Epilogue ~ what was it all for?

Writing this account came about from a well-meant if innocuous offhand comment that many of us have made, ‘You should write a book’. But, doing it has proved to be a vital form of closure for one part of, let us just say, an interesting life. Hopefully it will open a new door or two into a better one. However long it has left to go, no one will ever be able to say that my life was a dull one.

At the time of starting to write this chronicle there was still about a year of my probation supervision to get through. With only one or two changes in my supervision personnel, I was still able to address all my strange foibles, insecurities and what were sometimes just the plainly pathetic musings of a middle-aged ‘queen’. Although I am suitably embarrassed to recall some parts of my colourful life, having worked through everything as I have, and sometimes still do, I am at least more aware of what makes me, into me. My life is what it is, I can’t go back and change it. There is so much that I wouldn’t change. There is some however that I wish I could perhaps adjust, just a little. Some I could happily miss out altogether. Overall, I would wish for anything that would allow me to understand some things better and so deliver everything more honestly.

The contents of this account are woefully but deliberately missing many, extreme, exciting and interesting elements that have happened to me through my life so far. These include the everyday happenings of fifty plus years of a ‘normal’ open land happy family life with things that envelop all the people who didn’t get an adequate mention for their help, support and everyday contribution through those wildly diverse years. This was also never intended to encapsulate the many events and countless people who have contributed to my life. Hopefully they will contribute to another account at some point; I thank them all whether they are aware of their involvement and influence or not.

Having brought you through it now, I have no further way of influencing anyone’s opinion. Having maintained that everyone is entitled to their own opinions, be they sympathy, horror or revulsion, I am sure that each in their own way are valid around this account. In the years and complexity that my story has embroiled, I think that I have experienced all the emotions and expressions that the human mind and body could conjure up which, hopefully, means that nothing else can adversely affect me anymore.

My contention from the start of this process is still the same in that I make no excuses nor apportion any blame. My life was what it was, it is what it is, it will be whatever I can make it.

Will I do things differently? Of course I will. Will I take comfort from all the positive aspects of my life so far? Of course I will. Do I regret the majority of my normal life? Of course I don’t.

The indulgence of any regret is saved for the difficulties that I have obviously caused for the people who needn’t have been involved in any of the less honest aspects of my activities. Some have forgiven, some won’t ever be able to, some will never know that they were part of it anyway. A line in the sand has been drawn but I can’t influence who chooses to step over it, either with me, or for me. My comfort is knowing that I can deal with life in general, in a way that is so much better, more than I could ever do in the past.

Update 2018:

At this time, my life finds me living happily with a wonderful partner, who helps me make the transition from that ‘Old Me’ so much easier, I can’t express its magnificence enough.

I have completed this edition of the book and have been pleased to see more people read and follow the serialisation of it over the past months, thank you very much. The printed version was never intended for world-wide acclaim but, with luck, it might prop open a few doors, even if it’s never fully read. Its purpose has been complete. It is done…… well unless someone wants to make the film version that is haha!


Chapter Forty Six ~ rehabilitation 101

This is the last but one chapter in the epic story, just the Epilogue to follow next week. Thank you for getting this far with me.

The next glimmering filament of light came with the start date of the court prescribed rehabilitation course; the selection process anyway. The appointment letter read to allow three hours for the event; what on earth could we have to do for three hours, I couldn’t imagine.

At another office that I also knew well, the first meeting of my potential course buddies took place; there were eight of us. No one openly identified themselves, each of us seemed to want to maintain the safety of the type of bubble that I had lived most of my life inside; personally, I didn’t really mind. A list of names were eventually called, and we filed into a small, plain, but functional room. Explanation unveiled that the afternoon was to be spent completing a series of tests by answering what turned out to be hundreds of mainly multiple-choice questions. No wonder they wanted us to allow three hours. The rules of the event were expounded by two young probation people who, for their sins, had also to sit with us throughout the thick and palpably uncomfortable silence that followed.

Within the sheaf of papers we were handed, there was page after page of topic specific questions delving into our thoughts and feelings. At first glance many had vague, disconnected scenarios that were just too generalised to apply to my own and I suspected everyone else’s, individual situation’s. The most important and strongly emphasised requirement, was that we must answer every question regardless of relevance or understanding. If there was no immediately suitable answer then the nearest one would do, or, and most bizarrely I thought, you were to imagine yourself in the given situation and somehow spuriously consider what you would do there, to supply an answer to the main question. Anyone with half a conscience could see the possibilities for misinterpretation or at least skewed judgement which stood out like gaping holes and possible entrapment.

There was no rule for working in silence, but it seemed self-imposed by our unfamiliarity with each other. Eventually, one or two candidates needed to challenge the incongruous nature of many of the questions, I expected on behalf of most of us. With these sometimes pertinent and legitimate queries receiving only a cursory repetition of the original instructions, it did nothing to ease the tension building in the increasingly airless room. This was clearly indicated by the amount of shuffling of concerned feet, tapping of irritated pens and quiet but wanton sighs; the torture couldn’t end quickly enough.

Although I wasn’t the first to finish the 80 plus pages, I definitely wouldn’t be the last. One person seemed to have completed at about the same time as me, he went straight up, handed his clipboard over and waited impatiently to have the sheets checked for any of the much noted missing answers. The successful completion and hasty escape seemed to provoke others into a variety of action. A hand went up with a query for something on only page 14 and I could see several faces adopt the same questioning look. Having finished my own trial but for some irrational reason not wanting to be second to get out, I continued to flick through the pages to look as if I had more things to think about than I actually did. One hour and thirty-five minutes, that must be long enough to appear to have been careful but not too clever. Feeling like an errant school boy, I took my completed work to the desk. All the pages were carefully checked as before, and after a confirmatory ‘thank you’ and a forced half-smile, I retrieved my coat and bag and left; eyes very much front and centre. Others were starting to take the initiative and were getting ready to hand in their hopefully non tell-tale tomes. We had arrived alone and in silence and we were leaving in the same way. If this was group work, I didn’t relish its future.

Outside the building, the first guy to have left was leaning on the hand rail, probably trying to recover some sense of purpose, most likely letting the nicotine he was inhaling soak into his system. He glanced at me but didn’t acknowledge my passing behind him; why should he? Perhaps he hadn’t registered any of us in the room; unlike me. Someone else elbowed their way through us, I could see that he was running for a bus that was just pulling up. I could forgive him his rudeness just to watch his soft, silkily waved hair bounce behind him as he ran.

Walking off smartly in the other direction, despite my similar need for transport, I was trying to pull myself together but at a loss of what to do next. Turning round again after only a few paces, perhaps for some inspiration, I was passing back past the probation office where two more of the candidate group were removing themselves, head bowed and hurriedly away from the crowded doorway. The thought of spending the impending 32 weeks with any of these people, held no attractive or positive inspiration.

The disappointing thoughts rebounded, turning my path in a different direction once more and hopefully away from people in general. Unfortunately, I found myself almost face to face with someone I actually knew. My feet stopped walking and I found that I simply couldn’t remove myself out of potential harm’s way. The person was someone from the hospice just around the corner.

My voluntary work, which had been both legitimate and very important to me at the time, had been unnecessarily dragged into the mire of my conviction through the extensive if ultimately futile investigation into my case. All that they needed to have done was listen to my submissions that no one there had ever been involved; no one was ever in danger; no one was ever hurt; unfortunately, no one would ever see the truth in my point of view and the die was cast. It was the first time that I had seen anyone that I had known since the case blew up and by some miracle, they didn’t seem to have recognised me. Despite this, my nerves crumbled and I somehow managed to turn and walk quickly in a fourth direction; I didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop.

By the time I became distressingly out of breath, I had passed several available bus stops. The next stop was thankfully empty, and I just had to sit down. It was quiet, I liked quiet, I needed quiet. Within only minutes it was consummate turmoil. The schools had started to turn out. Schools full of the under eighteens that I was forbidden to associate with, schools full of the bold and beautiful with their smooth skins and modern styles. Things that had only ever been elements of pleasure, now took on unfamiliar and unjustified sinister overtones. My breath became more laboured again, but the panic came from much deeper insider me this time. In a state bordering on hysteria, I managed to summon up the common sense to quickly walk away. It was more of a jog but only that of an inelegant overweight, middle-aged freak guarding a guilty conscience who had no place in any normal society.

Why was I like this? Why did anyone think I couldn’t be around these beautiful young people and they be safe anymore? Why did everyone else think I was such a danger? How could I show that I wasn’t a threat? What were they afraid of? Perhaps I was wrong? Perhaps they had all been in dire peril after all? Did anyone look compromised? They must be, or the law wouldn’t say so, would it? The only person I was a danger to, was me. I had to be apart from everyone. I was reprehensible. I was a criminal.

Reaching the next empty stop, I got off, deliberately letting two more buses pass. The cacophony of unsuspecting children that filled the vehicles, was both terrifying and intriguing; luckily for me, and them, pure terror took charge of my actions.

Looking for alternatives but not being able to face walking up the hill ahead, the next bus was almost empty; the only uniform was that of the unremarkable driver. Still thinking twice about it, I just about managed to get myself onboard before he closed the door on me and drove off. There was a seat right at the front and I sat quickly, staring at the floor, praying for no one else to sit by me. The unambiguous wording of my SOPO (sex offender’s prevention order), were burnt indelibly into my mind, perhaps they should be burnt onto my skin so that everyone would know; everyone would be safe; everyone that is, but me. The hour-long journey would be purgatory.

Although I knew the bus had to pass the prison, it still caught me by surprise when I saw it’s forbidding walls through the dirty bus windows. The memories of my time there flooded back, I found myself smiling. The recurring thought popped up, if I knocked on the doors do you think that they might have me back? I stayed in my seat but pictured clearly and precisely how the workshops would be returning to the wings, the evening’s meals being loaded into the heated cabinets. I could see everyone on P wing settling in for the evening at ‘home’, safe, secure. I wondered if the others were all still there, Des, Harry, Smudge, Colin, Richard? Each going about their individual and community business; I missed them all. Harry, I knew exactly what he was doing but hopefully, he was to be going out soon, silly old fool; but my silly old fool.

Eventually, I was running away from the final bus stop into the relative safety of my current residence. The door slammed mutedly behind me with its still unfamiliar noise. It was difficult to call it home, it was just my alternative prison and, having just glimpsed the other one I still didn’t know if I really wanted this, my proper one, back.

The solitude and darkness of night no longer calmed things down, where in it used to hold such pleasures, it might never do again. Mundane television filled the solitary silence, while despair and desperation filled my despised inner emptiness. The only hope for stability rested on the probation service and its unquantifiable support; such vagary didn’t help.

Since the incident with boys on the bus, where possible, I only went to places I could walk. One of the few exceptions was to visit my mother but even then, things were carefully timed to avoid all the school movement by as many hours as I could manage. More disturbing than any practical day-to-day matters was not being able to rationalise why I felt the need to change my behaviour so dramatically. It was not enough to know what I had to do, or even the doing such, I had to understand why. Who was it I had to change for? For me? No, I knew full well what I was but more importantly what I wasn’t. Therefore, it must be for everyone else’s sake, but again, why? I could live without people as I had most of my life. I didn’t need anyone to judge me, because I had already done that myself. I just wanted to get on with my new life if ‘they’ would let me? Did I need permission? Did I need to prove something to myself? Did I need to be here at all? I had no idea.

The unsettling feelings, despite making some effort, just wouldn’t go away and unlike my previous existence I had nothing to hide my feelings behind anymore. How was I going to prove anything about myself when I didn’t really know what it was that I was grasping for in the first place? Why was I such a problem? I was a problem solver; I was a thinker, yet I couldn’t come up with an answer; I understood the problem but couldn’t understand the remedy. Being caught, being convicted should be an end to it surely? Was this just too big a change? Was this too much for people to accept? Was this too different to even talk about? Did I want to move on with my new life? Did I want a life without the wonderful things I had before? The questions just kept coming with none of my mental boxes left to put them into.

There was only one outlet now for these frustrations, and for once, it wasn’t in my trousers. Early in my probation visits, Tony had me making a diary of each week’s events, however big, small, relevant or innocuous they might be. By openly discussing almost every interaction and how it affected me, I was forced to look at everything in my life in a different light. The down side to this self-analysis was that the most simple and innocent thing was all too easy to blow-up and out proportion. I found myself having to justify almost every thought, feeling, action or reaction that crowded my days and worse, the long nights.

The process wasn’t all doom and gloom, not quite, at least being able to discuss the slowly emerging difficulties seemed to be an attempt at penance for my obscure life. Tony valiantly tried to balance its diversity, identifying the positives as they occasionally popped up. In the early days, his kindnesses were difficult to accept, given an appreciation of what I had done for the fourteen years, as considered by court case. On top of all that, there was the developing need to consider the forty years that had led up to this point. That part was equally, if not more confused, by the lack of any understanding or appreciation of the harm that I might have been done during the experimentation and discovery phases of my life. Although I knew what we discussed didn’t always supply a specific answer, at least I managed to justify myself; for the time being. With growing confidence and some degree of luck I could move towards the possibility of finding the right answers although putting into words of how I was ‘feeling’ was near impossible; I hadn’t had much practice of that sort of thing in the past had I?

With the advances we did make, problems I had never considered before now became things of concern. Simple, everyday situations like shopping. Because of enhanced senses bordering on paranoia, difficulties were springing up everywhere I looked; even if it was only people in that I had looked at a thousand times in the past. Case in point was one small boy, admittedly with a perfectly sculptured, raven black ‘mushroom’ cut hair pictures of which I had previously collected in abundance, made me change where and when I shopped in my local high street. I need to reiterate that it was the image and not the person that I was drawn to. In so many things, I felt the need to justify looking at people now and repeatedly found myself over thinking to the point that my perceived guilt wanted me to hide away from everything outside my door. Some days, most days if I am honest, it took so much effort to go outside I couldn’t begin to describe it.

Before all this, there had never been the need to consider societies assumption that I might be predatory, but as far as I was concerned, I wasn’t. Now it was everywhere I looked. The more I thought about it, talked about it, the more I knew I needed to be removed from society. Could I ever trust myself? Could I ever be ‘normal’ again? Had I ever been ‘normal’? Having only exposed a few of my most deep and intimate inner workings to Tony, I was beginning to think I might not have been, and perhaps was still not, perhaps could never be, ‘normal’.

A second Probation letter gave the date for my ‘rehabilitation programme’ group.

The appointment was at a different office again, this one much closer to home and so with less problem laden travel, I breathed a silent sigh of relief and smothered misgivings about everything else I would be facing.

After building up the event in my head, practising all the options for conversing with other people etc., the initial meeting was a bit of a let-down. It was simply a face-to-face interview with the people who were to run the course; thankfully it was painless.

If nothing else, it was an opportunity to test out the new route to get me there on time; punctuality was a must, not that I was anything but. The obvious choice of going along the canal presented itself, seemed harmless enough, pleasant even considering that it was in the heart of the city. At least I should be out of harm’s way. Despite knowing that the assertion was really a lie, I tried my best not to think about the many visits to rather darker sections of the waterways and the dangerous if glorious sexual gratification I had found there many years before. Although I wasn’t actively looking for such things now, what I would have done if an opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t answer. That tricky question was held in abeyance to see if it might happen.

The walk back from the interview confirmed the timing but unfortunately, I noted places where any encounters could potentially happen. Locking these safely away and I looked forward to the following week with the start of another new adventure. All I had to do in-between was put myself in the right frame of mind, concentrate on the matter in hand and resist other urges and temptations. Would I? Could I? Having managed to learn a little about supervising my thoughts, and thanks to the unshakable Tony, I hoped that some of my many fears would trouble me a little less. The start of the course held only the most basic of terrors; other people, unknown people, people who were apparently only like me in the one respect.

On that first afternoon, six unlikely looking offenders sat silently alongside each other in the small reception area, I made the seventh. None of the worried faces were familiar from the written test day. We all seemed to stand out like sore thumbs.

The one thing that had concerned me, as with all my probation visits, had been that other people would find out the specific reason I was there. In prison there had always been the hope of personal protection through the VP system but outside, the world would not be so forgiving; even amongst other offenders. The concerned looks on several of our faces must have been from similar thoughts. Thankfully we were only once questioned directly by one of the non-group probationers as we waited nervously each week; only 33 to get through. Fortunately, the person that had been asked, ‘wot you up for mate?’ was quick thinking enough to say that it was for some obscure driving related offence. As the invented offence held no depth of interest it didn’t raise any other query; you could see the relief on all our faces as the sullen but intimidating inquisitor was called through to his own appointment. It did make each of us think of an answer of our own, just in case. I for one was relieved when a familiar face called us through to relative safety.

Following each other along the corridors and politely through several security doors, we went up to what would become our shared realm of both shame and salvation, once a week for the next seven months. Other than the usual common courtesies, the procession was eerily silent. The door to the large room closed silently behind the last of us.

Before we sat ourselves down, there seemed to be a great deal of silent consideration, not for who we wanted to sit by, but rather who we felt that we might not want to end up being near. Only time would reveal whether our final choice might be satisfactory, interesting, or some sort of Freudian subconscious indeterminate decision. Sitting when directed, we found ourselves in a very exposed and uncomfortable semi-circle, facing where the two group leaders would presumably be sitting; they were still flitting about the room arranging and moving things. What comment they did make to each other was hushed and inaudible.

As the group faced the same way and away each other, there was now less pressure for being quite so circumspect in stealing looks at the other members. The one thing that caught my attention was the apparent diversity of our little family. While I was being unfairly accusatory, my inbuilt ‘gaydar’ had reacted favourably to some of the group, confirmation would have to wait until later as it was interesting rather than important; for the time being anyway.

As I was about the worst person for guessing people’s ages, I could only surmise that we ranged from perhaps late twenties to, well, I will be kind and stop at seventy. Realising that I needed to stop thinking so much, I concentrated on our two group leaders who had finishing their preparation and had now sat opposite us. We all seemed anxious to get things underway, either to get into or get over the event; for me it was the former. Once the DVD recorder linked to the discreet camera had been set in motion, we began.

Introductions. Having already met the leaders the week before and despite their apparent familiarity towards us all, the distinction of our roles was tempered with just enough of an edge to be clear-cut. Next on the list came a small mountain of housekeeping rules and organisational requirements but there was nothing that wasn’t unexpected. Finally, it was to be our turn for input.

Each session would start and finish in true, tried and tested group therapy style with both ice breakers and detachment exercises respectively. The opening proceedings were often just simple things; what energy you were bringing to the group that day; what mood you were feeling before sitting down; what effect had the previous week had on you immediately after the group; name one thing that you had done differently that week to any other; there was a long list. At the end of the sessions, a number of release questions were more to break the sometimes heavy chains of thought before leaving the safety of the room; what nice thing were you going to do for yourself that day; what positive feeling were you going to take and share with someone that week; what was your favourite flavour of ice cream; what was your best holiday in the last five years. Having done this sort of thing before I could understand the rationale behind it but often failed to see the relevance to fully engage, especially after what were often very intense sessions of self-analysis. Mostly, I often felt that I wanted, if not needed, to carry on with the self-torture, but it was not to be allowed; not in group time anyway.

On this, the first session, when we eventually got to the central theme. After the nervous and muted laughter from our varied answers faded away, the first real exercise of the session was presented to us. It was easy to surmise that it was designed to help wheedle out those who were open to participation and those who were not. In this group we seemed to have the full spectrum of personality’s which was perhaps not so much by chance, more by careful design. Expectations had been made clear that our participation was not optional, and, in my head, I conjured up an image in which we were just rats running around a complex and blacked out maze.

Pressure of the unknown was already building in the pit of my stomach, the fear of other peoples’ reaction, judgement and most probable, misjudgement. Very different to the one-to-one work with Tony, in a group there would be no room for show-boating and the whole group had to put in their two-penny worth at every opportunity; no exceptions.

Group rules. These were self-prescribed for working together and were written up on a rather wobbly flip chart. They included the usual, safety, confidentiality, respect, language, honesty, participation, and several other incidental things; there was nothing that my previous young groups hadn’t come up with. Having all been made to make at least one contribution, however simple or obvious, we stood one by one to sign the flip chart which was blue-tacked onto the wall; we were officially a group. The next and really the first big test was to share our criminal lives with what were, for all intents and purposes, total strangers. The tension notched up a level, or even two.

By some unconscious decision, I had seated myself near enough in the middle of the arc of chairs. Having remembered most participation exercises started at one end of the line or the other, I was bound to be safe. Neither end of our line felt that they were ready but, apparently it was too early to be tough on anyone and it came down to volunteers. Of course, still no one stepped up and so, someone was volunteered. This was going to get very tedious.

The adage that you should never judge a book by its cover was never as true as it was for this particular shelf in the library of peoples’ lives. After the first stumbling and minimalist efforts, the others eventually conceded their rather muted contributions, keeping the facts to the bare minimum where they could. There was only mine and one more to go. Knowing that my facts would be far more extensive than the others seemed to have been, I had easily visualised the raised eyebrows that my sharing would bring. Surprisingly, I was unabashed, composed even, and shared the full, unabridged car-crash of my illegal activity and conviction and sentence. Despite having nothing to be proud of, the facts flowed quickly and effortlessly onto the flip chart with only the occasional pause in my diatribe, for the writer to catch up.

Fortunately, for me anyway, the leaders managed to stop any venturing outside the specifics of my conviction, they had obviously sensed my impending lack of control. Before all this, no one, and I mean absolutely no one, had known anything of the many sides of my secret life. Although on one hand I wanted to keep it that way, at the same time I felt a bizarre need to share it all with someone. While in prison I had considered telling my story but the lack of courage or conviction, pardon the pun, was what saved me from the retribution that would have no doubt happened in some dark unsupervised corner of the wing. In this supposedly safe group, other than with Tony, I was the closest to bearing my soul than I had ever been. In the moment, and with the eyes of our invigilators firmly upon me, I stuck to the simple facts and stayed away from the more graphic details. Sitting down afterwards, I felt drained.

As we then analysed the data set out in categories, I seemed to top the list for all of them; the longest period of activity; the greatest number of images downloaded; the most diverse content; definitely the most extreme subject matter; and just to round it off, the longest list of restrictions accompanying my conviction. The only thing that we had the same was the sentence itself, the community order and attendance of this rehabilitation programme. It was easy to understand the silence that blanketed the room.

The fact that my face was exceptionally hot, and I assumed very red, my immediate concern was that my rather simplified if pure statement of the facts may have come across in the wrong way. The blank looks from the others could have gone either way. Perhaps I had sounded as if I was somehow proud of it all, the last thing I needed was to start another obscure pissing contest with these people. The only thing I was proud of if anything, was my ability to share all of the gruesome ignominy in its vile entirety with people other than the professionals that, only as part of their job, had to deal with it.

In the vacuum that seemed to have filled the room, my imagination was hammering away in my skull and seemed, worryingly, happy to feed off what I took to be the stunned silence. Logically I knew that it needed to be done and there was nothing to fear from the truth any more. Eventually the spotlight moved off me as we listened to the person who followed up the rear; I couldn’t help feeling that I had rather stolen their thunder. Being the most reluctant of the group, he offered only the barest of facts and needed to have each one scraped out of him. The two of us seemed to have formed both ends of the spectrum but I was happy to know which one I was happier at.

So, there we were, all our secrets laid bare, it was an unfortunate time to call a tea break. The staff members left the room. If we had just been seven guys down at the pub, at least one of them might have started a conversation, if only to be polite. Despite the extended illusions of making coffee or tea, it was as uncomfortable and as silent as it could have been. This cruel impasse was only broken by an audible and almost communal breath of relief as our leaders returned to the room; maybe this was part of the test?

Despite the early difficulties and once we had got over any initial shocks, the many weeks that followed wove themselves together through an intricate game of cat and mouse, played out with all of us assuming both roles at different times and in different disguises. It was not always the most pleasant of things to work through but, the programme had obviously been carefully constructed to touch every part of our previous lives. The functionality of our deepest, darkest feelings, through to the undeniable consequences of our actions. One thing that was obvious from the start, the questioning of ourselves and the rest of the group would be in some depth and, if you were to engage constructively, there should be nowhere for anyone to hide. Any embarrassment we felt, and the inevitable vulnerability was to be expected and even encouraged as part of the greater cathartic process for understanding and change.

To keep the process fresh and engaging, there were several aspects to the course; although none of them made it any less difficult. Group work, intense paired debates, uncomfortable role play and excruciating focus groups. Others were by the completion of cleverly constructed charts and diagrams, time lines and continuum’s. By a very ingenious confluence of these many streams of information, we discovered that we were as much assessing each other’s issues as our own.

Most of the work that we did was focused towards the rather innocuously simple concepts labelled ‘Old Me’ and ‘New Me’. As part of my ‘Old Me’, my lack of self-management and denial was torn apart but he group quiet early on. To embrace all the ‘New Me’ thinking, there had to be ‘no place left to hide’ if you wanted to gain any benefit from the rehabilitation and re-education. It wasn’t just a case of agreeing with everything either, you had to metaphorically ‘show your workings out in the margins’ by explanation of what you said or suggested or run the risk of being caught out in any attempt at deception, which many did in the initial stages.

As we progressed slowly through these exercises, there were so many issues to get through it was clear that each one of us would have to adopt a very ‘no hole’s barred’ approach to prove our progress. Most seemed happy to take all this on board; only one of us proved time and time again, that he couldn’t play along, which apparently was a better ratio than normal for this kind of group; not that he got away with everything in the long-term.

Speaking to a group had never been a problem for me but I could appreciate that it wasn’t the same for everyone else. I also counted myself fortunate to have an inexhaustible amount of patience to wait for the less able to laboriously get through whatever the topic of the moment was; no one was ever left out, however painful or protracted it became.

Despite the difficult initial stages, once some of the barriers had been lowered just a notch or two, the atmosphere became easier to work within. It took about six weeks before most of us could feel comfortable enough to comment directly on another’s issues. Once more, I had to consciously stop myself from indulging myself too much and found myself metaphorically sitting on my hands many times.

Having had to accept that there was no such thing as a victimless crime and believe me, some did try to prove otherwise. In my case it had been so easy to shut the door on the rest of the world. For the others, and eventually myself of course, we painfully discovered that in this rather dark and disillusioned world, it was the victims that always suffered. For me as a clandestine and wholly solitary collector, I was faced with having to accept this difficult responsibility but accept it I had to.

This subject obviously raised many contentious points and several of the group were not short of offering their opinions or showing a willingness to question some of the various propositions that were put to us.

Everyone took something different from each element of the programme because of our individual situations but, many similar hard-hitting discussions and caustic realisations seemed to have similar effects on other members of the group. Some of us found it easy to share how we felt; some of the others couldn’t or often wouldn’t offer an opinion, however much we pressed them. Although the more difficult sessions were challenging to get through, for the enlightenment they brought, I for one tried my best to engage fully where I could, even if it became ambitious for the others to sit through or absorb some of my own often strange, obscure, and openly voiced opinions.

All this self-exploration was not confined to the group meetings, we had weekly homework as well. As either a continuation of a topic or a pre-emption of the next session, we were regularly asked to explore and explain some of the more personal aspects of our offending, our wider general lives and the more specific things that might have led us up to that point in time. The results of the homework were always presented openly to the rest of the group the following week. Despite the reluctance to take part that some had, by the end of the course nearly all of us were used to having to understand in some depth what we had put in our written text or prescribed diagrams, to explain them to everyone else. This comprehension factor was vital to pass the test of not just giving lip service and was obviously a key factor in getting across certain points clearly and comprehensively. Some people obviously tried to get away with only a cursory involvement, but rarely got away with it for very long.

Giving feedback to each other was greatly encouraged, even when it didn’t necessarily seem to be essential. In the preliminary stages of the programme it had been started off by the team leaders but in time, the use of positive affirmation became a regular and encouraged expectation for us all. Living the life that I had, this was rather an alien concept. Personally, I had always thought I neither needed nor appreciate the benefit of the concept and cringed at the thought.

In general, the rest of the programme went very well; for my part I though it did anyway. Having to keep up the weekly meeting with Tony as my Offender Manager, feedback was generally positive for which I was grateful but not unsurprised. I was able to elaborate any specific issues that cropped up or questions from my homework, rather take up the whole of the group’s time; I was in constant danger of doing that as it was. Many of the others obviously didn’t have the same level of support that I did, partly because of the severity of my conviction but it was something I couldn’t do without.

The latter end of the programme covered several obscure elements that most of us thought that we could have done without and might have saved at least three weeks. Eventually though, the course finally ended. One or two of the group wanted to continue the fellowship although we were officially discouraged from meeting up after the programme. The dangers were clear to see but I genuinely didn’t feel the need to extend the simplistically formed familiarity anyway; not with having Tony to spend time with.

We each quietly went back to our own lives and eagerly waited for the post-programme reports to come out. It took about three months for mine, but it was certainly worth waiting for. There was no certificate nor tee-shirt for that matter, it was another big step up the ladder towards the light and hope of getting some sort of a life back again.

Settling into the nearest to what you could call a ‘normal’, my life line was still the weekly hour or more with Tony. Through him, and his colleagues when he had to have time off, the rest of my superficially simple and yet vastly complicated life was slowly put into some sort order and more importantly, perspective. From chaos came a degree of cohesion. Despite missing the group work, even the homework, I most definitely missed the opportunity to offload my issues onto others.

As fascinating and frustrating as it had been, the work we did from there on was not all about my past. Officially, this new phase was described as ‘social re-integration’. In essence, it was learning how to build a new life within the limitations that would follow me for some years; if not for life. ‘Positive’ became the active word and by Tony’s seemingly inexhaustible attempt to harness this sometimes-illusive characteristic in myself. The focus of our conversations turned distinctly to the future and this ‘New Me’.

Thankfully, surprisingly even, most of the day-to-day living turned out to be safer than I would have believed and, under cold scrutiny, generally rather innocuous. It did however give me the opportunity and the ability to spot any of the more negative issues hopefully before they could be allowed to get out of hand.

Of course, the gathering and analysis of information was, as my grandmother used to say, like ‘feeding sugar butties to donkeys’, in other words, easy and productive. You couldn’t hide behind facts, you didn’t always know what to do with them but at least they provided a foundation for the future. In the clear light that these undeniable elements shone out onto life, my concerns were not as concerning as I often thought they would be; whenever I had allowed myself to think that is.

