Latest Entries »

In the midst of the festive season I neglected to mention this guest blog here! Sorry Vic Watson!

http://elementaryvwatson.wordpress.com/2013/12/20/shane-simmons-reviews-his-2013/

shane-pic

Well, I’ve been a bit quiet of late, but I thought I’d come back with a little post about Pure Slush’s mammoth anthology, ‘2014: A Year in Stories’!

Some of you may already be aware of the premise of the project. One story for every day of 2014 penned by thirty-one writers, each with one set date to flow their story on throughout the year (mine is the twelfth, so my stories take place on January 12th, February 12th, March 12th, etc). And one man, Matt Potter, is pulling all these stories together.

January‘ and ‘February‘ are already out there in print and eBook, and I was happily given my copies for Christmas!

ImageImage

So, how did I get involved?

I’m not the best at getting myself ‘out there’. Mid-2012, Gill Hoffs, whom I’d come into contact with through the Glasgow Writers Group, suggested I submitted a piece to Pure Slush for their upcoming ‘real’ anthology. After much nail-biting and brainstorming, I gave it a go. Remember, at this point I’d had limited contact with the writing community, barely shown anyone my scribblings and most certainly never got in touch with a publisher, let alone contemplated doing so. But I did it, and that put me in touch with Matt Potter (whom I had previously ‘met’ at the book launch for Gill’s ‘Wild’ anthology, but was so intimidated by his sheer confidence and outgoing personality that I shied away from making conversation!)

Roll forward a few months from the publication of ‘real’ (which contained my first published piece, “A Curious Fellow”) and I noticed the call-up for an upcoming Pure Slush project through a Facebook post. After finishing up at the day job I took myself to the café in Waterstones bookstore on Argyle Street, Glasgow, pulled out my laptop and began drafting ‘January’ and ‘February’ there and then.

And then I got nervous and started doubting whether I could pull off twelve pieces of fiction. No really, up to that point I could count on one hand the stories I’d barely completed to first draft level, so I was genuinely unsure of myself. It’s an ongoing theme in my life.

So I saved the drafts and left it a little while before I plucked up the courage to message Matt. And sure enough, I’d missed the boat.

But a few months later I got an email inviting me to get involved as there’d been a drop-out. The drafts from earlier in the year were still sitting on my laptop, so I pulled them out and gave them a dusting down before passing them onto Matt. I was given the ’12th’ as my date, which was odd as it was the date I’d pencilled in when I originally looked to get involved (the 12th is my birthday and I consider it a ‘lucky’ number, in the loosest terms of the word ‘lucky’…)

I didn’t have all twelve pieces planned out, so I began sketching in the ideas for them. As Matt and myself began editing each story on a one-by-one basis, I found myself somewhat glad that I hadn’t constrained myself (or the overall story) by locking in any plans. I’ve always preferred having a vague idea that fleshes itself out as it grows in its ‘own’ direction.

As we worked through one month’s edits, the next month would begin to shape itself in my mind and on the page. One thing I like about writing this way is that, as the writer, there is still an element of surprise in it for me. Knowing from the word ‘go’ exactly what twists and turns are coming up unfortunately bores me to tears. I’ve always wanted to enjoy the writing experience as a reader, by not quite knowing what’s next around the corner… Even if I am the one at the driving wheel.

And now that the first stories are out there I can reveal a few things about my contribution to this project!

Most of the stories are based in South-East London, the place I was born and lived for the first twenty years of my life. Despite living in Glasgow for over twelve years I can clearly picture many a street which the characters find themselves on as they’re only few minutes from my childhood home!

Sandra’s flat is that of an ex-friend of mine (the ex-friend was even more complicated than Sandra is!) It was a place where much discussing, eating, drinking and over-emotional moments occurred. Sandra herself as a character is an imagined amalgamation of various people I have known or simply heard about through others. She’s a very fun character to write due to her dramatic nature and she’s quite the polar opposite of the unnamed protagonist of the stories. Wherever she goes she brings with her a touch of soap-opera!

One thing that I’ve not mentioned before is that some of the characters have been with me for many years, and that elements of the back story come from ideas I’ve played with for well over a decade. I find it rather satisfying that these characters and their stories are coming to light for a very interesting project indeed, and my only hope is that I can finally do them justice!

But that’s all I’ll say for the moment… There’s another eleven months to go!

Links:

2014 – A Year in Stories

For a taste of each month, click on the links below:

a taste of January 2014 Vol. 1

a taste of February 2014 Vol. 2

a taste of March 2014 Vol. 3

a taste of April 2014 Vol. 4

• a taste of May 2014 Vol. 5 

2014 January Vol. 1 – Print
2014 January Vol. 1 – eBook
2014 January Vol. 1 – Kindle

2014 February Vol. 2 – Print
2014 February Vol. 2 – eBook
2014 February Vol. 2 – Kindle

Contributing writers are as follows:

1st Guilie Castillo-Oriard

2nd Townsend Walker

3rd Derek Osborne

4th Gloria Garfunkel

5th John Wentworth Chapin

6th Lynn Beighley

7th Andrew Stancek

8th Rachel Ambrose

9th Gill Hoffs

10th Susan Tepper

11th Jessica McHugh

12th Shane Simmons

13th Michelle Elvy

14th Len Kuntz

15th Michael Webb

16th James Claffey

17th Gwendolyn Joyce Mintz

18th Stephen V. Ramey

19th Gay Degani

20th Sally-Anne Macomber

21st Mandy Nicol

22nd Margaret Bingel

23rd Darryl Price

24th Teresa Burns Gunther

25th Matt Potter

26th Gary Percesepe

27th Nathaniel Tower

28th Kimberlee Smith

29th Vanessa Weibler Paris  (11 stories)

30th Joanne Jagoda  (11 stories)

31st h. l. nelson  (7 stories)

Stephen V. Ramey is reading and reviewing each story on a day to day basis on his blog! http://stephenvramey.com/2014-2/

Whenever I find myself needing to visit a GP, I’m always a little perturbed by the prospects of walking into the consulting room, sitting down, getting the obligatory “So what is it that brings you here today?” and then… well… erm… eh…

These days, if I get a cold, or flu, or even a horribly spewy tummy bug, I know to just dose up on painkillers, hot drinks and rest. And perhaps place a bucket next to the sofa. Also, I get a really odd craving for hot dogs whenever I’m particularly run down.

