MADHOUSE OF CARDS

AlexMost of us are now familiar with the shameless tactic of ‘playing the race card’, which is usually employed by those who’ve painted themselves into a corner and lack both the intelligence and the decency to formulate a coherent argument that will stand up and warrant examination. I suppose the first time the race card was played to great effect was during the trial of OJ Simpson back in the 90s, when an odds-on guilty verdict was masterfully reversed by Simpson’s legal team as they tapped into the ongoing racial tensions in the US and made the whole spectacle about race. It worked, and ever since then the race card has been produced routinely by some non-white public figures as a means of silencing any questioning of their actions as well offering a sense of security that prevents opposing points of view when making public statements. Just the other day a black actress in the Netflix bodice-ripper, ‘Bridgerton’, made a ludicrous claim in a magazine interview which came across as a desperate attempt to place the multicultural Regency fantasy of the series within an authentic historical context.

According to Adjoa Andoh (the actress), 50% of Nelson’s navy was African and 20,000 black people were living in the centre of London in the early 19th century. She states this as fact, yet offers no evidence of her claims. Most of us fortunate to have learnt our British history before it was warped by Woke revisionism know this is simply untrue, yet nobody would dare dispute the actress’s imaginative fallacy, for to do so would immediately result in one being labelled racist; therefore, she is free to spout such guff knowing she is immune to criticism or questioning. The increasing misuse and abuse of the word ‘racist’ outside of its correct context and using it as a casual insult to put the brakes on debate does nobody any favours other than perhaps actual racists. It serves to bracket any genuine racism alongside a ridiculous list of imaginary racist crimes, diminishing the effectiveness of the word in outing the real guilty parties and breeding cynicism towards the word itself and towards accusations of racism rooted in fact. When everything is racist, nothing is racist.

Having seen the deplorable playing of the race card and how successful it can enable some to get away with murder (well, it certainly did OJ Simpson), those unable to pull it out of the hat on account of being white have found another one they can play – the mental health card. Again, when the amoral use the phrase ‘mental health’ as an excuse they imagine will elicit sympathy and deflect closer scrutiny of whatever crime they have committed, they do so at the expense of those who are genuine sufferers of mental health conditions. It’s almost reached the stage when we anticipate ‘mental health’ being pushed forward as a get-out-of-jail card whenever anyone is exposed as a crook, and we begin to suspect everyone with mental health issues of being a charlatan, employing the phrase in the same way a drafted soldier in a time of war might pretend to be mad in order to be relocated from the frontline. However, none of this would be remotely effective without the support of the more disreputable members of the psychiatric profession, those Gods among men whose unimpeachable wisdom in the court of Law ranks even higher than the authority of the Judge.

In a recent and typically thought-provoking ‘Triggernometry’ interview, the former prison psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple summarily rubbished some of the oft-quoted ‘facts’ when it comes to the mental health of many currently being detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure and exposed them for what they are. ‘You read…that seventy percent of prisoners have some sort of psychological problem,’ he said. ‘I believe that’s a whole load of hokum. That is an excuse for the failure to deal with the relatively few raving lunatics in prison, which the NHS is incapable of dealing with because it’s so incompetent.’ He cited the decimation of the state psychiatric hospital network as leaving no option but to put those with serious mental conditions behind bars, and if a stat claiming 70% of 80,000 people is to be believed, it’s no wonder the task of adequately caring for them seems an impossible one that nobody would expect any government capable of resolving.

Theodore Dalrymple also criticised the methods of diagnosing mental health in the context of it providing a reason for criminal behaviour. ‘Their whole process of diagnosis is so lax,’ he said of his fellow professionals; when confronted by further stats claiming a high proportion of convicted criminals have educational needs such as dyslexia and so on, he recalled his own experience of dealing with prisoners and said that ‘(most) were not deficient in intelligence; they could understand everything perfectly well.’ Playing the mental health card is the default position of many unscrupulous psychiatrists hired as experts by defence teams to secure a violent villain a cushier sentence than his crime otherwise warrants; and blaming mental health for a crime suggests it was the condition that committed the crime rather than the criminal; it implies he or she can be cured, thus winning far earlier parole than the recognition of an incurably evil nature ever would.

Deprived of the Ludovico Technique to guarantee a model citizen upon release, the role of the prison psychiatrist can be pivotal in swinging it, and the do-gooder naivety of many parole boards confronted by a well-behaved criminal with the psychiatric stamp of approval is testament to how mental health can be abused. Most are unaware of the way in which the mental health card is a useful tool for the canny crook to cut short his sentence because they’re not paying attention until the predictable headline when said wrong ‘un inevitably reoffends once released. The public figure playing it when caught out, however, we know of from the moment his or her illicit activities are revealed via Fleet Street. Only this week we’ve seen backbench Tory MP David Warburton react to being exposed as an alleged coke-snorting, serial sexual harasser by playing the mental health card, checking-in to a private psychiatric hospital, apparently suffering from ‘severe shock and stress’.

Warburton has had the Conservative whip withdrawn as an investigation into the allegations levelled against him is pending; misconduct complaints stem from three separate women and, according to the Sunday Times, these include two former aides. The fact that Warburton employed his wife in Parliament in a ‘human resources’ role didn’t exactly fill the complainants with confidence that their allegations would be investigated or taken seriously; Mrs Warburton is still able to work as her husband’s Communications Officer and Parliamentary Assistant, despite the change in the rules forbidding MPs elected from 2017 onwards to employ family members, because he himself was elected in 2015. As some of Mr Warburton’s colleagues blame his behaviour on a ‘mid-life crisis’, the MP is safely cocooned from the publicity at his mental health retreat and the new Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, the Parliamentary watchdog set up to deal with allegations of harassment, is looking into the story.

We’ve already witnessed how several athletes have recently been showered in nauseating praise for their ‘bravery’ at failing in their chosen field and then invariably playing the mental health card in the knowledge that failure attributed to mental health issues will be celebrated more than sporting success in some quarters. As with the other examples referenced, falling back on mental health as a catch-all term to excuse deficiencies that bear little relation to authentic mental health conditions that millions of people are genuinely afflicted by devalues the term; it also risks provoking scepticism whenever anyone suffers for real rather than cynically playing the card. Celebrities wearing mental health as a fashion accessory doesn’t help much either, but this is the society we find ourselves in, a society in which selective ring-fencing can neutralise a multitude of sins.

© The Editor

Website: https://www.johnnymonroe.co.uk/

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?fan_landing=true&u=56665294

THE GLOOM IN JUNE

BorisRemember the good old days of the Brazilian Variant? Nah, me neither. Sounds good though, doesn’t it – makes me think of Pele, Jairzinho, Astrud Gilberto and the Girl from Ipanema. Apparently, it was a hip variant a couple of months ago; I only know this from re-reading a recent post a day or two back and it was referenced there. Amazing how quickly we got over that one innit. Nobody remembers the poor old Brazilian Variant now we’ve got the Indian Variant – or is that already passé? That’s the trouble with these bloody variants – fashions change so quickly. If the Brazilian Variant is so last season, does that mean the Indian Variant is still ‘in’ – or has it been superseded because the professional doom-mongers with a heavy investment in Project Fear need their constant supply of Covid remixes to keep them in a job? It seems the chic variants change on a weekly basis and everywhere is entitled to one of its own. Expect the Accrington Variant, the Stockport Variant and the Huddersfield Variant any day now.