With the massive amount of support, I have had from Probation, Tony and his fellow offender managers, I am still alive and kicking and more importantly, out of trouble. With them and very much because of them, I am finding things to occupy my time, filling some of my personal voids and slowly developing degrees of confidence to manage everything else about me once more. Life now is certainly not as bleak after the steel doors slammed behind me in the early dark days of things custodial. It’s still very slow progress and despite being very frustrating at times, by patient pragmatism and open honesty, things are more manageable, definitely more meaningful and dare I say it, even hopeful.

Although I can’t change from being the person that committed the crimes, the main difference now is an ability to manage those elements that caused the problems in the first place. Only time and tide will see what is finally written in the sands of the future I continue to make.

Chapter Forty Five ~ and so it begins

The start of my legal, penitential journey, came with fulfilling the second of the many preconditions attached to my Community Order, attending the Probation office. This would be the start of a three year psychologically intimate relationship. Although I knew it was to be a marriage of legal necessity, it was one I was feeling tentatively positive about; perhaps even looking forward to in an unsubstantiated way.

From the six and a half months I had been safely behind bars, the very limited insight I had gained into criminality and the working of British law, had sparked a curiosity I had not felt for a long time. That is not to say that I found it glamorous, or something I might knowingly choose or even recommended, but being part of it held a strange fascination that would continue for at least the three years. Perhaps it was down to being able to empathise? Perhaps I had been destined to be part of the lawless class of 2009? Perhaps I was just lost?

Whichever it turned out to be, with the aid of my ever-divided consciousness, I hoped I could understand better how I had affected, disappointed, and deceived so many people over such a prolonged period. My hope was that this very personal journey might show me how to make a difference in the future. The rest of my life would certainly be very different but that didn’t seem to matter, I would change and adapt as I had repeatedly over the years.

Although whenever I set foot outside the door, my hypersensitivity hadn’t lessened, the short bus journey to the Probation’s far flung office had gone without incident. I knew the building very well from years as a supplier of printed items, but it seemed different now I was a ‘client’. As I stood in-front of the armoured glass in reception, with my best spirit of optimism turned up to full, I only hoped that no-one would recognise me. Giving my name was more difficult than it needed to have been as the intercom required you to speak in a rather louder voice than I felt necessary. With the uncertainty of who might be loitering in the background, I waited for any recognition or reprisal from the other clients milling about in the background but of course there were none.

The uneventful moment still managed to bring the dark confirmation that I had been formally and now publicly absorbed into the tide of criminality. Before this moment, it had all been safely contained within the insular worlds of prison and my over-active mind. Now, I was just one more piece of either flotsam or jetsam; I hadn’t worked out which I was yet. Despite all this, the pleasant receptionist acknowledged my attendance.

As I sat on the hard, if stylish metal seating, I couldn’t help but steal a glance or two at my fellow probationers. Under the guise of reading the rather pedestrian power-point presentation on the flat screen monitor, I tried desperately to see where or even if I could melt unnoticed into the background. Except for their clothing, none of the assembled throng looked very different to the company I had kept only a few days before; but why would they? The more circumspect side of my brain jumped in and chided the other for the improper thoughts that it was having about one of the more distinctive, ok, attractive boys, sitting opposite me, fortunately I was bought back to the serious side of the place. If I concentrated hard enough I could just manage to turn the lust off. The street door opened noisily.

Nobody else seemed to notice the slim, exquisitely barbered young guy who sauntered in, his designer jeans slung dangerously low to display the waistband of his equally expensive underwear. He stood at the reception window with his back to me and my eyes locked onto him, refusing to listen to the logic not to stare. Don’t turn around, no, please, oh, yes, please turn around, please, I can’t quite see that tattoo on your neck properly. Unfortunately, and as if on cue, he turned. The gel on his carefully sculpted asymmetric hair cut caught the harsh fluorescent light which also managed to deepen the shadows under his enticingly hooded brow. Deep blue eyes shone out of their hollows and caught my gaze full on like spotlights, I knew I had been looking at him just too long, but it was too late. Feeling myself go very hot, what might have been just his natural, if interesting scowl deepened noticeably, I quickly looked at the floor. This sort of activity needed much more practice if I was to survive the possibilities; or were they probabilities? For some reason, the image of the prison wing’s barber plying his excellent trade flashed up on the display screen of my over active mind.

Getting your hair cut in prison had been an event I had never attempted. It had only been a matter of asking an officer for the hair clippers during an association and getting on with it. The intent was there many times, but the words would never come out of my mouth. From my observations, there seemed to be a designated cutting guy who administered to the rest of the wing; by his own perfect hair and the creations he regularly crafted to others, I was sure that he was a trained hairdresser. With my weakness for this particular thing, the results of his work were agonising to look at. The method of payment wasn’t obvious, and I couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t, work out what it might be; if anything at all. It would have only been some ‘burn’ or a pill or some other innocuous item but I had never actually seen anyone give him anything; in the darkness of my subconscious I knew exactly what I would have liked to give him.

Begrudgingly, the thought passed and here, back in the present, thankfully there was no further incident. The guy in question sat well away from me and I would get to know every inch of the floor, walls and ceiling from then on to remain safe.

Other than names being irregularly given in at the desk, there was virtually no talking. For no obvious reason though, the tension seemed to grow by the minute although I knew that it was only in my head, my feet and hands were fidgeting more than I could reasonably control. The door to the consultation rooms opened and closed at regular intervals and one by one the ‘clients’ were called through by their offender managers. I still hadn’t looked around at the others, just used my peripheral vision but hearing a familiar voice made me jump.

“David Rollason?”

My neck cracked painfully and noisily as it spun round too quickly to one side, I felt my eyes widen as the familiar eyes locked onto mine; this couldn’t be right. Picking up my coat and brown envelope without breaking this eye contact I reached for the slim outstretched hand of the slight figure that was smiling from the doorway. Towering over him, it was the most positive things that had happened, in the swoon of recognition I couldn’t recall when I might have compared meeting young Tony again.

“Come through, how are you doing?”

Rather dazed at the revelation, I followed without further thought for the other clientèle. Once we had found an empty room in the busy suit of small offices, I ineptly took off my scarf but eventually sat, shuffled nervously, coughed, wiped my nose and straightened my jeans far more than was necessary. Once calm I found myself at somewhat lost for what to say. Tony was one of the few people that I had ever expected to be sitting opposite again and I was conscious that my surprise and in many ways relief, might have shown a little too much. Discretion took the upper hand for a change and I waited to be led, hopefully with a degree of care, into whatever this process was going to be.

The meeting was friendly, if somewhat functional, but it seemed to flow in the same non-confrontational vein that our last brief encounter had; my only hope was that the outcome from this one would be somewhat better. He eloquently outlined the general formalities, limitations and expectations that I would be working within for the next three years, none of which seemed to be unreasonable or unrealistic. Despite the depth of severity in these instructions, I felt playfully detached and surprisingly comfortable.

The primary purpose of this initial revelation was the creation of a ‘safe environment’, to give it its official classification, to allow me to engage with ‘the process’; the under-text seemed to read ‘if I wanted to’ but, I didn’t think I would do anything less at this stage. For my more immediate future we discussed some of the potential reprisals, considering the nature of my conviction, and several other issues around my personal safety. Inevitably I would be out in public more than I had been in the last few days and I needed to be aware of what might be lurking out there. The police had already outlined some of these possibilities and behaviour patterns that I could adopt to assist them in their ‘duty of care’ towards me, not that any of it had bolstered the very small amount of confidence I had in the first place. Despite my initial scepticism, I felt a little easier.

In the bigger picture, knowing that you could be safe and feeling that you were, didn’t settle on me for some time. Staying out of the way was always going to be the easiest option and now, I was all for the easy life. The most comforting feeling I took from this thankfully affable conversation was, that he would become a most welcome point of constancy and stability for the foreseeable future; even if the exact content of that future was still a complete mystery.

After absorbing this rather scripted overview of my prescribed supervision during the weekly meetings, I gathered we would be getting deeply involved in many different things concerning my welfare but eventually, my rehabilitation. Curiously, Tony seemed reluctant to give me any detail of the specific expectations which did leave me rather frustrated; this would be a constant annoyance, but I had to look past that. The process was obviously going to be like driving round a long blind bend where you had little option but to put your trust in yourself and your navigator. It was this way or the highway straight back to prison; once more that thought was not as terrible as I thought I should be.

All too soon this first part of our journey was done. Tony checked his diary, our next encounter would be just a week away, he handed me a card with the details on it. The functional side of my head noted how the quality of these appointment cards had slipped badly from the ones I used to print for them; no wonder we lost the contract to this cheap tat. We shared the first of what would be many lighter moments over it. We shook hands, just too long again most likely but that was my fault. I had to take my few pleasures where I could. Those occasional moments of delicate relief would be very necessary over the next weeks and months as we stumbled backwards, one misguided foot at a time into the quagmire which constituted my former life.

With extreme skill and obvious training, a clearly planned assault was carefully and compassionately conveyed as a pragmatic, personalised review, and reconstruction of all it was that made me, into me. Every messy strand and profoundly acute facet was slowly unwoven and then back into the fabric that constituted my psyche. Although it was often difficult, generally embarrassing, and obliquely crude when explanations called for such, the slowly leached results created a much fuller picture of where, at least some of my peculiarities, extreme indulgences and perverse proclivities might have originally stemmed from.

The process of examination was not always confined to the practical side of my offending, but often wavered into both the theoretical and the abstract. Whether it was Tony, my general state of mind, the opportunity to ‘confess’ or the need to get out of my ‘rut’, l felt very comfortable to confide and confess many of the torments of my life. At times the detritus just seemed to pour out of me as if I had never been able to speak of it before. Listening to myself, the most notable and often concerning thing I discovered was that it seemed so easy, perhaps too easy. Perhaps also now, dangerous, to put this sordid stream of conflagration into the public domain. It confirmed my long-held assertion that I wasn’t normal, I never had been, and probably never would be. The confessions were difficult, draining, tearful, sometimes funny, always informative.

Maybe it was time to start to put things right in my crazy, mixed up, messed up life? Maybe this was all a very bad idea? Did I really need to find out how and why I ticked? Should I really be telling Tony all this very personal stuff? Was I simply getting close to getting my ‘Go directly to jail’ card? What was it he was writing up in my file? Was I falling for his charm and good looks while digging my own grave? From all the discussions, admissions and revelations, was I shooting myself, not just in the foot, but right in the head? Although I couldn’t work out exactly what kind of a mess I was making, perhaps it was good for us? Both of us? Neither of us? I couldn’t contemplate being alone with any of it anymore, so I had no option but to carry on week after week after stomach churning week.

The probation office was only an hour’s walk away and I certainly needed the weekly exercise. Appointments seemed to be timed, not so coincidently, so I didn’t need to be on the streets when the schools were coming out; although that never seemed to be addressed specifically and could just be coincidence. Whichever it was, I was glad of the fact.

It took quite a few visits before I could feel comfortable enough to bring myself to mention the elephant in the room. Eventually, I voiced my concerns about the recommendation in his pre-sentence report, for an IPP sentence. Knowing that I had to bring the matter up despite the risk of spoiling the many convivial moments that we shared, it was, as far as I could tell, the only thing we might have to be at odds on. Despite feeling nervous, as usual, I had rehearsed the question over and over on the way to the appointment and, although I wasn’t sure if he either could or would comment, I launched into the issue.

Just to fill in a few details, IPP was, at the time, an Indeterminate sentence for Public Protection. It was originally designed from a knee jerk reaction to satisfy the public’s concerns over convictions with extreme circumstances but questionably short sentences. This new device worked with the addition of the IPP sanction which meant, after that original time had been served, it was at the discretion of the parole system to determine if the prisoner should be considered for release. There were so many hoops to jump through as some of my inmate friends attested. The individual had to show they had made enough progress in their rehabilitation to no longer be a threat to the public. If it was deemed not, even more courses would have to be undertaken to prove that they were ‘safe’. This was all good in theory and I am sure that the law makers of the day had every faith in it working. In practice it seemed that the option had been used as a way of showing to the public that they could be safer in their beds for that little bit or, in some cases, very much longer.

Having met several people that considered a sentence of four, six or even more years just a blip on their already questionable life, I could fully understand the need to do something about the issue. Career offenders often only got what they considered an easy option where they could patiently sit out their sentence and then carry on as they had before. Now, for those prisoners tied into an IPP, in practical terms, rather than the system being proactive on the offender’s behalf, the force majeure fell squarely on the offender’s cell doorstep to prove their suitability for release. Those I came across seemed to be lost in the disconnected vastness of space that prisons had become; unfortunately, being lost was often no fault of their own. Despite being under sever legal challenge, it seemed that IPP’s would be in place for some time to come and I had actually had a narrow escape.

Most of my time inside, I had thought I wanted, even needed a custodial sentence, obviously without the IPP but, the shock of my outcome had overtaken most of that now. The issue of Tony’s recommendation had somehow managed to linger in the background, refusing to go away; it was itching for an answer and I had now at last, asked the question. It was somewhat gratifying, after a lengthy and thankfully frank discussion, Tony and I seem to have agreed that it might not have been the most appropriate thing for him to have concluded; in my case at least. Talking around the issue, referring back to our one discovery meeting in the prison, the limited time there had been to compile all the complicated ‘facts’ and controversial ‘feelings’ for the pre-sentence report, his recommendation at the moment of judgement, quite rightly had been unfair.

Feeling better for having the discussion, I would have been happy if I had, in some minuscule way, influenced how this sort of thing might be reviewed in the future; by Tony if no-one else. Perhaps my delusions of grandeur were getting out of hand and we moved on with more important things, thankfully with no discernible difficulties between us.

Although I would still have liked to know where the overall process was going to take us, it had been very obvious from the start that I wouldn’t be getting any clues of what was to come; until I need them that is. I had already worked out that any pre-emption would have enabled the more devious of convicts the opportunity for playing the system off against itself. As long as there was some light at the end of the tunnel it didn’t actually matter how dim the light was, I would be happy just knowing that there was the possibility of reaching it.


Chapter Forty Four ~ the terrors of freedom

Despite my internal mêlée, I must have fallen asleep listening to the crushing noise of cold silence. As I woke to the brightness of the morning, the banging of the bin-men stirred a distant memory. I listened intently for what might happen next but there was nothing. Nothing was the theme for the next hours and nigh fell once more.

With no discernible problems, although I didn’t venture out of the relative spaciousness of the rooms, the following exhausting days were only made bearable by the practicalities of being a convicted sex offender. The first job, after the luxury of much more coffee and a second attempt at toast, was to get myself on the official road to my questionable redemption.

My community order had a lengthy list of requirements, not that I fully understood how they would work in relation to my day-to-day living. I had decided on the ‘one thing at a time’ approach although, it was all I could imagine I could negotiate for now. Considering, for months, I had had every decision made for me, all the when and where and sometimes the how, this new if confined freedom was difficult to think about. For the foreseeable future I had to make my own decisions again and I didn’t know if I could anymore.

First on the list was signing myself onto the rather pointedly named, Sex Offenders Register; no room for ambiguity there. Having woken early, as I would have done in another place, the freedom was unfamiliar and somewhat unsettling. In my head I could see the days progress as it unfolded on the prison wing. Here, in my solitude, I ate, washed, and dressed in whatever came to hand from the draws in the unused bedroom. The shower had been tempting, but my fears stepped in, concluding that it would have felt too strange. I was not used to the exposure; I had other things to handle first before I was ready for that sort of thing.

Walking down to the police station, none of the traumatic events that I had imagined in full gory Technicolor, not surprisingly, happened. In fact, I felt rather disappointed that no-one seemed to take any notice of me at all. Inside the station it was still early in the morning and, while sitting, waiting for the appropriate officer to become available, I ran through the inner workings of the custody suite hidden behind the chest high desk on the public side. Unable to resist a smile, I knew that the lost dog owners and the pulled over drivers had no idea of the pleasures of the cells out there in the back. As I waited, officers and offenders came and went but none of them were in the slightest bit interested in me. Each plain clothed officer looked at me as if they should have known me, perhaps they did? The rather disgruntled team of investigators on my case may still be around, looking for revenge or retribution. With this unnerving prospect, I did my best to try to remain inconspicuous by reading the rather uninteresting printed matter, but that activity run out long before a young female officer opened the code locked door to the offices, called my name, and indicated that I followed her.

It didn’t take many corridors to return to the working parts of the station. This time I didn’t have the handcuffs to contend with, but it all felt very familiar. Instructions to sit in a small cubicle and wait gave me flashbacks to the isolation that I had been subjected to last time. With nothing else to do, I did what I did well, listened to the mixed comments and intermittent instructions that were setting things in motion, quietly confirming that I was still a ‘special’ case and had to ‘handled’ appropriately. Although I didn’t want to be mixed in with the other regular criminals, perhaps I might not want to be singled out quite so deliberately.

It turned out that the WPC was not yet a fully operational officer and this was just part of her training; I assumed that I was her first sex offender, to make things easier for her. With the appropriate paperwork, she confirmed that she hadn’t done this before, but the process commenced unaided. Although I could have easily helped her to re-scan and store my fingerprints, scrape new DNA swabs, capture my rather chubbier photograph, confirm all my personal and conviction details, I didn’t. Retiring to an interview room, the ominous tape recorders stayed switched off this time as we tentatively went through the sheaf of papers, I signed the bottom of the forms as indicated and it was done.

“That’s it, you’re set to go.”

“When do I come and sign again?”

It seemed a reasonable question but the only answer that she didn’t appear to have.

“Oh,” she flipped through the paper work at least twice, I even read some of it with her, “I’ll go and find out.”

After what seemed an age, she returned, apologising profusely; such a thing coming from a person in uniform was very strange.

“Same time, same date, same place but not until, next year.”

She had obviously meant it to be a joke to cover her original lack of knowledge and so I smiled appropriately to put her at ease.

“You won’t forget, will you? You will be found, arrested, and sent back to jail.”

Despite trying to be serious, she couldn’t hold back her pleasant smile and I think that we both understood the true nature of her comment.

“Don’t worry, I won’t.”

All I wanted to do was to get out of there, I only hoped that my enthusiasm didn’t look as suspicious as I thought it might have done. The reception desk was occupied with someone haranguing the system for something and the ineptitude of the police in general; I didn’t hang around to hear the outcome. The walk home had a different air to it. Perhaps now that the police knew who and where I was, they could leave me alone. The bout of wishful confidence was short-lived as a litter strewn underpass reminded me of the dirtier and much darker side of life, in sharp contrast to the one I was going to have to live from now on. The door to flat stayed closed and I was safely locked away for the rest of the day.

It wasn’t until much later that I realised that I hadn’t seem my son since that first night. Calling his phone, it turned out that he had thought that I needed to have some peace and quiet and had gone to his girlfriends. Their baby was due within days; I was to be a granddad. Unfortunately, I would be nothing to her, the court-imposed isolation had seen to all that until she was 18. The comprehensive list of restrictions I now had might conspire to make day-to-day life a waste of time. The possibilities seemed to be worse than any prison sentence and I tried not to think about them. Unfortunately, the next stage of the legal process would have me thinking about nothing else for the foreseeable future. Philosophically, I had decided to hide behind any thought that could give me some glimmer of hope.

Going out amongst other people, had been the one thing that I had dreaded. Fortunately, I didn’t encounter anyone that I knew or who might have known me. But go I must although it took a lot of strength to get me past the front door each time. In the next two days I signed on at the Job Centre, it was done over the telephone at that time, but it was still the same tedious process. After working out the practicalities of bus travel, I made the most difficult journey, and visited my mother. Walking the two miles or more where there was no transport, the travel itself was less traumatic than it could have been. It was a difficult visit but, we were practical and agreed to overlook anything that might develop into a difficult conversation and, in essence, pretended that the previous six and half months had not happened. I would become a regular visitor to see her from then on until she died in 2016.

With the initial shock of these early events becoming less by the day, very slowly I put the rubble of my life into some sort of reasonable order. Having left the court so unexpectedly, I had not had my things back from the prison. ‘That’s why you take them with you’, I could just hear Mr Holland taking great pleasure in stating the obvious. A call to the prison consisting of a stumbling explanation of the recent events, didn’t fill me with confidence for getting anything back. The only things I actually wanted were all the letters, cards and other personal paperwork. Although the clock and my coffee mug would be nice souvenirs; I had worked hard enough to pay for them, well let’s say, just worked for them. But, ah, yes, don’t forget the new bottle of tomato ketchup yet to be opened; it would have enhanced the escalope of chicken I had ordered but didn’t get to have after my day in court. The uncertain voice on the end of the line gave me a time for the next day to go to the prison gate to get back what they could find.

Re-living those last hours in the night before going to court, I had at least managed to sort out my personal things and rationalised them neatly into a prison marked plastic bag. The day-to-day items were still in their familiar places on the shelves and storage spaces around the cell. If asked to describe them I knew exactly where each thing was. There were not many sachets of jam left and I had given most of the sugar away already but, the rest was all there waiting for my return as a properly sentenced prisoner. My hopes in their survival now were buoyed a little by the hope that Harry’s obsessive secrecy would spread to an appreciation of my personal belongings. We had at least spoken about it, so my only hope was that, once he had worked out I was gone, he might help in some small way and look after things for me. Who knew? He might have had a new pad mate by now as the grass didn’t get time to grow inside the system. When items were left to the new inmates, officers, or worse the cleaners, everything was improperly and impersonally rummaged through and either squirreled away, laughed about or summarily discarded. My stomach turned at the thought, my letters were for no one else to read.

As the bus trundled along the tortuous route towards the blue gates of the prison, I formed a neat list in my head of all the things that I was expecting to be there. Of course, I wasn’t on my own in this journey, my accomplice in the adventure was my son. Knowing that it wasn’t a good idea to go on my own, and as he was used to the journey and the workings of the outer parts of the prison, it gave me a modicum of confidence. In a curios way I had always wanted to see that side of things to, as it were, to complete the picture. Once off the bus we didn’t get further than the outer reception, no metal detectors or body searches. With identities proven and phone calls made to the wing, it was just a case of waiting.

As we rather conspicuously did that, my prison financial account was more easily sorted out. Details flashed up on a screen under my mow lifelong prison number. Sixty-three pounds and some odd pence; quite a lot I thought, for me anyway. There was only that much because I had been saving up for a digital radio and some headphones, ready to while away the hours, and the months, and the years in whatever facility I would have been eventually sent to.

Discretely pocketing the cash, I recognised one of the wing officers walking towards us on the other side of the armoured security glass. He made no signs of recognising me but, perhaps he hadn’t even looked. After dropping the two bags, still behind the glass partition, pan faced, he turned and left. I had the rather harsh thought that he could come off my Christmas card list.

Once the items were passed through, I quickly checked over what I could see inside the sealed bags and agreed that this was possibly all of the items that I was expecting. It seemed close enough anyway. The large envelopes of letters were in the same order and state that they had been when I had last seen them. The mug was still intact, but, oh dear, the ketchup was missing. Not wanting to make a fuss about just that, we thanked the officer for his help and walked out.

The afternoon visitors were making their way noisily through the security systems and upstairs into the visitor’s waiting room ready to see their loved ones. For an unsettling few moments, I felt cheated of the wider experience, but running through the traffic to catch the bus that was just pulling up over the road seemed to get me past that and the moment was gone. But, not the thought that it was all so much safer and convenient on the other side of the high, grey, escape proofed walls. Just how long I would continue to have this rather unsettling feeling I didn’t quite know.

Chapter Forty Three ~ out, but locked inside fear

eing only dressed for a balmy June day from the day of my original arrest, February’s dark damp chill made me want to run back to the safety and comfort of the cells, to the ignominy of the confined transport and even the harsh prison reception and its cruel mockery. My cosy cell beckoned with good old Harry, what would he be thinking when I didn’t turn up for dinner? What would anyone think? I was supposed to be starting a new job running the workshop floor tomorrow morning. My things, where were all my things? I had nothing with me beside the clothes that I stood shivering in but I could see the layout of the cell so clearly, I couldn’t imagine what to do about all of that now. Putting my hands into my pockets to find a degree of warmth, I felt the ten-pound note and an envelope which were the only visible signs of my conviction, the rest of it was pounding away in my head, refusing to be put out of the way in hastily created mental boxes.

Standing at the top of the elegantly curving stone steps outside the courts, the hustle, bustle and noise further up the road, did nothing for my already shaken confidence. The wind and rain battered me into moving my legs and I stepped carefully over the litter strewn, slippery surface of the pavements. This was all so unfamiliar, all so alien, I found it hard to rationalise how long had I been away from society.

Stepping into a doorway just before reaching the main road ahead, I tried to gather some of the many scattered thoughts and feelings that were spinning in and out of my head. The theatrics of the court played round and around, it was like watching a television drama, unreal, and yet there I was, the guilty party, the convicted criminal. Perhaps my release was a mistake and I would be dragged back inside? Perhaps I wanted to go back? Perhaps I deserved to go back? Perhaps I should have insisted on doing the time we had decided? They seemed reasonable plans to be put away from society; people had gotten used to the idea; I had gotten used to the idea. Perhaps I should just wait a minute to see if anyone came looking for the fugitive.

The rain eased off and no one came.

Eventually, I realised that my breathing had slowed. I rubbed my hands together to invigorate some circulation that might make them not shake so uncontrollably. It was not just my hands, I was shivering from head to toe and all stations in-between. Some sense of self-preservation kicked in and I realised that I had to move. The trouble was, where to go? I literally did have what I stood there in, no keys, no phone, no coat, no-body.

Stepping out from the limited shelter of the doorway, I slotted myself into the tide of people who seemed to be going in just the one direction; the city centre. Although I didn’t know what I was expecting, it was as if I was invisible, no longer the focus of any legal attention, no longer under the scrutiny of wing officers, just another cold wet anonymous citizen looking for the quickest way to get out of this weather and home. Home, that’s where I had to go. Home, what would be waiting there for me? Home, was it even my home anymore? Keys? I needed keys. A plan, I needed a plan. A friend, I needed a friend. The flow of bodies swept me along the pavement, but it was all too much, crushing, suffocating, I had to get away from it somehow.

The next empty doorway we passed, I pushed, probably rather rudely, through the grey corpora and into the bright lights of a confectioners. A phone, I needed a phone. There was no phone. There was chocolate though and I grabbed a handful, unaware of the costs and threw them onto the counter proffering my crisp, almost new, ten-pound note. The change from it would be useful if I ever found that phone box. Did they even have phone boxes anymore?

Pocketing the chocolate, no thinking it was the time to test my enjoyment of it, I took a breath and stepped back into the crowd. Swept forward once more, I thought I knew where they were all going.

Looking around, but without stopping, I became aware of a growing feeling of concern, of being recognised. No one was looking at me but there was bound to be someone who would piece together my now flushed face, with the one featured in the newspapers all those months ago. Perhaps someone had been in the court? Perhaps I had been on the television again? Putting my head down between hunched shoulders, I allowed my feet to move in unison with the crowd, there seemed a of gathering of pace, but precious little purpose.

From the corner of my eye, a telephone, at last an instrument of my salvation. Nudging my way towards it, the display read ‘cards only’. What now? Forward again, another one, ‘cards only’. There, I knew it, there were no normal phone boxes any more. Three telephones later and still none that accepted coins. My head made the decision that I would need to walk home. I had done it before, along the canal, that’s the way, it only took about an hour or so. The rain started to fall again, I pushed back under the scant shelter of the public phone hood. Pushing my hands into warm pockets again they found the earlier purchase. After a small hesitation, I broke into one of the chocolate bars and tasted the indulgent beauty of real glass and a half real chocolate as if it was edible gold; just the one square was enough to cope with for now.

The taste of real milk chocolate shot through me like a hot knife and seemed to bring a number of things into focus all at once. While the initial rush lasted, I recognised that travelling in the immediate crowd, we had reached the ramped entrance to the main train station. Although I didn’t need a train, it had to have telephones, hopefully real ones that took real money. I needed to make a call and very soon.

Still shivering, although I didn’t know if it was the sugary confection hit or the cold, I moved on up the slope and through the curtain of hot air that cosseted the shopping centre’s interior. There was still no need to move in any other direction but that of the remaining crowds, so I didn’t fight it. Although it had thinned a little, there was still a substantial number of people to contend with; more than I had been used to in months. Some had diverted to the bus stops along the way, some had slipped into McDonalds for an early tea time bite. The remaining throng filtered into two lines and the pair of escalators which ferried us down to the next level.

Still no one had seemed to have recognised me, but I didn’t want to get too complacent just yet.

Getting out of the immediate surge towards the platforms, I managed to find a small eddy of calm beside the glass doors of the main entrance. Allowing the peace and calm settled me a little more, a glimmer of rational thought started to illuminate the darkness that still sullied my confused mind. Taking in a few deep breaths behind closed eyes, these were further organised into a plan; of sorts.

My house keys were locking a police evidence cabinet somewhere, they were no good. The only other set I could think of should be with my son. Where was he at this time of day? I had no idea. He was coming to see me tomorrow, in the visitor’s hall. Perhaps not after today? Work, he might be at work. The number, I didn’t have the number it was in my diary, which was in the poli….; I didn’t finish the thought. Directory enquiries. A telephone. Cards, cards, cards, coins. A miracle. A pen. No pen. A shop? There were plenty to choose from down here.

£1.85 for a pen, they were only 50p on the prison’s canteen sheet; just the one thank you, it would have to last a good while at that price. The call? The Operator. A number. Staring at the numbers I had written down on the envelope from my pocket, I should have let the operator put me through as they had offered. I wanted to press the keys but didn’t know what to say if I did. If I called him I would have to call lots of people. I realised that no one would know what had happened this afternoon. Would anyone want to know? There were plenty that wouldn’t. Some uneasy feeling spurred on by the confused thoughts made me check behind me, there was no one or nothing that I could see anyway. I felt it was too quiet down here in this dim corner. I need to get the deed done and move out.

Sliding the coins into the slot, I had no idea how much it was going to cost or how many calls I could make with the coins I held in my rather sweaty, but still cold palm. The unfamiliar number didn’t go in correctly at the first attempt as my hands had started to shake again; perhaps they hadn’t stopped. Eventually the familiar ringing tone burp burped in the ear piece. It stopped at the third repetition and a familiar, if slightly oiled voice, answered its demands.

“Good evening, Rainbow Casino, how can we help you?”

The conversation we exchanged was short and somewhat confused. He wanted to know what was going on, I just wanted to deal with the immediate practicalities, he wanted to know what was going on, again, I didn’t want to discuss it over the phone, we agreed to wait until I could get to his place of work. In the background throughout the call, I could hear, and so picture, the comings and goings of customers that he was having to deal with so, this made a useful excuse to end the call. To be honest I didn’t want to loiter around in any one place for much longer as I was still not sure that any of this was real; I didn’t know how long my nerves would hold out.