But there’s been a few things on my mind lately, things that need to be dealt with, and yet leave me tongue-tied when contemplating picking up the phone to make a doctor’s appointment. See, physical stuff is, to a degree, a lot easier to sort. A prod, poke, some tests, some pills, and you’re hopefully on the mend.

But what about the stuff ‘up top’?

The last time I went to the GP was to talk about those strange, nocturnal ‘episodes’. Telling a doctor you’re having ‘brain frazzles’ (as I so often refer to them) doesn’t help them get to the bottom of the problem very easily. In fact, those episodes are so bloody difficult to explain I can only assume that the only chance I’d have at finding out what they are is to have some sort of EEG at the exact moment one happens. And thanks to the unpredictability of the little blighters, the chances of having a load of wires attached to my head when one occurs is slim to the point of non-existent.

So that’s number one on the list.

Next up, depression. It’s back with a huge dose of anxiety on the side, like a large dollop of coleslaw on the side of a big depression burger. And the coleslaw’s long gone off. And the burger is actually a cowpat in a mouldy bun. (No idea what I’m talking about here…)

I reluctantly took the pill route before, but this time I just don’t think this is the way forward. So far, upon suggestion of a manager in my workplace, I’ve contacted the Retail Trust (a charity that offers a plethora of advice and support to those in the retail industry). I emailed them first because, once again, talking isn’t a strong point of mine, and they promptly replied asking me to call to talk to someone about the possibility of six free counselling sessions. Six may not seem like a lot, but it’ll be a start as the NHS take months to even get around to considering you for counselling. I just need to pluck up the courage to call them! I really want to avoid dosing up on Citalopram again. The last time it lead to my waistline expanding at an exponential rate, and despite all I’d read about SSRI’s and weight gain, I was told that it wasn’t a possible side-effect and that I ‘shouldn’t read things’. Well, it IS a common side-effect. I went up two waist sizes in less than two months after being the same weight since I was 16 and I can’t afford new jeans, again!

That was number two for the list.

And then finally, after having some very insightful discussions, doing some reading and having a moment of “Shit. This all makes sense, more so than ever before, and I’m not sure what to do now…” we have the conundrum of, “How do I bring up the possibility of an autism-spectrum condition with my doctor?”

How DO you do that?

Once before, I’d told a GP that I believed I had asthma as I would get severely breathless after doing any sort of dusting or housework. Here’s what she said to me, “Wash your home down with a bucket of soapy water.”

It wasn’t long after that I ended up in hospital. I went into an A&E department, found myself whisked into the triage area. Breathlessly I tried to explain to a nurse that I felt stupid for coming for something so minor. Her words? “Your lungs are in such a bad way that if you hadn’t come here tonight, there’s a chance you wouldn’t have seen tomorrow.” And then she slapped a nebuliser over my face and was soon admitted to a ward for geriatrics with lung problems. And I was kept there for three days. I was sent away with two inhalers and finally, a diagnosis of asthma.

So, going by my previous interactions with GPs, perhaps you can understand my reluctance to go in and try to point them in a specific direction. They seem to highly resent being told, well, anything.

(Just to make a quick point, I’m not stating that I have an autism-spectrum condition. What I am saying is that so many things that I’ve put into separate little boxes such as depression, the anxiety and a plethora of little things that hinder me from living what I’d class as a ‘normal’ life (whatever that is!), could point to an overall autism-spectrum condition . I’d simply appreciate a GP taking this on board and putting some wheels in motion to help me find out either way, just what is going on.)

And that was number three.

I reckon I wrote this blog piece to actually get my head around just what I need to sum up into a five minute appointment slot. Maybe I should print it out and just hand it over to whoever ends up sat on the other side of the desk, nodding at me with that fawny, sideways slanted head, “I really care about what you’re saying” manner. I know that look all too well, I’m often called upon to use it in my Monday to Friday working life…!

(Not So) Guilty Pleasures

(This was penned a month ago, well before my “Ten Songs” piece for Sitting on the Swings, but it seems to be an apt sister-post to that list, so here it is…)

(Not So) Guilty Pleasures

After years of complaints, firstly from the staff, then from the public (mostly through the means of social media), the shop I work in recently stopped playing those god-awful karaoke cover versions that you mostly used to hear in pound shops. It was a triumph of people power against the out-of-tune, ‘could do it better ourselves’ warblings of session singers. They were that bad. I walked into the building to be pleasantly surprised that there was ‘real music’ blaring out over the grannies and neds. Well, ninety-five per cent of that ‘real music’ is openly debatable in stature, but there were some tunes that actually put a smile on my face as opposed to my usual scowl.

“This was the first single I ever bought!” There was a mix of slight embarrassment and unashamed nostalgia to be taken from that admittance. The song playing over the store? “Borderline” by Madonna.
(Side note: Wikipedia told me that this song was originally released in 1984 and at the time I would’ve just been over two years old. That’s weird, I could clearly choosing it whilst out shopping with my sisters, I think it was in Our Price, remember when they graced our high streets? I began questioning my memory so I dug a little more. It was re-released in early 1986, and that ties in nicely with the age I remember being when my sisters bought it for me. I was just four, and wanted a Madonna single. Take what you want from that…)

There’s a “Family Guy” sketch that always makes me laugh because it makes me think of my above choice of ‘first single’. It’s a public information video about how to identify ‘gays’. A guy asks another about his favourite Madonna album. The guy responds “I like her early work.” The voice-over states that if the answer is anything other than “I’ve never bought one” then this means “you have a gay!” Guess what the only Madonna album I own is? The first yun. As I said before, take what you will…

The musical influence of my elder sisters made up most of my formative years. There was a lot of eighties chart pop along with classic funk and soul. To this day, a lot of this stuff gives me giddy levels of childhood nostalgia. I’m an eighties kid, I was spoon-fed this stuff and hell, I’m all about the nostalgia.