Guess what – it turns out the backlog of untreated, non-coronavirus ailments that came about with everything being sidelined for the Covid avalanche that surprisingly didn’t leave the NHS an apocalyptic wasteland means any significant upsurge in fresh Covid-related cases will push our national religion ‘to the brink’ once again. A pity we had to close those empty Nightingale hospitals, really; but I suppose that’s what happens when you rely on Neil Ferguson to provide you with projections. I’ve a feeling had he been around to hear Orson Welles’ ‘War of the Worlds’ broadcast in 1938 he’d have been reeling off stats about how many millions the Martians were poised to wipe out. Anyway, another of those pseudo-scientific bodies with abbreviated names that sound like parodies of international espionage organisations from Bond movies has beaten the most infamous lockdown-breaker outside of Dominic Cummings to it this time round. The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group is otherwise known as ‘Nervtag’, and one of its members has issued what Fleet Street and the BBC tend to describe as ‘a stark warning’ as we count down the days to the official lifting of remaining Covid measures.

Yes, for all the ‘almost normal’ behaviour of some and the waiting-with-baited-breath caution of others, only an idiot will have imagined we would approach the D-Day of 21 June free from one more scientific soothsayer prophesising Armageddon, and the Man from Nervtag – who goes by the name of Professor Ravi Gupta – is first out of the blocks as we head towards the final stage of restriction relaxation by declaring the country is in the early stages of a ‘third wave’. For God’s sake, can’t someone just provide them all with sandwich boards and let them loose on Oxford Street to proclaim the end of the world is nigh to their hearts’ content? But we all know that ain’t gonna happen to the academics and scientists whose message is conducive to the narrative favoured by the MSM. Prof. Gupta is based at the University of Cambridge and has been sufficiently impressed by the Indian variant to urge the Government to postpone the ending of Covid measures, possibly by a ‘few weeks’. If a week is a long time in politics, Lord knows how long a few of them are in coronavirus measurements.

According to Prof. Gupta, one of the reasons why a third wave is creeping up on us is due to the vaccine engendering ‘a false sense of security’ – though, to be fair, I think he has a point there; never before has something so new and so untested been thrust upon such a vast mass of people at such short notice and sold as the ultimate pandemic panacea when there’s no way anyone can truly know it will do what it says on the tin. The very authorities that had forecast death and destruction on a scale unseen since the Black Death were evidently exaggerating just a bit, yet we’re expected to take their word at face value when it comes to the vaccine – and people have taken that word in good faith because they’re desperate to return to a semblance of normality. No wonder it risks fabricating a false sense of security. If one were to accept Prof. Gupta’s argument, then it could well be a dangerous state of affairs if people think they can simply pick-up where they left off with their lives 14 months ago in the belief the jab will serve as an anti-Covid suit of armour – though they can’t really be blamed when the scale of the vaccination programme, stretching way beyond all the groups actually vulnerable to Covid, certainly gives the impression to the layman that the Government finally appears to know what it’s doing.

Mind you, its salesmen have mastered the art of scaring the populace into doing as they’re told, generating the uncomfortable feeling of living in a never-ending Public Information Film whereby every step we take brings us into contact with yet another terrifying, life-threatening danger we need to safeguard against. But at least most of those not terrified into a permanent state of cowering submission by more than a year of relentless propaganda are acting as if the lingering Covid restrictions have been lifted as it is. The mental ramifications of lockdown may take a little longer to recover from – and require keeping an eye on; but for many the 21 June deadline is merely a formality that has its greatest relevance for the business world, especially the hospitality industry. As soon as pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants can dispense with some of the more impractical safety measures, ones that are probably preventing punters from returning to their premises in greater numbers, the better for their industry and the economy in general.

There were numerous occasions over the past year when so much of the advice of the Government on combating the coronavirus would have been impossible to follow if one wished to remain sane. At times, the silliness of some reminded me of the ‘Young Ones’ episode where Neil the hippie sits under the kitchen table, having designated the tiny space as his fallout shelter because he’s convinced the bomb is about to drop; when he reads aloud (in all seriousness) from ‘Protect and Survive’, the actual early 80s official Government manual on how to cope following a nuclear holocaust, the futility of the advice is writ large, and the studio audience laughs accordingly. If today’s TV had the balls to produce an equivalent comedy show, perhaps an equivalent character to Neil could read aloud some of the suggestions for keeping Covid at bay and their similarly silly nature would elicit a similar response. Ah, but don’t hold your breath. Switch off your television set and go and do something less boring instead.

The idea that nobody would engage in an embrace until Michael Gove gave them the green light was patently ludicrous, though it does make the ambitious assumption that everyone has someone to hug, which is sadly not the case. Social alienation for many will not be so easy to shake off, whether restrictions end on 21 June or a few weeks later; it won’t be easy for those to whom it was a debilitating new shadow falling upon their lives and it won’t be easy for those to whom it was an extended reunion with a dreaded houseguest they’d been plagued by before. Any of the mental health ailments associated with lengthy detachment from one’s fellow man and the world he inhabits – agoraphobia, depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts et al – don’t disappear overnight just because a career bridegroom announces society will reopen on a specific date any more than an alcoholic can completely conquer his addiction in 24 hours. The long-term psychological damage of what we’ve been through probably won’t be accurately quantified for years, though this to me is the real ‘third wave’ we will have to deal with.

© The Editor

SHADOWLANDS

It’s not unprecedented for a new post to act as a virtual ‘sequel’ to an old post; indeed, there are some stories that are ongoing sagas in which multiple posts on the same subject are inevitable as the plotlines twist and turn over weeks, months or years. However, this post is (I hope) the concluding instalment of a two-parter in that it directly relates to an extremely sad story covered last August. This week, Olga Freeman was handed an indefinite hospital order after being found guilty of manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility. In case you’ve forgotten, Olga Freeman was the 40-year-old mother of a disabled 10-year-old called Dylan, whose body was found at his Acton home after Ms Freeman handed herself in to police and confessed to killing him.

The nature of the boy’s condition was specified as a strain of autism called Cohen Syndrome, rendering him bereft of ordinary speech and communication skills; in other words, he was severely mentally disabled – that is, his mental development froze in infancy and remained that way as he physically grew. Children afflicted by this condition place parents and carers under unimaginable strain of a kind that only intensifies the older they become; add a lockdown to the mix and the results can be tragic.

Last summer several stories emerged that, to anyone who knows or has known a parent with a child facing such difficulties, came as no surprise; a care system for such children that was already underfunded and overlooked was evidently not prioritised when the decision was taken to close down society. Whilst the classroom of able-bodied and minded children was suddenly transferred to the home environment with varying degrees of success – often dependent upon the social demographic mummy and daddy belonged to – the children whose needs impose draining demands upon parents who struggle to cope alone were either locked-up with those parents or locked-away from them. Children in ‘respite care’, i.e. living away from home in special units that are a kind of cross between school, children’s home and (to put it bluntly) prison were abruptly separated from visiting parents, denied regular contact in an act of emotional cruelty that naturally couldn’t be explained to the confused child anymore than an ageing adult with Alzheimer’s could be made to understand why contact with their own loved ones had halted.

Anyone suffering from an affliction, condition or illness in which an intense focus on routine and repetition is a vital element of the sufferer’s mental wellbeing will naturally find it devastating if that routine and repetition is disrupted overnight. When it comes to a mentally disabled child with the temper tantrums of a toddler housed in a physical frame much older, the dangers to both themselves and to those around them when the daily pattern is dramatically altered are manifold. I read of the anguish inflicted upon such children and their parents during the initial lockdown last year, but these were all stories of separation; the alternative was just as awful.