Fighting the fear and temptation for flight for a few moments longer, I checked the remaining change and then dialled another number. My mother’s. We had spoken at regular intervals over the months, it had been mostly brief and with little meaningful content, there was nothing much to share of the day to day prison schedule. This call, if I was being generous, was not much different. An exchange of facts from the day’s events, an admission of not knowing what was going to happen in the next hour let alone day, I made a promise to speak to her again as soon as I could; it was all I could cope with in the moment. Anything other than the edited highlights of the facts, she couldn’t have dealt with for now.

The reality of my still rather jumbled feelings didn’t change very much between the relative calm of the phone booth and the continuing chaos of the crowds. All I knew was that I didn’t want to be in either of them if I could help it. Not really concerned about who I was regularly bumping into, I bounced and pushed my way out of the station, the shops and finally the city centre.

As the crowds thinned, one type of fear was slowly replaced by another and the many dark places along my route seemed to loom, menacingly. Doorways, alleys, trees, bushes, they all hid a potential for reprisal. Although I knew I had to keep moving, if only to attempt to keep warmer than my thin summer jumper could manage, the journey was long and fretful.

Eventually arriving outside the garishly lit frontage of the casino, somewhat mesmerised by the lighting, I couldn’t tell if it was my near frozen state or my neurosis that was still making me shake so badly. The hope of warmth inside the plush, superficially sophisticated space took over and I stepped up to the automatic doors. Finding that they opened without the rattling of keys and chains was a small revelation and I walked in rather sheepishly. The reunion was emotional; more so than I had bargained or steadied myself for. Although I had seen him only two days before this, the circumstances made this a whole world apart.

The plethora of questions started up again and I had to try to keep us both calm and him, more importantly, doing his job; he needed the job, my confused circumstances could wait. Eventually there was a lull in the clientèle coming in and the phones lessened their insistent ringing. A further delay was engineered by asking for a cup of coffee; I didn’t quite know what I was putting off, but then, I didn’t know what I wanted anyway.

Sitting out of the way in a deep comfortable armchair, I could just see the corner of a security screen behind the counter and my imagination flashed on and off in time with the cameras changing views. What if someone knew me? Who else was looking at these pictures? Did they know they had a convicted criminal in the building? Would someone recognise that they had a pervert lurking in reception? These rather ugly thoughts were cut off by the coffee’s aroma; perhaps I shouldn’t imbibe all that caffeine quiet so soon. The cup was left on the low table to cool; perhaps it wouldn’t get drunk at all.

Facing up to the task in hand, I spoke as calmly as I could muster and repeated the facts of the day’s events. Another part of my mind had already realised that I would be required to repeat these things more than once and had started to formulate a concise and plausible version for further regurgitation. After giving the boy a chance to get all that he needed from me, he started to calm down and we returned to the practicalities of the night. The gold and red clock on the dated flock papered wall indicated that it was late evening; where had the time gone. In contrast, it was only the start of the shift for casino staff; he was working until the early hours of the morning. Practicality decided that I could have the keys to the flat and even his return train ticket. With these safely in hand, all I wanted to do was get out of the public eye and into some place of relative safety. A tearful farewell seemed to attract attention from customers and staff alike, but neither of us appeared to care; the much-needed hug and simple human contact would keep me going for some time. The cold air hit me again as I stepped through the glass entrance doors.

The streets back to the local train station were almost devoid of people, there weren’t even many cars; it was that strange time in-between evening and late-night activity. Navigating the short distance nervously, the station was unmanned at that time of night and the platform was only occupied by one, playfully kissing, young couple. Staying out of their way, I remained close enough that they might assist me if any trouble started from sources as yet unknown. After missing one train because I was on the wrong platform, a solitary curse and a run up and over the bridge to the correct side passed a few more potentially exposed minutes. Sitting on the other side of the tracks now, the couple were still sliding in and out of their lovers’ clinch; from here I could also watch them more easily hidden by the gloom of the overhanging signage. Ridiculously, I envied them both their freedom and passion, or was it plain jealousy; I never had understood the difference between the two states.

A train came, but to their side this time, they got ready to climb aboard. Through the dirty windows I could see that she had stepped on, but he remained behind, waving as the tracks bore her away to wherever. He looked on until the rear lights had disappeared round the bend in the rails. If he still needed a friend? What sort of a thought was that? Perhaps prison would have been a better idea than this chaos filled with stupidity, at least the general public would have been safer to go about their business. The depressing consideration was swept to the side by the rush of stale air bow waving in-front of the train that I hoped I needed to get.

The journey ‘home’ was taken very much on auto pilot. As I didn’t use the train very often, I had to concentrate in order to get off at the right point or it would mean a lengthy and unnecessary walk. The station was deserted when I stepped onto the platform. Set into a deep cutting, the immediate lighting made only solitary pools of amber illumination, the street lamps way above it were obscured by the dense if leafless trees. A long ramp led up to street level and every perverse possibility that my terrified mind could concoct. The area was well known for its criminal classes and, although I was now officially part of that sub culture, I found myself almost running towards the main road and the clarity of its slightly more open space and marginally better lighting. Skipping across this wide road, the narrow side street forward to the next was taken at a fast foot fall, the rest of the way back to the flat wasn’t covered much more slowly. No one was there, no one was waiting, no one was interested, no one was even aware. There was no one, but in my head, somewhere out there, someone was watching and waiting.

Breathless from the accelerated pace and still shaking at the extremities, the new door locks on the badly repaired door, were difficult to open; I fumbled with several options before finding the correct keys. Without needing to look, I could hear the outer door of the communal area opening behind me, terror and horror had me rushing to get safely behind my own. As I leant my whole weight against it, it banged with a noise that was wholly unfamiliar, not steel on steel, no double clicks of the automatic locks, no clack of the viewing window’s cover closing. It was unfamiliar, unsettling. Working the blinds that I didn’t think had been there before, should at least shut out the prying eyes.

Sitting uncomfortably on one of the comfortable and yet equally unfamiliar blue settees, I knew I didn’t have blue furniture before any of this. A cat stretched out lazily on the second one. I didn’t have a cat either. Trying to sweep away these minor concerns, I did my best to focus on the here and now. A drink, I definitely needed a drink. In the kitchen the kettle was different, too big, too blue, no milk in the fridge, I didn’t have milk, did I? There was some bread, toast, could I have toast? Seven months of deprivation forced me to question if I could possibly enjoy the simplicity of toast; by morning’s light it would be found cold, hard and uneaten. Tea drunk, unmemorable but consumed, I was listening for every small sound, expecting every sort of reprisal; the who, when or where didn’t come into it, but it was bound to happen eventually. My just rewards? My new nightmare.


Chapter Forty Two ~ sentence is finally pronounced

Having pleaded guilty to all the charges against me, not that there had really been any other option, I would at least get the maximum advantage from the scaled reduction which applied at the time for my sentence. Having already discussed and accepted a starting point of ten years, serving the 50% reduction for my plea bought it down to only five. Take off the time served on remand, hopefully doubled by the corresponding reduction, that would take another year off so, just serving four years would be a breeze. Because of the conviction classification I was sure to be downgraded to a category ‘C’ prison and eventually even a ‘D’ before the end; not so bad after all? The day of the sentencing couldn’t come quickly enough as far as I was concerned.

Although I had only been outside the walls twice in the previous six months and only in handcuffs or secure transport, this time it seemed like just another day at the office. Given my expectations, I didn’t bother to pack up my personal items when instructed as, after sentencing, I would be bought back to the wing for distribution out into the wider system at some later date. There seemed little point in the tedious exercise of packing and unpacking so I didn’t. It was more than likely only in my head, but the officers on duty that morning seemed to have a little more patience and dare I say, compassion. It was something I had noticed before for those facing the often more difficult and emotional stages of sentencing, I took on board the much calmer attitude and the kinder words without questioning any of it.

The seriousness of the day only started to hit me after I was locked into the VP cupboard to wait for the transport to arrive. Although not alone, the other inmate who normally had a rather expressive personality was also more subdued than I had seen him before; I wasn’t too concerned for him but it did add to the tension in the already confined space. My own mood was enough to contend with without any other worries. The only hiccup in the proceedings so far had been having words with one of the officers who had conducted the strip search prior to changing into my own cloths.

For reasons I don’t need to go into, I had entered the prison with no underwear of my own. In place of this shortcoming, I had always worn the comfortable and rather fetching pale blue cotton boxers which were the standard prison issue. Whenever I had needed to change before, there hadn’t been an issue about them but for some reason there was that morning. The officer wanted me to strip off completely and leave them behind as they were obviously not mine. The additional comments and unnecessary jokes between the other languid uniforms lounging about served to make me rather more irritable than I had been in the past. Today they wanted the full strip. Today, instead of just squatting to show you hadn’t anything hidden in the crevasses of your groin they had wanted a more bird’s eye or was it perv’s eye view of my ‘wobbly bits’ as they referred to them to prove I wasn’t packing any contraband.

“If you want to have a good look at my dick, you only have to ask, you can cop a feel as well if you like.”

The words had been in my head several times before, but this time they ran forth unrestrained despite my brain mentally kicking itself for the obvious stupidity. The altercation which followed was brief, to the point and very embarrassing. Although I would never have won the argument or managed to be felt up, fortunately, I did get to keep the boxers.

Transport was as functional as ever with the normal contributions from the mentally and emotionally challenged, but I was used to it all now. During the short drive to the courts the only interesting thing was the delay for some high-profile murder suspect being fast tracked in an extensive and rather over manned convoy of at least four fast-moving vehicles. With a ring of heavily and openly armed police surrounding the prisoner entrance, two helicopters hovering overhead, our van had to wait in the queue with several others. It was at least a welcome distraction from my own moment of questionable glory.

Once inside, the court custody officers also seemed to be a little more considerate than normal, chattier, more something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. When I was showed to my steel box, the writing of ‘Sentencing’ in chalk on the small blackboard next to my door perhaps answered the query. Perchance their experience afforded them a little insight to something I didn’t fully understand. Unfortunately, none of this helped my growing nerves.

Unlike other court dates, I didn’t have to wait for too long before I was called through to see my barrister. She was on her own that day but efficiently went through all the evidence and reports she and the prosecution were going to present to the court that morning. There were several questions and queries from her files which I did my best to answer although I got the impression she had already mapped out her defence of me. It was only a defence in that she had to minimise the length of sentence which would be handed down rather than to get me off. We were long past all that. Making the best of this bad job was only possible by disputing the validity and veracity of as much of the prosecution evidence as she could, to convince the judge I was not as bad as the police would inevitably try to make me out. Time scales, volume, extremes, my case seemed bizarrely surreal as it lay spread out over the table, in orderly, but viciously stark black and white.

The evidence bundle also contained examples of the images from my computer hard drives, these were printed in full and inglorious colour. The prosecution had selected the worst examples rather than any of the beautiful majority I might have done, if I had been asked. Having not seen them for months, none now seemed to have quite the same appeal as they had during the many years I had spent collecting and cataloguing them; after answering more questions, I helped push them back into the folder out of sight.

The next item was to go through the report from the rather nice probation chap which, from the details she had already highlighted, was a rather disappointing surprise. In it he had recommended I be given an indeterminate sentence, and IPP, in other words I should stay locked away for the public’s protection for as long as was possible. My original feelings towards him fell away in disappointment as much as discontentment. With the only positive affirmation being the smile from my barrister, I was returned to the metal cube to await my final faltering fate.

I was listed for later that morning so I hoped to be spared much of the tedious and mind numbing sitting around I had endured before. With luck, I could be on the lunchtime transport back to the prison to start the many years of uncompromising imprisonment.

The morning came and went. There was an apology from the man with the tea, not the coffee I had asked for, the courts were apparently running late. Another note of comfort was sent down from my barrister, she was just finishing off one case which had over run but I would be up very soon. The only thing I had for comfort was the serving of another approximation of indeterminate hot food; much like my sentence was going to be. The expectation after that was I would be definitely up straight after the courts lunch recess; I could imagine what the judges and lawyers were having and it was not the slop in a box I just couldn’t finish today.

By mid-afternoon I had given up on anything positive in words or refreshment which were periodically offered. The penultimate door opening had my barrister on the other side of it, she seemed desperate, still apologising but certain I would be up next. Ten minutes later I was. Handcuffed and hurried through the maze of passages, doors, and stair-wells, I arrived at my destiny. This was it then. The tension was palpable, or was that just in me?

Our destination this time was what I thought a proper court of law should look like. In the accused’s box, open to view by the whole court but still behind the safety of bullet proof glass, I could once more look out over the many participants in the unravelling drama. As I was no longer just the accused, there was no moral or legal requirement to shield me from either the public or press gallery. Days before I had specifically instructed my nearest and dearest to stay away, the news would be difficult enough without having faces I knew looking on. As it happens I only recognised the one expressionless grimace, the one who had been following my progress from the very beginning. Out of the corner of eye I could see her staring intently but I didn’t give her the satisfaction of reciprocation; there were more important things to be concerned about.

Once I had identified myself in answer to the clerk’s question, I affirmed further inquiries regarding my pleading guilty or not to each of the charges as they were read out at me. For this rather more complicated matter I had needed to rely on my barrister’s assessment and explanation for the few she had instructed me to decline. Trying not to be too obvious, I had to follow the nod or shake of her head for each of the seven charges on my sheet. Having understood her earlier explanation of it all, I was quite happy that I wasn’t dropping myself into any more trouble. Technically it was all to do with duplications of material evidence, misappropriated dates, and a few other indecipherable legal technicalities. Once my pleas had been established for each one, my barrister and the prosecution, under the direction of the judge, agreed all the issues concerning them so the relevant, or was it irrelevant ones were struck from the record. The case moved on. From there I had nothing else to do but sit and listen, at least the seats were comfortable, bottled water as well, very nice.

The prosecution laid out their case in the type of heavy compounding language I had expected but was still upset to hear it spoken with such venom. Attila the Hun would have better press than me if it was left to them but, it was just a process which had to be gone through and I tried to keep calm. By the time my side had their turn I was losing all hope. Gradually though, things were looking less frightful, thanks to the benefits of eloquence and an excellent legal brain for my side of the proceedings. It was not that I wanted to get away with anything, it was way past all that, I just needed a fair hearing for my crimes. Given the circumstances I think I got one in the end. The judge perused the many pieces of information and images, asked several questions, received suitable answers, and addressed me directly after I was asked to stand. He spoke at me rather than to me, but I was in no state of immunity for objective conversation.

Outlining just how terrible a person I was, how he and society in general viewed such dreadful things I had perpetrated, and just how and why he would be considering my eventual sentence, all I could think of was please, just get it over with. The mention of the maximum of ten years visibly rocked me where I stood, despite my having expected it anyway. The officer at my side took a step towards me, obviously used to such events. The judge suggested that I sat down but it was not because he had concerns for my well-being, it was only because he had another set of questions for the prosecution. I was silently grateful and complied with the instruction.

The matter he was more concerned about was the need to get one of the many programmes of rehabilitation in place and more precisely completed, before I was freed back into normal society. Having produced paperwork commercially for the probation service in the past, I knew to what he was referring, although I had never expected to be on the receiving end of it.

The problem was, apparently, research had shown that courses which had not been completed led to a higher rate of re-offending than for those that successfully had. Working backwards through clearly defined mathematics, the judge included all the available sentence discounts, length of rehabilitation courses, delays in starting such programmes in a prison environment and other nominal possibilities which gave the court a final figure which even I, with little experience of the subject, could see wasn’t adding up; I was impressed with his knowledge, consideration, and mathematical abilities.

The Probation Service representative was quizzed for the current statistics on prison based programme delivery, for which he obviously hadn’t prepared. Although I didn’t know who he was before, he had sat very quietly up to that point and obviously flustered by his rather direct involvement. After he had consulted colleges and lots of different folders of paper work, he had to admit he couldn’t give the guarantees required by the court; I noticed my barrister smile. The judge in the next few minutes needed to be satisfied that I would be settled into my prison place, get enrolled onto a suitable course and complete the said event, in the time he was considering sentencing me to. The lack of the probation’s performance did not impress him, nor anyone else by the looks on several faces. The police team which had investigated my case were in court, again, they were looking rather more flustered than they ever had before. Perhaps they could see where this was going better than me? I couldn’t help but slip on a half-smile as they shuffled uncomfortably around in their best suits, seeing their hard-earned case slipping away from the expected hard-hitting result.

The court settled itself. The judge was ready. He had spent a little time making notes and consulting more of the paperwork while we all sat hardly daring to breathe; or was that just me again? Finally, by some telepathic instruction, the clerk asked me to stand, my accompanying officer stepped close to my side, hands poised for any adverse reaction we prisoners might have at sentencing.

After all the build-up, in the end, the judgement was rather an anti-climax. A three-year community order, completion of a relevant sex offender rehabilitation programme and being signed onto the sex offenders register for the rest of my natural life. It was such a shock I didn’t take in any of the details in the extensive list of accompanying restrictions; what I could and couldn’t do, places not to go or things not to have; reviewing them later they left me a virtual prisoner in my own home. As the reality sank slowly in, I could hear my barrister arguing for a number of these restrictions to be lifted or reduced at least and she seemed to win some concessions. Things like being allowed to use the local library computers and having photographs of holidays and immediate family made it sound a little less like swapping the austerity of one cell for another albeit without the locks. The prosecution seemed to be happy with the arguments but I imagine that once they had lost the big one, they had to get what they could from the aftermath.

The policemen had left the court before I was taken down. Somewhere in all of it I thought the judge had said I was free to go but, in my state of confusion, I had to rely on those around me to move me when and where I had to go. Although I did just as I was told as ever, there was the one noticeable difference in the lack of handcuffs as we retraced our earlier steps back to the holding cells in the bowels of the building. Apparently, I needed to go back to the dowdy downstairs box while they prepared some sort of paperwork. I didn’t really understand.

After only minutes on my own, hardly time to sit down and get my breath, I was led once more to see my barrister. Her well powdered wig was sitting on top of her briefcase now, her job was done, she seemed far more relaxed and beamed a broad smile as I entered the small stuffy room.

“Well we didn’t expect that, did we?”

She seemed to think I knew what was going on.

“You will be pleased?”

I didn’t know what to say,

“You’re free to go, you do know that?”

“Yes, no, I ….,” I really didn’t but just couldn’t speak the words anyway.

She calmly explained the whole thing to me again and I eventually got it. By this time, the paper work had been prepared for my release onto the world and after I had signed it, in triplicate of course, that was that, apparently I was free.

“So, out, go, now, freedom.”

I still hadn’t honestly managed to take it all in.

“Do you know where to go?”

She seemed to think I should, but my face gave her the rather obvious answer.

“Follow me, I have to go upstairs anyway.”

As we negotiated our way through the complex, it felt strange not to be attached to or accompanied by a uniform of some kind. I half expected an authoritative ‘Stop!’ to ring out from somewhere behind us; it didn’t.

As we eventually reached the doors out into the foyer of the main building, my guide suggested I held back while she checked if there was anyone waiting for me, the police and press might have something to say she didn’t think I needed to hear just now. On her return, I was relieved to find the coast was clear. My obscure celebrity was something I just couldn’t contemplate on top of everything else.

“Do you have anyone coming for you, family, friends?”

I said I hadn’t as I wasn’t expecting to be out and free.

“Do you have any money?”

She was obviously used to such things and had already taken out her wallet.

“I only have this note, don’t worry, you’re not the first. I would keep your head down but I’ll take you straight through to the probation office, they will need to deal with you now.”

Having taken the note with mumbled thanks and well-intended professions of getting it back to her, she waved away the statement saying I would be the first if I did. Once in the relative safety of the probation office, we shook hands and she wished me well; I expect I thanked her most inadequately. Still feeling bad about the money, I made a mental note to be that first one to give it back; of course, I never did.

Sitting alone in the office’s dull reception, trying to hide behind a tall plastic palm leaf, I had been told I had to wait so I did. I had to have an appointment made attend one of the other offices in the next few days, plus the details of signing in with the police before that. This was to start some sort of ball rolling for whatever it was I had to do for the next three years. It took about an hour in all and I just sat and waited for the various appointments and paperwork to be put together. The office staff had started to leave one by one, pulling on their winter coats and chattering between them; I was just a nobody they ignored.

When I too eventually left, there seemed very few people left in the main building. A friendly face might have been nice, but no hostile ones was a bonus of a sought under the circumstances. As it was past the end of the court’s working day there was more activity outside in the now dark streets than in the marble lined foyer. Having nodded at the security guys who only look a passing interest, I still felt as if I was escaping from custody. Once I had stepped through the glass doors and encountered the chilly air, the whole day spun round me in a whirlwind of confusion and calamity, it was like being hit by a sledge-hammer.

Chapter Forty One ~ Christmas cheer but no beer

Another new pad mate had arrived. An older chap this time, rather everyday looking, with everyday amounts of belongings and everyday if unexpected manners. He was so, ‘everyday’, I didn’t quite know what to do with him. His face wasn’t familiar although he seemed to have all the trappings of a seasoned prisoner, a transfer perhaps, no, from his concise hello, his accent was definitely a Midlands one, I could even tell the town. The curiosity in me wanted to ask the question but I went along with prison etiquette and waited to be told anything or in his case, nothing. He didn’t offer anything other than to exchanged names, Harry. We did exchange basic living expectations very briefly, which confirmed he was not new to all this but that was about it. As I already had the top bunk, he had made up the bottom one, not that he could have managed the other anyway given his advanced years. From the few hours of our first evening, as far as I could tell, he was clean, concise, compact, and completely secretive about everything concerning himself. It was all rather refreshing in that he went out of his way to make our sharing the limited space as easy and uncomplicated as he could. For a once I had a good feeling about this one.

He appeared to have no interest in my issues which was fine although it meant I would have to do some detective work around him; no man is an island after all and over time I was able to establish a few facts about him. There were precious few and it was all by sheer luck rather than anything else I managed to build only the partial picture which I did in that he was married and he went to the Catholic mass which was read in the hour before my CofE group; I appreciated this ‘alone time’ each week, if you know what I mean. He was already on an education programme which also meant he had been inside the system for a while. English was his subject which was rather curious as he seemed to be as well or even better educated than most on the wing. Curiously though, he often asked me to confirm the most basic grammatical or literary queries during his many homework and social writing sessions. Being happy to help, when asked, I resisted the urge to involve myself in anything more concerning his life and living. Other than a few age-related infirmities which was about all I could find out about the mysterious Harry.

One good point about my strange but sanguine pad mate was his need to be asleep by 9.30 each evening. This meant I could have the television to myself for the first time in the five months I had been there. Despite having to use towels to arrange a kind of curtain affair to block out the light from the screen and having to sit so close to it to hear the sound as it needed to be kept so low, I was able to resume my much-missed late night viewing with only minimal difficulty. It had been and still is somewhat of an obsession of mine. It did mean though that I could also watch the occasional late night film which was played randomly into the televisions of the whole wing from some remote DVD player. My other companions had never seen interested in them but, with this new freedom the additional distraction it provided was very welcome. Only once did he stay up until 10.00 and that was for Christmas.

Christmas, yes it still happens, even here behind bars. Although I have never been a great fan of the festival, only when the children were small really, I couldn’t imagine how it was going to play out inside but here it was. A prison Christmas was run on a weekend timetable but with a few seasonal extras thrown in. Additional exercise and association, with snow no barrier to a bit of fresh air although the officers on yard duty stayed in and watched us from behind the gate and the relative warmth of the wing doorway. There was no visiting on the day itself of course but I had a full complement before and after to make up for it. By that time, I had attained my ‘enhanced’ status and so had the advantage of one additional visit per week. These were eagerly taken up. My Christmas cards had gone out in appropriate time, the canteen sheet had a good seasonal special selection, if you had the money to spend or the people to send to that is; not everyone did of course which was another prison reality I found difficult to fully understand.

Unexpectedly I had received quite a few cards, also in good time, which managed to brighten up the cell a little. There was a festive tree out on the two’s landing next to the office and was understandably, the wings sole concession to the season, except for the hour long communal carol singing which flooded the wing with mixed melodious voices from high up on the three’s. There were more general activities which were enhanced by organised competitions; pool tournaments; a chess competition; table tennis knock-out; we had even acquired a full size snooker table just in time for the event which allowed prisoners to have their competitive edge tested. The education programme had put on a display of paintings, written work, and matchstick models. With some of the officers even sporting a little tinsel, at times it was difficult to appreciate that we were supposed to be receiving punishment.

The festive menu was the most striking thing of interest during the few days of concession. Starting on Christmas Eve there would be a whole week’s worth of special meal choices through to the New Year. For the time I was there, the normal catering budget was set at £1.83 per day per prisoner; which was for three meals remember. The kitchen on a non-holiday daily basis only budgeted £1.33 with the other being set aside for these seasonal occasions and other dietary specialities. Catering for a wide range of religious festivals, Christmas was obviously the biggest but still only one of many.

Christmas dinner was the ‘full monty’ with all the trimmings, not quite as mother used to make but a very good impersonation given the 1500 plus meals which had to be conjured up and dispensed across the extensive estate. For tea, we even had the option of jelly and ice cream if we wanted it, the ice cream only just made it before turning to liquid but who was going to complain? The rest of the week saw extravagance like gammon and parsley sauce, baked fish, bar-b-cue ribs, steak and kidney pie with discernible contents for a change and even real gravy instead of the grey brown sludge that normal festered untrusted in the corner of the servery.

New Year’s Eve would see the end of the season played out in true uncivilised style with a wild party. Not quite what you would imagine though, it was more like 75 little parties with the only recognisable participation being the chiming of the midnight clock and the raucous banging and rattling of cell doors to accompany the community singing of many different versions of songs and tunes all at one glorious if raucous time. The night staff gave the leniency the event warranted but they eventually started to try, if unsuccessfully, to quieten the wing down for the remainder of the night. Harry had been in the land of nod for hours and only stirred momentarily as the cacophony rang through the building. I had to smile to myself but wished him a happier new year anyway.

The merry week had come and gone all too quickly, and we were soon back into normal prison life, not that I minded very much. The passing of the holidays had meant I was that little bit closer to my case being heard in court. After the fiasco of the unnecessary visit some weeks before, I had been graced with a face to face visit from my solicitor. In fact, I had two legal visits in as many days. The first was about the case, not that there was much to share, the stalled police investigations were still open but there were getting to a point where they had to ‘put up or shut up’, or so the barrister had insisted anyway.

The second cold trip to the legal suite, although unexpected, was to meet with a different legal body, attractive, intelligent, efficient, he was there for me to sign over all powers and responsibilities for my collapsing business. There had been several letters and forms through the post over the weeks, if not months, but this was the final act as far as it and I were concerned. He didn’t know any more than the legal details but it was not the time or the place to worry about things I couldn’t do anything about; that was how I managed to cope with the aftermath of my arrest and abandonment of my employees. He exchanged pleasantries for my signatures, we shook hands for a few moments longer than was required, he gave a rather attractive if over enhanced orthodontic smile and left.

Only days after that, to yet more ripping and ridicule from my co-workers in the workshop, I had to take yet another morning out. This time, after I had waited in the fish bowl of a room for what seemed ages, a fresh faced, rather slight, very young, man eventually came to join me in the glass walled cubicle. He didn’t look old enough to be part of the system but worked for the Probation Service. He was there to do my pre-sentence report. He came across as being very personable which made it easy to talk to him, the subject being myself and my unfortunate life. During the time we spoke I had the feeling that his cool, interested nature was despite of his job, rather than because of it. As I talked, he wrote, as I shared, he absorbed, we even managed to have a lighter moment here and there, which felt both disarming and engaging although I did wonder if this was part of a ploy to fool me into some sort of trap. The time went all too quickly. He had been booked in for an hour and a half, the maximum allowed per visit but the delays in getting through security meant his time was cut short. As we had not covered everything he wanted to by any means and he insisted he come back in a day or two to finish me off. I very much looked forward to seeing Mr Tony Roughly again.

Unfortunately, time and the forces of law wait for no man, or prisoner it seems and it would turn out the court date would come thorough before he could get to see me again. Quite how he was going to put his report together with the limited number of things we had talked about, I had no idea but, I hoped his very professional approach had taken in more than just that he had written down. The reality of my position was getting to the point where I was going to have to accept a reality which I had almost managed to hide away in yet another of my dark mental boxes.

In the days that followed, I tried to make the best of things and only dwell on the positives in the hope that once my fate was fixed and finalised, I might cope as well as I had seemed to, to that point. If this was to be prison life from now on, I thought I could manage it quite well. My assertions were tested by the arrival of a letter from my solicitor confirming the date for my appearance at court for sentencing.

Chapter Forty ~ close encounters of a gross kind

The complexities of life and human nature were rarely exposed within a prison society although they were blatantly begging for some form of consideration. Perhaps that was just me? In a wing population of up to about 85 people it was only to be expected I would get on with some and not with others, speak with some and actively avoid others, be attracted to a few, and discouraged from the majority. Our shared problem of incarceration was certainly no bond between us. Having successfully shared a cell with Richard for about three months, it was nothing like being ‘together’, all that was just in my head, we were just able to be comfortable in each other’s space. This stability was rocked one day and even I was surprised by my very unexpected reaction.

We had returned from another ‘thrilling’ afternoon in the workshop. The cell doors were unlocked as always in the officer’s own time and irregular sequence which made it an acceptable chance to have a last chat or a laugh with someone before dinner and what was often to be a long night’s lock up. My door opened this particular afternoon onto a cell awash with desperate disorganisation. With every corner of the cell caught up in this madness, I was only just able to squeeze inside to allow the door to be necessarily locked behind me. Richard seemed to have taken over the whole place. The only time I had seen such a chaotic scene was after one of the regular full and uncompromising cell search.

“No offence but, I’m moving,” Richard’s sweating face had looked up only momentarily on my arrival.

“None taken,” my surprise was hopefully veiled in enough sarcasm to win another point for myself.

“My mate’s back from the hospital wing but they won’t let him back in here because of you!”

I didn’t know if he was joking or not, but he continued without pause to pile his things onto a blanket ready to go; wherever it was he was going.

“Me, what did I do?”

I felt I should be aggrieved just in case, but the comment was ignored.

“He’s over the other side and I’ve managed to get a move but, I have to do it during association before the S.O. comes on duty.”

We were well aware of the informal arrangements which could be made with the right officers on duty. The SO, Senior Officer, was a different matter, he was a stickler for doing things by the book but, as long as the wing was orderly and generally on its best behaviour he was happy to let some of these rather minor things slide.

“You’re going now?”

