Picnic blankets and magic carpets

THE WRITER’S LIFE

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No matter where I am, I can always write. That is to say, I’ll always have the means to write close to hand. Even when I was homeless, I always travelled with a notebook and pens. Nowadays, I carry a Filofax and if I’m going away for a period of time, I’ll take my typewriter with me (my laptop). My particular skew on life is not so much a box of chocolates; It’s more like a picnic. I’m still lonely sometimes but nowadays, I don’t live on a park bench. Having the tools which I do now, I can make metaphorical sandwiches. The fillings may not be to everyone’s liking but I’ve got the bread, the butter and the knife.

In just over a week, I’m going on holiday: I’m spending a week with my children and we’re all staying at my parents’ house. How very minor that must seem to most. To me it’s massive, as this is the first time in over three years that it’s been possible. Three years ago, there was a legal injunction preventing me from going within 50 metres of my parents’ house. For 18 months after that, my ex-wife wouldn’t allow me anywhere near my children. Those exclusions were for very good reasons and my family were absolutely right to keep me at bay: I was a drunk. Not violent but unpleasant.

It’s been many years since I had any kind of holiday: Chicago in 2001 was the last. I was there on September 11th, when the world changed. Before that, I was never bothered about holidays; Nor since actually. Before America, the furthest I’d ventured was France; One year when my family had a little money. Other than that, we tended to holiday at home as a family, often just going on “Days out”, to the Kent coast with a Tupperware container of sandwiches: Marmite or peanut butter, seasoned with sand. Those were the best of days.

Should I be writing about this in a public forum? Shouldn’t I be protecting my kids from seeing all of this? Should I not err on the side of caution if I’m in any way unsure? But then, have I not always worn my heart on my sleeve? Very well, but this isn’t about one person: Precisely.

The greatest act of bravery and love that I have ever witnessed was my mum throwing me out, after I turned up at the family home having pissed my life away at the age of 43. You have to be quite adept at being an utter arse for your own parents to disown you. I was a fucking disgrace. I hated the world and everyone in it, apart from Frosty Jack: That fucking blue bottle of tramp juice.

I wrote about it all in this blog: I spat vitriol and hatred. The world would watch me drink myself to death, as I raised a finger of defiance. Beyond that, there were no plans. Such a big bang exit: If it had happened, what a sorry little whimper it would have been. Few would have heard it; Many would have welcomed my exit, including me at the time. I learned after I’d sobered up, just how affected those around me had been by my breakdown.

Back then, this blog was written longhand in notebooks, mainly in McDonald’s. Then I’d type up my notes on one of the public access computers in the library. In amongst the darkness and the poison, there are moments of clarity. One such was when I’d been homeless for about three months: My dad walked past McDonald’s, as I sat in my usual seat by the window, writing and drinking white cider disguised in a Maccy D cup. Dad didn’t give me any money. He simply asked how I was and shook my hand. Somehow, he wasn’t ashamed.

And that’s all I’ll write here about that time and my parents. Because I wrote it all before and we’ve got over it since: It’s a place created in the forever after. It’s not that we don’t want to dig it up again; Far from it: It’s been honest and frank conversations about exactly what went wrong (ME!) which have allowed the bridges to be rebuilt between us. Mum read all of the poison and it served two purposes by being in the public domain, where neighbours and friends could see it: I was a complete twunt and she was vindicated. The best place for me was out in the cold and I did a very good job of digging my own grave.

As I’ve also written on this blog, during those months on the streets, I met a lot of people when I was living in a squat. They were mainly youngsters looking for somewhere to hang and it caused me many problems: I understand how it must have looked slightly odd. I gained some kindred spirits back then and took some of them under my wing. We remain friends and as one of the girls has pointed out, there’ll be a lot more people attending my funeral if I were to die now than back then. All I see in those kids are suffragettes.

My own kids are aware of this blog. It has been a point of contention in the past between myself and my ex-wife. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I don’t hide from what I did in the past, which caused so much hurt. Just as I’ve been able to discuss things with my parents, so my children’s mum and I have spoken at length about my failed attempt to drink myself into the ground. I’ve had discussions with my children which have been almost as frank as the ones I had with those teenagers at the squat. Hopefully, none of them will develop a drinking problem because I was almost proof as a cadaver of what happens when you do.

But that’s the past. It is gone and I’m better but it can’t be swept under a magic carpet, any more than I was likely to fly away on one when I was drunk. It needed saying and it’s in the public domain. It’s what happens when drink takes over: Let it be a lesson in how not to live your life, kids. Instead, just look at what’s around you.

My children and my parents have a degree of admiration for me now, not just because I got better (with them being my reasons) but because I somehow became a writer. It doesn’t matter that it makes me hardly any money at all. In fact, what little money I’ve made from writing, I’ve donated to Medecins Sans Frontieres. What matters most of all is that I’ve found something that gives me purpose and which might help others, even if it’s me just writing about random shit in my own idiosyncratic way.

Besides my advertised publishing schedule, I have another project very much on the go: The reception for Cyrus Song and its companion, The Cyrus Choir, has been so good that I now have another book on my hands. Cyrus Song (the book) fits nicely with everything else I’m writing, purely because it’s such good fun to write. And that’s the whole point of my life now: Doing what I enjoy, even if I can’t retire on it. Why would I want to retire from writing anyway?

Why would I want to stop writing and return to drinking? Why on earth would I want to stop writing stories like the Cyrus series, when I can effectively talk to the animals and give those animals voices? Why would I ever bore of looking at rabbits, just waiting to see if one of them actually did say something, when all rabbits always look like they’re about to say something? Why would I not want to walk with a dog and wonder at all of the colours which cars are made from? Why would I not want to pursue the seemingly unobtainable, just as my protagonist – Mr Fry – wonders about a very small, very pretty and very clever redhead like Doctor Hannah Jones? The Babel fish in those stories is just a computer program. In my world, the Babel fish is my USB flash drive: It carries my stories and can be plugged into any computer.

So, my parents and my kids are as aware of everything that’s gone on as I am. It’s only me who sometimes has to be reminded by reading back over my own blog. Since it all went wrong, it’s got better; In some respects, better than it ever was. My parents and kids are just as important to this story as I am. There’s nothing here that they don’t already know but plenty of reasons for my kids not to take the route I took to become Frank. There are many reasons to keep reading.

Even since I sobered up, there have been few opportunities to really engage with my family: Until I moved into the studio, I rarely had the chance to catch up with my parents because they were loath to visit me in the crooked pub under the previous murderous management. And I don’t get much time to talk to the kids as we’re wandering around the concrete jungle of Milton Keynes. The week after next, I’ll be the filling in a three generational sandwich and we’ll all have a chance to catch up: There’s a lot to do.

I may still have depression and I’ll always be an alcoholic but I’ve denied the former fuel through the latter. Where once I’d sit in the local park with a blue plastic bottle for company, the next time I’m there I’ll be having a family picnic.

Why would I not tell my children that the blanket we’re sitting on could be a magic carpet? It just takes a little imagination.

Mine is a story with a happy middle, because I’m a long way from the end yet.

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