As soon as lockdown was instigated, Olga Freeman was just one of many faced with little option but to care for her son at home, robbed of the usual welcome break school offered on weekdays, sacrificing any semblance of a life outside of her child’s demands and placing herself in his complete control, at his every exhausting beck and call. She wouldn’t have been able to sleep, eat, bathe, read, listen to music, watch television, spend extended time online, conduct a telephone conversation, forge friendships or relationships or attend to any chore the rest of us take for granted without him intervening and screaming for her attention.

Single parents of children like Dylan Freeman find that looking after them round-the-clock is hard enough at weekends or during school holidays, but when suddenly deprived of the light at the end of the tunnel that is the resumption of school, the patience of any saint would be tested to the absolute limit. If one is faced with the prospect of caring for a child with Dylan’s difficulties, every other aspect of life that even the most put-upon (or so they imagine) parents of ‘normal’ children manage to incorporate into their so-called stressful days has to be put on ice for a decade or more. They live an utterly isolated, parallel universe existence, completely out of every loop, marooned on the fringes of a society that only notices them when the child embarks upon a screaming fit at the local supermarket; to say being cut adrift from the rest of the world and entombed with an eternal infant for sole company has a deep, psychological impact on the individuals concerned would be a supreme understatement.

I suspect perhaps the only comparable trial would be a lengthy sentence detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, yet even that is comparable merely in terms of time out from the human race – and the sentence usually has a limit on it. Yes, if parents in this situation connect with each other, a community of sorts can develop, it is true; but this still means the only people they are in contact with are in the same boat as them and this is often the sole thing they have in common, forever reflecting their desperate predicament back at each other in an infinite hall of cracked mirrors.

Olga Freeman was divorced from Dylan’s father and despite the product of their union being in her custody, she had (according to the press reports) a history of depression; the CPS, an organisation which past experience has taught us to approach with caution, claimed in the week leading up to Dylan’s death his mother had ‘spoken about being a Messiah’. Whether there is any truth to that claim doesn’t detract from the fact that the boy’s mother had reached breaking point after several months of lockdown. At the Old Bailey trial – with Olga Freeman giving evidence via video-link – senior judge Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb concluded, ‘I have no doubt at all that you were a remarkably loving and dedicated mother to a vulnerable child until multiple pressures overwhelmed you and your mind was swamped by a destructive illness with florid psychotic elements’ – adding that Dylan Freeman should be viewed as ‘an indirect victim of interruption to normal life caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.’

Dr Martin Lock, a psychiatrist, told the Court that Olga Freeman had developed ‘psychotic symptoms when under very heavy stress because of the Covid-19 lockdown’, pointing out that the mother’s pre-existing condition was exacerbated by the pressure of looking after Dylan and then increased with the closure of Dylan’s school, placing the burden of Dylan in her hands 24/7. It would seem Olga Freeman had persistently begged Ealing Council for assistance in caring for Dylan, though the response was sadly (and predictably) too slow and too late – perhaps the employees were busily engaged in some Unconscious Bias Training? A review of the lacklustre response is underway, though it will make little difference to either mother or son now. Whilst Prosecutor Gareth Patterson QC observed, ‘The role of the council does seem to have been a further source of stress for the defendant at what was a very difficult time’, Ms Freeman’s ex-husband Dean was critical of ‘inadequate support and funding’ of services that left some parents in his ex-wife’s position ‘without a voice’.

This whole unbearably sad story is a culmination of factors that seem to sum up so much about the shameful place our society finds itself in today. It appears mental health issues and autism in particular are fine if worn as a badge of honour in Twitter bios, feeding into the victim narrative that resurrects the ‘fashionable invalid’ of Victorian literature; but greater public awareness in the hands of celebrities and corporations hitching a ride on the latest cause only stretches so far into the less attractive, real world existence of parents pushed to the brink like Olga Freeman.

© The Editor

LOCKDOWN, DEEPER DOWN

At times like this, stats matter; just ask Neil Ferguson – though he prefers to study Staats, that being the unintentionally comic surname of Antonia, the married woman who paid him an illicit visit during lockdown and cost him his SAGE post. Whilst Prof. Ferguson seems to have a habit of plucking figures out of the air to justify his expert status, the Office for National Statistics yesterday issued some stats that don’t chime well with lockdown cheerleaders. One wonders what the response of Andy Burnham might have been to them – or, more poignantly, the owner of the Liverpool gym whose decision to resist shutting up shop and destroying his livelihood was met with an armed police presence. According to yesterday’s findings, there is precious little evidence of the much-vaunted ‘second wave’ and if the three-tier system as well as the so-called ‘circuit-breaker lockdown’ need stats to support their deployment as weapons of the State, the latest ONS figures make a mockery of everything the MSM and both sides of the House are relentlessly promoting as the only way.

According to the ONS findings, deaths in the UK are merely 1.5% above the five-year average and are following a standard trajectory for the autumn. In the week ending October 9, deaths attributed to the coronavirus rose from 321 to 438 in seven days, though overall deaths were just 143 higher than the five-year average; in fact, there were actually 19 fewer overall deaths than the same week in 2019; these figures imply the expected increase in respiratory fatalities has failed to materialise. Dr Jason Oke of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford University said ‘Covid-19 plus influenza/pneumonia deaths are at 1,621 this week, while five-year average flu and pneumonia for this week is 1,600.’ Yet again, the way in which the stats assembled to validate the Government’s coronavirus measures are compiled is thrown into question – there have been 59,000 registered UK deaths ‘involving’ Covid-19, though there’s a difference between deaths ‘involving’ the virus and deaths ‘due’ to it.

These findings will probably not be broadcast loud and proud as the lead story on mainstream news bulletins; they do somewhat defuse the drama that the BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 get off on when discussing a subject that has dominated the news virtually all year. And as the ONS releases these stats, Wales and Northern Ireland are sealed-off from the rest of the UK again, whilst over in the Irish Republic – which has averaged a Covid death rate of one a day for the last three months – a six-week lockdown begins today, with all non-essential shops closing their doors, pubs and restaurants reduced to takeaways, and nobody allowed to venture more than three miles from their homes. It would seem an Irish friend of mine who has this week returned to Blighty from the Emerald Isle got out just in time. Of course, none of this is exclusive to the British Isles; similar scenes are being enacted in various countries on the European mainland, including Belgium and the Netherlands; meanwhile, honorary Eurovision contestant Israel is going through the same.

If only we’d all followed the example of New Zealand and its saintly PM Jacinda Ardern; an isolated country with a population smaller than that of Yorkshire closed its borders at the beginning of the pandemic and they remain closed, even if life within the walls of the nation has emerged from lockdown with a comparatively clean bill of health. Well, it’s no great surprise this extreme exercise has left New Zealand with a clean bill of health – even if the country’s economy is already following a more familiar pattern to the rest of the world. It goes without saying that New Zealand, which depends heavily on tourism, will have to let visitors back in at some point soon – and we all know what will happen then. Other nations – ours included – may be accused of kicking the Covid can into the far distance with every lockdown, but New Zealand’s approach has to be the most foolhardy attempt so far at sacrificing future problems for short-term political gain. Ms Ardern best bask in the glow of her recent electoral triumph while she can; it ain’t destined to last.

