally debated the logistics of suicide when suddenly I alighted upon my recently finished pack of salt and vinegar Walkers crisps.

Enter code on website for the chance to win £100’000.

I could do with that money! That could solve everything! I quickly scooted to the website and typed in the code printed on the inside of the pack.

Not accepted.

Obviously typed it in wrong. Type it again more carefully.

Not accepted.


And again. This code has not been recognised. I was furious, as you can imagine. I spent about half an hour on the Walkers website trying to find the address to which you registered customer complaints. Finally found it, although it was a predictably difficult section to track down:

Dear sir or madam,

I recently had purchased for me a packet of your salt and vinegar crisps. While I enjoyed the enclosed snack I also greatly looked forward to being entered into the draw for a chance to win one hundred thousand pounds, so I excitedly typed in HG-76-78-90-34 at the website I was guided to. Imagine my disappointment when said code failed to verify at website even after two, three, four attempts. Please look into this matter

Thank you for your concern


I looked back at the short letter wondering if it best translated my disgust. I decided on a short post-script

P.S: I am in hospital

That’ll get ’em.


Now I simply sat back and awaited their response.

I looked out of the window to the steep and winding road to escape out of the Spinal Injuries Unit. Tomorrow, I decided, I would take my wheelchair and travel up that road, just you watch.

That’d show them.

That’d show all of them.

I eventually garnered the courage to attempt to tell Hej the news, although it was by no means at the first opportunity, I put it off as long as I could, until the first time she mentioned her dreams for her child and to keep the news from her much longer would quickly amount to straight up lying rather than simple good old fashioned concealment of information. I explained the situation to her and she looked slightly crestfallen- no, more marginally inconvenienced- which meant the news failed to have quite the debilitating crush on her emotions that I expected.

“No, I don’t think so” it boiled down predictably to her general mistrust of medical practitioners “I’m sure I could make you hard if you were just here”

“No, it’s not like that…”

“You don’t think I could?!”

Nobody could! It’s not that simple…”

“I bet I could”

“Ok, maybe” I decided it simpler to just concede the point “But still the sperm wouldn’t work well, if we wanted a baby we would have to do it via the hospital. It would be a whole operation”

“I see…”

For the first time the true seriousness of the harsh truth started to weigh down on her suitably. There was a moment of silence when she too stared off ever so slightly into her own middle distance and she affected a look of slight despair in some way similar to the one I imagined had broke across my face when I had first heard the news. However, it was little more than a suggestion of a look and only played across her features for a small amount of milliseconds, before she quickly recalibrated her expectations and changed lanes drastically without eliciting so much as a single horn beep from another driver exasperated at her erratic driving.

“Ok then, we will maybe have to use a doctor, but we can do that”

“But…” I realised that I was now momentarily more sad for Hej than for myself. This could be the destruction of her dreams far more than of mine “It will cost so much money…”

“Doesn’t matter, we’ll work something out” her optimism was jarring so ridiculously with my outlook, I was more a glass empty and poisonous and hiding a bomb kind of guy “And even if we can’t… It doesn’t matter, I just want to be with you, don’t care about having a baby, being with you is more important”


Bare-faced fucking liar.

Lovely, beautiful, amazing fucking liar that only cares about my feelings.

Selfless fucking liar only trying to protect someone as utterly selfish as me, stupid fucking lying bitch who I love so much and I think I’m going to cry again…



The Bollock and the Hill

Fancy a bit of light relief after that? Ever heard of orchitis? You’re gonna love it, trust me.

The next day I had yet to receive any response from Walkers regarding my scandalously faulty competition code. I tried the code in one more time to check if I was perhaps previously mistaken but I was once again refused entry. This was an abhorrent failure of customer service on their parts- you have blood on your hands Pepsico! (I hope that isn’t too much of an overstatement) Angered both by the company’s grave error and their refusal to face up to my accusations I sent another e-mail complaint.

Dear sir or madam,

I wrote to you yesterday regarding the faulty code HG-76-78-90-34 and still have yet to receive any response. Do you consider this a trifling issue? I am currently in a long stay at hospital and I believe the £100’000 cash prize may have offered me slight respite from my current sad life. I hope you realise how important I take such things.

Thanks again for your concern


I wanted to make it clearer still that I was in hospital and an entry to the competition in question may have afforded me some small respite from the grim and horrific reality of my depressing life. I so wanted to use those exact words. I carefully folded up the crisp packet and put it in my top bedside drawer, I had to be sure to keep hold of the evidence, one slip and this whole case is thrown out of court.

I looked at my watch and realised I had spent more than an hour composing that letter and it was really time to go to bed. By this point I could get myself from my bed over to my toilet without any crutches, the room had just the right amount of space between posts and bars for me to swing between like a chimpanzee if I had parked the wheelchair in just the right place.

Bed, wheelchair, toilet door, sink, bar around toilet aaaaaaaaaand down.

It was an operation of near military efficiency.

That time I stood up and something didn’t feel quite right between my legs. I imagined it was the feeling of a trillion sperms squeezing tightly against the wall of my scrotum, aching to be released into the wild but inconsolable with the knowledge that they may never see the light of day. There would be no consideration over possible release for good behaviour, no solitary sperm digging through a hole in my scrotal wall he kept cleverly hidden behind his poster of Rita Hayworth. They were in for life.

I had a quick feel of my testicles, which is always a charming use of time. Had my bollock always been that big? Was it literally swelling with angry sperm? Had the news of there being no chance of release sparked some sort of riot amongst the inmates? I wished I had taken more photos of my balls.

I figured I was going a little crazy, and after completing my toilet activities I turned off the lights and drifted off thinking about how best to tackle that hill the next day, how I would at least connect myself to the outside World again, how I would roll my wheelchair up the steep and jagged path up the mountain and greet the patients at the main hospital whose spines weren’t quite as morbidly spoiled as mine. Perhaps there would be a café there, perhaps a WH Smith or a Marks & Spencer’s food. My dad had left my about eight pounds in change while I was back in Salford, so perhaps I would at last invest that in a salmon and creamed cheese sandwich. Or perhaps I’d just buy some fucking cigarettes. I really wanted a cigarette.

I woke up the next morning, roused from dreams of mango smoothies and electric sheep, coated with a slight film of piss as I had been every morning since the catheter was removed. No morning wood to greet me. How I missed morning wood. Instead I was newly swept with a strange and intense pain emanating from my groin, the one area where you really don’t want to feel pain from.

I looked down between my legs and saw that my left testicle had inflated to the size of a particularly large honey tangerine, or perhaps a coconut, just sitting there like it was the most normal thing in the World, perhaps cruelly mocking my right bollock which was merely the size of… well you know how big a testicle is don’t you?

I thought that maybe possibly this was cause for slight concern and so buzzed for a nurse to perhaps offer a second opinion. Joanne came in, or maybe it wasn’t Joanne, it was very probably a completely different nurse, but he or she doesn’t play large enough a role in this particular part of story to deserve his or her own separate name and distinct characteristics I’m afraid, so for this small part please just picture it as being Joanne, whatever picture you’ve already painted of her in your head. Once this book inevitably gets turned into a movie this little interchange will be played by the same actress who put her finger up my bum. For some reason I’m thinking that Imogen Poots would be good for the role, for reasons I can’t quite explain. Perhaps her name sounds like the right kind of obscure euphemism that would be perfect for the role- ‘Do you know Imogen Poots?’ ‘Does she? Well in that case she’d enjoy this’. So yeah, it’s Joanne Ok? But I assure you that she’s playing such a small role in this particular scene that the intricacies of her character won’t be violated in any real way. I mean essentially all she does is look at my massive bollock and call in a doctor- spoiler alert- so I really just needed to name the nurse and since I’ve only named three nurses so far at Sheffield I just went back to one I hadn’t mentioned in a while. No biggy, honestly, just go with it.

She pulled back my covers after I had politely mentioned that perhaps one of my testicles had size issues.


She reacted with a slight jump once the space hopper between my legs was exposed. It seemed to me to be even slightly bigger than the last time I looked at it, like it was a constantly expanding globe that would soon consume us all. What a way to go. What a horror film.

“Yeah, there’s definitely a problem there, I’m going to get the doctor”

Joanne then exited the scene, never to return to this particular strand of the narrative.

As I waited for the doctor I became more and more aware of the pain between my legs, throbbing like I had long ago mounted a burning Harley Davidson in preparation to be included in a Bruce Springsteen lyric. The pain seemed to start emanating all through my body, and my bollock was the huge ever growing brain at the centre of the universe, seemingly twice as big every time I dared glance upon it. I could swear I heard it cackling.

“Why are you doing this to me?!” I shouted at the malevolent testicle.

“Bwa-ha-ha!” he crowed in response “Don’t you see fool? I caught you imagining you might be able to make it up that hill outside, I am simply doing my best to quell any ambitions you have, to make sure you’re properly aware of your measly limitations”

“But…” I managed to grunt through the ever-growing pain “It’s just a fucking hill! Can’t you at least let me complete that tiny task? It was just a tiny achievement I wanted to obtain”

“Oh come on” he somehow rolled his eyes at my attempts at objection “Can you not even get the metaphor here? You studied English Literature at university for fuck’s sake”

“Yeah…” I grimaced, both through the pain, which seemed to be spreading through my body like the Bollock had unleashed a swarm of fire ants from my groin- bullet ants– and also through being reminded of my useless attempts at a university education “I wasn’t a great student, I mean I ended up with a third and I struggled for that and…”

“SILENCE!!” the Bollock boomed, now around the size of a cantaloupe and clearly the newly appointed dominant force in my body, my brain being reduced to merely a horrified spectator “This is a really obvious metaphor, we’re talking GCSE level here, it’s fucking less subtle than Animal Farm. I represent the idea that any plan, any dream, any aspiration you had or ever will have is now impossible. Your body will rebel, your body will hijack everything. You’re kidding yourself if you aspire to be anything other than what you are. A man lay in a bed lightly soaked with your own piss. With a huge swollen testicle”


“Yes, except in the future you often won’t have the huge ball, so I’ll even remove that from you as a potential ice-breaker. Why would you want an ice-breaker anyway? To chat girls up? Ha! For what? You can’t fuck them, so from here on in you’ll simply be looking for scintillating conversation”

I grimaced at the thought, but was too overcome by pain to even cry, near paralysed by pain from the Bollock. Paralysed by everything. Too paralysed to think about how best to commit suicide. The only thought permitted space in my brain was of pain.




Christ, my bollock is huge.



The Bollock had stopped talking by the time the doctor arrived, but had swollen progressively through different circular fruits and was now somewhere around a watermelon. If you think I’m exaggerating you obviously don’t know orchitis.

Go on, Google image search it, I fucking dare you.

The doctor pulled back the sheet and looked upon the wicked face of The Bollock. He raised his eyebrows, obviously too professional to simply shout ‘FUCK ME!!’ and immediately recognised orchitis (one of the easier afflictions to diagnose I imagine) and all my therapy for the day was cancelled.

The Bollock grinned at me maliciously.

Therapy cancelled.

No point.

Lost cause.

The problem would have stemmed from some ‘teething problems’ I might have been having sliding a tube down deep into my Norwegian nostril four times a day, spreading infection liberally throughout my testes.

Teething problems.

Yes, more teething problems, never mind the fact that I woke every morning covered in piss, never mind coming round to the fact that I had to maybe base the rest of my entire fucking life around being able to retreat to privacy every six hours in order to empty my bladder out into a bag, never mid the fact that the simple process of going for a fucking piss required more apparatus than than an entire Open Golf tournament, never mind the horrible effort it would take every time to force the horrible thing past your unresponsive prostate, which was always willing to put up a hardy and painful battle, now one of the ‘teething problems’ I may experience is that one wrong move and the Bollock could inflate to the size of a fucking basketball stadium.

Out my window maybe?

No, the fall wasn’t near large enough, it would just worsen my condition, probably lead to more treatment, more tubes, probably lead to me needing to cut my bellend off every time I needed to pee, sewing back on afterwards. Unless I landed on my head first. Could I manage that? Better search for tips on the internet. The only problem with that is the people giving advice have obviously never succeeded, so their recommendations should probably be taken with a grain of suicidal salt (Suicidal Salt of course being Jim Kerr’s band before he joined Simple Minds fact fans).

I composed my suicide note in my head: ‘Not E! Definitely The Bollock’.

“Best give him morphine for the pain”

Through my discomfort I managed a smile.

Best news for ages.

The opiate thoroughly opiated me, assuming that there exists a verb ‘to opiate’. It simply ensured that the gloom that had recently enveloped me had a very fitting stage on which to perform, meekly enveloping me like a low misty cloud as I flopped pathetically motionless across my bed, lacking the motivation to even move an arm and, to be honest, kind of forgetting what it was I was moping about. A shimmering and out of focus blur that bore some resemblance to Fizz came up to my door to inquire about my general well-being.

“Heraraherahesen” I explained carefully “Aferhehehehehehehehe, hawahafer”

“OK” she nodded “Well then you’re going to want to get some good rest over the weekend then, I’m sure the problem will be better by next Tuesday and then we’ll see each other again, OK?”

“Herofay” I confirmed, and then returned to by previous task of… of…

What was it?

I was thinking about something…

I was feeling very…

What was the…?



Was I angry about something?

Or was I just hungry?

Drugs come to my rescue once again.

I remember football coming on the telly. I watched intently. Every pass. Every throw-in. Every corner. Every disputed offside. Every shrug directed toward the referee. Every imaginary card shaken by a forward. Every manic gesticulations by the manager. Every pass. Every throw. There were no goals. Few shots. Still I lay infatuated. The Bollock lay silent.

Over the weekend The Bollock steadily shrunk back to his previous size as I lay even less capacitated than usual, an even less useful member of society, living out a life imbued with even less worth. Benumbed through drugs though, so I don’t know, happier I guess. The Bollock was quiet, maybe considering his influence greatly waned.

On Sundays the cleaner came in and was given the unenviable task of somehow washing my room to the hospital standard of cleanliness. I didn’t get around much, so you’d think I could hardly mess it up much, but on that lane I would always take from my bed to the toilet I’m sure I saw things on the floor. Little round Maltesers that I dare not look at too closely nor step into. The ways my room could be dirty disgusted me.

I disgusted me.

The cleaner, a boggle-eyed man maybe early 20s with a toothy grin permanently spread across a face you couldn’t help but warm to, glanced upon my unkempt beard and hair that I usually would shave to the bone but had grown into a mass of flowing locks that I dearly wanted to hold back in an Alice Band.

“Has anyone ever told you that you look like Jesus”

“I… What?”

“Jesus, I think you look a bit like Jesus” he laughed.

“Erm… Thanks”

I wasn’t sure why I was thankful, Jesus was hardly famous for how handsome he was

“I’m not sure what to say now”

“Don’t worry about it” he giggled as he left the room “Just thought I’d tell you about it”

As the door closed The Bollock suddenly roused and stared at me angrily.

“What the fuck was that?”

“That was the cleaner telling me I looked like Jesus, the central figure in Christianity who they believe to be the son of…”

“I know who fucking Jesus is!” he replied, near incandescent with rage “I mean what the fuck is it doing in the book?? What purpose does it serve? Are you somehow comparing yourself to Jesus? Is there going to be a great ‘resurrection’ now??”

“No, Christ!” I cried, unaware of how fitting my choice of expletive was “I was just putting it in here because it actually happened! Not everything in this book can be read as a metaphor you know? I am just trying to tell it as it happened”

“So what purpose does putting this in here serve the book, it seems absolutely needless to me”

“I don’t know” I started to get nervous under The Bollock’s intense questioning “Perhaps it shows how my hair was getting at that point, makes picturing me easier”

“And you used ‘Jesus’ for that??”

“Because that’s what he said! I’m trying to make this as close to 100% as possible”

The Bollock grit his teeth.

“I notice you never described how I looked”

I snorted.

“Come on! I don’t need to describe a bollock! Everyone knows what a testicle looks like! You’re nothing special you know?”

That last comment hit him deep and he retreated into silence. I got the impression something inside him died.



Suicide and the Dining Room

Dear sir or madam,

I have already sent two or three letters complaining about the offer code HG-76-78-90-34 not being valid on a packet of Walkers crisps purchased for me, now I have to say that your failure to respond to any of my complaints as being at least as upsetting if not more upsetting than the original problem. Please be advised that I am currently in the middle of a long stay in hospital and your poor customer service has only exasperated my generally poor deposition.

I hope to hear back from you soon on the matter


[1oh my God, I had forgotten all about my weird letter campaign. It happened, and they never replied. Boycott those ableist fucks]

I regained my ability to write letters of complaint. The huge throbbing beacon of pain between my legs eventually shrunk down to merely an ugly, hairy hanging testicle of shame. The pain disappeared, I could swing to my toilet again, spend my days sitting in my wheelchair staring out the window like before- I had beaten The Bollock. For now.

I chose to celebrate by attending my next physical therapy lesson by making the entire trip on crutches. Out of the ward, into the lift, down a level, to the gym. I’ve never been good at measuring differences, but let’s say it was twelve thousand metres to the lift, four miles downward (although the lift itself did much of the work here so to be completely honest so I don’t feel it’s fair I take too much of the credit) then about a million miles to the gym. Whatever, exact measurements are almost beside the point, it was a herculean effort that I was immensely proud of.

I got there about five to ten, early enough for the door to the gym was still locked. Unable to enter I instead propped myself up against a table to take a breath before a physio came to unlock it. While I was waiting a woman rolled up in her wheelchair. I said hello, asked why she was there, classic niceties. She had been abroad on holiday and had taken a horrendous fall while climbing. Her body was all now dead below the waist, supports held her chest together and there was a massive brace enveloping all of her neck. I leant against the table feeling utter injury inadequacy.

She was maybe sixteen years old.

Fizz was equally proud of the achievement, and considering practising with crutches made up a fairly large segment of my lesson she decided that she would step it up a notch and declared that today we would donate some time to practising with only one stick. A wooden stick was brought out of the supplies closet, the type that you’d expect to see an octogenarian dig into the pavement as he slowly makes his way to the corner shop in full suit to buy his morning papers at 6am. It was adjudged to be maybe an inch too long for me (ooh-er, matron, that’s what she said etc.) so a separate physiotherapist simply popped across the hall to use the jigsaw they had ready for the woodwork classes (there were so many delights open to the patients of Sheffield Hospital’s Trauma Assessment Unit so long as they weren’t condemned to isolation) and buzz a piece off.

While we waited for his return I asked Fizz about her wedding, which she unfortunately went through with and had gone ahead the past weekend.

“Oh it went really well, we were having it outside so of course I was worried that the weather wouldn’t hold out, but it was a beautiful day. Plus I was worried I wouldn’t be able to hold it together emotionally when we were saying my vows, but in the field next to us, just behind my husbands head, there was a really horny dog trying to hump a sheep, so whenever it threatened to overwhelm me I just concentrated on that for a few seconds and it really calmed me down”


I wondered how The Bollock would react to me telling that story.

The stick was another leap forward in difficulty, though thankfully not even close to the one experienced from zimmer to crutch. I hobbled around with Fizz walking very closely, arms seemingly guarding every possible direction I could fall towards, even though I’m sure she was only permitted the same number of limbs as the rest of us. I completed a couple of very slow laps around the gym without falling, or ever being seriously in danger of doing so.

A success!

We tested how well I could get up off the floor by pulling myself up onto a nearby chair,

I whizzed for a few miles on a specially designed exercise bike, and the session was over.

Again, I managed to make the distance to my room using solely my crutches.

An uncommonly successful day.

I lay back in my bed and took a deep breath in, partially to recover some lost on the massive effort of walking up from the gym by myself, and partially to take in quite just how brilliantly everything had gone so far that day.

“Dinner time Alex” Georgetta popped her hear around the door. Again, almost definitely not Georgetta, but the nurses play such a small part in the Sheffield part of this story that not many of them will be named so ‘Georgetta’ or ‘Joanne’ are going to have to act as pretty much all of their names. Michael was more of a bum specialist, before you bring him up, and anyway he’s the last person I’d like to have announce to me that it was dinner time.

“Ah, brilliant” I was excited to celebrate the day’s achievements with a hearty meal, maybe a flagon of tea “What’s the menu today?”

Georgetta shot me a look off ill-disguised contempt.

“You want me to tell you??” she spat out incredulously “Go to the dining room and see for yourself you lazy bastard!”

She emitted a tut so pronounced it would have hit me like a bullet were I unlucky to be caught in its fire, but luckily for me she spat it out while turning out of the room in disgust.

My incubated status dictated how dinner and teatime (or lunch and dinnertime if you’re that way inclined) went for me. Other residents of the ward able to at least use their wheelchairs would roll themselves into the dining room, see the menu, order the food, get the food, eat, chat, relax, return trays, go back to their beds. Because of me being riddled with exotic diseases a nurse would instead come to me, ask what I wanted and bring my order back to my bed. Essentially I was treated like a king while the others were using a school canteen (or too injured to even leave their bed, some too injured to lift their fork). I could only imagine the ward’s other patrons fucking hated me. Now Georgetta had broken the news that I was allowed to use the dining room by telling me how lazy I was being.

I slid off into my wheelchair and was away.

I entered the dining room and was immediately presented with a room full of new faces, maybe two dozen patients all with similar injuries to me, all with brilliant stories to tell and with whom I could share tales of experience. Naturally I searched out Eric and went to sit with him.