It was a stupid question under the circumstances but amongst the fervid activity it too had passed over Richard’s head. Eventually he did move a box from the toilet seat to the floor and I perched myself there until he could arrange his belongings into a more compact state. All the time he was sorting, he was keeping a close eye on his watch as if he could speed up the time for dinner. This showed his desperation to be reunited with his friend whom I had to admit, was already rather a disappointment. While I was intrigued to meet this wonder of ‘pad-mate-hood’ I was also concerned about who or what I would be dealt in the next hand of enforced companionship.

Slowly, space became more obvious and there was just enough room to sit and eat our last meal together. The event was not quite the final act, as if one of us was getting out or anything but, it felt much like I imagined it might do under those circumstances. Suitably unmemorable and quickly consumed food led eventually to the trays being cleared and with it, Richard pacing the floor inside the unremittingly locked door.

His impatience was rewarded eventually, and he was unleashed onto the wing. Rather uncharitably I asked myself what would have happened if there hadn’t been any association that evening but kept the thought to myself. With the many parts of his current life tied up in various blankets, other things packed into normally illicit cardboard boxes, he grabbed at the first items he could reach and shouldered his way out of the only partially open door, almost pushing the officer out of the way in his haste. A sharp word bought him to an embarrassed standstill and appropriate apologies were proffered, only then did the move take place at a more circumspect pace. It did take place though and he was gone. Why I was feeling so upset I didn’t want to consider at the time as I didn’t think I would like the answer.

Despite any of my misgivings I couldn’t help but be a little nosy and during association engineered to pass the cell Richard had moved into. My concerns were rather un-benevolently sated by the sight of an overweight, unremarkable old man struggling to manoeuvre in the already small and slowly decreasing spaces where Richard had started to set up their new home together. We exchanged only rudimentary pleasantries and I was ushered away in a rather uncomplimentary fashion which rather finalised our cell-mate divorce.

After the now dismal association had trudged by, telephone calls made, lukewarm banter exchanged and the usual dispersal of sugar sachets to the needy, the final lock up of the day rang hollower than it had the night before. Strangely, having always been envious of those who occupied the few single occupancy cells, this rare opportunity for solitary living was not the joyous event it should have been. As if to add insult to emotional injury, there wasn’t even any discernible satisfaction from the ‘victory’ wank I felt compelled to initiate in the relative stillness of that cold lonely night. On the other side of the door, for the rest of the wing, life went on regardless of my exposed, unappreciated, and rather roughly man-handled genitals.

The single life was rather short-lived. The very next day when we all strolled back from work for lunch, I was more than surprised the cell door was already open. It meant either a cell search or a new pad mate. As I stood in the doorway weighing up the mess, I was disappointed it was the latter although it looked like the former. The place was filled with indescribable amounts of what could only be judged as ‘crap’. All I could do was stand and stare open-mouthed.

“Don’t mind me, I’ll get all this out of the way in no time.”

The Welsh was a momentary distraction. My first thought was, in time for what, Christmas? My second thought was, oh my Lord, who is this person?

Seated, although you couldn’t see the chair anymore, was a mountain of a man or to be more precise a landslide of mainly unpleasant flaccid flesh which may have once been a person. The confusion of his high-pitched voice, strong accent and sheer physical volume did nothing to clarify the overall effect. He had to be 30 stones if he was a pound.

“They took most of my stuff off me, the bastards, so I don’t know how we’ll manage.”

It was impossible to take in what he was saying. If this wasn’t all his stuff, what did he have before? The reference to ‘we’ went unconsidered. There were prison bags, cardboard boxes, folders and unconstrained ‘crap’ literally everywhere; even worse than Richard’s collection.

“Enjoy your new friend Rollason,”

I didn’t need to look, it was the voice of the very cute but overtly sarcastic officer behind me. “Play nice you two!”

He had obviously been waiting for a reaction and chuckled as he locked us in.

“Bastards.” my companion continued to complain.

I was still speechless except for rather uncharacteristically muttering a profanity under my breath. To add injury to insult I almost tripped and fell over some of the clutter to avoid the steel door swinging closed behind me.

“Where do they get off from stealing people’s …..” he was still rambling on but I couldn’t listen or even look at him.

“Can we get some sort of order here it’ll be lunch time soon? What are you ever going to do with all this….” I was still lost for a relevant description and just waved my arm over it all.

“It won’t take long, chill, I’ll just….”

He started to complain again but I managed to keep my thoughts to myself. ‘Chill’, who did he think he was he must be 60 if he’s a day. This was a nightmare.

“Where’s all my…. stuff,” I was annoyed at my own lack of vocabulary, “all my things, they were on the…,” I waved my hand around again but saw nothing recognisable.

“Oh, sorry I put all the stuff that’s left up ‘ere on the top bunk, you don’t mind do you, I ‘ad no idea who was in ‘ere see and what I…,” he wandered off verbally yet again and I stopped listening, yet again.

“You’ll have to get your ‘stuff’ off my bunk, I don’t want….” I didn’t actually know what I wanted but it certainly wasn’t this.

“Chill ….”

I was far from chilled and my tine made it obvious.

“I’ll help you.”

It was disturbing to feel so much animosity, but it didn’t stop me swinging three large bags from the top bunk to the floor and discovering my personal things piled up where they had been casually tossed. Kicking more of the bags out of the way I managed to bounce my way up to my new space and out of the chaos, but not out of the predicament.

“Barry by the way.”

He stopped to try to look up in my direction, presumably to see if I had registered his name, he couldn’t move his neck enough, but he continued jabbering.

“I’m sorry for all this, I’ll get it all put away as soon as I can erm …”

“David,” I had nothing else to offer him.

“Dave, sorry mate.”

As much as I wanted to correct his mistake, I could tell it would have been a waste of time. The only alternative I had was to lie back on the pile of bedding which had been tossed roughly and unfolded up onto the bunk; at least I didn’t have to look directly at all his mess for a while.

The minimal sounds of movement didn’t bode well for any speedy resolution to the storage problem. Behind closed eye lids I pictured a quart being forced into a pint pot. The moment was interrupted or rather saved by the door being unlocked.

“Lunch,” the bodiless voice stated the obvious just as it did every day.

“Dave mate,” he was already the most annoying person I had met, “could you get me my lunch, I don’t think I can…,” he didn’t seem to want to finish the obvious observation.

From the corner of my eye I could see the loose rolls of fat as he waved his arms over all the turmoil that hadn’t either moved of diminished.

“Get me anything, I don’t mind but if there’s any tuna, I likes tuna.”

I didn’t bother to point out that he wouldn’t have a choice plus I didn’t want to go back to fetching and carrying for people, but I let it go; this time.

“I’ll see what I can do,” I was just glad to get out of there if only for a few minutes.

The grin on Mr. Holland’s face was not as charming as I normally considered it. He was on lunch patrol behind the servery and was obviously taking pleasure from my predicament.

“You’ll need more than that to feed the whale.”

His quip was given far too loudly and raised a laugh between those who understood to what or rather whom he was referring to, I just smiled my biggest fake smile and carried on.

“If he wants seconds, tough luck.”

Back in the cell there was nowhere safe to put the tray down, so I just stood and held it until a space was unceremoniously swept aside on the table top.

“What the hell do they call that muck?”

I really didn’t want to hear it and popped up on my bunk and as out of the way as I was going to get. Eating was not as easy or as enjoyable as I had generally found as the noise and the smells and the sights were all too much to aid any degree of digestion. Barry complained about everything on his tray and proceeded to enlighten me as to the differences between where he had been the day before and here today. Although I didn’t want to know, it seemed I would have no choice in the matter, unless I resorted to some sort of physical violence or vulgarity, neither of which I was very good at.

The workings of other prisons had never seriously crossed my mind despite having resigned myself to being in one of them at some future stage in my process. Barry had come from a category ‘C’ prison to this, a cat ‘B’. Between the exuberant profanities and copious complaints, I could realistically, if uncharitably, understand why he was so disappointed in his current situation. It would seem they had microwaves and toasters on his previous wing, a shop to buy your own provisions, large screen TVs with games machines in the cells, extensive almost unlimited exercise and association during the day, classes and clubs, it sounded like a holiday camp. No wonder the public often had that impression it might be true. Taking in only the information I needed, which wasn’t very much, I let him roll on in his complaining. The workshop was a genuine life saver that day and for many more after it. Suggesting he might have something sorted out before I got back, I held out little hope of the cell changing during the two hours I would be out that afternoon. He didn’t disappoint.

Although I could tell some of the bags had been moved, emptied even, the plethora of none standard items was mind boggling. The previously organised pigeon holes were crammed with packets, tins, and bottles of all sorts of food stuffs, none of which as far as I could see were available on our canteen sheet. Scattered about the rest of the cell were books and magazines, newspapers, drawing pads, colouring pencils, rolled up posters, scraps of this and sheets of that, it was all just too much to take in. With mischief in mind I was tempted to discuss what might happen if we had a cell search, but I didn’t want to be drawn into the pointless dialogue and all the problems which would inevitably arise if we did.

At least once a week there would be a cell ‘spin’ as it was known as. You had little or no warning for when two or more officers armed with latex gloves and large plastic bags would unceremoniously check and remove all non-standard or over stocked items. So far, I had been lucky in that I didn’t bother to keep more than the regulation compliment of clothing, general kit or food items. It was pointless complaining when things were removed, although many did, complain that is. All you could do was hope that, because you appeared to be a model prisoner, they wouldn’t look under the mattress or inside your pillow case to find the pieces of fruit, the extra pairs of underwear you had managed to blag from the stores or the two blankets which were folded to look like the single one you were allowed. Most of the time I had got away with it but I doubted that if they did a spin now, I’d be so lucky, not with my corpulent companion’s cornucopia of category ‘B’ contraband.

To be fair to Barry he was aware of his many difficulties, limitations and excesses and he did make regular apologies for, well actually for almost everything he did or had. At first it was accepted with the grace I was good at, by the second day it was getting to be more difficult, by the third day it was just annoying and seemingly without resolution. In my mind an apology is made for a mistake you try to rectify or avoid repetition of, but Barry seemed to think it was just his excuse to do whatever he liked and get away with it. His endless comparison with the other facilities was the other regular issue and he eventually secured a small mountain of triplicate complaint forms and felt he had to share every pointless word he put on each. It got to the stage that I had to say something, or kill him.

“Barry,” I unceremoniously cut into one of his mini rants, “do you really think that anything you put down on all these forms will make any difference?”

“Well,” he paused and put on his best face of consideration, “you know boy’o, when you’ve been in as long as me then you’ll get to know if you let the bastards grind you down then they’ve won, haven’t they?”

He waited for a rebuttal and just for a change I decided to offer one, knowing it would be pointless encouragement.

“And just how has your sentence been enhanced by anything you’ve complained about?”

“Ah, well, that’s it see, it don’t get any better, no, it just gets more even, it’s like the time….”

He went on to list yet more of the many pointless prodding of the system he had done in the last several years, I wished I had never asked. I didn’t do it again.

Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, he interrupted himself with the need for the toilet, this was never a thing I looked forward to. His apologies started before he moved so I could sit and stare out of the window at, well on that occasion absolutely nothing. He would always give me good if repetitive warning for his toilet issues, which I could well understand given his diet, physical size, and limited motility. Unfortunately, no amount of apology could make up for the twice daily expulsions; give me my farmyard friends every time.

In comparison with the rest of my sharing experiences, it was only right I should have had both ends of the spectrum, most other people did, and I was in no-way special. However, by the end of the remainder of the week with the corpulent Barry, I had to admit to dreading a whole weekend with him. The possibility of 23-hour lock-ups with the weather not being very good, was only lightened by the glimmer of hope in getting out to the library and hopefully the church meeting on Sunday to save what was left of my sanity.

The Friday lunch break eventually came. The last opportunity of the week to be out of our cells was nearly here. My mood was as desperate as the expectation of cold chips and rock hard chicken nuggets.

Staggering rather desolately back to the wing from the workshop, chattering to others about anything to prolong the event despite it annoying the officers, the cell door was again unlocked when I eventually reached it. Dark memories of similar events loomed. As usual the place was as cluttered as it had been when I had left it that morning, or was it? There was something missing. The blanket encased man mountain wasn’t there. When I had left, he was still not ready for the day, although it was difficult to tell the difference between his composition for either. He didn’t, or rather couldn’t lie down to sleep and so had just sat on the bunk or the chair and piled more layers over him. Now, the bunk was still piled high but the pile certainly didn’t contain a person. The door was about to be locked behind my confusion when a voice floated down from on high.

“A moment Mr. Sing,” my personal officer’s dulcet tones rang down from up on the two’s.

“Mr Holland, can we help you?”

They were oh so polite to each other on the wing.

“Leave that one for me if you please.”

This all sounded rather ominous but there was nothing I could do so I stood inside but waited as Mr Holland eventually appeared, smiling his most striking of practiced smiles.

“You will be pleased to know your new best friend has been taken off to the hospital wing for a while,” it was unusual to have another prisoner’s business discussed or commented on, “I would like you to sort out his…” he waved his hand over the general mess and I was pleased he too was also lost for a description, “get it all up outside the two’s office for me please.”

Trying not to look as shocked as I was for the degree of courtesy which had been extended, perhaps I didn’t quite manage it.

“As quick as you like,” a wink accompanied his rather courser tone to convey the shared relief that we obviously felt.

“Yes Mr Holland, right away.”

He was the better natured of the two officers I had been assigned but, except for his beautiful tribal tattoos he was not the better looking.

He left the cell open for me which was another first and in a rather indelicate manner I swept up the piles of food stuffs, papers, books, and obscure clothing filling five sacks in all and still not all gone. Rather breathless from dragging them up the stairs and taking one with all the remaining festering mess to the bins, I was joyously clear of all physical putrid trace. Unfortunately, I was not quite rid of him altogether. There was the languorous lingering odour of beef OXO cubes. Barry had somehow amassed a small mountain of them for adding to every meal with yet more to be made into hot drinks in-between said meals and beyond. The stench would hang around for several days unless it was just the imprint on my olfactory passages. After lunch Mr Holland and I shared a small joke about it all. Life was not too bad really and the weekend certainly looked so much better now.

That’s where I went wrong. Making such a rash presumption was bound to rattle the cage of fate’s evil menagerie. When we came back onto the wing after the last workshop of the week, the cell door was again already open, and as usual it made me nervous.

Chapter Thirty Nine ~ letting happiness flow through your fingers

Not quite as traumatic as those types of no regular prison days, were all those others after waking out of my job, but, they were equally as tedious. The hours of sitting around in council offices and the Job Centre waiting for the interviews and reviews of any progress became draining. My former employer had eventually written to me and, after a nerve tingling reading of their comments, I couldn’t find anything which would help me or the job centre that might get me any benefits. The company stated in a formal letter, that I had simply left their employ. As a pure fact, it was true but, I needed more than that to avoid the six-months penalty for walking out; I needed a different interpretation of the truth.

John, my only ally so far, was reluctant to offer an opinion as he was still rather stuck in the middle. He wanted me to get the benefits, so I could pay my way but, he knew the company was right in its assertions. Alison, his girlfriend, offered a more compassionate view and a non-partisan suggestion that I could possibly go for an industrial tribunal. The suggestion caused a heated discussion between the two of them on both the legal and moral issues. There was maybe just a slim possibility of appealing for a case of constructive dismissal. Although I didn’t understand the technicalities, with the help of the library I put together a letter to the personnel department outlining the route I was considering and, just for good luck, made sure I added a liberal number of key words including ‘gay’, ‘human rights’, ‘persecution’ and ‘publicity’. The letter went off and I waited.

Nothing happened for a week and I was starting to get worried but, a thick envelope eventually dropped onto the colourful door mat. It contained the comprehensive confirmation of my having been made redundant, some small amount of appropriate holiday pay and the few personal items from the car; just two CDs. Making several copies of the letter at the library that same day, the matter seemed to be resolved.

On the grapevine, I heard how it had been rather unpleasant in the offices and I wasn’t the flavour of the year, let alone the month. But in the end, who cared? They had rid of me and I of them. With letters in hand, my benefits and benevolences were soon in place. John had his rent paid, I had a little money to live on, I had everything and yet ironically, I had nothing.

It was only a car I missed and soon realised just how much running about I had taken for granted. Resourceful as ever though, I stuck to the plan and tried to keep everyone in my fragmented life happy. Buses from the town were sparse, but I worked out how to make the two-and-a-half-hour journey to see my boys; of course, only my little ones these days. We managed to have some interesting and often inventive times. On the chilly days, it was the shops or saw family and anything which was cheap or better still, free. In the summer and any other dry days, it was as much outdoors stuff as I could engineer. Parks, playgrounds, football, tennis, putting greens, rowing boats, picnics; the boys seemed to be happy enough although deep down I knew none of us really were, I just didn’t know what to do about changing it.

Trying always to shield the boys from my struggle, there were always more low points than high, and I am sure they noticed it. At more than one point, I wondered if I was doing them any good at all.

John was still supportive, and we returned to our weekly squash games. Although I was never very good at the game, it was a work out for him and a way of smashing my more desultory hidden demons for me. Although at the time it would have been nice to have someone to unload onto, my rather confused and contorted life was probably too much for anyone, if they ever found out the whole truth that is.

The novelty of being out of work soon faded. For most of my adult life I had always been a ‘busy bee’ and sitting around was not sitting well, please excuse the pun. In those days, for the unemployed at least, there wasn’t the pressure or organisation to get back into work and if I did the prescribed attempts at finding employment, the Job Centre seemed to be happy with me. It was not that I didn’t want to work, I was just in the wrong frame of mind to face any unknown or unnecessary challenges. Questions which required any sort of honesty were defiantly things I couldn’t face.

The town library became a good friend. Although it was relatively small it had a diverse selection of books. Having never being a great book reader including school, my concentration level often hovered around zero but, the effort of at least trying, helped to pass the time. It was in the library where I also discover the extensive music section with CDs on loan. A portable ‘boom box’ had been one of the few possessions I had taken with me on my leaving home. With the wide selection of music available to me now and the house empty most days, its speakers had a regular workout and I managed the nearest thing which could be classed as a ‘good time’.

From time to time I was still prone to bouts of depression, but was getting good at keeping it hidden through a wall of well-crafted bluff and bluster; even from myself sometimes. After the first psychological crash, it was suggested I might seek medical help, but I couldn’t have faced doctors and having to explain the sordid mess.

Although this was the worst time, as far as mental anguish was concerned, in the past I had devised many ways of coping with lesser, if still painful issues. When these happened, I knew I needed to reach an emotional low, a depth of feeling where there was only one way to go; up. It had always been that certain types of music could reach parts other elements could ever do. All genres were acceptable if they had a tune and a passion which both spoke to, and through me.

On a day-to-day basis there were many types of music which could take me to the depths of blubbering, desperate hell only to slowly come back to the surface and society’s more acceptable definition of stability. In-between these episodes, there were no outward signs or indications that anything had happened and the more sensible side of me seemed content to know there was a coping mechanism which appeared to work. Even in recent times, I occasionally find I needed a little something to swing the mood one way or the other.

My friend, the library, was also the source for free press publications. Here I could skim read the daily’s and collect the give-aways. It was from these that I could keep in touch with a gay lifestyle I had rather reluctantly left behind; hopefully only for the time being as, despite its eccentricities, dangers and disappointments, I missed it very much.

In the gender-specific material, mainly the ‘Pink Pages’, I started to venture tentatively from the self-torture of looking at all the beautiful people, through to the inside back pages and the ‘wanted’ ad’s. These hadn’t been a feature since the long dark nights of my married days although now, I was disappointed to find they still posed many of the same fundamental problems.

For anyone not extrovert, such as I certainly wasn’t, then, the potential for direct contact with other gay men was always going to be difficult. Although, for so many reasons I was still reticent about getting involved with individuals again, potentially, I might have had a better idea of how to deal with the intricacies, convolutions and often, not so subtle innuendo, which formed a greater part of man-on-man action. This was something I hadn’t really managed to work out during the ‘fun’ I had taken part in. After plucking up several degrees of courage that I didn’t know I had, I circled a few blocks of text under ‘Men seeking Men’. After lots more consideration and self-cajoling, I sat down and wrote what I thought were suitably vague replies to several of the more interesting, if obscure outlines. Quite what would happen after that, I had no idea; ‘normal’ gay relationships were still a mystery to me.

Much to my surprise I had some replies! I still don’t know why I was so surprised but all the same, I was. As expected, some were just looking for indulgent sexual access.; some were just plain odd, also not a surprise; some however, sounded human and I started to narrow the replies down.

After disregarding the time wasters and the over curious, I was left with just three candidates. Trying not to let my naiveté show in my rather shaky hand writing, I replied to these carefully considered individuals. There was still a long way to go, the next problem was the convention of sharing pictures of ourselves as two of the three had requested, it seemed that ‘I’ll show you mine if…’ was required. In the pre-digital era as it was, there was no instant imaging and I had to dig out the remainder of a set of passport photographs which weren’t too deprecating. The letters were left to the fate of the gods; and the Royal Mail.

The first victim chickened out with a short and not very explicit note. His description had been quite favourable which was a shame.

With the next, our secondary interest, after men, had been playing the piano and music in general. We arranged to meet at a quiet pub on safe and neutral territory which was a normal convention, so I understood. In a sad and impractical preamble to the meeting, I had practised a few pieces of music on John’s under used and out of tune piano. Just what I thought it would do for me I had no idea.

After having a tough time leaving the house for the rendezvous, as far as I could tell he didn’t turn up; well he might have done, covertly, but changed his mind. With only the small photograph to work with, he could have been any one of several student types. One tall, blonde, distinctively attractive guy could have been him. Mid-to-late twenties he seemed to be on his own and, in my head, attentively watching other customers as they came and went. If he was waiting for me to make the first move, he would have waited all evening. He disappeared while I had momentarily glanced away. Uncharacteristically I tried to follow him presuming he had left the building, he had as I thought but I only caught the back of someone similar as they jumped on a bus and were gone. Against all my better judgement, I hung around outside in the pub’s garden for something. Feeling too exposed after only a few minutes, I too caught the next bus to, anywhere else.

The last arrangement of the three was to meet the oldest of them. Nick was already waiting, sitting in the window of the city centre McDonalds. With my nerves calmed within minutes of his company, from the first very wonderful, if rather scary afternoon of talk and more, I felt more humanity and hope of being relationship material than I had ever felt before; ever. The friendship was not totally in my control and I revelled in it in every way only two men can. There was so much to gain, but, that also meant there had to be so much to lose.

Over time, the practicalities of living where I did, with him on the opposite side of the city were solved, generously, by putting down the deposit on a small property for me, much nearer to civilisation and of course to him. I live in the one bedroom flat, if not own it anymore, until the present day.

It was not just the practical things he was able to help with, we shared so many wonderful times and of course very difficult times. He envied my smooth divorce, I envied his relationship with his brilliant and beautiful children. My own younger boys were accepted as part of the unconventional family group and were tolerated for their rather less cultured behaviour and backgrounds. We all gradually developed things and enjoyed this life style choice. Still, in my head I couldn’t shake the feeling that, it seemed too good to be true.

His one failing, yes just the one, was, he tried too hard to keep everyone happy, whatever and wherever it took us. He had the thankless task of maintaining the precarious balance between work, his children, and an often-combative ex-wife. To be fair to him, in this often-impossible endeavour, I tried to keep out of the way and hold my tongue. All I had to do was sit in the background and enjoy the comfort and joy of sharing a life with someone who combined the nearest thing I had ever conceived as being emotional love, a physical relationship which was very close to fulfilling my dreams.

Despite all the problems surrounding his coming out of the closet, with his ex-wife eventually having way more than her pound of flesh, inside this idyll, I still had all my old demons to confront in my own peculiar way.

In a now computerised world, I had discovered the availability of images and had started to collect them. During the occasional moments where I shared a tiny part of this growing passion, Nick hadn’t show any huge interest in general gay life and for rather obscure but certainly selfish reasons, I did nothing to change that by forcing his involvement. He was only starting his journey but even with this massive change, his moral compass was always strictly pointing North as you would expect from a GP with his Hippocratic Oath and all that most proper way of living your life. Despite seeing and being part of this productive and ‘proper’ life with all its advantages and possibilities, I found I was sadly unable to stick to his appropriate, if less fulfilling road in life. With hindsight, of course he was right to be upset as some of my issues eventually became known. As an example, despite my attempts to explain my history of voyeurism, he couldn’t seem to appreciate my interest in ‘window shopping’ as I called it; thankfully he didn’t cotton on to that which was closest to home.

The most difficult of the issues that came about involved the more intimate areas of a relationship and many of my more personal preferences and stimuli. An example being his uncanny ability to know if I had masturbated without him; he always caught me out. Whether in the shower or anywhere else for that matter it was frightening. Despite knowing I should have had far more appreciation of his feelings, as couples are supposed to apparently, from my point of view these were obscure, but ultimately unimportant things. I had always had peculiar needs, when the resolution was having a wank but, from my side point of view anyway, these were no reflection on other people or my feelings for them.

In my grotesque world, I could and did live several parallel lives, each separate and ineffective on or to the other. For my sins, I didn’t understand that most people and certainly Nick, could only manage one life at a time which meant I was in peril of losing the only thing that could have been developing into a stable, loving and possibly lifelong relationship. All I had to do was stop; all I had to do perhaps was to let him join in. All I had to do was love and respect him. All I did was nothing.

Well, that was not quite true. In a grossly selfish act of denial and betrayal, I stuck doggedly to my self-centred conclusions that all my little foibles and apparent peculiarities were separate, safe, and so, ultimately, legitimate. Collecting my pictures wasn’t hurting anyone as no-one knew about it. My looking at other people wasn’t a threat as I would never have the nerve to do anything other than look. My interest in the beauty of youth was coincidental and unfortunate, with him having very attractive boys in their late teens, what could I do; OK that one is questionable. My flirting with other gay men was just harmless sociable fun. Overall, my general defence was; I always went home with Nick; I always slept in bed with Nick; I reluctantly accepted certain limitations in the bedroom department with said Nick; I definitely put up with his vicious ex. For me it sounded like a realistic and practical stance. If I had been realistic, practical, or honest, aware even, any kind of relationship with me was doomed before it ever started.

After nearly seven years and in one very tearful, door slamming, storming off into the darkness episodes, I burnt all my bridges for reasons which I haven’t ever been able to justify reasonably. The grass might have always looked greener, or perhaps pinker on the other side of the fence but, my first footfall fell into the deep and all-consuming quagmire of misery where, once more, there seemed to be no way out.

Eventually Nick went on to develop a brilliant career, travelling the world with it and, from what I understand from occasional snippets, is still going strong. His boys grew up beautiful and brilliant as they were always destined to do. His ex-wife I have no doubt continued to bleed him dry. Of course, selfish to the end, I didn’t make anything happen from the passing dalliance which I had cited as the reason for my moving on; I had never really expected to. Instead, and just as I had tried to tell myself at the time, I ended up slipping backwards until I was almost as lost as I had been before meeting Dr Nick. It was a desperate confirmation of what was to be my way in this challenging life.

Chapter Thirty Eight ~ caught up in the court system

The normal early morning, noisy prison routine, had been set in motion with Richard and his ablutions, the kettle was boiling for tea and so I dragged myself off my bunk to join in the game. Stretching towards the ceiling, the excess of carbohydrates in the form of my now lumbering gut fell out even further from already unappealing middle regions. Even sucking it in didn’t work anymore.

“Video Link this morning.”

The call from the door was unexpected and we both turned and looked at the door in almost comic tandem. There was no face at the window only a slip of paper waving at the side of the door, we looked at each other again as if rehearsed.

“Well it’s not for me is it?”

He was right of course, he was well past that stage.

Stepping towards the door and taking a grip on the small piece of paper the voice spoke again.

“Don’t go to work but hand this in so you still get paid,” the thinnest sliver of a face was not enough to see who it was, only that it wasn’t an officer.

“A day off from the coal face?” Richard couldn’t miss the chance for a dig.

At that time in the morning I didn’t feel like playing games and carried on with getting washed and dressed.

The time ticked away, I was unlocked for work as normal, but just slipped across to the desk and waited my turn to speak to the officer of the day.

“Video link this morning, sir.”

You would have thought I had asked him to give me a kidney by the scowl on his face. All he had to do was write ‘video link’ instead of placing the normal tick but I guessed, was too much additional work. Seeing Des I mentioned it to him as well, just for safety. Back in the cell and safely locked away, it seemed strange to be there now, on a week day. Letting Richard continue with his scribbling, I tried to settle down with a library book; I couldn’t concentrate.

Despite my calm exterior I was concerned as this wasn’t a planned event for anything legal anyway; there was normally a face to face meeting, or a letter, or at least something. Progress on my case had been slow, very slow but I had already decided that out of sight was very much out of mind. This was only a video link, we had had those before, all I had to do was stay calm accept the morning off work, enjoy the freedom; it didn’t help.

The slip read 11.00 and at about 10.30 a body stopped outside the door. During the pause, I could picture it double checking its list and once it was sure of the details unlock the door.

Not recognising the officer, he was not one of ours, but he had a pleasant enough smile and general demeanour. He was softly spoken which was most unusual but, once he had established which of us was going, I was directed to ‘wait with ’im’; just another inmate presumably down for the same thing. The officer disappeared up the stairs to the ‘twos’ to book us out and I joined the other inmate. The wing workers were busy deciding what we were up for, but didn’t bother to ask either of us; apparently, it was more fun to guess. The other guy didn’t have anything to say for himself and of course I offered nothing more than the customary solemn nod. Eventually the escort came back to move us off the wing.

We had a pleasant if quiet walk in the sunshine and once in the rather dower video suite, we both took a comfortable seat well away from the main wings imported and always inhospitable huddle behind their bars in the lock-up. Nothing much was said, even between the officers and we just waited; and waited.

Eventually, the other chap did his ‘thing’ which was to go into one of the private booths and have a rather animated chat with his solicitor who had scurried in; I just watched the back of his head, smiled, and waited.

Being offered a paper to read was a novelty which I didn’t refuse; it was the current day’s edition which was a rare and unapproved event down on the wing.

At one point there was a commotion after one of the other thugs hadn’t gotten the result he had expected from the video linked court and had to be removed with some force by two officers, presumably back to his wing; I continued to wait.

Eventually, one of the remaining officers asked me to confirm who I was, it seemed I had been sitting around far too long at that point, this didn’t look good. After a telephone call, direct to the courts, it turned out I had been rescheduled but no-one had bothered to tell the prison. Any further information was not forthcoming, not that I expected any.