This was a time when Top of the Pops was not just religiously watched on the tele by nearly all the family, but recorded on those big, black plastic things with magnetic tape in them, so the best moments could be relived over and over. We’d also tape the charts off Capital FM every Sunday, trying to stop and start the tape just in time to get the songs we liked and cut out those annoying DJs. Just like nearly everyone did. This is when a new Michael Jackson video deserved its own premiere slot on TV. Pop music was really fucking exciting for kids back then.

And I was stealing 7″ records from my sisters’ bedrooms (never the ‘big records’, I observed certain unwritten limits…) and played them on my beloved Fisher Price record player (a real turntable that ran on batteries, it was orange and I loved that thing until it fell to pieces… At the time of writing there’s one on eBay, and by hell I want it!) Some of my earliest memories were made courtesy of two of my sisters, and their passion for… Five Star. Remember them? The Jackson 5 from Romford? Well, they were my first concert. And possibly the second. Maybe third too. I was given a VHS of their videos for my fifth or sixth birthday and I played it until it snapped (or was chewed by our nasty VHS recorder, I had to sellotape it together…) and a birthday or two later I was given one of my first ‘big records’ by a friend of my sister. A Five Star single, “Strong as Steel.” Admittedly, this was towards the end of their chart run and not all that memorable a song but hey, a big, 12″ slab of black vinyl that was mine, all mine!

Shane, aged two, caught playing his sisters' 7" singles.

Shane, aged two, caught playing his sisters’ 7″ singles.

When the early nineties came around I started to find things for myself. First off, I sent my elder brother off with a good chunk of my pocket money, if not all, to find me ABBA “Gold” on cassette. It wasn’t long after that he pulled this fact out as definitive proof that I was gay (an incident used in my first published piece, the non-fiction “A Curious Fellow”). So, I liked ABBA. They had cracking melodies and arrangements that to this day I can’t figure out. ABBA were surely the kings and queens of pop music so quite honestly, go to hell. ABBA isn’t just for the gays.

In my last year of primary school I wrote an essay about Blondie. Miss Nicola Philips, my grunge-tastic teacher (best teacher I ever had, used to play Nirvana on a boombox in class. And my mum drunkenly told her at our leavers disco that I fancied her causing me much embarrassment… I should’ve been more embarrassed that my mum was piss farting drunk at my school disco…) was confused at this eleven year old kid in the early nineties liking, no, loving Blondie. Blondie had guitars. Occasionally distorted ones. Get me!

I got my first CD player for £20 courtesy of my brother. It stopped working within a few months and let’s just say when you buy from family, don’t expect a warranty. And £20 was a LOT of money to me in those days. Off to Currys I went with my mum…

Now my musical input were coming from BBC archive shows such as “Sounds of the Sixties” and “Sounds of the Seventies”. It was all very adult, and all quite strange for a twelve year old to be ‘digging’. Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. The dark, mysterious, pretty psychedelic clip of Syd Barrett in Pink Floyd playing “Astronomy Domine” with a mirrored Telecaster strapped to him. I decided I wanted to play guitar and look that cool. I’d just started out in secondary school. On my way back one day I got the woman behind the counter in WH Smith Catford to order me the cassette (I was still buying tapes because they were cheaper than CDs). I didn’t tell anyone about my odd tastes in music. And it was going to get more embarrassing.

Prog-rock. I swear I bought those Genesis LPs from a bargain bin in Beanos in Croydon (it was one of THE best second-hand record shops in the world back then) for my mum, because she liked Phil Collins. Little did I know that back in those days they had a singer, a little known chap called Peter Gabriel and Collins was just the monkey behind the drums (albeit a highly talented drumming monkey). So, I kept those weird LPs for myself, except that might’ve been the plan all along. And it started an affair I kept secret for many a decade. Prog-fucking-rock.

Cassingles. Was that their proper term? Cassette singles. Usually two songs, the same on both side, always thought that was pointless. Usually a quid or two cheaper than CD singles. I remember buying some awful things amongst a couple of gems. Let Loose, “Seventeen”. Why? WHY?! Annie Lennox, “Love Song for a Vampire”, fucking great song. 1994, I jot in my diary “I bought my first indie single.” Elastica, “Connection” from Woolworths, Lewisham. By hell I was naive. Indie, my arse. (It was many years later that I came across “Pink Flag”, the début album by Wire, and upon hearing “Three Girl Rhumba” for the first time I instantly realised, “Hey, that’s where those bastards stole that riff from!”)

I can only explain these dabbles into boy band pap and corporate indie on the fact that I was still watching Top of the Pops and the “The Chart Show”, which used to get shown on ITV each Saturday morning (until I became a typical teenager and realised that staying in bed was a way better thing to do than getting up before midday on Saturday). It was that show where they played music videos and bad graphics would come up on the screen as if it was a video recorder. I blame their influence for introducing me to so much shit. D:REAM, “U R The Best Thing”. Definitely remember this on “The Chart Show”. Years later, we thankfully have Dr. Brian Cox, righting the wrongs of his musical past. I still have the CD single though Brian. It still works. Your musical history is as uneraseable as my tastes.

And then I got a guitar. A classical with nylon strings. Not quite that Telecaster that Syd had. And I became an angrier and angrier teenager. And with that my musical tastes improved hundredfold. The doors Nirvana opened (let’s just say bashing power chords on nylon strings cost me a LOT of pocket money) were infinite.

There’s a whole generation of arseholes that now say Nirvana didn’t change anything, that they were overrated and they only got where they are in history because a certain front man reached his demise in 1994. To a degree, Nirvana have become dangerous territory for a serious music fan to confess to admiring these days. For the sake of this argument with such people let me just say “FUCK” and “YOU”. If you can’t see what Nirvana did in 1991 as one of the biggest changes to hit popular music in the last hundred years then you probably were (and still are) a posturing hair-metal fan, because that’s the exact music Nirvana came out and pissed all over. What The Velvet Underground did in 1967, what The Sex Pistols did in 1976, Nirvana did exactly that in 1991. They virtually pushed guitars into the hands of the disaffected and said “Go forth and do whatever YOU want.”