By the time tea/dinner came around I felt confident enough to tackle the walk to to the room on crutches, and after making it to the window to order a nurse was kind enough to carry it to my table for me as I didn’t have the luxury of a lap to balance my tray on without the wheelchair.

Nurses helping everyone, every time.

I looked around at the other people in the room as I sat down, and at the scores coming in after me. Everybody else needed a chair. Everybody else was more injured than me. Suddenly the crutches I had propped up next to me suddenly seemed like a brazen and unnecessary brag. I tried my best to hide them under the table in embarrassment. I would take my wheelchair again next meal.

“You know we never really finished that talk” Eric said between mouthfuls of macaroni cheese.

“What talk?”

“The one about your wife mentioning your suicidal tendencies”

I could actually physically feel my bristles poking up from underneath my shirt.

Firstly” I felt I maybe growled the first word a little too angrily and so pared it back a bit to continue “She never said I had ‘suicidal tendencies’, she said I always presumed I would die by taking my own life, and secondly that talk was fucking months ago, why bring it up again now!”

“I dunno” munch “I think I was watching the news with that story about the girl who killed herself after reading abuse on the internet”

“Christ, if I had to sum up the internet in two words it would be ‘abuse’ and ‘porn’, I wouldn’t let my child use it until they were about twenty five”

A tiny sadness twinged inside me as the words left my lips and I remembered that perhaps I would never have a child to warn off the internet.

“Changing the subject…”

“Alright, fuck, fine, we’ll continue the fucking conversation, what exactly is there to talk about??”

Do you ever have suicidal thoughts”

After the accident you mean?” I smiled.

“They hardly count”

He smiled back as we shared a nice little light-hearted moment about how expected it would be for people in our position to contemplate killing themselves.

“No… I mean…” I leant back on my chair and pushed my fingers through my hair, which was essentially my ‘tell’ that I was feeling slightly ever uncomfortable “Well yes… Relatively frequently actually. Never when I feel my life is perfect, when I have a good, fun job and Hej is never more than a phone call away… I mean I never had those thoughts when I was with her, she just kind of sweats joy from every pore”

“Alright dickhead, I’m not asking how nice Hej is!” Eric snorted, he’d heard quite enough stories about Hej far too boring to write here in the last four or five months “What kind of thoughts do you get?”

“It’s… it’s difficult to explain…”

Eric merely responded with a look that suggested he was expecting me to attempt to do so .

“It’s like… like sometimes I feel like I’m stuck inside my own mind, and that whatever happens in the future will make no difference because it will still happen through the prism of… of… of this brain2 and that it’ll still feel… still feel shit… I’ll consider it when I really can’t imagine anything good ever happening again. Like, ever. It had been so long since I had thoughts like this though. The last time was probably around New Years Eve 2010, I had to spend it alone, I wasn’t properly going out with Hej at that time and anyway she would have been away at her home-town. I was over-whelmed with these…thoughts, these ideas. I left the house and went to a nearby bar, just so I wasn’t on my own and it would be less likely I would… do something. I actually rang E, as she was really the only other person I’d told about these impulses, hoping that she’d talk me down. I suppose it’s ridiculous to put that kind of pressure on one person. Far too much pressure…”

[I don’t think that’s how I feel, and I wonder if I was being a little dishonest or if I lacked the vocabulary (I still probably do). I never think in terms of ‘being trapped in this brain’, it’s a far more logical assesment of the massive unlikelihood of things ever getting better. And also, these days, I think in terms of “My depression is really bad today”]


Eric replaced his cutlery on his plate, as E’s decision to no longer talk to me started to make more sense, rather it became more surprising that it had taken as long as it had..

“But it wasn’t suicide this time. I really can’t imagine that. I was happy you know”


“Hey fuck you dickhead” I growled at what I perceived to be either his sudden disinterest or private judgement “I just really opened up to you then, you’ve offered me very little recently by the way. In fact how many times have I seen you in Sheffield? Three? Four? Jesus…”

We were almost the last people in the dining room by this point, save the nurses collecting plates.

“Fine, want to hear a funny story?”


“Ok then, I’ll tell you when we get back to your room”3

[3this is exciting for me, I have no memory of what the ‘funny story’ is!]






It was the very early hours of 2011. I had celebrated the New Year by getting hideously drunk on my own.





I was lonely.





So lonely.





Everyone I knew in my block of flats had left for the holiday. It was only me. Only me.





I had started seeing Hej. We were getting serious. I felt it was only fair that I was completely honest with her. I told her that, technically, I was still actually married. She reacted badly to the news that she was dating a married man and called it off.





That night I felt… the feelings…





I couldn’t trust myself on my own so I went out to a bar in order to be surrounded by other people. I phoned E in floods of tears.





She understood the feelings and talked me down. Maybe she saved my life.





She couldn’t be expected to do this every time.





Soon later Hej could not stop herself from coming back to me.





In doing so she reallysaved my life.






Birmingham and Marilyn Manson

My room always felt spacious enough to me, but introduce Eric’s wheelchair in there, with mine already lying in the corner, and suddenly it felt a little cramped. I took up position in my bed, which would have stung for Eric if he was planning to take that space.

“After the shit I just told you” I reclined “I’m hoping your story is both hilarious and particularly embarrassing to you”

“It has it’s moments. It’s about the time I tried to commit suicide”

“Oh…” my crest fell slightly, whatever a crest is and how exactly it would fall “I’m laughing already”

“I’ve never told anyone else about it though, so maybe the exclusivity of it will help paper over any parts you think are neither funny or embarrassing”

“We’ll see, you’re currently massively in my debt so…”

Eric stroked him chin and looked out the window, as I could see he was obviously trying to formulate how best to tell it.

“I was sixteen I think…” as good a place as any to start, even if he almost immediately questioned it “…or maybe seventeen. Still at college anyway. No, definitely seventeen. I stayed awake all night, unable to calm my running thoughts enough for long enough to get any sleep. I’d had enough, I decided, I didn’t like my life, didn’t like how everything was going, didn’t really like the person I was, hated absolutely everything”1

[1oh *this* story?? This really isn’t funny at all…]

“At what? Seventeen?? Who doesn’t hate their life at that age??”

“Maybe, and it’s not like I’m not aware how clichéd it all sounds, but maybe other teenagers were far better than coping with it than me, as the whole thing just overwhelmed me and I had decided that something pretty drastic was required to even salvage something worthwhile. I wanted to Etch A Sketch my life, turn it over, shake it wildly, and hope the next drawing would be more successful”

“So killing yourself wasn’t considered at this point?”

“I wouldn’t say that it wasn’t considered, more that I felt this was the only alternative to suicide, I felt that I was pretty much doing this to stop killing myself, if I didn’t do this then I would be left with no option. So it was about 6am, I took about £200 out of my mother’s purse…”

He saw the disapproving and disgustingly sanctimonious look that passed across my face.

“Ah shut up! This was money to save her son’s life! I was sure she would pay that kind of cash to stop me from killing myself…”

“Sounds like blackmail to me” a grin cracked at the corner of my mouth, which Eric couldn’t help but mirror.

“Fuck you!” he laughed “At no point during this story am I claiming that what I did was in any way the right thing, this is not a feel-good tale of one man turning his life around, this is a particularly embarrassing tale of an idiot teenager completely at a loss as to how to make things better. Remember I did all of this because I really thought it was the only alternative to suicide!”

“All of what? You’ve done fuck all so far, except steal from your Mum of course”

“Because you keep interrupting dickhead. Anyway the first train into the city was at about quarter past six, so I had decided to jump on that, then at the city’s main station just pick a city to go to and start my new life there. I packed a small rucksack, but I honestly can’t remember packing anything worthwhile, a book I was reading and maybe a magazine, but no change of clothes or toothpaste”

“This was evidently going to be a rather smelly new beginning”

“Evidently. Anyway, got to the station, luckily nobody recognised me there or on the short journey to the city centre- none of my parents’ friends going to work wondering exactly what I was doing, as my intentions for re-birth were rather difficult to explain. I eventually reached the city centre’s major train station, and scanned the departure board trying to alight upon a destination where I could imagine starting my new life. It didn’t take long for a quick train departure to leap out at me- Birmingham”




“Birmingham. It made perfect sense to me, I had decided that London was far too obvious, too many dreams broken there, too many naïve teenagers thinking they were going to make it big in the city. I wasn’t one of those, I was different I had a plan…”

“Which was?”

“Well… go to Birmingham and make it big. I would create a whole new persona, I would start afresh, none of the old problems and inadequacies that blighted me, people would have no memory of me and couldn’t work off preconceived notions of me. All new friends, all new acquaintances, a brand new start, have you any idea how liberating that is? How wonderful the new possibilities feel?”

“But, I mean, what would you do in…?”

“Didn’t need to think about it, my new persona would make everything fall into place, I felt I could truly be me for the first time. So I boarded the train, brought a return to Birmingham…”

“A return?”

“Yes, I obviously thought I needed to cover all possibilities. I was also careful to buy as many aspirins as I could from every shop that sold them, my rucksack would grow heavier and heavier with aspirins as my journey went along, I never stopped thinking that particular eventuality may still have to be faced. A few hours later I was in Birmingham New Street and…”

He paused.

“You had no idea what to do?”

“Well, yes” he blushed slightly “Suddenly the reality of the situation wasn’t as clear-cut as I’d mapped it out in my brain. Even Birmingham city centre seemed far too distant from the train station. I was suddenly hit by the realisation I had nothing even remotely resembling a plan. I went to WH Smiths. Nice big book section downstairs. Bought a Philip Larkin collection”

“Get you”

“It’s not even what I’d usually read, I think I decided that this new Eric would be into his poetry. New Eric was like that. I sat on a bench outside and read a few. I started to feel very, very tired. The lack of sleep the night before was creeping up on me. In desperation I went to one of those… one of those things with the big ‘I’…”

“Tourist Information Centre”

“Right. I went in there and thankfully they actually had a little pamphletty thing about the best B&Bs around the city centre. Life saver. I picked one out that looked perfect. 34 Argyll Street, or some shit. Where the fuck’s that? There was a little map on the pamphlet which I can’t make head nor tails of, and I’m starting to feel really tired now. So, I just jump in a taxi, costs me £5 or something to get there. I’ve spent quite a bit of money so far and all I’ve got to show for it is the collected works of Philip fucking Larkin. Pay the taxi driver, get into the B&B, pay one night’s rent, go upstairs to my bedroom, collapse on my bed, sleep. It was probably mid afternoon”

“An inauspicious start to your new persona’s life in Birmingham”

“Man, come on, like the World’s most influential and revolutionary men never got tired, are you seriously telling me that Mandela never caught 40 winks in Robben Island? Isaac Newton wasn’t dozing away the afternoon when that apple hit him? Anyway I got up for breakfast the next morning, got talking to the B&B owner, a lovely and kind man. I told him that I had come to Birmingham to start a new life. He had one big idea of where my career should take me”

Eric sat back in his wheelchair as he waited for the inevitable question. I saw he was patiently anticipating it so tried to sit in silence for as long as possible, until after maybe thirty seconds I caved.

“What was his idea?”

“Become a butler! He had a friend who had become a butler apparently, earned quite a lot of money he said. He also broached the subject that I hadn’t signed into the guest book. This created a problem as you can imagine. I realised that I couldn’t leave a paper trail by just scrawling my real name all over Birmingham, I’d be found in minutes”

“So what name did you put instead?”

“Brian Warner”

“Brian Warner?”

“Brian Warner”

“Who the fuck is Brian Warner?”

“It’s Marilyn Manson’s real name” Eric saw my face start to scrunch up and my hands begin gesticulating widely as I tried to best word my confusion “I don’t know. I don’t know why I picked that particular name. I never particularly liked him, and he was a pretty small deal at the time. I guess it just struck me as a brilliantly boring name, and nobody would think of searching for Marilyn Manson’s real name when they came looking for me. I really wanted to disappear you know? I never wanted to be found, never wanted any links to my old life. Burn all bridges, y’know?”

“So what did Marilyn Manson do next?”

“He got a taxi into the town centre and…” Eric’s face dropped slightly “…just walked around you know? I didn’t know what to do, I just walked round and round the city centre for hours. I kept walking past homeless people begging and giving them my spare change- I was in the same boat as them, why was I throwing whatever spare money I had at them? Why was I acting in any way superior? Because I had showered that morning? Nothing was getting through to me”

“You weren’t really homeless though” I challenged him “You weren’t running away from anything really, this just sounds like a holiday for you really”

“But it wasn’t though” Eric looked slightly offended at my glib assumption “This was my life now, I couldn’t go back, I was Brian Warner, I was a new person, I was cool, young, handsome, I just needed some ideas of what to do. I bought some more packs of aspirin. It was already about four o’clock so I decided it wasn’t too early to get a drink. I popped into a city centre rock pub whose name escapes me. Pantera was on the jukebox, beer was cheap- it was perfect”

“Perfect for what??”

“Perfect for Brian, it was just the kind of pub he’d be often found in. No more Wetherspoons, no more bland chain pubs, Brian would often be found relaxing in a pub like this, possibly brooding gracefully. I took out my Philip Larkin book. As I drank more and more the pub began to fill up. Eventually people asked if they could sit next to me. I integrated into their group, suddenly it was like I had my new group of friends. A guy came to the table and asked if anyone wanted to buy any speed. Of course Brian bought a couple of grams, he was that kind of guy. He shared it out with his new friends. His new friends offered lots of advice on what to do next now he was homeless. He made a woman cry”

What? How did he… you manage that?”

“She was carrying pictures of her boyfriend who had died, Brian thought it was a good idea to get rid of them, burn them, throw them in the bin. Terrible suggestion that the woman didn’t take very well. Brian mistakenly thought that she would greatly appreciate his frank style. This fifteen year old girl eventually joined us. Brian shared some speed with her and before too long I was fucking her in the toilet cubicle2. It was a horribly grim experience”

[2a weird lie, possibly for narrative reasons. Eric never said he had sex with the girl]

“Wait…” I was starting to lose threads “So Brian gave the girl some speed, but you fucked her in the toilet?”

“Well… yes…” it seemed the recollections were no longer a light-hearted laugh at teenage stupidity but had suddenly taken a turn into darker and less pleasant territory “Brian was more the guy who shared drugs with women…”

Girls!” I laughed and then immediately worried whether if it was really an appropriate response “She was fifteen! This is Operation Yewtree shit!”

“Ok!” Eric obviously didn’t like the tone ”Girls‘! Whatever, Brian was the kind of guy who would share his drugs with under age girls, but the sex was all ‘me’”

Eric collapsed into his wheelchair a bit, almost becoming overwhelmed by his other persona.

“It was the grimmest, dirtiest shag ever though” he sighed “I felt so filthy you know? Suddenly this ‘Brian’ fellow didn’t seem as cool any more. I had travelled quite a distance from Philip Larkin that evening. I bought some more speed”

“So you bought the speed that time?”

Eric threw his arms up in the air as he began to tire of my interjections.

“I don’t fucking know!” he almost screamed “Maybe there was never an alternative persona, this was all me, you know? I can’t blame Brian for everything. I wasn’t possessed, this was me. Me unleashed. I just wasn’t a particularly nice person, I’m still not a particularly nice person, simple as that. There was one guy who I’d shared a lot of speed with, he joked how I looked much younger than the twenty one I said I was, which of course was a rather astute observation. As the night grew older it was decided I would stay at his house that night. He lived with his Mum of course”

“How old was he?”

“I can’t really remember, maybe eighteen or nineteen. We had a great night in his room. He had murals and stupid teenage crap etched all over the wall. ‘Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moon-light’ was scrawled over the door”


“The Batman movie. I think Jack Nicholson’s Joker says it. We hoovered up the last of the speed, plus he had some great paint thinner he’s bought at B&Q that packed quite a punch when sniffed. We got a couple of hours sleep before his Mum woke us up in the morning. She made me a cup of tea. We shared a bus to his college and said our goodbyes. I never saw him again and spent the next few hours just wandering around battling my comedown. I walked the streets again with no idea where I was going. I spent my last few pounds on a pint in Wetherspoons and another pack of aspirin. The sun began to set. I was sitting on a bench when a young kid pointed and laughed at my funny Pokemon key-chain. The kid’s Mum fiercely chastised him for engaging with me. I didn’t like this new persona I’d become either. I decided to cash in my return ticket”

“So the holiday was over?”

“You could say that. But my intentions were clear- I would return to my home town, take all the aspirin I’d been collecting and commit suicide close to my family”

“Oh” It was a sentence always likely to initiate an awkward silence “So you had it all planned out?”

“Yes. I didn’t like my original self, and I quickly grew to dislike the self I created. Nothing worked. I rode the train back to the city, sat in the sadly missed smoking carriage. Travelled to my home village. I walked to a a large cliff that overlooked a river near my parents’ houses, sat next to a big rock enjoying the night time view. And took piles upon piles upon piles of aspirin, all that I had. I grew drowsy and closed my eyes, falling into a sleep I assumed would end in death”

Again Eric let the room fall quiet..

I wished we were back at Salford and such moments without noise would be impossible with Russel inevitably on his phone in the corner shouting out expletives you’d never heard before. Several painful seconds passed.

“You promised me a funny story” I broke the silence, hoping he wasn’t trying to concoct some kind of cliff-hanger at this point “I’m not finding this particularly funny to be honest”

“Yeah…” Eric scrunched his face “I thought of it as being rather funny, silly even, but saying it out loud for the first time I’m kind of realising it isn’t exactly laugh a minute. Turns out I’ve just sat you down and told you a pretty depressing story…”

“Well you’ve started now. Go on, I’m on tenterhooks here: did you die or not?”

“Before I reveal the answer, what would your guess be?”

“Hmmm…” I stroked my beard deep in thought “I’m gonna say you survived, you named yourself after Marilyn Manson, whose general death obsessions may point to your eventual demise, but I read it as his continued survival points to you achieving similar, you didn’t name yourself after Kurt Cobain or someone. Plus there’s the fact that you’re sat there telling me the story, which I also took into consideration”

“Impressive” Eric nodded his head at my detective skills “I can’t remember ever feeling quite so despondent as I felt waking up that next morning. I must have taken about a thousand aspirin! Isn’t that enough to fucking kill you?! I felt a little drowsy, but that didn’t really feel like a fair exchange”

“Didn’t the whole affair you feel at all selfish? Not a tad?”

Selfish? Why on Earth would I feel selfish?”

“Y’know…” I waved my hands in front of my face like the effects of that particularly robust ecstasy pill I had just taken were hitting me hard and a banging choon had just come on at the all night rave I was attending “Didn’t you ever think how much your death would hurt your parents? Hurt your brothers?”

“How did you know I had brothers?”

“Didn’t you tell me?”

“Possibly… Obviously… I don’t remember”

“So didn’t you think of how horrible their son or brother committing suicide would feel?”

Eric shook his head in massive dismissal of an idea he obviously considered beneath him.

“Jesus… No, no and thrice no. You really don’t understand… it… The feeling… The thoughts… I deeply believed that my very existence was detrimental to all those around me, that me living was causing deep pain and problems, so to me staying alive was selfish, and to actually kill myself would greatly benefit everyone”

“Oh, I see..”

Another silence dropped over us as I mulled the idea around in my head. Suddenly something occurred to me.

“Hang on…” I furrowed my brow “You were next to a cliff”


“You just said, you took all these aspirin sat next to a rock overlooking a cliff. Wouldn’t a jump off that cliff kill you?”

Eric was taken aback by my rather blunt question which I regretted slightly but felt that I had spotted a plot-hole in his story.

“Yes… maybe…. But I wasn’t brave enough, far too cowardly to do such a thing. Plus the cliff was by no means a sheer drop and I was scared again that I would hit a rock on the way down and the pain would be unbearable. I mean, can you imagine if you survived something like that?? You’d be completely…”

Eric stopped talking as he realised what he was saying. He left me in a tough position- he was obviously embarrassed because he thought what he was saying in some way related to me even if it fucking didn’t, but if I say that it didn’t then it would only look more like it did. If I said nothing it may also make it look like it did, as would me quickly changing the subject, but I decided to take this risk and continue down this path hoping Eric would simply think I hadn’t even considered there to be any similarities to my plight. I tried my hardest to sound as relaxed and nonchalant as possible when I asked the next question.

“So…” I began, stretching my arms and yawning “…what happened now you were still alive?”

“I’d spent the last of my money on that pint in Wetherspoons, all I had now on my body were a few cigarettes which I decided had to be carefully rationed from that point on. Then I remembered my bag: the Philip Larkin book! I remembered there was a town maybe five miles away that had a second hand book shop that might pay me money for it. Suddenly a new plan formed in my head and I set off on the walk to the shop”

“There you go, your life had suddenly found meaning”

“Quite. So off I went, walked the five miles, allowed myself maybe three fags along the way…”

“I’d be careful how you phrase that to an American”

“Quite. Made it to town, remembered where the shop was and they were very impressed with the state of my Philip Larkin book”

“Well I should think so, it was practically mint, good as new”


I began to realise that when Eric said ‘quite’ he was actually really saying ‘I didn’t really bother to listen to you there, but by all means join in’

“So they offered me maybe three pounds for it, which was more than enough for what I needed the money for…”


“I’d be careful how you’d phrase that to an American”

So he was listening.

“That’s what you wanted the money for though?”

“Well, yes, but I needed the money for fags and to use the phone box”

“How delightfully retro”

“Maybe, but at the time it wasn’t very retro at all, rather current actually. I smoked about five cigarettes and then phoned my Dad. He drove to the town immediately to pick me up. He hugged me so hard when he first saw me I thought he was going to pop my head off my body. Then we simply drove home in silence”

“Were your parents angry?”