The other videoee had been waiting for me to have my turn and the extended delay didn’t help his mood having had a short but unsatisfactory link to the court I could tell. We were taken back together with much cursing, although not from me.

When we got back it was only just in time for lunch. With no answers to the inevitable questions, and still with the possibility of a court date looming the continuing sunshine failed to lift the mood.

Later that afternoon, after I had dragged myself through the shorter of the two workshop shifts, now resting or rather hiding on my bunk, another slip was waved through the gap at the edge of the door. It was very unusual to have contact with anyone on the other side before dinner which only added to the already uneasy feelings I was having.

“Court tomorrow.”

Again, Richard had his little joke of it not being for him. However, I was more concerned about it being an officer who had handed out the notice this time. He was as face to face as the rectangular porthole in the door would allow and ran through the procedure which would take place the next morning. Up by 6.00am, the first watch officer would see to that, ready by 7.00, all personal belongings in clear bags to be provided after dinner. He paused to make the next point and stared me menacingly in the eye pronouncing. ‘Don’t be late!’

Being awake in plenty of time I did tried not to wake my pad mate but he stirred anyway. In the end, I was far too early and despite a cup of tea, a jam sandwich and some cereal, the wait was excruciating. A letter or a visit from the solicitors might have been nice but my musings had already concluded that, for whatever reason, there wasn’t time. Time ticked on and the early processes of the day with it until, eventually, I was let out to join the others due for court; three of us today.

We progressed silently through the system. The only advantage of being a VP and the comparatively early morning transit through reception, was, you were dealt with first to get you ‘out of the way’ before the other wings started to feed through. The early hour didn’t make the officers any more pleasant but at least there were less of them and even fewer inmate wing workers around to gawk and wonder and whisper.

As in previous transitions, I didn’t have many possessions in my regulation prison marked clear bag; unlike one of the other guys who had three of them. But, as with all the others that day, each was tagged and listed, ticked and initialed. On then through the ritual humiliation which was the change of clothes. With an ever thickening skin and the slightly lesser degree of boredom from the officers in a morning, they were generally more interested in eating their toast and drinking their deliciously aromatic coffee than watching you flash your bits and squat when directed. The whole process was certainly less painful than it had been. The hour or more wait in the ‘cupboard’ was no less difficult.

Today, with just the two others from our wing they had plenty to say about almost everything, thankfully to, and about each other. Inevitable questions to me had a well-considered and practiced answer, ready-made and reasoned for such events. As far as anyone who was not concerned, I was dealing with car related charges but some obscure outside gang issue had put me onto the VP wing. It hadn’t been difficult for me to make it believable although I had never been pressed on the subject. Despite the other two being more articulate and even entertaining than most of the inmates, it did nothing to help the time to pass any more quickly.

The transport eventually started to arrive and the herding commotion eventually swept us up and out to our reinforced cocoons. The transfer, despite its normal pitfalls, seemed to go without a hitch and we eventually rolled up at the underground entrance of the austere Crown Court buildings.

It was my first time and the reality of being there started to invigorate all the unknown concerns which had been safely locked away. Left until last to be unloaded and having chosen the lunch we might get later along with a choice of beverage, we were segregated as our status demanded. As a VP, I had my own steel box to wait in. With nothing to do but sit on the heavily damaged wooden plank set into the walls, deciphered the pointless defacement of absolutely every surface around me, I slid into a rather contemplative state to try to maintain some helpful perspective. It didn’t really work.

After a lengthy period and with what passed as coffee out of the way, there was little else to occupy my mind. With my imagination on a high-heat setting, I sat and listened to the cacophony of other accused being fed into the ravenous machine of the law. I could easily picture how, in the oak panelled and leather cushioned comfort of the courts above our heads, the legal system ground up my fellow felons and spit them out back down into these dismal featureless holding tanks.

Other than for another drink and eventually lunch, I didn’t see anyone. For better or worse, I was no mood to ask for further information; not that anyone would have known or told me anyway I doubted. The least I had hoped for was to be taken to see my solicitor, but it seemed that wasn’t happening either. I just sat. I walked. I sat again. I could have used the toilets just to break the monotony but the untold fears the prospect held restrained my bladder.

Lunch had been a lamb curry, or so it had said on the lid, of the uninspired packaging. From its questionable taste, the meat product in it certainly hadn’t skipped playfully round many green field it was more than compensated for by an adequate quantity of mouth burning spice. Another cup of rather luke warm liquid, sweet tea with milk this time, not what I had ordered at all, didn’t help things. The remains of lunch was collected silently and I was left to sit, again.

The door lock eventually rattled which raised hopes, for just a second, perhaps even two, but instead of hope a desolate looking, obviously wrongly accused body staggered in under duress aided by some forceful encouragement from the officers behind him. A heated discussion didn’t ‘get him out of ‘ere’ as he insisted in spectacular, colourful but wholly unhelpful language. From my point of view I certainly wished his request had been acceded to. Even without him speaking to me, I could tell this was a mistake, not for him but for me and even more specifically for my safety; this wasn’t the category of prisoner I needed to be locked in a box with.

After he had calmed down just a little, he ineloquently shared his plight with me as if I should be interested. Hoping to hide my growing fears, it became more difficult when he started to ask me about me and my problems. This was tricky as the story about cars didn’t get past him. He apparently knew all about courts and the law, which I wasn’t surprised and he soon pointed out that Crown Courts only dealt with the big things. As nothing in my story sounded right to him, his probing started to get more and more uncomfortable. He was soon pacing round the limited space again with growing agitation; I really didn’t want to be in there with him. My eyes flashed to the call button more than once when his back had been turned, but even if I got an officer to answer in good time, what was I going to say? ‘Sorry sir, but this man shouldn’t be in here I’m supposed to be segregated, I’m a VP you know! I could picture my head bouncing off the metal walls before I fell to the floor in a pool of my own blood. As if by some psychic power the door unlocked.

“You. Out. Now.”

It wasn’t obvious who was being addressed but the other one headed for the door anyway and seemed happy to be going, till angry with the world. The door stayed open and I listened to the rampaging retreat along the corridor. One of the cell officers had stood in the doorway with his hand still on the handle and seemed to be waiting for something, it was the clang of another steel door and the relative silence which relieved him of the vigil.

“Sorry about that, you OK?” He seemed genuinely concerned. “He shouldn’t have been in here but I guess you know that. Sorry. Sit tight you’ll be up soon.”

An apology from any uniform was such a rare thing, the remnants of the trauma managed to catch be on my back foot and I hadn’t time to offer an appropriate reply. The door was closed but something did spring to mind and I called out. He hadn’t heard me properly but thankfully unlocked the door to listen again.

“Do you know when I’m going up, or if I’m seeing anyone sir?”

He took a step backwards to look at the chalk markings on the board next to the door and said he would go and check. With the click of the lock my heart sank having a good idea how these things generally worked but, only a couple of minutes later, he opened the door once more.

“You shouldn’t be long now, have you been here all day?”

It seemed I was ‘lost’ in the system, again.

“Can you tell me the time is please sir?”

It was 3.15 in the afternoon.

Already knowing the court business generally finished at 4.00, this was getting close to it becoming a problem. Even my elastic patience was being stretched to its limit; realistically, there was nothing I could do about it. Eventually the door was opened again and two officers beckoned me to it. Handcuffed by one wrist to the larger of the two, I followed at a furious pace along the now much quieter corridors. After passing through a number of gates, more walkways, a lift, and a nicely carpeted if narrow passage, we stopped rather breathless outside what I could just see was a court room.

Looking through the glass panel in the door, it was clearly not the normal type of court, literally just a room with chairs and tables. The second officer had caught up with us and I was sandwiched tightly between them; a little too close for comfort to be honest. The first warder was peering through the glass obviously waiting for something but he was blocking my view with his expansive back and shoulders. Popping up on tip toe I could just manage to see past his neat, shapely ear where the familiar face of my solicitor showed I might be in the right place. Unheard, he was speaking to someone elevated in front of him, but I couldn’t read his fast flexing lips. He stopped speaking and looked in our general direction as a black gowned court usher opened the door. Pacing tightly in time with my two keepers, they took me through the narrow doorway and into what I could now see was only a very small room.

A row of seats to one side, which was obviously the equivalent of the public gallery, had the only other face I could recognise. The person was not there to support my case, but to make sure I would be sent to the electric chair; if they had their way anyway. Two tables and chairs in front of which constituted the defence and prosecution arenas. With court officials facing them, set higher above these was the more formal bench, the elegantly carved wooden crest on the front of it made it clear that it was the judge’s bench. Gone was any privacy, gone was the bullet proof safety screening and gone was all the normal accoutrements I had expected for a Crown Court.

My guards had me tightly pinned in the middle of all this bizarre arrangement. There was only one seat free but I was not invited to sit as they stood closely on each side, facing, but not looking at me. Looking forward was the only option and I came eye to eye with the Judge. The clerk asked me to confirm my identity and I snapped my gaze away out of courtesy to answer before returning to that of the staring, bewigged, crimson coated judge. There hadn’t even been time to look at any of my legal representation but she, the likewise bewigged barrister, stood and spoke up as soon as I had finished my minor input to the proceedings. Both sides of the law took part in the legalistic ritual but I didn’t feel any part of it. My confining companions kept their close stance and stare for whole time and I stood rock still, not knowing what might happen if I didn’t but not wanting to test the notion.

“Remanded in custody for one further month while investigations continue,” or words to that effect, the judge banged his gavel in true theatrical style, and we were, apparently, done.

With only the slightest of indications, I followed my attendees from what had constituted the court and back down to the bowels of the building. It had been no more than ten minutes in all including the rather fast paced walks.

Once locked away I realised I was as confused as I had been before. Now, with the time to sit and think about it all, this is what my video link had been booked for; this was what the video link system was designed for. This was a costly farce. The door opened again.

“Your brief wants a word with you.”

The simple statement was the best thing I had heard all day and I was taken along to a set of small glass cubicles further down the corridor.

My barrister and solicitor were already waiting and they both rained down a hail of apologies for the obvious mix up. Apparently, the prosecution thought they had something new to bolster their case but, after consultation there in the court before my appearance, my defence hadn’t thought it was anything substantial, or even relevant, and had managed to convinced the judge of such; that had been the protracted discussion before I arrived, however, neither side seemed to be clear on what was going to happen next.

We discussed the facts briefly and how it was all rather a waste of both time and money but I was still none the wiser for the future. My solicitor said he would come in and see me in the prison very soon. The barrister looked embarrassed but asked a couple of inconsequential questions and offered positive affirmations for the case and the failures of the police to find anything worthwhile against me. The guilty plea I had put in didn’t appear to matter but would be a benefit to the length of sentence I would be getting. Still just as unimpressed and uncertain, I was taken back to the holding cells.

The most dreadful of days so far, was rounded off with the accompanying officer having to apologise again, the last transport of the day was not due in until at least 5.30 and possibly later. He did get me a consolation hot drink of the correct black coffee along with a cheery ‘sit tight’, although, even these small concessions did nothing to help my mood or the general ambience of my now noticeably chilly confinement.

The van was late but thankfully, once we had arrived back at the prison, reception, its inherent horrors had almost wound up for the day and I passed through it without any major incident; the normal degrees of disquiet just rolled off me like I was an old pro. Unfortunately, the food rations which were normally handed out had all gone by that time and I realised I was hungry; not that anyone seemed concerned. The only one who seemed to be, was the officer who eventually came to fetch me back to the wing, he too thought I had been lost in the system; unusually, he was quite amusing. During the familiar walk through the estate, we laughed about something I didn’t fully understand while more concerned about being made conspicuous by my solitary presence outside at night. I was glad to see ‘home’.

The wing officer left on duty offered a shallow apology for the evening’s dinner being long cleared away but there was one solitary apple left, my cell door was finally locked at 9.25. Being glad of my food store being intact, I eagerly made myself a jam sandwich which went perfectly with the said, if lonely, item of fruit. Sleep was welcome but hard-fought. Mercifully, Richard had been relatively quiet for once, seeming to sense I was not in the mood for conversation other than the common courtesies which we usually managed. Tomorrow was another day.

Chapter Thirty Seven ~ the slow road to recovery

In its own way, being part of the prison workshop team had been the beginning of a new chapter of life, albeit a custodial one. The only down side had been the animosity which Richard seemed to hold for my going off each morning. Although we both knew it had been his own stupidity and probably his arrogance which had kept him out of all the work and education programmes, it always seemed to be a case of him against the world; he seemed to think I deserved some sort of punishment for his inadequacies. This usually came in the form of subjecting me to even more of his rambling, wearisome writing, interspersed with a liberal amount of grossly explicit sexual fiction. Thankfully I quickly developed a strategy to cope. a good supply of library books and the sanctuary of my partially enclosed bottom bunk, he could talk as much as he liked, I just switched him off. The odd noise feigning interest was enough to keep him satisfied.

For workers, as well as those being ‘educated’, there was the advantage of having an early evening association period out on the wing. It wasn’t every day as the non-workers had in the afternoons but, as we were off the wing for most of the day anyway, it was enough. Still aggrieved about things in general, Richard often tried to sneak out during these times as well. The cell doors were always left open for us and seeing him hovering on the threshold was a cruel irony which I couldn’t help but lap up. As he stood, not willing to risk the wrath of the officers on duty, we all knew he wasn’t part of our club and he hated it. It was the little things like that, although not in my normal nature, that made me feel I wasn’t always quite at the bottom of the pile any more.

During these short periods of relative freedom, it was easy to get things done, phone calls, sharing some bits and bobs, asking questions, before reverting to doing what most other people did; nothing much at all. Most inmates were just hanging around the edges of other groups or leaning against a wall to watch the games of pool and ping pong. For me, being sociable was still not very easy but, feeling overtly conspicuous was getting much better.

My primary focus during these evenings was using the telephone. It was only fair for me to speak to the few people who would appreciate the contact, my son, my mother, well, that was about it. The queues for this varied in length depending on which order the cells were unlocked after the evening meal but, most of the time they consisted of the same regular set of users. Some of these became the first outside my initial circle. Although I was constantly wondering about everyone, who they were, what they’d done, what they might do, it was rare for me to pluck up courage to get involved and I generally remained a solitary figure. There were however, some individuals who seemed to latch on to me, Colin for instance.

A sweet old man who reminded everyone at every opportunity that he was 71 and available for ‘company’. Although confined to a wheelchair most of the day, his diabetes, scoliosis, and several other minor complaints, these were generously outweighed by outrageous flirting with many other prisoners. You didn’t have to be exclusively gay to attract the attention either. Although I had to admit to having similar urges myself, I certainly wasn’t as confident and ‘in your face’ as he was. It hadn’t taken long for the internal ‘gaydar’ and the  ‘takes one to know one’ philosophy, to understand our shared affliction and, once realised, we often shared a laugh and a hope, if never a promise.

His days of ‘active’ interest had long since gone, finally cut off by his conviction for some sort of assault a few years before. He freely admitted his guilt but wore it as a badge of honour only in here he was just a small frail old man and really didn’t need the ritual humiliation of being an invalid in such an invidious environment. With the limited access to medication and therapy, he needed a comfortable bed he couldn’t fall out of, as he did regularly, general medication and a good dose of bromide twice daily. We all had a past and I didn’t judge him, but I did feel sorry for him. We managed to have more than a few laughs though despite the dangers and I seemed to be one of the few who were prepared to put up with his often too playful nature.

The benefits of any period of association were not to be ignored. The new ‘friends’ I was getting to know were perfectly tolerable, although I use the term ‘friends’ in a loose sense; it was as close as it would ever be here inside.

Despite this, there seemed to be an increasing number of people stopping just to talk to me; or to be more accurate, talk at me. Generally, I didn’t mind as listening was something I was at least good at. As usual, I could deal with most things if I was one step ahead or well distanced from their requests or experiences. Many seemed to be people who had only recently come onto the wing and, like myself, it was their first time in prison. Never wanting to see anyone in distress, I couldn’t help but at least listen; unlike so many others, if not the majority, who would have sent them off with a hail of expletives.

Knowing I could listen for England and having always, if sadly, been proud of the ability, the trait had been spotted on the wing and not just by other inmates. Now I was more part of the fixtures and fittings so to speak, I was happy to help and one day a familiar face approached me. It was hard to miss the prominent orange ‘LISTENER’ legend printed across the shoulders of their sweatshirt and he said he had been asked by one of the officers to speak to me about these chats I had been having. There were only a few people on the wing who would have been capable of doing the job and they literally had the tee shirts to prove it, I was asked to consider being part of their team.

The ‘Listeners Programme’ was a much under-used resource. For those who were selected, after some basic training from an outside agency, the certificate you could get had several benefits to compensate for the potential of being called on day or night. Your cell would be left unlocked during most of your free time to allow access for anyone that needed it. More association time and exercise periods were useful, and a little extra cash in your canteen account didn’t hurt and, of course, there were always the tee shirts. Even with an official allocation of two listeners per floor, it was sometimes difficult to find one when you needed them as there was always a shortfall.

With the prison being a transfer hub for all the local courts, the high turnover of prisoners and relatively short average stay, meant there were always places like this to be filled. Because of this, anyone who could or would help was welcomed; if only under strict supervision before the training sessions could be arranged. My interest noticed, I was put on the list for the next available listeners training session. Run by the Samaritans about three times a year, I would have to wait a while for the next one but with my projected long sentence, I was quite looking forward to having some purpose in the years to come. Without the full advantages of being qualified, impromptu and very unofficial listening sessions started to happen and various needs for help were directed towards me.

Literacy in prisons is painfully low. It was difficult to imagine having a letter you couldn’t read or a form you can’t understand or complete; your stay behind bars was difficult enough. On this subject alone, the tasks ranged enormously. The most moving was being asked to read loved ones very personal and often intimate letters and help to construct and write a reply. It must have been the first time my ability to separate myself from almost any situation had been a bonus. The opposite end of the scale and often the most tedious were things like helping to argue an internal complaint where the complainant was either just wrong or the issue was singularly pointless. For the greater part, I hoped I helped, more than I harmed.

As part of the whole prison process, there were several other official schemes to try to help us. One of these was an inter-prisoner service inappropriately, but realistically named, ‘babysitting’. For those serving their first time in jail, generally on the other first night wing. where I had come in, it was possible to have another prisoner stay with you for that often terrible time. I didn’t remember being asked on my entry but, I think I may have been determined OK by the very basic psychological assessment during induction. Of course, I had had Jim with me, but many didn’t have anyone. In very simple terms, as the title suggested, it was just a case of sitting with them. Most couldn’t sleep which meant you didn’t either but, you did get a day off work the next day without losing your pay. During my time, I did it just the once. The initial task was a case of helping the person through the shock of the whole court system and the dreaded reception procedures. After that it was anything from supplying information you might have, going through the sheaf of paperwork you had been given, and suggestions of how they might best cope in the morning on the wings. After or, in some cases instead of that, depending on the character of the person, it was just a case of listening to the sorrows and the horrors of injustice; from other people’s accounts, I had gotten off quite lightly.

On my one night-time outing I had a tearful but thankfully quiet guy, educated, intelligent but completely lost in the grim environment. Our only real goal was getting them through to the morning without harming themselves which seemed to bring out my maternal side. Others weren’t so lucky, and it was not encouraging to know the general response times of staff at night for the more physical reactions which some fist timers had where bloody stories made for grim listening.

It was a similar philanthropic hope I was looking for from the hot cup of tea and the classically proportioned but unfathomable face which sat opposite me in the comfortable Georgian sitting room. John looked relaxed, but he nearly always did; I had always envied and admired that in him. Unfortunately, his words didn’t match the rather calm and attractive exterior.

“Let’s just say I don’t need to know all the grizzly details, not unless you think it might help but, from what I hear, you don’t seem to have been a very cleaver boy, have you?”

There was no faulting his logic. Being called a boy when he was only a few years older than me did rankle a little but, under the circumstances, he was of course right; it didn’t help my already low self-esteem.

“That isn’t untrue,” although I hadn’t formulated anything to say in my defence, I felt the situation needed something, “and yes, it’s rather a mess I am afraid.”

“So, what’s your next step?”

Of course, I was grateful he didn’t want to press me on the underlying matters despite he being very much a man of the world. On the other hand, I could understand he needed to know what might have been going on in his home and, if I was to engage with any of his sympathy, I knew he would need some constructive suggestions for what I would do with myself now. That moment had arrived and I had none. I tried to get in first out of a sinking feeling and desperation.

“I don’t really know, it’s all happened rather fast,” I had the feeling he already knew my observation was not wholly true but, I moved on anyway, “I guess I’ll have to… to…,” no, I realised I really didn’t know what I had to.

“Well, from what I hear it’s not been all that quick, they,” the office, “have been quite worried for some time, didn’t you understand all that?”

I didn’t get time to supply an answer as he continued; not that I had one.

“So, I don’t think it’s worth bothering with recriminations and self-pity, we just need to sort out some practicalities for the here and now.”

He sat and looked at me, presumably to see if I had anything to offer, I still hadn’t other than a sigh of relief.

“I will still need to have the rent paid, I will still need to have the house in order, I will still need you to be the good lodger I think you have been up to now?”

Again, I couldn’t fault the logic or for his stating the obvious, things which perhaps I hadn’t thought about or even expected. I was not inclined to answer the question he had posed just in-case it was a trap. Somewhere, in my head, I was thanking him, but unfortunately it all stayed there, silent, and unspoken; it didn’t seem the time for overt piety or boot-licking.

‘We’, went on to clarify the salient points so I knew where the job centre was, where the council offices were and exactly what I should be sorting out in the next few days. As my brain was still catching up with all this information, it managed to throw in a question.

“What did the office say about it all?”

I didn’t really want to know, but I hoped it showed I might care about the bigger picture.

“Is there any hope?”

I didn’t know what hope I really alluded to.

“If you mean do they want you back, I don’t get that impression no, but, to be fair, it didn’t sound as if you wanted to be there anyway?”

He ran through some of the second-hand condemnation and other things which didn’t seem very pertinent; he might not have been privy to much but it was certainly enough to know, that door was firmly closed.

He continued.

“From what I understand, you’ll be getting correspondence ‘in due cause’ and anything personal which was in the car will be got back to you somehow,” his rather forced smile was mirrored with my own in a way I hoped portrayed my gratitude.

Here were a few moments of awkward silence and the information sharing session seemed to be over. It had been a rather franker exchange than I had hoped for but had to admit, no more than I deserved; at least he didn’t want to know any of the rather personal aspects. I did wonder if it might have been a good thing to talk, to confess, to examine; the moment was lost and I stood to leave the presence but somehow found a voice.

“I’m really sorry for all this, I don’t know…,” I did know but still couldn’t talk about it, “I’ll do whatever it, um….,” again I didn’t know what ‘it’ was, but it seemed to satisfy the delectable John for the moment.

“Let’s just try to make the best of a bad lot, eh? Don’t worry too much about the factory, they’ll get over themselves but,” he paused for dramatic effect, “you do need to get your head out of your arse and anyone else’s,” another pause, to let it sink in, “just get back on track, you’re better than all this bollocks.”

Only after that staggeringly obvious statement did the normal benevolent face slide back onto its owner.

“More tea? Toast?”

I shook my head still grateful for the apparent ending of our talk and stood up just to make sure it was actually over.

“You’d better go and sort out that room of yours, you’ll be helping out a lot more while you aren’t in paid employment.”

He too had stood and, after collecting the cups, waited for me to open the door for him.

“Thank you,” I said, hoping he would take the right inference from my rather few inadequate words.

He didn’t look at me as he passed, for which I was grateful as I was bound to turn on the water works again. With one hand on the door knob and the other tentatively touching his shoulder, I let him pass and slipped silently up the stairs able to breathe normally once more trying to contemplate this new routine.

The next days, as promised, were filled with walking about from office to office, gathering forms and signing myself into the convoluted benefits system. On route, I also discovered the local library and sourced all the cheap food outlets and charity shops I would no-doubt need. There was nothing like feeling positive.

The most difficult thing I had to do, for the benefit of the rest of the world anyway, was to invent a reason for leaving my employment. Despite a new-found realism in my life, I couldn’t bring myself to be too honest and simply said I had been made redundant. It was a hope rather than a reality at that point. The thought of living on fresh air was not a pleasant one and telling the rest of my dependants was also not very easy. Although I had pre-empted the ear lashing I was to get I made it all sound convincing for all but my estranged wife.

Although we had been getting on reasonably well, under the circumstances, trying to cover up the mess would have been a step too far and we had to agree to disagree over most of things if we were to move on.

With most the walking and telephoning out of the way, I was desperate to retire to my rooms; this was my world now. Although it was only mid-afternoon this one nondescript day, I was done in both physically and emotionally; I was past empty. Having paused on my way up the stairs to look out of the tall window illuminating the landing, the washing line in the garden was full of fluttering memories, each drifting off on the wind. In my room, the freshly tided, vacuumed, polished and primped space was bare of former secrets and the clean smelling bed enticed me to its comfort. The only thing I couldn’t clean were the memories of the other more interesting times which had taken place there; I cried myself to sleep, before anyone heard me this time.

Chapter Thirty Six ~ finally falling off the cliff

As, 99 time out of 100, whenever I or we had gone out I had driven so I was almost tea total; not that I really minded. That is not say I didn’t like a drink and the cold bottle which had been hidden in the draw was silently calling to me now. A conversation in my head was deciding this might be a very bad idea but, as there was nothing else to divert my misery, I didn’t think I could face anyone or anything in my current state of mind or body. With a large, cheap, but practical tumbler and the bottle, I flopped back into the chair and the uninspired light show streaming in from the windows.

With what would have been a double double measure downed in one, the unexpected heat and coarseness of the drink made me cough and splutter, but, once in my system it felt exquisite and I settled down easily for more. Pouring the next measure ready, my head and heart started to feed more pictorial information of both the present and the past but I managed to block out by throwing the drink to the back of my throat. Parts of whatever it was that had been happening in my life slide back in ever larger and disturbing fragments. It was more like a dream than any useful reality. The bottle was quickly emptying.

The visions were sexually charged compilations of the reality of my life and within such a reality I could feel the uncomfortable and unwanted tightening of my crotch; it took another two deep swallows of scotch to calm it down. This was such a mess.

Despite the confusion, the excitement and unusual drinking session should have been great, so why didn’t I enjoy it. The first gulps had worked their warm magic and the others slipped down a treat, the obvious delay in the effect soon caught up. This was much better; to hell with the world; to hell with those dirty little rent boys; to hell with everyone. It must have been an arm thrown out in triumph at these assertions which almost had me falling out of the chair, but I did somehow manage to somehow stand wavering on my feet. I was ready to take on the world.

Someone was speaking vague unintelligible sentiments; was it was me? The door had opened. The impending intrusion into my misery didn’t seem to stem my flow of protestation and derision. Not knowing who it was but hoping for one of those beautiful bastards, I didn’t really know who was grabbing my arm. Now one of them wanted me; but now it was too late; dirty filth fucking skinny arses; trying to get away from me; I’d show them; I’d pay for anything I want; take whatever I wanted; fuck anything and anybody I want; whether they wanted it or not; tie the bastards up and fuck the life out of them; stuff the money down their scrawny little throats; dirty fucking bastards. Fuck them all!

“Come on you, I think it’s time you got to bed, we can have a talk in the morning.”

John had a firm hold of my arm to stop me falling over, it should have been relatively safe for him to manhandle me as I was in free-fall; this pathetic escapade was retold to me at a much later date, hence I know what happened. I did remember that he only had his pyjama bottoms on and how his magnificent, smooth sculptured chest, looked as lovely as ever. I couldn’t seem to touch it despite my best efforts.

“You lie down mate and let me cover you up,” I understood the words but couldn’t preform the actions, “that’s it, lie down, get some sleep, it’ll all seem…”

Not wanting to hear the rest, I don’t think I did. A blank space eventually replaced the rolling of both the room and my head.

After an arbitrary length of time, eyes slowly let in some hazy light and I could feel the sting of a whip through my optic nerve to my brain. This dream was too real for comfort and the inner voices had resumed their pin pricking, I needed a drink to settle them down, I had one somewhere, where did it go? By the chair, hadn’t I been in the chair? Why was I on the bed? There it was up on the table, too far, must move, there, that’s OK, it’s all OK. OK now.

The nagging continued despite the heat of distilled grain. They’ve all gone now you know, little fuckers, you don’t need them, you don’t need anyone. Better. Much better. You are better off without any of them.

For a few moments there must have been some sort of simplicity although it’s difficult to recall the reality from the bits which had been sanitised or bastardised by the alcohol. If the room had still been spinning, like I thought it had before, it was all fine now. If I had harboured feelings towards the company I had kept, it had all gone now. If I was worried about work or keeping a job, it was all gone now. It was all gone. It was all good. It was all such a meaningless fucking mess. My use of uncouth language if only in my head bothered me, I didn’t swear, or did I?

It was all a mess and I had to start to put it right somehow. Nobody was going to help me so I had to do this for myself. Another long swig saw the bottle empty; I hadn’t found the glass. Holding the container up for the last drop to slowly drip from the neck, sucking on the hard, cold glass was too much of reminder of other things; the bottle seemed to make a lot of noise when it hit something somewhere in the room, or did it? I might have spoken out-loud but I had no idea where the thoughts were going. Let’s go and sort all this out, shall we?

The next thing which is certain in all this was my swerving dramatically to miss the crash barrier on the side of a motorway fast lane. I would have bounced off the barrier anyway, it was there to stop you. What did it matter anyway? There it was there again, looming, oops, it wasn’t supposed to be there, not this close to the road. Too close, oh well, just let me bounce then. Who cares. A car horn snapped part of my eyesight and concentration back into focus. Oops, piss off, what do you know, what does it matter, what does anything matter anymore. Turning again, oooooh, no, steady on, shit, that’s the turning, hope nothings coming, over we go, that’s it, the road’s clear, stop, stop at the top, what’s the matter with him, just how much road does he need. Idiot. Now, stop at the top, no, OK, perhaps it was all clear after all I didn’t feel a bang so OK. Onward to freedom, release the…. something and something else…. blank.

A sharp jolt bought any lost moment back into sharp reality as the steering wheel hit my face; I didn’t understand or feel it very much really. Oh dear, we seemed to have stopped. The office, that’s right, I’m going the office to tell them what I think of them; stuck up ponce’s; I’ll give them gay rights; they aint seen nothing yet; keys; where are the keys; no; no good; code what’s the bloody code; it’s locked; what; what now?

