Stranger In The Night And now I have to consider the possibility I might really be losing it.

The other night for example. I’m lying in bed, still awake - I'm one of those sleepers who take a while to drift off; and I begin to hear what sounds like a vague whispering, as if people are talking in quiet voices outside. The flat is on the first floor, the bedroom faces the road, though it’s a cul-de-sac as far that goes, as the road stops, and there’s a path between buildings to take you through to the main road. I could still hear the whispering so I got up and walked over to the window. Part of the street is illumined by the old street lamp. I thought it might be making a hissing sound as lamps sometimes do, but as I looked over the dark and deserted street there was no sound at all. This was a puzzle. I was more baffled than worried in any way. Whispering wouldn’t do me any harm. Not unless it was inside the flat, which was ludicrous. I knew the main door was locked. I wasn’t forgetful that way. There was nothing else to be done but to go back to bed. I had barely settled and there it was again. Could it be the sound of mice, or some muffled sound from an adjacent flat to the side or even upstairs? But it seemed to permeate the room itself. Worse, it sounded very close; as close as the blood coursing through my brain. By this time I was mesmerised. If something was trying to get my attention, then it had succeeded. How was this going to work itself out? Would it fade into the mystery it came from? Was I going to be allowed to sleep or what? Then I felt a kind of disbelief. The whispering was now an intelligible sound. It was my name. This is absurd I thought, simultaneously fascinated and repulsed. Try and make it sound like something else, I told myself. It only sounds like my name. Think of another name or any subject and it will sound like that too… My name was repeated, again in a whisper. There was no question of my somehow thinking of it myself. It was clearly beyond my own volition. “Alright then, let’s cut to the chase. It’s a ghost.” I meant it matter-of-factly, semijokingly. I certainly felt sane and rational enough. What other way was there to deal with it? Reassure myself it’s only monsters under the bed? It may have been less cause for alarm if I had, because as soon as I quipped to myself it could be a ghost, the voice or ghoul or confidence trickster or demon or whatever it was repeated my name, and I felt a sudden spasm of fear shoot up my thigh. An interesting reaction. I leapt out of bed. I was in fear of myself. I was never going to get to sleep ever again at this rate. Whether I stayed up for a little while I don’t recall. All I know is there was no recurrence of the whispering and I slept fine for the rest of the night and morning. Neither did I give it any more thought except to tell my brother about it. He sometimes stayed the night. He took the view that, as these were old renements, who knew what presences hung around them still. Or what had taken place in them over the years, I thought. Not a very reassuring one, but better than an alternative that might be that I was a bit mad or going that way. Some sign of incipient paranoid schizophrenia perhaps. The emotional stress of all those insults from my mother beginning to make their mark? The potential loon least likely to succeed, and more likely to lose the plot. Or so the combination of my mothers voice and a self-deprecating sense of humour might tell me. The whispering voice wasn’t my mums, you understand. At least I’m assuming it wasn’t; not unless she’s developed the ability to throw it a pretty far distance. I wouldn’t put it past her. My younger bro, who still lived with her, told me she’d been down recently to confront me over the cheque I’d 'stolen' from her. I hadn’t done anything of the kind, but as an alimony payment from my dad hadn’t arrived on the given day it

usually did, the somewhat predctable next step in her convoluted illogic was to jump to the conclusion the cause of the delay as well as the solution to it, must be me, and through me, the crazy bint. Like son, like father by extension. In fact this was only an extension and repetition of her wildly aggressive projections when I was younger and closer to hand. That I lived a literally separate life in a cheapish rented flat made to difference to her, except that as it was no more than a mile or so from her, this made it all the more probable I was the culprit, as well as making it easier for her to fume down here in a selfrighteous rage. The joys of living close to family. She’d knocked on the door, and no doubt the window, convincing herself I was in, but pretending to be out –I could just picture the scenario of her hammering away, wrapped up in her makebelieve little scenario, consumed with the thought of revenge, and 'getting her money back'. She’d considered putting a brick through my window, as bro told me later–she confided in him, assuming in her wildly narcissitic way that he thought exactly as she did–but as it was the landlords’ window and not mine, this may have put her off. That, and perhaps that a part of her knew I was only the convenient scapegoat to vent her rage on. Beating the crap out of me as a kid was alright, but smashing my windows as an adult was less straightforward, and why get into trouble over me? Aside from which it brought it out into the open. Questions might be asked. The cheque could turn up in the meantime. For all her supposed paranoia and 'out-ofcontrol' emotional imbalance, the reliance on pills, and need to see herself as the put-upon victim, she could be as calculatedly pragmatic as she needed to be and was capable of. Cleverness may not have always taken precedence, but it was her final council in