And I certainly did.

But I still have so many guilty pleasures. Thing is, nowadays I’m not so much guilty about them. I’m too old to care. My recently found love for Kate Bush? Yeah sure, I’ll share her videos all over my Facebook wall for my friends to jibe or applaud my tastes. I’m not ashamed to embrace the odd few synths now, or bad dance routines and cheese that wiffs stronger than a good Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Believe me, we had it so good. Imagine the embarrassment of the current young generations when they get to our age… Justin fucking Beiber?!

Fuck off.

My first ever blog piece to be published to a blog that isn’t my own…! Thank you Sitting on the Swings!

Sitting On The Swings

ABBA – S.O.S.
In the first ever piece I had published (a non-fiction story for Pure Slush) I detailed a moment in my teens where my older brother used my liking for ABBA as definitive proof that I was a ‘gay’. He may have been correct but he missed two crucial facts: 1) in his late teens he was a Madonna fan (pot, kettle, etc) and 2) no one crafted songs like ABBA did. The verses are amazingly maudlin (which will fit in nicely with so many of following selections it would seem…) but many of ABBA’s best songs have a bleak undertones to them. When the chorus kicks you get a much needed shot of pure power-pop to the veins. Gay? Nah, just genius.

Joan Armatrading – Love and Affection
I think one of my sisters introduced me to this song. As an awkward teen I often felt the…

View original post 1,531 more words

(I started writing these blog posts at the start of this year and then buried the documents aside in a folder, unsure that I should publish their content. After getting back from London last week they came back to mind and I made the decision to open them and read them, which lead to some edits and additions. I’ve decided to publish them on WordPress, although I’m not entirely certain why, perhaps as a better explanation that only touches upon the complexities of the situation we are dealing with when it comes to having a mother with Borderline Personality Disorder and severe depression as well as a diagnosis of dementia.)

ALL ABOUT OUT MOTHER. Well, not all… (Part Two)

I’d made the conscious decision not to go down to London during our two weeks off work in the summer. Nicholas and myself went on our first trip to the Isle of Arran, off the coast of Ayrshire, for a few days camping. We came back to Glasgow with nothing particularly planned. “Let’s go out for something to eat and see a movie.” Braehead was decided upon, we thought we’d give Pizza Express a go, we had some sort of money off vouchers. When we got there the place was packed, seems everyone else had the same vouchers that we did. “Do you have a booking?” “No.” Well, that idea was out of the window.

“Shane, mum’s in hospital.”

One of my sisters sent me a text and that was all it said.

I took a deep breath. You’d think I would call, but a part of me said “It’s just a text, if it was serious she would’ve called. I’ll text back.” I stared at my phone waiting for a reply. We grabbed something to eat in the IKEA restaurant. I’m sure the cinema tickets were pre-booked and so we wandered back over. “Inception” isn’t the most complicated film in the world, but it requires some concentration once they start travelling into different levels of subconscious dream-state malarkey. Well, as we sat there I didn’t take in a jot. I waited for a text back that would hopefully state everything was ‘okay’ and ‘under control’, that it was something minor, that she’d twisted her ankle or something along those lines.

In the months before this I hadn’t kept a lot of contact with my mother. I shall explain.

In the years previous she stopped receiving outpatient therapy. She’d either given up, or been told that ‘they could no longer help her as she was making no progress’. Further along the line she also left/was forced out of her voluntary job. It’s a little unclear as to just what happened.

The reason she had given us was that she had taken offence to being ‘pulled up’ in regards to going beyond her call of duty. My mother loved interacting with the public that came into the children’s outpatients department where she worked a snack and drinks counter. Often she would be asked about appointments and delays and off she’d go asking questions to those who would’ve known about such things. The head nurse apparently took a disliking to my mother’s perceived ‘interference’ and mentioned it to the voluntary co-ordinator, a relatively new manager that she had never liked anyhow.

With great disdain my mother always made the point that most of the other volunteers would rather “sit there and knit, crochet, and not look up from their magazines”, and “if that was what the voluntary services were looking for then they may as well have installed a machine”. I could sympathise with her view.

Just as when the tranquillisers disappeared from my mother’s system, she had now lost another crutch, her one reason to head out, to see and interact with people. Of course logic should dictate that if you had lost the voluntary job you had enjoyed for many years that you would head out and find yourself one of the hundred others waiting to be filled out there. There are plenty of organisations desperate for helpers, especially in as busy an area as South East London and not a five minutes stroll down the road from her home was an office which dealt with getting willing volunteers into roles that would suit them. We prompted her over and over to go in search of something new but she was locked into a track of negativity and despite our pleas she retreated into herself.

The problem was that at the same time I was suffering the toughest years of depression that I had faced so far in my life. Battling daily thoughts of suicide, self-harm and the desperate urge to disappear for good was not helped by a mother who would mirror those exact feelings back onto you, when all you wanted was a mother who could somehow guide you, or support you through these thoughts and emotions.

Sounds selfish? Maybe it is. I quickly found that when I was in a bad frame of mind, being exposed to others who exert extreme negativity would drive me further into dark places. I have had acquaintances that had the same effect and I had no choice but to cut them out of my life. Can you do that with your mother? Not really. If I called her, or she called me, the conversation would start without pleasantries and end up with the phone being handed over to Nicholas as I veered off into territories of anger, frustration and upset.

All I wanted, all my siblings and I ever wanted was a mother. The kind of mother you’d seen and heard of others having. Maternal figures that supported, encouraged, comforted. Pillars of strength that fed their children with positivity and self-confidence. Somehow we had all scraped into adulthood with so little of this behind us. And by this point we were all retreating into our own worlds, battling ourselves and our respective demons, desperately trying to become the adults we thought we should be, and reclaiming the childhood we all collectively never had.