Looking back at the car, trying to think of my next move, I noted it wasn’t parked very well but there was no-one else to worry about it, I could move it later or better still they can move it, to hell with them. I’ll leave a note to tell them what I think of them, bloody idiots. Pen, paper, no this will do. There, see what you make of that. Bastards. They can have the stupid keys back as well, stuff the car, I don’t need charity, can keep the car and the pity and….

Ouch my fingers, stinging! Another moment of focus if not clarity didn’t stop to help me. The letter box trapped fingers and the keys were gone. Stuff them. Stuff them all. Ouch, my foot. The delayed reaction was from a swift but not very well-aimed kick at the mesh which covered the glass. A hazy memory of falling over the low wall separating pavement from parking area and a thumping pain in my head. Lifting the said disembodied head, I could see the cold slabs of some ornamental steps; I seemed to be in a garden; I recognised the space. It hurt very much, inside, and outside alike, no, inside was worse. Stay still, it’ll all go away when you wake up. A hot cup of tea and a comforting hug from someone lovely will put it all right and all will be back into order. A darkness returned and the chill of the stone glued itself to my numb cheek.

Opening my eyes, sleep was obviously not going to take me away from any of this. Just a few feet away I could see the outline of a person standing behind the glass of a patio window. Paisley pyjamas, why was he wearing paisley? Blinking didn’t make it go away or clear the image. Despite the banging pain inside my skull, Sean managed to get me inside. It was cold, I was cold, both outside and in.

Unable to speak because of the pain thrusting through my body, I just did as he told me. When asked any question the act of shaking or nodding my head was murder but I had to give him some indication if I needed to be sick or use the toilet or anything else I couldn’t think of just at that moment. I doubt I would have noticed if I had already relieved myself in my dishevelled clothing. As he had laid me down on his nice leather couch I assumed I hadn’t, the blanket didn’t seem to make any difference and I felt the shaking. He was speaking to me; touch me Sean; hold me; tell me it’s OK; tell me it’s all a dream; tell me; tell me anything; only there was no one to tell.

The sound of birds was deafening but the banging from the kitchen didn’t help.

“Do you think you need to tell me what’s going on? Or do you think it’s better not to?”

The disembodied voice prompted me to swing my legs down and try to sit up. Pain, too much pain and I didn’t understand the question; if it was indeed a question.

“You don’t have to but, finding you laid out on my patio at whatever time it was this morning, might have a better explanation than anything I’m thinking.”

He sounded just a little bit cross.

“I, I don’t know,” that much was true, “I, I must have walked. I think the car’s at work, I lost the keys, I….” I didn’t want to think any more, “sorry I had nowhere else to go.”

It was not strictly true, but equally, it had not been part of any conscious plan; there had been no conscious plan as far as I remembered but who knew. No one knew. Tea warmed the inner self. Toast forced down didn’t seem to be coming back up. More tea? No. More toast? No, thank you, the first lot might be making a return trip after all, no, keep swallowing don’t make a mess. Sit still and it’ll all go away. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

Slowly Sean and I pieced together what little I wanted to retrieve; which wasn’t very much. Why I had chosen to come here I still had no idea. Sean and I had been very good friends at one time, we had worked together in all sorts of half-baked money-making ideas over the years. It was the wives who were the long-term friends, right back to school days. When I had pulled my rather controversial pink rabbit out of the hat, they had both quite rightly settled on my wife’s side. Although I knew he wasn’t the sort to see anyone in trouble, perhaps my brain had dug deep and fetched his general kindness to the surface.

Slowly, the steady administration of more tea was working I asked to use the bathroom. With delayed thought about the rest of the family blissfully asleep I hoped upstairs, thankfully, they were away for the week and we were alone. This was far more luck than I deserved, Sally, Sean’s wife, would have had me strung up by my testicles on the washing line.

Safely in the bathroom, after taking the stairs on hands and knees I resisted looking in the mirror but just dug around in my underwear and hoped I didn’t make a mess on the pristine bathroom tiles. Although I don’t think I did, I tried to double check for splashes without moving my head more than I had to. The stairs down were trickier to negotiate.

“So.” He was stood in front of the elegant fireplace, his arms crossed, legs apart. “What do you think you’re going to do now?”

“I don’t really know, I didn’t have a plan but, you might have guessed that already.”

“You can’t stay here Sally will go mad, you know I don’t mind mate,” he used the word ‘mate’ frequently so I knew he didn’t necessarily mean it here as a personal term of endearment, “I can give you a lift, you don’t have the car I hope?”

No, I didn’t have one anymore.

“I took it back, I remember.”

I didn’t really want to remember.

After a lecture on the rights and wrongs of life and the universe, Sean suggested he take me home.

Home. Where was that? Where indeed but I had no option other than to agree. Attempts to thank him for his kindness were waved away and I just got into the car. This was perhaps the best I could hope for under the circumstances, it was another twenty miles or more to the house, I wouldn’t have made it on foot. We eventually arrived at the house; at least I remembered where it was to direct him. He didn’t attempt to get out and only replied in a rather cursory way to my much-repeated attempts at thanking him. Once out, leaning on the prickly holly hedge for support, I held my hand in the air until the rear of his car disappeared around the first corner.

Keys? I had no keys, damn it. John’s car was there but I knew they would be out in his girlfriends. The phone in the hall was ringing but I couldn’t get in to answer it. Sitting on the edge of a stone plant trough trying to decide what to do, I eventually realised there was nothing I could.

Leaning my still painful head against the wooden frame of the porch, I had to close my eyes against the sun which was coming up over the houses opposite, its brightness ripped through even closed eyelids with crimson, black and purple streaks; I didn’t care anymore. A car came, I couldn’t look but it had driven onto the small drive.

“You’re such a bloody idiot, what the hell am I going to do with you, such a bloody fool.”

The derogatory phrases were rather over emphasised I thought.

John took my arm in a very firm, manly grip, again, even now I was thinking of his physique. Although I might have been able to walk on my own, he didn’t give me the chance to fall over most likely. The stairs were more difficult, and my room was still in a mess; he thought so too from his not so disguised tutting sounds.

“I got a call from your office, from Jane anyway, you seem to have abandoned your car there. She said the keys had been put through the letter box with a note that fortunately, for you anyway, she read first and then destroyed.”

The person in question, Jane, was our mutual friend in the accounts office at my now former employer. I could visualise the whole thing as it was described to me.

“Oh, shit.”

It was all I could manage.

“Oh, shit indeed,” he didn’t sound pleased, “she rang me because she was worried about you, you idiot!”

OK, I got the picture, I was an idiot, he continued with his lecture.

“She hoped you were bright enough to get back here in one piece, just how you did I don’t need to know.”

Although he seemed to have calmed down just a little, I didn’t think it was time for any garbled explanations, so I sat quietly in the big arm-chair where he had steered me.

“I have to go back to work but I’ll let her know you’re at least not dead in a ditch somewhere.”

I was grateful, but the startling if misty image of a crash barrier didn’t help the moment of clarity.

“I suggest you have a shower and get some sleep, we can talk tonight. Perhaps if you hadn’t been such an,” he paused to change the description he had first formulated, “so stubborn last night, this might have been sorted out before you tried to kill yourself.”

Kill myself. Yes. I could see he had picked up the empty whisky bottle and was holding it up as exhibit ‘A’ as if to more than adequately emphasise the bit about killing myself. He was speaking again but I missed the first part of the statement.

“… do I say if anyone asks, it’s probably best to say nothing for now.”

He must have sensed I had nothing legitimate to add.

“Try and get some sleep.”

With my eyes closed before he left the room, I hung onto the much-needed feeling of his strong hand grasping my shoulder. Hoping it signalled an assurance of his continued support, only time would tell.

Sleep must have taken as the next conscious memory was a jolt. For the first few moments I couldn’t work out quite why it was. A stale, warm, acidic smell, combined with the chill, yet warm feeling in my lap gave me a couple of clues and a disappointment in my bladder control.

Once the source of the discomfort was discovered, it didn’t account for the banging in my head. Even with palms pressed hard against my temples, it still couldn’t stop; it was also the bedroom door.

“Anyone alive in there?”

The soft tone was appreciated but the conversation I knew was to take place wasn’t. Visualising the more immediate issue, I could see John slowly turn the polished brass handle. He should have been my point of salvation, but I had the sinking feeling I was not going to get off very easily.

“Everything OK?”

Once I had managed to move my head and focus on his lovely face, the question became mute as I could tell he knew more than I hoped he would. The slight movement I had managed gave me a sick reminder of my incontinence and I pulled one of the cushions over the unpleasantness in my lap; the shame and embarrassment was disquieting.

“I think we… we might have to… have to… have that… chat!”

It took several attempts to get the words out as my mouth had stopped producing saliva.

“You don’t look so good, perhaps it should wait?”

I think I might have nodded.

“I had another call from Jane,” the mutual friend at work, “she told me a little more about the last few days,” this didn’t sound good, “do you not think you should’ve asked someone for some help?”

His face appeared confused, his nose twitched, and his exquisite eyebrows angled inward below the deep furrows forming on his forehead. Not quite knowing which part of this whole mess his reaction might be pertaining to, I remained silent.

“I thought we might have been good enough friends for you to talk to me if things were difficult,” he was finding it hard to look at me, “If you get cleaned up, we do need to talk about things,” his tone was very business-like as he started to leave the room.

“What time is it?”

I didn’t want to move my head too quickly to look out of the window.

“It’s tea time, I’ve just got back from work, I’m the one who still has a job.”

Harsh? Probably not.

“Get a shower and,” his nose had wrinkled again only more graphically this time as if to emphasise the state of the room and the stale air stuffed into it, “we do need to talk.”

Our eyes met just briefly, and I saw something, a glimmer of a helpful nature behind his currently stern exterior.

“I…..,” but I, had nothing to contribute.

“Does that sound like a plan, it does to me, let’s just see how it goes.”

In my head, I said thank you, but I couldn’t manage to speak the words.

“There’s plenty of hot water, have that shower and I’ll make some tea.”

His eyebrows were no longer displaced but he took another rather animated look around the room just to emphasis his point. He stepped out of the room and I was cold and alone once more.

The shower was hot and gloriously steamy. The sticky mess in my midriff slowly swirled down the plughole and away. Watching it go I knew the rest of the mess in my life would not be so easily disposed of.

Taking time to dry every crease and crevice, mainly as a delaying tactic, I also lingered over choosing clean clothes. They didn’t match very well but it was not my dress sense which was in question. Clean and tidy, if only on the outside, I padded softly down the stairs.

“We’re in here.”

He must have heard my deliberately light footsteps on the graceful stairs. It took a moment for me to note the use of the word ‘we’. Who else was there? Taking yet another moment my deep intake of breath was let out rather too dramatically as I slid past the silky wooden waxed fame. The sigh was, to some degree, in relief of the ‘we’ was just John and a mug of strong black tea.


Chapter Thirty Five ~ love lies bleeding

The following week was as miserable if not worse than usual. Even seeing my boys for the day on the Saturday, the little ones this time, proved to be a strain not to let on how things were clattering about in my head. After taking them back home I made some obscure excuse and didn’t stay for the now customary drink and chat with their mother.

Reflecting on the events of the day, which I was supposed to be able to make good for all our sakes, I almost picked up the car phone to apologise for my rather brusque manner. She might have listened to my problems like she used to do but, who was I trying to kid. Turning the phone off all together, I really didn’t need the temptation to talk to anybody. Falling into one of the spiralling passages of endless gloom, I was desperate to talk to someone but knew full well that I could talk to no one. Nothing was going to make any of this better, nothing which would be fair on everyone else anyway, I would just have been content with my self-made lot. The night drew me into its disquieting blackness which suited my feelings, perfectly.

Sunday afternoon, I was still lying on the bed trying to stay out of the household’s way; I had only got up to use the bathroom. It was a lovely day and I could hear, and so picture, the two of them sitting bathed in sunshine somewhere in the beautiful garden; their idle chatter typified the idyll which they lived, one I would never have. Returning to the bedroom, I rolled over to hide away under the covers. The phone down on the hall rang and I should have gotten up but, by the time I had convinced myself of that, it had stopped because it had been answered.

“It’s for you.”

The voice echoed up the stairs, around the corner and through my closed bedroom door. Few people had the number as far as I could remember, work, my ex, my parents, that was all I could think of anyway. They didn’t ring. No one ever rang. Before moving from my malaise, I sloughed on a crumpled shirt and jeans but no underwear; I liked the feeling of airiness. The phone handset was lying in wait on the table.

“Hi there Mr Grumpy,” although I knew the voice I certainly hadn’t expected it to be squawking from the ear piece at me, “where you been? I’ve missed you,” it was Paul.

“Where did you get this number?” I didn’t feel like sharing pleasantries, “No-one has this number.”

“I had to track down the little Irish munchkin, I knew he would have it,”

My brain re-ran the one monumentally awful event with Michael here at the house, he must have noted it down when I wasn’t looking; Paul was still chattering

“He’s a hard-nosed little fucker, he didn’t want to give it to me but ‘we have ways’,” his mock German accent was neither appropriate or appreciated.

“How did you…” I didn’t want to know how and curtailed the enquiry, “why are you ringing, you shouldn’t ring here, I…” he butted in having taken in nothing I was saying.

“Well, if you had your car phone on or you came to see me a bit more often than I wouldn’t have to, would I?”

The logic was both incongruous and irrelevant.

“Well don’t do it again,” deep down I only half meant it. “what do you want anyway?”

I waited for whatever irrelevance he would no doubt have.

“Don’t you like to go out any more, we’re all having a high old time you shouldn’t be missing the fun!”

All I could do was picture all the alternative transport and company he must have had to arrange.

“Lurch told me you had a nice time, he said you were ‘a very nice man’ and he wondered if… are you still there?”

I was, but only just.

“What do you want now you’ve ‘found’ me?”

I wasn’t prepared to discuss Darren or any other acquaintances for that matter.

“Can you do me one big favour?”

I had expected nothing less and his emphasis on the ‘big’, meant it would have a certain sting in the tail; here it came.

“I need to be somewhere, I have to move some stuff up to Wilmslow sometime this week, anytime would do. Can you help me please, pretty please,” the stupid soppy voice he put on did nothing to help his case, even if there was one to consider in the first place, “please?”

“Why, why should I after you set up both Michael and poor Lurch, I mean Darren, I don’t know who was the most embarrassed, he’s actually …” I didn’t get to finish the admonishment.

“Yes, a freak, we know, I thought you two should get on well, you’re both a bit strange, same with the green-eyed leprechaun now, about this moving,”

The change from moving things to just moving caught my attention and stopped me from putting the phone down on him.

“Moving, who’s moving, you?”

Perhaps it was said with too much hope in my voice which I regretted but too late, it was said.

“Me, move, yes actually I am, I’ll be out of your life forever.”

The melodramatic overtone he played might have been a little too much but I could picture it clearly, amusingly almost but the admission struck at something rather deeper than I really wanted to consider.

“Are you still there,” I had gone silent again while I took in the full implications of what he had said, “come into town tonight I’ll tell you all about it. Pick me up at home at about seven. Thanks.”

The phone receiver burbled and crackled, and he had hung up; at least he had said thank you this time.

Despite knowing we didn’t have anything of substance between us any more, if in fact we ever did, it didn’t help to rationalise my now tumbling feelings. The thought that I might never see him again heavily outweighed the certainty that I was fed up with all his messing around and taking advantage. Knowing I had been happy to let it all happen just to be and be seem in his glorious physical company didn’t help one bit.

Alternating degrees of confusion and concern filled the following hours, pacing and peeing, sitting and sighing. These were the times when I needed someone reasonable to kick my backside and tell me the truth; there were those people around of course but I avoided them like the plague. The clock slid slowly round until it was a more reasonable time to make my way up to town; I should have been used to it all by now but, I found out yet again just how much I wasn’t.

Picking him up and managing to avoid the inevitable prying eyes from the window was never easy. By not acknowledging them, I could pretend they weren’t there and since his mother’s wayward feelings and desires had been hilariously shared, I had been nowhere near the front door. We moved swiftly away in silence except for a screech of tyres and eventually arrived in the lower part of the city where the many gay bars were warming up for the night’s revelries. Parking the car, we remained silent. He got out, I sat where I was.

“Come on let’s go.”

As I still didn’t move he must have realised the higher stakes of the game and got back in.

“What’s up, don’t you love me anymore?”

He didn’t get the reaction he was expecting and probably didn’t expect the one which came.

Enough to say, a full and frank discussion of the matters in hand took place. Having never shown that side of me before, I even surprised myself a little but kept it as calm and straight forward as I could. From this steely approach, I did at least get what might have been more of the full story.

The plan was to move in with the new love of his life, the one the others had alluded to the previous weekend. It turned out to be the owner of some smart wine bar. He brushed off my contention that I was only useful when he wanted something with his usual bluster but none of it really worked. The balance of my imagined love of him was falling rapidly towards the reality of the situation. None of his soft soaping or attempts at smooching or his targeted contact with my crotch could get him out of this situation. Despite coming very close to falling, I even resisted the blatant last resort of a full mouth kiss. After this forbidden fruit, he had nothing else to give.

“This is the thing.”

Now we were getting to it, I knew exactly what he wanted me to offer but I knew what I needed him to ask first, which he did.

“I need to get my things to Christopher’s,” he did at last have a name, not that it helped, “he wants me to go up on Wednesday, some big ‘do’ at the weekend I’m helping him with,” he waited for my reaction which came only after a long pause.

“Are you going…”

I couldn’t finish the obvious cruel observation, the words stuck in my throat.

“To come back?”

He was at least kind enough to see my plight and reigned back his usual level of enthusiasm.

“Probably not.”

There, at last it was out. He ignored the obvious drop of the penny but I gave in as I know I would.

“Ring me before Tuesday, I’ll see where I am, if I’m free.” I had already decided what I was going to do, “you’d better go, I have to get back,”

I didn’t, but I couldn’t stay with him any longer although it threw away the last chance to change his mind.

Watching his all too perfect figure mince across the car park, I had a hard time keeping all the desperately pathetic and mostly fictitious pictures of him and me being together out of my head; they were now more than ever, just too difficult to cope with.

Driving home at a breakneck speed, I was lucky the roads were quiet with it being a Sunday. The journey was devoid of thought or contemplation but awash with irrational emotion and stupid sentiment. Once in the relative solitude my room it was no different and the pent-up emotions cried themselves out in wails of pillow hidden pathos. A quiet knock on the door and the soft enquiry which followed could only raise a muffled, choking, unintelligible response. They went away after listening for a few moments longer than would have been normal; I couldn’t face anyone, even ‘him’ if he had been there. The house was quiet again, but the silence was more of a hindrance than a help and the much-needed sleep evaded my stricken feelings.

After only half a day’s work the next morning, I made a call to one of the sales office girls and feigned sickness, knowing it would filter through the internal channels and put another nail in my coffin. I couldn’t be bothered about it anymore. Ignoring the phone as it rang out only a few minutes later wouldn’t have helped my cause but I was still past caring. Sitting in a lay-by, looking out at the pleasant countryside and two horses grazing quietly in the corner of a field, somewhere deep and dark inside me, I was trying to make sense of something which was irresolvable and irrevocably lost.

The vast array of personal and emotional experiences, almost a lifetime worth, had been crammed into just a few short months. Was it what I had expected? Was it what I had wanted? Was it what other gay men did? Did I like it? Did I want to carry on with it? Could I take any more of it? Could I find something better? Could there be other people? Could there be someone out there who might treat me better? Could I have treated these people better? Could I make someone happy? Could I ever be happy? Could I? What? Why? Why not?

The horses had moved nearer the gate and were looking expectantly at the car, I had nothing for them today; I should have bought a sandwich. They wouldn’t give me any grief, they wouldn’t have used, abused, or taken me for granted. Oh to walk away to some sort of peace and quiet, lie in the fields, stare at the sky, fond some comfort and control. All I wanted was some little bit of control over my life. Looking at the two beasts rubbing themselves against the wooden rails, I could have so easily jumped on the back of one of them and rode to a heaven I knew all too well. The phone rang, I jumped, the horses galloped away in their relative freedom; I so needed their freedom.

The number was withheld; at least it wasn’t the office for once.

“I thought you were supposed to be sick?”

It was the office, well sort of, it was Richard and I didn’t answer his question, but he continued his comments.

“You shouldn’t park in such public places when you’re up to your dirty business?” I had no words for his misrepresentation. “This should be very interesting when I report in.”

The phone went dead as he hung up but I kept the handset to my ear not actually understanding what had just happened. How did he know, what did he know? What was happening? At the back of my brain the mental recall which was racing away, skidded to a halt and showed me a view from the door mirror only minutes earlier. Realising now I had registered the cars make and colour but nothing else, it must have been him driving past. Bad luck, bad blood, bad timing; who cared? Starting the car, the animals in the field looked up simultaneously but went straight back to their primary objective, eating. The phone rang again, and I switched off the engine. Another withheld number, I didn’t want to answer. It didn’t stop ringing. Eventually though, as the ringing began to hurt my ears, I picked it up but just listened. Knowing it would most likely be the office, I might have been him again.

“Hello?” A pause, “Hello, are you there, you big queen?”

It was Paul.

I should have ended the call, I should have told him to piss off; of course I did neither.

“It’s not Tuesday yet.”

I went for a curt tone, but it came out rather wimpish.

“Oh, don’t be like that,” his general excess of exuberance was irritating me now.

“What, I’m busy working, you wouldn’t know about that would you,” too harsh? I scolded myself.

“Well, sooorrry,” he wasn’t any more serious.

“What do you want,” it went very quiet at the other end, “well?”

“You really are too grumpy these days, anyway,” he didn’t expect me to counter his contention, “you know you’re going to help me,” again no pause for any correction or confirmation, “we need to do it tomorrow,” now he had to wait.

His exquisite face was right in the front of my head, as clear as if he had been sat next to me, I even turned my head to look in his direction knowing that, with his huge glorious smile and long fluttering eyelashes doing their very capable best, he was still waiting for me to confirm I would roll up and roll over; I could have slapped that face, I could have loved that face, I so wanted that face to be mine.

“Are you there, hello?”

“Yes, I’m here.” I was depressing myself with my tone, “Tomorrow, what time, where, who, what, why….”

He interrupted the flow as it became obvious I was openly mocking him.

“Now now, if you don’t want to?”

He already knew the answer, or he wouldn’t have risked the question.

The next morning the car phone remained off although I was still so tired, I might have forgotten to switch it on. The car rolled to a halt outside the house, the curtains started to twitch but only one small face watched me shuffle up the path and press the button to ring the chimes; Westminster, how incongruous they were. The wavering tones hadn’t finished their full round before the door was flung open.

“Is this your idea? Is it you that’s buggering my beautiful boy, you dirty filthy….” she was cut off by Paul bounding down the stairs, hopefully to my rescue.

He pushed her to one side and stepped out pulling the door partly closed behind him.

“Sorry about that, the news didn’t go down too well,” he was always so good at understating things.

“What…,” as there was nothing to ask, I gave up.

He pushed the door open again but closed it leaving me outside and relatively safe; the argument continued noisily behind it. At least my own coming out had been a little less dramatic.

Walking slowly back towards the car I was still conscious of the eyes which were drilling through the dirty glass and deep into my back. Hearing the door open again and the click and bang of luggage being put out heavily onto the path, I continued to walk away, looking straight ahead. The shouting had died down but I didn’t need or want to be part of any of it. I stayed on the pavement leaning against the car still facing away from the lull in the commotion.

“Can you get these, please?”

Noting his manners were improving all the time, I capitulated.

Three bags later, I was going back for the last sports type holdall when the door opened again, I stopped abruptly. Paul was trying to extract himself from his mother’s arms as she was being encouraged to end the long and completely inappropriate good-bye hug. The ‘call me’, love you’, ‘don’t forget to ring’ sentiments followed him all the way to the car although she stayed at the threshold in her slippers and dressing gown. Managing to escape the tidal wave of emotion, I was surprised to find myself as tearful as Paul. He needed to be hugged and comforted, but a desperate sideways glance clearly told me to get the car moving. Waving at the disappearing figure, he didn’t look. We were gone.

Silence blanketed the inside of the car and even the roar of the lorries on the busy motorway seemed to occupy a different universe to the one we were in.

Eventually, after many miles, I ventured a caring hand which was permitted the intimacy of Paul’s inner thigh. It wasn’t acknowledged, but not being rejected was enough; he just kept staring blankly out of the side window. It was obvious he had been crying if a little less profusely, but it didn’t seem the time to offer any soporific platitudes. We still had another hour or more in this difficult stage of the process. It wasn’t until we had driven up the familiar slip road, leaving the motorway, until he spoke. Although I was glad the painful silence had been broken, it was more because I didn’t know where we had to go from here.

Still not sure how he was feeling, I pulled into the lay-by just past the junction’s roundabout.

“If you hadn’t been quite so camp, so obvious you big qu….”

Although he trailed off, it was obvious he had been mulling over the emotive issues which had been raised so raucously with his mother; I hadn’t given it another thought deliberately.

He couldn’t finish the harsh insult, but he did at least accept the crushing hug I enveloped him in. My hope that it would at least squeeze his tear ducts closed didn’t work and he sobbed with heart breaking contrition into my neck. Was this the Paul I knew? Was this the Paul I had missed? Was this the Paul I would never be able to have? Once he had relaxed just a little he pulled way although I was reluctant to release him completely knowing that this time, it might be the last. He eventually struggled away making noises of mock indignation.

“She didn’t think it was me who ….,” I was cut off sharply.

“Don’t think yourself so lucky, she just thought you might give her more babies,” he was laughing through the remains of his tears at the ludicrous complication, “no, she was bound to find out eventually, you just happened to be in the firing line, sorry,” he stroked my face to endorse his apology, “you’re just too camp which didn’t exactly help.”

I ignored the jibe and went on with a the more reasonable question.

“What now?”

“Oh, trying to get rid of me,” his lip quivered which worried me, “pick me up, drop me off, is that all I meant to you?”

Although totally confused, I did manage to notice his use of the past tense and sat back heavily against the door.

“It’s you who’s running off to whoever he is, I’m the one….” his tears didn’t need prompting by my rather crass observations and I caved, “don’t, please.”

I was never going to stand up against his salty torrent and joined him in the misery.

After we had both exhausted ourselves, we sat quietly again but we both knew it was getting us nowhere.

I couldn’t think of anything meaningful, so I might as well find out something about this new life; even though it was none of my business.

“Is he that good?”

“I think so, he thinks so anyway, he’s loaded, he’s lovely, he’s…” he trailed off but managed not to cry anymore.

Having already thought the list might not be very long, it was still sad to see it really wasn’t. After asking a few other gently probing inquiries, I was still at a loss for what this was all about. It was hard to accept it was all about the money but, why would I be so surprised; from what I knew about him, he was all about the money. The realisation, or more likely the coolness of the afternoon cut in and, to add to the already dreary situation, it had started to rain.

“You follow the signs further up the road there.”

I followed his quivering finger as it pointed; I already knew roughly where he was going to; to disappear out of my life. The quilted inquisition was over.

He directed, I drove. We twisted and turned through the elegant countryside and into the exclusive expensive village. The size of the houses each with their grounds made it more the size of a small town but managed to retain the feel of a village. Its reputation was well known, the value of the cars and the people in their Burberry rain wear at the independent exclusive shops confirmed it; there would be no Tesco Local here. The car was skidding to a halt on the gravelled car park at the back of one of these elegant buildings. We had arrived.

A low wooden picket fence segregated the parking from a grassed and decked garden area. Tables and chairs were only being partially saved from the rain by what should have been parasols on sunnier days. Creepers hung limply from the iron trellising. There was only one person to be seen amid its jaded elegance. Once he recognised one of us, he waved and started to walk towards the car. The knot in my stomach confirmed I really didn’t want to be here.

Not wanting to get out of the car, I tried hard not to hate him as he gave Paul, who had removed himself, a hug and a peck on the cheek. Only then did he seem to notice me and pulled away awkwardly; I still just sat there, trying not to look at the scene at all.

As a distraction, I popped the boot open via the catch at the side of my seat, the noise it made was obvious to both; I still just sat there. Once he, Christopher, he looked like a Christopher, had seen all the bags, the standard playful comments which questioned the whereabouts of the kitchen sink were bounced back and forth safely hidden behind the boot lid and, thankfully, out of my sight. Unfortunately, it was not out of my hearing. I still just sat there. The other one did his strong man act and with some bags in hand and others tucked under both arms, he waddled rather ridiculously down the path. Idiot I thought. That was unfair, he owned a wine bar and drove a Porsche, what was to hate? I still did, and still sat there. My growing dislike of him was interrupted as Paul got back in the car.

“Changed your mind?”

Although I tried to hide it and as the comment was only half meant as a joke, he looked at me, with that look he had.

“You’ll still see me if you come up to town,” he meant to Manchester of course, “we go out quite a lot unless the bar is very busy, he loves me you know.”

I couldn’t stop myself snorting an uncomplimentary thought but he ignored it and continued to press the point.

“He does,” there was obviously no question of it; in his mind anyway, “will you be OK getting back,” now he was being just plain rude.

“Can you hear yourself?” I had meant to just think it, but it blurted out anyway, “if you can’t, you’ll just have to find out the hard way.”

Although I did mean to speak the last bit, I regretted it as soon as it was spoken. Trying to retract the words was hopeless, he shook my misplaced hand off his arm.

“I don’t know what you mean,” but it was not quite ‘mock’ enough this time, “will you let me know if you get back OK?”

It was too late for sincerity now, but I didn’t let on.

“Yes… I’ll be fine… I’ve always been fine … you…..” but it had gone too far and I couldn’t even look at him anymore.

The car lurched forward as I turned the key having left it in gear. On the path ahead of us, ‘he’ stepped forward one pace no doubt concerned about his picket fence, I begrudgingly held up a hand to placate his worry; it served to hide his face as well. My passenger got out before I tried starting the engine again. Leaning in through the open door as if to say or even do something, he was too far away to kiss but it didn’t seem to matter, all I wanted to do was get out of there.

“See you, soon?” For once he looked genuinely sorry.

I assumed it as a rhetorical question, but even if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to answer him without breaking down, I wasn’t going to do that; not now.

The gravel spattered up from the front tyres onto Christopher’s precious fence and the car shot backwards. In my mind’s eye I could see them both standing there, arms around each other’s waist, Paul’s hand on the others perfect chest, head leaning over to rest on his perfect shoulder, a soft gentle kiss lovingly applied to his perfect, rich, boy buying, hideous, hateful face. How I didn’t scrape any other cars as I sped out of the town I will never know.

It wasn’t until I was near the motorway I realised I couldn’t recall how I had managed to get that far. All I could see was them to the agonising extent I had to stop in the lay-by before getting onto the motorway and home.