Eric threw his head back and laughed loudly, by far the happiest I’d seen him telling this ‘funny’ story.

“’Were they angry?‘? Seriously? Of course they were fucking angry! Absolutely furious! Would you really imagine they’d be anything else? Come on!”

“Ok, fair enough, I just felt the time was right for as especially stupid question. What did you tell them then? Or did you simply blame it all on your friend ‘Brian’?”

“Simple” Eric’s good cheer from moments before began to ebb away swiftly “I just said I couldn’t remember anything”

“Couldn’t remember anything?” I did my best to raise a single eyebrow, even if it’s a skill I’d never properly mastered “So, what, you were just putting it down to some sort of blackout?”

“Yep, and I used the same excuse for all my closest and dearest friends. You’re the only other person who knows the truth”

“You’ve never thought of opening up and telling everyone?”

“For what reason?? What could possibly be gained from telling anyone? I affected nobody close to me, the only person I really needed to talk it over with was myself. In my quieter times I’d think about my little… bender and I think I eventually made my peace with Brian”

“What were the terms of the final agreement?”

“Agreement? Oh no, I killed him, stoned his head in with a rock. It was quite a messy scene in the end, blood and guts everywhere”

“Poor Brian…”

“Don’t, he was a bit of a cunt, deserved everything he got”

“Yes. Sometimes people deserve these things don’t they?”

“Oh for fuck’s sake” Eric started to turn his wheelchair to leave my room “Get over yourself you big jessie, I should have made you promise you wouldn’t somehow make it all refer to you just so you could wallow in a bit of self-pity. Anyway I’m off, speak at dinner maybe”


“I may consider you in my debt now, story-wise” he shouted over the back of his shoulder as he wheeled away. He caught a glimpse of the path up the hill through my window as he looked backwards.

“Have you ever thought of trying to make it up there?” He asked.

“No” I replied, without looking back1.

[I recently went back to Sheffield Hospital’s Spinal Injuries Unit for an appointment, and that hill that taunted me so as I sat in my room is… nothing… A couple of tight bends, perhaps, but a steepness of maybe 20 degrees, and nothing you nor I would look twice at in any sort of trepidation. It was a remnder of how low I was and how far I’ve come]



POV and Sienna

I had been in Sheffield hospital’s Spinal Injuries Centre for close to six weeks.

I could hobble to the ensuite toilet with relative ease, brush my teeth and wash my face every morning and evening, frequently kick back with a magazine and a poo, frequently reduce whatever magazine I was reading to papier mâché when I forgot to move it out of the bathroom when I next had a shower. When I sat on the toilet I would experience a marvellous, lovely, fantastic, wet and cleansing shower. There were no longer little flecks on dirt on the floor of my ‘apartment’ that I worried might be hideous pieces of faeces somehow fallen from my body.

I could fly around on crutches at breakneck speed, hopping to dinner, to tea, to one of the centre’s balconies when I had visitors where we could enjoy the sunshine and the wonderful views of the car-park. I would even use just one crutch on occasion, hanging off it like a pegleg pirate waiting for his parrot to return so they could continue that debate on what exactly it is Polly wants.

I could hop to the lift easily, hop downstairs easily to see whatever therapist I had scheduled for that particular day. Rebecca’s Design Occupational Therapy sessions were particularly fun, and whatever it is I’m supposed to do to help her in whatever it is is she and her partner were aiming to be doing for a university degree that has probably long finished by this point I am now officially and wholeheartedly doing so (stands on chair, waves arms around).

Design OT sessions were essentially just playing word and logic games not dissimilar to those played with Circus back in Salford. Obviously they were designed to help my brain or sumfink, but I don’t feel I’m a great judge of how well that objective worked, as I am probably the last person you want to ask in regards to my own brain, which is a complicated and scary mess that I’d really rather not think about (isn’t thinking about your brain wonderfully self-referential and meta? It’s practically an episode of Community1). All I can say with certainty is that I really enjoyed the sessions, or at least until Rebecca made me feel really old during a game of Taboo (describe something named on a card without using certain words) by confessing she had no idea what Woodstock was. Come on! I’m not expecting her to have been a naked baby dancing in the mud wearing flowers in the Catskills in 1969, but too young to have heard of it?? Ai ya, as the Chinese would say.

[ha! This – *this* – is a good fucking line and the only reference in the entire book worth making]

And then of course there was Fizz across the hall, whose efforts I could far more easily see the benefits of. By now I could wander around the gym and up and down the connecting corridor leading to the lifts with a coquettish charm you’d usually associate with your neighbourhood’s number one dandy. Fizz was so blown away by my wily allurement by this point that she declared that I could take the stick back to my room and it would be my main method of transport from that point.

I was a stick person!

The NHS had overseen my journey from a macabrely incapacitated nonentity to a ghoulishly-overweight individual, then to a bloodcurdingly-aged old man and finally to… what? A guy with a stick? That’s barely a disability at all! I was now merely that particularly charming and perhaps ever so slightly eccentric university professor bounding around campus. Maybe I was now aged well beyond my twenty nine years, but was that such a bad thing? Don’t we often compliment people as having a ‘old head on young shoulders’? Why isn’t it an equally noteworthy accomplishment to have a young mind carrying an old and battered body? Political correctness gone mad etc…

As I made my way back to my room, Fizz kindly carrying my crutches behind me so I could jaunt the distance on my stick raising my top hat to any comely lady we would pass, I made a decision.

My outward physical well-being had improved to the extent that I was rumoured to be replacing Robert Downey Jr in Iron Man 23 or whatever fucking number they’re up to now. Or at least I felt like that, to the onlooker it may have looked like I used my stick to drag myself along rather awkwardly, at a speed you’d more readily associate with a Galapagos tortoise’s May Day parade, yet still with a stilted imbalance that threatened to topple me over at any moment. But who has ever paid much attention to what the outside World believes? I was a God inside the importance and scary mess of my own brain.

Yet despite all this I still felt my most important part lay dormant and broken and needed my immediate attention.

I’m talking of course about my heart.

Ha! No, I’m obviously talking about my dick aren’t I?

When Peter had visited earlier to grate my heart and soul into little pieces and spend the next few minutes simply jumping up on down on the pieces until they were utterly pulverised before leaving and looking over his shoulder to say ‘I assume you won’t be needing these anymore and violently launching the scrambled mess that used to be my very being into the waste-paper bin, he had left a couple of things. The first thing was a leaflet, titled ‘So The One Thing That Defines and Carries On the Species Is Now Lost To You and Your Whole Existence is Now Completely Devoid of Meaning On a Very Basic Level’ or some such, which I believed would make more sense by being mainly suicide suggestions. The second thing was his phone number, which after returning from gym feeling ten feet tall (even when bent slightly over my stick) that day I promptly rang.


Peter’s delicate and plush voice seemed to simply float out of the receiver like an exceedingly fragrant vapour smoking its way around your ears.

“Oh, hi, this is Alex. From the Spinal Injuries Centre”

“Ah hello Alex”

I wondered if he actually remembered who I was or if he had a set response to whomever called him, he would probably just try and make pleasing yet non-committal answers until he had the chance to put the phone down and check out who the hell this ‘Godfrey’ he’d just scribbled on his notepad is by looking at his files.

“I’ve, erm…”

When suddenly thrust onto the stage I began to wonder if I’d perhaps made this phone call a little too briskly. This wasn’t quite as easy a situation to explain as it was to theoretically bounce around in my head. Was I to explain the walking stick? I mulled over the possibility and then decided I probably needn’t, as I’m pretty sure that Peter wouldn’t need a convincing back story, he’d already had a front-row seat at my particular origin tale, seen Spiderman being bit by a radioactive spider and turned into an especially weak and ineffectual Peter Parker. Then it began to dawn on me that I might at one point be called upon to talk about my penis, and that only added an extra layer of difficulty and…


I had been silent for quite some time, seconds that predictably felt like months. I imagine that people in Peter’s position have a much higher tolerance level for awkward silences but he had still heard enough of this particular one to interject velvetly. I took a run up towards the ball*.

“I’ve just been thinking, y’know? And I’ve thought that, erm, I’ve thought that this is… this is me now y’know? So I should really try and get used to it and, and, and…”

“You wanted to try the Sildenafil tablet”

Peter had obviously had similarly stilted conversation countless times in the past.

“Yes! I mean, I assume that’s the one, not actually… not actually altogether sure what it’s called, I mean I don’t remember exactly to be honest and I… I…. Yes. Please”

“You might no it better as Viagra. I’ll visit you later on today and drop one off. Is there anything else Alex?”

“Er… No…”

“Ok then, thanks for calling Alex, I’ll see you later on today OK? Bye”

Somehow that wasn’t the great big shared breakthrough I pictured it to be. I imagined that I would spend half an hour at least talking Peter through how my outlook had changed since he last left me black and broken after first passing on the news, how I’d decided to seize the day and start taking control of my own future, to no longer simply view myself as a disabled lost cause, but instead as a differently-abled person who would simply be undertaking things a little bit differently from now on.

And obviously taking pills to make my willy hard is a part of that.

But instead Peter immediately just recognised a patient requesting a treatment he’d previously explained and granted that request without comment. I had convinced myself that the desire to be able to get an erection was something I should be deeply embarrassed about. No other man in the World had such tumescent aspirations, and anyway the fact that I could no longer do it naturally meant I should just forget about it. It was almost as if Peter was simply good at his job. How exasperating.

True to his word he arrived in my room just before teatime and handed me a pack of four Sildenafil.

“Now it’s not a completely automatic reaction, you’re going to have to have some stimulus and it might maybe take an hour”

An hour? What I just heard was Peter recommending I watched porn for an hour before my penis would even begin to stir. That did seem like an awfully big investment on my end. As he explained the next steps his voice that had previously sounded like a soft and gently calming influence suddenly began to sound more and more sultrily suggestive until by the end it was practically Barry White.

“Let the nurses know that you wouldn’t like to be interrupted for the rest of the night, pull the room’s curtains tight and try your best to create a nice, relaxed atmosphere. What you should be aiming for is to forget you’re actually in a hospital”

I appreciated why I’d want to do that. Unfortunately Peter didn’t follow up that piece of advice with more detailed ideas about where I might imagine myself to be. Perhaps I’d be better off picturing that I was Viceroy of British India being fanned by several curious servant girls in the sweltering heat of summer 1876 Kolkata. Maybe instead I was at that moment the most feared pirate on the seas taken charge of yet another powerful ship and was just at that very moment turning us onto new seas where we would seek out new islands populated with hordes of buxom female natives I would have to educate in the ways of love.

Or perhaps these fantasies were completely out the other side of ridiculous, perhaps the trick with this particular strain of Sildenafil was to imagine something as mundane and reasonableas possible, perhaps you were to be chartered surveyor from Wakefield looking forward to bursting open the seal to a new jar of instant coffee you were just bringing home from the shop. Or that you’re a sous chef from Chesterfield on his or her day off just about to click a box on a web-site confirming that in fact no, you do not wished to be contacted in relation to special offers and services from our many respected affiliates. Maybe you were supposed to aim for something in the middle.

Perhaps you were supposed to picture yourself as Alex Palmer, a teacher from Xinjiang China with the World’s most beautiful girl Hej at his side.

No, that was also just that little too far fetched once again.

“One pill?”

“Take one pill and see how it goes. There’s a chance it won’t work, these things take some getting used to, if so wait a few days before taking the next one. If that still doesn’t work take the last two a few days after thatto see if you perhaps require a larger dose”

It was galling enough to have to take the pills, but the fact that they didn’t necessarily possess the ability to bestow some immediate and comedic affect on me was perhaps the greater disappointment. Was it a wider misunderstanding of how the pills actually worked? Or had one of the wider effects to my accident been that the more comical consequences of the pills were no longer available to me? Had my accident even removed the opportunity to even derive a cheap laugh from much of my medication? That sounded like it would be far too cruel a situation- a lack of ability and furthermore a lack of ability to snigger at the attempts to treat it. Damned if you don’t and damned if you try and laugh at the fact you don’t.

Still, I planned to at least try out the pill later that night, near giddy at the prospect of perhaps having a hard penis once again to play with. I tried to work out when would be the best time to take a run at it and realised that after I took my evening prescription between seven and eight I would be completely free until I have to interject my penis again to get to my urine at midnight (thoughts of such an exercise were sabotaging any attempts to forget I was in hospital) and I decided that was the best time to begin my new experiments into masturbation. And beyond, really, as I’m sure Hej would be thankful if she were ever able to have sex with me again one day, or rather she’d be itching to have sex again one day and it was of great interest to me to be able to be the man she’d be able to do it with.

Alexandria came in at about half past eight to give me my pills and I tried to explain why I wanted to be left alone whilst at the same time being to embarrassed to explain exactly why I did so. It took quite a while but with a large smile she eventually assured me nobody would enter until the morning.

“So… You’ll put a sign up, or…?”

“Oh no I won’t bother with that, I’ll just be sure to tell all the nurses”

And she left.

Be sure to tell all over the nurses? Well that didn’t exactly fill me with confidence, and straight from before I even popped the pill I was filled with doubt. Can I not get a lock to this door?

Never mind, forget it, the pill was then taken and I was now ready for my stimulus package. I grabbed hold of Mum’s computer and dived onto the internet.

Right: porn.

Porn, porn, porn, porn, porn, I hear the internet has patches of that here and there. I went straight to a site I had for a long time gone to when I was in the mood for porn that was good, dirty, hardcore and, most importantly, free. Only doing it this way round felt completely wrong: what would normally happen is that suddenly I’d find myself turned on by one thing or another in the house on my own and immediately close the curtains and make my way over to the website or several other in the hopes of best relieving myself. This time I was flipping the tables over completely and going to the sites first in the hope of them actually turning me on, which was a thankless task as few things are less sexy than porn. I glanced over the list of galleries:

Amateur Doggystyle? Er, sure, why not? Hmmm, lot of it seems to have been shot from behind the guy, and he sure has a hairy arse…

Tiny Teen Fucked? Well… Ok, I mean… Oh no! She’s tiny! No, I can’t really handle that.

POV Hardcore Femdom? Nope, no real idea of what that is, but it doesn’t sound very appetising.

Sienna Humiliated? Poor Sienna.

Busty Slave Tied? Really? A busty slave?

Amateur Movies? Just have a loo… Oh no! They’re grim!

Asian Amateurs? Sex Massage Movies? Fingering Wife? Teens Share Cock? Curvy Babe Boned? Interracial Hardcore? Guy Fucks 3 Babes? Booty Babes Fucked? Cum Sharing Babes? Babe Playing Solo? Hot Teen Squirting? Pissing Orgy? Stripping Outdoors? 4Some on a Boat? Blonde Angel Fucks? Teen Fucked Hard? Party Teens Sucking? Wife Jerks 2 Guys? Licked and Fucked? Wide Spread Fucking? Hot Latina Screwed? Facialized Porn Anal? Gloryhole Sex? Busty Babe Fucked? Hot Blonde Cockrider? Fucked By Huge Cock…?

After a while I tired of such barbarous porn galleries and instead went to a movie streaming site. This time my problem was that I couldn’t find a porn film that I could either find realistic or titillating enough to please me, either the woman involved wasn’t my type, or the man was both too off-puttingly ugly and far too prominent, or the acting was just so across-the-board awful that it became an impossibility to gleam any pleasure from it.

Soon I realised I had been looking at extremely explicit and hardcore pornography for nearly two hours, some of which I had found more appealing than others I have to admit, but my dick was still mostly soft, maybe a little larger than before, but it was all rather negligible and anyway I was worn out from a football match length of grot. I both gave and turned in for the night.

…before I then remembered that despite how much porn I’d subjected myself to I’d still have to shove a tube down my Faeroe’s thumbnail in a couple of hours to empty my bladder. I turned my telly back on and waited for midnight while failing to achieve an erection from Russell Howard.

No offence Russell.

Oh dear, what a terrible choice of terminology2

[yeah, that’s right, a *whole chapter* about me having a wank. You mad bro?]



I look out across the dance floor swigging on my beer and for the first time it really hits me how my life has changed. I mean, this is about as much as a life can change isn’t it?

Just months ago I was granulating out my days from pay check to pay cheque in a job I only really enjoyed because of how I appreciated the hours upon hours of solitude a tiny travel exchange booth would afford me. No future, only the frequent travails of the present, a life on pay as you go rather than any long term contract. Splitting up with E gave me the chance to leave by quitting a job rather than being fired, possibly for the first time ever.

Well months later I’m already on my second Chinese job and that remains the only time.

I gave them no choice in the end I suppose, I missed a meeting one morning and Michelle and Leigh came over to the dorm before I’d have the chance to think up some excuse. Who would I kill off this time? Perhaps go for an aunt or cousin, someone unlikely to visit me. Shit, there’s loads of people I’ve known throughout my life that I could have written out of the story, I reckon enough to explain away months, years of hang overs and flaky sobriety, so many more times I could have let down my school and let down myself. So much potential.

But no, they didn’t even afford me the opportunity to rationalise and fictionalise.

Called into the office.


I had to be out of the dorm five days, my Visa would expire in 14.

Going back to the UK was out of the question, not just because of the horrible idea of admitting to my family that you’re returning shamefaced from my working trip abroad not just with my tail between my legs but with its tip thrust brutally into my anus not six months after leaving, not just because there was no longer a home for me in the UK and I couldn’t face the indignity of moving back in with my Mum at 26, chiefly because I couldn’t fucking afford to buy a plane ticket, I’d spent nearly all the money I’d earned in one continued attempt at avoiding sobriety and all the horrible reality that might come with it.

Yet within the week I had a job offer from a school in Xinjiang.

“Oh, you can’t go to Xinjiang, it’s very dangerous up there”

That was the stock response whenever I would tell a Chinese co-worker of my plans,. These concerns were shared by Michelle although she was also sure to add another of her own.

“You have to be careful of your drinking up there Alex, they really like to drink”

Well, I’ve been in Dushanzi for more than a month now.

Dangerous my arse.

And drinking?


Huizhou was a real 24 hour city, aside from it’s countless bars and dives there were shops that whatever early hour of the morning would grab me by the neck and thrust me inside, forcing me to buy beer after beer after beer after beer. Now in this town it’s impossible to buy absolutely anything after about 11pm. There’s the international hotel if you want to buy a drink, or perhaps the one bar that opens late but is about as dull as watching pain dry and infused with the sort of sterility you’d more usually encounter when undergoing major hospital surgery. Dushanzi is fucking quiet, fucking cold and fucking lonely and probably exactly what I fucking need right now.

Dushanzi’s lack of nightlife was the reason Sean and I had taken the taxi to nearby Kuitun that night, proper bars there, proper nice ladies, proper loud music. I was surprised he was willing to do so again, after I first arrived we went out to a restaurant and got drunk with a bottle of vodka, I got obnoxiously drunk and ended up tripping over and smashing a great bloody gash in my skull. Luckily one of Sean’s students was passing and so could help carry me to my flat.

I feel my skull. Yeah, still there, though not as noticeable now I hope, at least under disco lights.

Hopefully the girls in here can’t see it.

I finish my drink.

Right Alex, one more Wusu beer, but then you’ve gotta scope out the talent, Ok?

Jesus, this club doesn’t even have a bar, just an off license outside and down the stairs that you can buy bottles in to drink inside.


My Chinese is far from perfect, but I can always order alcohol confidently.


Hmmm, beer’s a lot cheaper here. I get paid more and beer is cheaper. Something tells me that it’s going to be alright here.

I mean, the job’s a piece of piss, just one lesson taught 16 times to every class in the school, but if the pay was low and the beer expensive it really wouldn’t work out.

As it is, we’re off to a good start.

I walk back up the stairs, up the fucking stairs after buying a fucking drink into the fucking club I was going to fucking drink it in, for fuck’s sake.

As I enter I’m taken aback, and not just by Lady Gaga’s ‘Paparazzi’ which is a decent enough song but hardly enough to stop me dead.

Who is that?

Next to the dance floor the club has a strange annex that’s lighted and decorated more like a motorway service station than Studio 54 and fitted with plastic furniture I could only imagine the manager would have nicked from Wimpy’s when that particular franchise shut down. It’s because of the area’s distinct and wholly out of place aggressive lighting that I can properly make out her face.

“I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me, papa-paparazzi”

Ok, Ok, I realise that I’m pretty drunk right now, but that’s got to be the most beautiful girl in the World.

That’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.

Olive skin and huge gorgeous eyes, a face shape like the most gifted artist was tasked with drawing a perfect circle, I want to count her beautiful black eyelashes with my lips and it’s all I can do to stop myself pushing both my hands through her magnificent hair. A half smile plays across her lips at all times, like she’s always amused by her own private joke, a joke that you know she will never tell another soul.

I want to know what that joke is.

“Promise I’ll be kind, but I won’t stop until that boy is mine”

I start to dream about all the things she can do with those lovely lips. Disgusting, salacious, sexy, depraved, beautiful, debauched, gorgeous, loving, filthy, romantic things. I think I’m in love with her.

And she’s sitting on her own.

“Baby you’ll be famous, chase you down until you love me, papa-paparazzi”

I take a big swig of beer. Ok Alex come on, when are you going to get even the smallest chance to talk to a girl that beautiful ever again? This is why Sean and you came here isn’t it? To meet girls? Fit girls? And seriously how fit is she?!

Yeah, but I was maybe just looking for a quick shag, y’know? Some slut with low self-esteem and maybe a drinking problem. Someone like that slag in Huizhou, some easy shagging.