When I finally got a reply it was clear that I would need to travel down to London. I packed and the next day we drove south. For the entire journey all I contemplated was just how we, as a family, would deal with ‘this’. When we got down there it was evident that some sort of crisis point had been reached. My mother seemed to be in the midst of a complete mental breakdown. Terms such as ‘minor heart attack’ were being swirled around, she had grotesquely thinned down from the last time I’d seen her earlier in the year and was confused beyond recognition.

Five very different siblings forced together due to a stressful situation, some that had no contact with each other for more than a few years, made for melting pot that was tense at best and explosive at worst. I think it’s fair to say that in the midst of this situation no one coped particularly well and I was in no way immune to this. Each day was broken up by sudden emotional outbursts, be it tears, anger, screaming, shouting, or a bubbling sense of resentment. There were many moments when silly things would be blown out of all perspective. But in retrospect I’m also surprised with how ‘well’ I coped, what with being not long being free of anti-depressants, away from home, and away from the rock that is Nicholas (he eventually had to drive back to Glasgow to go back to work). Some have even suggested that the epilepsy-related episodes I started to take in the time afterwards are a delayed reaction to the stress throughout this period.

My three sisters took the brunt of the after-care that followed our mother’s hospitalisation. Over the next few years they wore themselves down to the bone, suffering mentally and physically as they took it in turns to look after our mother in her home. Often one would finish their working week and spend their days off sleeping on the sofa, trying to keep our mother fed and medicated, and at the same time they gave up nearly all of their personal time and their social lives. I cannot begin to fathom the toll it took over the following two years.

Looking after someone who suffers with a severe mental illness on a 24/7 basis is never easy. Whilst a dementia diagnosis was the chosen route the professionals were taking, we were still dealing with the mental health issues we had always co-existed uneasily with. Now it seems someone had taken an emotional calculator and multiplied everything negative in our mother’s head by a thousand.

My first time back down in London to help look after my mother was amongst the most traumatic experiences I have had in my life. A handful of months after she had been discharged into the family’s care, she was still confused, hallucinating, having sleepless nights. The confusion manifested itself with her calling for her mother in her sleep, being terrified of figures she saw walking around the house that were not there, not quite knowing who we were and calling us by various other relatives names.

“Who is you mother?”
I laugh, because in these such situations you find yourself laughing at the most awkward moments.
“You are my mother.”
“Was your mother there when you were born?”
Now laughing confusedly, “Yes, you were mum. You had to be.”

Every day was a battle against your own lack of sleep whilst desperately trying to get our mother to eat, bathe, interact. One morning, maybe about 7am, she suddenly became determined she was being held against her will. At the front door she was screaming through the letter box “Help, help, I’m being held against my will.” No one teaches you how to deal with these situations. My sister insisted I go upstairs whilst she tried to calm our mother down. As I climbed the stairs, exhausted after yet another night of barely any sleep, my mother called up to me begging, “Don’t leave your mother, please, help me.”

The memories of these moments and times leave permanent scars.

Things did get better for a short while and a handful of further visits were, at times, marginally easier. She started going to a day centre a few times a week which in one moment she loved, and in another she hated. But as the long-term care continued to take it’s toll, it eventually became apparent that alternate arrangements would have to be made.

A rare moment of responsiveness and reaction from my mother whilst we were looking after her in her home. I was using YouTube to play her songs that she used to sing in clubs in Calcutta whilst she was just a teenager. She always sang with such a quiet, meek voice.

Mum, February 2011: A rare moment of responsiveness and reaction from my mother whilst we were looking after her in her home. I was using YouTube to play her songs that she used to sing in clubs in Calcutta whilst she was just a teenager. She always sang with such a quiet, meek voice.

With those suffering Borderline Personality Disorder, abandonment issues are a major problem. My understanding of BPD is only partial, in fact it would seem the psychiatric world has no definitive solutions for this immensely complicated condition. It was evident that her abandonment issues stemmed back to her father leaving the family home when she was just a young girl, I suppose this could be seen as the earliest cause of her mental health problems. Her father doted on her and it was evident that as a child she loved him dearly. When he left, possibly due to the fact that he was 1) an alcoholic, 2) running up huge debts due to gambling, 3) a womanizer, her and her sisters were left in the care of their mother, my ‘nana’, who was, by my mother’s description, ‘distant’ and ‘cold’ in the early years of her life. The few experiences I can remember with my ‘nana’ in the later stages of her life were quite the opposite, but remember there was almost forty years between my mother’s childhood and mine, and people change.

Borderline Personality Disorder sufferers often believe that the people in their life are going to abandon them and so they push them, testing their will to see if they really will get up and leave. They push them to their limits and beyond and then, when the string eventually breaks it reinforces the BPD sufferer’s initial suspicions that they would eventually be abandoned. I once noticed a book about BPD that was titled “I Hate You, Please Don’t Leave Me”. I bought it and gave it to one of my sisters to read, but the title was a perfect encapsulation of the constant push-pull relationships that BPD sufferers and those around them endure.

We had endured it all our lives.

The months turned into a year and our mother had not responded positively to the round the clock care that she had received from the family. She once again plummeted into a deep level of depression. And no one could continue with the current care arrangements, it’s not exaggeration to say that it was systematically destroying all of those involved. It was decided that a care home was the only option. Can you imagine the mental complexities involved with placing someone with severe abandonment issues, who happens to be your mother, into a care home?

A manager from my workplace who had an understanding of what we were going through once told me in no uncertain terms that “The day will come when you will all have to make the decision to put your mum into a care home. It will be the most difficult decision you will ever have to make in your life, and you will never, ever get over it. But, it is what you will have to do and it’s a decision you’ll have to take for her benefit, not your own.”

We recently travelled to London and of course took whatever opportunities we could to visit family, including my mother. It’s been well over a year and it doesn’t get any easier seeing her in a home that’s not her own. It gets so much more difficult. I have defence mechanisms that automatically come into play when going to see her. I never expect a greeting, a motherly hug and kiss, and it’s easier to cope by expecting nothing pleasant at all. That sounds very negative on the surface, but then expecting anything else simply makes it all the more difficult when none of the things you wish and hope for never come to fruition.