Home? What was home? What was there? Who was there? Why? Looking across the road I could still see the car parked up with two desperate people consoling each other in their failing intimacy and imperfect union.

It was some time before I felt safe to drive again.

As the journey was such a familiar one, it was only the additional traffic which I had to think about. The cruise control was no good in traffic but sitting tightly behind a lorry made it a little easier.

With no need to go into the city any more, I took the alternative if tedious motorway route straight to the house; I was still reluctant to call it my home.

There was no one there but it was still only mid or late afternoon, I didn’t really know. Pulling up on the drive, I left room for John’s car. Without thinking I reached down to switch off the phone but it had already been off so I was switching it on. It bleeped several times to indicate the number of missed calls while the display showed the three answer phone messages. I knew full well what they were going to be about.

The indecision of whether to listen to them or not had my finger hovering over the call button just that little bit too long and it depressed. The tonal chopsticks seemed to go on for ages. Knowing I could have just stopped it there and then, the intonation and content of all three messages were similar if not a little terser each time. It seemed I needed to have a conversation first thing in the morning, if not today.

Unusually, that conversation was one I didn’t practice in my head, as I normally would with such things. The car rocked slightly as John’s pulled up alongside; I just sat there. He didn’t interrupt me as he must have thought I was on the phone and not just listening to the silence as I was. We did wave a small acknowledgement, I still just sat there.

After some unspecified time, he reappeared at the front door with a mug in his hand and a questioning smile. He must have thought I had nodded, perhaps I had; I still just sat there. He didn’t come out again despite the drink going cold in the kitchen. I still just sat there.

Eventually, the indelible pictures of white fences, fancy seating and wet parasols started to solidify out of the fog in my head a little too clearly to be comfortable; I couldn’t just sit there any longer so went in.

“Tea here for you.”

John’s always cheerful voice floated musically from the kitchen, but I didn’t reply. Why couldn’t he be gay? We had discussed some of my issues when I had first moved there and he had nothing derogatory to say about any of it, perhaps he played for both teams, he was just perfect in every other way after all. Why couldn’t I fall for someone like him? The stairs took me up and safely out of sight. The bedroom door took me to my only private place. A knock on it broke into that sanctity.

“You forgot your drink, can I come in?”

He had always respected my space.

“Yes. No, wait a minute,” I was trying to keep my voice normal through the snot and miserable detritus which was running out of my face.

“You OK?”

He obviously knew I wasn’t, but I couldn’t face him, going to the door before he could get through it, I took the mug off him through a gap only just wide enough to let it pass.

“If you want to talk?”

Through our other ‘talks’ and the small network of mutual friends and colleges, I knew some of this mess would have been feed back to him. He had always been supportive but generally kept his counsel; I needed it now. I needed to shed the bile and horror from deep inside me. I needed a friend.

“No… it’s OK, I don’t feel very good, but I’ll be OK after a lie down,” pushing the door closed, it met with some resistance from the other side.

“I don’t think you are, I’ve already spoken with…,” he described the salient points of a conversation with my boss, they were not good.

“I’m, OK,” even I didn’t believe it myself, the tone was all wrong and the returning overflow of bodily fluids was interrupting the surge of desperate words, “I just need to…,” the door was allowed to close this time.

“If you need me …,” he paused, presumably to see if I would ask him for the help, “I’ll be in the garden.”

I didn’t.

In the almost luminous silence which followed, I realised that the tea and the cup were burning my hand; I had not been offered the handle, swore, spilled some on the carpet and lurched to the side table missing the coaster. The pain didn’t register very high on the Richter scale as I fell onto the bed face down with the hope that the pillow would mask the sobbing. The central core of my being sank almost without trace below the surface of my already feeble consciousness.

When I woke again it was dark. The only sounds I could distinguish were the cooking noises from downstairs; this was accompanied by tempting aromas although I couldn’t differentiate between them. It must have been a very deep sleep that I had woken from as the dream, quickly fading from sight, couldn’t compete the hope it might have been real. Its refusal to stay was just another kick in the groin; nothing unusual there. With my head free from hope but at least awake, I found the rest of me didn’t want to follow. Moving only my face across the pillow, it reacted against the cold and significantly damp patch which had formed in the well where my head had been. Looking at it more closely, it had the sticky, swirling stains of mucus and drool were the reminder of my state of mind before deep sleep had crushed me; I unrealistically tried to hide it with my cold face, but the masquerade was washed in yet more cold salty tears.

When the racking, chest deep sobs had subsided, and I was more compos mentis, I could feel my bladder complaining at its strained fullness. It wasn’t morning where an involuntary erection could have kept the threat of incontinence at bay, I knew I had try to move. Somewhere else in my head, the rest of the hideous reality of life was reforming and as it did, wetting myself would have been the least of my problems. Waiting for it to go quiet elsewhere in the house, I did eventually drag myself to the bathroom.

Unfortunately, as I stood in front of the white if old porcelain, the expectation of relief didn’t quite happen, and the rather forceful stream of pee took a second or two to be aimed in the right direction; I didn’t seem to care. The prolonged standing at least allowed me to look round the bathroom where misty pictures of past experiences were manifest, colliding fruitlessly into each other. Michael in the shower, me in the shower with Michael, me in the shower on my own, thinking of all the boys and men in my paltry life at one time or another; I closed my eyes but they just kept coming; Michael in the bedroom; Michael in my bed; me in bed with Michael; me in bed with Paul; me in bed with Steve; me in car parks with faceless others, me wishing to be in bed with Peter and Derrick; it was all too much. The last drops of yellow waste ran over the floor at the side of the toilet as I turned away; I just couldn’t stand there any longer and I had to get out of the chaos.

Walking and zipping up at the same time was just asking for trouble and inevitably, I caught my delicate foreskin in the fastening. The shout I let out at the top of the stairs drew attention to my presence and I heard the living room door opened below me; I only just managed to get along the short landing and back behind my door avoiding the inescapable questions. Trapped. Being trapped both physically and mentally; this was not how life was supposed to be I hoped.

There was no entertainment or distraction in my room so all I could do was sit and stare out the window. The large, over stuffed armchair was never as comfortable as it thought it should be, but it sucked me uncomplaining into its well-used arms. The only light came from the street lamps; the curtains were hardly ever closed. The static patterns on the ceiling were accentuated by the headlamps of passing cars and the effect was almost hypnotic. Transfixed in body, I wished it would restrain my mind as well but, there was too much to describe or to understand. Months, even years of realisation, disappointment, elation, excess, horror, humiliation, and humour spun and whirled in a morass of both marvellous and morose memories. As hard as I tried I could neither quell them or sort them out and certainly not lock them away. It was as if all the lids on the many mental boxes had come off all at once. A knock on the door gave me just a split second of relief and distraction.

“Everything OK in there?” It was Alison, the girlfriend, “John said you seemed a little…,” she seemed lost for a kindly description.

“Fine, all fine, thanks,” I could tell that I was not very convincing.

“Sure, if you need anything, if you…”

She was a lovely girl, woman, but obviously not comfortable in interventions like this.

“It’s OK, I’m fine, thanks, it’s…..”

I was lost myself this time, despite a moment of uncertainty, I had managed to hold my voice together which would have soon slipped back into a croaking blubbering mess.

“We’re going to bed now, if you need…” she should have given up when she had the chance, “anything?”

Needing a towel or something to wipe off the mess from my face, chest, and hands, I dragged myself to a standing position and staggered across the room to the elegant, ancient chest of draws. In the deep bottom draw were the only two towels I owned. Picking them both up at the same time, some unexpected weight made them slip from my hand. A heavy clunk revealed an almost full bottle of whisky which rolling into the back of the draw.

It had been there since I moved in. Michael, I think, had taken a small measure from it but he seemed to have too much of a liking for it perhaps from being Irish but I remember having hidden it away quickly at the time. Sex with a sober person was difficult enough, I hadn’t imagined getting him drunk would have improved the situation any; perhaps I had been wrong, perhaps it was where I was always going wrong. Holding the bottle with a prolonged stare, I took it out and hugged it to my chest; was there no escaping the memories?

Chapter Thirty Four ~ there’s big and there’s BIG

That prison workshop job might have been improving but dragging myself through the other one, the one on the outside all those months before was very different.

In the time after abandoning my family and involving myself in the shady, if excitingly intimate world of young sex workers, nothing was going well. After the brief but tragically poignant episode with Michael, light had been shone on the life he and many others like him sadly led. The stolen moments we had spent, despite the pitiful failed attempts at full gay sex were so different to those I had put up with for however many months. Considering if it was just that the grass is always greener etc., deliberately spending less time in the shadow of such beauty and unattainable bounty, things were starting to get painfully too realistic. Wishing I could have spent more time with the tantalising Irish boy, I had tried to track him down but only caught a glimpse of him once and I couldn’t stop the car before he was gone. This did nothing for my general mood and the world was slowly slipping away from me and I couldn’t see any way of pegging its accelerative decline.

Michael had however, left me a small present although it took a little time to find it. A few days after I had spent the night with him I noticed an itching, down below. Closer examination showed a few bright red dots on both my stomach and down into the crevasses of my groin. Picking at one, just like you probably shouldn’t, I found it came off with a little persuasion, stuck to the point of a nail. Closer observation saw little legs thrashing in the air and the full horror was exposed. Crabs. With no experience of these beasts and one else to confide in I asked John if he knew what they were. His practical and pragmatic approach to most things had a comprehensive dermal cleaning and polishing regime which thankfully cleared up quite quickly. His enquiry as to how they had been acquired went unanswered. Although I couldn’t think of blaming Michael, it was just something else I could have so easily taken him away from. All it did was force me to take another step downwards on the happiness ladder.

Just how few rungs there were left I didn’t know of course or I might not have fallen for the next, and as it turned out, the penultimate personal humiliation. It was proving hard to wean myself off the beauty and potential which Paul or Steve would never allow me and sadly there was ever declining physical contact. Their attempts to ply me with small ‘treats’ and compliant ‘friends’ thankfully seemed to have stopped although it was just another minus in an already negative world. The long unproductive drives to clubs and bars were defiantly less attractive and thankfully getting very rare. Whether it was the adventures or the company I longed for I couldn’t or more likely didn’t want to work out. To find out for certain would mean a trial by omission, in each case I would potentially lose even more of whatever little life I was left clinging onto. My unremitting search for unattainable perfection was near to its unfruitful end.

In my head, I had decided not to go on the latest outing which Steve had suggested. It was unusual for him to make any plans as he now had a regular partner and they did most things on their own; in-between the money-making work of course. As it was so unexpected it seemed rude not to agree. His associate, as I had already experienced, was an almost carbon copy of Steve, skin head, perfect dress on a perfect body, perfect persona wrapped around playful potential so what was not to like; although it would never be of course. To make this Saturday night outing even more curious, there was no Paul. He was apparently going to meet us there; for the first time I could admit to, I didn’t feel the same sense of loss which I might have in the past.

There were just the three of us with the happy couple in the back. Having already established I liked to be in the company of the exquisite, having to watch the interaction of the two said beautiful people thorough the rear-view mirror, I found it most uncomfortable to have the two of them getting more than a little friendly with each other; friendly almost to the point of penetration. At that point, I had to step in with a comment as I was in danger of crashing the car. Sarcastically offering to pull over so they could carry on perhaps more discretely, I added the spoiler of course that I would need to watch put them off their stride. It was always worth giving it a shot, what was there to lose? The rest of the journey was rather more subdued; we had all missed out.

With only the briefest of exchanges to arrange the regrouping, the two of them blended seamlessly into the mass of similarly attractive clientèle, all of whom were out for a good night. At that point, and for the first time I could remember, I wanted to go straight back to the car and home. The bubble had finally burst.

Sitting on a low wall trying to make my mind up, the parade of endless beauty was all that kept me there. My vicarious thoughts and pointless dreams were interrupted by a pair of perfectly manicured hands as they slid over my shoulders and down inside the front of my shirt. A kiss on the cheek wafted familiar and expensive perfume into my face.

“You made it then, where are the lovers?”

Not needing to look to see who it was, I allowed the familiarity to continue; I needed something for my trouble after all. The question hadn’t really required an answer and so I didn’t give one which would have ended the moments pleasure for certain.

“What’s the plan?” I hoped my own question might keep his hand exploring a little longer.

“Nothing we’re all just having fun, like we do.”

His bland assumption forced me to take his hand out of my shirt and regretfully off my right nipple.

“Pardon me?”

I was in the right mood for an argument, but I also knew it would be a waste of both my time and my flagging energy.

“Let’s go,” his upbeat nature hadn’t registered my comment, “this is Lurch by the way.”

Looking round to see who or what ‘Lurch’ might be, I did a double take which was so overstated it was embarrassing.

“Sorry. David.”

I offered him my hand to at least justify my interest, he took it as if he didn’t shake hands very often; he didn’t return the pleasantry with his given name.

This was going to be demanding work but, Paul’s ‘friends’ had proved that all too often in the past. Neither seemed in any hurry to fill in the obvious gaps and the club’s dark corners were obviously beckoning; despite this, I stayed where I was on the wall.

“Come on then, let’s have fun, shake your aaass!”

Although Paul was looking at me I knew I was not going to be part of anything which involved him, not directly anyway.

“I’ll follow you in a bit,” my indifference was deliberately patent.

“OK if you want, I’ll see you in there, come on Lurch, let’s get down and dirty.”

I followed the comment with my eyes and was surprised at the concerned look which received it. In the split seconds the exchange took, the strange but interestingly ‘contrasting’ person he certainly was had caught more of my attention.

His height was the most notable thing, despite me being sat down, he would have towered over my adequate six feet by at least six or seven inches. His dark, half cast skin was over exposed at his shirt cuffs where the sleeves were too short; or was it his arms were too long, no matter. From the earlier uncertain handshake, I had taken in the huge, over extended fingers which, on reconsideration had given a strong but controlled grip. Above the collar his unusually long narrow neck protruded awkwardly from the pink and grey check shirt collar which held up an elongated face which was unusual but in a way attractive. It had all the required components in reasonable proportions but without any of the more classical attributes. Short dark curly hair gave away his part ethnic origin it was well manicured and suited his unusual proportions. Our eyes touched for an almost immeasurable flash and we both quickly looked down at our feet; although I was looking at his as well. The trouser bottoms only just met what must have been purpose-built trainers. Although very interesting, there was no time to consider the matter much further.

“Well, what’s everyone waiting for?” Paul was addressing the tall one as I had already stated my case, “It’ll be time to go home if you don’t hurry.”

He clearly didn’t appreciate the blank look which ‘Lurch’ gave him and I compounded his misery by pointedly adding my own.

Looking back to the one with no name, we smiled at each other for the briefest opportunity to annoy Paul more; that was my interpretation anyway. The next comment was rather more unsettling and from Lurch himself.

“Me and Danny here,” he looked at me for some confirmation which he had gotten my name right, but it was close enough for now, “we’ll follow later, like he said.”

For such a tall person, I hadn’t been expecting such a high-pitched voice. He was becoming more interesting by the minute. Paul went off in a huff and neither of us seemed to mind or notice where he went. What I was supposed to do now I had no idea; if in doubt, at least try to be sociable.

“Sorry I didn’t mean to stop you going in, you came up here with him I guess?”

The handsome giant sat on the wall next to me which did at least make conversation less of a strain on my neck.

“Ye, the prick!”

The comment caught me off guard and I had to concentrate to suppress a grin which bubbled up.

“You’re not, together?” I wanted to choose my words so as not to offend.

“Together, with that prick?” his limited linguistic range was a disappointment. “He told me we were goin’ to have a ‘good time’, there’d be loads of people around and some action he said.”

His desultory tone gave away some of his underlying feelings while a note of worry started to form somewhere deep inside my head; this sounded all too familiar. Pulling back emotionally from the conversation, it seemed a shame not to have just enjoyed taking to him a little longer.

“Perhaps we should go in,” I made it sound more of an instruction than a question.

“Fine, let’s go,” he didn’t seem very bothered.

“You don’t have to, it’s a long time till closing,” I couldn’t help but care about people could I, “do you know anyone else here?”

I could tell he wasn’t local because of the Midlands accent.

“No, only the prick.”

He joined in when I smiled at what I assumed was his accidental alliteration, he more than likely didn’t understand, not that it really mattered as long as he was smiling.

Standing up as if I needed to go somewhere, he stayed where he was, and I really didn’t know what to do with him. My brain chipped in by asking what I thought I was getting involved with now. He wasn’t with me; he wasn’t my responsibility; he’s certainly big enough to look after himself; perhaps he might not be; he looks so sad; he obviously needs someone; he needs you; he was available; you are available; Paul ‘the prick’ he’s one of those alright; had he set me up; had he really done it again? The stark realisation bobbed to the surface and any friendly feelings I might have been developing for this lumbering friendly giant had sunk without trace.

Despite being angry I couldn’t walk away I should have walked straight to the car and gone home, left them all to stew, left them all to find their own way back. Curiously I couldn’t make myself go anywhere. Lurch finally stood up.

“No, ’e didn’t, not really,” as we stood by each other he seemed even taller than he had before, “ ’e just said there was someone who was feeling unappreciated and in needed some kind of complaint company.”

He seemed lost for words, perhaps the use of so many long and obviously unfamiliar ones had worn him out; it was obviously a planted statement.

“I can guess the rest, don’t worry, this is not my first time,” looking at his confused face he definitely hadn’t understood my play on words, “you don’t have to stick around for my sake. You do know I was the unappreciated one he was on about?” I didn’t wait for any acknowledgement of suggestion.

“You just go and have your fun, I don’t know what I want to do anymore,” it was so very true.

“Come on it’s a waste not to go in, you can’t stay out ‘ere on your own?”

He seemed concerned but I couldn’t tell if it was genuine or just rather bad play acting.

“No, don’t you worry about me, if I saw him I might punch him so it’s not a good idea?”

“I might punch ’im myself when I see ’im, not because of …,” he went very red at what he was about to say, “you’re not…,” thankfully he stopped talking before he got unwittingly offensive.

“I know, don’t panic, but if you do, add a bit more on for me.”

We both laughed at the picture of dire retribution we seemed to share. Unconsciously I reached out and touched his arm and he stopped laughing rather abruptly. The look of confusion was enough to spoil the moment. My gesture had meant nothing, but he retracted by pulling his overly long limb from under my hand. Confused, I tried to defuse the moment.

“You go if you want, I might just wait in the car it’s best if I’m out of the way don’t you think?”

I could tell he was torn between following instructions and having an evening out with his peers. It was far too familiar to be comfortable. A second touch from me ineffectively pushed his huge frame in the direction of the club’s entrance. He took the hint and walked away. Heading back towards the car I had at least proved my intention and being able to park in a side street not far from the club, I was soon in a safe cocoon more of my own choosing.

Hidden from sight, my feelings were once more a mass of unresolved and confused sentiment, annoyance and perhaps even the start of being really angry. My overriding feeling was I was too old for all this with nothing to show in the end for any of the heartache and hubris. In the darkness of the alleyway, the noise of the night was thankfully far enough away and I must have fallen asleep. I didn’t realise I had until there was a banging on the window; this too was an all too familiar sound.

“Dave, mate, it’s me, Steve.”

Thinking the commotion was still part of some unremembered dream, I must have jumped up most likely looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights. As he had said it was Steve and there, his lover boy twin was lurking behind him, one grin would have been pleasant but two was too much right in my face and right through my soul. Lying back hoping to make it all go away, they were obviously not going anywhere.

“Come on, let’s not be silly,” they must have taken my action in the wrong light, “it’s cold and we really need to get home.”

I wasn’t moved; not straight away anyway.

Without the need for words or looking, I pressed the central locking switch and they both jumped in the back seat. As I rolled up the back of my seat I caught sight of the lip locked couple and issued some wordless comment; they stopped.

“Oh, sorry, did you have a nice time, we…” they giggled like the pretty schoolgirls they could so easily have been, “we have…” they gave up on any kind of reasoned explanation.

“No I didn’t but thanks for asking,” it was not difficult to work in a sarcastic slant to my comment, “where’s that prize prick…” I was lost for a more complementary adjective, “do you know what he tried to…”

It was a waste of time trying to have any meaningful discussion as they had slipped into each other’s arms again and a deep all-consuming facial clinch, I was so jealous of them I felt ill; again. Turning the rear-view mirror so I didn’t have to watch, I wished there was some way of turning off the sound as well. The passenger door opened which thankfully distracted me, but unfortunately not the kissing couple in the back. No one got in, but I could see the long legs that could only have belonged to ‘Lurch’.

“Hi,” he struggled to bend over to look in as he spoke, “ain’t you seen, ’im,” his animosity didn’t seem to have diminished from earlier, “ ’e said ’e would see me outside in a couple of minutes said go and look for the maroon car, ’e is such a…,” I saved him from further embarrassment.

“Don’t just stand there get in.”

His dark skin tine turned slightly purple as he blushed and trying to comply he had some difficulty. My head bumped into his intruding rear end as I leaned across to slide the seat back which slammed into the lover’s legs behind and broke the suck fest; uncompromising look killed off the complaint that was almost voiced. ‘Lurch’ eventually folded himself in and sat down next to me.

“I didn’t go inside in the end, sorry,” although he didn’t need to know I had told him anyway, “I’ve been asleep here,” I hoped he might feel a little sorry for me.

“Oh, sorry I …”

He hadn’t seemed to have developed any novel words while he had been away.

“What’s going on then?” the request for information had come from the back seat, “are we staying, going, where is everyone else?”

The answers could wait as my attention remained with the gentle giant in the front.

“What are you doing now, sorry,..,” I realised I didn’t even know his name but at the significant pause he didn’t fill in anything useful.

I tried again.

“How did you get up here,” pause, “I assume you don’t live here? Do you? Sorry I don’t even know your…, where is….”

My mouth was running off rubbish again and my brain wasn’t stopping it and I felt rather a fool; yet again.

“Darren,” at last, “I’ve been ’ere a few days but I don’t live ’ere, Paul said I might get a lift back if I asked nice.”

He didn’t have to go that far I thought, but at least I had a name now.

“Where is ‘he’ anyway, did you see him, did you give him a good pasting for….” my brain did stop me this time as I realised the other two were still listening.

“He’s not coming back with us, didn’t ’e tell you?”

Steve was obviously under the impression I had already been told and said so; my sideways look wiped the smile off his happy face.

“What do you think? What else did he say?”

“Nothing, no, he’s with someone he picked up last night when we…” Steve’s misaligned chain of thought was catching up with his words, “he didn’t come up…”

By turning my head further to look him right in the face, he knew he had probably said too much. His mouth closed and stayed closed, his still gorgeous eyes sadly gave away the rest of the story.

Feeling both angry, hurt and dismal all in one blinding hailstorm of emotion, I had to try to remind myself, they were all free to do what they liked, come and go, see whoever they wanted, but, while inside it hurt for so many reasons I couldn’t begin to rationalise any at that precise moment. I drew in a deep and uncompromising breath to keep myself from breaking down in-front of these hapless creatures and spoke through almost gritted teeth.

“Are you coming with us or do you have somewhere else to be?”

I had moved my gaze to the now awkwardly folded up person next to me.

My annoyance was not meant to be directed at but he looked rather scared and a touch confused. The ‘twins’ had settled back quietly into the back seat trying to keep out of the line of fire, but I had discounted them for now anyway. There was a moment’s perfect silence.

“Sorry.” I put my hand on the considerable thigh, as was the custom, “It’s nothing to do with you, I didn’t mean…” he mirrored the touch which made my leg look like a match stick.

“Don’t worry, it’s fine, it’s all O….,” not again I thought, withdrawing my hand quickly stopped him saying the phrase.

“Do you want a lift somewhere or do you have other plans,” my gruff words made his hand disappear as well.

“Thanks yes if it’s OK, I don’t wanna be…” he obviously didn’t know what he wanted to be, “if it’s no bother I could do with a…”

I had started the car by this time and the rest of his fawning was irrelevant.

It was a very quiet drive out of the city on the all too familiar road towards the motorway. Almost like being on rails, the car pulled into the all-night garage for supplies. The two in the back jumped out almost before the car had stopped, no doubt glad to be out of the unpleasant atmosphere I had obviously created with my desultory mood.

“Do you not want to get anything?”

It seemed my new companion didn’t know the drill.

“No, from there, no, do you?”

I was touched that, in the dozens of times we must have stopped, I was being asked the question with any sort of meaning.

“Thank you, no, but it’s nice to be asked,” he looked puzzled at what might have been a mocking tone, I hadn’t meant it to be, “sorry, no, but you go if you want.”

He obviously felt he should anyway after all and squeezed himself out of the car and headed to the kiosk.

Taking the few minutes to watch them scoot around the shop, gathering arms full of this and that, I folded mine and tried and work out what had actually happened tonight. Making no real progress, I naturally moved onto what was going to happen next.

In the past, the regular four of us often stayed at Steve’s flat, but of course I usually ended up being with Paul; even that was not an option now. It would feel odd going the much further distance home on my own. It had been crude but nice being a fly on the wall to listen to the other two of them making love so intensely. Although, from one side it made me feel worse about myself as I would never get to experience everything like it.

All three doors opened together, and the relatively quiet bodies settled into their seats eating the variety of sugary goods almost imperceptibly as we headed for the large blue signs directing the way home.

“I got you this.”

Long fingers proffered a bar of chunky milk chocolate; I took it with a smile. Realising I couldn’t easily open it and drive at the same time, it was retrieved to be opened for me; his hand lingered on mine for just a moment too long to be purely in passing. Looking at him was a definite mistake. He wasn’t as ugly as his physical excess might have made him. He went red as I took in his self-conscious smile which somehow fitted the odd proportion of his face, wide and deep with blush red lips. After taking a piece of the confection, we didn’t speak or even look at each other again.

The miles rolled away silently behind us but the two in the back woke without prompting when we were just a few streets away from the flat; their flat. Not stopping in the car parking area gave away my intentions and Steve leant through between the seats and gave me a rather expressive and under the circumstance, probably inappropriate kiss; he could be a terrible tease at times which I still liked. Although I would have loved to have taken more from it, as I often had in the past, I didn’t return the favour out of sensitivity for his partner; this was the story of my life. My concern was confirmed by the other one looking back at me with a less than appreciative look on his face as they walked away; I didn’t care. Steve was Steve and would always be very special to me.

That done, it just left the other ‘big’ problem.

“Can I drop you somewhere?”

“Well if that’s OK, I don’t wana put ya to any trouble.”

No, I thought cruelly, but you will anyway.

With little control over my feelings I doubt I appeared to be the caring soul I knew I could be.

“No that’s fine, where do you want to go,” one more stop wouldn’t matter and what was there to rush home to, “as long as it’s not in Manchester…”

I didn’t know why I tried to make a joke.

“It’s just nearer town if that’s OK?”

He was still looking at me sideways and rather sheepishly having not appreciated my questionable wit. Squeezing his leg to emphasise it had been a joke I don’t think he got it even then; by now I was too tired to care.

“Tell me where.”

Following his initial directions and realising I knew the tower block he had described, I went straight to it. We stayed quiet, too quiet in that difficult transfer time and the entire ‘what do we do now’ thing.

At the nondescript block of flats, I pulled in off the road but didn’t bother looking for anywhere specific to park as I hadn’t planned on stopping. My passenger seemed to hesitate. Despite me looking everywhere but at him I imagined he was uncertain as to whether he should offer me anything for the courtesy I had so generously shown; he just shuffled his large frame uncomfortably in the small seat.

“I know what you said earlier but I really didn’t know what Paul had planned I don’t do what ‘e does for a living, ‘onest,” honesty, that would be a first, “I just know ‘im and the others from around town. He messes with people’s ‘eads all…”

I cut in to save him further painful and unnecessary explanation.

“I know what he is, I’ve had enough experience of it and this is not the first time he…”

I trailed off as this was not the time or place to air dirty washing.

“You seem a nice guy, I’m sorry,” he opened the door and put one huge foot out onto the rough tarmac, “look, do ’ya wanna to come up, a cup of coffee, tea, just to say…”

He didn’t say for what exactly although I did wait a second of two to see if he would come up with something; but he didn’t.

“Why not.”

What are you saying, what are you doing; no, no, no; you idiot. My head continued to protest profusely but I stubbornly ignored it. My body was considering some rather baser, desperate, instincts with dark pictures and crude expectations forcing my tired organic structure into a degree of arousal.

“OK, good, that’s nice,” his tone told me he hadn’t expected me to agree, “we might ’ave to be quiet though,” my face, must have given the thought away, “no, it’s OK but I don’t live ’ere, it’s not my…”

Having already completed the picture I still slid out of the car to save further confusion.

Looking around more carefully there was no room to move the car anywhere safer, but it seemed to be out of harm’s way and I wouldn’t be long; I told myself that anyway. What was possibly going to happen; was I just being nice; nice to whom; hopefully him; perhaps me; who knew? By the time my head had stopped its musings, he was waiting at the outer door holding it open for me to catch up.

Inside I had expected something like Steve’s building, but this was in a far worse state, the stench of stale urine assaulted your nose and the ill produced graffiti dazzled your eyes; it was a disappointment although not unexpected. The lift was slow and the wait awkward; as any expectations were still unknown for my part at least and I guessed, as much so for his. Coffee, what harm could it do? He didn’t do what the others did and just because we had the same sexual orientation didn’t mean we would be throwing ourselves at each other any time soon, or at all even. Madness, utter madness; the voices of decent were pushed roughly back into their box as they tried to escape and spoil any moment which might arise.

The lift arrived, and it was even worse than the shabby lobby. Darren looked embarrassed again, but I smiled him what I hoped was a disarming acceptance that it would be OK. The doors eventually closed behind us and opened noisily again at a floor which I didn’t see him select.

“Let me see what’s going on before we go in.”

Here we go with the cloak and dagger stuff despite preferring to know what I was walking into. I watched him let himself into a door just a few feet along the dim corridor and disappear inside. The questions started, should I stay, should I make a run for it, the lift was still there, only a few steps and you could be out of there; go; get out. Ignoring all the annoying nagging thoughts, I followed a beckoning gesture made by the long shadowy arm at the door to the flat.

Inside it was dark, but he stood holding the door open but with a finger to his lips to indicate how this should be played out, once the gesture had been acknowledged, he reached out to one side and pushed open the door next to him. Peering around and not actually sure who was going to go where first, my eye was caught by a low ghostly grey, shape coming down what I presumed was the hallway. My companion followed my eyes and whispered near my ear.

“It’s OK ‘e won’t ‘urt you, it’s just ‘is dog.”