She’s different though, she seems… better… She seems like she deserves more, deserves to be treated like a Princess, like a queen, she looks like she’s a million miles out of my league and doesn’t seem anywhere near drunk enough to consider me, I should buy a drink for that drunk girl on the dance floor, set my standards a little lower.

“Promise I’ll be kind, but I won’t stop until that boy is mine, baby you’ll be famous, chase you down until you love me, papa-paparazzi”

No, fuck that Alex! Just fucking go and say hello to her, what’s the absolute worse that’s going to happen? Nobody’s going to die if you go and talk to her Alex, maybe she’ll at least find your attempts at Chinese funny. Didn’t Mark say that trying to pull girls was good for learning Chinese anyway?

Yeah, fuck it.

I down a big gulp of beer.

I’m going in.

“Don’t stop, for anyone, we’re plastic but we still have fun”

I stride up to the girl’s table, trying to look as confident as possible, trying to make it look like this was definitely the thing I should be doing, I should be talking to beautiful girls like her.

“你好,我是… 我名字… 我叫亚历克斯”

She beams that gorgeous, beautiful, bright, understanding, playful, caring smile, it fills her exquisite face as she finds my stilted attempts at Chinese delightfully absurd. Suddenly I am let into that private joke she’s been sharing with herself, suddenly I’m a part of your life.

“It’s Ok, I can speak English”

I think that’s the most amazing thing anybody’s ever said to me.

She thrusts a hand forward.

“Hello, my name is Hejuan”



Luck and Tex Avery

I waited a couple of days before I tackled the task again, removed my tooth guard, spat into bucket, received a pep talk from my manager ringside. This time I tried to not start with the hardest hardcore I could think of and instead to take a slightly more vanilla approach to the affair. Simple ribald fun more akin to Carry On Camping than the opening scene of Betty Blue, with nary even an exposed nipple in sight.1

[1oh, I’m still wanking? Cool]

Boobs to Make Men Drool: sure, why not? Let’s give that a look.

Ladies Sizzle in Sexy Lingerie: I’m prepared to accept that statement.

Bikinis Are Just One Reason to Enjoy Summer: OK, fine.

Women Have Great POV Angles of Their Own Boobs: bit of a lengthy headline that one but at least I have a pretty strong idea of what the article contains.

Boobs to Make the Men Drool: pretty sure we’ve already had a pretty similar article.

Groups of Girls Are So Much Better? A Little Fun in the Sun in Bikinis? Butt Lovers Gather Around? Most Men Will Drool Over Boobs Like These? Asian Girls Have Their Own Unique Beauty? Hot Ladies in Even Hotter Lingerie? Sexy Girls with Cameras That Can Take My Picture Anytime? Boys Go Nuts for Boobs Like These? Bum Pics to Make Your Day? Metal Bra Designs That Are Works of Art? USA Ladies Show Their Patriotism Through Their Boobs? Canada’s Sexiest and Most Famous Actresses? Surfer Girls Make Summer Extra Special?

It was an together more wholesome World, one of clasped hand bras and breasts that either made men drool or go nuts. I imagined people reacting with pop out eyes and the bottom jaw hard hitting the floor like a Tex Avery cartoon, rather than explicitly ejaculating to the soundtrack of nothing more than the man making wholly unattractive grunting noises.

It was a clear and marked improvement!

Perhaps my penis felt under less pressure in the situation, less under demand from such aggressive marketing towards its sexuality, felt like such rather innocent pictures of women with nice bottoms and shapely bosoms with nary a nipple in sight were somehow more appealing to its most base senses again. I was still working at a lot less than one hundred percent tumescence, but there was definite improvement, a definite lengthening and a definite hardening and I looked forward to trying two pills next time.

Except there wouldn’t be a next time, at least not in Sheffield hospital.

The day after my latest masturbatory attempt I was told that the hospital were now happy that I was completely free of exotic disease and whatever flesh-eating microbes you’d inevitably bring back from China and so decreed that I would from that moment rejoin a shared ward. Suddenly just pulling curtains around my bed so I could Paint My Wagon was no longer a viable option. I immediately began to consider all the luxuries that I may have began to take for granted but would no longer be available to me. Aside from the room’s privacy I would no longer have an en-suite, no bathroom all to myself, no shower of my own. I would no longer have a window to look out from and plot my ascent up the zig-zagged hill. Perhaps I would never make it up there now, now that I had removed the motivational view.

So it proved.

Nurses came to pack up my belongings, which amounted to little more than multiple pairs of boxer shorts and of course a carefully folded packet of Walker’s salt and vinegar that was the source of much of my ill-feeling. I took the opportunity while they cleaned up around me to grab my Mum’s computer and send yet another message to Walkers Crisps explaining my discontent:

Dear sir or madam,

I honestly couldn’t tell you how many letters I have sent complaining about the offer code HG-76-78-90-34 on my packet of salt and vinegar crisps not being valid. In fact it is greatly saddening me how you seem to be ignoring my complaints without so much as a letter informing me that you have received my grievances. As I have told you many times before I am currently in hospital for a long-term stay and feel that your overlooking of my complaints is only exasperating my situation.

Please show that you have not completely given up on customer service


With my room soon cleaned of my possessions I sat in my wheelchair and I was wheeled out. Wheeled left out the door, down a corridor, past the front desk, turn right, right again, down another corridor, left through a door and into another World. I would share ward eleven with three other patients, and never before had I appreciated just how lucky I was, how compared to every other denizen of the Spinal Injuries Centre my constant and obnoxious complaining was little better than me loudly protesting how itchy my mittens were to an amputee, or deploring my hat-hair to the recently decapitated. I immediately decided that I was never to use my crutches to get to dinner again. I was suddenly infused with a debilitating shame for parading my comparative good health in front of those less fortunate.

And that’s all it is- fortune.


Nothing more, I deserved absolutely no better than anyone else I met in there. I was starting to come to terms with the possibility that I deserved significantly less.

No, I deserved death, and whether or not that is worse is not a subjective measure. It really depends on who you ask and at what time whether or not death is better or worse than their current predicament.

The nearest in constitution to me was Ned (I hope by now you’re au fait with how these names bear absolutely no affinity close to reality), and he was still several football pitches East from where I stood. Standing at all was the first clue, something Ned himself could never manage. Ned would wake each day and be helped into his wheelchair, where he would remain all day watching bouts of television between allowing massive swathes of narcolepsy to breeze over him and falling asleep in his chair.

Yet still he could struggle on and off the disabled toilets himself, which put him ahead of Gavin, for whom the day’s movement into his wheelchair and out again was a difficult and strenuous task for at least two nurses and frequently more. He would take a pill to completely evacuate his bowels of shit every other day. Remember that nuclear bomb I had to set off in my guts a few weeks ago? Well, that was Gavin’s routine. I immediately decried it as inhumane, one of the worst and most eviscerating ordeals I had ever been forced to put my body through. Gavin did that every couple of days, that was his itinerary. After the day’s second meal Gavin would frequently ask to be put back in bed so he could just lie back doused in his own impairment, smoking an electronic cigarette and watching TV.

Then there was Todd, who was a man in his mid to late sixties who couldn’t do…


He was completely paralysed from the neck down, and would spend all day every day simply lying in bed staring at the ceiling. His wife would be by his side from the moment they allowed her on the ward until the moment she was politely asked to leave, talking to Todd while I imagine he wished he could turn his neck to the right to properly look upon her. She would feed Todd by hand every meal and alert the nurses when he needed changing. One accident, two people’s lives so utterly nullified.

And yet here I was still complaining.

I was one of God’s lucky ones.

And that’s all it is- luck.


Nothing more,

I never asked what ill-fortune had blown them all through that hospital’s doors. Never once I wished to start that conversation.

“Why not?”

Eric quizzed me as I explained the ward to him as quietly as possible over our next meal together, after I had already explained why I no longer entered the dining room on crutches. Cowardice, essentially.


The words stuck in my throat as it became slowly apparent that the English language contained no adequate explanation for what was buzzing around my head like a particularly irritated bluebottle.

“Because… Because I don’t know how I would answer when they asked the same question back to me. I just don’t feel I can tell them enough to sate their appetite. I can’t help but feel they’d demand more information”

“You had a fall. In China”

“They’ll want more information than that”

“Just tell them the truth, how you don’t remember more than that”

“Like they’ll believe that!’ I snorted.

“They might!”

“Well… Do you believe that?”

Eric held his sandwich in his hand as he mulled over the question.

“I’m not sure, ask me another time”

While in ward eleven the charge of my lower level waterworks was also handed over to different hands. Michael Cole no longer held authority over my craps, and the method of fingering my own anus to dig out my own faeces that he was so enthusiastic about died with him. I was very careful never to mention these particularly dark moments in my life to my new charges, unless they too thought it the absolute best way to go about business.

The Ward 11 nurse Cynthia took one look at my method of urination and immediately decreed it unsatisfactory. The little splashes of urination that would escape from my willy overnight that I had already long accepted as part of the process were suddenly viewed as unacceptable, I had moved to a ward that was obviously something of a nanny state.

“You can’t just be wetting the bed every night Alexander!” Cynthia shouted appalled in her strong Caribbean accent “You really should be wearing something to keep everything cleaner!”

“But… in my last room…” I whimpered with all the pathetic wet fury of an eight year old complaining how Dad always lets him have juice before bed.

“I don’t care about your last room!” Cynthia had little time for my bleatings “In this ward we care a little about cleanliness!”

I had obviously been living the life of Caligula back in room five and now my ghastly way of living had to be put to an end. Cynthia produced a fresh new piss bag.


My groan seemed to echo on for many minutes, far beyond my control. I groaned a veritable alphorn of displeasure threatening to dislodge several pieces of hanging ice from the Matterhorn of Ward 11.

I thought I had seen the last of these!

One pissy step forward, two pissy steps back.

Every pissy solution just seemed to cause further pissy problems.

The best laid pissy plans of pissy mice and pissy men.

Please insert your own idioms here with ‘pissy’ inserted at some point, best entrant wins a pissy prize.

Cynthia produced a horrendous looking contraption known as a urinary sheath, which was essentially an especially thick condom with a hole in one end designed to transport the urine to the attaching bag. To give this condom a little extra adhesion a thin line of glue was basted over its end so it could attach itself to the wearer’s shaft. Attach itself to the wearer’s shaft! If this isn’t already sounding hideous enough, the very real danger of pubic hairs being somehow painfully ripped by the adhesive meant that Cynthia had to carefully administer the sheath herself.

I imagine there’s a chance that many men reading this possess a clear preference for the woman to put the condom on, believing perhaps that such an act only increases the sexual longing. I think it seems like far too big an encroachment on the more scientific aspect of lovemaking to be anything close to arousing, but there’s nowt as queer as folk and their prophylactics. What I can say for sure is that having a condom put on extremely cautiously by a Caribbean woman in her early sixties with some added sticky paste at the bottom just to fuel your perversion, although the nurses uniform here may have to be taken into account though. I didn’t ask her to put it on using her mouth.

“Hmmm…” Cynthia didn’t look entirely satisfied with how the process was going “I think you might need a smaller size”

Smaller Si…!?

Fuck you Cynthia!

Imagine if your intentional namesake Cynthia Plaster Caster had exhibited such a judgemental nature when casting the genitals of the lead singer of Pop Will Eat Itself, where would be currently be as a culture? I imagined that I might only have to retreat to a smaller size in hospital as they were of course more used to hideously disfigured sizes, perhaps even freaks of disability more used to pissing out of the top of their head, and of course my own impressive member, which was only something worth justifiably crowing about if measured next to other non-abominations. It’s hardly fair to point to the Elephant Man in an attempt to prove your friend’s head isn’t all that large is it?

Dick decrees aside, I was livid at having to return to wearing a piss bag again. If I was to retreat back here then why on Earth was I still bothering to jab a twelve inch death spike into my Paraguayan pituitary every six hours?

Fuck them, fuck them all.

And could you not have just thought that Cynthia?

Still, I could show them now, they could see how much urine was being gathered, they could see how I didn’t need the thing. I’d show them…

I’d show all of them


Sometimes it’s fine.

Hear that?


There’s nothing to hear.

No beeping sound at the back of my mind, nothing to worry about at all. No thoughts or suggestions sludging around the back of my mind. The World is such a lovely place, the hills are alive with the sound of music. People comment on how happy that Alex Palmer is, how he always seems to have a smile plastered across his face, always quick to laugh, always the life of the party.





Then suddenly…





It returns…





It’s there





The suggestion…





The possibility…






Medicine and Flagellation

A couple of years ago Hej and I had taken a trip to Yunnan in Kunming Province, a wonderfully Spring-flecked area on China’s Western-most side, where the sun always shone except for when it didn’t and people held hands as they gambled down the road in cheer except for when they didn’t. While there we were so happy and disgustingly flushed with love and potential we decided to buy ourselves a couple of matching rings.

Or did we actually just buy these rings back in the town I lived in? I can’t really remember if we’re being totally honest, and I don’t believe it’s altogether important. Those rings were ours, representing our repugnant infatuation, where exactly they came from is altogether insignificant.

As my body was scraped from the pavement, eight floors below my apartment window, even though I had been thoughtful enough to only wear boxer shorts to ease the doctors’ attempts to cut me out, our shared ring nonetheless had to be prized off my cold, clammy and swelling fingers. I would have been wearing that ring when I died.

Hej took the ring off the doctors and wore it on a chain around her neck from that moment forth.

Around the time I was lying in Sheffield Spinal Injuries Centre shared ward for the first time, a period spent in continuous and ridiculous self-loathing followed by only loathing myself further as a result of its ridiculousness, Hej was approximately three thousand miles away with suds to her elbow as she washed her morning dishes. She had removed my ring from around her neck and placed it next to the sink. Unbeknownst to her as she scoured pots and pans my ring saw its chance for an escape and while Hej had her gaze averted it dashed into the dishwater, escaping down the plughole as soon as Hej releasing the plug presented such a opportunity.

It didn’t take Hej long to realise the catastrophe, didn’t take long for the full allegorical meaning of her losing the one physical remnant of me she still held in her grasp to hit her efficiently in the gut.

Hej began to let the whole misery of her situation wash over her, the horrific reality of her life now as she saw it. This was all her fault, she thought, if she had just answered my phone call she would be seeing me that night. She deserved to be in hospital now, not me. She decided that she wouldn’t lose my ring like she had lost its owner though, and set off to the school she worked at to ask the help of the school’s maintenance worker 石都宝 (Shi Dubao). She was in no mentally fit state to teach that morning and told them so much.

Shi Dubao took a look at the plumbing in Hej’s apartment block and saw how all the tubing was intertwined and how Hej’s best bet would be to ask to cut into the plumbing of the flat downstairs. By now Hej was hovering right around the edges of mental breakdown, but she was still careful to first ask the one flat above her not to run any water, flush any toilet, less it forced the ring further and further away from her.

The man in the flat below was preparing for work as he did every morning, only this day he happened to be interrupted by a very pretty yet obviously nutty young woman asking desperately if she could cut a hole in his flat’s toilet piping.

Cut the pipes in my…? Well, no, of course not, you’re obviously certifiably insane and I thought this apartment block had a strict rule of no insanity before noon?

Then Hej did something she very rarely did- she cried.

She cried occasionally of course, but extremely rarely. She had wept buckets when I was being infuriatingly oblique on whether I was going to die or not in Urumqi hospital of course, but I think we can allow her that. She also very occasionally cried at the most embarrassing films, not the classic tearjerkers but ridiculous fare like Tyler Perry’s reprehensible Madea’s Big Happy Family, and the entirely perplexing time when she chose to shed a tear at a screening of James Cameron’s Titanic 3D, even after I pointed out that the twist was that the old woman was just a barefaced liar. Even so she tried her absolute best to cry as little as possible, and would absolutely never do so to further a point.

In front of her downstairs neighbour that day though, she simply couldn’t help herself. She tried her best to explain what the ring meant to her, tried her best to explain how distraught she’d be if she’d ever lost it, tried her best to explain what had happened to me and where I was now and why exactly the ring was so important. It’s not entirely clear whether or not the man downstairs heard or understood what Hej was trying to say to him, but the World’s men are mostly made up of those who seemingly do anything with the sole reason of making some or any women cry and those who will do absolutely anything in their power to stop such a thing. Thankfully the man who lived below Hej was of the latter group.

Shi Dubao cut a hole in the toilet’s U-bend and Hej saw the first inkling of proof of the existence of God in many a month as he fished out the ring.

Tears of happiness this time, and Shi Dubao was sure to fix the new hole in the man’s tubing..

All my efforts suddenly seemed to pale somewhat in comparison.

What was I doing? I mean really?

To even look on Hej had become a bitter reminder of what a horrible person I’d become towards her, what an abhorrent strain I had begun to place upon her.

An abhorrent strain upon our relationship.

It used to be so different, I was such a good boyfriend to Hej before all this, I had decided to study all my previous colossal failures in the area and attempt to learn from them. I would be attentive, I would be caring, I would be loving. If I had learnt lessons from each of my near countless previous disasters in the area surely the eventual sum of all these personal bankruptcies would be the perfect boyfriend?

A popular trope amongst men less successful amongst the opposite sex is to state that women don’t like ‘nice’ men, always preferring to concentrate more on the repulsive and the unmannerly, the boorish and the uncivilised. ‘Of course women don’t like nice guys’ these men bray to themselves, ‘I’m a fucking brilliant guy and nobody wants to shag me’. The inherent contradiction at the centre of this statement is that declaring yourself a ‘nice’ person is pretty much the personality declaration equivalent of starting a statement by saying ‘I’m not a racist but…’- the very desire to state it strongly suggests the opposite is in fact true.

Women like nice guys, of course they fucking do, you’re a twat.

How are these men deciding that they’re nice guys anyway? Because they don’t beat women? They’ve never murdered anybody? Never amputated a dog with wire cutters? Never installed a system of work camps and began the slow genocide of a particular ethnic group? These are simply things you’re not supposed to do, the fact you don’t is no more an indication of the general goodness of your egg than me never having explicitly planned any particularly devastating terrorist attacks on any American landmarks qualifies me as an ideal president.

Perhaps these men are ‘nice’ because they don’t believe they conform to the classic ideal of sexism. They don’t scream advice on breast display at passing women from building sites, they don’t think women are any worse at driving than men, they own several albums by female singers, they would only tell sexist jokes as a way of bringing attention to the fact such horrific opinions exist, they have never once to the best of their memory slapped a woman on the bottom as she passed. Perhaps not, but these men also chastise all women for not automatically dropping their knickers because they had a door held open for them, they believe that women should by right apportion out sexual gratification as a simple thank you for human politeness. The dreaded other side of this coin is to be placed by a woman into the dreaded ‘friend-zone’, the much mocked area where a woman offers a man nothing more than her useless and utterly meaningless friendship, when of course it’s in every man’s right to demand coitus if he’s been anything close to affable to a female (she may as well be a fucking man otherwise! She may as well be my fucking equal!). Much like there are many different ways to skin a cat, the very fact that you’re skinning one should act as an early warning sign that all is not well.

So I found it hard to change my generally shitty personality, I was still a boorish, boring, argumentative and generally big-headed and cantankerous shit-storm of arse at the end of the day, but I worked more on the way I presented myself, worked more on at least not being the kind of boyfriend you wouldn’t be relating to your therapist by the end of the calendar year. No chasing other women, no lies, no secrets, no pain, no purposeful disregard…

Y’know, the bare minimum.

“I think God was jealous of our love, so he decided to punish us” Hej would say to me over Skype as she recounted the tale of the one true ring.

“What…? You don’t believe in God!”

“Of course I believe! I’m a Muslim!”

The whole experience had at least reaffirmed Hej’s belief in a higher power. After all this suddenly, y’know, science wasn’t good enough any more.

I began to realise I wouldn’t be back by that Christmas. I probably wouldn’t be back early the next year. When I next saw Hej it would probably be at least a year after I last did so.

At least a year…

She doesn’t deserve this.

She doesn’t fucking deserve this.

Bouts of deep depression always had peculiarly cyclical passage when they washed me over. The dark thoughts, the desolation, the distress, always snuck up on me for no reason, there was never a particularly ‘dark’ or depressing outside motivation that would spark it off, just a sudden change in my disposition from generally cheery to the absolute depths of the ringworm that Cerberus was furiously dragging his anus across the Underworld’s floor in a desperate attempt to remove. This initial dispirit quickly moves onto confusion, as even after years of suffering under depression the way in which it unceremoniously attacks despite bypassing all motivation and catalysts never starts to make sense.

Then you get angry.

Very, very angry with yourself.

Hundreds, thousands, millions, billions of people around the World have real reason to be sad, yet here you are with barely any reason at all to not have a massive grin permanently spread across your fucking stupid ugly face like Jack Nicholson’s joker and you feel like this.

You’re pathetic.

You’re worthless.

You’re pathetic.

Suddenly I would be deeply depressed and full of deep self-hatred. It was not a great mix.

Now it was different though, now I was full of self-hatred already for good reason- I had put Hej through hell, I had ruined her life. I had maybe slightly improved it when I first entered it, but now I had ripped open its chest cavity and buried a stick of dynamite deep into its bloody celiac artery, and after the huge explosion it’s now significantly worse than it was before.

Now I expected her to just wait thousands of miles away, just wait while she had to ignore men buying her fridges and obviously disregard the many, many men who might be interested in a beautiful woman in her late twenties.

Nice men.