There were some wonderful moments, meeting my brand new great-nephew was a somewhat awe-inspiring instance. Even installing a new printer for my dad before going out for a simple meal with him and just popping around to my sisters’ homes for a cuppa and a chat gave me moments of familial enjoyment. It’s those littlest of moments that over the years we had completely lost touch with. Being so many miles away doesn’t help.

But I also found that we’re all desperately trying to run away from what is always there in the background. I talked to one of my sisters and we discussed how we seemingly avoid interacting with other members of the family because when we do it only stirs up all the things we’re trying to bury somewhere so deep down that we’d never find them again. When I came home to Glasgow I went straight to the cupboard where a long unfinished bottle of gin had sat gathering dust, just to make everything blur out of my mind’s focus, to make it easier to sleep at night. But of course there are better, more productive distractions. I’ve been immersing myself in writing, and thoroughly enjoying it. I wonder if it’s all a form of sadistic escapism? Creating characters with bigger problems than your own, just to take away from your own, real-life issues.

If only I could plot out a happier conclusion to my mother’s woes. All we ever wanted for her was to have some sense of happiness that could pull her free from the darkness in her mind. It doesn’t matter how many miles we try run away from it all, I don’t think we’ll ever give up on hoping that for her. And for ourselves.

(I started writing these blog posts at the start of this year and then buried the documents aside in a folder, unsure that I should publish their content. After getting back from London last week they came back to mind and I made the decision to open them and read them, which lead to some edits and additions. I’ve decided to publish them on WordPress, although I’m not entirely certain why, perhaps as a better explanation that only touches upon the complexities of the situation we are dealing with when it comes to having a mother with Borderline Personality Disorder and severe depression as well as a diagnosis of dementia.)

ALL ABOUT OUR MOTHER. Well, not all… (Part One)

The first time I clearly remember receiving a hug from my mother was as she was leaving to go to hospital. Everyone was stood in the hallway of the family home. I was barely in my teens, maybe eleven years old. As she had her arms around me I could feel her laughing heartily, her frame shaking and I could hear gasps of hysterics. I laughed back, my brain not quick enough to work out why we were laughing in the first place, but as she pulled away I realised that she wasn’t laughing, not at all. She was hysterically crying. And in an instant I was crying too.

Let me try and recall just how this all panned out.

If my memory serves me right this was a few days before the New Year came in. She had stuck Christmas out with us, and as I’ve said in blog posts before, Christmas in my family was a tense affair, even at the best of times.

The full background to this point in time could fill a reasonably sized book or ten. Before my earliest memories kicks in my mother had suffered some sort of meltdown. She took to her bed, she had stomach pains, she had ripped up the passport that had “brought her to this place” (I always remember her old passport being in bits). A doctor was called. “That is one very depressed woman” he told the family that was present.

And that is why my mother had been on tranquillisers as far back as I could remember. Lorazepam is one of the names I distinctly recall, but I’m certain that for approximately ten years she was on a steady dose of various benzodiazepines, of which she became medically and mentally addicted to. She suffered severe depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, none of which were tackled in any productive manner other than the pills she had been constantly prescribed. She functioned on the most basic of levels. She made dinner, cleaned the house and got me off to school most mornings. She occasionally erupted in bouts of vitriolic anger and upset.

After so many years of being stuck in a rut she was encouraged (I can’t remember the how or who that prompted this) to sue the health centre and the general practitioners that had allowed this continued dependency on benzodiazepines well into the early nineteen-nineties. The health centre took offence and literally barred her and our entire family from their practice. The legal proceedings weren’t followed up on, and we all had to change GPs.

I clearly remember the fretting that ensued as the new GP refused to continue feeding her dependency on tranquillisers. He stopped them in an instant and started her on beta-blockers, I believe to minimise the withdrawal effects. And so, my mother was now without her crutch. Years of (partially) suppressed rage and emotion erupted. This moment could be considered one of many pinnacles, I remember it well, physically, I was in centre of the storm.

Lying on the sofa, the GP had been called for a home visit. By god the pain was excruciating. I was in sheer agony. Embarrassingly there was a problem ‘down below’, but no one had a clue what (I feel I should add here that it was later found to be ‘inflammation of the lining of the bladder’, something the doctor said mostly affected old-aged pensioner males). The GP came in and as he examined me I winced under his prods and presses. The examination was over, some sort of conclusion was reached, maybe I had to go to hospital or I was to get some pills, I can’t remember which. And then suddenly my mother exploded.

“I’m not letting you out of this house until you write a letter to send me to the Maudsley.”

She was angry, vicious and deadly serious.

The Maudsley is the keystone psychiatric establishment that operates in conjunction with most mental health services across South East London. In the kitchen the GP talked to my father and one of my sisters in regards to just what was going on here. My mother, despite demanding this hospitalisation herself, begrudged that they had agreed that yes, there was an issue and that yes, it needed to be tackled. She was and still is a woman of extreme contradiction.

At that point, or soon after she went to the hospital. Somehow she’d made the decision to come back to make Christmas dinner for the family. And then she was admitted into a psychiatric ward in Hither Green hospital. I remember visiting and being utterly terrified of this place. Hither Green, now shut down and derelict, was an old Victorian hospital with very eerie corridors. Some patients in her ward were volatile and I can clearly remember us sitting ‘calmly’ as another female patient in the nearby vicinity tried to smash the Perspex windows in the ward with a chair.

Then New Year’s Eve arrived. My Uncle, Aunt and cousin came to stay with us, perhaps to try and make it all as ‘normal’ as possible. There was music (probably switching through the various London radio stations every time a song came on that no-one liked), nibbles, the adults had drinks, people danced, but of course it was all very far from ‘normal’.