Back home, veteran Labour MP and former underpants-clad Gaydar member Chris Bryant has referred to any scientists disputing the wisdom of lockdowns as ‘crackpots’; at the same time, the economic legacy of Lockdown Mk. I has even caused the Bank of England to realise bears shit in the woods and the Pope is Catholic. UK unemployment could rise above the Bank’s predicted 7.5% peak, according to a member of its Monetary Policy Committee. He made this shock-horror prediction as redundancies stand at their highest for eight years – with the rate of unemployment hitting 4.5 % in the three months leading to August. During the economic crash of 2008-9, 3.3 % of the workforce lost their jobs; back in the 90s recession, the figure stood at 3.8 %. However, the Great British unemployment yardstick remains the 1980s, when the collapse of traditional heavy industry pushed jobless levels to 6.6 %.

In fact, I recently heard a fascinating documentary on Radio 4 which was a rare beast indeed by having nothing to do with Identity Politics; instead, it compared the stories of an unemployed adolescent of 2020 and a middle-aged man who was a teenager in the 80s. The latter’s experience when recalled sounded like an episode of ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’, but would have rung true for anyone who was released from the classroom into the dole office during that dismal period. It served as a much-needed reminder that things – economically – have actually been worse than they are now within living memory (as long as one happened to have been born before 1980). I guess the real worry at the moment is that we may not be there yet, but the derelict industrial wasteland Yosser Hughes nutted his way through 40 years ago could well be our ultimate destination again before all this is over.

I know it’s something of a stuck record and I really do try my best to write about other stuff between each Winegum Covid summary – basically, anything that has bugger-all to do with the coronavirus and can hopefully take your minds off it when reading as much as it does me when writing. As long as I’m taken away from this depressing narrative for the duration, it’s a minor achievement. But if it was just me holed-up in my den having to wrestle with the usual demons, I’d at least be equipped with the standard tools that I always call upon to provide a temporary fix. Where this differs is the impact it has had on respite from that tussle. My 14-year-old niece is marooned in Bolton and her Greater Manchester postcode means she can’t visit during the impending half-term; and one of my oldest and most rewarding friendships that was previously a weekly meet has now lapsed to one encounter in the last six months. Those are just my own little things – little when it comes to the bigger picture, but the abrupt loss of which has been pretty devastating to me personally.

Yet, we all have these little things; join them together and we can see one hell of a patchwork quilt of social bereavement spreading across the country like a…well…a virus. When the dust has eventually settled and some semblance of normality has asserted itself, one cannot help but wonder which will be responsible for the greater long-term damage to the delicate fabric of this country – Covid-19 or Lockdown ’20.

© The Editor

EXTRA-SPECIAL NEEDS

I suppose it’s inevitable that a medium in such a state of perilous uncertainty over its future as television will go out of its way to promote and overhype some programmes; these tend to be those it hopes will grab the headlines and fuel 24-hour social media discourse, thus providing another stay of execution. In the meantime, the few remaining gems that sparkle under the clickbait radar are usually the ones worth investing in. A wonderful example of this is ‘There She Goes’, which recently completed a second series on BBC2. The central premise of the programme is not an easy sell, dealing as it does with the challenges faced by parents with a severely mentally-disabled child. Not, one would imagine, the formula for a classic sitcom; however, ‘There She Goes’ hovering between humour and pathos actually isn’t that far removed from a good example of the classic sitcom such as ‘Steptoe and Son’, which often had bleak moments worthy of the finest drama – perhaps reflecting the fact it was the first comedy series to employ actors as leads rather than comedians.

Written by Shaun Pye and largely drawn from his own personal experience as the father of a learning disabled child, ‘There She Goes’ demonstrates how humour can even be derived from what on paper appear to be the least humorous circumstances imaginable. Miley Locke, the little girl who plays Rosie in the series, is not learning disabled but gives an astonishingly convincing performance in a part that no child with such a condition could possibly have reproduced on cue. At times, Rosie is akin to a Tasmanian Devil let loose in suburbia, with no comprehension of social mores or awareness of how to behave in public; she takes the obsession with random objects and the endless repetition of routine that are hallmarks of autism to extreme limits. Whilst all parents are familiar with the way in which babies are no observers of adult sleeping patterns, most understand this will pass; ditto the anarchic hyperactivity embodied in toddlers who have just mastered the art of putting one foot in front of the other – not to mention the difficulties of non-verbal communication that are overcome when speech develops. However, in the case of a child like Rosie, those early-years characteristics remain intact and permanent while she physically grows.

The two parents in ‘There She Goes’ are played by David Tenant and Jessica Hynes. Hynes in particular is outstanding as the mother worn down by the pressures of raising a little girl whose condition would at one time have been categorised as ‘mentally handicapped’. She manages to convey the stresses of the situation with beautifully understated acting, able to sum up what can feel like the wretched hopelessness of her life with a simple weary facial expression. The strain on Tenant’s character is manifested differently; at times, he can come across as selfish and indifferent to his wife’s sufferings, yet the honesty in both the writing and acting accurately portrays the reality of how even the most trying of situations bringing out the best in people can also provoke nihilistic despair. These parents are not saints selflessly dedicating themselves to a noble cause; they have no choice. They’re human beings who sometimes just want to enjoy life like everybody else, yet can’t.

‘There She Goes’ can be both comic and tragic, at times heartbreakingly sad yet simultaneously warm and witty; there’s no way that living with a child like Rosie can be dramatised unless it encompasses the exhaustingly wide range of emotions such unique circumstances can inspire. Perhaps the fact the family in it happen to be living in a leafy middle-class London neighbourhood could suggest to viewers with no personal experience of Rosie’s condition that it never happens to those residing in less salubrious surroundings. Rosie’s parents inhabit a nice big house with a nice big garden and are able to get her into a nice special school environment that is designed to deal with her needs. No, they’re not exactly struggling ala ‘Cathy Come Home’, yet they still have to encounter the constant interference of ill-equipped social workers and the condescending approach of teachers and medical professionals whose understanding of living with Rosie 24/7 is minimal; it’s something that can’t be learnt by acquiring a degree.

If one were to take Jessica Hynes’ character and make her a single mother, placing her and Rosie in a council flat, it’s possible the series would adopt a much darker tone; then add the lockdown scenario, whereby even the paltry few hours’ break Rosie’s mother has from her child when she’s at school is removed and she’s entombed with her all day long. Social media and the MSM have been inundated with the whinges of parents locked-in with mentally sound and able-bodied kids ever since schools closed their doors, yet how much worse it could be. There are endless untold stories of the damage being done by what feel like unnecessary measures imposed upon people who will never overwhelm the NHS or die of Covid-19 even if they catch it. And I couldn’t help but think of both this fact and ‘There She Goes’ when the saddest story of the week was reported.

Olga Freeman, the 40-year-old ex-wife of a ‘celebrity photographer’ (the angle seized upon by the MSM) was this week in the dock at the Old Bailey, charged with the murder of her 10-year-old son Dylan. According to reports, Dylan was disabled and required 24-hour care; his specific disability was not mentioned, though the court was told his mother had been ‘struggling to meet Dylan’s care needs for the last year, as he became older and bigger’; the boy’s behaviour was described as having become ‘especially challenging’; it was said that ‘during lockdown, he was not able to attend school and the burden of care had fallen more heavily on the defendant, together with assistance from her friend.’

