Persons of a nervous disposition…

A short story for Halloween.
I do not recommend that you read this – you have been warned!

It was the first morning in a long time that Andrew Forbes woke up feeling calm. At some point during the night he had finally made his peace with the world. It was a sensation which was so unfamiliar that, if it did not feel so pleasant, would have left him feeling very uneasy.

His estimate of one hour and forty minutes sleep was more than he would have expected when he had gone to bed at nine-thirty the night before. But the small hours had proved the perfect place to find the inspiration that was needed to solve the puzzle of his persistent anxieties. The sense of freedom it gave was remarkable. This must be what it is like to be released, unexpectedly, from prison, he thought.

The sleep had been welcome. More welcome had been the uncharacteristic absence of nightmares. But for some reason he had dreamt of a girl who, in his youth, he had liked, but who’s standoffish demeanour had caused him to withdraw from her circle, accepting the disinterest graciously. Not long after this nascent flame had been so readily extinguished, he had been on a bus on his way home from school and overheard a conversation between two friends of the girl. Apparently she wanted to pursue a boy, but was advised by her friends to play ‘hard to get’. The tactic had backfired. Andrew Forbes’ self-image was such that, at the time, it did not occur to him that he was the boy in question.

Forbes was by nature a man who accepted his place in the social order. Recently, when certain people had promised to contact him, but never did, he assumed that there must have been higher priorities to deal with. And on his yearly hospital appointment, waiting patiently for over an hour, before asking, nervously, if he would be seen soon, he accepted that the staff had a difficult job to do. Even on the occasion when he had been seen by a junior doctor, whose line of questioning made it obvious she had been drafted in at the last-minute to cover for a consultant who, evidently having something more important to do, had simply forgotten about him, Forbes spent the rest of his day hoping he hadn’t appeared angry to the young physician. After all, she was just doing her job.

But today, nothing like that would be on his mind. Today, his ‘to-do’ list contained only one item; and he had all day to do it. His clarity of purpose was like a force of nature – like electricity, he thought. He had always had rather a strong admiration for electricity. Apart from the clean white light it could provide, and its perfect hygiene, there was a kind of decisiveness to it. It would sit there quietly waiting, and at the right moment would do precisely what it needed to do. This was exactly how Forbes was feeling as he left the house and drove to the hardware store.

Sometime later, Frank Grey was relieved, at last, to leave his office. The patient roster today had been tedious – the usual trail of time wasters moaning about how bad their lives were. He longed for someone with a real illness – one he could use his hard-won training and experience to treat. Hastily he put on his coat, grabbed his briefcase and strode toward reception. “Good night”, he said cheerfully to the woman behind the desk, but secretly chided her for taking too long to buzz him out of the building. He could never remember her name.

It was dark, but still early. Thick shrubs sheltered his car from the worst of the wind. Large cold drops of rain stung the back of his gloveless hands and caused him to drop his car keys. “Bloody hell,” he said out loud, stooping to pick them up. He pressed the unlock button and could see the familiar yellow flashes reflected in the wet car park surface as the crosshead screwdriver entered his right cheek. It stabbed at his left gum with some force, and was thrust repeatedly until it was able to pass between his teeth and exit through the other side of his face. Of course he tried to scream out the agony, but was prevented by a gag reflex caused partially by the blood trying to enter his throat and partly by the thin steel bar pulled against the back of his jaw hinge.

“Hello doctor,” spoke a polite voice from behind him. “I’ve been trying to contact you, but you’re a difficult man to get hold of.”

Grey felt himself being dragged backwards. His instincts should have been working toward escape, but the assailant’s speed and precision of action prevented Grey’s brain from concentrating on anything but keeping enough balance to prevent his lower jaw from being ripped off. Even the stomach had to wait for Grey to be thrown onto a hard plywood floor before it could vomit up its distaste for such pain. Somewhere outside him he could hear the echoing thud of doors being slammed shut. He was just about able to push himself onto his knees. This gave him some slight relief and enabled him to pull out the screwdriver, but his hand slipped in the ensuing pool of blood and his head bounced off a cold metallic wall. He thought he could hear an engine starting and a voice say “are you alright back there?”. Coughing a warm sticky mucus, he managed to turn onto his side.