A few days before I had watched my mother walking out of the home in a hysterical state. When the clock struck midnight I watched my father stood in the middle of the living room, and perhaps for the first time, maybe the only time I can remember, he was sobbing. He’d always been a ‘man’s man’, he rarely showed vulnerability and was emotionally closed. I had to be prompted by my uncle to hug my father. Crying, I walked up to him and put my arms around him. I don’t think I’d ever hugged my father before that.

Everything changed after my mother came back from the hospital. My father moved out. My mother received occupational therapy which managed to achieve the impossible and break her decade long agoraphobia. She attended ongoing one-to-one therapy sessions. She ended up getting a job as a volunteer in the hospital that she had stayed in and once in a while when I was off school I’d go along with her, helping old aged patients play games of bingo or walking around the grounds of the hospital, taking photos of those creepy corridors.

I guess you could say that this was the best period my mother had. She went out, she enjoyed her job, and she learnt how to run a household in regards to bills and such. Believe me, she wasn’t ‘fixed’, but looking back I’m still astounded that, considering the years previously, she’d ever gotten out of the mire.

It wasn’t to last.

Life and Writing: June 2013

I’ve been frittering time away encountering old-aged pensioner’s boobs, being subjected to many conversations that start off “I’m not a racist but…”, ranting online about Barnes & Nobles’ non-existent customer support in the United Kingdom, and getting into ‘heated’ online ‘debates’ about things that I shouldn’t really involve myself in.

We’ve also had something resembling summery weather in Scotland and whilst feeling compelled to enjoying it when we can (drive to Largs, get nice ice-cream, have a wander) my somewhat tender brain hasn’t particularly enjoyed all this ‘dazzling bright light’. I believe the rest of the occupants of the world call it ‘sunshine’.

I’ve been scribbling away and creating a plan for the project I’m involved in for publication next year. Yes, you read right, a plan, something I never, ever do. Well, I’ve dabbled before, but never really stuck it out.

Thing is this project is a multi-part affair, one section/short story for each month of the year, and the storyline has to flow at monthly intervals. I loved the idea when I first heard about it started penning early drafts back in February. A few months later on a space became available on the project and I took up the chance. I hadn’t been writing fiction for a while and so was wary about committing. Now that I have better idea where the story is going I feel a little more comfortable being involved.

See, the whole ‘writing for publication’ thing hasn’t sat with me too well. Not because my previous (and first) experience was a bad one, quite the opposite, it’s more to do with the internal, writerly insecurities, the sort a lot writers have, or so I’d believe.

“I’m nowhere near good enough to do this so why am I?”
“This piece isn’t a ‘masterpiece’ and I’m going to be laughed at by those ‘in the know’. You know, those figureheads with degrees and the like…”

Also, I’ve psychologically linked up the period of intense (well, it was intense for me!) writing around October/November with the start up of those odd night seizures/episodes. Horrible bloody things.

I had one the other week after many months (thankful) respite. “Buggery” as a friend commented on Facebook. In all honesty it could’ve been the day’s worth of staring at travel websites, clicking on flights, hotels, reviews, photos, prices and options, and then yet more flights and hotels, ad infinitum. In fact, it was that.

I had joked earlier that day that planning an upcoming holiday had given me a migraine, but that’s because we never go the easy route. Those horrid package holidays to resorts that look like concrete council estates (schemes to Scottish readers), filled with drunk, shagging Brits. Those all-inclusive jobs where you need walk no further than the swimming pool to get sunburnt and then head back into the hotel for your lunch, dinner and bed. And drink. There’s plentiful amounts of flowing alcohol. Trouble is it’s usually flowing back up in the wrong direction after a few hours… No, no easy package holidays for us.

“I often question “Is my writing dull, or insightfully mundane?”

It’s probably just dull.”

Despite tongue-in-cheek statements such as the above, I have a certain amount of determination to see this project through despite seizures, insecurities and all. These days I’m constantly wondering, just what makes a story flow well? How much ‘action’ does a story need? Will the reader get bored with the way I attempt to use the mundane to reveal the innermost fucked-up characteristics of the characters, and will they empathise, or better still, see those very same fucked-up elements of the characters within themselves?

I skimmed over the hand scribbled draft I was working on today and read it to my partner. He seemed to ‘get it’, but then he’s known me for over ten years, we’re quite ‘in tune’ with the way each other thinks and our views upon the ins and outs of life and how to live it. I wonder how many others would see the same in the piece as he did?

A couple of things have altered. First off, my days of trying to write ‘important’ pieces are travelling behind me now. Striving for imaginary levels that I won’t achieve, trying to stamp each sentence with meaningful, poetic depth when a simple, brutal interaction, between two characters say, can get the ‘message’ across without tying yourself (and the reader) in words for the sake of words.

Matt Potter of Pure Slush showed me that flouncing around, trying to shove the contents of a dictionary into a short story was nothing more than “wank for the sake of wank”. That phrase stuck.

I see that as the writing equivalent of a ‘guitar wank’, making squiggly noises and moving your fingers impressively fast across the fretboard. I’m sure you’ll impress someone, but most of the time the result won’t be anywhere near as effective as someone that can pick up an acoustic guitar and break your heart, hit you over the head and steal your purse with a few simple sounding chords. That’s what I believe anyway.

Secondly, in the past I’ve been quite het up about the fact that I don’t read much (sharp breaths, calls of ‘heathen’ heard from near and afar!) and just how that effects me as a growing writer. And whilst it’s certainly not the norm, I’m not entirely sure I should get too wound up about it. Mind you, it does help to be able to reel off the names of authors and books when conversing with other writers. I’d sit far too quietly when I attended Glasgow Writers Group meetings, watching everyone in full flow as they did their literary talk. One day, I may well be able to join in fluently. Give me twenty years to catch up.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep bumbling on. There’s a link below to the page all about the project I’ve been mentioning, have a little gander, I think it’s going to be a really interesting year for Pure Slush, and I’m quite honoured to have been offered the opportunity to be a part of it!

Pure Slush: 2014 – A Year in Stories

http://14corners.bandcamp.com/

We finally did it… Our new EP, “Chase The Day” has been released, and we’re getting back some really complimentary comments about it (which actually mean the world to us, thank you listeners!)
Why not take a listen?