Within those two statements are two poignant observations – firstly that a child, possibly similar to the one portrayed on ‘There She Goes’, may be just about controllable when small; however, the fact they will physically mature as normal whilst remaining mentally frozen places even greater demands on the parent. Secondly, the inhumane imposition of the lockdown has increased the burden of living with such a child to the point whereby some might understandably crack, especially if deprived of a wide support network of family and friends. Of course, the lockdown cannot be held wholly responsible. Virginia Woolf’s wartime suicide is often attributed to her inability to cope with air-raids, yet not everybody disturbed by German bombing took their own life just as not every parent locked-down with a disabled child will take its life; but what the Luftwaffe did to Woolf was what the lockdown may well have done to Olga Freeman: it exacerbated something that was already present.

Extreme special needs children are poorly prioritised by both private and public sector at the best of times; in the worst of times, their care should not be regarded as something to be shifted solely onto parents for the duration as though the children can be simply lumped-in with ‘ordinary’ kids. It’s hard enough for such parents during actual school holidays, but at least they have an end in sight then; the decision to shut down society doesn’t seem to have taken them into consideration at all. The sad death of Dylan Freeman will be an extremely difficult case to judge fairly by those with no first-hand experience of the challenges faced by these parents; a mother murdering her own child goes against every instinct we hold dear, yet I sincerely hope reporting can avoid any ‘Myra Hindley’ portrayals of this particular mother, even if the revelation of the full details paint a less than flattering picture of the accused. A series such as ‘There She Goes’ feels fresh because it’s unearthing a side of life TV viewers have previously been denied; but it shines a small light on a truth for many families that can have unbearably tragic consequences for all concerned if they’re effectively abandoned.

© The Editor

A NUMBER ON A LIST

There’s always something ominous about the brown envelope. For many, it is the least appetising item to pop through the letterbox that isn’t a flyer for inedible pizzas; let’s just say it’s not exactly a colour-coded prelude to tidings of joy. Traditionally, the brown envelope prepared the recipient for a reminder that the payment of a utility bill was overdue, though deregulation has seen that tradition dwindle somewhat as each energy provider competes to establish its own distinctive identity; dropping the grim beige of the packaging is a deceptive trick of the trade, fooling the customer into believing the news won’t be so bad after all.

For those in receipt of benefits, however, the brown envelope retains its role as a harbinger of doom – a paper soothsayer whose imagined contents radiate fear to the point where opening said correspondence can be prolonged so the suspense becomes a sickening inversion of the excitement surrounding the announcement of an Oscar winner. Anyone who has had extended dealings with the DWP (or, for that matter, its predecessor, the DHSS) will be all-too aware that missives from the organisation are not necessarily in competition with a Valentine’s card from a loved one. More often than not, the letters dispatched from the DWP are dispatched to inform the recipient that the fragile safety net they’d relied upon to prevent them falling into a bottomless pit has been removed.

I recently explained to a friend in Canada how the responsibility of British society’s most vulnerable individuals is in the hands of a private company. She had naturally assumed such a delicate and important function of the state would not have been outsourced; and so she should. Take a step back for a moment and contemplate the madness of giving the power to decide the future of the sick, the poor and the desperate to a corporate entity whose duty is to its shareholders – a corporate entity that can guarantee the renewal of its profitable contract if it assesses claimants are faking it, thus bringing down the numbers for the triumphant government statisticians come election time. We should be ashamed that we’ve let this happen.

The body of 57 year-old Errol Graham was discovered in June 2018 by bailiffs; they broke down the door of his Nottingham council flat to evict him and found the emaciated mortal remains of a man weighing four and-a-half stone. He died of starvation in the world’s fifth richest nation. Maybe we’d have expected this kind of outcome for a man with a history of mental troubles and living on the breadline in Victorian Britain; but 21st century Britain? The inquest into his death found Errol Graham had been a long-term sufferer of chronic depression and had been briefly sectioned in 2015. Upon returning to his home, he apparently ignored approaches from mental health teams and his GP; his ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) and Housing Benefit were eventually stopped within a couple of months of each other in 2017, after which lived for more than six months without any financial support.

One could surmise Errol Graham spurned help when he should have actively accepted it; but putting yourself in his shoes can require a considerable leap of the imagination if his world is a world utterly alien to you. The competent, resourceful and practical person you may well be is not the person Errol Graham was, so don’t expect him to react to situations in the same way. According to information released following the inquest into his death, he was last seen in an official capacity by a visitor from Nottingham’s City Homes housing association four months before the discovery of his body. A policewoman who attended the scene reported the only food at the property were two tins of fish that were five years out of a date; the flat was without gas and electricity. Errol Graham simply withered away.

But see him not as just another unfortunate casualty of the system; that’s how the likes of the DWP will see him; instead, see him as a person. Errol Graham was 57 when he died, placing his year of birth as 1961. Picture him as a little boy, perhaps one of the children who set aside pocket-money so that the first seven-inch single they splashed out on could be ‘Israelites’ by Desmond Dekker; picture him as a teenager, inspired to kick a ball about by the first generation of British-born black footballers; picture him as a young man, invigorated by the 2-Tone movement offering hope as the economic prospects of his part of the country entered the irreversible industrial meltdown of the Thatcher era.

Then picture him plunged into confusion by the first signs of depression, reluctantly seeking medical assistance from a GP who may or may not have been sympathetic and might possibly have idly placed him on a course of medication – pills he’d have to squirrel away from his nearest and dearest for fear his condition could be revealed; picture him being referred to a psychoanalyst and undergoing clandestine therapy sessions he is too embarrassed to share with anyone; picture his shame at finding himself in such a position at a time long before mental health became a virtue-signalling T-shirt designed to fit every celebrity, a time when the sinister spectre of the old asylums continued to cast a lingering shadow over plans for ‘care in the community’, a time when male failure to cope equated with weakness.

And Errol Graham’s journey through the minefield of the benefits system will have lifted him out of the straightforward signing-on ritual that would have been familiar to those he had been at school with to the more uncertain and unpredictable end of the maze – the place where doctors and medical personnel become involved and the need to openly demonstrate one’s mental difficulties rather than hide them is a factor in whether or not one is eligible to receive assistance from the state. Errol Graham will have spent the majority of his days attempting to come across as ‘normal’, to obscure the least acceptable side of his nature from everyone comprising his daily social discourse; and then he will have been confronted by a suspicious stranger demanding he whip away the facade of normality that required an immense amount of effort to construct in public and suddenly expose his demons as though to do so was simple. It is like enduring a mental strip search. It is a horribly dehumanising and draining exercise.

This requirement to abruptly drop the persona society demands of its citizens, only to then resume it the moment one leaves ‘the assessment centre’, is no easy ask for anyone in the position Errol Graham found himself in. It is like Mike Yarwood spending his entire life in public impersonating Harold Wilson and then being forced to do a ‘and this is me’ routine before someone he has never met before, someone who is under tremendous pressure to find the ‘me’ impersonation less convincing than his Harold Wilson. But there are no instant thumbs-up or thumbs-down; there is week after excruciating week awaiting the decision of Pontius Pilate, expecting the worst to come through the post every morning. These people have the kind of life-or-death power that those who have never been at the receiving end have no real comprehension of; and if the news is bad, it can feel like the whole world is falling in on you. And if you already feel there is no hope, such news confirms it.

As Sophie Corlett from Mind commented in relation to the sad case of Errol Graham, ‘This gentleman and many people have lifelong conditions that are unlikely to change and yet they are recalled again and again for face-to-face assessments which people find very challenging.’ If the death of Errol Graham had been an isolated incident, it would still be bad; but we all know it wasn’t. Britain, this just isn’t good enough.