“Sorry about this doc.” the voice seemed to say. “Now I don’t want you to worry. I’m taking you to my ‘happy place’. You’ll like it there. Its lovely and peaceful…,” the voice faded and Grey passed out.

Who was it told him he would not feel pain in dreams? Whose voice could he hear, as if from under water. I wouldn’t advise waking up yet, it said. But it was too late. Adrenaline poured into his bloodstream. More of the automatic mechanisms of survival roused him and forced him to face the ‘unpleasant situation’ in which he found himself. His face throbbed, unbearably. His hands, illuminated by a small desk lamp, were held fast to a table in front of him.

“They’re called tie-wraps,” said the voice. “Amazing invention really. You’re wrists are essentially being held down by less than a millimetre of plastic.”

Grey tried to mouth words: “Why are you doing this?”

A face, eyes gentle with sadness, smiled at him. “I just wanted to talk.”

“Look, it’s not too late to let me go. No real harm has been done…”

“Actually it is too late.” He stepped back to put on a pair of ear defenders. Grey writhed fruitlessly as the man lifted an axe and brought it down onto the fingers of Grey’s left hand. “You’re probably wondering why I haven’t taped up your mouth!” the man explained loudly over Grey’s screams. “It’s because I want you to be able to call for help! I want you to know what it’s like.” He lifted the axe again, this time to remove the tips of the fingers on the other hand, then placed it on the floor, leaning against the table. He reached into a bag and pulled out a laptop computer, opening it up. He placed the keyboard under what was left of Grey’s fingers.

“Listen!” He had to speak up to make himself heard. “Nobody is going to hear you out here, so I’ve set you up with some mobile internet. There is plenty of online credit, but I’m afraid the battery isn’t very good.” He reached down again to the bag this time coming up with an expensive looking craft knife. Grey’s eyes rolled and he started to sob uncontrollably. Impatient for the first time, the man snapped at him: “Oh, for God’s sake, why don’t you cheer up? This isn’t for you.” The laptop screen lit up.

“You know, it’s remarkable how liberating it is to lose a child – your only child.” The thing inside Grey’s mind watched as, at first in splatters, then in a flood, Andrew Forbes’ blood obscured the image of a lone tree, on a rolling green hill, under a blue summer sky.

Jesus and the Righteous Fish

A beautiful statement from Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew 12:22:


A fish cannot climb a mountain, but it can build a base camp. From there it will make a plan of action to discard the trappings of wealth. On its deathbed, therefore, the fish can rest assured it has lived righteously and will receive God’s Kingdom, which for him will be an aquarium full of drugs, money and fish prostitutes. For those fish that can receive, let them receive.


Such wisdom.

No Title


There is chaos and consent in this place. Is there nothing to startle the mind and sweep away the artless terror of life?

I smile at myself and wish for expressions to form on others, yet they scream in horror at Jacobean war crimes and Cromwellian weasels.

I admit I am a quisling and wear proud my cowardice for future generations to tut at.

Distant shell drops in suburban garden. Dead rise like piles of sheet metal.

Behind screens nurses perform enemas with surprising interest and willing lubricant.

My shame falls away through an idle tide of amoral cant and formal masturbation.

‘You are sickening’ I hear voice say but have no interest in learning more than I already know.