Who the ‘his’ was referring to I didn’t need to know, but understanding I should be safe was more important. The shape solidified into a huge white boxer dog, he easily pushed past Darren’s attempt to keep him out of the room and ignored the curse which followed quietly behind it.

“Come in, quick.”

I didn’t quite understand the sense of urgency but complied.

Once the door was closed, we all seemed to relax. Darren switched on a very small table lamp which allowed me to see some of the cramped bedroom. The dog had stretched himself out on the bed easily taking up most of one half and obviously used to his place. Miscellaneous boxes seemed to fill every corner and clothes were piled up on a chair; the total chaos didn’t seem to bode well. Assorted posters covered most of the wall space but gave me no clue as to who the occupant was, it was random, mismatched, confused, perhaps that was him; hopefully not.

“Sorry about the dog, do ya want ’im out?”

Still not actually knowing if it would be I just shook my head, to speak yet but I could see Darren hadn’t taken my silent answer, so I whispered.

“No, it’s fine, he’s lovely,” for other more covert reasons he certainly was.

With the extraordinary size of the animal I wouldn’t have tried to shift him off the bed anyway. He, it was and prominently a ‘he’ and seemed happy to see us.

“This ain’t my place, I’m just crashing ‘ere for a while,” I had already worked out something along those lines, “ ‘e’s asleep so as long as we don’t make much noise it’s OK, the dog wont’ bark while ‘e’s in here, you sure you…”

Putting a hand up his inane mutterings stopped.

“Coffee?” I would at least try for a drink.

“Coffee. Do you really want,” my face must have fallen and I unconsciously took a step back towards the door, “sorry, no please don’t go, I mean,” he looked upset at the misunderstanding, “sorry, please, stay.”

He stepped forward and put an enormous arm round my shoulder to settle the confused moment, and probably to stop me leaving. I playfully thumped at the massive chest pressing against me not really knowing what to say. The dog lifted his head in curiosity.

I thought I should try again.



He left the room after indicating I should sit on the bed. The dog sniffed at my hand and licked it liberally leaving a great deal of slather which I didn’t really mind but with nobody else there to see, I wiped it on the bed cover well away from where I sat. Stoking the massive white head, neck, and shoulders to help pacify the beast which he seemed to enjoy, I was able to look round the room more closely. It would have been difficult to identify the person from the décor but as he had said, it was only temporary. What did I know? All this was bound to be another type of ruse or a con and for all I knew it was more likely to be his boyfriend who was supposedly fast asleep in their big comfortable dog free bed next door. What was I doing here?

The dog licked my hand again as I had momentarily stopped fondling him and looking down couldn’t help but notice the state of sexual excitement he had reached. Unfortunately, I had no time to see what could be done about it as my rather oblique chain of thought was interrupted by a quietly spoken curse as the door opened. The drips from the bottom of one of the mugs showed where he had spilt some of the dubious drink. He handed me the other one hopefully still dry. In the dim light I could see the liquid had milk and I expected some sugar but I hadn’t specified any preference. Putting whatever it was down on one of the few bits of free space next to the bed, I doubted it would be drunk.

“Are you OK?” It was me asking him this time.

“Ye, fine, it’s still quiet out there so we should be OK.”

It seemed everyone and everything was ‘OK’

“How long have you…”

Realising my arm’s length gesture around the room probably didn’t look very complementary, I withdrew my hand and cut short the comment.

“Not long,” he paused, pushed the dogs fully extended back legs to one side and sat on the bed, “I know you don’t know me but, I really don’t do what them others do, honest,” that would still have to be proved as far as I was concerned, “if you want to though….as a thank you for the lift and everything…,” he made the conventional move of touching my upper thigh, “I’m told I’m good at it,” obviously he was not used to using words, “I….”

Putting my hand onto his, he stopped his awkward waffling.

“I don’t expect any…”

I was stopped abruptly because he stood up and pulled off his still buttoned shirt over his head in one swift and perhaps well practised movement.

“ ’ow about you just….”

Again, he seemed lost for the words, but I had nothing which would help him just at that moment.

With the palpable tension, awkward movement and potential excitement, the dog had sat himself up and was paying a great deal of attention to us; it didn’t help to make the situation any more comfortable. Darren took the two small steps to stand right in front of me and reached out to touch my shoulder, I took his hand to stop any further damage being done.

“You don’t have to….”

My words of caution were ignored as his trousers fell to the floor, deftly undone with just his free hand. He did stagger a little to get his trainers and the trouser legs fully off and it was very comical momentarily; the dog thought so anyway and slavered more as he began to bounce about behind me.

“Most people like to get a load of this.”

He stood up straight which left nothing else to look at but the most enormous penis I had ever seen; even in magazines where you knew they were generally faked.

“I don’t…”

There was a great deal of this being lost for words but the dog’s agitation beside me and even the wet lick to the side of my face couldn’t remove my stare.

“What do you think of this then?”

He slowly stoked what had to be the 10, 11 or 12 inches which swung loosely below his flat hairless stomach.

Glancing at the rest of his exposed body it was truly wonderful in its muscular definition despite still having that peculiar ‘stretched’ look. With enough to distract me, my eyes couldn’t help but fall back to the absurdly proportioned member. He made no move or further suggestion as to what he was going to do as if this was part of a bizarre but mesmerising freak show. Without any direct stimulation, it began to raise its tilted head and I felt I had to react to it in some way.

“You don’t have to you know. I’m not your average punter, sorry, I know you don’t do… I just mean I, no you….” thankfully the meaningless words petered out.

“Let’s just see….”

Let’s just see what? I had no idea. Shuffling back on the bed as he pressed forward I still didn’t want to be too close to the monster, but I was curious enough not to stop looking, the dog seemed to take it as a signal and pushed himself between us. Alternatively licking my face, Darren’s stomach and fleetingly at his now fully engorged member; he obviously didn’t want to miss out on the attention.

“Yer can… ye know… if yer wanna.”

Darren looked down at me, caught my wide-eyed stare and he took my hand and placed it on the thick pulsing tube.

“It don’t bite ye know,” I took his half-smile as an attempt to relax the situation, “’ave ye ever seen such a thing…,” he moved my hand for me and seemed to happily accept whatever pleasure it gave him.

The growing, almost unbelievable stiffness was being reciprocated by one of my own albeit in a more modest way and thankfully hidden way; I had to shift my position to relieve the tightness in my trousers. Our knees touched and slid between each other.

The third member of the party still seemed to want to join in which was almost as disturbing. It was more because I had never been with anyone else when I had experienced canine company before and I didn’t really know what other people might think about such things; not that I wanted to discuss it there or then. Dragging myself away from the possibility there were other things to concentrate on.

As the now nearly fully erect, curiously banana shaped rod, bounced gently in time with his heart beat, Darren twisted to sit next to me and lay back on his arms to expose the magnificent appendage to its full advantage. It was impossible not to notice the dog’s excitement as he shuffled even closer to the action with his own prominence more than adequate for the purpose. Perhaps this was not his first time, the dog’s that is, perhaps it was the pheromones; perhaps it was just luck. Darren reached to pull him back by the thick chain he was wearing but I made some sort of a noise to say it was not bothering me; I didn’t really care neither did I know what to concentrate on the most.

This was obviously not going to be any kind of normal sexual encounter. Darren obviously knew it was not exactly normal either. To a casual observer, it would have looked like I had never handled another man’s intimacy and I didn’t really understand why it was proving to be so difficult, I had manhandled all sorts of things in my time, in this case it was just bigger than any other; anything human anyway.

With one, or even two hands progress seemed to be ineffective and even uncomfortable for him. The marked curvature took the comparatively small head to about 30 degrees from the shaft and the foreskin was painfully tight across the tip although he forced it back as if to show he could, I saw the grimace on his face as he completed the movement. The amorous activity of the dog did not help the strange routine still trying to indulge himself in our attempts at, well whatever you would call what we were trying to do.

With this odd behaviour seemingly going nowhere fast, I was starting to feel sorry for Darren and ended up sitting back away from where the action should have been. He seemed disappointed and started to wave his now slightly limp penis like a toy rather ludicrously. I had the feeling he was trying to indicate I should make use of it while I could; I couldn’t really contemplate it, not now. Despite its size it looked so fragile and to be honest, being a little unkind, not very appealing. Darren looked very uncomfortable and perhaps rather disappointed. With my conscience pricked, pardon the pun, I leaned back into the clinch and gave it some tentative and hopefully gentle attention with my tongue and took just the tip into my mouth despite it being rather dry with fear; hopefully I was saving us both from any unnecessary humiliation.

Out of the corner of my eye I was distracted by yet another potential embarrassment. The dog hadn’t moved far from the activity and had got even more excited at my oral attentions. Now fully exposed including his apple sized ‘knot’ he pushed it into my face where thin watery liquid dripped down my cheek. With everything getting too confusing and overtly complicated, I eventually had to let go of poor Darren, for breath if nothing else. Although I hadn’t managed to taste the dribble of creamy semen which had started to dome at the red eyes of both of their penises, the dog lurched right in to lick avidly at Darren’s and along its full length to the base of the now crest fallen erection. With mixed feelings and even a tinge of jealousy, I noted Darren didn’t stop him.

My most outstanding feeling was one of excited fascination, more so than anyone else in the room I would have wagered. Memories of another life flooded back to which my attraction might easily have been interpreted with disgust. As it stood, or in this case lay, there was no adverse reaction to the enthusiastic licking and I had the feeling this was not the first time this might have happened. The extremely muscular pure white body was pushing itself against me obviously trying to get a better angle. Despite wanting to lay my hands on the beautiful creature but not knowing if I might lose a few fingers if I did, I kept my poorly veiled desires to myself, although still desperate to explore the perverse but not wholly unknown possibilities. Feeling my resolve slipping away I eventually reached over his solid hind quarters to push past the thick muscular shoulders and take my own pleasure from both. Neither of the participants reacted to any of the stimulation and we slid apart, none of us having reached any great degree of satisfaction.

Darren must have already known his erection was a lost moment but parted his legs to let my hand cup his correspondingly large scrotum as a sort of second prize, my other found his companions. This obscure three-sum could so easily have become the perfect union. Obviously, it didn’t, although I had a very sticky patch in my underwear for my unrequited trouble.

A noise from another room stopped the action instantly. Darren looked worried, the dog quizzed for where the sound had come from, I just looked at the two of them equally disturbed by the unknown. We all sat perfectly still as an extreme and bizarre tableau until the clock ticked once more and I imagined I was the only one who was disappointed at this final curtailment of any action.

My human companion jumped up and tugged his trousers on. The dog bounced up and stood looking at the door, his previously exuberant member was unfortunately receding quickly into its mottled pink protective sheath, I just sat there not knowing what to do. Darren put a finger to his lips and I nodded my understanding. Opening the door, he listened, there was nothing any of us could hear. The dog would have noticed more than we might, but he just stood leaning his weight against my shoulder with his head on one side, the flap of one ear lifted slightly higher than the other. This time I couldn’t resist the urge to rub my hand over him, all over him and he didn’t seem to mind. Another noise, a door opening, Darren put his head out into the hallway and spoke in an odd kind of forced whisper.

“It’s only me, everything OK?”

The voice he used was deep, an atypical homosexual, I chided myself for even considering the rather crass thought and I missed whatever had been said from the darkness.

“OK, no, I’m in here, so’s the dog.”

The reassurance seemed to give the other person enough information, a door closed again. We both looked at him, he smiled, the dog bounced and licked his jowls, I breathed again and realised I had stopped during the exchange.

“He don’t like me ’aving visitors, you might ’ave to go.”

I was not ready to go but knew I needed to for my own good sense. If we hadn’t been interrupted I couldn’t honestly say what might have gone on but I was sure I could have shown the not wholly inexperienced Darren a thing or two. The moment had passed most likely never to be repeated; inside I felt rather dejected. There was nothing else to do but get things together, my trousers were still tenting slightly, and I was sure I could make out the dark patch at its pinnacle but even that should be safe in the dim light.

Trying to say goodbye to the magnificent hound and perhaps cop another feel of his attractive attributes, Darren was already holding both doors open to indicate the need to make a discrete and swift exit into the corridor. Exceeding to his unspoken wish, we exchanged an awkward kiss in passing as I slipped in front of him while he concentrated on keeping the dog from getting past us. Silence was still the order of the moment which was a real let down after such promise. In one way it made the leaving easier with no difficult meaningless verbiage but in so many other ways it was sad to know this would ever happen again.

The long, still very silent look from both faces in the narrowed doorway created more unnecessary awkwardness as I waited for the lift to grind its way up its stinking shaft. Despite my waving them in, they seemed intent on waiting for it to come. The dog had settled between Darren legs, restrained from running out, not that I would have minded, his excitement seemed to be poking out again but that might have just been my wilful imagination; or just the way he was sitting.

The lift finally came and those with hands waved a final goodbye as I stepped backward into the flickering stench of the metal box.

Darren had never been a regular on the gay scene I had been part of, you couldn’t have failed to miss him but perhaps that was a good thing for me. My righteous brain was telling me this of course while my deviant side was thoroughly disappointed.

Chapter Thirty Three ~ it’s not all play inside the walls

Out on the wing you didn’t need an alarm, the officers morning hand over routine was nearly always enough. It was the day to try for the workshop again but the rather fitful night of sleeping and waking had perhaps not been the best preparation. Richard was up already, he always had to be ready first if he could; who knew why.

“I thought you would want to get up and be ready for work in good time.”

From just his voice I couldn’t always tell the level of playfulness, I would need to look at his face for that, but I didn’t really want to open my eyes. Following the aural clues, I listened for the right time to roll off the bunk and drag myself into readiness for whatever the day might hold

“Rollason, going to work today for a change?”

I let the officer have his little joke as he stood in the doorway rather comically pan faced.

“Yes sir, thank you…..sir,” the added emphasis was one step too far perhaps.

“Come on then, quick,” there was no actual rush, but I went out anyway.

“Have a nice….”

Richard’s attempt at humour was cut off by the metallic clank of the heavy door into its steel frame.

What to do now? Looking up at all three upper levels above me, the mass movement of workshop and education prisoners were far more than I had pictured it might be. Even at weekends there were not this many people unlocked at any one time. My eyes fell on a familiar wheelchair bound Des on the ground floor, I smiled, and he warmly welcomed me to the world of work.

It felt more like the first day at school and there was just as much to take in and was fascinating in its complex simplicity. People were drifting out onto the landings with most of the movement in the general direction of the main door leading outside to the rest of the prison. There were some people heading up the stairs instead of down, this brought hails of abuse and redirection from the wing officers. Attempts to use the phones were also a daily game with maximum effort but little success. Several unfamiliar faces in uniforms were patrolling the levels unlocking and re-locking, checking and re-checking. They weren’t our wing officers, but I had seen some of them take the gym groups, or marshalling bodies outside in a variety of other duties. With a type of uniform of their own, the crisp white shirts had been replaced with dark tight tee shirts, spoilt only by the prison logo emblazoned across perfect if over developed chests and arms. This was the action crew, poised for all the potential problems which mass prisoner movement begged for. I couldn’t help but admire them but realised I might have been too obvious for my own safety.

Feeling more than a little intimidated I followed Des’s instruction and gave my name to one of the two hunks sitting at one of the tall tables’ ticking off names on their multi paged lists.

“Rollason, 1, 20, sir,” not quite ‘name rank and number’ but close enough.

Flicking from page to page, running his pen down the columns of names, a tick and we seemed to be done so I went to walk away, if only to stop anyone noticing my obvious considerations of his considerable, muscular build.

“Hold it, hold it,” pause, wait, “OK, get on.”

He hadn’t looked up, fortunately, or he would have caught me trying to decipher the intricate tattoo on his left arm where it had enticingly disappeared up under the arm of his body-hugging top.

Following the crowd once more, we all drifted slowly towards the now open door. After months in virtual isolation, this was proving to be almost too much, I had never liked crowds at the best of times but there was nowhere to hide out here.

A queue had formed near the doorway and we had to give our names yet again, to one our own wing officers this time. Apparently, the first had been for the workshop lists, the second was the wing release list. One of my personal officers was on the job this morning; a young, good-looking but cocky ‘boy’. He looked up as I gave my name and cell allocation, again. It was obvious he wanted to make some inane comment but, being under pressure to get us out into the holding yard, he was lost for any of his usual stinging words for once.

“Thank you Mr Collins,” he had already moved onto looking for the next name.

Obviously, I had been out in the mini yard before, it was the main, non-emergency, way off the wing. Before today though it had only been for visits and the library. In the relatively small area there must have been 40 or 45 slowly animating bodies in various states of dress, wakefulness, excitement, or affliction. For many of them it was a time for a quick smoke and I quickly squeezed my way up-wind of this faction to where I could see Des. He was talking to a couple of others who I recognised from the main exercise yard at the weekends. After the initial banter around being the new boy on his first day at the office, I fell back into being the quiet, moody, indecipherable, misplaced lug I seemed to have been labelled; it was OK for me. Picking up names as they were offered or called out between other prisoners, I did now at least have an idea of who some of these people were.

Everyone else around us seemed to be discussing the previous night’s excitement’s mostly with made up pseudo professional analysis. The fate of individuals who were missing or gone elsewhere was chewed over and spit out with a sense of general disinterest. Continuing to listen to the exchanges, it was as productive an education as having to bother to ask questions; the former activity was much safer in almost every case. After a while though, I did start to wonder why we were standing here for so long.

Officers were placed both inside the gate and outside on the road waiting for what I assumed was permission from central control to move us. The crackle of radios was a constant background noise. One of these messages, amongst the many unintelligible ones, spurred the officers into some sort of reaction. The tall smart Mr Collins was in the doorway of the block making sure no one sneaked back in without permission.

“Cleared to go Mr Jones,” he waved his radio above his head to make sure the other officer was looking, “get this lot off my wing.”

From his exaggerated gaze around the amassed crowd, I assumed it was a regular quip and it received only a half-hearted cheer from the inmates. The gate was opened, and we started to move towards it. Progress was tediously slow.

Outside, a few paces away from the fence, there were three officers performing the basic pat down procedures. The crowd filtered naturally into three lines which indicated this was the normal policy; I choose the line for an officer I recognised. Curiously, my rationalisation was, if I messed up in some way I might get a better result from him than I would from a stranger. Despite everyone being aware of what we should or shouldn’t have with us, several people had been protesting for the return of their smoking or food items as well as several other things I wasn’t interested in. It was a very unromantic few seconds for me as the officer rubbed his gloved hands up and down my person and, as usual, I silently chided myself for over-thinking just about everything in this life of pillared privation.

Having passed through the bottleneck, the crowd had all but dissipated, I looked for a familiar face to latch onto as I had no idea where I was to go or what to do when I got there. There wasn’t one I could see but it was obvious there was only one way to go. The roadway was lined with officers who would have no truck with dissension; it was written all over their subdued faces. I had seen some of them from the cell window of course but now I was on the outside of the block, the limited view from our window had not allowed this interesting vista. The attendees of the workshops from the main wings passed ‘P’ wing four times a day and as with the exercise yard experience, it was prudent to keep out of their direct line of sight.

The ‘route’, as it was descriptively known was not a very long one. Each road junction, gate or compound had an officer standing next to or across it. Groups of two or even three stood at the most open and obviously vulnerable spots. In all there were probably about twenty officers. Off in the distance, along other roads, there were others wandering into position, but I concentrated on not involving myself in anything but getting to the workshop. Knowing this mass control of ‘the route’ was mainly for the other wings. Up the hill, through one of the wide double width road gates on into another outdoor compound and through the usual heavy door arrangement we filed into a single storey building I had passed by many times before. Our short journey didn’t get too much attention from anyone during the two-minute walk and we were locked safely away once more.

Once inside, two of the smart but dressed down officers, were ticking off names from yet another set of sheets. Well, one was ticking the other was doing little more than glowering silently as we walked through. Once past that stage, there seemed to be two distinct groups ahead of me. One was picking off white cotton aprons from a row of coat hooks; they seemed to be taking specific ones rather than just the first in line. These people moved on towards sets of tables laid out in large rectangular patterns. With no indication if I was to have an apron, I passed them by. The second group of people I noted were mostly those who tried to be the more vocal and vicarious of the wing, always into things, always at the front for any trouble or excitement. They were filing through a door right at the back of this room and presumably into some other type of occupation. Thinking about it and reading the sign, it was obviously the ‘canteen’ preparation area. Having heard stories of the controversial activity in there, I was glad not to be part of it; or was I? Relieved at the sound of a familiar voice, I knew I was in this first space because Des had indicated I join him on his table for now.

“You’re new today…..”

The quiet voice of the older of the two officers spoke up from behind me and I spun to face him, nearly knocking the clipboard out of his hand as he was searching for the name I had given him just moments before.

“Rollason, sir.”

“Rol…Rol…Rollason, OK, see him there and get your peg number, they’ll tell you what to do.”

He smiled, I thought so anyway but it was hidden by the dense white moustache which accompanied the full head of wavy white hair. Looking in the direction his pen had pointed, he moved away into the small office before I could ask anything more; not that there seemed anything to ask anyway.

“I’m to have a peg number?”

One of the three inmates who were now seated at the long table to one side of the workshop stared up at me, smiled, and asked me for my details to put on a sheet he had in front of him. Number 26, he pointed to the rack near the door and I fetched the said item. This was just like school where we had used the same type of aprons for woodwork.

“Dave, ova ‘ere mar maerte,” Des, his broad Black Country accent rather over exaggerated in his excitement, “yow cun joyun tha ‘ardest workin taerble in ter shop.”

His statement raised a small cheer from the occupants of the table and a hiss from both the other set ups further along the room. Waving a mock thank you to all, I could feel I had gone very red and sat down quickly on a chair which had been pulled out for me. A banging on the office window quelled the ebullient noise to a murmur. Having sat as directed, I ventured a quick look around the circle of seven but had no intention of getting myself noticed.

Although I had no idea what it was we were to be doing, it quickly dawned on me; breakfast packs. I couldn’t believe it took seven people to achieve the simple collection of items most of us enjoyed each morning. Each person took one item, bagged it, and passed the bag on finally it was sealed with a tape machine, tossed into a metal bin to be counted off into large outer boxes by the ‘head’ of the table. These, when full, were again sealed with tape, marked with the contents and date etc. and stacked on a pallet. That was the job. Day in day out, three and a half hours in a morning, two and a bit in the afternoon, Monday to Friday excluding visits and other prison business. What more is there to say? Not a whole lot to be honest and other than the occasionally change to preparing variations; drinks packs, no cereal or jam; condiment packs with just salt, pepper, and vinegar. These were few and far between and it was nearly always the breakfast packs going around and around the tables. Occasionally each shift had the excitement of you changing from packing cereal to jam or sugar to tea bags but as nobody liked the tea bags because they were so dusty, of course I started on tea bags.

During the day, breaks for drinking tea seemed to be short but frequent, two in the morning but only one in the afternoon although these were liberally augmented by toilet breaks which were more often than not inappropriate and used for rule breaking smoking sessions. It was not until a fire inspector’s report found the offenders who the practice officially banned. Prisoners were nothing if not inventive and the exercise hardly stopped but invoked the eleventh commandment; ‘Thou shall not get caught’.

Work should have been simple but although some people were only capable of counting one, two, three or four items before stuffing them into a bag, some of us just couldn’t help but notice the inefficiency and waste of available resources. It was no business of mine of course but naturally it annoyed me. For the first weeks I kept my head down, the workshop clique was very strong, and it took a while to be accepted into it anyway; especially if you were as naturally quiet and circumspect as I was. Eventually though, as usual I just couldn’t help myself and I was making waves by filling the many toilet driven gaps on the table to keep the line going, doing two items at a time if the table was shorthanded or moving to another group if they were a man down; I didn’t realise until it was too late that my extra-curricular activity had been noticed.

The most exciting part of the job, comparatively speaking that is, was to count off the bags into the outer cartons, tape and label them. This heady position held the illuminating title of ‘head of table’, I couldn’t stop smiling each time the over inflated description was used. Ours at the time was Stan. We got on quite well. He went to church on the wing and we sometimes walked the yard together on outdoor exercise if the weather was nice. At the point where he went into hospital for a few days, I was rocketed up the ladder of seniority and took on the spurious job as head of table. This new position was at least slightly less mind numbing and I got to tell, sorry, to ask people to do things; that was nice in its own small if pointless way. Working at this level, there was the need to interact with the ‘Top Table’ and it was this entity which had intrigued me.

It was a table, but it was not physically at the top of anything. Each shift, three inmates would be sitting at it, they didn’t seem to change very often, and each seemed to have one solitary duty, each appeared to do no more than that duty. The first marked off who was seated at each of the three tables and what they were packing at the start of each shift. The second marked off the various boxes of goods as they went from the storage area out onto the tables for packing. The last shrink wrapped and marked up the completed pallets of packed items on another simple form. Occasionally the lowest person in the chain would double-check the contents of a pack or two before marking the degree of miss counting on a sheet, I noted it was a different sheet. Because of the dual role he had two clipboards, but notably only one pencil. Strangely, the system was a fascinating one to watch but the amount of inactivity was excruciating compared to what I had been used to in real industry on the long-lost outside.

Notably, the level of office and workshop interaction was very low. The top dog of the top table was normally the only one to venture into the office at all during the working day. A notice taped to the door read ‘Do not disturb until after 10.30’, I only twice saw anyone break the unofficial rule and suffer the verbal consequences from the second, rather officious, officer. This lack of communication seemed to work most of the time so why change; it caught me out one afternoon.

“Rollason isn’t it?” the white-haired officer had wandered out of the said office and stood next to me as I was counting finished packs, “you can count, can’t you?”

I assumed his rather dry wit was in play.

“Yes sir,” I played along with him.

“You can read and write?”

Unfortunately, it was not always such a stupid question.

“Yes sir,” this was an inordinate number of questions to be asked.

“You can use a tape gun?” I didn’t answer that one before he pronounced. “You can take over from dopey Dave there when he finishes on Friday,” there was no more to it than that.

‘Dopey Dave’ was better known to his friends as ‘big fat Dave’ not that it phased him in any way. He was pleasant enough, always happy, an habitual criminal, this stretch will have taken him past spending more than half of his 28 eight-year life behind one sort of prison wall or another. As his nick name also implied, he was very fat. It seemed, despite things being kept secret until the morning of any move, he was due for transfer. Unofficially I guess this was a helpful hint for him although he didn’t seem too bothered, just another move to another facility and another set of prisoners to get to know. At the start of the next shift I was taken off the tables and given the grand tour where he explained the minimal number of duties, I did note that most of these I had never actually seen him do. The following day he had gone.

To be honest I didn’t really want the new job, it was less work than the tables, but I was happy doing the menial side of things for a change. With no need for an apron now, taking up my clipboard and regulation if well used pencil, I tried to write-up the staffing list but soon realised I didn’t know any but a handful of the other worker’s names. Knowing I was out of my comfort zone even before I started, I was surprise how well I handled the fun and games which went on in the attempt to procure such simple details. It was this activity where I soon learnt to make up most of the information. It was the same as checking and double checking the finished boxes. Officially at least 25% had to checked each day but the traceability and quality control information which we were supposed to work to was a complete work of fiction. Creativity was called for; creativity was what I was good at. However, as was my way I made more than the required percentage of checks, I made corrections to any miss packed goods on the tables and I weighed in to help other people pack, stack, and secure pallets. The alternative was to sit for the allotted hours and do virtually nothing, as I had seen most of the others do. Perhaps if I had been in the environment for twenty or thirty years as some had, I hoped it might have been different; it was never going to be that way for me.

The biggest crisis came when I lost my pencil. They were never to be taken out of the workshop and it was a reportable offence to be caught with any item from the workshop; literally any of them, food or drink items, paper, pencils, bags, tape, anything. The loss of the pencil meant a trip to the office and a formal request for a new one, it was into the lion’s den; you may well laugh but I only lost the one. Resorting to crime I stole the rest, but they didn’t go missing very often and I was more creative in hiding mine from then on.

On the up-side it was nice to get to know more people. An Egyptian guy taught me to write numbers in Arabic, he would test me while counting items in a box, I got it right often, much to his rather simple and un-attestable amazement. There were even the occasional opportunities to flirt, discreetly of course with one or two of the less butch members of the workforce; hopes of it going further were never realised. There was even the bonus of the occasional cup of branded instant coffee. Not very often and never to be officially taken from the workshop, it was normally reserved for officers but never the less, a very welcomed perk of the job.

Just before Christmas, after working there for a couple of months a new prisoner appeared unexpectedly on the top table. He didn’t seem to have any official position but he was dyed in the wool prison material. Feeling rather intimidated by him for no obvious reason, it took a while to work out and realise what and who he was.

“Smudge,” it was a statement and he shook my hand, it was weighty, confident, and rather badly tattooed.

“David,” it didn’t seem to be required knowledge, but he had it anyway.

He was and probably is still is, another career criminal, he freely acknowledged the fact and you name it, he had been involved in it. Strangely, while relating some of his many stories and other general thoughts on a wide range of legal, criminal and prison issues, I warmed to him. His frequent time behind these walls had seen him being the first ‘top dog’ in this workshop and, according to him anyway, he had helped set it up as it was now.

His unprecedented familiarity with the officers seemed to confirm everything he often alluded to and I graciously gave him the same respect everyone else seemed to. It would be fair to say he was far more capable, certainly more helpful, and more organised than anyone I met in there, from either side of the regime. Problems and people alike were regularly sorted out fairly one way or another although there was never any unjust treatment; as I didn’t tend to court trouble I was never on the receiving end of his retribution. From even an arm’s length association, occasional benefits could come your way in the shape of newspapers, coffee, fruit, black pudding, you didn’t ask questions you just smiled and was ever grateful.

On the other side of things, his justice was swift and on more than one occasion, ruthless but both the workshop and the wing were unofficially better places for him being around. Beyond the bluff and bluster, below the genuinely hard exterior were the makings of the type of ‘good guy’ to have on your side. Rather excitingly it was all very gangland, and I pitied those who thought they knew better and crossed him, the proof of that was often made very clear to see.

One day he had been taken out of the shop by officers to be rearrested for various other offences that would eventually see him go to another facility. Again, it was only the day before that when I got the dubious nod that I would be taking his place; just in the workshop that is and not the rest of his over-lording. It was not a question of do you, more a question of you will and you are. Unfortunately, the next day in question was my own court hearing. With everyone’s expectation being a sentence of at least the ten years, the shock of my not returning to prison rather scuppered the best laid plans of men and prison officers. Somewhere inside my ego, I was looking forward to doing the job, but other events overshadowed the matter.