© The Editor

PETUNIA PITSTOP

Overwhelmed by both a sudden injection of big-budget big bucks and the exotic distraction of tax-saving excursions to tax-haven locations, John Lennon famously reflected on the change in cinematic circumstances during the filming of ‘Help!’, the second Beatles movie. Strumming away in the Technicolor upgrade of the Bahamas, Lennon wryly remarked, ‘I’m an extra in me own film.’ Well, I’m making my second cameo appearance on my own blog since December, and I’m afraid I’m only passing through again. The kind words and encouraging response to the last post may have failed to elicit a written reply on my part, but all comments were much appreciated, as were the numerous re-tweets by long-term supporters. It’s nice to feel loved, virtually or not.

Before I go any further, I apologise. This was never intended to be – and indeed, never has been – one of those blogs that exist solely as a narcissistic outlet for an author assuming his or her life is as fascinating to the readership as it is to him or herself. I’d hate for this instalment to be regarded as the point at which a blog with an unlimited remit shrank into a narrow sequence of hastily scrawled postcards from the edge. I’m trying my best not to make this a regular habit, honest.

Of course, just as a novelist’s autobiographical journey tends to infiltrate the back story of their lead character (however hard they fight against it), identification with the subject matter under discussion on here has regularly led to vague asides – or more explicit references – to my own back story. Even a piece I wrote about the Israel/Palestine thing a year or two ago (I forget when) was given a little more emotional substance with the tale of my Uncle Joe and this long-gone figure’s membership of the Palestine Police in the years leading up to 1948; ditto the revelation of the family lineage linking me to the Enola Gay’s flight over Hiroshima in 1945. I suppose it’s only natural that many of the news stories to have caught my eye and provoked a post are stories I’ve made some connection with, thus (hopefully) elevating them above simple journalistic reportage, of which there is already more than enough out there.

I know this hasn’t always happened; plenty posts have simply been vociferous responses to events that have angered or infuriated me, fuelled by nothing more than anger or fury. And, it goes without saying, there’s always the mischievous spirit of satire on stand-by to intervene when the ludicrousness of politics – identity or otherwise – has risen its daft head yet again. Having said that, whenever my own life experience or that of friends and lovers has bled into a post with a wider surface context, I personally feel I’ve usually managed to get the balance right (as Depeche Mode once observed) and have successfully steered clear of self-indulgence.

To return to the second paragraph, I don’t believe my life is especially fascinating – though I will concede, however, that being able to view it with a degree of out-of-body detachment helps me ‘manage’ it. Watching a decline and fall through the mirror is undeniably unhealthy, yet curiously compelling in the same way one’s gaze can never be entirely averted from the bouncy genitals of a streaker. You can’t help but look, despite yourself. The fact is I tend to interpret life experience as material for ‘Art’ (no less pretentious word was available, alas), and I’m talking both good and bad life experience. In the case of the latter, it’s the kind of thing that makes uncomfortable reading for those who know me; but as I only appear capable of coping with crises if I respond to them with pen, paper or keyboard, there’s no alternative in the great battle for survival. I’m certainly not enjoying scrabbling around for tiny fragments of hope down here at Rock Bottom Central, but I do feel as though my life is out of my hands right now and I just have to deal with it in the only way I can – until the day comes when I’m in control again.

If it is true that dwellers of an urban environment are never more than six feet away from a rat, it feels right now as though I’m never more than six minutes away from remembering recent events that led me to where I currently reside – no book, music, movie or TV show can remove that from the room. Therefore, reading, listening and viewing habits work in empathetic conjunction with the mood of the moment.  It’s no contradiction that sad songs speak loudest to us when we’re sad; the last thing we need when feeling like shit is being ordered to get up and boogie. Moreover, it’s both amazing and comforting that the most trusted voices to have serenaded the listener throughout adult life have something to say for every occasion. Indeed, we are reassured when the voices that have been there for us when times are good are also there for us when times aren’t; and we know we’re not alone when our friends sing of suffering. Just listen to Marvin Gaye’s contribution to 1974’s ‘You Are Everything’, an otherwise gooey duet with Diana Ross; when he sings ‘Oh-whoa, darling/I just can’t go on, living life as I do/comparing each girl with you/knowing they just won’t do/they’re not you’, you know he’s not only been there, but he’s bought the company that made the T-shirt in true Victor Kiam fashion.

Silly YouTube videos may well be the babies I nonchalantly dump in children’s homes once I’ve popped them out, but they make some people happy and – for the moment – they are serving a useful purpose that other outlets currently aren’t. They are in no way a pointer to revived spirits, merely a means of keeping idle hands away from the Devil’s gaze. Nevertheless, they have survived unscathed and perhaps act as an unexpected manifestation of the obstinate resilience we all seem able to produce when confronted by our deepest fears. Hell, I’ll take whatever I can get.

Sometimes, however, the smallest, most innocuous interventions make a difference. Old Mother Cable may conveniently sidestep his shameful role in the scandalous selling-off of the Royal Mail as he attempts to big-up the latest Lib Dem ‘revival’ by posing as a political moral barometer; but the postman (or woman, in my case) can still deliver the goods in the face of privatised indifference to the customer. Anonymous surprises through the letter-box can momentarily put the brakes on any recourse to Alanis Morrissette when the helplessness of the dispossessed is desperately seeking a soundtrack; and the anonymous have nothing to fear. I may be a wounded animal, but that animal isn’t a dragon. All this proves is that, whilst the systems with which we make contact may be myriad in this century, the oldest (well, after smoke signals and carrier pigeons) hits the mark even now, despite Vince’s best bloody efforts.

I shan’t bore you with further details, though – oblique or otherwise. Yes, I’d like to get back to the wider world and escape the confines of the internal compound (trust me, it’s crap in here); but it ain’t easy, however many open goals the media leaves on my doorstep. Bear with me if you can and I’ll try to phone home again next time I’ve got some spare change.

© The Editor

IT’S BEEN A LONG COLD LONELY WINTER

How fatal taking for granted the loyalty and devotion of one’s audience can be was never better illustrated than in the swift falling from favour of the poor old Bay City Rollers. Almost omnipotent in 1975, the nice-but-dim young Scotsmen were the UK’s belated home-grown answer to The Osmonds. Possessing the clean-cut boy-next-door appeal guaranteed to send nascent female hormones into the same overdrive as Utah’s most famous family firm had done, the rise of the Rollers dramatically served to usurp the Mormon musical missionaries. Prompted by their astronomical British success, the Rollers then looked to replicate it on the other side of the Atlantic – despite the fact this had already proven to be a futile exercise for immediate pop predecessors like Marc Bolan and Slade. Yet the Rollers got off to the best possible start when ‘Saturday Night’ shot to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 at the beginning of 1976, an achievement that naturally booked them on the next flight to America.

But the timing of the Rollers’ Stateside expedition was especially unfortunate. In 1976, two emerging musical genres that would go on to dominate what remained of the 70s – Punk and Disco – were luring away sizeable chunks of the pop audience from the hormonal cauldron of the teenybop arena; at the same time, those unmoved by Donna Summer or The Sex Pistols were mesmerised by a certain self-contained Swedish hit-machine. Rollermania was also destined to be a temporary phenomenon – a necessary rites-of-passage ritual for teenage girls before boyfriends and babies, as well as being the last hysterical hurrah of a frenzied trend that defined the decade until it grew up and moved on. The band returned home from what turned out to be a short-lived stint in the American spotlight to find their audience diminished and the zeitgeist having relocated; they never scored another No.1.