Good men. Men with brilliant jobs and more money than the highest class dock hooker after shore leave.

Men who could give her a brilliant life.

Men who could give her children.

That’s all she wanted in life, and now I could no longer give it to her. I had torn apart her life simply by association. I would mention these problems to her, mention how staying with me was now practically a pledge that she would no longer achieve any of her goals, a guarantee that she no longer gain any satisfaction from life. She was practically forwarding applications for an utterly meaningless existence of her own volition every time she talked to me, every second she stayed with me. Her responses initially centred around her desire to be with me being far stronger than her desire to have children, which I privately rejected as little better than the crazy ramblings of a young woman blinded ridiculous by what she perceived to be love. Later, after she had obviously considered the horror of a possible barren life, she changed her tune slightly to a strong belief in the powers of modern medicine, that the miracle mansion that is the hospital would solve all of our problems.

Why should it have to?

Why does she have to?

Her family would immediately forgive her that? To be artificially inseminated because of problems that lay solely at the feet of her pathetic, atheist, foreign partner? How are we meant to afford this anyway? Had we suddenly come into some massive fortune? I might have suggested begging my family before, but this whole experience had pretty much left everyone I had any relation with virtually penniless.

Yet she was still waiting for me, yet she was still the turkey fiercely campaigning for Christmas months into the new year.

And this only instead made me angry at her.

Why didn’t she just have the courage to end it with me? Just leave me to my own admirable self-hatred and remove herself from the equation. Perhaps I would be happier only worrying about ruining my own life- it’s all relative after all.

I couldn’t finish with her though, I couldn’t self-flagellate myself to quite such a degree. Hej was the one light of positivity in my life and to remove her would only be perverse.

Once again suicide started to sound like the best option, all things considered…1

[1the tonal shifts in this book are insane. But I remember those feelings. I still have them]


12th March

I couldn’t stop crying today when Hej told me she wouldn’t be coming next week. Why did she even tell me she was going to try and change the tickets yesterday? All I was crying about was that things are exactly the same as they fucking were 2 days ago. 21st. One night I’m working so we’re talking about 4 hours we’re gonna be able to properly spend together. I’m gonna stay up all night with her, I don’t want to waste our time together by sleeping. When can we next have a day off?? If I go to UK in the summer will I have to wait until December to spend any time with her?? She said that we would spend this week together, I thought it would be SO special, now? I just feel so… desperately sad, so much so that I’m questioning whether this whole thing is going to work. I NEED her here with me, if she can’t be maybe I will save myself a lot of pain by just finding someone else. It’s not her fault? She’s not entirely blameless, if she just had the guts to stand up to her fucking parents she would be with me right now 😦



At Least As and If Not More

Perhaps back in my old private room I would have little to occupy my mind other than deep thoughts on how best to commit a quick and efficient hara-kiri, maybe not to actually do it but to at least carve out the method and iron out other logistics to best resolve how it could be achieved. Now I was no longer a bio hazard though a whole range of different activities and delights were open to me.

Plus, it’d be a lot harder to kill oneself in a shared ward would it not? I mean, I would have to drag myself off to the bathroom and do it in there, and I just couldn’t imagine a shared bathroom in a hospital’s spinal ward being sufficiently private enough. How would I do it anyway? Well there was a bath in one of them, so perhaps a classic slice of my wrists while lying there would be good. So much blood though, not only would that create quite a horrid scene but I imagine the red liquid of my body juice mixed with the bath’s water would get under the door and noticed by a staff member, then I’d be ‘saved’ before I could do the decent thing and slip away into death. A failed suicide, is there anything more embarrassing?

I think I’d lack the courage to really slice at myself anyway, far too big a wimp for that.

Overdose of sleeping tablets, that’ll be me.



No fuss.


Like I say- less time for these thoughts.

I immediately lost my private gym privileges, now I shared with nearly a dozen other people, both men and women, all infinitely more injured than me it seemed and all infinitely more happier. Couldn’t I be that strong?

“Are you asleep Ned?”

Fizz would call out as she noticed him not holding his pilates pose as confidently as he was before.


Ned would reply loudly with a half laugh that attempted to disguise deep anger at Fizz’s cheek, before then drifting asleep moments afterwards, as if Fizz even mentioning the word had implanted the idea of hibernation into his mind.

Pilates, much like any exercise, is deathly fucking despairingly dull by the way, so don’t bother. I tend to toss and turn quite a lot in bed, so I imagine I get a good eight hours Pilates work out every night. Pilates is essentially lying on a mat and making shapes like you’re attempting to release the biggest fart possible without anybody else noticing. So actually I imagine it’s a physical exercise at least as if not more important to practice than any other.

There were also two talks a week, which I guess would fill the roles of lectures in my weekly timetable while the hours I occasionally spent downstairs lightly contorting myself in an attempt to squeeze out a silent burst of air were obviously my seminars. They were occasionally held upstairs in the shared ‘living room’ that existed through a door from the dining room which to be completely honest I didn’t previously know existed.

“There’s your tea Ned, now just be careful so you don’t fall asleep and spill it!”

Joanne handed over the drink doing her rounds before that day’s speech started, laughing to give the impression that it was all in good jest while all the time remaining deadly serious.

“Wha…! Offffffff…! As if I’d…! Come on!”

Ned sputtered out and laughed away his disbelief at being accused of such a ridiculous thing, before maybe seventy four seconds later letting his eyelids drop and dozing off to one side in his wheelchair and letting his tea idly pour out of his cup and on to the floor.

That first talk I managed to escape my plague to enjoy concerned friction burns. A quick look at the schedule for these talks had already confirmed that me being wrapped up in my own personal leper colony had seen me miss two talks on sex, yet here I was, just in time for friction burns.

Friction burns are something you have to be very wary of if you’ve lost feeling in any part of your body; essentially you could be wearing your clothes too tightly, sitting in your chair for too long, lying at a slightly wrong angle and giving yourself a slow rope burn or particularly nasty carpet burn against the fabric without even realising it.

See how I managed to explain it there? Not too difficult a concept I think, and I believe you will have grasped what I was essentially talking about. The guy giving our talk on friction burns obviously didn’t trust quite so much in his own descriptive powers, as he decided the best way to illustrate what the risks of friction burns were would be to show slide after slide of hideously graphic examples.

Flaying skin, ugly exposed wounds, pieces of flesh worn bright red with blood: that particular shared room of the Princess Anne Trauma Injuries Centre became a group viewing if an especially gruesome horror film that Wednesday afternoon. Nobody in attendance could stomach their food for quite a long time afterwards.

Apart from Ned of course, deep in a sleep we all envied him for.

I sat in my wheelchair and looked around. I felt a deep and strange guilt. I was only in a wheelchair at all because I was all too often too ashamed to hobble in with my crutches or even my fresh new walking stick. These other people really needed this talk, they had lost feeling in their entire legs, beneath their chests, all down their body, they would be the ones that would have to be extra vigilant in attempting to avoid these burns, they would be the ones who would find themselves covered in hideous gashes and ugly red marks.

I was just a tourist in this place.

A similar epiphany overtook me as I visited the next downstairs talk, held in the room I would usually have my Occupational Therapy and Design OT in. That day’s talk concerned itself with travel, particularly public transport, which the man hosting had the impertinence to start by asking to go round the room and have everybody introduce themselves and state their reasons for hospitalisation. You’ve already correctly guessed the speaker’s own reasons for being condemned to wheels, but please feel free to enter whatever reason here that you think would best suit the book’s narrative, before the central theme becomes far too focused on the dangers of a certain mode of transportation. Perhaps the speaker injured himself trying to transport a new fridge to his intended fancy lady who later turns out to be Hej in a shocking twist I reveal in chapter forty two. Perhaps he injured himself while winning the Urumqi hospital fun run and his name was actually Danny. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps he injured himself with an unnamed accomplice in a base jumping accident while travelling in Xinjiang, though perhaps that would signpost the shock twist at the end far too obviously even if it would lend the book some much needed direction late on. As it is the character of the speaker doesn’t actually play too big a part in the wider narrative here I’m afraid, this really is the only place he makes an appearance. You’ve probably noticed how I haven’t even bothered to name him, though soon I’ll forget that and refer to him mistakenly as ‘Danny’, getting rather confused by this lengthy and completely unnecessary tangent. Unless of course this is all just a bluff and the speaker is actually going to play a rather central role in the remainder of the book, though this all seems rather a lot of work to just throw readers off the scent doesn’t it? Though perhaps to even discuss how I’m unlikely to waste so much time setting up a shock is in itself only designed to set up a later shock, I mean this book can get a little meta in places can’t it? I’ve given myself a headache now, I think I’m actually just going to start a new paragraph now and try and forget this ridiculous segment ever happened.

The speaker couldn’t have chose a way to more embarrassingly put me on the spot, I would have preferred it if he just asked that we all start the talk by each individually wiping our naked bodies with cooking oil and attempt a pitch perfect karaoke of Robbie Williams’s ‘Angels’ while he used our curled greasy bodies as the stone in an elaborate game of human curling, using a handle we had already inserted quite forcibly into our anus. That.

What was I supposed to say? The truth? That I honestly couldn’t remember? They would never believe that, I would just be opening myself up for theories and judgement, why did I even bother doing this? If I’d known there’d be this much participation I would have never come, would have never even peeled myself out of bed, this was not in the brochure!

As I just wallowed in my own self-turmoil I managed to miss the first few statements, once again allowing my own self-obsession to prevent me from hearing the tales of others- I was too wrapped up in myself to listen to anybody else, this was only my problem, only my story, I cared little for the pain of others. I had the only real problem in that room, everyone else was just whinging, and of course they all cared deeply about me and any potential holes in my story, they would talk of nothing else but theories on my accident for days, I was about to deliver their biggest news of the year. I realised that while I wrestled with how best to deliver my tale, what actual tale to tell, there had been silence in the room for a good few seconds and Danny (see?) was looking at me expectantly.

“And what about you, Alex?”

Danny didn’t say. I mean, he didn’t say a thing, how would he even know my name for a start? I felt for some reason that this section needed some sort of bridge between the scene being set and me starting my introduction, although now the more I consider it the less essential it seems. Perhaps I felt I should have Danny introducing my name, though it’s unlikely that you wouldn’t be aware of it by this point, and anyway I state my own name at the start of my introduction so the little injection of Danny’s voice serves absolutely no purpose. This had been one of the least significant entries in a book packed full of inessentiality, yet this piece explaining its pointlessness somehow renders its entry indispensable. There really aren’t ant quick and fast rules here.

“Hi, my name’s Alex (see?), and I…”

I started, then paused for another few seconds as I considered my position. What did I do? Whatever reasoning I stated would be leapt upon and torn apart immediately, as I said it over in my head I started to doubt it myself. Was I just telling myself a lie over and over again and hoping that I would eventually be convinced? I felt I should have spent more of my enforced downtime thinking up an elaborate story for moments like this, rather than sending letters to Walkers. Who’s disabled and has no story to explain it? I would have to live my life the rest of my life dependant on British people being too polite to ask.

When was the last time I sent a letter to Walkers? A few days I think should probably write one after I go back to bed after this talk.

“…and I… I had a nasty fall in China…”

“Really?” Danny sounded impressively genuine as he started the inevitable barrage of questioning “Were you in China on holiday or did you actually live there?”

“I’d lived there for three years as a teacher”

The opportunity to illuminate people’s interest with some intelligent insight on life in China was too good to turn down, I was glad of the chance to enrapture the audience with my own cerebral travelogue, a few of my own rhapsodic notes would knock Bill Bryson stone dead, I would inform, educate and entertain. No, I would say, dog isn’t a ‘delicacy’ there…

“Actually it’s interesting that…” I opened my arms in readiness for my own personal Gettysburg Address.

“Hi, my name’s Pauline…” the introductions had already moved on, Pauline had obviously assumed that the few seconds of silence after my short explanation signified that my little story was finished “There were some complications on surgery to a problem in my lower back and afterwards I was left paralysed”

Now that’s a story! Clear, succinct, and with the hospital that botched the surgery acting as a clear antagonist to Pauline’s central character. Pauline was really showing me how it was done, a master-class in disability memoir.

“Of course everyone at work has been so supportive all way since the accident, absolutely behind my one hundred percent, it’s been such an honour…”

I glanced around the dozen or so patients sitting around Danny, a dozen or so different stories, a dozen or so better stories, a dozen or so people who couldn’t give a dozen or so tiny shites about how I chose to present my story, a couple of dozen or so empty ears on which my inner turmoil could fall on.

Big fall.

That’s all they needed.

Alex‘was all they really wanted to hear, and the word ‘want’ is extremely loosely used here.

“So what was your job Pau…?” Danny took a swing and a miss.

“Of course my boss, Luke, has been such a twat about the whole thing. Luke Ferguson, that’s his name, everyone at work agrees that he’s a bastard”

It seemed Pauline’s fable didn’t have quite as clear an antagonist as I’d first imagined, I hoped the tale wouldn’t suffer a similar fate to Spiderman 3 and end up being toppled over by the sheer amount of villains.

“Ok, thanks Pau..”’

“Of course he’s really fought me missing work through disability every step of the way, you can tell he resents having to pay me even though I’m disabled. He’d love, he’d love the chance to get rid of me, he knows I don’t let him get away with anything, I’m far too smart to have the wool pulled over my eyes”

A dozen or so people in that room each had at least a hundred million times as many reasons* as I did for writing a book on their experiences. Yet here I am, writing on a piddling injury that amounts to a small squirt of pathetic piss in the Southern Ocean of the tiny ecosystem that made up this room of a dozen or so martyrs for the cause of existence.

(*Which would amount to at least twelve hundred million or so reasons in the room overall, one billion one hundred million counting by the American system, if you’re keeping count, as you absolutely should be)

Existence is a dangerous cause to nail your flags to.

“Thanks Pauline, I…”

“Of course Luke- Luke Ferguson- didn’t even believe I was too injured to work, asked for all sorts of documents and proof that I was actually injured, fought it every step of the way he did”

You’ll notice I waited until chapter thirty eight to drop the bombshell that this book is essentially pointless, like hearing Les Miserables from the viewpoint of someone changing at Paris airport on their way to Istanbul. This is barely the story of an incidental character, of a guy who was mildly inconvenienced for a while but generally got better. You’ve been had I’m afraid.

“Ok I think we…”

“Of course literally everyone else I work with has come to visit at some point, but Luke? Luke Ferguson? Never once, the selfish, uncaring bastard”

Clearly the surgical complications were a red herring, as Pauline’s tale unfolds you begin to notice more how Luke (Luke Ferguson) is the real villain of the piece, it’s really quite a wonderful narrative flourish, don’t you wish you were reading her book instead? Well tough titties, you’re going to read this book and by God you’ll enjoy it.

“Yes thank you Pauline” Danny attempted to grasp at the small window of opportunity to move the introductions on “And what’s your name?”

“I’m Stan”

A middle aged bearded man answered with a face so generally cheerful one imagined it would be much more comfortably at home presenting the daytime shows on CBBC, segueing majestically from showing a lovely picture of a giraffe driving a bus sent in by a viewer to introducing the latest episode of ‘Yo-Yo Cammayo Kids!’

“I’ve had pretty terrible back problems since an accident I had when I was a kid, and they flared up something rotten a few weeks ago so I’ve come back in here to get some extra treatment”

‘An accident when I was a kid’, he offered even less information than I did! I glanced around the room and nobody looked like they were going to challenge him on it, nobody looking like going to push for further information. Perhaps the crowd was just assuming the story was a particularly tragic one and Stan preferred not to recount it, or perhaps they just all thought his reluctance to delved deeper into it betrayed nothing more than that the story was a bit of a yawner.

It suddenly occurred to me that I was in the audience now, I was part of this shared experience, what did I think?


I thought nothing.

I hadn’t given any thought to Stan, I’d instead only filtered his story through other people’s responses to it and how it compared to their reactions to my own jammerings, what it meant for me. I cared about nobody but myself, I was just factoring everybody else through how exactly they affected me. My life had descended into such a trough of self-obsession, my days were now essentially spent running in small circles around and around a pen of manure trying to catch a sniff of my own fart.

“Do you work at the moment Stan?”

“Oh no!” Stan almost spluttered out with laughter at the thought “I’ve not been able to work for years! Still, on disability benefits I get paid to do nothing all day, so it’s a pretty good gig all told!”

Someone inform the Daily Mail, someone on benefits trying to see the positive side of it all, no shame at all. What he should be doing of course, is sitting in his wheelchair surrounded by a fog of misery, his face melted into a droop by intense depression at his life’s unfortunate events. Take our benefits if you absolutely must, but for Jesus H fucking Christ’s sake don’t you dare be happy about it! If he were the eldest son of the Fourteenth Duke of Wooflingturdbughry then perhaps we’d be able to marvel at his gallantry at putting on a brave face despite life dealing him such a cruel hand, but as it is we instead demand he does everything up to and perhaps including bowing his head in respect as we enter the room and to never make eye contact. People in similar situations to his should just live their life clouded in an eternal mist of ashamed misery.

Shouldn’t they though?

I mean obviously they shouldn’t, but shouldn’t they?

Next to Stan physically I was practically about begin a twelve month stint as Nikiya in La Bayadere at the Festival Hall, and I was the one occasionally dunking my head deep into the stinky trough of self-despair.

Soon all dozen or so patients had finished their mini-life story, a short synopsis cover letter trying to convince me to publish the whole project. I had stopped listening, instead thinking about how it all somehow related back to me.

Danny talked us through how public transport would now work for us, proudly tossing his PowerPoint remote from hand to hand like he was using a pair of shiny nun-chucks to niftily advertise the benefits of signing your kid up to his new Mouhébong Taekwondo classes, three Wednesday evenings a month at the community centre.

Everything was now different, everything.

Certain buses could not accommodate wheelchairs, so you had to call ahead and check, though of course not every bus driver would always have the time free to help you, so you might need to be patient. You had to call train companies ahead and ensure there’s be somebody on hand to help your wheelchair on to the carriage, though of course neither every train nor every platform has such facilities available, so you might need to do your research. Black cabs all have facilities for transporting wheelchairs, and remember you’re well within your rights to ask the driver to carefully take you out of the vehicle when your journey finishes, make sure they roll you out backwards as them pushing you out forward is a quick and easy way to have you fall out of your chair, though of course barely any mini-cab services are equipped for wheelchair transportation, we should ask for a list of the few good firms to hire.


Ah well trams are brilliant…

“These days with just a fair bit of forward planning” Danny cheered “There are becoming fewer and fewer impediments as to why public transportation in a wheelchair should be radically different than what it was before”

I looked around the room. A dozen or so people sat in their recently required wheelchairs, a dozen or so people who had recently had their very physical make up hugely changed, a dozen or so people for whom life would now bear little relation to how it was before, a dozen or so people whose lives had recently got a whole lot more difficult. I had actually managed to hobble down to the talk on my crutches on that occasion, significantly faster and better than I’d managed even the day before, now here I sat leaning against a table at the back of the crowd.

I felt ashamed.

This wasn’t meant for me.

I was just a tourist in this place.

I’m sure everybody else in the talk was staring at me in withering judgement, only of course clever enough to do it while I wasn’t looking. When I turned my head to look at them I could have sworn many of their faces carried that tell-tale air of someone who had very recently averted their gaze.

After the talk I shimmied my way back to my room with my head dropped down low, jigged across the floor like some hideous clockwork toy, my movements stilted and inelegant. But even noting that made me feel ungrateful and ridiculous.

I was horrendously lucky.

I was spectacularly lucky to be born in a first World country.

Breathtakingly lucky to be born into a relatively financially stable family.

Wondrously lucky to be a white man so I couldn’t really expect to face any intolerance or prejudice living in Britain, nor really anywhere.

All of this good luck that had been poured upon me through no work put in on my part, I’ve had all these opportunities just handed to me by a God. I can only assume God is a bit of a racist- what percentage of these acts of God, these floods, these tsunamis, these earthquakes occur in white countries? I’ll perhaps give you a small amount of God’s wrath occurring in the USA, but it’s very possible that He’s so behind the times that he didn’t even realise that white people now live there and was actually just trying to smite those dirty Native Americans. Or perhaps any of these natural disasters that happen to brush over America are simply God showing just how uncomfortable He is over gay marriage, as countless of His own pastors will claim every time such a tragedy occurs. I’m not saying everybody who follows God is a massive prick, but like the amount of UKIP councillors coming out as huge racists, you do have to question whether there might be something in the water.

It’s all luck, and I’d already had a massive, filthy, dripping spoon of it before I was born.

And now?


I had just been sitting downstairs listening to a talk with people committed to wheelchairs by botched surgery, that really couldn’t be any less of their fault.

And me?

What about me? What about my accident?

What bout me?

Me? I…


I don’t know…

There was a weekly hour of sport for all the inmates in the gym- wheelchair basketball, pool, etc.- every Friday afternoon that I was now allowed to attend, but that Thursday I was told that I would be leaving the hospital next week so I never bothered.