every circumstance, at least until the unconscious guilt and paranoia that motivated her got the better of her. I recall her once describing me as “wiry” to someone. This was due to hurting her fists when she punched me. She’d never punch me in the face as that might leave an obvious mark. Her strategy or solution was to bang my head against the door skirting and tell me that if my teacher asked why I was late and why I had lumps on my head it was because I was so stupid and caused her so much grief. This as it happens, now strikes me, no pun intended, as quite clever, as it anticipates not only the possibility of my telling on her, but that as she’s already taken it into account, clearly there’s no point. By her sly selfjustification, it was her way of pre-empting and negating it. A risky business, but I think that for all her apparent impulsiveness, it was formed in her mind in advance. That far from acting before she thought, as the poor neurotic others saw her to be and she perhaps believed even herself to be–and was–there was always that other part where each reinforced the preconceptions of the other. That she was an intensely tormented soul I have no doubt. But like most of us, she confused cleverness with intelligence. Or in her case, she substituted it for it, holding onto and sticking by her wrong choices as if her life depended on it. Hanging on for grim death. Most of which I found was beyond my ability to articulate to myself at twenty-two, let alone to her even if I’d wanted to, as I tried to write her a letter. It wasn’t going well. I had never written her a letter before. It can be difficult to relate to someone who has spent most of her or her life looking upon you as a kind of sub-human freak. She didn’t talk at me, so much as scream down to me. Let’s face it, I said to myself, the woman is fucking nuts and always has been. I’ve no idea what the hell to write to her. In fact I’m surprised I’m as spontaneous in my thoughts as it is. She has no idea of who I am or what I’m like. I’d sound like a stranger to her. Writing to a stranger is what it feels like, as she always saw me as a stranger; that was the problem and always will be. Too wrapped up in her petty and childish little predilections, opinions and favouritisms, it felt like trying to get through a backward but excessively complacent child. Or curiously stupid psychopath. I had the growing or sneaking awareness we lived in two different worlds somehow. We would never get to the same wavelength on this one. It was an 'unspeakable

tragedy,' masquerading as a provincial comedy of manners. Only in Scotland. 'Bonnie Dundee.' In actual experience, it was dark and ugly. There were aspects of my life I had experienced I had felt to be a kind of nightmare. One day I would explore them at depth, or whatever depth I was capable of. For all her cleverness, I would thwart her expectations, namely her wishes, by turning it on its head. I would come to see through it and through her. I wouldn’t let it beat me. I had often had these thoughts while growing up, as if galvanised by some influx of energy and optimism. Her and her ignoramus but even more devious boyfriend’s world of fags and carry-outs and going out on Saturday nights to the pub, bitterly haranguing and putting each other down all the while they got ready for it, she with her combination of cigarettes, make-up and cheap hairspray, lingering long after they left, seemed like a vision of taudry hell to me. I detested their world. No wonder they hated each other. Life was a long drawn out disappointment to them. They could take the hatred they felt for themselves out on each other when their attention wasn’t drawn to me, sometimes by just being around. It lessened, as I got older and stood up for myself. The guilt trips masking the overt violence that had always been the motivation and goal behind it. I came to spend a lot of time in our room, where I could read and brood and draw sometimes, and later, listen to music on the cassette-recorder. They at least recognised my love of music, even if I refused to sing during the New Year when relatives visited. They seemed to have no awareness of the difficulties and selfconsciousness of adolescence at all. Everything was exaggerated to seem as though it were some sort of wilful weirdness on my part. I was “anti-social,” as my mother might put it, in one of her more pretentiously articulate and informed distortions she’d picked up from soap on TV or one of her women’s mags she kept under the 'coffee table' in the 'living room.' The truth was I loved to sing and had an excellent voice. Almost as soon as they were out I’d get a Bowie elpee on the old dansette turntable, usually Ziggy, and marvel at my ability to mimic most of it, except for the more overwrought sections at the climax of Five Years and Rock ‘n Roll Suicide. Blissfully unaware of the great morass of other kids across the country who thought and felt exactly the same way, I could picture another life of rock stardom, as far removed from the present as would be living on another planet. And Bowie was the absolute personification of this. In my isolation and shyness it seemed like an impossible dream. At fourteen, fifteen, I hadn’t even kissed a girl yet. How on earth was I supposed to come to play the big rock star? I couldn’t even talk to a girl in class. The leap was too huge. As likely as my making it to the moon, for all my apparent talents. There will always be writing I told myself. My saving grace. And here I was, no further to realizing my dreams, and I couldn’t even compose a letter to my mother. I gave up with a feeling of hopeless exasperation. Some things are destined to pray on you for the rest of your life. Unbeknownst to me I would have other things