However random or irrelevant this brief detour into the reassuringly safe refuge of pop culture history might appear to be, it is my roundabout way of making a point. Deciding to tentatively return to a medium I had no choice but to plunge into suspended animation five months ago might make it appear as though I reckon it’s ‘business-as-usual’ and we pick up where we left off in December. As much as it flatters my ego to imagine it, I’m aware that assuming all regular commentators and readers have spent every day of 2018 so far scanning their inbox first thing on a morning in the hope of seeing a notification informing them a new ‘Winegum Telegram’ post has appeared – and their days therefore being ruined as a consequence of this not coming to pass – is utterly absurd. Yes, I’m conscious kind comments have continued to periodically pepper the blog during the hiatus; but to envisage lives revolving around the proclamations of Chairman Petunia, and collapsing into complementary stasis in the absence of them, is a conceit even I would never countenance.

How do I explain why coming back to this has been so difficult? Oh, well – think of string and the length of it. Perhaps it’s been so difficult because ‘gifts’ that previously provided satisfaction and a sense of purpose (if an absence of income) lost their collective value for me. Experiencing a severe dent to self-confidence re my ‘creative capabilities’ was one reason for ruling out a return; recent reunions with old posts on here – read for the first time with real detachment – left me impressed albeit simultaneously disbelieving I’d written them. Yes, each element is connected and affected. One particularly devastating bombshell can have a big enough impact to bleed into every facet of one’s life, even areas that have no direct relation to it, triggering a chain reaction that can leave one pretty bloody winded. Until the event that knocked me for six, I could write a post for this, put a jolly little satirical video together for YouTube, and maybe even work on a novel – all in a day’s work. And now, everything has either slowed to a snail’s pace or ground to a complete halt, which is a crippling state of affairs for someone whose identity is defined by his creativity; this is actually the first prose I’ve written since December. Noting regular references to depressive bouts in past posts, I feel almost envious of the author’s naivety, realising I had no real idea how low I could go; but even someone with ‘previous’ isn’t prepared for the kind of emotional meltdown I’ve undergone, and Nietzsche’s assertion that ‘if you stare long enough into the abyss, the abyss will stare back at you’ has been an unwelcome guest at my dinner table of late.

Don’t think I haven’t noticed news stories that I would no doubt have penned plenty posts about had I still been active; but being relieved of my duties has spared me extended exposure to items that would only have added to my unhealthy state of mind had I had to immerse myself in them via the compositional process. The necessity of such survival tactics means I’ve allowed the opening months of 2018 to pass me by in a way I never have with a year before; but I’ve been powerless to prevent my paralysing inertia. Having said that, I did manage to condense many of these headlines into one video a month or so ago, which felt like a small step in the right direction; it says what I felt needed to be said without having to devote a dozen posts to the subjects featured, so it was a tiny triumph of sorts.

Even with the invaluable support of close friends, however (many of whom have revealed touching depths of understanding and empathy), I remain frustratingly entrenched in a Groundhog Day distinctly lacking colour or joy and where the only thing I’ve been able to detect around the corner is a bloody great brick wall, forcing me to adopt the ‘one day at a time’ approach to life – one bereft of forward planning and predictions, though also, mercifully, devoid of Lena Martell’s greatest hit (Sweet Jesus).

During the darkest sections of this extremely dark tunnel, the only contemporary cultural artefact that seemed capable of holding my attention was BBC4’s French police series, ‘Spiral’ – and that was mainly because any wavering from the subtitles would bugger-up the plot, so I had no alternative but to concentrate. Otherwise, unable to focus for long on a book, I lost myself in a steady diet of DVDs that provided nostalgic comfort food for the head as well as solid no-nonsense drama that has stood up remarkably well 40 years on. Give ‘The Sandbaggers’ a try if you enjoy old-school Cold War espionage in the le Carré mode; one of you out there already has – that much I do know (according to the latest memo from C, anyway). Similarly, a superb album of eccentric curios and buried treasure unearthed by St Etienne’s Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs titled ‘English Weather’ got me through the winter on a loop, whereas Joni Mitchell at her mid-70s peak is easing me through the spring. Only wish these healing hands could carry me back to where I was before I needed them; but they can’t.

Knowing not if this post is one-night stand or series reboot, I can’t guarantee when the next one will be; but architectural historian Jonathan Glancey’s reflection on the sad descent of architectural critic Ian Nairn into drunken disillusionment and an all-too premature end feels relevant. ‘If you do fight continually against the things that make you angry,’ he said, ‘you get exhausted…exhausted in your mind, exhausted in your heart, and exhausted in your soul.’ Modesty prevents me from placing my own humble kicks against the pricks in the same league as Nairn’s poetic tirades aimed at architects and town-planners from the 50s to the 70s – tirades that graced the pages of national newspapers and networked TV screens. I do recognise a kindred spirit when I see one, however. Symptoms of Nairn’s downfall seem uncomfortably familiar as well, which is why any return to regular writing on here has to be motivated by a genuine compulsion to do it (rather than a misguided sense of obligation), believing I can do it, and being convinced people actually want to read it.

So, that’s the best I can do right now. You heard it here first. Okay. Until we meet again…soon, I hope…

© The Editor

SLEEPING UGLY

‘Insomnia’ by Faithless – ‘I can’t get no sleep’ etc. – was a hit emanating from a culture in which insomnia itself was a by-product of ingesting certain substances to excess and therefore spoke volumes to the core audience that lapped it up when staring bleary-eyed at ‘Teletubbies’ on mid-90s Sunday mornings. However, now being over 20 years away from that culture means when insomnia returns to the E-free fibres of one’s being, it can’t be blamed on the drugs. Yes, the condition can blamed on legal highs such as nicotine or caffeine, though not everyone who smokes or drinks coffee struggles to sleep when night falls.

The ceiling may be being stared at, though it looks different at 4.40am to how it looks at 4.40pm; night-light paints the room in such sinister shades that the dream disrupting the twilight slumber that eventually overcomes the insomniac is entirely complementary to the ambience natural darkness sketches with malicious relish. Ever woken-up yourself or a sleeping companion by shouting out loud? I did last night, though the imaginary fat man (like the imaginary wizened old lady in a headscarf) who had invaded my space and provoked an operatic cry wasn’t there when my eyes opened; he lingered, however, as nightmares do in the shadows of the autumnal dawn. Oh, dreams can be horrible sometimes; when you snap out of them, the unfamiliar landscape of surroundings retouched by nocturnal fingertips is a barrier to realising one’s imagination has been having sadistic fun again. You are safe, but this eternal truism isn’t initially obvious. Switch on a bedside lamp and awareness of the divide between imagination and reality gradually – if belatedly – sinks in.

The room always looks different through the eyes of the short-sighted, anyway; once I remove contact lenses or spectacles, my perception of the world alters. I once compared the sensory impact to the stark visual contrast prevalent in 1970s-produced TV drama, whereby interior studio scenes are shot on crystal-clear videotape and outdoor location footage is shot on grainy film. My bedroom transforms from videotape to film the minute my eyes are deprived of artificial stimulants, anyway; but abruptly waking from some unpleasant encounter with a figure conjured up by my sick subconscious renders the room even stranger than it looked when I switched out the light.

It doesn’t help matters when these periodical phases interrupt the necessity of rest and recuperation from the grind of the day by drenching bed-sheets in gallons of sweat. I often awake feeling as though I’ve just been swimming in my clothes and am confronted by the kind of uncomfortable scenario parents of small children who wet the bed have to deal with. But even getting to that stage can be something of a marathon. Clambering under the covers in the wee small hours should really be an end to all problems, though it tends to be the beginning. Regardless of how exhaustion when awake suggests sleep will descend with ease once enveloped in the paraphernalia of bedtime, it’s remarkable how elusive such sweet surrender can be.