Eddie Bastard and Ernest Shackleton

“So you’re leaving next week? Fucking hell, you’d think they’d make more of an effort to keep dangerous sex pests like you out of wider society. You must be really happy though”

We always called Edward ‘Eddie Bastard’ because of a hilarious near homophone with his actual South African surname ‘Boustead’ and we were all extremely funny guys. Eddie himself loved the name and frequently played up to it, ‘Bastard by name…’ he would frequently say. Since I had last seen him he had moved to London, which if you aren’t fully au fait with British geography is the large conurbation in the South of England that eventually everyone gives up and moves to, like a giant and hideous internment camp (not like one of those nice internment camps Gloria Hunniford is so fond of talking about) that you’re eventually sent to by the nation’s sheer disdain of engaging with any part of the country that exists outside a fifteen hundred square mile dribble near the South East, all the while still believing you’ve ever had any choice in the matter. Despite being detained miles away Eddie Bastard still escaped just to visit me especially that time, and was at once happy to see that I’d be leaving and relieved that he hadn’t made the long trip up to Sheffield a week later and missed me completely.

“Yes… I mean… yeah it’s great…”

“How long have they managed to keep their eyes on you in such close quarters now?”

“Ooh… months… I don’t know…”

I should have better catalogued my incarceration, etched days into my bleeding arms as I threw a tennis ball against the facing wall, I should have had a long monologue about how much I missed my bed and wanted to sit in a pub with my friends again, highlighting especially how much I missed the ‘banter’. But I wasn’t going home to my bed, I was going move back in with my Mum, and there wasn’t going to be pub visits with my friends as I barely had any and the ones I did still have were hundreds, thousands, millions of miles away.

I was moving to a different bed, that’s all, did people really expect my life to alter astonishingly? I was merely changing my status from being holed up in hospital to being a housebound disabled, from unfortunate to depressing. I thought of Brooks Halten in Shawshank Redemption, as that was about the highest brow of literary comparisons I could ever hope to call to mind at any point, who became so integrated and institutionalised into prison life that when he was finally released and experienced the nuances of outside life he could only think to hang himself.

Brooks Halten was imprisoned for forty two years- I was considering taking my own life after six months in hospital, plus three years cast away in China. Maybe my best friend still living in Britain was E, but it was very clear I could no longer rely on her to ease my return into normal society.

No, no, no, no!

If I kill myself she’ll just claim fucking credit again!

Just like she tried to do the last time…

By which of course I mean the last time she jumped to her own conclusions.

Fuck! I can’t fucking believe her high opinion of herself is preventing me from suicide less she tries to take credit!

Fuck it!

Fuck it!

Fuck her!

Fuck it!

Eddie Bastard had been talking all the time while my mind ran off into these places, and very interesting stuff I’m sure it was. Unfortunately I missed all of it, and I was pretty sure I’d shit myself.

“Excuse me, I’m just heading to the toilet”

I shuffled into my wheelchair like a trained orangutan eager to show off his new trick and picked up the cardboard bed pan on my bedside table in order to collect a sample.

A few days earlier I had noticed that I had been experiencing slightly more diarrhoea than I’d usually be happy with, the amount I’d be usually happy with being zero of course. What situations would you welcome a bout of the shits? A quick way to lose weight I suppose, and there’d always be the ability to could end the current conversation in the most dramatic fashion possible, which at the very least is a neat party trick. I brought the matter up rather delicately with the nurses on the ward and a sample was requested. It didn’t take too long for a slither of runny liquid to slide out between my pathetically weak bum cheeks, the cheeks themselves putting up very little resistance. I tried to keep as much dignity as possible as I broke off the conversation with Eddie Bastard to slide toilet way while simultaneously attempting to clasp my arse cheeks tight, a particularly burdensome feat of multitasking.

Once sat on the toilet I realised the inside of my boxer shorts were now caked with a fine line of poo. I wiped them clean with toilet paper despondently. I would change them back at my bed with the curtain closed after Eddie Bastard left. I would simply throw the boxers in with my next wash and wait a day or so until the replacement undergarments I changed into received the same treatment and the whole process would be repeated. It was a process I was far too familiar with. It had actually been a rather long time without me experiencing such indignity, perhaps at least ten days. I had naively begun to wonder whether I had perhaps moved on from such frivolities. Now recent events had made me realise it was a dance I would be repeating on and off until the day I died, and so saw little reason for it to infuse me with any real sense of melancholia. I decided I would only allow the slightly more ephemeral misfortunes to in any way distress me in future, otherwise I’d only be ensuring that my continued anguish would quickly become rather boring.

If they would only just tell me exactly when they assumed I’d die, I’d want a time and date so I could work out how many more times I’d be likely to go through this charade and start counting down, etching bloody gashes all over my body again. I could at least work out if my body could handle the amount of cuts. Imagine after all this they worked out that I was still going to live a long life? A long life nonetheless spent hobbling like a hideously deformed Happy Meal wing-up toy? Spent wiping my shit off damn near everything I came into contact with? Imagine if I still managed to continue doing this for another fifty years? What a comprehensively depressing thought.

Not an ephemeral one though is it? This could well be nothing more than a near perpetual malaise, and so best not to concentrate too hard on it.

Maybe it was ephemeral, maybe after the doctors prodded my poo with scientifically relevant sticks and rolled the excreta into the CT scanner to be subjected to the blips and bops of radiography we would see that this whole problem was simply caused by having far too little fibre in my diet. Or would it be too much fibre? These things are so complicated, too much or too little of anything suddenly causes a potentially life-ending emergency.

I tried to remember a time in my life where I didn’t frequently use cardboard bedpans, when a trip to the toilet was just a pleasant exercise and a chance to catch up on a magazine or the exact ingredients of Head and Shoulders and next to no cleansing of stained undergarments. Like I say though, my memory wasn’t so good anymore any attempt at recollection was only going to result in a a pretty cloudy recollection.

I’m frequently far too meek and pathetic an individual to make very much of a scene of myself when trying to get a bar person’s attention (and that carries with it the possibility of alcohol) so the act of pulling a distress alarm and explaining to the nurse that responded to it that I had a gift of a bedpan sample full of crap for them to collect was an especially difficult social faux pas for me to attempt to negotiate.

“Ah, salutations good sir or madam, I have been thoughtful enough to deposit a little pooey present for you inside that bathroom and I imagined you’d be exceedingly interested in it, how about you be a lovely guy or doll and have a play with it?”

I didn’t say of course.

I just communicated the way I’d long done so while in hospital.

I pointed.

I grunted.

I blushed.

Nurses are very good at translating such cack-handed attempts at interaction.

I wheeled myself back to my bed and Eddie Bastard, hoping I didn’t smell too badly of shit. Another horrible sensation I was having to get used to and trying not to feel too upset about something I was pretty sure would be a pretty permanent addition to the whole Alexander Leeson Palmer package.

Love me, love my shitty smell, as the famous song goes.

Leonard Cohen I believe.

Eddie Bastard was too polite to mention the smell, although he may have made a polite complaint to the front desk about an obvious burst pipe somewhere around the back of Ward 12. No, that was pretty unlikely- Eddie Bastard never did anything politely.

Did I say I was in Ward 12? I honestly can’t remember, and can’t find if I’ve even mentioned what the number of my shared ward is before now. It doesn’t matter, you understand? It doesn’t make a blind deaf and dumb piece of difference what the actual ward number is, Rooms 5 and 7 were my initial private quarters, so to be honest you can refer to the shared ward using any fucking number you want- call it Ward 69 you dirty bastard, call it Ward 666 because you’re metal as fuck, call it Ward 9’576’890’767 if it suits you. It doesn’t matter.

Very little you’ll read in this book actually matters. Why place such import on the exact room numbering? This isn’t about the numbers.

There was a door in the dining room that led to a small outside area, all paving stones and potted plants. That afternoon I caught sight of Eric sat there having a cigarette and pushed myself outside, still using a wheelchair. A large part of me was still too shamed to flaunt my body’s wonderful lack of disability in front of the sea of people who were actually disabled, I didn’t want to advertise the fact that I was essentially a tap dancer rubbernecking some good, tasty misery. And also there was the fact that the cushion I required to protect my shitty sacrum meant my wheelchair was the best seat in the house.


“Hi. I think this area must be maybe the third or fourth place you’ve been in this place in the last eight weeks, you’re becoming quite the little Ernest Shackleton”

Eric was not the only one to notice my distinct lack of curiosity about the building I had been condemned to. I was happy enough with my bed and the toilet- why on earth would I want to visit dozens of other identical rooms? Was there an I-Spy book urging people to tick off each dull chamber that I wasn’t aware of?

“Fuck off! Like this space is obviously a sensual feast for the senses that can’t be missed. I think I saw the Michael Palin episode where he visited here anyway, so I’m pretty familiar with it”

“I think it was a two parter actually, the climax of Palin’s Great Trauma Centre Journeys”


A polite laugh, executed more to show my appreciation of Eric at least attempting a joke. It wasn’t especially funny, but at least he’s attempting humour. My short blast of an effort at guffaw was more a tiny blast of applause, a clap with my mouth rather than any real amusement. Well done Eric, my faux cachinnation was saying, congratulations for joining in.


When the conversation fell as awkwardly silent as this it always meant something awful was going to happen, a dangerous and uncomfortable subject was going to be breached or some awful and perilous suggestion was going to be thrown out there.

“Can I have a cigarette?”

The perilous suggestion.

“A cig?? How long has it been since you smoked?”

“Too long. I promise this won’t be a frequent thing I just… want one… want the feeling. The tar, the hideousness. I want to besiege my throat with toxic fumes”

“I’m far too ethically upstanding to allow you to cancerfy yourself”

“’Cancerfy’ isn’t even a fucking word! I think after that awful assault on language you should definitely give me one!”

“No, I’m far too nice a guy”


Another silence.

“If you give me one I’ll tell you a story”

“A funny story?”

“As funny as yours”

“So that would be…”

“Not at all”


Eric handed me one.

Between my lips.



My God it was good.

My eyes rolled back, my mind was overtaken by a wonderful dizziness. The World outside lost any significance. It was such a disgusting and dirty dust storm in my mouth and it felt fabulous. Nicotine became a tenacious and hazardous drug to me, and by God I wanted one of them.

The uncomfortable subject was about to be breached.

“Ok, I’ll tell you about the time I tried to commit suicide”






It happens.










These things occur.










Suddenly thoughts come to mind.





They occur…






Bleach and Corpses

The first cigarette I’d had for months had obviously had a ridiculous affect on my mental capacity for shame.


I’m going home!

I’m shitting myself!

I’m Confessing to suicide!

It’s a party!

“Ok” said Eric, a sceptical look betraying the fact he was as yet unconvinced whether this story would be worth the cigarette “But remember my suicide story had a whole tale surrounding it, a whole Myth of Eric Carson, I’d feel extraordinarily fleeced if after all my investment I just get a dog’s cock dull story about you trying to overdose on painkillers”

“All your investment? You mean this cigarette?”

I held up the two fingers enclosed around it, the fag was actually the only thing preventing me from flicking him an impassioned Vs. I had maybe two more BIG drags left before it was finished, and the drags I was taking were pretty damn big.

“Yes, that cigarette, that cigarette that you seem bent on being so blasé about. You’re quite slow in adequately comprehending this agreement aren’t you?”


I started to doubt the quality of my tale’s entertainment, I was kind of relying on my admission of suicide being enough to sate him.

I took the second last drag.

“I was kind of relying on my admission of suicide being enough to sate you”


“Pffff!” Eric blurted out a long and deeply amused exhalation of his disbelief, clouds of recently exhaled smoke bellowing out as emphasis “We’re not fucking exchanging confessions! This isn’t fucking truth or dare! I now expect a story that’s as entertaining as that cigarette would have been horrendously indulging to my habit”

I took the last drag and flicked the cigarette away. That shouldn’t be too difficult.

“Ok… This happened when I was fifteen…”

“Oops, not a good start”

“What? Why not?”

“’A Tale of a Suicidal Teen’, this’ll be something I haven’t heard before”

“Oh come on! You were what, seventeen in your story?”

“Maybe sixteen… No, seventeen… But like I say, it was really the whole story around the suicide attempt that made my contribution as good as it was. You need to use that as merely a good jumping off point and from it paint a beautiful tapestry of self hatred”

“Well, I’m trying to, it’s just…”

“You may not be as interested in watching Citizen Kane if I told you it was about an old man who misses his old sledge”


“I think so, if you’ve never had the chance to hear the ending of Citizen Kane in the last sixty years”

“Can you just me a chance to tell the fucking thing??”

It seemed slightly disingenuous to call it a ‘story’, it was more a piece of trivia, an Alex Palmer fact that Pop-up Video would quickly flash over the video of my 2018 number one cover of The Adams Family Rap about one minute forty two seconds in. I lay my head back as I tried to think of the best way to start the epic adventure.

“So I was fifteen…”

I repeated, shooting Eric a glib look less he got tempted to jump in again. What age could I set it in that Eric wouldn’t consider so clichéd? Twenty five was barely any less commonplace, and I wasn’t yet thirty five. If I was much older, forty or fifty five maybe, then the attempted booting of my life’s football out of the stadium would be a lot more surprising. Much like eight out of ten businesses failing in the first year, you kind of expect people to sail along in life quite happily once they’ve got over that first hump. Maybe if I talked about the time I tried to kill myself when I was five years old. Or minus five even, that’d certainly be a story worth telling and one he’d be anxious to hear. That would be worth a cigarette. Two maybe.

I realised that I hadn’t spoke for a fair few seconds.

“Are you still there? I’ve accepted the fact you were fifteen, don’t worry, I’m with you so far”

“I… I’m just finding it difficult to voice…”

“You’re quite the raconteur”

“It’s just hard to explain! I often harboured this deep, burning self-hatred, often thought that I was nothing more than a debilitating leech on those closest to me, often felt that all I was really doing in life was talking up space, there was really no good reason for me to exist. I guess it just all came to a head that day”

“What day?”

“I don’t have exact dates I’m afraid, I got the bus to school, got off the bus, decided that I’d had enough and started to walk back home”

“It was as simple as that?”

“It really was, there were no histrionics, no dramatic sole tear rolling down my cheek, no last call to the heavens as I implored with God. I just decided to kill myself and so set off on the mile or two jaunt home”

“After spending that money on a ticket too?”

“Yes, I imagine that was weighing most heavily on my mind”

“Maybe you chose to commit suicide because you were upset at wasting money on a ticket when you were going back home to commit suicide anyway”

“You’ve just blown my mind. But you forget that the decision to commit suicide immediately renders every single penny you’ve ever spent in your life as a colossal waste of money”

“Didn’t any of your friends try and stop you, or at least say something to you?”

“I didn’t really get the chance to see my good friends, they were mainly in the school whereas I just got off the bus and set back off home. And I had friends by the way, plenty of them, this isn’t a sob story of nobody talking to me at school and misery overwhelming me until suicide was my only option”

“So what was the reason?”

I shrugged.

“The reason was I wanted to kill myself, I really don’t believe it to be any more complex than that. I wanted to kill myself because I wanted to kill myself, I hated being so obsessed with suicide and so thought the best thing to do would be to kill myself. I passed a girl I know and she asked me…”

“Even girls were talking to you!”

“Yes, even female’s would occasionally engage me in conversation, so you can stop relying on that as a possible explanation. She asked me where I was going, and I simply said I was going home. She just responded with a funny look and shrugged her shoulders as she said goodbye. I remember smirking, at least inwardly, as I thought about how she’d be the last person to speak to me, for some reason the idea greatly pleased me”

“You liked that thought?”

“Yeah, I think the dramatic teenager inside me quite liked to think about the impact my death would have, perhaps there’d be a special school assembly, perhaps there’d be dozens of girls who would wonder why they didn’t try and tie such a handsome fellow down and resolve to never pass on such chances again, everyone would be instilled with a new appreciation of life and pledge to live each day, each hour, each minute, each second to the absolute fullest from that point on. My suicide would actually have such a positive affect on so many people, so much so in fact I’d be talked of as some kind of ‘hero’ from that point on, a bit of a legend. It would actually be pretty narcissistic to depriveother people of that”

“What about your parents? Your brothers? Would they consider you a hero ? You accused me of being selfish!”

“Did I tell you I had brothers?”

Eric shrugged his shoulders.

“Guess you must have done”

“I didn’t accuse you of being selfish, I merely asked if perhaps you felt selfish”

Fine…” Eric spat out and elongated the ‘f’ sound with particular venom “Didn’t you feel selfish putting your family through that”


A few seconds of silence followed. I think Eric was perhaps expecting a little more.

“Care to elaborate at all?”

I sighed.

“I knew it would make them feel upset, I knew they’d be down for a while, but I honestly thought they’d get over it eventually and they’d see that actually their lives were much better without me. They’d never admitthat of course, as general politeness considers that to be rather poor game, but they’d certainly think it”

“Do you still think that now?”

“Maybe, but I’m rarely in the mood to test the hypothesis”


“Rarely. Anyway, off home I went. I took the more scenic route, across some fields rather than next to the road, partially because I thought I may as well see some sights before I shuffled off the mortal coil, may as well bask in nature’s wonder one last time and all that shit. I remember on my way there were so many rabbits jumping across my path, they were like little cute bunnies, remember thinking that I so rarely if ever saw rabbits, like God was pulling out all the big guns in an attempt to change my mind, some last minute speculative shots at goal, as if fucking bunny rabbits would change my mind. And I partially wanted to tale the scenic route carefully because walking next to the road increased the chances of my parents or one of my parents’ friends seeing me and putting a stop to my master plan”

“What was you ‘master plan’?”

“I had it all planned out in my head”

“Your preparedness is a lesson to all of us and we greatly admire you for it, but what did you have all planned out?”

I grimaced slightly as I recalled.

“I was going to drink a load of bleach”

Eric almost dropped his cigarette as he near enough performed a comedy double take, immediately considering how insane this person he’d spent so much time talking to has revealed himself to be. Eric was a smart guy, he thought, he knew what the main ingredient of chick peas was for God’s sake, why on Earth was he bothering to converse with one of the blunter tooth picks on the restaurant table?

Drink bleach?” Eric held his head in disbelief at the mustard pot of stupidity that had just been unscrewed “What are you, a fucking idiot? Could you not think of any less fucking straightforward ways to do it? Why didn’t you try and commit suicide by cutting off your head with a bread knife?”

“We were studying ‘An Inspector Calls’ at school, the woman in that kills herself by drinking bleach, so I thought…” I shrugged my shoulders “…well… so I thought that… I thought that I could do that, you’know…”

Eric looked to the skies in disbelief, I imagined attempting to catch God’s eye in order to shake his head and say ‘can you believe this guy?’, then he stuck out both his hands so he could easily count out all his disputes with me on his fingers.

“Ok, firstly the inspector in ‘An Inspector Calls’ makes a big point of saying how long, drawn out and fucking painful the woman’s death was, so you obviously harboured a far greater desire for self-masochism in your teen years than I have noticed in your adult life. Secondly it was disinfectantshe drank in the play, so you didn’t even get that right, and thirdly…” He paused a half second while he thought “No, fuck it, thirdly I’m just going to reinforce the fact that you’re an idiot”

Eric’s little rant had given me food for thought and a short silence fell over us both.

“Really? It was disinfectant?”


“Eugh, that’d be horrible”

“Yes it would, thank God you went for something a lot more palatable”

“Does disinfectant have bleach in it?”

“I don’t think so, I think it’s mainly, like, really strong alcohol”

“Alcohol?” This conversation was opening my eyes. “Well, every day’s a school day. I may as well have tried to do myself in by drinking a few bottles of vodka really”

“Nah” Eric shook his head with the confidence of someone who’d already considered it “You’d pass out long before it would be a decent suicide attempt, you’d have to get a trusted friend to keep giving you vodka after you’d fallen asleep”

“That’s true friendship”

“To be honest it’s a little difficult to imagine the mechanics, how exactly is the friend supposed to give you the vodka after you fall asleep?”

I rested my chin on my fist as I gave the issue great thought.

“Could the friend maybe inject you with the vodka even after you passed out?”

“It seems like far too big and bothersome to completely entrust with a friend”

“Perhaps if you managed to hook yourself up to some kind of drip?”

“Do you feel that we may have gone off on a bit of a tangent here?”

“Yeah, probably” I conceded with a heavy heart, images and ideas of intravenous vodka drips still buzzing around my mind. “So I got home without anybody seeing me, which was a big enough victory to convince me that the whole suicide business was simply supposed to happen, the fates were all smiling on me. I obviously wasn’t going to do it in the house…”

“Why not? Didn’t feel the décor was quite right for a suicide setting?”

An image of me lay dead in on the kitchen floor flashed through my head, possibly covered from head to toe in all the blood I had violently and painfully coughed over myself.


On the floor.

“It would just be horrible wouldn’t it? To come home and see a body like that, I was far too aware of the feelings of my family” The import of what had just passed through my lips hit me and my eyes widened. “See? I cared about my family’s feeling! Far less selfish than your little hissy fit”

“Is this a double suicide attempt right now? Are you attempting to have us both die from old age?”

I took the point.

“I didn’t want to do it in the house so instead I decided to go to some enclosed and hidden area of the woods a decent distance away from the house. I had it in my head that they would start looking for me after a day or so, as soon as they were sure I was missing, and the search party would take a decent few days to find my dead body after that, by which time I’d be long dead and probably well on the way to decomposition. But at least by the time they found my body they would have had a fair amount of time living with the possibility of my death, so the transition into life post-Alex wouldn’t be quite as difficult. I was always thinking about the line of progression see?”

“So you just headed off into the woods with your trusty bottle of bleach?”

“Not quite, I had a whole list of equipment I planned to commit suicide with, the opposite of a survival kit really. Remember Hooch? Well it was one of those pretty awful alcopops around about that time that large sections of the media was convinced would bring about The End of Days. For some strange reason Mum, who would never have touched the stuff, had two bottles in her fridge. So I took them, thinking that such an act would be better carried out with a little horrible tasting alcohol. For some reason I also reckoned that I’d also enjoy some light reading, so I took the latest copy of Melody Maker Magazine”

“Who was on the cover?”