to concern myself with. And scare the hell out of myself over. The flotsam and jetsam of my life. All those disparate strands, and looking for ways to link them together. To make some sense of it all. Most of the time I feel left out of the loop. I’ve still to find my place in life; my 'niche,' as our purple-nosed, plump, and middle-aged woodwork teacher, Dan Campbell, put it to us one day. We weren’t in woodwork, our usual class. He was taking over for another teacher that day, so maybe he was feeling expansive or inclined to wax philosophical. The remark struck a deep chord with me. I felt a simultaneous longing and dread of the future. I was aware also that his attention, though not overtly, was as much on me as anyone else. It was usually the way twith these people. A metaphor for life. And was coupled with the recognition, or perhaps the suspicion at that point, of the hidden resentment that lay behind this demonstration of a magnanimous and tutelary attitude. The kids that kept their heads down – the “swots,” the inoffensively bland, the dull, the future clerks, the accountants, the insurance workers, the potential

engineers and council workers he had no concern over or even any real interest in. It was people like me that niggled at the back of his mind, and at the forefront if he’d only admit it to himself. The ones who looked as if they didn’t quite belong there. And were so uncomfortable being there, it was obvious we’d rather be anywhere else but there. The children of damnation, only they were the damned, and by our very presence, or so they believed in their heart of hearts. Or as I’ve come to believe. Thinking about it, perhaps he had a thing about trying to place us, as I recall him also standing in for our technical drawing class one afternoon–and as there were other pupils who weren’t usually in our class, I can only assume they were his, lumped in with ours for the period. And that afternoon he asked a few people what they saw themselves as doing in the future. The one or two were too bland for me to recall, but he did ask my long-time buddy and part-time psycho boy, and full-time wit, Billy; always guaranteed a memorable answer. “A movie star,” he grinned, high on himself as always, revelling in being the centre of attention. That he had used the phrase “movie star” rather than “film star” was typical of his careful choice of the most effective use of words. Articulate, intelligent, and probably genuinely unhinged, were the combination of qualities that conspired to make his pronouncements and comebacks on any subject almost fiendishly unpredictable. Dan Campbell never asked me what my intentions for the future were. In truth, they already had their intentions for us. This is something I also want to explore one day. Past events pray on my mind like festering sores sometimes. I feel swamped; overwhelmed by experience, the smart-arse craziness of others I’ve never fully comprehended. A tall order for anyone in any situation I tend to believe. Now here, in this poky little flat, with its weird whisperings. might be a good time, before I lose the plot completely. One day I’m going to go over the main aspects of school that come to mind. The niggly bits as I could call them. And why stop there? I could write a dissertation of sorts on every aspect of home life too. My very own amateur psychoanalytic study. Not that I have any training in that area you understand. No, my life is already going to the dogs it seems, in a neatly pre-determined way I’m sure the mediocrities that be, had in mind from the outset. So I’ll curtail this apparently rambling, but intensely connected little account with the fate of my formal qualifications, or more accurately, the utter lack of them, by telling you that when Billy presented himself at the main Assembly Hall where the final exams were tasking place for our ;last year, a teacher, perhaps Dan Campbell, perhaps not, informed him that as he 'was never here,' he could as good as get lost. Even natural intelligence wasn’t going to be given the possibility of a look-in, and by some fluke, save the day. And now it’s just came back to me he, Mr Campbell, was the master who called Billy and me out in Assembly some years before for being far too cheerful on the very first day of school there for First Year. Odd how these apparently unconnected little events come to fall into place. Now I think I see why I felt his attention was on me when he talked about as “finding our niche.” And why his focus was on Billy in the Technical Drawing Class. It may well have been as much on me by omission. Maybe he would never lower himself so as to actually enquire of me. Throwing his podgy man-weight into a heavy leather strap on a couple of thirteen year olds was perfectly acceptable to his self-image though. Perhaps he was as reluctant to hear an answer from me. Anyone with eyes in their head knew of my habit of carrying paperbacks around or having them stick out of my blazer pocket. I was no yob and they knew it. It’s interesting now to me to speculate on what I would have answered if he had asked. If I had said a writer, it may have confirmed his worst suspicions, and intentions. What I really wanted to be was a rock star. Perhaps I'd have said so. I at least looked the part, as did Billy. But as I kept it to myself, that answer would probably have surprised most, except Billy maybe. Far too 'bashful'