We’re back…

‘Back to basics’ was the general idea behind the latest 14corners recordings. When we started work, in the later part of last year we decided to go back to 4-track cassette, to limit ourselves and take away the opportunity to run wild with layers and layers of unnecessary parts and overdubs. We have a habit of doing that and often it’s someone else that has to step in say “Yeah, you’ve gone silly again.” And then we’ll sit, listen and laugh, realising we had gone completely off the rails with beeps and whooshes and an overzealous use of effects pedals.

Our last release was back in 2008. “Hymns in the Wind” became a clean-up exercise, we re-worked some of our many ditched songs from the previous years and re-recorded others that were originally released under our previous guise, The Four Fifty’s (misplaced apostrophe still intentional). It didn’t come out too badly considering the lack of rehearsals, we sold a few copies, got our first review in a newspaper (The Ardrossan Herald gave it a good two-thirds of a page!). It had handmade ‘aged’ lyrics sheets that were printed on paper I soaked in coffee and baked in the oven and then had to iron to get them through the printer, all in a printed, sealed envelope. I don’t even have copy with the full packaging myself! It was totally DIY. It was nice.

644384_10151407213522799_1464143283_n
(The miserable pair, Stevie McEwan (left), Shane Simmons (right), “Hymns In  The Wind” promo shot, 2008)

Between then and now we would sporadically write and record new material and each time the process would peter out to inactivity. There was supposed to be a “Reconstruction” EP, a “Horror Towns” EP, a “Not on the Radio” EP, the list goes on… There were mock-up covers, tracklistings, demos, all left at the wayside. Recently I trawled the archive that is my hard drives and compiled two CDs of all those lost tracks. It stunned us both to see that we’d left give or take about forty songs, most of which (in our overly critical opinions) weren’t awful…

But we started writing fresh material and stuck with a train of thought that kept us towards the simpler sound we once had before in The Four Fifty’s. In relative terms, since picking up our guitars again, it didn’t take long to get the juices going. Each time I leave songwriting behind me, it presents a daunting task to relearn the skills when I (eventually and always do) come back. Stevie finds the same with his guitar playing. Sheer creative frustration and sore fingers weren’t an uncommon occurrence.

There’s a certain importance that I hold in the little things that we do. There’s many reasons, my requirement for creative output of any sort, the sheer passion for music, but now, more so than before, Stevie’s ongoing health issues are having a strong bearing on the music we make, and how we make it. I may be quite open about my own personal matters but I thought it right to ask Stevie’s permission to go into this here. He summed it up quite well, “It is a big influencing factor these days and to be honest I think it has a good effect on the music.”

Stevie was born with a heart defect. I can’t quite explain the ins and outs, as you can imagine it’s quite complicated. Doctors love prodding and poking around with him for this fact. If we jump right back to 2003, when 14corners MK1 first entered a practice room together, I knew that Stevie had health problems. Throughout our years as a gigging band, I’d terrifyingly watch from the opposite side of a stage as his lips and then his face would turn blue as we bashed out our tunes. When we went acoustic in The Four Fifty’s he would suffer with what can only be described as severe palpitations. He didn’t know what they were, the doctors were none the wiser. When 2006 came, we played our final gig, Stevie became a husband and father but we always continued to dabble with our guitars.

It was after a recent trip to the Golden Jubilee this January that his condition hit home. Stevie sent me a text.

“Nothing left they can do apart from making things a bit more comfortable as we go down the line. So that 14corners reunion is fucked lol”

Stevie may have stuck that ‘lol’ at the end of the text, but I knew that it was just to soften the meaning behind the message. I read the text out to Nicholas and couldn’t contain the emotions that suddenly, and surprisingly, burst forth. The thing is I had known for years that we’d probably not ever play live again, but we held onto some shards of hope while there were talks of a transplant and the like. I wasn’t upset because I’d never get to play in a 14corners reunion, as much as I would’ve loved to, no, it’s because I knew how much Stevie missed doing what he loved. It hit home and hit hard.

But from that point we both seemed to know that we had to get back on track. Stop frittering away our songs and get back to what we could still do. Write and record.

Thanks to the technology in our mobile phones we recorded demos and sent them through emails. We bounced songs and ideas to and fro. This wonderful Lennon/McCartney-esque songwriting relationship, one prompting the other, just without the competition…

When it came to record we decamped to Stevie’s bedroom with a laptop, a microphone, some software and a guitar. Simple as. Stevie wanted to record guitar and vocals live, just how we used to in the days of The Four Fifty’s. Stevie battled through, despite worries about running out of breath (Stevie’s oxygen machine may have been a tad too loud to run while the mics were in place…) I took away the tracks to elaborate upon them. This was the first time Stevie had been deeply involved in the mixing, even at the distance between Glasgow and Kilmarnock. I had a habit of living out my sound engineering dreams whenever we recorded, reigning control over everything production wise, but now I was so happy to see Stevie asserting his ideas and suggestions, all of which were taken on board. The artwork had been designed months before we even had the songs. Stevie took the photo which became the front cover, I took the photo that became the back cover. More so than ever, we were collaborating wholeheartedly on all aspects of a musical project.

When I sat down and listened to the almost finished mixes for the “Chase The Day” EP all the way through, I sat and welled up a little. I’m far too emotional a guy obviously! I never thought we’d complete it considering our penchant for ditching anything we committed to (proverbial and sometimes literal) tape.

And before the EP has hit Bandcamp (our new online outlet for distributing music, no more burning CDs and soaking paper in coffee… unless you politely request of course!) we’ve started work on the next EP. We’re chosen to jump on the creative wave that is still flowing. There’s a prospective title and a few songs on the go.

We may just achieve two EPs in the first half of this year. I really hope we do. Just don’t expect a tour. Or any live shows for that matter. 14corners needs Stevie McEwan to hang around, writing and singing his songs for as long as possible…

Love, peace and harmonies,
Shane (and Stevie)