“Ooh, a little unexpected, that’s interesting. Who would have thought at that point you’d actually outlive the magazine?”

“And Left Eye Lopez. Of course I also took some pen and paper on which to write a note”

“What did you write in your note?”

I struggled to recall, and thinking back to the incident near forced me to choke down my own deep sadness that I had naively thought resolved. A sadness that had begun long before the incident and that would be with me until that day- until this day- still occasionally flaring up at moments of differing favourability.

“I… I can’t really remember…”

I really couldn’t. My mind had deemed it not worth remembering, though I could see the TLC Melody Maker cover clearly. I wish I could remember it1. I bet I wrote some pretty incisive shit, I bet I wrote a lot of advice and sage illumination, should I ever need it in the future. I tried to help Eric out by simply imagining what I’d write were I to commit one to paper tomorrow. Something I was never entirely sure wasn’t going to happen.

I can remember a bit. I wrote that I had a crush on a girl at school, as I thought that I’d never get the balls to tell her so may as well now at the last minute. I did actually write her a letter after school finished. She appreciated, she did not reciprocate]

“I think… I think I just said that it wasn’t anybody’s fault, y’know? I think I just made it clear that the only person to blame was me, that it was just something I felt I had to do, it couldn’t have been stopped, nobody could have done anything so don’t blame yourself. Just blame me”

Eric nodded.

“Although I assume it was written a little more eruditely than that”

“Well, yes, one can only hope”

“Are we entering the home straight?”

“Yeah pretty much, I drank the Hooch bottles and then filled one of them with bleach, took one massive swig and then immediately regretted my decision. Regretted every decision ever. Like, immediately felt terrible about the whole thing. I stumbled back to Mum’s house crying, assuming I’d drop dead any second”

I stared at the smoke wisping up from Eric’s cigarette into the afternoon air for a few silent seconds, before suddenly a rather significant question occurred to me.

“Would that actually work do you think?”

“Would what work?”

“Y’know, committing suicide by drinking bleach?”

Actually speaking the words turned a knot in my stomach, like I was washing up some long ignored bile that had no place being brought up ever again. Who on Earth thinks these kind of exercises are in any way beneficial? This was turning out to be naught but a hideous process of digging up long decomposed corpses. These things should always be just left in the past to wither away.

“Oh yeah I’m sure it’s possible, I just don’t think you’d have been in any danger at the time of much more than making yourself very ill. As I think I said, you couldn’t really have chosen a less straightforward method”

“Yeah… Well I phoned Mum’s work and she came home and took me to hospital”

Another long silence dropped over us.

“Is that it?”

I could have told Eric more, could have told him about the overnight stay in hospital, could have told him about the obligatory ten week therapy sessions, could have told him about the therapist concluding that my problem was that I was upset after my dad’s recent health scare, could have told him how that totally wasn’t the reason, could have told him how I didn’t want the shame of admitting that my dad’s illness didn’t upset me that much, could have told him that I don’t really remember saying anything in these sessions, could have told him how the hour I spent staring at the floor of the therapist’s room in silence were the most awkward and arduous of the week, could have told him that I didn’t feel anything had been solved, could have told him that after the sessions I still felt the same, could have told him that I always felt that there was something dirty and smelly rotting at the very heart of me, could have told him that I was never sure if that horrific stenchy carcass ever truly rotted away, could have told him that maybe it still exists decomposing disgustingly today, could have told him that perhaps it was even bigger today, could have asked him if that was at all possible.

I watched The England Poland game in hospital that night. That would have made it the 8th September 1999. I would have been less than four months away from sixteen.

“Yeah… That’s pretty much it”

I could have told him all that, but I was tired of all this exhuming of corpses. I never liked to think about it, so why would I ever desire to talk about it? This had been a abhorrent exercise, regardless of how much I enjoyed the cigarette. Something inside told me he understood all this anyway.

“A good story, not brilliant but good. I’d say it was just about the bare minimum level of quality required after hearing my suicide story and getting a free cigarette. Kind of trailed off near the end but not bad”

“Yeah” I was already turning my wheelchair indoors “Listen, I’ll speak to you later Ok?”

“Erm, yeah fine, see you later Alex…”

I was already near out of earshot. There were no quicker ways to depress you than to think about your past, to think about the things you can’t change, the things lacerated across your chest like Sagat’s scar.

I rolled into the toilet hoping a big dump would change my mind.



Cards and Clostridium

My time spent with my forehead rested on knuckles in the ablution chamber did little to put my mind at rest, or clear all these horrific memories from my mind along with the waste propelled from my body as I hoped it would. If only it were as easy to cleanse your body of all the dirty smelly refuse that clogged it up. I began to fear there would one particular rotting cadaver lying in some faraway corner of my soul’s attic that I could never quite locate, stinking out the whole house.

I was severely damaged goods. I was Marco van Basten, this was my troubling ankle injury, perhaps it would best suit all parties if I were to retire early. Sad yes, but you can’t really fight these medical conditions.

No, wait I’m Marco van Basten!

I am widely accepted as probably the finest striker of my generation. Did you see that goal I scored against the Soviet Union in the 1988 European Championship Final? How can I deprive the World of that magnificence? I’ve outlasted Melody Maker, I’ve outlasted Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopez, I’ve outlasted the Soviet Union, I shall fight on another day. Maybe premature retirement will have to happen eventually, but the World would be best served if I fought the inevitable for a little longer.

Plus, how am I going to do it in this bathroom? Choke myself on toilet paper?

I decided that I’d at least retire to my bed once again, at least for one more time. There I could at least turn on my side, turn my back to the outside World and refuse to talk to anyone ever again. Perhaps that would be my life now, perhaps I would simply retreat to my bed and become an impossibly romantic recluse.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

I just hope I wouldn’t put on too much weight.

As I left the bathroom I noticed that there was a sign on the door warning patients not to enter as that particular toilet had now been placed into a state of quarantine- only one presumably disease riddled patient was permitted to use it. I hadn’t even noticed the sign going in. I was just making mistakes with every step, fucking up all over the place.

I rolled back to my bed, pulled myself in and began to seriously consider spending an evening staring at the ceiling. I realised that it had been at least a couple of days since I had last complained to Walkers Crisps. I grabbed hold of the laptop in fury.

Dear sir or madam,

I have written eight times to complain to you now about the offer code HG-76-78-90-34, though now the paramount issue isn’t really your utter failure to control the quality and working status of your own damn competitions, the issue that I’m most upset about now is your complete and abject failure to respond to ANY of my complaints! Your atrocious customer service has only made my long stay in the hospital (I have been waylaid completely after a horrific accident six months ago) even more the distressing.

In great concern and sadness


P.S: Eight times may be a generous estimate, I could have perhaps have written far more, but I’m in no mental position to keep count

I wondered perhaps if I was pushing it a little too much, but I didn’t have long to battle with the suggestion as I noticed Michael Cole had swiftly travelled over to my bed and was now pulling the curtain around. That was never a good sign.

“Hi Alex. Listen…”

When a person starts a statement with ‘listen’ it’s because they’ve at a pretty late stage they’ve realised how difficult and/or awkward the statement they were planning would be to actually say. Now they’re actually standing in the stage light’s glare, rather than merely grappling with a far more general and kind of abstract ‘idea’ of what needs to be said. It was at least sign that the news about to be imparted was not going to be life-changingly World-shattering terrible- no minutes left to live, no imminent limb removal, that kind of thing- as that would require a presentation of far more accepted solemnity. Nevertheless it was certainly a statement not simple to make in polite conversation. Combined with the curtains being drawn it was fair to assume I wasn’t about to be asked about my preferred cake at my birthday party.

Hmm… Maybe I’d like a limb removed. Remove all my limbs actually, just let me bleed out a wobbly, bloody, limbless mess.

A Wobbly, Bloody, Limbless Mess. Actually the sheer phonaesthetics of that are so lovely that I think my love for life has significantly increased. Let me live please.

“Your test results came back…”

Ah, of course. The shits that I had sent away around the time they became in great danger in stinking out my meeting with Eddie Bastard had finally been investigated, prodded, examined and interrogated in the workshop, lights were shone in its eye while two people played ‘good lab technician’ and ‘bad lab technician’.

“…and you have clostridium difficile…”

Or C-diff for short, maybe C. difficile or perhaps CDI (the ‘I’ being infection of course) as you can’t seriously expect people to pronounce ‘clostridium difficile’ correctly every time, or even once. It was another infection I’d collected from somewhere, most likely caught while I was being treated by antibiotics for whatever my last infection was. It’s essentially a disease closely related to diarrhoea that could perhaps cause major problems in my gut if it were a particular serious bout and I weren’t in hospital.

Although of course if I weren’t in hospital I wouldn’t have caught it in the first place. They really should have left me lying there, just let me slip away politely in the early hours of May 4th 2013.

“Obviously we’re going to move you into a private room, and we’ve told everyone else with a bed in this room that we’ll have to quarantine this ward for a while but we don’t know where the infection has come from and we don’t know exactly who has it, but just to be clear it is you”

“Definitely me?”

“Yes, definitely, absolutely you”

“Won’t the other patients kind of work that out?”


“Well, you tell them that you’ve no idea who has the infection, build up how it’s all this big mystery, then you move me to a private room… I think people are going to work it out to be honest”

Michael Cole shrugged his shoulders.

“You’re always moving rooms aren’t you? They probably won’t give it a second thought”

No, they probably wouldn’t.

My bed was rolled into a room two doors down, let’s call it Room 3’121, because I’m tired of even thinking of these names now. My possessions were gathered up from my bedside table. The 27 metre journey proved too much for my phone’s headphones, which were lost in transit. I was also informed that I could no longer continue to enjoy the opened packet of Haribo Sports Mix I had been slowly munching upon, which was a crushing blow as there was a black cricket bat just below the opening that I was particularly looking forward to. Most disastrous of all my empty packet of salt and vinegar Walkers crisps, marked with the ineffectual code of 76-78-90-34 that so incriminated the company, was also gone. I had lost the one bargaining chip in my battle with the big crisp corporation, and my expected multi-billion pound settlement was further away than it had ever been.

I was given a new bright green identity card to put in my wallet, a nifty plasticised piece that was a demonstration of my inherent specialness, concrete proof that I deserved to be treated differently:


The holder of this card has had a

C difficile infection (CDI). Before prescribing

or dispensing any antibiotics please visit


That would be my ‘thing’!

I would be ‘the guy who had clostridium difficile’!

Do you doubt such a nifty claim sir?

Well I’ll have you know I have a card to prove it.

I am quite literally a card-carrying C-Diff survivor

I once had a bacterial infection in my digestive system that bore a striking resemblance to diarrhoea, what have you got??

What’s that?

A wonderful job you say?

A loving marriage?

With a person you regularly engage in wonderful sexual congress with?

Kids you say?

Wonderful and loving children?

A fabulous life all set out for you? A future that’s only likely to get better and better?

A working body?

The ability to do anything you want?

Yes, yes, but do you have a card?


Then I win.

I was informed my voyage home would have to be postponed for three extra days until they were completely satisfied that I wasn’t just a wound up coil of bowel-eating pores ready to explode out like a misanthropic euphorbiaceae, bursting my pollen tubes over all and sundry. Once again my body’s pathetic cowardice in front of infection had put a temporary end to any notion I may have harboured of a return to some pretence of normal life.

Maybe I was pleased. Perhaps I couldn’t bare the thought of a life outside the safety of these hospitals’ walls. Couldn’t they just move me on to a different hospital? Couldn’t I just spend the rest of my life, however shortened my expectancy may now be, flitting between NHS hospitals all over the country? I could make the big move to the capital, have CT scans in the London town hospital I assume they have, slide intermittent catheters deep inside my Colombian corea amongst the intellectuals of Oxford, the inherent physical risks must mean that there is a hospital close to Mount Snowdon to which I could ask Fizz to fly over and continue my weekly Pilates, The next infection I catch could be in Royal Edinburgh. But what next I wonder? Will it be Acinetobacter baumannii perhaps? Pseudomonas aeruginosa maybe? Perhaps I’d try for one of the classics next time, a Norovirus possibly, or I could just go for the absolute classic and douse myself in a little MRSA. The options are nearly endless. In could even travel across the water and receive essential medical treatment in Northern Ireland, receive my next blood transfusion in Derry, Armagh, Lisburn, Newry or Belfast, perhaps all of them in one world wind tour, all five in a day.

I didn’t know if I was ready for this yet, to take my life into my own hands.



17th April

Dear Hej

I wish you REALLY understood how important my friends are- I am ALONE here! ALONE! Please understand

In the future

I want Hej to Understand

How I AM






The Beat Merchants and Agatha Christie

Every day at around noon the elderly woman in the private room next to me* would watch the BBC1 repeats of Keeping Up Appearances at great volume, and the Nick Ingman theme became the ear-splitting background music to the extra few days I remained gratefully imprisoned.

(* Which I imagine would be Room 3’120, or perhaps Room 3’1119, perhaps it could have also ended with a 23, or none of these at all and a completely different number like Room 127 or Room 1’138, does it really matter? Does it really fucking matter?)

Each day was spent lay in bed, medication and food bought to me as the whole World flitted by far away from my body. This was all I wanted now- nothingness, insignificance, blankness. I wanted to just stay in bed and have nobody expect anything more from me now. Don’t talk to me, don’t look at me, don’t notice me, just leave me to wallow in my own ridiculous and pathetic self pity in undetected silence.

I thought it best to concede defeat to Walkers and so acknowledged them of their victory:

Dear sir or madam,

OK, you win. In being moved rooms recently in this hospital, an establishment of the sort I have spent more than six months encased inside recently, the offending empty salt and vinegar crisp packet was accidentally thrown out when the hospital porters were cleaning out my old possessions.. Perhaps I should have marked the packet down as special, or informed the porters of its grave importance in my continued complaint with your company, perhaps yes this is my fault at heart, I do not wish to point fingers of blame here. The loss of the offending packet however means I no have no concrete proof of your wrong doing, and so it regrets me dearly to inform you that I must hereby drop my case against your company’s scurrilous activities. By ignoring my last dozen messages you have successfully waited me out and actually won, although I fail to imagine how one could enjoy such a hollow and cynical victory, simply one of disregarding your opponent into submission. I can’t fight this any more.

In great concern and sadness


I considered a PS, perhaps even a further PPS to close my abjections off with, but I looked at the one hundred and seventy thee words and accepted that they might be deemed sufficient and considered the matter now closed. I turned off Mum’s lap-top and closed the lip.

“So this is where they’re squirrelling you away now?”

I turned to the door and Eric had let himself in. I had not seen him for the few days I had been shut off like an infected ape in my own personal quarantine laboratory, but the relatively short time since I last exchanged glances with him didn’t begin to explain the vast difference in his ability. He walked into room 3’121 confidently on two legs, hands casually in pockets and wearing what looked to be a newly fitted suit jacket. As he strode in he exuded the air of a man so cool that he was in desperate need of a jukebox to hit in just the right place in order to stop that 7” of ‘So Fine’ by The Beat Merchants from skipping so furiously.

“I… er… I…”

I was struggling with how exactly the breach the subject.

“So you’re you finally leaving today or tomorrow?”

“Tomo… I’m actually leaving tom… I’m leaving tomorrow actually. Early. Early tomorrow morning”

Yes, I was leaving tomorrow, they had deemed my infection fit for wider consumption after locking me in Room 3’121 for a working week. Eric decided that he’d already heard enough on the subject and changed it before I had to chance to.

“Ah, I see” Eric thrust his hands deeper still into his pockets as he paced the room slowly, obviously slightly agitated by whatever he had decided to enter the room to tell me “This might be my last chance to tell you my theories then. Can I sit down?”

“Well, yes… I mean… sitting down’s never been a problem for you has it? It’s more… how are you…?”

Eric didn’t allow me too much time to gabble, didn’t afford me the opportunity to start but absolutely fail to finish different sentences, left me stuck with all the weight of different questions flying around my head, skipping worse than that 7” of ‘So Fine’ by The Beat Merchants. He simply pulled up a chair and sat down.

“I’ve been thinking about your little accident, thinking quite a lot actually. I’ve been running over all the different possibilities in my head, used all the evidence we had and, y’know…” Eric waved his hands in front of his face as he attempted to think of the right words “…comparing that with already received and accepted knowledge”

“Evide… What already accepted kno…?”

Eric was in no mood to entertain my muddled confusion and chose to ignore my obvious disorientation in order to push on with his theories.

“I think it’s pretty obvious what happened to you Alex. Do we need to look at the facts?”

“Look at the…? Where are you getting this from??”

“Firstly you obviously grew to be desperately unhappy in Urumqi…”

“I never told you that…?”

“You couldn’t stand being so far away from Hejuan, it was just just eating you up wasn’t it?”

A horrible gloom tossed its blanket over my face like I was suddenly overcome with a strange nostalgic lamentation from past pain, like a whiff that reminded you of the cakes your Mom used to make, only these cakes were of course filled with broken glass and rat poison and at the back of your mind you could still remember how it felt to have that broken glass slice the inside of your mouth. Eric was right.

“Well… you’re right…” I confirmed “But how could you possibly…?”

“You felt lonely, hideously lonely in fact”

“What are you getting at here?”

“You were drinking a horrendous amount, even by your standards, circling around in your own little spiral of self-hatred, with only the thought of finally being able to see the girl you loved again actually keeping you from an all-out breakdown, the only thing keeping you in some way attached to the real World. I think when Hej phoned to tell you she wasn’t going to visit on the 5th after all it simply pushed you over the edge, It was the last match to be tossed into this swollen powder keg of particularly combustible sobbing self-hatred. Am I making myself clear?”

I wasn’t following at all, there had been far too much new information I in these past few minutes for my brain to properly process and I was still some way off catching up, still far behind the runner, still limping into the starting straight.

“I… No, I still don’t…”

Eric held his head.

“Oh come on Alex! It’s hardly a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie, there’s barely any doubt what happened here, it’s been obvious from the very start, everyone reading this will have worked it out pretty much immediately”

“Everyone reading what? What the actual fuck are you talking about…?”

“The last thing you were sure to do was to make sure Hejuan had a way of contacting your parents, for what other reason could that possibly be for?”

“There is no other reason! For there to be an other reason you’d have to suggest some initial reason! You’ve just marched into my little incubation chamber, not once bothering to explain where it is you’ve got these fucking working legs from in the first place, and just set off talking in rhymes and riddles and bullshit and…”

Eric decided to jump straight to the point rather than listen to me continue to garble out that particular train of thought that he knew wouldn’t show signs of letting up any time soon.

“You tried to commit suicide Alex”

His diagnosis hit me hard in the stomach.

What the fuck was he talking about?

How dare he?

“What the serious pissing fuck!? You think I tried to commit suicide because I felt a little lonely? Come on! That’s hardly a decent reason to do it!”

“Oh don’t be ridiculous Alex, you know it’s not as simple as that, you know that you’ve long harboured these thoughts, you know that you’ve always sheltered these ideas at the back of your mind, you know that this kind of shit is never far from your conscious. You’ve already told me of the time you had the genius idea of drinking bleach, or that time you thought it’d be fun to run away to Birmingham, how many other times have you seriously considered killing yourself? It’s just a problem you have Alex, this constant threat of self-destruction, it’s why E won’t talk to you any more”

“And J?”

Eric shrugged.

“Meh, I think he’s just a dickhead. But you can understand how you’re just fucking impossible can’t you? A constant ticking time bomb of sado-masochism, an absolute threat to anybody close to you”

I melted into the mattress as the horrible, self-evident truth that I’d been ignoring shook my hand with its left hand and robustly slapped me across the face with the right. While these realisations rang around my head I noticed something Eric had said several seconds ago.

“Hang on. You said that I ran away to Birmingham”


“Yes! With Brian Warner and all that shit! That was you not me you sodding idiot”

Eric groaned loudly and thrust his head back in frustration.

“Jesus, you’re really are rather slow on the uptake aren’t you? I don’t exist Alex, that was all you”1

[1yes, all of those horrible and embarrassing stories were all me, and all true. I can’t imagine ever telling anyone any of this stuff]






That’s what the sound is.





It’s not the clicks and whirls of hospital machinery, it’s the far off and punishing knowledge in my head.





The great secret my subconscious has tried its best to keep silent. The noise of the walls of the damn trying to hold back the great tide of incrimination, the finger clicking its way through different accusation. Before finally settling on me.





I did it.





This was all my doing, I couldn’t blame anyone else. It was as close to a successful suicide as I’d managed and God had chosen to punish my mistakes by leaving me in this way.





I can’t even get death right, my own suicide was a terrible and debilitating failure.





I’m so sorry.





So sorry everyone.





Failure and Despair

You don’t exist? How can you not exist? I’m talking to you right now!

Not quite, you’re actually just Alex Palmer’s reported memory of himself, so you talking to a character he’s completely made up really doesn’t prove anything.

He… I completely made you up?

Absolutely yes, you even named me after Eric Cantona for fuck’s sake, which really should have been the first sign that something was up. There was loads of other clumsy clues too, some of them intentional.

I looked Eric down, took in his black suit fitted over a dashing purple silk shirt, took in his suede loafers worn with no socks. You would have thought if I was completely inventing what he was wearing I could have come up with something a little more exciting. He did look good though, I wish I looked that good.

I heard that! Don’t think you can just write stuff about me and I’d remain unaware!