when the centre of attention, I’d as likely have said something inconsequential, such as “I don’t know.” Mr Excitement. I’m as likely to have thought though not said, an astronaut or a spaceman. Just to amuse myself. But like every fascist in microcosm, only they were allowed to make the jokes (What do/did you want to be when you grow/grew up sir? I didn’t ever address a teacher as “”Sir” in secondary school. I wasn’t naturally acquiescent – or obsequious. No doubt they sensed the assumption of equality). I sat my–their–exams, and well recall drawing a line through a triangle, for which I achieved three marks out of fifty, doubled to make six out of a possible hundred. I failed. That and spending too much time on a single question in the English exam. When the end of the period bell went I still hadn’t finished I was beginning to enjoy myself so much. I didn’t write often, as the thought police in their various forms, such as my mother, for all her contemptuous indifference, would read it. Our present as delinquents, and illustrious future as burdens on the state, graduating to dead end jobs, petty crime, drug addiction, murder, mayhem and worse, was set. The 'standard' trajectory for the working class poor of no academic achievement, or particular talents. They had singularly conspired not to notice them, though Mrs Rollo of English and Byning of Art had. The only way out was through physical or artistic talent in some form, I knew, most preferably, music. I had shown a flair for martial arts, spurred on like a zillion others, by the emergence of Bruce Lee in the early ‘70’s, but had twice dropped out of my karate class. Reading I could consistently keep up with, however haphazard my choice of subject. The discipline required to subdue and hone the body into a lean mean fighting machine was expecting more of myself than I was capable of. It seemed to me to require a necessary anger, an almost constantly vengeful state of mind I found impossible to sustain. Contemplation, thinking, contrasting and comparing was what I was drawn to. All fodder for the interminable internal dialogue that comprised, I felt, my real life. I was used to it. I had spent so much time in my head it seemed, the place that had kept me sane, other people were often an irrelevant interruption. At one point I had a bunch of sisters living next door to me here, one of whom was attractive, with a classically Rubinesque figure. In other words, a big shapely arse. But one day she and her rather slovenly looking sister–the oldest sister never joined in, as I was too young for her to bother with or she had her own life–knocked on my door and I let them in, but I was too short with them. Again, it was the different planet syndrome. Nice butt, shame about the persona. I let the smoking put me out, so to say, at the thought of it stinking up my room long after they left. My mother was a chronic smoker. I detested cigarettes to the point of being almost phobic about them. It was clearly a matter of association, as I minded less in pubs with any friend and had always felt more tolerant of my granddad’s equally long-term habit, only the difference was he rolled his own, often sending me out to get a packet of tobacco for him, emphasizing the importance of my remembering and only accepting the correct brand. It all smelt like camel dung to me, but my mother’s ready-made cigarettes, which she got through by the pack, had a peculiarly pungent and repulsive aroma. The two sisters were smoking ready made ones. I’d probably have looked on them smoking roll-ups as even more perverse if anything, but the unpleasant association with my mother and her world was enough. It seemed light-years away from my selfimage and preoccupations. That Bowie smoked was conveniently forgotten. I was no doubt wrapped in some philosophical or personal reverie at the time. I was playing the part of the already semi-reclusive writer, the great thinker in embryo, having re-read Colin Wilson's, The Man Without a Shadow; a novel written in the form of a journal. Henry Miller died the same year. My time was important. The hours weren’t to be wasted. I made it clear they were disturbing me, and off they went. There was some truth to the perception they were only time-wasters, but at only twenty at this time,

there was a major conflict of interest. If it weren’t for the fags, I may have been happy for the situation to deteriorate into a drop-in orgy of sorts until it was time to move. That it might be worth it. The truth was I was forever in a funk of indecision and vacillation. It was easier to use the desire for privacy and the attempt at a studious lifestyle as a pretext to avoid dealing with the self-consciousness I felt in their presence. I was still the bashful teenager, worried about doing and saying the wrong thing, as if any show of interest or emotion would be their cue to laugh in my face. Yet later, the less attractive one told me her sister intended to get me into bed, though she herself wasn’t interested. She must have still been a bit miffed over my standoffish brush off. I was as much reluctant to become sexually dependent. And the passably attractive one had been in my class at primary school. The association settled me in some weird and incomprehensible way. Now she was a grown woman with a big arse, smoking my mum’s fags. You figure it out. When I thought of primary school, the thought of L came to mind, a girl I had liked intensely. Perhaps on some obscure level I felt that to screw a woman I had never been particularly interested in and whom she'd known, would amount to a kind of betrayal of her memory. Or if I ever met her again, it would be something to come between us, even if only in my mind. An interesting line of thought. Had I always had it in mind to see her again? In the meantime I could pretend to be Shopenhauer as my libido turned somersaults at the site of the thighs next door and every attractive woman in the street. And there was the shortish haired divorcee type who would lean out of the window on the first floor opposite and to the right, a close along, showing off her cleavage.