Chaos and disorder

Daryl fans will probably spot his influence in this

It having been pointed out to me recently that my scientific background allows me to mix terminology into the work I produce, with interesting effect, and, me deciding to rise to the challenge of writing something scientific within a creative framework, I see no reason why I should not write about chaos and disorder scientifically, especially as they are subjects both dear to my heart and for which I have some understanding – disorder having been discovered as mere entropy, and chaos, well chaos is chaos, but is generally predictable if you know where you are starting from – yet as always when I try to walk along the boundaries between art and science I spend too much time looking for the border fence, which I suspect does not really exist but is just a no-man’s land between different culture-tribes, which are merely an extension of the interest groups that formed in the playground, which in my case were aligned with neither art nor science (which I only chose because I thought there was money in it), but rather with things which were dear to my heart like translating the entire works of Morrisey into German (which, apart from “schadenfreude”, I have yet to learn) and then having a Buddhist monk translate them back into English; or persuading the entire Swiss Navy to perfom morris dancing to the theme from Doctor Who, who by the way is not a real doctor but merely has a PhD in everything possibly knowable (including medicine), and who opened my eyes to the possibility of directing a soft porn movie called “Debbie Does Durlsey” and discovering things which were far more interesting than watching sci-fi on television, and try to understand what was beneath the skin of an onion, so to speak, by using science, which was clearly far more rigorous and useful than the vague and dangerous religion, and appeared to peel back the layers covering the reality which I was so desperate to discover, but in fact turned out to be a bottomless staircase, each step pretty much the same as the last (although I don’t deny that it was true that they were not the same step, and each one did take me further away from where I had started), and even though we were allowed to paint the steps any colour we liked, we spent too much time discussing the correct colour (in the end we just asked: “what is colour?”), declaring throughout that only Holy Mother Science would be able to deal with the monster beneath the stairs and issuing humiliations against those who dared disagree, and listening to Einstein, who invented the dice but refused to let God play with it, until the point when I could no longer see the difference between the elements (whether the Ancient Greek “big four” or those in the periodic table) and in any case every one of them had been eaten by something called language (was this the monster under the stairs?), and to the raucous sneering and yelling of the demagogues and the crowd chanting “we refute it thus!”, the only thing my poor ears could hear was Galileo muttering under his breath: “Eppur si muove”.

When God Made Man

When God made Man

The stories say

He made him out of lumps of clay


He cracked a rib

And formed another
In order to invent the mother


Who, trapped by snakes,

A sinister symbol,

Then found her bound by her own thimble


With which she sewed

A linen cloth

In order to ensnare them both


Then chained and blamed

By loom and lore

She told a tale that showed much more


A fabricated, woven story

That shrewdly left out

Woman’s glory


For Man and God

Made Woman’s lot

To bake the bread and fill the cot


So Man made God

From shreds of myth

And made his mate a silent wife


But Woman took up pen and purse

And rewrote God in her own verse

Her words flowed forth and found her able

To spread her irony on the table







The Sacred Goats’ Tears

And the death came to my room

Disguised as a horse.


Let me slap your hand, she said,

Let me pinch your skin, jump on the bed.


I look over my shoulder and agree with her.

This time the tram isn’t stopping.

I pretend to love

Suddenly breaking into a gallop through the maize fields.


Who knows whether her body is following me or not.

Even here, deeply hidden inside the womb, I am still scared.

21 Years Later

Twenty-one years from now,
I will still kiss your cheek in the morning.

I will still reach for you in the middle of the night
when I have woken in darkness.

Expect my arm around your waist
when the wind turns bitter,
and my steps to mirror yours
like a game.

I will still be in awe of the power of your words
and those magic eyes
as hypnotic as a simile.

In future evenings
we will walk to the bench in Rodborough
with the hills
and the view
and the sunset
and the golden Severn
with Woodchester glued to the valley below;

and we will trace outlines of gold
with our weathered fingers
onto the canvas of the years before.

The Parable of the Oxen

It was late in the day, and Jesus and his disciples were sat around a fire.

And Jesus was bloated, for he had just eaten half a sheep and 4 bags of crisps.

Rousing himself out of his soporific slumber, he staggered to his feet and looked upon the disciples, who had not eaten for 3 days and were looking peevish. He told them a parable:

 ‘A man had two oxen. The first one he gave much care and attention. He fed it cheese, oiled its skin, shined its hooves and read to it Hebrew cow poems. The ox wanted for nothing and lived a long and comfortable life.

As for the other ox, the man pushed it into a deep pit, where it died of head trauma and boredom.’

Jesus looked at his disciples and asked, ‘for which ox did the man show more care?’

The disciples answered, ‘the first one, lord.’

‘Yes, you’re right’, said Jesus. ‘Obvious really’. And then he became distracted by a stone in his sandal.

The Real Truth Doesn’t Matter

The most beautiful day of all
When the children are quiet
And the box of sorrows completely sealed
When the dreams, full of apples and pears, open up the big tree,
Shooting towards the sky.

The most beautiful day of all
When the eagles and planes look alike
And the soldiers gently rest their face on the grass
To sleep after dinner.

The air still and warm.
The dark lifted.

When you sit in the garden on a white chair
Watching the street
Counting blue cars, yellow trains.

The day when I am the postman.
When I say who dies and who lives.
And when the real truth doesn’t matter.

The most beautiful day of all
When I bring the summer over the city,
And nobody minds.