To Be A Man

I grew up on a council estate in North Manchester, and as a working class man, there are a number of skills that some seem to think would come naturally to me. However, I seem to be missing the working man genes for DIY, decorating, self assembly furniture, car maintenance bicycle maintenance, and having any opinion at all on football or other sports.

I am moving into a new place. The housing association have provided me with paint and tools to redecorate. It is not going well. I watch youtube videos of self assured, manly men, who make it look easy, then I try, and fail.

Who decided that we must keep inside the lines when painting? And what purpose does a skirting board serve? How do people manage to paint in straight lines?

I think housing design needs a radical rethink. We need homes with programmable, self healing, colour surfaces, an end to paint and Polyfilla. Windows we can stretch to the dimensions we require, plumbing and power wherever we need it.

This is, of course, a first world problem. I remember sleeping rough when I was homeless, and any shelter would’ve been a blessing. Sleeping in a cold, empty squat, I was glad to be out of the wind and rain. I must remember this, and when I step back and look at my patchy painted wall, with masking tape edges, be thankful for the small things, food, shelter, and my inability to decorate.


Military Bass

I’m in a pub with my brother. I’m telling my friend Glen, how powerful he is, if he just tries. I chat to my brother. It’s gone last orders. I try to get a drink. The choice is coffee or water. I take water.

I’m heading home. I have two. I think Snowy, my now dead dog, is at one, but I’m not sure. I’m less worried about him now. I run through dark muddy lanes with my hood up. It is both Donliegh Street in Manchester and Farndale Avenue in Wolverhampton at the same time. The sun rises, and I’m walking past a big wheel. A black boy runs ahead of me, climbing it. He looks scared. I climb after him, protecting him from an older boy, who has to win the race, who has to be first.

We climb off the big wheel. I walk downhill into town. Under a railway bridge I stop to chat to a policeman, changing his shoes for trainers at the end of his shift. He tells me it’s busy. I can see from here; pubs full of Port Vale fans. They won.

I pick up some jellybeans from a stall in the wall. The Indian shopkeeper tries to shortchange me. I tell him to keep the extra 5p.

I avoid the town centre. Walking along country lanes, I am tracked by heat seeking robot guns, swivelling to follow me as I pass. I see a military base. Inside, soldiers play tiny, short scale bass guitars. There’s a camera crew. Families of soldiers record upbeat messages to send. I feel sad that men’s role is to fight and die. What kind of life is that?



I waited in my empty flat this morning, for long, cold hours, waiting for the man from Dulux to deliver my paint. He came about 11. He had only three of the right things. He left them for me to take up, and promised to return.

And return he did. With many right things. I was frozen by this time, and popped into Sid’s Cafe for a coffee. It was quiet. No job club today. Mostly old ladies with baked potatoes. I had a black coffee. Alone on a small table. Scanning the walls of community notices.

I walked into town, to choose and order some carpets. An expensive action. This completed, I headed to the Boston Tea Party for more coffee, and soup. Here it is busy. Students. Workers. Old ladies with dogs. A different kind of community. In Sid’s, you see disabled people. In Bostons, the stairs limit accessibility. There’s another difference of accessibility. Price. Most could afford the £1 I paid for my coffee at Sid’s. Many would balk at paying £4.50 for soup. Money gives you choices. Not to eat where the poor and excluded eat. To sip your coffee in a make believe world where everyone has a mac, an iPhone, or an iPad. Where no one is poor, and no one hungry.


Change in the Rain

I’ve done a few political things in my time. Knocking on doors, protesting, leafleting. Last night I was a steward for Green Party leader Natalie Bennet’s talk at Exeter University. The last political meeting this big I went to was with the SWP in the 80s. I didn’t share their politics, but Aswad were playing, so it was a free coach trip and gig, away from my grim homeless existence in Manchester.

It was raining, and, stood outside, with Tom, a green student, I helped direct people to the talk. I remarked to Tom, how popular Natalie must be, if we didn’t even need to put bands on as a way to tempt young people in.

When I joined the Green Party, I don’t know what I expected. Leafleting, that kind of thing.
Actions that change the world are not thrilling, or glamorous, most of the time, despite what the media would have you think.

Political action is not exciting. It’s mostly, for me at least, standing around in the cold and wet, talking to people.

The revolution is in the rain, in the words, in the smiles. That’s where change happens, in thoughts, in feelings, in deeds.

I walked home. Soaking wet, and changed into my tartan pyjamas and slippers, like the old man I’m on the cusp of becoming. I looked to my phone, and to Twitter. There at least, I can be comfortable and dry, while pushing for change.

Professor Motivator

A professor, and a necklace encased in a clear resin block. He gives it away to a child. The only way to damage the necklace is by finding the right vibration to shatter it in place.

A garden. I’m rearranging garden furniture at night. I overhear someone say “she’s gone, only left one shirt here”.

I walk through a modern housing estate, remembering a festival, tall ship-churches floating down the river, psychedelic coloured lights shifting on every surface. I try to remember to invite my brother to next years festival.

I’m trying to pack things away. Something that looks like a toy UFO, but is actually a perpetual motion machine. I want to leave the house before, or very soon after, my dad gets home.

A protest march. We run through muddy trenches, there are rats. Tents have fruit, water, and impractical clocks in them. I’m fitter than I think.