Tossing and turning – and the former isn’t a euphemism for masturbation in this case – are par for the course when something that should be a given proves to be a bastard. The sheet covering the mattress feels like it’s covering the uneven surface of a mountain, with petrified ripples and frozen bumps permanent hindrances to comfort for the back; the duvet that should be the ultimate pair of friendly furry arms wrapped around the unloved torso becomes a weighty medieval torture implement designed to crush the life out of the reluctant recanter; the pillow that is intended to give the head a facsimile harbour to dock in overnight is transformed into a sack of rocks retrieved from the wreckage of a recently erupted volcano, cool for a minute and then heating up to insufferable oven temperatures. And then, right at the very point when all these factors are triumphantly overcome, the twat next door opens his audition for the Ministry of Sound. At ten-to-five.

As unwelcome side-effects of life go, insomnia isn’t one that bodes well for its sufferers as far as the stats are concerned. Surveys regularly suggest persistent sleep deprivation not only adversely affects one’s ability to function when awake, but also reduces one’s lifespan. Anomalies such as Al Herpin, the so-called ‘Man who Never Slept’, are not exactly commonplace. The American who died aged 94 in 1947 attracted the interest of the medical profession when he claimed he didn’t sleep; possessing no bed, he apparently rested in a rocking chair through the night and read the paper before resuming his working day without any notable negative effects.

Then there was Paul Kern, a Hungarian solider who never slept again after receiving a shot to the head; and over in Vietnam, 75-year-old Thai Ngoc is still alive despite claiming not to have slept since recovering from a fever in 1973. These are more freaks of medical science rather than customary cases of insomnia, however; for most of us, the inability to either go to sleep or to sustain sleep over a prolonged period of hours can produce a disorientating ‘out-of-body’ sensation when awake that might cause observers to conclude we’re under the influence of alcohol or illicit substances.

Insomnia is something of a vicious circle for its recipient; depression can provoke it, yet depression can be maintained by it. Whether or not vivid nightmares are associated with the condition when sleep actually comes, these are symptoms I can confirm as particularly personal products of insomnia, things that render the prospect of sleep far-from desirable when one knows an unwanted reunion with one’s demons are on the cards. Then again, we don’t all require the same amount of hours per night. Some need the full seven or eight to feel as though their batteries have been comprehensively recharged, yet others can get by on half that. Some succumb to afternoon cat-naps whereas others survive the full waking day without recourse to such luxuries and show no discernible signs of fatigue as a consequence. Maybe I should stop trying and just let my body dictate the pattern as it sees fit – or devour all reports on Prince Harry getting engaged; that should do the trick.

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510941083&sr=1-1

THE STATE BENEFITS

I bumped into a friend in Sainsbury’s this morning who I haven’t seen for a month or two, and he informed me he’d been banned from driving for six months on account of receiving repeated thumbs-downs from those electronic smiley faces monitoring traffic speed; as a roadie-for-hire with his own state-of-the-art wheels, this imposition on his living was something of an inconvenience, to say the least. But, hey, I replied (in an attempt to put a positive slant on the scenario), you’ll miss out on all that crap that constitutes the winter motorist’s lot – struggling to start the engine in sub-zero temperatures and having to scrape frost off your windscreen; then you can return to the road in the spring! I don’t know what prompted me to adopt a positive slant, though perhaps it was just knee-jerk instinctive optimism manifested as lame consolation for a pal confronted by the unlucky loss of his living.

As a largely conscientious driver, in terms of not drinking before sitting behind the wheel or indulging in ‘jazz cigarettes’ whilst ferrying ageing musicians from one gig to another, my friend seemed unfairly targeted by a system seemingly installed to provide local councillors with an additional income for a gravy train that already supports their lifestyle choice in spades. I don’t regard him as a danger to other motorists, let alone pedestrians, but he’s unfortunate to be driving in an era in which the traditional officiousness of the Great British Jobsworth has been given a hi-tech makeover that punishes with punitive pettiness and doesn’t distinguish between the truly terrible driver and the one who occasionally exceeds limits designed to appease the dismal motorcade of the Sunday family saloon en route to the latest horrific theme (or retail) park.

As a kind of add-on to this anecdote of the way we live now, I received an update today as to the progress of legal proceedings on the part of the State to deprive the mother of a ten-year-old child I choose to call ‘X’ of her full parental rights. Long-term readers will be familiar with a sorry saga I’ve been documenting periodically for the best part of a year, and I’ve no doubt links to previous posts on the subject will appear at the foot of this one; but X is a learning-disabled child whose mother is a close friend of mine and whose time in the care of the local authorities has been marked by a sequence of inept cock-ups that hardly support their chances of ‘sharing’ control of the child.

In order to strengthen a case they could never win on actual evidence, the local authorities have stooped so far below the belt that they’re almost at ground level. They’ve chosen to blacken the character of the mother in ways that have no bearing on the care and consideration of the child, nitpicking and clutching at irrelevant straws they imagine reflect badly on her. For example, X’s mother has been described as ‘strange’ by a nurse supposedly overseeing a recent medical examination of X that the authorities she entrusted with her day-to-day care buggered-up yet again.

Another unreliable witness to X’s mother’s exasperation with the system – an employee at the care unit where X resides – has added his untrustworthy voice to the systematic condemnation of (and contempt for) this particular parent; despite physically preventing X’s mother from kissing her daughter goodbye when dropping her off at the residential care unit – an aggressive gesture that led to police involvement – this dickhead has been roped-in to uphold the authorities’ dodgy dossier against X’s mother, thus increasing the strain the whole process is undoubtedly placing upon a woman whose sole concern is for the wellbeing of a child too difficult for one person to permanently look after.

She handed over her daughter to authorities allegedly qualified to take care of children whose mental incapacity is so incompatible with society that only the State can control them; but repeatedly highlighting the State’s uselessness where most submit without question has left the mother up against a State intent on exacting revenge for her outrageous impertinence.

The court case arising from this dispute is scheduled to take place in a couple of weeks; the State has resorted to desperate measures to discredit X’s mother as a means of robbing her of full parental rights, though we shouldn’t really be surprised by authorities without a moral leg to stand on stooping to such despicable tactics in order to save face. Their record is so appalling that the exposure of ineptitude would bring the whole facade crashing down; every injury X has received has come whenever she’s been in the care of the State – every black-eye, bruise and bite – whilst her time in the care of her mother has been injury-free. This doesn’t look good on paper, so the State has cobbled together a case that desperately seeks to justify its attempts to wrestle away the mother’s full parental rights. If the State succeeds, the mother would have to go back to court every time she disagreed with a decision by the other party. It stinks, just as every fat bossy woman whose pension scheme is in peril should the State lose stinks.

The family courts are a closed shop, by the way, so don’t expect our great democracy to highlight the outcome of this farcical trial or to give it any publicity outside of this blog. But I shall report it because I resent the State’s interference in such matters and because I am sick to death of the State passing the buck and blaming everything on good people that it hopes lack the energy or nerve to challenge it. Speeding fines or parental rights – if we let these f**kers win we may as well wrap ourselves in the white flag for life. And I know X’s mother is right. Watch this space. Or watch this instead…

© The Editor

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Mr-Yesterday-Johnny-Monroe/dp/154995718X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1510941083&sr=1-1