So your sudden ability to walk is…

Yeah, something of a clumsy metaphor actually, meant to represent the truth finally becoming clear to you, the reality is no longer ‘disabled’, do you see?

Yeah you’re right that is rather clumsy, and no way near as clever as he obviously believes it to be. As I obviously believe it to be. So will I get better too? Now I’ve more come to terms with this supposed truth?

No, afraid not, that is actuallyyou right there in your wheelchair, you don’t represent anything like that, you’re just actually what happened to Alex Palmer in the six months since May 2013.


I dropped my shoulders disappointed. I thought it a little unfair that such flashes of literary flair, however ungainly they may be, could cure Eric and not have the same affect on myself. I squeezed my eyes tight and furiously thought about how much I loved my friends and family, how deeply and disgustingly I was in love with Hej, and how life was actually something worth treasuring, and waited for the sparkling stars to start glittering around my legs, and lifting up my body until I was stood up in bathing light.

That’s not going to work, Eric clicked his fingers.

How did you know…?

You’re really not getting this are you? You’re a real person, I can only perform such tricks because I’m a fictional character

A fictional character?


In a book about a real person?


I puffed out my cheeks dejected.

You’d expect that you’d be slightly better written then, there’s really nothing about your personality that would suggest you’ve been completely fabricated, I mean you’re nice enough but you’re really nothing to write home about, you’re hardly Tyler Durden.

See, you think you’re insulting me now, but you’re really just slagging yourself off.

So none of the conversations with you ever happened?

Eric leaned forward in his chair.

No, you barely talked to anyone in hospital, and whatever conversations you did have were far too dull to bother noting down.

Your stories though?

Yeah they seemed a bit unnecessary didn’t they? Eric shrugged, But anyway they were all you- I mean come on why would someone just corner you and hospital and tell you this shit?

My head collapsed into my arms as my eyes began to fill with tears.

So it’s not all luck is it? It’s not just sheer bad luck that’s bought me here, that’s turned me into this? This is all my doing! I’m to blame for all of this!

Eric placed a hand on my knee in understanding, an understanding that was by no means complete even if he only constituted part of my brain itself. I’d like to think he cocked his head to one side and pursed his lips slightly to complete the classic ‘sympathetic look’ but my eyes were still screwed down into my arm so I couldn’t see.

Actually, he can do whatever look I want him too can’t he?

Fuck it then: he was making that look.

Now now, I wouldn’t say that there’s no luck. After all with a little more luck you’d be dead right now wouldn’t you? The eighth storey is a long way up to jump from, you tried your best.

I raised my face from the soft and welcoming nest of arms I’d created, eyes now moist with tears.

I still don’t remember a thing about it though, I really don’t. Every now and then a small blast will come back to me, a dark inkling of wind brushing past my ears, falling through the dark cold. I can remember little memories of just being swamped in tears. I try not to think about it because these thoughts just fill me with utter despair.

Well, I suppose that’s pretty much to be expected, it’s hardly the most happy of memories.

Is it a memory though?? I don’t know for sure that it’s a memory I really do have, I don’t know if I haven’t just implanted these imaginations of how it would go down into my own head, I don’t know if the very idea of it is just so affecting and evocative that I’ve decided to fill the own gaps in my memory by conjuring up these feelings I can so easily imagine having. I’m really not sure I have the smallest pathetic sludge of memorial proof that’s how it all went down.

Well let’s hang on a second, I’m only presenting my opinion here based on the evidence you’ve given to me, there’s really no need to treat this as an absolute closed case…

No… No… I interrupted Eric’s argument with a raised hand, enjoying the few seconds of silence allowing me to choke back a few tears, The actual incident may be probably forgotten to me, perhaps entirely now, but I know the feeling I would have had, I recognise the thoughts of complete helplessness, I know the idea that I can’t go on, I understand the process of wanting to give up, I have allowed myself to be beaten down by the sheer impossibility of life before. Some things are so out of character that you just can’t imagine yourself doing them, I could never pinch a stranger’s bottom or drown a baby or complete a strong-willed fist-bump or cut off a cat’s leg or push in at a bar or throw acid in someone’s face or take up two seats on a crowded train or sell my friends and family in slavery or tip a cow. That night however it seems I was in character, and to try and take my own life would be one of the most ‘in character’ acts I could have possibly carried out. Such thoughts practically are my character.

I wouldn’t say E’s divorce petition played as big a part as she’d wish it did unfortunately, though perhaps if you’re already in this terrible mood it wouldn’t have helped. Hej saying she wouldn’t be coming to visit was perhaps the straw that broke an already pathetically weak horse’s back, but by God don’t you dare even consider in some way blaming Hejuan for this- if it weren’t for her love this would have happened a long time ago and failed even more miserably. Don’t blame anyone but yourself in fact. And I’m not sure how viciously you should really even blame yourself.

Camel’s back.

I’m sorry?

The straw breaks the camel’s back, not the bloody horses. You’re getting your idioms confused.

That was you making that mistake! You could have just gone back and changed it you know?

I suppose…

Well anyway, Eric stood up and buttoned his jacket up, I think you’d call this an unarguable victory for my theory. The word ‘genius’ is bandied about far too lightly these days but…

Hey, me trying commit suicide because I was so far from Hej and it only meaning that I ended up further from her, does that count as irony?

Eric shrugged.

You’ll have to ask Alanis Morissette.

Hey! That’s my reference!

Ours Alex, it’s our reference.

So that’s it then? You’re just going to celebrate being right and then leave?

Well I’m sorry, but what exactly would you have me do now?

I dunno… I stuck out my lower lip in a pathetic pout, Aren’t you going to talk me through this? Let me know what my next options are?

Eric scoffed.

Fucking hell! I’m you! I really don’t serve any further purpose here, I’m little more than set dressing by now. I’m not even afforded my own quotation marks by this point. Any advice I give you will only be echoes of your own subconscious, I’m sure you could just work your general thoughts on the matter artfully into the general thread of the writing, throw a little epiphany or two mid-way into a paragraph explaining your packing up to leave hospital and BAM you’re done.

I don’t know if there are any epiphanies, I intoned grimly, I think this is it, I don’t know if there are any lessons to learn.

Eric sighed, obviously peeved that his exit stage left was being interrupted so.

Look, maybe the message is to appreciate your good health, to acknowledge life’s precious gift?

Nah come one, the message is hardly going to be quite that saccharine and sickly is it? And anyway, I’m not sure I’d not prefer to be dead now. What am I supposed to be appreciative over precisely?

Yeah I suppose that doesn’t really work, Eric opened the door, You failed at quitting Alex, that’s got to be embarrassing? Perhaps the real thing to take from all this is that if you’re going to commit suicide, make sure you do it right.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Eric was laughing as he slid through the door.

I mean, failed suicide though?? That’s embarrassing! Eric started to pull the door close behind him.


What? Eric poked his head back through the door

What about the Iguazo Falls?

What about the Iguazo Falls?

What did that mean?

Eric puffed his cheeks out.

Absolutely no idea, that’s one of them ‘open ended mysteries’ for the reader I supposed, or perhaps just a complete red herring, you might just have to accept that there are some things you will never work out.

And he left.



The last time Hejuan came to visit me at my flat it was under the promise I made that we’d watch Blood Diamond together. We managed barely minutes of the film before we were tearing each others’ clothes off and dragging each other into the bedroom.

We walk past my school on the way back from the restaurant. She was coming back to my flat this time with no such auspices, we both knew why we were going back to my flar.

I doubt we’ll ever finish watching Blood Diamond.

I look into her eyes. Her smile’s so cute, her eyes are just beaming. It’s like for the first time she’s completely relaxed in my company. She’s not worried about her family. She’s not worried about the stigma of dating a non-Muslim. Of dating a white man.

It’s taken a long time, but I think she’s finally happy with everything. We’re finally perfect together.

Suddenly she lets go of my hand with a swooping theatrical swoop, moving with a lack of self-conciousness I’ve never previously associated with her. She breaks away from me and kicks a stone hard into the road, smiling deeply from ear to ear.

I really think she’s falling in love with me.

I’ve been in love with her for a very long time.1

[1oh God, I do remember this exact moment and I’m in piece right now]



Moses and the Annus Horribilis

Eventually my C-Diff was given the clear and I was told I was free to leave. I hadn’t actually suffered any of the infection’s rather uncomely and highly embarrassing affects since several days before the hospital had even detected its presence. The contamination’s documented arrival instead merely afforded me my own private quarters again, away from the other patients worse off than me by a factor of several infinities. Away from those with real injuries handed out by actual misfortunes. I wouldn’t need to feel quite so pathetic slumped in a bed in the corner of the room. Committed there through nothing more than shamefully adolescent angst. They were all there after different examples of life’s many errors, I was merely a example of what a death’s miscalculation looks like.

Judging by the punishments doled out for each of the crimes, it seemed that life’s failures were considered far more serious offences failure’s at death.

We weren’t allowed to take the hospital’s wheelchair, a piece of equipment rendered rather prized by a price so costly I may as well have asked if it was Ok if I waddled out with one of the MRI machines under my arm.

“We can push you downstairs to the car park if that’d make it easier for you” Cynthia offered.

I thought about the distance I would have to travel to make it. Maybe two hundred metres to the lift followed by maybe a further two hundred across the ground floor out to the park where my Mum’s car would be waiting. I looked at my wooden walking stick.

“No, you’re alright” I assessed after a lengthy inner-deliberation “I think I’ll be fine”

And I was.

It was no trouble for me to slowly but assuredly shuffle my way across these lengths. I focussed my mind on all the laps of the gymnasium that Fizz would send me round. Again and again and again. I couldn’t lean my body, had to put as little pressure on the stick as possible, had to clasp its handle so lightly, like it was nothing but an incidental object I happened to be balancing casually in my left hand. I was so intensely aware of each tiny movement of my body. I thought of the full-length mirror Fizz would have me practice in front of.

There’s nothing wrong with that fellow there.

The stick?

Purely aesthetic reasons, lends him a certain panache don’t you think?

This was me now.

In the lift.

Out the lift.

In the car.


Well, not my home. I would go to my Mum’s house to stay while I slowly recuperated and came to terms precisely how fuckity-bollocksed my life now was, slowly but passionately plan how I would get back to China.

Back to Hej.

Mum’s house afforded me no further epiphanies, I didn’t suddenly realise how life was actually worth savouring, I never had a shining light of realisation of how precious living actually was, how I was one of God’s beautiful creatures and I should be using every second to thank the Almighty* for allowing me to live and enjoy the sun’s shine on my neck or the first flake of winter first hand.

But nothing like that.

A person is very rarely injected with such new love of life once they move back in with their mother at twenty nine, thousands of painful kilometres away from the person they love. I had opened up a safety pin and poked the sharp end into my life’s reset button. All I wanted now was for the whole system to re-boot itself, back to its original settings of maybe 2012. It’s still taking so long. Where you used to be is the hardest place to reach in your life.

I got drunk for the first time in months. It also failed to infuse me with the happiness I always expect it to. Even alcohol was worthless to me now. What did I have left?

A letter was waiting for me when I arrived back at Mum’s house from he courts. Divorce papers. Filling them out and sending them on was one of my first acts after leaving hospital. I could at least draw a line under that regrettable part of my life. The end of the terrible husband I once was, a signal that I was ready to completely turn myself into this new good lover and offer myself completely to Hejuan. The past was a foreign country. The court sent back the form days later- I had made dozens of errors on the form. I sent it a second time, cursing my stupidity once again.

I spent a week doddering around my mum’s house, my Dad gave me a box of the things he’d rescued from my apartment, including a diary I was writing. No real clues given, just a catalogue of how dull my life had become and how despairingly I missed Hej. I pretty much gave up writing it in early April, as my desire for constant drink overtake my desire for occasional self-inspection.

The Bollock grumbled his disapproval.

I spent a week doddering around Mum’s house. In the least wheelchair-friendly village in the UK. The Bollock constantly growling.

I spent a week doddering around Mum’s house. Two physiotherapists would come twice a week and give me exercises and advice, trying to make me into a real boy again.

“Are you having any other problems pet?” one physio asked of me after the first session.

“Well actually, I’ve noticed that my bones seem to be clicking a lot nowadays, like every time I moved it seems”

The younger student physio placed the pen she was using to scribble down notes on the session into her mouth as she furrowed her brow to contemplate the question.

“Well, some people are just cli’y” she replied in her thick Newcastle accent.

The Bollock grunted displeased.

I spent a week doddering around Mum’s house. I would walk up and down the stairs trying to one day navigate them like a real boy again.

The Bollock released a low grumble.

I spent the week doddering around Mum’s house. Stacking the dishwasher. Cooking meals. Brushing my teeth. Showering. On my way to being a real boy again.

The Bollock finally let out a thunderous howl of pain.

“Jesus, what the fuck is wrong with you!?” I lost my patience with the Bollock’s constant interruptions “If you have a problem I wish you’d just say so!”

“You… You… You can’t…”

The Bollock obviously found it difficult to talk, the voice was strained and in clear pain. I made my way upstairs so I could better inspect The Bollock’s condition.

There was a giant yellow pus-filled spot on my scrotum.

“What the…? What the fuck is that Bollock??”

“You… You… You can’t… You can’t… You can’t win…”

Once The Bollock had finally said his piece he breathed a sigh of relief and released a low guttural chuckle. It was a Saturday morning and I had to call the doctor again. Dad swept me away to the emergency ward at Wythenshawe Hospital, which became the next stop on my glamorous tour examining the ins and outs of every NHS establishment possible. I sat in the waiting room for more than an hour worried that I might moss that evening’s Pointless Celebrities before being called in and asked to expose my scrotum to the first medical examiner. She ummed and ahhed while taking a long searching look at The Bollock, before concluding it was really best to ask the opinion of particular second doctor. I hobbled over to his office and sat myself down outside in the waiting room for a further hour, Pointless Celebrities getting closer and closer. Eventually I was called in and was once again required to flash my testicles at the doctor. He cradled The Bollock like he was examining a priceless crystal orb for a precise evaluation, eventually deciding that such an artefact was at least worth a further assessment to verify whether such a marvelous piece deserved a run in the main gallery that was the hospital.

Third doctor, waiting room, inspection of The Bollock, um, ah, I see, hmmmmmmm.

I was once again committed to the hospital overnight so they could simply remove the abscess that had begun to grow there. I worried I might miss that afternoon’s Pointless Celebrities. I ended up being in hospital for six days.

I lay in my hospital bed that first night as I waited for me to wheeled away for my operation and thought about how far I’d come.

A long way.

I was in a completely different hospital now.

Completely different.

I mean, that large middle-aged fellow with the quite marvelous beard in a bed opposite mine had never been in a hospital ward with me before.

He was barking out tales to the man on the bed next to me.

“Now I love trying new food, I mean love it, you know? Love the experience, seize every opportunity you know?”

I had attempted to live a life outside hospital, but my body had got together and decided it really wasn’t for me, so threw me back into the den I was more comfortable in. White walls, clean sheets, a far off beeping in my head that I couldn’t quite place. Perhaps I’m simply better here.

“And I remember one time me and the wife were at a restaurant up in Abersoch, and on the specials’ board they had this thing called ‘Welsh rarebit’…”

Perhaps I’m better dying here. We all die in hospital don’t we? I mean very probably? Why do we ever bother leaving?

“And me I’ve never had rabbit before, so I jumped at the chance to finally try it…”

I never got to hear the Moses lookalike finish his own sermon on the mount as just past ten my bed was wheeled out of the ward and we set toward the operating theatre. Mere metres out of the ward’s doors we were stopped by the doctor (third one I saw initially if you’re taking count) and he lifted up the bed-sheets to have one last good look at my red, swollen, pus-leaking ball-sack. He furrowed his brow, shook his head and decided this was the wrong course of action.

The Bollock had died.

The orchitis he so enjoyed wallowing him in had actually finished him off. The giant disgusting leaking spot was actually the The Bollock’s decomposing body affecting the outer shell.

It would have to be removed.

Of course I would lose a testicle, of course!

It had just been one of those years hadn’t it?

Maybe though, this actually marked my victory over The Bollock, maybe now I had actually vanquished my foe and could now draw a line under the past, maybe this removal would simply mean that all ties to my own personal annus horribilis would be cut, I would be unshackled to the thoughts and memories of what I had done to myself, the slight drop in weight would be lifted from my shoulders, no need to hang my head in shame now over how miserably I had treated the people in my life.

With one testicle I would become the person I always should have been.







It’s a strange shame. Strange, but by no means small.





The shame of hurting yourself so horrendously when attempting to completely wipe your existence off the face of the Earth is a strange one. The shame of being such a failure at suicide that the abuse you hand out to your body makes living such an awful and wretched drag that to kill yourself now would be a lot more understandable. That’s a strange one too.





You don’t like being far away from the person you love? Well let’s see how you handle being this far away you miserable little cunt.





That’s not really where the shame lies though, it’s acute embarrassment of course, but if I were to be so overcome by such humiliation each and every time I failed at something I wouldn’t really have the time to do anything else considering how often it occurs.





No, the real shame is in how my actions have so deeply hurt everyone close to me.





Even if we leave aside the thousands and thousands of pounds that had been thrown into attempting to save the pathetic life of an idiot too feeble to even work out himself how to save it. A bigger waste of money than Fernando Torres.





Even if we leave that aside. Even if we simply don’t count it.





In fact, even if we leave aside how little I deserve the help of such a wonderful institution as the NHS. Baosheng Dadi was right, the system is for helping those in need, it’s not for people to simply check into when they feel overcome by a ridiculous desire for self-destruction.





Even if we leave that aside. Even if we simply don’t count it.





Mentally though, the pain I’ve put my family through, the pain, the pain, the pain, the pain, the pain, the pain, the pain, the pain, the pain.





Now Hej’s life is simply one big whirlwind of misery as the man she loves has been dragged away from her and dropped thousands of miles away. How could I do that to her? How could I be so callous to the person I love?





E would know, I was once in love with her and treated her like dirt. She was smart enough to get out first chance she could.





Every person should have done the same, every one close to me should have just given up and left me lying on that concrete floor outside my flat. Just left me to die.





Just left me to die.





It wasn’t selfish. If you think it selfish you obviously don’t understand the thought process. I really thought my life was only causing other people stress, really thought my life was nothing but a pain to those around me. To continue living would be selfish, my death would be better for everyone.





No, it doesn’t make a lot of sense does it?





Now though I’ve seen the pain and horror my acts caused, I know how selfish I’ve acted, I know how terrible I’ve been. I’ve seen proof of what a hideous mess such insensitive bluster can cause.





I know that now. I know how much I’m loved. I know how much I’m appreciated. I know how lucky I am to have a girl like Hej. I know I will be the perfect son, brother, friend, lover from now on.





For them.





To thank them.


































































At least until next time the feeling overcomes me.







The Iguazo Falls

They removed The Bollock. I had beaten him! The day I finally left Wythenshawe was the first day of the rest of my life. I even managed to eventually train my body to once again use only the toilet for urination. I potty trained myself.

I should write a book about this, I thought.

Months past.

A year past.

Hej decided to apply for a Visa to at least visit me in Britain. The process involved in a Chinese person applying for a British Visa, even to visit, was extensive and laborious. The nearest Visa application centre to Hej was in Beijing, about 3000km away.

I decided I would travel there too.

I would finally see her again in February 2015.

As a joint birthday and Christmas present Dad invested yet more money into my cause by buying me a return ticket to Beijing. Mum instead decided to invest in some travel insurance, which was probably a good idea.

I finally saw Hej again.

But it didn’t carry with it the overwhelming sense of happiness I assumed it would. Neither of us cried through sheer joy like we both thought.

We argued a lot.

I began to realise that she wasn’t happy with me, this wasn’t a relationship worth sacrificing her chance for children she so dearly wanted for.

I hated being in China and not being able to communicate properly, feeling more disabled than back in Britain. Even if I actually managed to shuffle along without the use of my stick. The pressure placed on my right ankle would make it swell up terribly after a day’s assertions though. I Took a handful of pills to try and have sex. My penis got bigger and we were able to perform something close to a fuck, she was satisfied but it didn’t feel right for me. I was deep inside her but couldn’t feel her any more.

I felt it would be a long time until I came back to live here. I tried to tell Hej what a bad choice being with me was. Tried to explain how we were probably better off leaving it to die.

“Come on, you really think this whole relationship is worthwhile? Am I really worth the effort?”

“What does that mean?”

“This relationship, is it really worth not having kids?”

“What does that mean?”

“Are you really happy enough to never have children?”

“What does that mean?”

I threw my hands up in frustration.

Fucking hell Hejuan! Do you actually understand anything I fucking say!? For fuck’s sake!”

“Don’t shout at me!” she cried “Why do you always shout!?”

I felt bad about losing my temper, as I had done many times during that trip.

“I’m… I’m really sorry Hej, I shouldn’t shout, I just lost my temper, I’m sorry”

Hej nodded her head as she appreciated my apology.

“It’s Ok”

“See?” I pointed out “When I’m an idiot I apologise for it, why can’t you?”

And the cycle continued.

Hejuan didn’t have the correct documents to even apply for a Visa. She made another appointment to come back to Beijing, on her own, the next month.

Once I returned home I finished the book and gave Kamal an early draft to look over.

“I like it! Some of the descriptions made me piss myself! Actually, that’s probably a bad turn of phrase isn’t it? I assume you’re going to end it with a trip to the Iguazo falls?”

Shit, I thought, that’s really how it should end…




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