I get to a hotel. The president is staying there. Men in suits with nuclear launch codes in suitcases pass me on the stairs. I’m carrying a cd box set. It’s an audiobook about perpetual motion, by Prof Motivator. Inside, text is written on rounded isosceles triangles of paper, ordered, but unbound, a never ending book. Each triangle lists a series of headings, and, sliding one of these down, more text appears. The writing tells of vibration and movement, and the dangers of staying still.

I look for a way out of the hotel, down dark, green walked corridors. Outside, the ground is mud, and the buildings orange.

Bhakta Bed

When I was 16, my mother died, followed by my father about a year later. I was left homeless, alone, and suffering, I now know with PTSD.

I hitched around the country, sleeping rough, or staying in Salvation Army hostels. They meant well, but the hollowness of the christian promise did nor sit well with me. My ‘christian’ family had done nothing to help me, and I was aware of the high level of cruelty perpetrated historically by christians.

I ended up in London, wandering in the day time, eating at St Martin’s in the Fields, wondering why they couldn’t just help people without trying to convert them, and going on and on about jesus all the time. At night, I climbed the fence around the little park in Soho Square, and slept on a bench, in a little hut at the centre of the park. It was winter. Snowing, I dreamt of a butterfly, dying, alone, the sky heavy with the silent weight of winter.

Around the corner, was a Hare Krishna Temple. I went there for some food one day, removing my holey, rotting boots, exposing my three month old socks, worn since I’d put them on at home, stinking, revolting. I couldn’t smell anything, so numbed had I become.

A black devotee, Krishna Tirtha, took me out of the temple. He didn’t throw me out, or ask me to leave, he took me upstairs, to a bathroom, let me shower, washed my clothes, and gave me something to wear while I ate.

This was true kindness, there was no attempt to convert me, just help me, and feed me.

I kept going back. I saw the kindness of the people, and I joined them.

At first, I was at Bhaktividanta Manor, near Watford. I shaved my head, and dressed in orange, first in Bhakta trousers, (a Bhakta is a devotee, in hindu terminology) as I took a while to master the tying of the dhoti.

Meditation by chanting is a great thing. after a few weeks, i could hear my own thoughts, objectively, a stream of continuous bullshit running alongside my repetitive chanting. I was neither of those things, the real me was something else, somewhere else.

The day started early, 3 or 4 am, shitting and shaving and showering. I learned to get up early, before the hot water was gone. Then chanting, for hours and hours, followed by a morning service, more chanting and devotional things directed to statues of Krishna and Radha, and a slightly creepy fibreglass moulding of Prabupada.

A huge breakfast, the main meal of the day, cleaning the temple, mop bucket water with eucalyptus oil. Then i used to try and slip off back to sleep for a bit. I earned the nickname Bhakta Bed, as thats where I could be found, if people were looking for me.

One morning, another devotee, Pete, was doing some physical yoga, frowned upon by those practicing devotional yoga. I asked him why. He had been accepted by a Zen monastery in Scotland, and needed to prepare his body for long hours of Zazen practice. I asked him why he would leave. His answer? “These people are lovely, simon, but God is not blue, and he doesn’t play a flute”.


At the age of 13 or 14, I had become interested in psychopharmacology, although I didn’t know it’s name then. I wondered who had originally tried new foods, or new substances, and discovered their psychoactive or edible properties? Some of my school friends, including my closest friend, Gary, had tried sniffing glue, with varying results. They had used Evo-stik, a tried and trusted staple of punk glue sniffers everywhere.

I didn’t have access to any Evo-Stik, so I went to a local model shop and bought what the old gent who ran it recommended. It was called UHU Fleximend. It came with warnings to use it in a well ventilated space, and a very high Xylene content. I snipped a hole in the tube and deployed the contents into a plastic carrier bag. At this time, I often skipped school, leaving the house early in the morning, and returning. When everyone else had left for the day. This was one such day.

I sat in my father’s armchair, breathing slowly and deliberately into the bag. Quickly I noticed a buzz. Not a high, but a buzz, a physical sound, as if I could hear the movement of machinery behind the walls, as though reality was a stage set, atoms cranked into place by unseen stagehands. This buzzing became an echo, and began to leak synesthetically into my sense of vision. The green and white wallpaper, with its diagonal flower print, leaked from the walls into the room, collapsed behind the walls, perspective shifting as I moved my head.

I continued to breath from my new third lung. Only occasionally pausing to draw in fresh air, drool and glue staining my lips and chin. I pushed on.

Eventually the room itself fell away. I was floating, no flying, through a series of switches, binary choices we all pass through every moment of our lives. Finally I exit the maze of possibility. Outside it now, I see a shape, a rectangular column, twisted along its length. Inside this column is a path of light, the journey I have taken so far, based on my decisions. There are many paths ahead, but not infinite. I had a finite starting point, and I have finite choices, there are a finite number of paths for me to travel, and a finite number of end points for this existence. The shape tells me this. It has a name: Q. Years later, I will see the character Q on Star Trek the Next Generation and I will be freaked out for days, convinced that I’m still tripping; that someone can read my thoughts; or even worse, that I may have stumbled upon some profound ultimate truth about reality.

Slowly, I return to the living room. I am lying on the floor. Our TV, a large black and white cathode ray tube set, is on my face. Michael Fish presents the weather. I get up and put the tv back. I can’t see where the bag of glue has gone. My brother comes in. He’s been home for a while, assuming that I was conducting some kind of crazy experiment.

I guess he was right.